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Title:      Australia Felix
            First book in the trilogy - The Fortunes of Richard Mahony
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
Author:     Henry Handel Richardson (1870-1946)
eBook No.:  0100051.txt
Language:   English
Date first posted:          September 2001
Date most recently updated: July 2006

This eBook was produced by: Colin Choat

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Title:      Australia Felix
            First book in the trilogy - The Fortunes of Richard Mahony
Author:     Henry Handel Richardson (1870-1946)




PROEM



In a shaft on the Gravel Pits, a man had been buried alive. At work in a
deep wet hole, he had recklessly omitted to slab the walls of a drive;
uprights and tailors yielded under the lateral pressure, and the rotten
earth collapsed, bringing down the roof in its train. The digger fell
forward on his face, his ribs jammed across his pick, his arms pinned to
his sides, nose and mouth pressed into the sticky mud as into a mask;
and over his defenceless body, with a roar that burst his ear-drums,
broke stupendous masses of earth.

His mates at the windlass went staggering back from the belch of
violently discharged air: it tore the wind-sail to strips, sent stones
and gravel flying, loosened planks and props. Their shouts drawing no
response, the younger and nimbler of the two--he was a mere boy, for
all his amazing growth of beard--put his foot in the bucket and went
down on the rope, kicking off the sides of the shaft with his free foot.
A group of diggers, gathering round the pit-head, waited for the tug at
the rope. It was quick in coming; and the lad was hauled to the surface.
No hope: both drives had fallen in; the bottom of the shaft was blocked.
The crowd melted with a "Poor Bill--God rest his soul!" or with a
silent shrug. Such accidents were not infrequent; each man might thank
his stars it was not he who lay cooling down below. And so, since no
more washdirt would be raised from this hole, the party that worked it
made off for the nearest grog-shop, to wet their throats to the memory
of the dead, and to discuss future plans.

All but one: a lean and haggard-looking man of some five and forty, who
was known to his comrades as Long Jim. On hearing his mate's report he
had sunk heavily down on a log, and there he sat, a pannikin of raw
spirit in his hand, the tears coursing ruts down cheeks scabby with
yellow mud, his eyes glassy as marbles with those that had still to
fall.

He wept, not for the dead man, but for himself. This accident was the
last link in a chain of ill-luck that had been forging ever since he
first followed the diggings. He only needed to put his hand to a thing,
and luck deserted it. In all the sinkings he had been connected with, he
had not once caught his pick in a nugget or got the run of the gutter;
the "bottoms" had always proved barren, drives been exhausted without
his raising the colour. At the present claim he and his mates had toiled
for months, overcoming one difficulty after another. The slabbing, for
instance, had cost them infinite trouble; it was roughly done, too, and,
even after the pins were in, great flakes of earth would come tumbling
down from between the joints, on one occasion nearly knocking silly the
man who was below. Then, before they had slabbed a depth of three times
nine, they had got into water, and in this they worked for the next
sixty feet. They were barely rid of it, when the two adjoining claims
were abandoned, and in came the flood again--this time they had to fly
for their lives before it, so rapid was its rise. Not the strongest man
could stand in this ice-cold water for more than three days on end--the
bark slabs stank in it, too, like the skins in a tanner's yard--and
they had been forced to quit work till it subsided. He and another man
had gone to the hills, to hew trees for more slabs; the rest to the
grog-shop. From there, when it was feasible to make a fresh start, they
had to be dragged, some blind drunk, the rest blind stupid from their
booze. That had been the hardest job of any: keeping the party together.
They had only been eight in all--a hand-to-mouth number for a deep wet
hole. Then, one had died of dysentery, contracted from working
constantly in water up to his middle; another had been nabbed in a
manhunt and clapped into the "logs." And finally, but a day or two back,
the three men who completed the nightshift had deserted for a new "rush"
to the Avoca. Now, his pal had gone, too. There was nothing left for
him, Long Jim, to do, but to take his dish and turn fossicker; or even
to aim no higher than washing over the tailings rejected by the
fossicker.

At the thought his tears flowed anew. He cursed the day on which he had
first set foot on Ballarat.

"It's 'ell for white men--'ell, that's what it is!"

"'Ere, 'ave another drink, matey, and fergit yer bloody troubles."

His re-filled pannikin drained, he grew warmer round the heart; and sang
the praises of his former life. He had been a lamplighter in the old
country, and for many years had known no more arduous task than that of
tramping round certain streets three times daily, ladder on shoulder,
bitch at heel, to attend the little flames that helped to dispel the
London dark. And he might have jogged on at this up to three score years
and ten, had he never lent an ear to the tales that were being told of a
wonderful country, where, for the mere act of stooping, and with your
naked hand, you could pick up a fortune from the ground. Might the
rogues who had spread these lies be damned to all eternity! Then, he had
swallowed them only too willingly; and, leaving the old woman wringing
her hands, had taken every farthing of his savings and set sail for
Australia. That was close on three years ago. For all he knew, his wife
might be dead and buried by this time; or sitting in the almshouse. She
could not write, and only in the early days had an occasional newspaper
reached him, on which, alongside the Queen's head, she had put the mark
they had agreed on, to show that she was still alive. He would probably
never see her again, but would end his days where he was. Well, they
wouldn't be many; this was not a place that made old bones. And, as he
sat, worked on by grief and liquor, he was seized by a desperate
homesickness for the old country. Why had he ever been fool enough to
leave it? He shut his eyes, and all the well-known sights and sounds of
the familiar streets came back to him. He saw himself on his rounds of a
winter's afternoon, when each lamp had a halo in the foggy air; heard
the pit-pat of his four-footer behind him, the bump of the ladder
against the prong of the lamp-post. His friend the policeman's glazed
stovepipe shone out at the corner; from the distance came the tinkle of
the muffin-man's bell, the cries of the buy-a-brooms. He remembered the
glowing charcoal in the stoves of the chestnut and potato sellers; the
appetising smell of the cooked-fish shops; the fragrant steam of the
hot, dark coffee at the twopenny stall, when he had turned shivering out
of bed; he sighed for the lights and jollity of the "Hare and Hounds" on
a Saturday night. He would never see anything of the kind again. No;
here, under bare blue skies, out of which the sun frizzled you alive;
here, where it couldn't rain without at once being a flood; where the
very winds blew contrarily, hot from the north and bitter-chill from the
south; where, no matter how great the heat by day, the night would as
likely as not be nipping cold: here he was doomed to end his life, and
to end it, for all the yellow sunshine, more hopelessly knotted and
gnarled with rheumatism than if, dawn after dawn, he had gone out in a
cutting north-easter, or groped his way through the grey fog-mists sent
up by grey Thames.

Thus he sat and brooded, all the hatred of the unwilling exile for the
land that gives him house-room burning in his breast.

Who the man was, who now lay deep in a grave that fitted him as a glove
fits the hand, careless of the pass to which he had brought his mate;
who this really was, Long Jim knew no more than the rest. Young Bill had
never spoken out. They had chummed together on the seventy-odd-mile
tramp from Melbourne; had boiled a common billy and slept side by side
in rain-soaked blankets, under the scanty hair of a she-oak. That was in
the days of the first great stampede to the goldfields, when the embryo
seaports were as empty as though they were plague-ridden, and every man
who had the use of his legs was on the wide bush-track, bound for the
north. It was better to be two than one in this medley of bullock-teams,
lorries, carts and pack-horses, of dog-teams, wheelbarrows and swagmen,
where the air rang with oaths, shouts and hammering hoofs, with
whip-cracking and bullock-prodding; in this hurly-burly of thieves,
bushrangers and foreigners, of drunken convicts and deserting sailors,
of slit-eyed Chinese and apt-handed Lascars, of expirees and
ticket-of-leave men, of Jews, Turks and other infidels. Long Jim, himself
stunned by it all: by the pother of landing and of finding a roof to cover
him; by the ruinous price of bare necessaries; by the length of this
unheard-of walk that lay before his town-bred feet: Long Jim had gladly
accepted the young man's company on the road. Originally, for no more than
this; at heart he distrusted Young Bill, because of his fine-gentleman
airs, and intended shaking the lad off as soon as they reached the
diggings. There, a man must, for safety's sake, be alone, when he stooped
to pick up his fortune. But at first sight of the strange, wild scene that
met his eyes he hastily changed his mind. And so the two of them had stuck
together; and he had never had cause to regret it. For all his lily-white
hands and finical speech Young Bill had worked like a nigger,
standing by his mate through the latter's disasters; had worked till the
ladyish hands were horny with warts and corns, and this, though he was
doubled up with dysentery in the hot season, and racked by winter
cramps. But the life had proved too hard for him, all the same. During
the previous summer he had begun to drink--steadily, with the dogged
persistence that was in him--and since then his work had gone downhill.
His sudden death had only been a hastening-on of the inevitable.
Staggering home to the tent after nightfall he would have been sure,
sooner or later, to fall into a dry shicer and break his neck, or into a
wet one and be drowned.

On the surface of the Gravel Pit his fate was already forgotten. The
rude activity of a gold-diggings in full swing had closed over the
incident, swallowed it up.

Under a sky so pure and luminous that it seemed like a thinly drawn veil
of blueness, which ought to have been transparent, stretched what, from
a short way off, resembled a desert of pale clay. No patch of green
offered rest to the eye; not a tree, hardly a stunted bush had been left
standing, either on the bottom of the vast shallow basin itself, or on
the several hillocks that dotted it and formed its sides. Even the most
prominent of these, the Black Hill, which jutted out on the Flat like a
gigantic tumulus, had been stripped of its dense timber, feverishly
disembowelled, and was now become a bald protuberance strewn with gravel
and clay. The whole scene had that strange, repellent ugliness that goes
with breaking up and throwing into disorder what has been sanctified as
final, and belongs, in particular, to the wanton disturbing of earth's
gracious, green-spread crust. In the pre-golden era this wide valley,
lying open to sun and wind, had been a lovely grassland, ringed by a
circlet of wooded hills; beyond these, by a belt of virgin forest. A
limpid river and more than one creek had meandered across its face;
water was to be found there even in the driest summer. She-oaks and
peppermint had given shade to the flocks of the early settlers; wattles
had bloomed their brief delirious yellow passion against the grey-green
foliage of the gums. Now, all that was left of the original "pleasant
resting-place" and its pristine beauty were the ancient volcanic cones
of Warrenheip and Buninyong. These, too far off to supply wood for
firing or slabbing, still stood green and timbered, and looked down upon
the havoc that had been made of the fair, pastoral lands.

Seen nearer at hand, the dun-coloured desert resolved itself into
uncountable pimpling clay and mud-heaps, of divers shade and varying
sizes: some consisted of but a few bucketfuls of mullock, others were
taller than the tallest man. There were also hundreds of rain-soaked,
mud-bespattered tents, sheds and awnings; wind-sails, which fell,
funnel-like, from a kind of gallows into the shafts they ventilated;
flags fluttering on high posts in front of stores. The many human
figures that went to and fro were hardly to be distinguished from the
ground they trod. They were coated with earth, clay-clad in ochre and
gamboge. Their faces were daubed with clauber; it matted great beards,
and entangled the coarse hairs on chests and brawny arms. Where, here
and there, a blue jumper had kept a tinge of blueness, it was so
besmeared with yellow that it might have been expected to turn green.
The gauze neck-veils that hung from the brims of wide-awakes or
cabbage-trees were become stiff little lattices of caked clay.

There was water everywhere. From the spurs and gullies round about, the
autumn rains had poured freely down on the Flat; river and creeks had
been over their banks; and such narrow ground-space as remained between
the thick-sown tents, the myriads of holes that abutted one on another,
jealous of every inch of space, had become a trough of mud. Water
meandered over this mud, or carved its soft way in channels; it lay
about in puddles, thick and dark as coffee-grounds; it filled abandoned
shallow holes to the brim.

From this scene rose a blurred hum of sound; rose and as it were
remained stationary above it--like a smoke-cloud, which no wind comes
to drive away. Gradually, though, the ear made out, in the conglomerate
of noise, a host of separate noises infinitely multiplied: the sharp
tick-tick of surface-picks, the dull thud of shovels, their muffled
echoes from the depths below. There was also the continuous squeak and
groan of windlasses; the bump of the mullock emptied from the bucket;
the trundle of wheelbarrows, pushed along a plank from the shaft's mouth
to the nearest pool; the dump of the dart on the heap for washing. Along
the banks of a creek, hundreds of cradles rattled and grated; the noise
of the spades, chopping the gravel into the puddling-tubs or the Long
Toms, was like the scrunch of shingle under waves. The fierce yelping of
the dogs chained to the flag-posts of stores, mongrels which yapped at
friend and foe alike, supplied a note of earsplitting discord.

But except for this it was a wholly mechanical din. Human brains
directed operations, human hands carried them out, but the sound of the
human voice was, for the most part, lacking. The diggers were a sombre,
preoccupied race, little given to lip-work. Even the "shepherds," who,
in waiting to see if their neighbours struck the lead, beguiled the time
with euchre and "lambskinnet," played moodily, their mouths glued to
their pipe-stems; they were tail-on-end to fling down the cards for pick
and shovel. The great majority, ant-like in their indefatigable
busyness, neither turned a head nor looked up: backs were bent, eyes
fixed, in a hard scrutiny of cradle or tin-dish: it was the earth that
held them, the familiar, homely earth, whose common fate it is to be
trodden heedlessly underfoot. Here, it was the loadstone that drew all
men's thoughts. And it took toll of their bodies in odd, exhausting
forms of labour, which were swift to weed out the unfit.

The men at the windlasses spat into their horny palms and bent to the
crank: they paused only to pass the back of a hand over a sweaty
forehead, or to drain a nose between two fingers. The barrow-drivers
shoved their loads, the bones of their forearms standing out like ribs.
Beside the pools, the puddlers chopped with their shovels; some even
stood in the tubs, and worked the earth with their feet, as wine-pressers
trample grapes. The cradlers, eternally rocking with one hand,
held a long stick in the other with which to break up any clods a
careless puddler might have deposited in the hopper. Behind these came
the great army of fossickers, washers of surface-dirt, equipped with
knives and tin-dishes, and content if they could wash out
half-a-pennyweight to the dish. At their heels still others, who treated
the tailings they threw away. And among these last was a sprinkling of
women, more than one with an infant sucking at her breast. Withdrawn
into a group for themselves worked a body of Chinese, in loose blue
blouses, flappy blue leg-bags and huge conical straw hats. They, too,
fossicked and re-washed, using extravagant quantities of water.

Thus the pale-eyed multitude worried the surface, and, at the risk and
cost of their lives, probed the depths. Now that deep sinking was in
vogue, gold-digging no longer served as a play-game for the gentleman
and the amateur; the greater number of those who toiled at it were
work-tried, seasoned men. And yet, although it had now sunk to the level
of any other arduous and uncertain occupation, and the magic prizes of the
early days were seldom found, something of the old, romantic glamour
still clung to this most famous gold-field, dazzling the eyes and
confounding the judgment. Elsewhere, the horse was in use at the
puddling-trough, and machines for crushing quartz were under discussion.
But the Ballarat digger resisted the introduction of machinery, fearing
the capitalist machinery would bring in its train. He remained the
dreamer, the jealous individualist; he hovered for ever on the brink of
a stupendous discovery.

This dream it was, of vast wealth got without exertion, which had
decoyed the strange, motley crowd, in which peers and churchmen rubbed
shoulders with the scum of Norfolk Island, to exile in this outlandish
region. And the intention of all alike had been: to snatch a golden
fortune from the earth and then, hey, presto! for the old world again.
But they were reckoning without their host: only too many of those who
entered the country went out no more. They became prisoners to the soil.
The fabulous riches of which they had heard tell amounted, at best, to a
few thousands of pounds: what folly to depart with so little, when
mother earth still teemed! Those who drew blanks nursed an unquenchable
hope, and laboured all their days like navvies, for a navvy's wage.
Others again, broken in health or disheartened, could only turn to an
easier handiwork. There were also men who, as soon as fortune smiled on
them, dropped their tools and ran to squander the work of months in a
wild debauch; and they invariably returned, tail down, to prove their
luck anew. And, yet again, there were those who, having once seen the
metal in the raw: in dust, fine as that brushed from a butterfly's wing;
in heavy, chubby nuggets; or, more exquisite still, as the daffodil-yellow
veining of bluish-white quartz: these were gripped in the
subtlest way of all. A passion for the gold itself awoke in them an
almost sensual craving to touch and possess; and the glitter of a few
specks at the bottom of pan or cradle came, in time, to mean more to
them than "home," or wife, or child.

Such were the fates of those who succumbed to the "unholy hunger." It
was like a form of revenge taken on them, for their loveless schemes of
robbing and fleeing; a revenge contrived by the ancient, barbaric
country they had so lightly invaded. Now, she held them captive--without
chains; ensorcelled--without witchcraft; and, lying stretched
like some primeval monster in the sun, her breasts freely bared, she
watched, with a malignant eye, the efforts made by these puny mortals to
tear their lips away.





Part I




Chapter I



On the summit of one of the clay heaps, a woman shot into silhouette
against the sky. An odd figure, clad in a skimpy green petticoat, with a
scarlet shawl held about her shoulders, wisps of frowsy red hair
standing out round her head, she balanced herself on the slippery earth,
spinning her arm like the vane of a windmill, and crying at the top of
her voice: "Joe, boys!--Joe, Joe, Joey!"

It was as if, with these words, she had dropped a live shell in the
diggers' midst. A general stampede ensued; in which the cry was caught
up, echoed and re-echoed, till the whole Flat rang with the name of
"Joe." Tools were dropped, cradles and tubs abandoned, windlasses left
to kick their cranks backwards. Many of the workers took to their heels;
others, in affright, scuttled aimlessly hither and thither, like
barnyard fowls in a panic. Summoned by shouts of: "Up with you,
boys!--the traps are here!" numbers ascended from below to see the fun,
while as many went hurriedly down to hiding in drive or chamber. Even
those diggers who could pat the pocket in which their licence lay ceased
work, and stood about with sullen faces to view the course of events. Only
the group of Chinamen washing tail-heaps remained unmoved. One of them, to
whom the warning woman belonged, raised his head and called a Chinese
word at her; she obeyed it instantly, vanished into thin air; the rest
went impassively on with their fossicking. They were not such fools as
to try to cheat the Government of its righteous dues. None but had his
licence safely folded in his nosecloth, and thrust inside the bosom of
his blouse.

Through the labyrinth of tents and mounds, a gold-laced cap could be
seen approaching; then a gold-tressed jacket came into view, the white
star on the forehead of a mare. Behind the Commissioner, who rode down
thus from the Camp, came the members of his staff; these again were
followed by a body of mounted troopers. They drew rein on the slope, and
simultaneously a line of foot police, backed by a detachment of light
infantry, shot out like an arm, and walled in the Flat to the south.

On the appearance of the enemy the babel redoubled. There were groans
and cat-calls. Along with the derisive "Joeys!" the rebel diggers hurled
any term of abuse that came to their lips.

"The dolly mops! The skunks! The bushrangers!--Oh, damn 'em, damn 'em!
. . . damn their bloody eyes!"

"It's Rooshia--that's what it is!" said an oldish man darkly.

The Commissioner, a horse-faced, solemn man with brown side whiskers,
let the reins droop on his mare's neck and sat unwinking in the tumult.
His mien was copied by his staff. Only one of them, a very young boy who
was new to the colony and his post, changed colour under his gaudy cap,
went from white to pink and from pink to white again; while at each
fresh insult he gave a perceptible start, and gazed dumbfounded at his
chief's insensitive back.

The "bloodhounds" had begun to track their prey. Rounding up, with a
skill born of long practice, they drove the diggers before them towards
the centre of the Flat. Here they passed from group to group and from
hole to hole, calling for the production of licences with an insolence
that made its object see red. They were nice of scent, too, and, nine
times in ten, pounced on just those unfortunates who, through
carelessness, or lack of means, or on political grounds, had failed to
take out the month's licence to dig for gold. Every few minutes one or
another was marched off between two constables to the Government Camp,
for fine or imprisonment.

Now it was that it suddenly entered Long Jim's head to cut and run. Up
till now he had stood declaring himself a free-born Briton, who might be
drawn and quartered if he ever again paid the blasted tax. But, as the
police came closer, a spear of fright pierced his befuddled brain, and
inside a breath he was off and away. Had the abruptness of his start not
given him a slight advantage, he would have been caught at once. As it
was, the chase would not be a long one; the clumsy, stiff-jointed man
slithered here and stuck fast there, dodging obstacles with an
awkwardness that was painful to see. He could be heard sobbing and
cursing as he ran.

At this point the Commissioner, half turning, signed to the troopers in
his rear. Six or seven of them shook up their bridles and rode off,
their scabbards clinking, to prevent the fugitive's escape.

A howl of contempt went up from the crowd. The pink and white subaltern
made what was almost a movement of the arm to intercept his superior's
command.

It was too much for Long Jim's last mate, the youthful blackbeard who
had pluckily descended the shaft after the accident. He had been
standing on a mound with a posse of others, following the man-hunt. At
his partner's crack-brained dash for the open, his snorts of indignation
found words. "Gaw-blimy! . . . is the old fool gone dotty?" Then he drew
a whistling breath. "No, it's more than flesh and blood . . . . Stand
back, boys!" And though he was as little burdened with a licence as the
man under pursuit, he shouted: "Help, help! . . . for God's sake, don't
let 'em have me!" shot down the slope, and was off like the wind.

His foxly object was attained. The attention of the hunters was
diverted. Long Jim, seizing the moment, vanished underground.

The younger man ran with the lightness of a hare. He had also the hare's
address in doubling and turning. His pursuers never knew, did he pass
from sight behind a covert of tents and mounds, where he would bob up
next. He avoided shafts and pools as if by a miracle; ran along greasy
planks without a slip; and, where these had been removed to balk the
police, he jumped the holes, taking risks that were not for a sane man.
Once he fell, but, enslimed from head to foot, wringing wet and hatless,
was up again in a twinkling. His enemies were less sure-footed than he,
and times without number measured their length on the oily ground.
Still, one of them was gaining rapidly on him, a giant of a fellow with
long thin legs; and soon the constable's foot filled the prints left by
the young man's, while these were still warm. It was a fine run. The
diggers trooped after in a body; the Flat rang with cheers and plaudits.
Even the Commissioner and his retinue trotted in the same direction.
Eventually the runaway must land in the arms of the mounted police.

But this was not his plan. Making as though he headed for the open, he
suddenly dashed off at right angles, and, with a final sprint, brought
up dead against a log-and-canvas store which stood on rising ground. His
adversary was so close behind that a collision resulted; the digger's
feet slid from under him, he fell on his face, the other on top. In
their fall they struck a huge pillar of tin-dishes, ingeniously built up
to the height of the store itself. This toppled over with a crash, and
the dishes went rolling down the slope between the legs of the police.
The dog chained to the flagstaff all but strangled himself in his rage
and excitement; and the owner of the store came running out.

"Purdy! . . . you! What in the name of . . .?"

The digger adroitly rolled his captor over, and there they both sat,
side by side on the ground, one gripping the other's collar, both too
blown to speak. A cordon of puffing constables hemmed them in.

The storekeeper frowned. "You've no licence, you young beggar!"

And: "Your licence, you scoundrel!" demanded the leader of the troop.

The prisoner's rejoinder was a saucy: "Now then, out with the cuffs,
Joe!"

He got on his feet as bidden; but awkwardly, for it appeared that in
falling he had hurt his ankle. Behind the police were massed the
diggers. These opened a narrow alley for the Camp officials to ride
through, but their attitude was hostile, and there were cries of: "Leave
'im go, yer blackguards! . . . after sich a run! None o yer bloody quod
for 'im!" along with other, more threatening expressions. Sombre and
taciturn, the Commissioner waved his hand. "Take him away!"

"Well, so long, Dick!" said the culprit jauntily; and, as he offered his
wrists to be handcuffed, he whistled an air.

Here the storekeeper hurriedly interposed: "No, stop! I'll give bail."
And darting into the tent and out again, he counted five one-pound notes
into the constable's palm. The lad's collar was released; and a murmur
of satisfaction mounted from the crowd.

At the sound the giver made as if to retire. Then, yielding to a second
thought, he stepped forward and saluted the Commissioner. "A young
hot-head, sir! He means no harm. I'll send him up in the morning, to
apologise."

("I'll be damned if you do!" muttered the digger between his teeth.)

But the Chief refused to be placated. "Good day, doctor," he said
shortly, and with his staff at heel trotted down the slope, followed
till out of earshot by a mocking fire of "Joes." Lingering in the rear,
the youthful sympathiser turned in his saddle and waved his cap.

The raid was over for that day. The crowd dispersed; its members became
orderly, hard-working men once more. The storekeeper hushed his frantic
dog, and called his assistant to rebuild the pillar of tins.

The young digger sat down on the log that served for a bench, and
examined his foot. He pulled and pulled, causing himself great pain, but
could not get his boot off. At last, looking back over his shoulder he
cried impatiently: "Dick!... I say, Dick Mahony! Give us a drink, old
boy! . . . I'm dead-beat."

At this the storekeeper--a tall, slenderly built man of some seven or
eight and twenty--appeared, bearing a jug and a pannikin.

"Oh, bah!" said the lad, when he found that the jug held only water.
And, on his friend reminding him that he might by now have been sitting
in the lock-up, he laughed and winked. "I knew you'd go bail."

"Well! . . . of all the confounded impudence. . . ."

"Faith, Dick, and d'ye think I didn't see how your hand itched for your
pocket?"

The man he called Mahony flushed above his fair beard. It was true: he
had made an involuntary movement of the hand--checked for the rest
halfway, by the knowledge that the pocket was empty. He looked
displeased and said nothing.

"Don't be afraid, I'll pay you back soon's ever me ship comes home,"
went on the young scapegrace, who very well knew how to play his cards.
At his companion's heated disclaimer, however, he changed his tone. "I
say, Dick, have a look at my foot, will you? I can't get this damned
boot off."

The elder man bent over the injury. He ceased to show displeasure.
"Purdy, you young fool, when will you learn wisdom?"

"Well, they shouldn't hunt old women, then--the swine!" gave back
Purdy; and told his tale. "Oh, lor! there go six canaries." For, at his
wincing and shrinking, his friend had taken a penknife and ripped up the
jackboot. Now, practised hands explored the swollen, discoloured ankle.

When it had been washed and bandaged, its owner stretched himself on the
ground, his head in the shade of a barrel, and went to sleep.

He slept till sundown, through all the traffic of a busy afternoon.

Some half-a-hundred customers came and went. The greater number of them
were earth-stained diggers, who ran up for, it might be, a missing tool,
or a hide bucket, or a coil of rope. They spat jets of tobacco-juice,
were richly profane, paid, where coin was scarce, in gold-dust from a
match-box, and hurried back to work. But there also came old harridans--as
often as not, diggers themselves--whose language outdid that of the
males, and dirty Irish mothers; besides a couple of the white women who
inhabited the Chinese quarter. One of these was in liquor, and a great
hullabaloo took place before she could be got rid of. Put out, she stood
in front of the tent, her hair hanging down her back, cursing and
reviling. Respectable women as well did an afternoon's shopping there.
In no haste to be gone, they sat about on empty boxes or upturned
barrels exchanging confidences, while weary children plucked at their
skirts. A party of youngsters entered, the tallest of whom could just
see over the counter, and called for shandygaffs. The assistant was for
chasing them off, with hard words. But the storekeeper put, instead, a
stick of barley-sugar into each dirty, outstretched hand, and the imps
retired well content. On their heels came a digger and his lady-love to
choose a wedding-outfit; and all the gaudy finery the store held was
displayed before them. A red velvet dress flounced with satin, a pink
gauze bonnet, white satin shoes and white silk stockings met their
fancy. The dewy-lipped, smutty-lashed Irish girl blushed and dimpled, in
consulting with the shopman upon the stays in which to lace her ample
figure; the digger, whose very pores oozed gold, planked down handfuls
of dust and nuggets, and brushed aside a neat Paisley shawl for one of
yellow satin, the fellow to which he swore to having seen on the back of
the Governor's lady herself. He showered brandy-snaps on the children,
and bought a polka-jacket for a shabby old woman. Then, producing a
bottle of champagne from a sack he bore, he called on those present to
give him, after: "'Er most Gracious little Majesty, God bless 'er!" the:
"'Oly estate of materimony!" The empty bottle smashed for luck, the
couple departed arm-in-arm, carrying their purchases in the sack; and
the rest of the company trooped to the door with them, to wish them joy.

Within the narrow confines of the tent, where red-herrings trailed over
moleskin-shorts, and East India pickles and Hessian boots lay on the top
of sugar and mess-pork; where cheeses rubbed shoulders with tallow
candles, blue and red serge shirts, and captain's biscuits; where
onions, and guernseys, and sardines, fine combs, cigars and bear's-grease,
Windsor soap, tinned coffee and hair oil, revolvers, shovels and
Oxford shoes, lay in one grand miscellany: within the crowded store, as
the afternoon wore on, the air grew rank and oppressive. Precisely at
six o'clock the bar was let down across the door, and the storekeeper
withdrew to his living-room at the back of the tent. Here he changed his
coat and meticulously washed his hands, to which clung a subtle blend of
all the strong-smelling goods that had passed through them. Then, coming
round to the front, he sat down on the log and took out his pipe. He
made a point, no matter how brisk trade was, of not keeping open after
dark. His evenings were his own.

He sat and puffed, tranquilly. It was a fine night. The first showy
splendour of sunset had passed; but the upper sky was still aflush with
colour. And in the centre of this frail cloud, which faded as he watched
it, swam a single star.




Chapter II



With the passing of a cooler air the sleeper wakened and rubbed his
eyes. Letting his injured leg lie undisturbed, he drew up the other knee
and buckled his hands round it. In this position he sat and talked.

He was a dark, fresh-coloured young man, of middle height, and broadly
built. He had large white teeth of a kind to crack nuts with, and the
full, wide, flexible mouth that denotes the generous talker.

"What a wind-bag it is, to be sure!" thought his companion, as he smoked
and listened, in a gently ironic silence, to abuse of the Government. He
knew--or thought he knew--young Purdy inside out.

But behind all the froth of the boy's talk there lurked, it seemed, a
purpose. No sooner was a meal of cold chop and tea over than Purdy
declared his intention of being present at a meeting of malcontent
diggers. Nor would he even wait to wash himself clean of mud.

His friend reluctantly agreed to lend him an arm. But he could not
refrain from taking the lad to task for getting entangled in the
political imbroglio. "When, as you know, it's just a kind of sport to
you."

Purdy sulked for a few paces, then burst out: "If only you weren't so
damned detached, Dick Mahony!"

"You're restless, and want excitement, my boy--that's the root of the
trouble."

"Well, I'm jiggered! If ever I knew a restless mortal, it's yourself."

The two men picked their steps across the Flat and up the opposite
hillside, young Purdy Smith limping and leaning heavy, his lame foot
thrust into an old slipper. He was at all times hail-fellow-well-met
with the world. Now, in addition, his plucky exploit of the afternoon
blazed its way through the settlement; and blarney and bravos rained
upon him. "Golly for you, Purdy, old 'oss!" "Showed 'em the diggers'
flag, 'e did!" "What'll you take, me buck? Come on in for a drop o' the
real strip-me-down-naked!" Even a weary old strumpet, propping herself
against the doorway of a dancing-saloon, waved a tipsy hand and cried:
"Arrah, an' is it yerrself, Purrdy, me bhoy? Shure an' it's bussin' ye
I'd be afther--if me legs would carry me!" And Purdy laughed, and
relished the honey, and had an answer pat for everybody especially the
women. His companion on the other hand was greeted with a glibness that
had something perfunctory in it, and no touch of familiarity.

The big canvas tent on Bakery Hill, where the meeting was to be held,
was already lighted; and at the tinkle of a bell the diggers, who till
then had stood cracking and hobnobbing outside, began to push for the
entrance. The bulk of them belonged to the race that is quickest to
resent injustice--were Irish. After them in number came the Germans,
swaggering and voluble; and the inflammable French, English, Scotch and
Americans formed a smaller and cooler, but very dogged group.

At the end of the tent a rough platform had been erected, on which stood
a row of cane seats. In the body of the hall, the benches were formed of
boards, laid from one upturned keg or tub to another. The chair was
taken by a local auctioneer, a cadaverous-looking man, with never a
twinkle in his eye, who, in a lengthy discourse and with the single
monotonous gesture of beating the palm of one hand with the back of the
other, strove to bring home to his audience the degradation of their
present political status. The diggers chewed and spat, and listened to
his periods with sang-froid: the shame of their state did not greatly
move them. They followed, too, with composure, the rehearsal of their
general grievances. As they were aware, said the speaker, the
Legislative Council of Victoria was made up largely of Crown nominees;
in the election of members the gold-seeking population had no voice
whatsoever. This was a scandalous thing; for the digging constituent
outnumbered all the rest of the population put together, thus forming
what he would call the backbone and mainstay of the colony. The labour
of THEIR hands had raised the colony to its present pitch of prosperity.
And yet these same bold and hardy pioneers were held incapable of
deciding jot or tittle in the public affairs of their adopted home.
Still unmoved, the diggers listened to this recital of their virtues.
But when one man, growing weary of the speaker's unctuous wordiness,
discharged a fierce: "Why the hell don't yer git on to the bloody
licence-tax?" the audience was fire and flame in an instant. A riotous
noise ensued; rough throats rang changes on the question. Order
restored, it was evident that the speech was over. Thrown violently out
of his concept, the auctioneer struck and struck at his palm--in vain;
nothing would come. So, making the best of a bad job, he irately sat
down in favour of his successor on the programme.

This speaker did not fare much better. The assemblage, roused now, jolly
and merciless, was not disposed to give quarter; and his obtuseness in
dawdling over such high-flown notions as that population, not property,
formed the basis of representative government, reaped him a harvest of
boos and groans. This was not what the diggers had come out to hear. And
they were as direct as children in their demand for the gist of the
matter.

"A reg-lar ol' shicer!" was the unanimous opinion, expressed without
scruple. While from the back of the hall came the curt request to him to
shut his "tater-trap."

Next on the list was a German, a ruddy-faced man with mutton-chop
whiskers and prominent, watery eyes. He could not manage the letter "r."
In the body of a word where it was negligible, he rolled it out as
though it stood three deep. Did he tackle it as an initial, on the other
hand, his tongue seemed to cleave to his palate, and to yield only an
"l." This quaint defect caused some merriment at the start, but was soon
eclipsed by a more striking oddity. The speaker had the habit of, as it
were, creaking with his nose. After each few sentences he paused, to
give himself time to produce something between a creak and a snore--an
abortive attempt to get at a mucus that was plainly out of reach.

The diggers were beside themselves with mirth.

"'E's forgot 'is 'ankey!"

"'Ere, boys, look slippy!--a 'ankey for ol' sausage!"

But the German was not sensitive to ridicule. He had something to say,
and he was there to say it. Fixing his fish-like eyes on a spot high up
the tent wall, he kept them pinned to it, while he mouthed out
blood-and-thunder invectives. He was, it seemed, a red-hot revolutionist;
a fierce denouncer of British rule. He declared the British monarchy to be
an effete institution; the fetish of British freedom to have been
"exbloded" long ago. What they needed, in this grand young country of
theirs, was a "republic"; they must rid themselves of those shackles
that had been forged in the days when men were slaves. It was his sound
conviction that before many weeks had passed, the Union Jack would have
been hauled down for ever, and the glorious Southern Cross would wave in
its stead, over a free Australia. The day on which this happened would
be a never-to-be-forgotten date in the annals of the country. For what,
he would like to know, had the British flag ever done for freedom, at
any time in the world's history? They should read in their school-books,
and there they would learn that wherever a people had risen against
their tyrants, the Union Jack had waved, not over them, but over the
British troops sent to stamp the rising out.

This was more than Mahony could stomach. Flashing up from his seat, he
strove to assert himself above the hum of agreement that mounted from
the foreign contingent, and the doubtful sort of grumble by which the
Britisher signifies his disapproval.

"Mr. Chairman! Gentlemen!" he cried in a loud voice. "I call upon those
loyal subjects of her Majesty who are present here, to join with me in
giving three cheers for the British flag. Hip, hip, hurrah! And, again,
hip, hip, hurrah! And, once more, hip, hip, hurrah!"

His compatriots followed him, though flabbily; and he continued to make
himself heard above the shouts of "Order!" and the bimming of the
chairman's bell.

"Mr. Chairman! I appeal to you. Are we Britons to sit still and hear our
country's flag reviled?--that flag which has ensured us the very
liberty we are enjoying this evening. The gentleman who has been pleased
to slander it is not, I believe, a British citizen. Now, I put it to
him: is there another country on the face of the earth, that would allow
people of all nations to flock into a gold-bearing colony on terms of
perfect equality with its own subjects?--to flock in, take all they can
get, and then make off with it?" a point of view that elicited forcible
grunts of assent, which held their own against hoots and hisses.
Unfortunately the speaker did not stop here, but went on: "Gentlemen! Do
not, I implore you, allow yourselves to be led astray by a handful of
ungrateful foreigners, who have received nothing but benefits from our
Crown. What you need, gentlemen, is not revolution, but reform; not
strife and bloodshed, but a liberty consistent with law and order. And
this, gentlemen,----"

("You'll never get 'em like that, Dick," muttered Purdy.)

"Not so much gentlemening, if YOU please!" said a sinister-looking man,
who might have been a Vandemonian in his day. "MEN'S what we are--that's
good enough for us."

Mahony was nettled. The foreigners, too, were pressing him.

"Am I then to believe, sir, what I frequently hear asserted, that there
are no gentlemen left on the diggings?"

("Oh lor, Dick!" said Purdy. He was sitting with his elbows on his
knees, clutching his cheeks as though he had the toothache.)

"Oh, stow yer blatherskite!"

"Believe what yer bloody well like!" retorted the Vandemonian fiercely.
"But don't come 'ere and interrupt our pleasant and h'orderly meetings
with YOUR blamed jaw."

Mahony lost his temper. "I not interrupt?--when I see you great hulks
of men--"

("Oh, lor!" groaned Purdy again.)

"--who call yourselves British subjects, letting yourselves be led by
the nose, like the sheep you are, by a pack of foreigners who are basely
accepting this country's hospital'ty?"

"Here, let me," said Purdy. And pushing his way along the bench he
hobbled to the platform, where several arms hoisted him up.

There he stood, fronting the violent commotion that had ensued on his
friend's last words; stood bedraggled, mud-stained, bandaged, his
cabbage-tree hat in his hand. And Mahony, still on his feet, angrily
erect, thought he understood why the boy had refused to wash himself
clean, or to change his dress: he had no doubt foreseen the possibility
of some such dramatic appearance.

Purdy waited for the hubbub to die down. As if by chance he had rested
his hand on the bell; its provoking tinkle ceased. Now he broke into one
of the frank and hearty smiles that never fail to conciliate.

"Brother diggers!"

The strongly spoken words induced an abrupt lull. The audience turned to
him, still thorny and sulky it was true, but yet they turned; and one
among them demanded a hearing for the youngster.

"Brother diggers! We are met here to-night with a single purpose in
view. Brother diggers! We are not met here to throw mud at our dear old
country's flag! Nor will we have a word said against her most gracious
Majesty, the Queen. Not us! We're men first, whose business it is to
stand up for a gallant little woman, and diggers with a grievance
afterwards. Are you with me, boys?--Very well, then.--Now we didn't
come here to-night to confab about getting votes, or having a hand in
public affairs--much as we want 'em both and mean to have 'em, when the
time comes. No, to-night there's only one thing that matters to us, and
that's the repeal of the accursed tax!" Here, such a tempest of applause
broke out that he was unable to proceed. "Yes, I say it again," he went
on, when they would let him speak; "the instant repeal! When that's been
done, this curse taken off us, then it'll be time enough to parlez-vous
about the colour of the flag we mean to have, and about going shares in
the Government. But let me make one thing clear to you. We're neither
traitors to the Crown, nor common rebels. We're true-blue Britons, who
have been goaded to rebellion by one of the vilest pieces of tyranny
that ever saw the light. Spies and informers are everywhere about us.
Mr. Commissioner Sleuth and his hounds may cry tally-ho every day, if
'tis their pleasure to! To put it shortly, boys, we're living under
semi-martial law. To such a state have we free-born men, men who came
out but to see the elephant, been reduced, by the asinine stupidity of
the Government, by the impudence and knavishness of its officials.
Brother diggers! When you leave the hall this evening, look over at the
hill on which the Camp stands! What will you see? You will see a blaze
of light, and hear the sounds of revelry by night. There, boys, hidden
from our mortal view, but visible to our mind's eye, sit Charley Joe's
minions, carousing at our expense, washing down each mouthful with good
fizz bought with our hard-earned gold. Licence-pickings, boys, and tips
from new grog-shops, and the blasted farce of the Commissariat! We're
supposed--"

But here Mahony gave a loud click of the tongue--in the general howl of
execration it passed unheard--and, pushing his way out of the tent, let
the flap-door fall to behind him.




Chapter III



He retraced his steps by the safe-conduct of a full moon, which showed
up the gaping black mouths of circular shafts and silvered the water
that flooded abandoned oblong holes to their brim. Tents and huts stood
white and forsaken in the moonlight: their owners were either gathered
on Bakery Hill, or had repaired to one of the gambling and dancing
saloons that lined the main street. Arrived at the store he set his
frantic dog free, and putting a match to his pipe, began to stroll up
and down.

He felt annoyed with himself for having helped to swell the crowd of
malcontents; and still more for his foolishness in giving the rein to a
momentary irritation. As if it mattered a doit what trash these
foreigners talked! No thinking person took their bombast seriously; the
authorities, with great good sense, let it pass for what it was--a
noisy blowing-off of steam. At heart, the diggers were as sound as good
pippins.

A graver consideration was Purdy's growing fellowship with the rebel
faction. The boy was too young and still too much of a fly-by-night to
have a black mark set against his name. It would be the more absurd,
considering that his sincerity in espousing the diggers' cause was far
from proved. He was of a nature to ride tantivy into anything that
promised excitement or adventure. With, it must regretfully be admitted,
an increasing relish for the limelight, for theatrical effect--see the
cunning with which he had made capital out of a bandaged ankle and dirty
dress! At this rate, and with his engaging ways, he would soon stand for
a little god to the rough, artless crowd. No, he must leave the diggings
--and Mahony rolled various schemes in his mind. He had it! In the
course of the next week or two business would make a journey to
Melbourne imperative. Well, he would damn the extra expense and take the
boy along with him! Purdy was at a loose end, and would no doubt rise
like a fish to a fly at the chance of getting to town free of cost.
After all, why be hard on him? He was not much over twenty, and, at that
age, it was natural enough--especially in a place like this--for a lad
to flit like a butterfly from every cup that took his restless fancy.

Restless? . . . h'm! It was the word Purdy had flung back at him,
earlier in the evening. At the time, he had rebutted the charge, with a
glance at fifteen months spent behind the counter of a store. But there
was a modicum of truth in it, none the less. The life one led out here
was not calculated to tone down any innate restlessness of temperament:
on the contrary, it directly hindered one from becoming fixed and
settled. It was on a par with the houses you lived in--these flimsy
tents and draught-riddled cabins you put up with, "for the time being"--
was just as much of a makeshift affair as they. Its keynote was change.
Fortunes were made, and lost, and made again, before you could say Jack
Robinson; whole townships shot up over-night, to be deserted the moment
the soil ceased to yield; the people you knew were here to-day, and gone
--sold up, burnt out, or dead and buried--to-morrow. And so, whether
you would or not, your whole outlook became attuned to the general
unrest; you lived in a constant anticipation of what was coming next.
Well, he could own to the weakness with more justification than most. If
trade continued to prosper with him as it did at present, it would be no
time before he could sell out and joyfully depart for the old country.

In the meantime, why complain? He had much to be thankful for. To take
only a small point: was this not Saturday night? To-morrow the store was
closed, and a string of congenial occupations offered: from chopping the
week's wood--a clean and wholesome task, which he gladly performed--
through the pages of an engrossing book to a botanical ramble round old
Buninyong. The thought of it cheered him. He stooped to caress his two
cats, which had come out to bear him the mute and pleasant company of
their kind.

What a night! The great round silver moon floated serenely through
space, dimming the stars as it made them, and bathing the earth in
splendour. It was so light that straight black lines of smoke could be
seen mounting from chimneys and open-air fires. The grass-trees which
supplied the fuel for these fires spread a pleasant balsamic odour, and
the live red patches contrasted oddly with the pale ardour of the moon.
Lights twinkled over all the township, but were brightest in Main
Street, the course of which they followed like a rope of fireflies, and
at the Government Camp on the steep western slope, where no doubt, as
young Purdy had impudently averred, the officials still sat over the
dinner-table. It was very quiet--no grog-shops or saloons-of-entertainment
in this neighbourhood, thank goodness!--and the hour was
still too early for drunken roisterers to come reeling home. The only
sound to be heard was that of a man's voice singing OFT IN THE STILLY
NIGHT, to the yetching accompaniment of a concertina. Mahony hummed the
tune.

But it was growing cold, as the nights were apt to do on this tableland
once summer was past. He whistled his dog, and Pompey hurried out with a
guilty air from the back of the house, where the old shaft stood that
served to hold refuse. Mahony put him on the chain, and was just about
to turn in when two figures rounded the corner of a tent and came
towards him, pushing their shadows before them on the milk-white ground.

"'D evenin', doc," said the shorter of the two, a nuggetty little man
who carried his arms curved out from his sides, gorilla-fashion.

"Oh, good evening, Mr. Ocock," said Mahony, recognising a neighbour.--
"Why, Tom, that you? Back already, my boy?"--this to a loutish,
loose-limbed lad who followed behind.--"You don't of course come from the
meeting?"

"Not me, indeed!" gave back his visitor with gall, and turned his head
to spit the juice from a plug. "I've got suthin' better to do as to
listen to a pack o' jabberin' furriners settin' one another by th'ears."

"Nor you, Tom?" Mahony asked the lad, who stood sheepishly shifting his
weight from one leg to the other.

"Nay, nor 'im eether," jumped in his father, before he could speak.
"I'll 'ave none o' my boys playin' the fool up there. And that reminds
me, doc, young Smith'll git 'imself inter the devil of a mess one o'
these days, if you don't look after 'im a bit better'n you do. I 'eard
'im spoutin' away as I come past--usin' language about the Gover'ment
fit to turn you sick."

Mahony coughed. "He's but young yet," he said drily. "After all, youth's
youth, sir, and comes but once in a lifetime. And you can't make lads
into wiseacres between sundown and sunrise."

"No, by Gawd, you can't!" affirmed his companion. "But I think youth's
just a fine name for a sort o' piggish mess What's the good, one 'ud
like to know, of gettin' old, and learnin' wisdom, and knowin' the good
from the bad, when ev'ry lousy young fathead that's born inter the world
starts out again to muddle through it for 'imself, in 'is own way. And
that things 'as got to go on like this, just the same, for ever and ever
--why, it makes me fair tired to think of it. My father didn't 'old with
youth: 'e knocked it out of us by thrashin', just like lyin' and
thievin'. And it's the best way, too.--Wot's that you say?" he flounced
round on the unoffending Tom. "Nothin'? You was only snifflin', was you?
You keep your fly-trap shut, my fine fellow, and make no mousy sounds to
me, or it'll be the worse for you, I can tell you!"

"Come, Mr. Ocock, don't be too hard on the boy."

"Not be 'ard on 'im? When I've got the nasty galoon on me 'ands again
like this?--Chucks up the good post I git 'im in Kilmore, without with
your leave or by your leave. Too lonely for 'is lordship it was. Missed
the sound o' wimmin's petticoats, 'e did." He turned fiercely on his
son. "'Ere, don't you stand starin' there! You get 'ome, and fix up for
the night. Now then, wot are you dawdlin' for, pig-'ead?"

The boy slunk away. When he had disappeared, his father again took up
the challenge of Mahony's silent disapproval. "I can't 'ardly bear the
sight of 'im, doc.--disgracin' me as 'e 'as done. 'Im a father, and not
eighteen till June! A son o' mine, who can't see a wench with 'er bodice
open, but wot 'e must be arter 'er.... No, sir, no son o' mine! I'm a
respectable man, I am!"

"Of course, of course."

"Oh! but they're a sore trial to me, these boys, doc. 'Enry's the only
one . . . if it weren't for 'Enry--Johnny, 'e can't pass the drink, and
now 'ere's this young swine started to nose arter the wimmin."

"There's good stuff in the lads, I'm sure of it. They're just sowing
their wild oats."

"They'll sow no h'oats with me."

"I tell you what it is, Mr. Ocock, you need a woman about your place, to
make it a bit more homelike," said Mahony, calling to mind the pigstye
in which Ocock and his sons housed.

"Course I do!" agreed Ocock. "And Melia, she'll come out to 'er daddy
soon as ever th'ol' woman kicks the bucket.--Drat 'er! It's 'er I've
got to thank for all the mischief."

"Well, well!" said Mahony, and rising knocked out his pipe on the log.
Did his old neighbour once get launched on the subject of his wife's
failings, there was no stopping him. "We all have our crosses."

"That I 'ave. And I'm keepin' you outer your bed, doc., with me blather.
--By gum! and that reminds me I come 'ere special to see you to-night.
Bin gettin' a bit moonstruck, I reckon,"--and he clapped on his hat.

Drawing a sheaf of papers from an inner pocket, he selected one and
offered it to Mahony. Mahony led the way indoors, and lighting a
kerosene-lamp stooped to decipher the letter.

For some weeks now he had been awaiting the delivery of a load of goods,
the invoice for which had long since reached him. From this
communication, carried by hand, he learnt that the drayman, having got
bogged just beyond Bacchus's marsh, had decamped to the Ovens, taking
with him all he could cram into a spring-cart, and disposing of the
remainder for what he could get. The agent in Melbourne refused to be
held responsible for the loss, and threatened to prosecute, if payment
for the goods were not immediately forthcoming. Mahony, who here heard
the first of the affair, was highly indignant at the tone of the letter;
and before he had read to the end resolved to let everything else slide,
and to leave for Melbourne early next morning.

Ocock backed him up in this decision, and with the aid of a great quill
pen stiffly traced the address of his eldest son, who practised as a
solicitor in the capital.

"Go you straight to 'Enry, doc. 'Enry'll see you through."

Brushing aside his dreams of a peaceful Sabbath Mahony made preparations
for his journey. Waking his assistant, he gave the man--a stupid
clodhopper, but honest and attached--instructions how to manage during
his absence, then sent him to the township to order horses. Himself, he
put on his hat and went out to look for Purdy.

His search led him through all the drunken revelry of a Saturday night.
And it was close on twelve before, having followed the trace from
bowling-alley to Chinese cook-shop, from the "Adelphi" to Mother
Flannigan's and haunts still less reputable, he finally succeeded in
catching his bird.




Chapter IV



The two young men took to the road betimes: it still wanted some minutes
to six on the new clock in the tower of Bath's Hotel, when they threw
their legs over their saddles and rode down the steep slope by the Camp
Reserve. The hoofs of the horses pounded the plank bridge that spanned
the Yarrowee, and striking loose stones, and smacking and sucking in the
mud, made a rude clatter in the Sunday quiet.

Having followed for a few hundred yards the wide, rut-riddled
thoroughfare of Main Street, the riders branched off to cross rising
ground. They proceeded in single file and at a footpace, for the highway
had been honeycombed and rendered unsafe; it also ascended steadily.
Just before they entered the bush, which was alive with the rich, strong
whistling of magpies, Purdy halted to look back and wave his hat in
farewell. Mahony also half-turned in the saddle. There it lay--the
scattered, yet congested, unlovely wood and canvas settlement that was
Ballarat. At this distance, and from this height, it resembled nothing
so much as a collection of child's bricks, tossed out at random over the
ground, the low, square huts and cabins that composed it being all of a
shape and size. Some threads of smoke began to mount towards the immense
pale dome of the sky. The sun was catching here the panes of a window,
there the tin that encased a primitive chimney.

They rode on, leaving the warmth of the early sun-rays for the cold blue
shadows of the bush. Neither broke the silence. Mahony's day had not
come to an end with the finding of Purdy. Barely stretched on his
palliasse he had been routed out to attend to Long Jim, who had missed
his footing and pitched into a shaft. The poor old tipsy idiot hauled up
--luckily for him it was a dry, shallow hole--there was a broken
collar-bone to set. Mahony had installed him in his own bed, and had
spent the remainder of the night dozing in a chair.

So now he was heavy-eyed, uncommunicative. As they climbed the shoulder
and came to the rich, black soil that surrounded the ancient cone of
Warrenheip, he mused on his personal relation to the place he had just
left. And not for the first time he asked himself: what am I doing here?
When he was absent from Ballarat, and could dispassionately consider the
life he led there, he was so struck by the incongruity of the thing
that, like the beldame in the nursery-tale, he could have pinched
himself to see whether he waked or slept. Had anyone told him, three
years previously, that the day was coming when he would weigh out soap
and sugar, and hand them over a counter in exchange for money, he would
have held the prophet ripe for Bedlam. Yet here he was, a full-blown
tradesman, and as greedy of gain as any tallow-chandler. Extraordinary,
aye, and distressing, too, the ease with which the human organism
adapted itself; it was just a case of the green caterpillar on the green
leaf. Well, he could console himself with the knowledge that his
apparent submission was only an affair of the surface. He had struck no
roots; and it would mean as little to his half-dozen acquaintances on
Ballarat when he silently vanished from their midst, as it would to him
if he never saw one of them again. Or the country either--and he let
his eye roam unlovingly over the wild, sad-coloured landscape, with its
skimpy, sad-coloured trees.

Meanwhile they were advancing: their nags' hoofs, beating in unison,
devoured mile after mile of the road. It was a typical colonial road; it
went up hill and down dale, turned aside for no obstacles. At one time
it ran down a gully that was almost a ravine, to mount straight up the
opposite side among boulders that reached to the belly-bands. At others,
it led through a reedy swamp, or a stony watercourse; or it became a
bog; or dived through a creek. Where the ground was flat and treeless,
it was a rutty, well-worn track between two seas of pale, scant grass.

More than once, complaining of a mouth like sawdust, Purdy alighted and
limped across the verandah of a house-of-accommodation; but they did not
actually draw rein till, towards midday, they reached a knot of
weatherboard verandahed stores, smithies and public-houses, arranged at
the four Corners of two cross-roads. Here they made a substantial
luncheon; and the odour of fried onions carried far and wide. Mahony
paid his three shillings for a bottle of ale; but Purdy washed down the
steak with cup after cup of richly sugared tea.

In the early afternoon they set off again, revived and refreshed. Purdy
caught at a bunch of aromatic leaves and burst into a song; and Mahony.
. . . Good God! With a cloudless sky overhead, a decent bit of
horseflesh between his knees, and the prospect of a three days' holiday
from storekeeping, his name would not have been what it was if he had
for long remained captious, downhearted. Insufficient sleep, and an
empty stomach--nothing on earth besides! A fig for his black thoughts!
The fact of his being obliged to spend a few years in the colony would,
in the end, profit him, by widening his experience of the world and his
fellow-men. It was possible to lead a sober, Godfearing life, no matter
in what rude corner of the globe you were pitchforked.--And in this
mood he was even willing to grant the landscape a certain charm. Since
leaving Ballan the road had dipped up and down a succession of swelling
rises, grass-grown and untimbered. From the top of these ridges the view
was a far one: you looked straight across undulating waves of country
and intervening forest-land, to where, on the horizon, a long, low
sprawling range of hills lay blue--cobalt-blue, and painted in with a
sure brush--against the porcelain-blue of the sky. What did the washed-out
tints of the foliage matter, when, wherever you turned, you could
count on getting these marvellous soft distances, on always finding a
range of blue-veiled hills, lovely and intangible as a dream?

There was not much traffic to the diggings on a Sunday. And having come
to a level bit of ground, the riders followed a joint impulse and broke
into a canter. As they began to climb again they fell naturally into one
of those familiar talks, full of allusion and reminiscence, that are
only possible between two of a sex who have lived through part of their
green days together.

It began by Purdy referring to the satisfactory fashion in which he had
disposed of his tools, his stretcher-bed, and other effects: he was not
travelling to Melbourne empty-handed.

Mahony rallied him. "You were always a good one at striking a bargain,
my boy! What about: 'Four mivvies for an alley!'--eh, Dickybird?"

This related to their earliest meeting, and was a standing joke between
them. Mahony could recall the incident as clearly as though it had
happened yesterday: how the sturdy little apple-cheeked English boy,
with the comical English accent, had suddenly bobbed up at his side on
the way home from school, and in that laughable sing-song of his,
without modulation or emphasis, had offered to "swop" him, as above.

Purdy laughed and paid him back in kind. "Yes, and the funk you were in
for fear Spiny Tatlow 'ud see us, and peach to the rest!"

"Yes. What young idiots boys are!"

In thought he added: "And what snobs!" For the breach of convention--he
was an upper-form boy at the time--had not been his sole reason for
wishing to shake off his junior. Behind him, Mahony, when he reached
home, closed the door of one of the largest houses in the most exclusive
square in Dublin. Whereas Purdy lived in a small, common house in a side
street. Visits there had to be paid surreptitiously.

All the same these were frequent--and for the best of reasons. Mahony
could still see Purdy's plump, red-cheeked English mother, who was as
jolly and happy as her boy, hugging the loaf to her bosom while she cut
round after round of bread and butter and jam, for two cormorant
throats. And the elder boy, long-limbed and lank, all wrist and ankle,
had invariably been the hungrier of the two; for, on the glossy damask
of the big house, often not enough food was set to satisfy the growing
appetites of himself and his sisters.--"Dickybird, can't you see us,
with our backs to the wall, in that little yard of yours, trying who
could take the biggest bite?--or going round the outside: 'Crust first,
and though you burst, By the bones of Davy Jones!' till only a little
island of jam was left?"

Purdy laughed heartily at these and other incidents fished up by his
friend from the well of the years; but he did not take part in the sport
himself. He had not Mahony's gift for recalling detail: to him past was
past. He only became alive and eager when the talk turned, as it soon
did, on his immediate prospects.

This time, to his astonishment, Mahony had had no trouble in persuading
Purdy to quit the diggings. In addition, here was the boy now declaring
openly that what he needed, and must have, was a fixed and steadily
paying job. With this decision Mahony was in warm agreement, and
promised all the help that lay in his power.

But Purdy was not done; he hummed and hawed and fidgeted; he took off
his hat and looked inside it; he wiped his forehead and the nape of his
neck.

Mahony knew the symptoms. "Come, Dickybird. Spit it out, my boy!"

"Yes . . . er. . . . Well, the fact is, Dick, I begin to think it's time
I settled down."

Mahony gave a whistle. "Whew! A lady in the case?"

"That's the chat. Just oblige yours truly by takin' a squint at this,
will you?"

He handed his friend a squarely-folded sheet of thinnest blue paper,
with a large purple stamp in one corner, and a red seal on the back.
Opening it Mahony discovered three crossed pages, written in a
delicately pointed, minute, Italian hand.

He read the letter to the end, deliberately, and with a growing sense of
relief: composition, expression and penmanship, all met with his
approval. "This is the writing of a person of some refinement, my son."

"Well, er . . . yes," said Purdy. He seemed about to add a further word,
then swallowed it, and went on: "Though, somehow or other, Till's
different to herself, on paper. But she's the best of girls, Dick. Not
one o' your ethereal, die-away, bread-and-butter misses. There's
something OF Till there is, and she's always on for a lark. I never met
such girls for larks as her and 'er sister. The very last time I was
there, they took and hung up . . . me and some other fellers had been
stoppin' up a bit late the night before, and kickin' up a bit of a
shindy, and what did those girls do? They got the barman to come into my
room while I was asleep, and hang a bucket o' water to one of the beams
over the bed. Then I'm blamed if they didn't tie a string from it to my
big toe! I gives a kick, down comes the bucket and half drowns me.--
Gosh, how those girls did laugh!"

"H'm!" said Mahony dubiously; while Purdy in his turn chewed the cud of
a pleasant memory.--"Well, I for my part should be glad to see you
married and settled, with a good wife always beside you."

"That's just the rub," said Purdy, and vigorously scratched his head.

"Till's a first-class girl as a sweetheart and all that; but when I come
to think of puttin' my head in the noose, from now till doomsday--why
then, somehow, I can't bring myself to pop the question."

"There's going to be no trifling with the girl's feelings, I hope, sir?"

"Bosh! But I say, Dick, I wish you'd turn your peepers on 'er and tell
me what you make of 'er. She's AI 'erself, but she's got a mother. . . .
By Job, Dick, if I thought Tilly 'ud ever get like that . . . and
they're exactly the same build, too."

It would certainly be well for him to inspect Purdy's flame, thought
Mahony. Especially since the anecdote told did not bear out the good
impression left by the letter--went far, indeed, to efface it. Still,
he was loath to extend his absence by spending a night at Geelong,
where, a, it came out, the lady lived; and he replied evasively that it
must depend on the speed with which he could put through his business in
Melbourne.

Purdy was silent for a time. Then, with a side-glance at his companion,
he volunteered: "I say, Dick, I know some one who'd suit you."

"The deuce you do!" said Mahony, and burst out laughing. "Miss Tilly's
sister, no doubt?"

"No, no--not her. Jinn's all right, but she's not your sort. But
they've got a girl living with 'em--a sort o' poor relation, or
something--and she's a horse of quite another colour.--I say, old man,
serious now, have you never thought o' gettin' spliced?"

Again Mahony laughed. At his companion's words there descended to him,
once more, from some shadowy distance, some pure height, the rose-tinted
vision of the wife-to-be which haunts every man's youth. And, in
ludicrous juxtaposition, he saw the women, the only women he had
encountered since coming to the colony: the hardworking, careworn wives
of diggers; the harridans, sluts and prostitutes who made up the
balance.

He declined to be drawn. "Is it old Moll Flannigan or one of her
darlints you'd be wishing me luck to, ye spalpeen?"

"Man, don't I say I've FOUND the wife for you?" Purdy was not jesting,
and did not join in the fresh salvo of laughter with which Mahony
greeted his words. "Oh, blow it, Dick, you're too fastidious--too
damned particular! Say what you like, there's good in all of 'em--even
in old Mother Flannigan 'erself--and 'specially when she's got a drop
inside 'er. Fuddle old Moll a bit, and she'd give you the very shift off
her back.--Don't I thank the Lord, that's all, I'm not built like you!
Why, the woman isn't born I can't get on with. All's fish that comes to
my net.--Oh, to be young, Dick, and to love the girls! To see their
little waists, and their shoulders, and the dimples in their cheeks! See
'em put up their hands to their bonnets, and how their little feet peep
out when the wind blows their petticoats against their legs!" and Purdy
rose in his stirrups and stretched himself, in an excess of wellbeing.

"You young reprobate!"

"Bah!--you! You've got water in your veins."

"Nothing of the sort! Set me among decent women and there's no company I
enjoy more," declared Mahony.

"Fish-blood, fish-blood!--Dick, it's my belief you were born old."

Mahony was still young enough to be nettled by doubts cast on his
vitality. Purdy laughed in his sleeve. Aloud he said: "Well, look here,
old man, I'll lay you a wager. I bet you you're not game, when you see
that tulip I've been tellin' you about, to take her in your arms and
kiss her. A fiver on it!"

"Done!" cried Mahony. "And I'll have it in one note, if you please!"

"Bravo!" cried Purdy. "Bravo, Dick!" And having gained his end, and
being on a good piece of road between post-and-rail fences, he set spurs
to his horse and cantered off, singing as he went:

SHE WHEELS A WHEELBARROW,
THROUGH STREETS WIDE AND NARROW,
CRYING COCKLES, AND MUSSELS,
ALIVE, ALIVE-OH!

But the sun was growing large in the western sky; on the ground to the
left, their failing shadows slanted out lengthwise; those cast by the
horses' bodies were mounted on high spindle-legs. The two men ceased
their trifling, and nudged by the fall of day began to ride at a more
business-like pace, pushing forward through the deep basin of Bacchus's
marsh, and on for miles over wide, treeless plains, to where the road
was joined by the main highway from the north, coming down from Mount
Alexander and the Bendigo. Another hour, and from a gentle eminence the
buildings of Melbourne were visible, the mastheads of the many vessels
riding at anchor in Hobson's Bay. Here, too, the briny scent of the sea,
carrying up over grassy flats, met their nostrils, and set Mahony
hungrily sniffing. The brief twilight came and went, and it was already
night when they urged their weary beasts over the Moonee ponds, a
winding chain of brackish waterholes. The horses shambled along the
broad, hilly tracks of North Melbourne; warily picked their steps
through the city itself. Dingy oil-lamps, set here and there at the
corners of roads so broad that you could hardly see across them, shed
but a meagre light, and the further the riders advanced, the more
difficult became their passage: the streets, in process of laying, were
heaped with stones and intersected by trenches. Finally, dismounting,
they thrust their arms through their bridles, and laboriously covered
the last half-mile of the journey on foot. Having lodged the horses at a
livery-stable, they repaired to a hotel in Little Collins Street. Here
Purdy knew the proprietor, and they were fortunate enough to secure a
small room for the use of themselves alone.




Chapter V



Melbourne is built on two hills and the valley that lies between.

It was over a year since Mahony or Purdy had been last in the capital,
and next morning, on stepping out of the "Adam and Eve," they walked up
the eastern slope to look about them. From the summit of the hill their
view stretched to the waters of the Bay, and its forest of masts. The
nearer foreground was made up of mud flats, through which a sluggish,
coffee-coloured river wound its way to the sea. On the horizon to the
north, the Dandenong Ranges rose storm-blue and distinct, and seemed
momently to be drawing nearer; for a cold wind was blowing, which
promised rain. The friends caught their glimpses of the landscape
between dense clouds of white dust, which blotted everything out for
minutes at a time, and filled eyes, nose, ears with a gritty powder.

Tiring of this they turned and descended Great Collins Street--a
spacious thoroughfare that dipped into the hollow and rose again, and
was so long that on its western height pedestrians looked no bigger than
ants. In the heart of the city men were everywhere at work, laying gas
and drain-pipes, macadamising, paving, kerbing: no longer would the old
wives' tale be credited of the infant drowned in the deeps of Swanston
Street, or of the bullock which sank, inch by inch, before its owner's
eyes in the Elizabeth Street bog. Massive erections of freestone were
going up alongside here a primitive, canvas-fronted dwelling, there one
formed wholly of galvanised iron. Fashionable shops, two storeys high,
stood next tiny, dilapidated weatherboards. In the roadway, handsome
chaises, landaus, four-in-hands made room for bullock-teams, eight and
ten strong; for tumbrils carrying water or refuse--or worse; for droves
of cattle, mobs of wild colts bound for auction, flocks of sheep on
their way to be boiled down for tallow. Stock-riders and bull-punchers
rubbed shoulders with elegants in skirted coats and shepherd's plaid
trousers, who adroitly skipped heaps of stones and mortar, or crept
along the narrow edging of kerb.

The visitors from up-country paused to listen to a brass band that
played outside a horse-auction mart; to watch the shooting in a
rifle-gallery. The many decently attired females they met also called for
notice. Not a year ago, and no reputable woman walked abroad oftener
than she could help: now, even at this hour, the streets were starred
with them. Purdy, open-mouthed, his eyes a-dance, turned his head this
way and that, pointed and exclaimed. But then HE had slept like a log,
and felt in his own words "as fit as a fiddle." Whereas Mahony had sat
his horse the whole night through, had never ceased to balance himself
in an imaginary saddle. And when at daybreak he had fallen into a deeper
sleep, he was either reviewing outrageous females on Purdy's behalf, or
accepting wagers to kiss them.

Hence, diverting as were the sights of the city, he did not come to them
with the naive receptivity of Purdy. It was, besides, hard to detach his
thoughts from the disagreeable affair that had brought him to Melbourne.
And as soon as banks and offices began to take down their shutters, he
hurried off to his interview with the carrying-agent.

The latter's place of business was behind Great Collins Street, in a
lane reached by a turnpike. Found with some trouble, it proved to be a
rude shanty wedged in between a Chinese laundry and a Chinese eating-house.
The entrance was through a yard in which stood a collection of
rabbit-hutches, while further back gaped a dirty closet. At the sound of
their steps the man they sought emerged, and Mahony could not repress an
exclamation of surprise. When, a little over a twelvemonth ago, he had
first had dealings with him, this Bolliver had been an alert and
respectable man of business. Now he was evidently on the downgrade; and
the cause of the deterioration was advertised in his bloodshot eyeballs
and veinous cheeks. Early as was the hour, he had already been
indulging: his breath puffed sour. Mahony prepared to state the object
of his visit in no uncertain terms. But his preliminaries were cut short
by a volley of abuse. The man accused him point-blank of having been
privy to the rascally drayman's fraud and of having hoped, by lying low,
to evade his liability. Mahony lost his temper, and vowed that he would
have Bolliver up for defamation of character. To which the latter
retorted that the first innings in a court of law would be his: he had
already put the matter in the hands of his attorney. This was the last
straw. Purdy had to intervene and get Mahony away. They left the agent
shaking his fist after them and cursing the bloody day on which he'd
ever been fool enough to do a deal with a bloody gentleman.

At the corner of the street the friends paused for a hasty conference.
Mahony was for marching off to take the best legal advice the city had
to offer. But Purdy disapproved. Why put himself to so much trouble,
when he had old Ocock's recommendation to his lawyer-son in his coat
pocket? What, in the name of Leary-cum-Fitz, was the sense of making an
enemy for life of the old man, his next-door neighbour, and a good
customer to boot?

These counsels prevailed, and they turned their steps towards Chancery
Lane, where was to be found every variety of legal practitioner from
barrister to scrivener. Having matched the house-number and descried the
words: "Mr. Henry Ocock, Conveyancer and Attorney, Commissioner of
Affidavits," painted black on two dusty windows, they climbed a wooden
stair festooned with cobwebs, to a landing where an injunction to: "Push
and Enter!" was, rudely inked on a sheet of paper and affixed to a door.

Obeying, they passed into a dingy little room, the entire furnishing of
which consisted of a couple of deal tables, with a chair to each. These
were occupied by a young man and a boy, neither of whom rose at their
entrance. The lad was cutting notches in a stick and whistling
tunefully; the clerk, a young fellow in the early twenties, who had a
mop of flaming red hair and small-slit white-lashed eyes, looked at the
strangers, but without lifting his head: his eyes performed the
necessary motion.

Mahony desired to know if he had the pleasure of addressing Mr. Henry
Ocock. In reply the red-head gave a noiseless laugh, which he
immediately quenched by clapping his hand over his mouth, and shutting
one eye at his junior said: "No--nor yet the Shar o' Persia, nor
Alphybetical Foster!--What can I do for you, governor?"

"You can have the goodness to inform Mr. Ocock that I wish to see him!"
flashed back Mahony.

"Singin' til-ril-i-tum-tum-dee-ay!--Now then, Mike, me child, toddle!"

With patent reluctance the boy ceased his whittling, and dawdled across
the room to an inner door through which he vanished, having first let
his knuckles bump, as if by chance, against the wood of the panel. A
second later he reappeared. "Boss's engaged." But Mahony surprised a
lightning sign between the pair.

"No, sir, I decline to state my business to anyone but Mr. Ocock
himself!" he declared hotly, in response to the red-haired man's
invitation to "get it off his chest." "If you choose to find out when he
will be at liberty, I will wait so long--no longer."

As the office-boy had somehow failed to hit his seat on his passage to
the outer door, there was nothing left for the clerk to do but himself
to undertake the errand. He lounged up from his chair, and, in his case
without even the semblance of a knock, squeezed through a foot wide
aperture, in such a fashion that the two strangers should not catch a
glimpse of what was going on inside. But his voice came to them through
the thin partition. "Oh, just a couple o' stony-broke Paddylanders."
Mahony, who had seized the opportunity to dart an angry glance at Purdy,
which should say: "This is what one gets by coming to your second-rate
pettifoggers!" now let his eyes rest on his friend and critically
detailed the latter's appearance. The description fitted to a nicety.
Purdy did in truth look down on his luck. Unkempt, bearded to the eyes,
there he stood clutching his shapeless old cabbage-tree, in mud-stained
jumper and threadbare smalls--the very spit of the unsuccessful digger.
Well might they be suspected of not owning the necessary to pay their
way!

"All serene, mister! The boss'ull take you on."

The sanctum was a trifle larger than the outer room, but almost equally
bare; half-a-dozen deed-boxes were piled up in one corner. Stalking in
with his chin in the air, Mahony found himself in the presence of a man
of his own age, who sat absorbed in the study of a document. At their
entry two beady grey eyes lifted to take a brief but thorough survey,
and a hand with a pencil in it pointed to the single empty chair. Mahony
declined to translate the gesture and remained standing.

Under the best of circumstances it irked him to be kept waiting. Here,
following on the clerk's saucy familiarity, the wilful delay made his
gorge rise. For a few seconds he fumed in silence; then, his patience
exhausted, he burst out: "My time, sir, is as precious as your own. With
your permission, I will take my business elsewhere."

At these words, and at the tone in which they were spoken, the lawyer's
head shot up as if he had received a blow under the chin. Again he
narrowed his eyes at the couple. And this time he laid the document from
him and asked suavely: "What can I do for you?"

The change in his manner though slight was unmistakable. Mahony had a
nice ear for such refinements, and responded to the shade of difference
with the promptness of one who had been on the watch for it. His
irritation fell; he was ready on the instant to be propitiated. Putting
his hat aside he sat down, and having introduced himself, made reference
to Ballarat and his acquaintance with the lawyer's father: "Who directed
me to you, sir, for advice on a vexatious affair, in which I have had
the misfortune to become involved."

With a "Pray be seated!" Ocock rose and cleared a chair for Purdy.
Resuming his seat he joined his hands, and wound them in and out. "I
think you may take it from me that no case is so unpromising but what we
shall be able to find a loophole."

Mahony thanked him--with a touch of reserve. "I trust you will still be
of that opinion when you have heard the facts." And went on: "Myself, I
do not doubt it. I am not a rich man, but serious though the monetary
loss would be to me, I should settle the matter out of court, were I not
positive that I had right on my side." To which Ocock returned a quick:
"Oh, quite so . . . of course."

Like his old father, he was a short, heavily built man; but there the
likeness ended. He had a high, domed forehead, above a thin, hooked
nose. His skin was of an almost Jewish pallor. Fringes of straight,
jet-black hair grew down the walls of his cheeks and round his chin,
meeting beneath it. The shaven upper lid was long and flat, with no
central markings, and helped to form a mouth that had not much more shape
or expression than a slit cut by a knife in a sheet of paper. The chin was
bare to the size of a crown-piece; and, both while he spoke and while he
listened to others speaking, the lawyer caressed this patch with his
finger-tips; so that in the course of time it had arrived at a state of
high polish--like the shell of an egg.

The air with which he heard his new client out was of a non-committal
kind; and Mahony, having talked his first heat off, grew chilled by the
wet blanket of Ocock's silence. There was nothing in this of the frank
responsiveness with which your ordinary mortal lends his ear. The brain
behind the dome was, one might be sure, adding, combining, comparing,
and drawing its own conclusions. Why should lawyers, he wondered, treat
those who came to them like children, advancing only in so far as it
suited them out of the darkness where they housed among strangely worded
paragraphs and obscure formulas?--But these musings were cut short.
Having fondled his chin for a further moment, Ocock looked up and put a
question. And, while he could not but admire the lawyer's acumen, this
did not lessen Mahony's discomfort. All unguided, it went straight for
what he believed to be the one weak spot in his armour. It related to
the drayman. Contrary to custom Mahony had, on this occasion, himself
recommended the driver. And, as he admitted it, his ears rang again with
the plaints of his stranded fellow-countryman, a wheedler from the South
Country, off whose tongue the familiar brogue had dripped like honey.
His recommendation, he explained, had been made out of charity; he had
not forced the agent to engage the man; and it would surely be a gross
injustice if he alone were to be held responsible.

To his relief Ocock did not seem to attach importance to the fact, but
went on to ask whether any written agreement had existed between the
parties. "No writing? H'm! So . . . so!" To read his thoughts was an
impossibility; but as he proceeded with his catechism it was easy to see
how his interest in the case grew. He began to treat it tenderly; warmed
to it, as an artist to his work; and Mahony's spirits rose in
consequence.

Having selected a number of minor points that would tell in their
favour, Ocock dilated upon the libellous aspersion that had been cast on
Mahony's good faith. "My experience has invariably been this, Mr.
Mahony: people who suggest that kind of thing, and accuse others of it,
are those who are accustomed to make use of such means themselves. In
this case, there may have been no goods at all--the thing may prove to
have been a put-up job from beginning to end."

But his hearer's start of surprise was too marked to be overlooked.
"Well, let us take the existence of the goods for granted. But might
they not, being partly of a perishable nature, have gone bad or
otherwise got spoiled on the road, and not have been in a fit condition
for you to receive at your end?"

This was credible; Mahony nodded his assent. He also added,
gratuitously, that he had before now been obliged to reclaim on casks of
mouldy mess-pork. At which Ocock ceased coddling his chin to point a
straight forefinger at him, with a triumphant: "You see!"--But Purdy
who, sick and tired of the discussion, had withdrawn to the window to
watch the rain zig-zag in runlets down the dusty panes, and hiss and
spatter on the sill; Purdy puckered his lips to a sly and soundless
whistle.

The interview at an end, Ocock mentioned, in his frigidly urbane way,
that he had recently been informed there was an excellent opening for a
firm of solicitors in Ballarat: could Mr. Mahony, as a resident, confirm
the report? Mahony regretted his ignorance, but spoke in praise of the
Golden City and its assured future.--"This would be most welcome news
to your father, sir. I can picture his satisfaction on hearing it."

--"Golly, Dick, that's no mopoke!" was Purdy's comment as they emerged
into the rain-swept street. "A crafty devil, if ever I see'd one."

"Henry Ocock seems to me to be a singularly able man," replied Mahony
drily. To his thinking, Purdy had cut a poor figure during the visit: he
had said no intelligent word, but had lounged lumpishly in his chair--
the very picture of the country man come up to the metropolis--and,
growing tired of this, had gone like a restless child to thrum his
fingers on the panes.

"Oh, you bet! He'll slither you through."

"What? Do you insinuate there's any need for slithering . . as you call
it?" cried Mahony.

"Why, Dick, old man. . . . And as long as he gets you through, what does
it matter?"

"It matters to me, sir!"

The rain, a tropical deluge, was over by the time they reached the
hollow. The sun shone again, hot and sticky, and people were venturing
forth from their shelters to wade through beds of mud, or to cross, on
planks, the deep, swift rivers formed by the open drains. There were
several such cloud-bursts in the course of the afternoon; and each time
the refuse of the city was whirled past on the flood, to be left as an
edging to the footpaths when the water went down.

Mahony spent the rest of the day in getting together a fresh load of
goods. For, whether he lost or won his suit, the store had to be
restocked without delay.

That evening towards eight o'clock the two men turned out of the Lowther
Arcade. The night was cold, dark and wet; and they had wound comforters
round their bare throats. They were on their way to the Mechanics' Hall,
to hear a lecture on Mesmerism. Mahony had looked forward to this all
through the sorry job of choosing soaps and candles. The subject piqued
his curiosity. It was the one drop of mental stimulant he could hope to
extract from his visit. The theatre was out of the question: if none of
the actors happened to be drunk, a fair proportion of the audience was
sure to be.

Part of his pleasure this evening was due to Purdy having agreed to
accompany him. It was always a matter of regret to Mahony that, outside
the hobnob of daily life, he and his friend had so few interests in
common; that Purdy should rest content with the coarse diversions of the
ordinary digger.

Then, from the black shadows of the Arcade, a woman's form detached
itself, and a hand was laid on Purdy's arm.

"Shout us a drink, old pal!"

Mahony made a quick, repellent movement of the shoulder. But Purdy, some
vagrom fancy quickened in him, either by the voice, which was not
unrefined, or by the stealthiness of the approach, Purdy turned to look.

"Come, come, my boy. We've no time to lose."

Without raising her pleasant voice, the woman levelled a volley of abuse
at Mahony, then muttered a word in Purdy's ear.

"Just half a jiff, Dick," said Purdy. "Or go ahead.--I'll make up on
you."

For a quarter of an hour Mahony aired his heels in front of a
public-house. Then he gave it up, and went on his way. But his pleasure
was damped: the inconsiderateness with which Purdy could shake him off,
always had a disconcerting effect on him. To face the matter squarely:
the friendship between them did not mean as much to Purdy as to him; the
sudden impulse that had made the boy relinquish a promising clerkship to
emigrate in his wake--into this he had read more than it would hold.--
And, as he picked his muddy steps, Mahony agreed with himself that the
net result, for him, of Purdy's coming to the colony, had been to saddle
him with a new responsibility. It was his lot for ever to be helping the
lad out of tight places. Sometimes it made him feel unnecessarily
bearish. For Purdy had the knack, common to sunny, improvident natures,
of taking everything that was done for him for granted. His want of
delicacy in this respect was distressing. Yet, in spite of it all, it
was hard to bear him a grudge for long together. A well-meaning young
beggar if ever there was one! That very day how faithfully he had stuck
at his side, assisting at dull discussions and duller purchasings,
without once obtruding his own concerns.--And here Mahony remembered
their talk on the ride to town. Purdy had expressed the wish to settle
down and take a wife. A poor friend that would be who did not back him
up in this intention.

As he sidled into one of the front benches of a half-empty hall--the
mesmerist, a corpse-like man in black, already surveyed its thinness
from the platform with an air of pained surprise--Mahony decided that
Purdy should have his chance. The heavy rains of the day, and the
consequent probable flooding of the Ponds and the Marsh, would serve as
an excuse for a change of route. He would go and have a look at Purdy's
sweetheart; would ride back to the diggings by way of Geelong.




Chapter VI



In a whitewashed parlour of "Beamish's Family Hotel" some few miles
north of Geelong, three young women, in voluminous skirts and with their
hair looped low over their ears, sat at work. Books lay open on the
table before two of them; the third was making a bookmark. Two were
fair, plump, rosy, and well over twenty; the third, pale-skinned and
dark, was still a very young girl. She it was who stitched magenta
hieroglyphics on a strip of perforated cardboard.

"Do lemme see, Poll," said the eldest of the trio, and laid down her
pen. "You 'AVE bin quick about it, my dear."

Polly, the brunette, freed her needle of silk and twirled the bookmark
by its ribbon ends. Spinning, the mystic characters united to form the
words: "Kiss me quick."

Her companions tittered. "If ma didn't know for certain 'twas meant for
your brother John, she'd never 'ave let you make it," said the second
blonde, whose name was Jinny.

"Girls, what a lark it 'ud be to send it up to Purdy Smith, by Ned!"
said the first speaker.

Polly blushed. "Fy, Tilly! That wouldn't be ladylike."

Tilly's big bosom rose and fell in a sigh. "What's a lark never is."

Jinny giggled, agreeably scandalized: "What things you do say. Till!
Don't let ma 'ear you, that's all."

"Ma be blowed!--'Ow does this look now, Polly?" And across the wax-cloth
Tilly pushed a copybook, in which she had laboriously inscribed a
prim maxim the requisite number of times.

Polly laid down her work and knitted her brows over the page.

"Well . . . it's better than the last one, Tilly," she said gently,
averse to hurting her pupil's feelings. "But still not quite good
enough. The f's, look, should be more like this." And taking a steel pen
she made several long-tailed f's, in a tiny, pointed hand.

Tilly yielded an ungrudging admiration. "'Ow well you do it, Poll! But I
HATE writing. If only ma weren't so set on it!"

"You'll never be able to write yourself to a certain person, 'oos name I
won't mention, if you don't 'urry up and learn," said Jinny, looking
sage.

"What's the odds! We've always got Poll to write for us," gave back
Tilly, and lazily stretched out a large, plump hand to recover the
copybook. "A certain person'll never know--or not till it's too late."

"Here, Polly dear," said Jinny, and held out a book. "I know it now."

Again Polly put down her embroidery. She took the book. "Plough!" said
she.

"Plough?" echoed Jinny vaguely, and turned a pair of soft, cow-like
brown eyes on the blowflies sitting sticky and sleepy round the walls of
the room. "Wait a jiff . . . lemme think! Plough? Oh, yes, I know. P-l
. . . ."

"P-l-o" prompted Polly, the speller coming to a full stop.

" P-l-o-w!" shot out Jinny, in triumph.

"Not QUITE right," said Polly. "It's g-h, Jinny: p-l-o-u-g-h."

"Oh, that's what I meant. I knew it right enough."

"Well, now, trough!"

"Trough?" repeated Jinny, in the same slow, vacant way.

"Trough? Wait, lemme think a minute. T-r-o. . . ."

Polly's lips all but formed the "u," to prevent the "f" she felt
impending. "I'm afraid you'll have to take it again, Jinny dear," she
said reluctantly, as nothing further was forthcoming.

"Oh, no, Poll. T-r-o-" began Jinny with fresh vigour. But before she
could add a fourth to the three letters, a heavy foot pounded down the
passage, and a stout woman, out of breath, her cap-bands flying, came
bustling in and slammed the door.

"Girls, girls, now whatever d'ye think? 'Ere's Purdy Smith come ridin'
inter the yard, an' another gent with 'im. Scuttle along now, an' put
them books away!--Tilda, yer net's 'alf 'angin' off--you don't want
yer sweet-'eart to see you all untidy like that, do you?--'Elp 'em,
Polly my dear, and be quick about it!--H'out with yer sewin', chicks!"

Sprung up from their seats the three girls darted to and fro. The
telltale spelling and copy-books were flung into the drawer of the
chiffonier, and the key was turned on them. Polly, her immodest sampler
safely hidden at the bottom of her workbox, was the most composed of the
three; and while locks were smoothed and collars adjusted in the
adjoining bedroom, she remained behind to look out thimbles, needles and
strips of plain sewing, and to lay them naturally about the table.

The blonde sisters reappeared, all aglow with excitement. Tilly, in
particular, was in a sad flutter.

"Girls, I simply CAN'T face 'im in 'ere!" she declared. "It was 'ere, in
this very room, that 'e first--you know what!"

"Nor can I," cried Jinny, catching the fever.

"Feel my 'eart, 'ow it beats," said her sister, pressing her hands, one
over the other, to her full left breast.

"Mine's every bit as bad," averred Jinny.

"I believe I shall 'ave the palpitations and faint away, if I stop
'ere."

Polly was genuinely concerned. "I'll run and call mother back."

"No, I tell you what: let's 'ide!" cried Tilly, recovering.

Jinny wavered. "But will they find us?"

"Duffer! Of course. Ma'll give 'em the 'int.--Come on!"

Suiting the action to the word, and imitated by her sister, she
scrambled over the window sill to the verandah. Polly found herself
alone. Her conscientious scrupling: "But mother may be cross!" had
passed unheeded. Now, she, too, fell into a flurry. She could not remain
there, by herself, to meet two young men, one of whom was a stranger:
steps and voices were already audible at the end of the passage. And so,
since there was nothing else for it, she clambered after her friends--
though with difficulty; for she was not very tall.

This was why, when Mrs. Beamish flourished open the door, exclaiming in
a hearty tone: "An' 'ere you'll find 'em, gents--sittin' at their
needles, busy as bees!" the most conspicuous object in the room was a
very neat leg, clad in a white stocking and black prunella boot, which
was just being drawn up over the sill. It flashed from sight; and the
patter of running feet beat the floor of the verandah.

"Ha, ha, too late! The birds have flown," laughed Purdy, and smacked his
thigh.

"Well, I declare, an' so they 'ave--the NAUGHTY creatures!" exclaimed
Mrs. Beamish in mock dismay. "But trust you, Mr. Smith, for sayin' the
right thing. Jus' exackly like birds they are--so shy an' scared-like.
But I'll give you the 'int, gents. They'll not be far away. Jus' you
show 'em two can play at that game.--Mr. S., you know the h'arbour!"

"Should say I do! Many's the time I've anchored there," cried Purdy with
a guffaw. "Come, Dick!" And crossing to the window he straddled over the
frame, and disappeared.

Reluctantly Mahony followed him.

From the verandah they went down into the vegetable-garden, where the
drab and tangled growths that had outlived the summer were beaten flat
by the recent rains. At the foot of the garden, behind a clump of
gooseberry-bushes, stood an arbour formed of a yellow buddleia. No trace
of a petticoat was visible, so thick was the leafage; but a loud
whispering and tittering betrayed the fugitives.

At the apparition of the young men, who stooped to the low entrance,
there was a cascade of shrieks.

"Oh, lor, 'OW you frightened me! 'Owever did you know we were 'ere?"

"You wicked fellow! Get away, will you! I 'ate the very sight of you!"--
this from Tilly, as Purdy, his hands on her hips, gave her a smacking
kiss.

The other girls feared a like greeting; there were more squeaks and
squeals, and some ineffectual dives for the doorway. Purdy spread out
his arms. "Hi, look out, stop 'em, Dick! Now then, man, here's your
chance!"

Mahony stood blinking; it was dusk inside, after the dazzle of the sun.
At this reminder of the foolish bet he had taken, he hurriedly seized
the young woman who was next him, and embraced her. It chanced to be
Jinny. She screamed, and made a feint of feeling mortally outraged.
Mahony had to dodge a box on the ears.

But Purdy burst into a horselaugh, and held his sides. Without knowing
why, Tilly joined in, and Jinny, too, was infected. When Purdy could
speak, he blurted out: "Dick, you fathead!--you jackass!--you've
mugged the wrong one."

At this clownish mirth, Mahony felt the blood boil up over ears and
temples. For an instant he stood irresolute. Did he admit the blunder,
his victim would be hurt. Did he deny it, he would save his own face at
the expense of the other young woman's feelings. So, though he could
have throttled Purdy he put a bold front on the matter.

"CARPE DIEM is my motto, my boy! I intend to make both young ladies pay
toll."

His words were the signal for a fresh scream and flutter: the third
young person had escaped, and was flying down the path. This called for
chase and capture. She was not very agile but she knew the ground,
which, outside the garden, was rocky and uneven. For a time, she had
Mahony at vantage; his heart was not in the game: in cutting undignified
capers among the gooseberry-bushes he felt as foolish as a performing
dog. Then, however, she caught her toe in her dress and stumbled. He
could not disregard the opportunity; he advanced upon her.

But two beseeching hands fended him off. "No . . . no. Please . . . oh,
PLEASE, don't!"

This was no catchpenny coquetry; it was a genuine dread of undue
familiarity. A kindred trait in Mahony's own nature rose to meet it.

"Certainly not, if it is disagreeable to you. Shall we shake hands
instead?"

Two of the blackest eyes he had ever seen were raised to his, and a
flushed face dimpled. They shook hands, and he offered his arm.

Halfway to the arbour, they met the others coming to find them. The
girls bore diminutive parasols; and Purdy, in rollicking spirits, Tilly
on one arm, Jinny on the other, held Polly's above his head. On the
appearance of the laggards, Jinny, who had put her own interpretation on
the misplaced kiss, prepared to free her arm; but Purdy, winking at his
friend, squeezed it to his side and held her prisoner.

Tilly buzzed a word in his ear.

"Yes, by thunder!" he ejaculated; and letting go of his companions, he
spun round like a ballet-dancer. "Ladies! Let me introduce to you my
friend, Dr. Richard Townshend-Mahony, F.R.C.S., M.D., Edinburgh, at
present proprietor of the 'Diggers' Emporium,' Dead Dog Hill, Ballarat.
--Dick, my hearty, Miss Tilly Beamish, world-famed for her sauce; Miss
Jinny, renowned for her skill in casting the eyes of sheep; and, last
but not least, pretty little Polly Perkins, alias Miss Polly Turnham,
whose good deeds put those of Dorcas to the blush."

The Misses Beamish went into fits of laughter, and Tilly hit Purdy over
the back with her parasol.

But the string of letters had puzzled them, roused their curiosity.

" What'n earth do they mean?--Gracious! So clever! It makes me feel
quite queer."

"Y'ought to 'ave told us before 'and, Purd, so's we could 'ave studied
up."

However, a walk to a cave was under discussion, and Purdy urged them on.
"Phoebus is on the wane, girls. And it's going to be damn cold to-night."

Once more with the young person called Polly as companion, Mahony
followed after. He walked in silence, listening to the rattle of the
three in front. At best he was but a poor hand at the kind of repartee
demanded of their swains by these young women; and to-day his slender
talent failed him altogether, crushed by the general tone of vulgar
levity. Looking over at the horizon, which swam in a kind of gold-dust
haze below the sinking sun, he smiled thinly to himself at Purdy's ideas
of wiving.

Reminded he was not alone by feeling the hand on his arm tremble, he
glanced down at his companion; and his eye was arrested by a neatly
parted head, of the glossiest black imaginable.

He pulled himself together. "Your cousins are excellent walkers."

"Oh, yes, very. But they are not my cousins."

Mahony pricked up his ears. "But you live here?"

"Yes. I help moth . . . Mrs. Beamish in the house."

But as if, with this, she had said too much, she grew tongue-tied again;
and there was nothing more to be made of her. Taking pity on her
timidity, Mahony tried to put her at ease by talking about himself. He
described his life on the diggings and the straits to which he was at
times reduced: the buttons affixed to his clothing by means of
gingerbeer-bottle wire; his periodic onslaughts on sock-darning; the
celebrated pudding it had taken him over four hours to make. And Polly,
listening to him, forgot her desire to run away. Instead, she could not
help laughing at the tales of his masculine shiftlessness. But as soon
as they came in view of the others, Tilly and Purdy sitting under one
parasol on a rock by the cave, Jinny standing and looking out rather
aggressively after the loiterers, she withdrew her arm.

"Moth . . . Mrs. Beamish will need me to help her with tea. And . . .
and WOULD you please walk back with Jinny?"

Before he could reply, she had turned and was hurrying away.

They got home from the cave at sundown, he with the ripe Jinny hanging a
dead weight on his arm, to find tea spread in the private parlour. The
table was all but invisible under its load; and their hostess looked as
though she had been parboiled on her own kitchen fire. She sat and
fanned herself with a sheet of newspaper while, time and again,
undaunted by refusals, she pressed the good things upon her guests.
There were juicy beefsteaks piled high with rings of onion, and a
barracoota, and a cold leg of mutton. There were apple-pies and jam-tarts,
a dish of curds-and-whey and a jug of custard. Butter and bread
were fresh and new; scones and cakes had just left the oven; and the
great cups of tea were tempered by pure, thick cream.

To the two men who came from diggers' fare: cold chop for breakfast,
cold chop for dinner and cold chop for tea: the meal was little short of
a banquet; and few words were spoken in its course. But the moment
arrived when they could eat no more, and when even Mrs. Beamish ceased
to urge them. Pipes and pouches were produced; Polly and Jinny rose to
collect the plates, Tilly and her beau to sit on the edge of the
verandah: they could be seen in silhouette against the rising moon,
Tilly's head drooping to Purdy's shoulder.

Mrs. Beamish looked from them to Mahony with a knowing smile, and
whispered behind her hand: "I do wish those two 'ud 'urry up an' make up
their minds, that I do! I'd like to see my Tilda settled. No offence
meant to young Smith. 'E's the best o' good company. But sometimes . . .
well, I cud jus' knock their 'eads together when they sit so close, an'
say: come, give over yer spoonin' an' get to business! Either you want
one another or you don't.--I seen you watchin' our Polly, Mr. Mahony"
--she made Mahony wince by stressing the second syllable of his name.
"Bless you, no--no relation whatsoever. She just 'elps a bit in the
'ouse, an' is company for the girls. We tuck 'er in a year ago--'er own
relations 'ad played 'er a dirty trick. Mustn't let 'er catch me sayin'
so, though; she won't 'ear a word against 'em, and that's as it should
be."

Looking round, and finding Polly absent from the room, she went on to
tell Mahony how Polly's eldest brother, a ten years' resident in
Melbourne, had sent to England for the girl on her leaving school, to
come out and assist in keeping his house. And how an elder sister, who
was governessing in Sydney, had chosen just this moment to throw up her
post and return to quarter herself upon the brother.

"An' so when Polly gets 'ere--a little bit of a thing in short frocks,
in charge of the capt'n--there was no room for 'er, an' she 'ad to look
about 'er for somethin' else to do. We tuck 'er in, an', I will say,
I've never regretted it. Indeed I don't know now, 'ow we ever got on
without 'er.--Yes, it's you I'm talkin' about, miss, singin' yer
praises, an' you needn't get as red as if you'd bin up to mischief!
Pa'll say as much for you, too."

"That I will!" said Mr. Beamish, opening his mouth for the first time
except to put food in it. "That I will," and he patted Polly's hand."
The man as gits Polly'll git a treasure."

Polly blushed, after the helpless, touching fashion of very young
creatures: the blood stained her cheeks, mounted to her forehead, spread
in a warm wave over neck and ears. To spare her, Mahony turned his head
and looked out of the window. He would have liked to say: Run away,
child, run away, and don't let them see your confusion. Polly, however,
went conscientiously about her task, and only left the room when she had
picked up her full complement of plates.--But she did not appear again
that night.

Deserted even by Mrs. Beamish, the two men pushed back their chairs from
the table and drew tranquilly at their pipes.

The innkeeper proved an odd, misty sort of fellow, exceedingly backward
at declaring himself; it was as though each of his heavy words had to be
fetched from a distance. "No doubt about it, it's the wife that wears
the breeches," was Mahony's inward comment. And as one after another of
his well-meant remarks fell flat: "Become almost a deaf-mute, it would
seem, under the eternal female clacking."

But for each mortal there exists at least one theme to fire him. In the
case of Beamish this turned out to be the Land Question. Before the gold
discovery he had been a bush shepherd, he told Mahony, and, if he had
called the tune, he would have lived and died one. But the wife had had
ambitions, the children were growing up, and every one knew what it was
when women got a maggot in their heads. There had been no peace for him
till he had chucked his twelve-year-old job and joined the rush to Mount
Alexander. But at heart he had remained a bushman; and he was now all on
the side of the squatters in their tussle with the Crown. He knew a bit,
he'd make bold to say, about the acreage needed in certain districts per
head of sheep; he could tell a tale of the risks and mischances
squatting involved: "If t'aint fire it's flood, an' if the water passes
you by it's the scab or the rot." To his thinking, the government's
attempt to restrict the areas of sheep-runs, and to give effect to the
"fourteen-year-clause" which limited the tenure, were acts of folly. The
gold supply would give out as suddenly as it had begun; but sheep would
graze there till the crack of doom--the land was fit for nothing else.

Mahony thought this point of view lopsided. No new country could hope to
develop and prosper without a steady influx of the right kind of
population and this the colony would never have, so long as the
authorities, by refusing to sell them land, made it impossible for
immigrants to settle there. Why, America was but three thousand miles
distant from the old country, compared with Australia's thirteen
thousand, and in America land was to be had in plenty at five shillings
per acre. As to Mr. Beamish's idea of the gold giving out, the
geological formation of the goldfields rendered that improbable. He
sympathised with the squatters, who naturally enough believed their
rights to the land inalienable; but a government worthy of the name must
legislate with an eye to the future, not for the present alone.

Their talk was broken by long gaps. In these, the resonant voice of Mrs.
Beamish could be heard rebuking and directing her two handmaidens.

"Now then, Jinny, look alive, an' don't ack like a dyin' duck in a
thunderstorm, or you'll never get back to do YOUR bit o' spoonin'!--
Save them bones, Polly. Never waste an atom, my chuck--remember that,
when you've got an 'ouse of your own! No, girls, I always says, through
their stomachs, that's the shortcut to their 'earts. The rest's on'y
fal-de-lal-ing."--On the verandah, in face of the vasty, star-spangled
night, Tilly's head had found its resting-place, and an arm lay round
her waist.

"I shall make 'im cut off 'is beard first thing," said Jinny that night:
she was sitting half-undressed on the side of a big bed, which the three
girls shared with one another.

"Um! just you wait and see if it's as easy as you think," retorted Tilly
from her pillow. Again Purdy had let slip a golden chance to put the
decisive question; and Tilly's temper was short in consequence.

"Mrs. Dr. Mahony . . . though I do wonder 'ow 'e ever keeps people from
saying Ma-HON-y," said Jinny dreamily. She, too, had spent some time in
star-gazing, and believed she had ground for hope.

"Just listen to 'er, will you!" said Tilly angrily." Upon my word,
Jinny Beamish, if one didn't know you 'ad the 'abit of marrying yourself
off to every fresh cove you meet, one 'ud say you was downright bold!"

"YOU needn't talk! Every one can see you're as mad as can be because you
can't bring your old dot-and-go-one to the scratch."

"Oh, hush, Jinny" said Polly, grieved at this thrust into Tilly's open
wound.

"Well, it's true.--Oh, look 'ere now, there's not a drop o' water in
this blessed jug again. 'Oo's week is it to fill it? Tilly B., it's
yours!"

"Serves you right. You can fetch it yourself."

"Think I see myself!"

Polly intervened. "I'll go for it, Jinny."

"What a little duck you are, Poll! But you shan't go alone. I'll carry
the candle."

Tying on a petticoat over her bedgown, Polly took the ewer, and with
Jinny as torch-bearer set forth. There was still some noise in the
public part of the house, beside the bar; but the passage was bare and
quiet. The girls crept mousily past the room occupied by the two young
men, and after several false alarms and suppressed chirps reached the
back door, and filled the jug at the tap of the galvanised-iron tank.

The return journey was not so successful. Just as they got level with
the visitors' room, they heard feet crossing the floor. Polly started;
the water splashed over the neck of the jug, and fell with a loud plop.
At this Jinny lost her head and ran off with the candle. Polly, in a
panic of fright, dived into the pantry with her burden, and crouched
down behind a tub of fermenting gingerbeer.--And sure enough, a minute
after, the door of the room opposite was flung open and a pair of
jackboots landed in the passage.

Nor was this the worst: the door was not shut again but remained ajar.
Through the chink, Polly, shrunk to her smallest--what if one of them
should feel hungry, and come into the pantry and discover her?--Polly
heard Purdy say with appalling loudness: "Oh, go on, old man-don't jaw
so!" He then seemed to plunge his head in the basin, for it was with a
choke and a splutter that he next inquired: "And what did you think of
the little 'un? Wasn't I right?"

There was the chink of coins handled, and the other voice answered:
"Here's what I think. Take your money, my boy, and be done with it!"

"Dick!--Great Snakes! Why, damn it all, man, you don't mean to tell me.
. . ."

"And understand, sir, in future, that I do not make bets where a lady is
concerned."

"Oh, I know--only on the Tilly-Jinny-sort. And yet good Lord, Dick!"--
the rest was drowned in a bawl of laughter.

Under cover of it Polly took to her heels and fled, regardless of the
open door, or the padding of her bare feet on the boards.

Without replying to the astonished Jinny's query in respect of the
water, she climbed over Tilly to her place beside the wall, and shutting
her eyes very tight, drew the sheet over her face: it felt as though it
would never be cool again.--Hence, Jinny, agreeably wakeful, was forced
to keep her thoughts to herself; for if you lie between two people, one
of whom is in a bad temper, and the other fast asleep, you might just as
well be alone in bed.

Next morning Polly alleged a headache and did not appear at breakfast.
Only Jinny and Tilly stood on the verandah of romantic memories, and
ruefully waved their handkerchiefs, keeping it up till even the forms of
horses were blurred in the distance.




Chapter VII



His tent-home had never seemed so comfortless. He ended his solitary
ride late at night and wet to the skin; his horse had cast a shoe far
from any smithy. Long Jim alone came to the door to greet him. The
shopman, on whose doltish honesty Mahony would have staked his head, had
profited by his absence to empty the cash-box and go off on the spree.--
Even one of the cats had met its fate in an old shaft, where its corpse
still swam.

The following day, as a result of exposure and hard riding, Mahony was
attacked by dysentery; and before he had recovered, the goods arrived
from Melbourne. They had to be unloaded, at some distance from the
store, conveyed there, got under cover, checked off and arranged. This
was carried out in sheets of cold rain, which soaked the canvas walls
and made it doubly hard to get about the clay tracks that served as
streets. As if this were not enough, the river in front of the house
rose--rose, and in two twos was over its banks--and he and Long Jim
spent a night in their clothes, helping neighbours less fortunately
placed to move their belongings into safety.

The lion's share of this work fell on him. Long Jim still carried his
arm in a sling, and was good for nothing but to guard the store and
summon Mahony on the appearance of customers. Since his accident, too,
the fellow had suffered from frequent fits of colic or cramp, and was
for ever slipping off to the township to find the spirits in which his
employer refused to deal. For the unloading and warehousing of the
goods, it was true, old Ocock had loaned his sons; but the strict watch
Mahony felt bound to keep over this pretty pair far outweighed what
their help was worth to him.

Now it was Sunday evening, and for the first time for more than a week
he could call his soul his own again. He stood at the door and watched
those of his neighbours who were not Roman Catholics making for church
and chapel, to which half a dozen tinkly bells invited them. The weather
had finally cleared up, and a goodly number of people waded past him
through the mire. Among them, in seemly Sabbath dress, went Ocock, with
his two black sheep at heel. The old man was a rigid Methodist, and at a
recent prayer-meeting had been moved to bear public witness to his
salvation. This was no doubt one reason why the young scapegrace Tom's
almost simultaneous misconduct had been so bitter a pill for him to
swallow: while, through God's mercy, he was become an exemplar to the
weaker brethren, a son of his made his name to stink in the nostrils of
the reputable community. Mahony liked to believe that there was good in
everybody, and thought the intolerant harshness which the boy was
subjected would defeat its end. Yet it was open to question if clemency
would have answered better. "Bad eggs, the brace of them!" had been his
own verdict, after a week's trial of the lads. One would not, the other
apparently could not work. Johnny, the elder, was dull and liverish from
intemperance; and the round-faced adolescent, the news of whose
fatherhood had raced the wind, was so sheep-faced, so craven, in the
presence of his elders, that he could not say bo to a battledore. There
was something unnatural about this fierce timidity--and the doctor in
Mahony caught a quick glimpse of the probable reverse of the picture.

But it was cold, in face of all this rain-soaked clay; cold blue-grey
clouds drove across a washed-out sky; and he still felt unwell.
Returning to his living-room where a small American stove was burning,
he prepared for a quiet evening. In a corner by the fire stood an old
packing-case. He lifted the lid and thrust his hand in: it was here he
kept his books. He needed no light to see by; he knew each volume by the
feel. And after fumbling for a little among the tumbled contents, he
drew forth a work on natural science and sat down to read. But he did
not get far; his brain was tired, intractable. Lighting his pipe, he
tilted back his chair, laid the VESTIGES face downwards, and put his
feet on the table.

How differently bashfulness impressed one in the case of the weaker sex!
There, it was altogether pleasing. Young Ocock's gaucherie had recalled
the little maid Polly's ingenuous confusion, at finding herself the
subject of conversation. He had not once consciously thought of Polly
since his return. Now, when he did so, he found to his surprise that she
had made herself quite a warm little nest in his memory. Looked back on,
she stood out in high relief against her somewhat graceless
surroundings. Small doubt she was both maidenly and refined. He also
remembered with a sensible pleasure her brisk service, her consideration
for others. What a boon it would have been, during the past week, to
have a busy, willing little woman at work, with him and for him, behind
the screen! As it was, for want of a helping hand the place was like a
pigsty. He had had neither time nor energy to clean up. The marks of
hobnailed boots patterned the floor; loose mud, and crumbs from meals,
had been swept into corners or under the stretcher-bed; while
commodities that had overflowed the shop added to the disorder. Good
Lord, no! . . . no place this for a woman.

He rose and moved restlessly about, turning things over with his foot:
these old papers should be burnt, and that heap of straw-packing; those
empty sardine and coffee-tins be thrown into the refuse-pit. Scrubbed
and clean, it was by no means an uncomfortable room; and the stove drew
well. He was proud of his stove; many houses had not even a chimney. He
stood and stared at it; but his thoughts were elsewhere: he found
himself trying to call to mind Polly's face. Except for a pair of big
black eyes--magnificent eyes they seemed to him in retrospect--he had
carried away with him nothing of her outward appearance. Yes, stay!--
her hair: her hair was so glossy that, when the sun caught it, high
lights came out on it--so much he remembered. From this he fell to
wondering whether her brain kept pace with her nimble hands and ways.
Was she stupid or clever? He could not tolerate stupidity. And Polly had
given him no chance to judge her; had hardly opened her lips before him.
What a timid little thing she was to be sure! He should have made it his
business to draw her out, by being kind and encouraging. Instead of
which he had acted towards her, he felt convinced, like an ill-mannered
boor.

He did not know how it was, but he couldn't detach his thoughts from
Polly this evening: to their accompaniment he paced up and down. All of
a sudden he stood still, and gave a short, hearty laugh. He had just
seen, in a kind of phantom picture, the feet of the sisters Beamish as
they sat on the verandah edge: both young women wore flat sandal-shoes.
And so that neatest of neat ankles had been little Polly's property! For
his life he loved a well-turned ankle in a woman.

A minute later he sat down at the table again. An idea had occurred to
him: he would write Polly a letter--a letter that called for
acknowledgment--and form an opinion of the girl from her reply. Taking
a sheet of thin blue paper and a magnum bonum pen he wrote:

DEAR MISS TURNHAM,

I WONDER IF I MIGHT ASK YOU TO DO ME A FAVOUR? ON GETTING BACK TO
BALLARAT, I FIND THAT THE RAIN HAS SPOILT MY STORE FLAG. WOULD YOU BE SO
KIND AS TO MAKE ME A NEW ONE? I HAVE NO LADY FRIENDS HERE TO APPLY TO
FOR HELP, AND I AM SURE YOU ARE CLEVER WITH YOUR NEEDLE. IF YOU CONSENT,
I WILL SEND YOU THE OLD FLAG AS A PATTERN, AND STUFF FOR THE NEW ONE. MY
KIND REGARDS TO ALL AT THE HOTEL.

FAITHFULLY YOURS,

RICHARD TOWNSHEND-MAHONY.

P.S. I HAVE NOT FORGOTTEN OUR PLEASANT WALK TO THE CAVE.

He went out to the post with it himself. In one hand he carried the
letter, in the other the candle-end stuck in a bottle that was known as
a "Ballarat-lantern" for it was a pitchdark night.

Trade was slack; in consequence he found the four days that had to pass
before he could hope for an answer exceptionally long. After their
lapse, he twice spent an hour at the Post Office, in a fruitless attempt
to get near the little window. On returning from the second of these
absences, he found the letter waiting for him; it had been delivered by
hand.

So far good: Polly had risen to his fly! He broke the seal.

DEAR SIR,

I shall be happy to help you with your new flag if I am able. Will you
kindly send the old one and the stuff down by my brother, who is coming
to see me on Saturday. He is working at Rotten Gully, and his name is
Ned. I do not know if I sew well enough to please you, but I will do my
best.

I REMAIN,

YOURS TRULY,

MARY TURNHAM.

Mahony read, smiled and laid the letter down--only to pick it up again.
It pleased him, did this prim little note: there was just the right
shade of formal reserve about it. Then he began to study particulars:
grammar and spelling were correct; the penmanship was in the Italian
style, minute, yet flowing, the letters dowered with generous loops and
tails. But surely he had seen this writing before? By Jupiter, yes! This
was the hand of the letter Purdy had shown him on the road to Melbourne.
The little puss! So she not only wrote her own letters, but those of her
friends as well. In that case she was certainly not stupid for she was
much the youngest of the three.

To-day was Thursday. Summoning Long Jim from his seat behind the
counter, Mahony dispatched him to Rotten Gully, with an injunction not
to show himself till he had found a digger of the name of Turnham. And
having watched Jim set out, at a snail's pace and murmuring to himself,
Mahony went into the store, and measured and cut off material for the
new flag, from two different coloured rolls of stuff.

It was ten o'clock that night before Polly's brother presented himself.
Mahony met him at the door and drew him in: the stove crackled, the room
was swept and garnished--he flattered himself that the report on his
habitat would be a favourable one. Ned's appearance gave him a pleasant
shock: it was just as if Polly herself, translated into male terms,
stood before him. No need, now, to cudgel his brains for her image! In
looking at Ned, he looked again at Polly. The wide-awake off, the same
fine, soft, black hair came to light--here, worn rather long and curly
--the same glittering black eyes, ivory-white skin, short, straight
nose; and, as he gazed, an offshoot of Mahony's consciousness wondered
from what quarter this middle-class English family fetched its dark,
un-English strain.

In the beginning he exerted himself to set the lad at ease. He soon saw,
however, that he might spare his pains. Though clearly not much more
than eighteen years old, Ned Turnharn had the aplomb and assurance of
double that age. Lolling back in the single armchair the room boasted,
he more than once stretched out his hand and helped himself from the
sherry bottle Mahony had placed on the table. And the disparity in their
ages notwithstanding, there was no trace of deference in his manner. Or
the sole hint of it was: he sometimes smothered a profane word, or
apologised, with a winning smile, for an oath that had slipped out
unawares. Mahony could not accustom him self to the foul language that
formed the diggers' idiom. Here, in the case of Polly's brother, he
sought to overlook the offence, or to lay the blame for it on other
shoulders: at his age, and alone, the boy should never have been plunged
into this Gehenna.

Ned talked mainly of himself and his doings. But other facts also
transpired, of greater interest to his hearer. Thus Mahony learned that,
out of a family of nine, four had found their way to the colony, and a
fifth was soon to follow--a mere child this, on the under side of
fifteen. He gathered, too, that the eldest brother, John by name, was
regarded as a kind of Napoleon by the younger fry. At thirty, this John
was a partner in the largest wholesale dry-goods' warehouse in
Melbourne. He had also married money, and intended in due course to
stand for the Legislative Council. Behind Ned's windy bragging Mahony
thought he discerned tokens of a fond, brotherly pride. If this were so,
the affair had its pathetic side; for, from what the boy said, it was
evident that the successful man of business held his relatives at arm's
length. And as Ned talked on, Mahony conceived John to himself as a kind
of electro-magnet, which, once it had drawn these lesser creatures after
it, switched off the current and left them to their own devices. Ned,
young as he was, had tried his hand at many trades. At present he was
working as a hired digger; but this, only till he could strike a softer
job. Digging was not for him, thank you; what you earned at it hardly
repaid you for the sweat you dripped. His every second word, indeed, was
of how he could amass most money with the minimum of bodily exertion.

This calculating, unyouthful outlook was repugnant to Mahony, and for
all his goodwill, the longer he listened to Ned, the cooler he felt
himself grow. Another disagreeable impression was left by the grudging,
if-nothing-better-turns-up fashion, in which Ned accepted an impulsive
offer on his part to take him into the store. It was made on the spur of
the moment, and Mahony had qualms about it while his words were still
warm on the air, realizing that the overture was aimed, not at Ned in
person, but at Ned as Polly's brother. But his intuition did not
reconcile him to Ned's luke-warmness; he would have preferred a straight
refusal. The best trait he could discover in the lad was his affection
for his sister. This seemed genuine: he was going to see her again--
getting a lift halfway, tramping the other twenty odd miles--at the end
of the week. Perhaps though, in the case of such a young opportunist,
the thought of Mrs. Beamish's lavish board played no small part; for Ned
had a rather lean, underfed look. But this only occurred to Mahony
afterwards. Then, his chief vexation was with himself: it would have
been kinder to set a dish of solid food before the boy, in place of the
naked sherry-bottle. But as usual, his hospitable leanings came too
late.

One thing more. As he lighted Ned and his bundle of stuff through the
shop, he was impelled to slip a coin into the boy's hand, with a
murmured apology for the trouble he had put him to. And a something, the
merest nuance in Ned's manner of receiving and pocketing the money,
flashed the uncomfortable suspicion through the giver's mind that it had
been looked for, expected. And this was the most unpleasant touch of
all.

But, bless his soul! did not most large families include at least one
poorish specimen?--he had got thus far, by the time he came to wind up
his watch for the night. And next day he felt sure he had judged Ned
over-harshly. His first impressions of people--he had had occasion to
deplore the fact before now--were apt to be either dead white or black
as ink; the web of his mind took on no half tints. The boy had not
betrayed any actual vices; and time might be trusted to knock the
bluster out of him. With this reflection Mahony dismissed Ned from his
mind. He had more important things to think of, chief among which was
his own state with regard to Ned's sister. And during the fortnight that
followed he went about making believe to weigh this matter, to view it
from every coign; for it did not suit him, even in secret, to confess to
the vehemence with which, when he much desired a thing, his temperament
knocked flat the hurdles of reason. The truth was, his mind was made up
--and had been, all along. At the earliest possible opportunity, he was
going to ask Polly to be his wife.

Doubts beset him of course. How could he suppose that a girl who knew
nothing of him, who had barely seen him, would either want or consent to
marry him? And even if--for "if's" were cheap--she did say yes, would
it be fair of him to take her out of a comfortable home, away from
friends--such as they were!--of her own sex, to land her in these
crude surroundings, where he did not know a decent woman to bear her
company? Yet there was something to be said for him, too. He was very
lonely. Now that Purdy had gone he was reduced, for society, to the Long
Jims and Ococks of the place. What would he not give, once more to have
a refined companion at his side? Certainly marriage might postpone the
day on which he hoped to shake the dust of Australia off his feet. Life
A DEUX would mean a larger outlay; saving not prove so easy. Still it
could be done; and he would gladly submit to the delay if, by doing so,
he could get Polly. Besides, if this new happiness came to him, it would
help him to see the years he had spent in the colony in a truer and
juster light. And then, when the hour of departure did strike, what a
joy to have a wife to carry with one--a Polly to rescue, to restore to
civilisation!

He had to remind himself more than once, during this fortnight, that she
would be able to devote only a fraction of her day to flagmaking. But he
was at the end of his tether by the time a parcel and a letter were left
for him at the store--again by hand: little Polly had plainly no
sixpences to spare. The needlework as perfect, of course; he hardly
glanced at it, even when he had opened and read the letter. This was of
the same decorous nature as the first. Polly returned a piece of stuff
that had remained over. He had really sent material enough for two
flags, she wrote; but she had not wished to keep him waiting so long.
And then, in a postscript:

MR. SMITH WAS HERE LAST SUNDAY. I AM TO SAY MRS. BEAMISH WOULD BE VERY
PLEASED IF YOU ALSO WOULD CALL AGAIN TO SEE US.

He ran the flag up to the top of his forty-foot staff and wrote:--

WHAT I WANT TO KNOW, MISS POLLY, IS, WOULD YOU BE GLAD TO SEE ME?

But Polly was not to be drawn.

WE SHOULD ALL BE VERY PLEASED.

Some days previously Mahony had addressed a question to, Henry Ocock.
With this third letter from Polly, he held the lawyer's answer in his
hand. It was unsatisfactory.

YOURSELF ATS. BOLLIVER. WE THINK THAT ACTION WILL BE SET DOWN FOR TRIAL
IN ABOUT SIX WEEKS' TIME. IN THESE CIRCUMSTANCES WE DO NOT THINK ANY
USEFUL PURPOSE WILL BE SERVED BY YOU CALLING TO SEE US UNTIL THIS IS
DONE. WE SHOULD BE GLAD IF YOU WOULD CALL AFTER THE ACTION IS ENTERED.

Six weeks' time? The man might as well have said a year. And meanwhile
Purdy was stealing a march on him, was paying clandestine visits to
Geelong. Was it conceivable that anyone in his five senses could prefer
Tilly to Polly? It was not. In the clutch of a sudden fear Mahony went
to Bath's and ordered a horse for the following morning.

This time he left his store in charge of a young consumptive, whose
plight had touched his heart: the poor fellow was stranded on Ballarat
without a farthing, having proved, like many another of his physique,
quite unfit for work on the diggings. A strict Baptist this Hempel, and
one who believed hell-fire would be his portion if he so much as guessed
at the "plant" of his employer's cash-box. He also pledged his word to
bear and forbear with Long Jim. The latter saw himself superseded with
an extreme bad grace, and was in no hurry to find a new job.

Mahony's nag was in good condition, and he covered the distance in a
trifle over six hours.

He had evidently hit on the family washing-day. The big boiler in the
yard belched clouds of steam; the female inmates of the Hotel were
gathered in the out-house: he saw them through the door as he rode in at
the gate. All three girls stood before tubs, their sleeves rolled up,
their arms in the lather. At his apparition there was a characteristic
chorus of cheeps and shrills and the door was banged to. Mrs. Beamish
alone came out to greet him. She was moist and blown, and smelt of soap.

Not in a mood to mince matters, he announced straightway the object of
his visit. He was prepared for some expression of surprise on the part
of the good woman; but the blend of sheep-faced amazement and uncivil
incredulity to which she subjected him made him hot and angry; and he
vouchsafed no further word of explanation.

Mrs. Beamish presently so far recovered as to be able to finish wiping
the suds from her fat red arms.

Thereafter, she gave way to a very feminine weakness.

"Well, and now I come to think of it, I'm blessed if I didn't suspeck
somethin' of it, right from the first! Why, didn't I say to Beamish,
with me own lips, 'ow you couldn't 'ardly take your eyes off 'er? Well,
well, I'm sure I wish you every 'appiness--though 'ow we're h'ever
goin' to get on without Polly, I reelly don't know. Don't I wish it 'ad
bin one o' my two as 'ad tuck your fancy--that's all! Between you an'
me, I don't believe a blessed thing's goin' to come of all young Smith's
danglin' round. An' Polly's still a bit young--only just turned
sixteen. Not as she's any the worse o' that though; you'll get 'er h'all
the easier into your ways. An' now I mus' look smart, an' get you a bite
o' somethin' after your ride."

In vain did Mahony assure her that he had lunched on the road. He did
not know Mrs. Beamish. He was forced not only to sit down to the meal
she spread, but also, under her argus eye, to eat of it.

When after a considerable delay Polly at length appeared, she had
removed all traces of the tub. The hand was cold that he took in his, as
he asked her if she would walk with him to the cave.

This time, she trembled openly. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, he
thought, looking down at her with tender eyes. Small doubt that vulgar
creature within-doors had betrayed him to Polly, and exaggerated the
ordeal that lay before her. When once she was his wife he would not
consent to her remaining intimate with people of the Beamishes' kidney:
what a joy to get her out of their clutches! Nor should she spoil her
pretty shape by stooping over a wash-tub.

In his annoyance he forgot to moderate his pace. Polly had to trip many
small steps to keep up with him. When they reached the entrance to the
cave, she was flushed and out of breath.

Mahony stood and looked down at her. How young she was . . . how young
and innocent! Every feature of her dear little face still waited, as it
were, for the strokes of time's chisel. It should be the care of his
life that none but the happiest lines were graved upon its precious
surface.

"Polly," he said, fresh from his scrutiny. "Polly, I'm not going to beat
about the bush with you. I think you know I came here to-day only to see
you."

Polly's head drooped further forward; now, the rim of her bonnet hid her
face.

"You aren't afraid of me, are you, Polly?"

Oh, no, she was not afraid.

"Nor have you forgotten me?"

Polly choked a little, in her attempt to answer. She could not tell him
that she had carried his letters about with her by day, and slept with
them under her pillow; that she knew every word in them by heart, and
had copied and practised the bold flourish of the Dickens-like
signature; that she had never let his name cross her lips; that she
thought him the kindest, handsomest, cleverest man in the world, and
would willingly have humbled herself to the dust before him: all this
boiled and bubbled in her, as she brought forth her poor little "no."

"Indeed, I hope not," went on Mahony. "Because, Polly, I've come to ask
you if you will be my wife."

Rocks, trees, hills, suddenly grown tipsy, went see-sawing round Polly,
when she heard these words said. She shut her eyes, and hid her face in
her hands. Such happiness seemed improbable--was not to be grasped. "Me
? . . . your wife?" she stammered through her fingers.

"Yes, Polly. Do you think you could learn to care for me a little, my
dear? No, don't be in a hurry to answer. Take your own time."

But she needed none. With what she felt to be a most unmaidenly
eagerness, yet could not subdue, she blurted out: "I know I could. I ...
I do."

"Thank God!" said Mahony. "Thank God for that!"

He let his arms fall to his sides; he found he had been holding them
stiffly out from him. He sat down. "And now take away your hands, Polly,
and let me see your face. Don't be ashamed of showing me what you feel.
This is a sacred moment for us. We are promising to take each other, you
know, for richer for poorer, for better for worse--as the good old
words have it. And I must warn you, my dear, you are not marrying a rich
man. I live in a poor, rough place, and have only a poor home to offer
you. Oh, I have had many scruples about asking you to leave your friends
to come and share it with me, Polly my love!"

"I'm not afraid. I am strong. I can work."

"And I shall take every care of you. Please God, you will never regret
your choice."

They were within sight of the house where they sat; and Mahony imagined
rude, curious eyes. So he did not kiss her. Instead, he drew her arm
though his, and together they paced up and down the path they had come
by, while he laid his plans before her, and confessed to the dreams he
had dreamt of their wedded life. It was a radiant afternoon in the
distance the sea lay deep blue, with turquoise shallows; a great white
bird of a ship, her canvas spread to the breeze, was making for . . .
why, to-day he did not care whether for port or for "home"; the sun went
down in a blaze behind a bank of emerald green. And little Polly agreed
with everything he said--was all one lovely glow of acquiescence. He
thought no happier mortal than himself trod the earth.




Chapter VIII



Mahony remained at the Hotel till the following afternoon, then walked
to Geelong and took the steam-packet to Melbourne. The object of his
journey was to ask Mr. John Turnham's formal sanction to his marriage.
Polly accompanied him a little way on his walk. And whenever he looked
back he saw her standing fluttering her handkerchief--a small, solitary
figure on the bare, red road.

He parted from her with a sense of leaving his most precious possession
behind, so close had words made the tie. On the other hand, he was not
sorry to be out of range for a while of the Beamish family's banter.
This had set in, the evening before, as soon as he and Polly returned to
the house--pacing the deck of the little steamer, he writhed anew at
the remembrance. Jokes at their expense had been cracked all through
supper: his want of appetite, for instance, was the subject of a dozen
crude insinuations; and this, though everyone present knew that he had
eaten a hearty meal not two hours previously; had been kept up till he
grew stony and savage, and Polly, trying hard not to mind but red to the
rims of her ears, slipped out of the room. Supper over, Mrs. Bearnish
announced in a loud voice that the verandah was at the disposal of the
"turtle-doves." She no doubt expected them to bill and coo in public, as
Purdy and Matilda had done. On edge at the thought, he drew Polly into
the comparative seclusion of the garden. Here they strolled up and down,
their promenade bounded at the lower end by the dense-leaved arbour
under which they had first met. In its screening shadow he took the kiss
he had then been generous enough to forgo.

"I think I loved you, Polly, directly I saw you."

In the distance a clump of hills rose steep and bare from the waste land
by the sea's edge--he could see them at this moment as he leant over
the taffrail: with the sun going down behind them they were the colour
of smoked glass. Last night they had been white with moonlight, which
lay spilled out upon them like milk. Strange old hills! Standing there
unchanged, unshaken, from time immemorial, they made the troth that had
been plighted under their shield seem pitifully frail. And yet. . . .
The vows which Polly and he had found so new, so wonderful; were not
these, in truth, as ancient as the hills themselves, and as undying?
Countless generations of human lovers had uttered them. The lovers
passed, but the pledges remained: had put on immortality.

In the course of their talk it leaked out that Polly would not feel
comfortable till her choice was ratified by brother John.

"I'm sure you will like John; he is so clever."

"I shall like everyone belonging to you, my Polly!"

As she lost her shyness Mahony made the discovery that she laughed
easily, and was fond of a jest. Thus, when he admitted to her that he
found it difficult to distinguish one fair, plump, sister Beamish from
the other; that they seemed to him as much alike as two firm, pink-ribbed
mushrooms, the little woman was hugely tickled by his his
masculine want of perception. "Why, Jinny has brown eyes and Tilly
blue!"

What he did not know, and what Polly did not confess to him, was that
much of her merriment arose from sheer lightness of heart.--She, silly
goose that she was! who had once believed Jinny to be the picked object
of his attentions.

But she grew serious again: could he tell her, please, why Mr. Smith
wrote so seldom to Tilly? Poor Tilly was unhappy at his long silences--
fretted over them in bed at night.

Mahony made excuses for Purdy, urging his unsettled mode of life. But it
pleased him to see that Polly took sides with her friend, and loyally
espoused her cause.

No, there had not been a single jarring note in all their intercourse;
each moment had made the dear girl dearer to him. Now, worse luck, forty
odd miles were between them again.

It had been agreed that he should call at her brother's private house,
towards five o'clock in the afternoon. He had thus to kill time for the
better part of the next day. His first visit was to a jeweller's in
Great Collins Street. Here, he pushed aside a tray of showy diamonds--a
successful digger was covering the fat, red hands of his bride with them
--and chose a slender, discreetly chased setting, containing three small
stones. No matter what household duties fell to Polly's share, this
little ring would not be out of place on her finger.

From there he went to the last address Purdy had given him; only to find
that the boy had again disappeared. Before parting from Purdy, the time
before, he had lent him half the purchase-money for a horse and dray,
thus enabling him to carry out an old scheme of plying for hire at the
city wharf. According to the landlord of the "Hotel Vendome," to whom
Mahony was referred for fuller information, Purdy had soon tired of this
job, and selling dray and beast for what he could get had gone off on a
new rush to "Simson's Diggings" or the "White Hills." Small wonder Miss
Tilly was left languishing for news of him.

Pricked by the nervous disquietude of those who have to do with the law,
Mahony next repaired to his solicitor's office. But Henry Ocock was
closeted with a more important client. This, Grindle the clerk, whom he
met on the stairs, informed him, with an evident relish, and with some
hidden, hinted meaning in the corners of his shifty little eyes. It was
lost on Mahony, who was not the man to accept hints from a stranger.

The hour was on lunch-time; Grindle proposed that they should go
together to a legal chop-house, which offered prime value for your
money, and where, over the meal, he would give Mahony the latest news of
his suit. At a loss how to get through the day, the latter followed him
--he was resolved, too, to practise economy from now on. But when he sat
down to a dirty cloth and fly-spotted cruet he regretted his compliance.
Besides, the news Grindle was able to give him amounted to nothing; the
case had not budged since last he heard of it. Worse still was the
clerk's behaviour. For after lauding the cheapness of the establishment,
Grindle disputed the price of each item on the "meenew," and, when he
came to pay his bill, chuckled over having been able to diddle the
waiter of a penny.

He was plainly one of those who feel the constant need of an audience.
And since there was no office-boy present, for him to dazzle with his
wit, he applied himself to demonstrating to his table-companion what a
sad, sad dog he was.

"Women are the deuce, sir," he asserted, lying back in his chair and
sending two trails of smoke from his nostrils. "The very deuce! You
should hear my governor on the subject! He'd tickle your ears for you.
Look here, I'll give you the tip: this move, you know, to Ballarat, that
he's drivin' at: what'ull you bet me there isn't a woman in the case?
Fact! 'Pon my word there is. And a devilish fine woman, too!" He shut
one eye and laid a finger along his nose. "You won't blow the gab?--
that's why you couldn't have your parleyvoo this morning. When milady
comes to town H. O.'s NON EST as long as she's here. And she with a
hubby of her own, too! What 'ud our old pa say to that, eh?"

Mahony, who could draw in his feelers no further than he had done,
touched the limit of his patience. "My connexion with Mr. Ocock is a
purely business one. I have no intention of trespassing on his private
affairs, or of having them thrust upon me. Carver, my bill!"

Bowing distantly he stalked out of the eating-house and back to the
"Criterion," where he dined. "So much for a maiden attempt at economy!"

Towards five o'clock he took his seat in an omnibus that plied between
the city and the seaside suburb of St. Kilda, three miles off. A cool
breeze went; the hoofs of the horses beat a rataplan on the hard
surface; the great road, broad enough to make three of, was alive with
smart gigs and trotters.

St. Kilda was a group of white houses facing the Bay. Most were o'
weatherboard with brick chimneys; but there were also a few of a more
solid construction. Mahony's goal was one of these: a low, stone villa
surrounded by verandahs, in the midst of tasteful grounds. The drive up
to the door led through a shrubbery, artfully contrived of the native
ti-tree; behind the house stretched kitchen and fruit-gardens. Many rare
plants grew in the beds. There was a hedge of geraniums close on fifteen
feet high.

His knock was answered by a groom, who made a saucy face: Mr. Turnham
and his lady were attending the Governor's ball this evening and did not
receive. Mahony insisted on the delivery of his visiting-card. And since
the servant still blocked the entrance he added: "Inform your master, my
man, that I am the bearer of a message from his sister, Miss Mary
Turnham."

The man shut him out, left him standing on the verandah. After a lengthy
absence, he returned, and with a "Well, come along in then!" opened the
door of a parlour. This was a large room, well furnished in horsehair
and rep. Wax-lights stood on the mantelpiece before a gilt-framed
pierglass; coloured prints hung on the walls.

While Mahony was admiring the genteel comfort to which he had long been
a stranger, John Turnham entered the room. He had a quiet tread, but
took determined strides at the floor. In his hand he held Mahony's card,
and he looked from Mahony to it and back again.

"To what do I owe the pleasure, Mr. . . . er . . . Mahony?" he asked,
refreshing his memory with a glance at the pasteboard. He spoke in the
brusque tone of one accustomed to run through many applicants in the
course of an hour. "I understand that you make use of my sister Mary's
name." And, as Mahony did not instantly respond, he snapped out: "My
time is short, sir!"

A tinge of colour mounted to Mahony's cheeks. He answered with equal
stiffness: "That is so. I come from Mr. William Beamish's 'Family
Hotel,' and am commissioned to bring you your sister's warm love and
regards."

John Turnham bowed; and waited.

"I have also to acquaint you with the fact," continued Mahony, gathering
hauteur as he went, "that the day before yesterday I proposed marriage
to your sister, and that she did me the honour of accepting me."

"Ah, indeed!" said John Turnham, with a kind of ironic snort. "And may I
ask on what ground you--"

"On the ground, sir, that I have a sincere affection for Miss Turnham,
and believe it lies in my power to make her happy."

"Of that, kindly allow me to judge. My sister is a mere child--too
young to know her own mind. Be seated."

To a constraining, restraining vision of little Polly, Mahony obeyed,
stifling the near retort that she was not too young to earn her living
among strangers. The two men faced each other on opposite sides of the
table. John Turnham had the same dark eyes and hair, the same short,
straight nose as his brother and sister, but not their exotic pallor.
His skin was bronzed; and his large, scarlet mouth supplied a vivid dash
of colour. He wore bushy side-whiskers.

"And now, Mr. Mahony, I will ask you a blunt question. I receive letters
regularly from my sister, but I cannot recall her ever having mentioned
your name. Who and what are you?"

"Who am I?" flared up Mahony. "A gentleman like yourself, sir!--though
a poor one. As for Miss Turnham not mentioning me in her letters, that
is easily explained. I only had the pleasure of making her acquaintance
five or six weeks ago."

"You are candid," said Polly's brother, and smiled without unclosing his
lips. "But your reply to my question tells me nothing. May I ask
what . . . er . . . under what . . . er . . . circumstances you came out
to the colony, in the first instance?"

"No, sir, you may not!" cried Mahony, and flung up from his seat; he
scented a deadly insult in the question.

"Come, come, Mr. Mahony," said Turnham in a more conciliatory tone.
"Nothing is gained by being techy. And my inquiry is not unreasonable.
You are an entire stranger to me; my sister has known you but for a few
weeks, and is a young and inexperienced girl into the bargain. You tell
me you are a gentleman. Sir! I had as lief you said you were a
blacksmith. In this grand country of ours, where progress is the
watchword, effete standards and dogging traditions must go by the board.
Grit is of more use to us than gentility. Each single bricklayer who
unships serves the colony better than a score of gentlemen."

"In that I am absolutely not at one with you, Mr. Turnham," said Mahony
coldly. He had sat down again, feeling rather ashamed of his violence.
"Without a leaven of refinement, the very raw material of which the
existing population is composed--"

But Turnham interrupted him. "Give 'em time, sir, give 'em time. God
bless my soul! Rome wasn't built in a day. But to resume. I have
repeatedly had occasion to remark in what small stead the training that
fits a man for a career in the old country stands him here. And that is
why I am dissatisfied with your reply. Show me your muscles, sir, give
me a clean bill of health, tell me if you have learnt a trade and can
pay your way. See, I will be frank with you. The position I occupy to-day
I owe entirely to my own efforts. I landed in the colony ten years
ago, when this marvellous city of ours was little more than a village
settlement. I had but five pounds in my pocket. To-day I am a partner in
my firm, and intend, if all goes well, to enter parliament. Hence I
think I may, without presumption, judge what makes for success here, and
of the type of man to attain it. Work, hard work, is the key to all
doors. So convinced am I of this, that I have insisted on the younger
members of my family learning betimes to put their shoulders to the
wheel. Now, Mr. Mahony, I have been open with you. Be equally frank with
me. You are an Irishman?"

Candour invariably disarmed Mahony--even lay a little heavy on him,
with the weight of an obligation. He retaliated with a light touch of
self-depreciation. "An Irishman, sir, in a country where the Irish have
fallen, and not without reason, into general disrepute."

Over a biscuit and a glass of sherry he gave a rough outline of the
circumstances that had led to his leaving England, two years previously,
and of his dismayed arrival in what he called "the cesspool of 1852".

"Thanks to the rose-water romance of the English press, many a young man
of my day was enticed away from a modest competency, to seek his fortune
here, where it was pretended that nuggets could be gathered like
cabbages--I myself threw up a tidy little country practice. . . . I
might mention that medicine was my profession. It would have given me
intense satisfaction, Mr. Turnham, to see one of those glib journalists
in my shoes, or the shoes of some of my messmates on the OCEAN QUEEN.
There were men aboard that ship, sir, who were reduced to beggary before
they could even set foot on the road to the north. Granted it is the
duty of the press to encourage emigration--"

"Let the press be, Mahony," said Turnham: he had sat back, crossed his
legs, and put his thumbs in his armholes. "Let it be. What we need here
is colonists--small matter how we get 'em."

Having had his say, Mahony scamped the recital of his own sufferings:
the discomforts of the month he had been forced to spend in Melbourne
getting his slender outfit together; the miseries of the tramp to
Ballarat on delicate unused feet, among the riff-raff of nations, under
a wan December sky, against which the trunks of the gum-trees rose
whiter still, and out of which blazed a copper sun with a misty rim. He
scamped, too, his six-months' attempt at digging--he had been no more
fit for the work than a child. Worn to skin and bone, his small
remaining strength sucked out by dysentery, he had in the end bartered
his last pinch of gold-dust for a barrow-load of useful odds and ends;
and this had formed the nucleus of his store. Here, fortune had smiled
on him; his flag hardly set a-flying custom had poured in, business gone
up by leaps and bounds--"Although I have never sold so much as a pint
of spirits, sir!" His profits for the past six months equalled a clear
three hundred, and he had most of this to the good. With a wife to keep,
expenses would naturally be heavier; but he should continue to lay by
every spare penny, with a view to getting back to England.

"You have not the intention, then, of remaining permanently in the
colony?"

"Not the least in the world."

"H'm," said John: he was standing on the hearthrug now, his legs apart.
"That, of course, puts a different complexion on the matter. Still, I
may say I am entirely reassured by what you have told me--entirely so.
Indeed, you must allow me to congratulate you on the good sense you
displayed in striking while the iron was hot. Many a one of your medical
brethren, sir, would have thought it beneath his dignity to turn
shopkeeper. And now, Mr. Mahony, I will wish you good day; we shall
doubtless meet again before very long. Nay, one moment! There are cases,
you will admit, in which a female opinion is not without value. Besides,
I should be pleased for you to see my wife."

He crossed the hall, tapped at a door and cried: "Emma, my love, will
you give us the pleasure of your company?"

In response to this a lady entered, whom Mahony thought one of the most
beautiful women he had ever seen. She carried a yearling infant in her
arms, and with one hand pressed its pale flaxen poll against the rich,
ripe corn of her own hair, as if to dare comparison. Her cheeks were of
a delicate rose pink.

"My love," said Turnham--and one felt that the word was no mere flower
of speech. "My love, here is someone who wishes to marry our Polly."

"To marry our Polly?" echoed the lady, and smiled a faint, amused smile
--it was as though she said: to marry this infant that I bear on my arm.
"But Polly is only a little girl!"

"My very words, dearest. And too young to know her own mind."

"But you will decide for her, John."

John hung over his beautiful wife, wheeled up an easy chair, arranged
her in it, placed a footstool. "Pray, pray, do not overfatigue yourself,
Emma! That child is too heavy for you," he objected, as the babe made
strenuous efforts to kick itself to its feet. "You know I do not approve
of you carrying it yourself."

"Nurse is drinking tea."

"But why do I keep a houseful of domestics if one of the others cannot
occasionally take her place?"

He made an impetuous step towards the bell. Before he could reach it
there came a thumping at the door, and a fluty voice cried: "Lemme in,
puppa, lemme in!"

Turnham threw the door open, and admitted a sturdy two-year-old, whom he
led forward by the hand. "My son," he said, not without pride. Mahony
would have coaxed the child to him; but it ran to its mother, hid its
face in her lap.

Forgetting the bell John struck an attitude. "What a picture!" he
exclaimed. "What a picture! My love, I positively must carry out my
intention of having you painted in oils, with the children round you.--
Mr. Mahony, sir, have you ever seen anything to equal it?"

Though his mental attitude might have been expressed by a note of
exclamation, set ironically, Mahony felt constrained to second Turnham's
enthusiasm. And it was indeed a lovely picture: the gracious,
golden-haired woman, whose figure had the amplitude, her gestures the
almost sensual languor of the young nursing mother; the two children
fawning at her knee, both ash-blond, with vivid scarlet lips.--"It helps
one," thought Mahony, "to understand the mother-worship of primitive
peoples."

The nursemaid summoned and the children borne off, Mrs. Emma exchanged a
few amiable words with the visitor, then obeyed with an equally good
grace her husband's command to rest for an hour, before dressing for the
ball.

Having escorted her to another room, Turnham came back rubbing his
hands. "I am pleased to be able to tell you, Mr. Mahony, that your suit
has my wife's approval. You are highly favoured! Emma is not free with
her liking." Then, in a sudden burst of effusion: "I could have wished
you the pleasure, sir, of seeing my wife in evening attire. She will
make a furore again; no other woman can hold a candle to her in a
ballroom. To-night is the first time since the birth of our second child
that she will grace a public entertainment with her presence; and
unfortunately her appearance will be a brief one, for the infant is not
yet wholly weaned." He shut the door and lowered his voice. "You have
had some experience of doctoring, you say; I should like a word with you
in your medical capacity. The thing is this. My wife has persisted,
contrary to my wishes, in suckling both children herself."

"Quite right, too," said Mahony. "In a climate like this their natural
food is invaluable to babes."

"Exactly, quite so," said Turnham, with a hint of impatience. "And in
the case of the first child, I made due allowance: a young mother. . .
the novelty of the thing. . . you understand. But with regard to the
second, I must confess I--How long, sir, in your opinion, can a mother
continue to nurse her babe without injury to herself? It is surely
harmful if unduly protracted? I have observed dark lines about my wife's
eyes, and she is losing her fine complexion.--Then you confirm my
fears. I shall assert my authority without delay, and insist on
separation from the child.--Ah! women are strange beings, Mr. Mahony,
strange beings, as you are on the high road to discovering for
yourself."

Mahony returned to town on foot, the omnibus having ceased to run. As he
walked--at a quick pace, and keeping a sharp look-out; for the road was
notoriously unsafe after dark--he revolved his impressions of the
interview. He was glad it was over, and, for Polly's sake, that it had
passed off satisfactorily. It had made a poor enough start: at one
moment he had been within an ace of picking up his hat and stalking out.
But he found it difficult at the present happy crisis to bear a grudge--
even if it had not been a proved idiosyncrasy of his, always to let a
successful finish erase a bad beginning. None the less, he would not
have belonged to the nation he did, had he not indulged in a caustic
chuckle and a pair of good-humoured pishes and pshaws, at Turnham's
expense. "Like a showman in front of his booth!"

Then he thought again of the domestic scene he had been privileged to
witness, and grew grave. The beautiful young woman and her children
might have served as model for a Holy Family--some old painter's dream
of a sweet benign Madonna; the trampling babe as the infant Christ; the
upturned face of the little John adoring. No place this for the scoffer.
Apart from the mere pleasure of the eye, there was ample justification
for Turnham's transports. Were they not in the presence of one of life's
sublimest mysteries--that of motherhood? Not alone the lovely Emma: no;
every woman who endured the rigours of childbirth, to bring forth an
immortal soul, was a holy figure.

And now for him, too, as he had been reminded, this wonder was to be
worked. Little Polly as the mother of his children--what visions the
words conjured up! But he was glad Polly was just Polly, and not the
peerless creature he had seen. John Turnham's fears would never be his--
this jealous care of a transient bodily beauty. Polly was neither too
rare nor too fair for her woman's lot; and, please God, the day would
come when he would see her with a whole cluster of little ones round her
--little dark-eyed replicas of herself. She, bless her, should dandle
and cosset them to her heart's content. Her joy in them would also be
his.




Chapter IX



He sawed, planed, hammered; curly shavings dropped and there was a
pleasant smell of sawdust. Much had to be done to make the place fit to
receive Polly. A second outhouse was necessary, to hold the surplus
goods and do duty as a sleeping-room for Long Jim and Hempel: the lean-to
the pair had occupied till now was being converted into a kitchen. At
great cost and trouble, Mahony had some trees felled and brought in from
Warrenheip. With them he put up a rude fence round his backyard,
interlacing the lopped boughs from post to post, so that they formed a
thick and leafy screen. He also filled in the disused shaft that had
served as a rubbish-hole, and chose another, farther off, which would be
less malodorous in the summer heat. Finally, a substantial load of
firewood carted in, and two snakes that had made the journey in hollow
logs dispatched, Long Jim was set down to chop and split the wood into a
neat pile. Polly would need but to walk to and from the woodstack for
her firing.

Indoors he made equal revolution. That her ears should not be polluted
by the language of the customers, he ran up a partition between
living-room and store, thus cutting off the slab-walled portion of the
house, with its roof of stringy-bark, from the log-and-canvas front. He
also stopped with putty the worst gaps between the slabs. At Ocock's
Auction Rooms he bought a horsehair sofa to match his armchair, a strip of
carpet, a bed, a washhand-stand and a looking-glass, and tacked up a
calico curtain before the window. His books, fetched out of the wooden
case, were arranged on a brand-new set of shelves; and, when all was
done and he stood back to admire his work, it was borne in on him afresh
with how few creature-comforts he had hitherto existed. Plain to see
now, why he had preferred to sit out-of-doors rather than within! Now,
no one on the Flat had a trimmer little place than he.

In his labours he had the help of a friendly digger--a carpenter by
trade--who one evening, pipe in mouth, had stood to watch his
amateurish efforts with the jack-plane. Otherwise, the Lord alone knew
how the house would ever have been made shipshape. Long Jim was equal to
none but the simplest jobs; and Hempel, the assistant, had his hands
full with the store. Well, it was a blessing at this juncture that
business could be left to him. Hempel was as straight as a die; was a
real treasure--or would have been, were it not for his eternal little
bark of a cough. This was proof against all remedies, and the heck-heck
of it at night was quite enough to spoil a light sleeper's rest. In
building the new shed, Mahony had been careful to choose a corner far
from the house.

Marriages were still uncommon enough on Ballarat to make him an object
of considerable curiosity. People took to dropping in of an evening--
old Ocock; the postmaster; a fellow storekeeper, ex-steward to the Duke
of Newcastle--to comment on his alterations and improvements. And over
a pipe and a glass of sherry, he had to put up with a good deal of
banter about his approaching "change of state."

Still, it was kindly meant. "We'll 'ave to git up a bit o' company o'
nights for yer lady when she comes," said old Ocock, and spat under the
table.

Purdy wrote from Tarrangower, where he had drifted:

HOORAY, OLD DICK, GOLLY FOR YOU! OLD MAN DIDN'T I KICK UP A BOBBERY WHEN
I HEARD THE NEWS. NEVER WAS SO WELL PLEASED IN MY LIFE. THAT'S ALL YOU
NEEDED, DICK--NOW YOU'LL TURN INTO A FIRST-RATE COLONIAL. HOW ABOUT
THAT FIVER NOW I'D LIKE TO KNOW. YOU CAN TELL POLLY FROM ME I SHALL PAY
IT BACK WITH INTEREST ON THE FATAL DAY. OF COURSE I'LL COME AND SEE YOU
SPLICED, TOGS OR NO TOGS--TO TELL THE TRUTH MY KICKSIES ARE ON THEIR
VERY LAST LEGS--AND THERE'S NOTHING DOING HERE--ALL THE LOOSE STUFF'S
BEEN TURNED OVER. THERE'S OCEANS OF QUARTZ, OF COURSE, AND THEY'RE
TRYING TO POUND IT UP IN DOLLIES, BUT YOU COULD PUT ME TO BED WITH A
PICK-AXE AND A SHOVEL BEFORE I'D GO IN FOR SUCH TOMFOOLERY AS THAT.--
DAMN IT ALL, DICK, TO THINK OF YOU BEING COTCHED AT LAST. I CAN'T GET
OVER IT, AND IT'S A BIT OF A RISK, TOO, BY DAD IT IS, FOR A GIRL OF THAT
AGE IS A DARK HORSE IF EVER THERE WAS ONE.

Mahony's answer to this was a couple of pound-notes: SO THAT MY BEST MAN
SHALL NOT DISGRACE ME! His heart went out to the writer. Dear old
Dickybird! pleased as Punch at the turn of events, yet quaking for fear
of imaginary risks. With all Purdy's respect for his friend's opinions,
he had yet an odd distrust of that friend's ability to look after
himself. And now he was presuming to doubt Polly, too. Like his
imperence! What the dickens did HE know of Polly? Keenly relishing the
sense of his own intimate knowledge, Mahony touched the breast-pocket in
which Polly's letters lay--he often carried them out with him to a
little hill, on which a single old blue-gum had been left standing; its
scraggy top-knot of leaves drooped and swayed in the wind, like the few
long straggling hairs on an old man's head.

The letters formed a goodly bundle; for Polly and he wrote regularly to
each other, she once a week, he twice. His bore the Queen's head; hers,
as befitted a needy little governess, were oftenest delivered by hand.
Mahony untied the packet, drew a chance letter from it and mused as he
read. Polly had still not ceded much of her early reserve--and it had
taken him weeks to persuade her even to call him by his first name. She
was, he thanked goodness, not of the kind who throw maidenly modesty to
the winds, directly the binding word is spoken. He loved her all the
better for her wariness of emotion; it tallied with a like streak in his
own nature. And this, though at the moment he was going through a very
debauch of frankness. To the little black-eyed girl who pored over his
letters at "Beamish's Family Hotel," he unbosomed himself as never in
his life before. He enlarged on his tastes and preferences, his likes
and dislikes; he gave vent to his real feelings for the country of his
exile, and his longings for "home"; told how he had come to the colony,
in the first instance, with the fantastic notion of redeeming the
fortunes of his family; described his collections of butterflies and
plants to her, using their Latin names. And Polly drank in his words,
and humbly agreed with all he wrote, or at least did not disagree; and,
from this, as have done lovers from the beginning of time, he inferred a
perfect harmony of mind. On one point only did he press her for a reply.
Was she fond of books? If so, what evenings they would spend together,
he reading aloud from some entertaining volume, she at her fancy work.
And poetry? For himself he could truly say he did not care for
poetry . . . except on a Saturday night or a quiet Sunday morning; and
that was, because he liked it too well to approach it with any but a
tranquil mind.

I THINK IF I KNOW YOU ARIGHT, AS I BELIEVE I DO, MY POLLY, YOU TOO HAVE
POETRY IN YOUR SOUL.

He smiled at her reply; then kissed it.

I CANNOT WRITE POETRY MYSELF, said Polly, BUT I AM VERY FOND OF IT AND
SHALL INDEED LIKE VERY MUCH DEAR RICHARD TO LISTEN WHEN YOU READ.

But the winter ran away, one cold, wet week succeeding another, and
still they were apart. Mahony urged and pleaded, but could not get Polly
to name the wedding-day. He began to think pressure was being brought to
bear on the girl from another side. Naturally the Beamishes were
reluctant to let her go: who would be so useful to them as Polly?--who
undertake, without scorn, the education of the whilom shepherd's
daughters? Still, they knew they had to lose her, and he could not see
that it made things any easier for them to put off the evil day. No,
there was something else at the bottom of it; though he did not know
what. Then one evening, pondering a letter of Polly's, he slapped his
forehead and exclaimed aloud at his own stupidity. That night, into his
reply he slipped four five-pound notes. JUST TO BUY YOURSELF ANY LITTLE
THING YOU FANCY, DEAREST. IF I CHOSE A GIFT, I MIGHT SEND WHAT WOULD NOT
BE ACCEPTABLE TO YOU. Yes, sure enough, that was it--little Polly had
been in straits for money: the next news he heard was that she had
bought and was stitching her wedding-gown. Taxed with her need, Polly
guiltily admitted that her salary for the past three months was owing to
her. But there had been great expenses in connection with the hotel; and
Mr. B. had had an accident to his leg. From what she wrote, though,
Mahony saw that it was not the first time such remissness had occurred;
and he felt grimly indignant with her employers. Keeping open house, and
hospitable to the point of vulgarity, they were, it was evident,
pinchfists when it came to parting with their money. Still, in the case
of a little woman who had served them so faithfully! In thought he set a
thick black mark against their name, for their cavalier treatment of his
Polly. And extended it to John Turnham as well. John had made no move to
put hand to pocket; and Polly's niceness of feeling had stood in the way
of her applying to him for aid. It made Mahony yearn to snatch the girl
to him, then and there; to set her free of all contact with such
coarse-grained, miserly brutes.

Old Ocock negotiated the hire of a neat spring cart for him, and a stout
little cob; and at last the day had actually come, when he could set out
to bring Polly home. By his side was Ned Turnham. Ned, still a lean-jowled
wages-man at Rotten Gully, made no secret of his glee at getting
carried down thus comfortably to Polly's nuptials. They drove the
eternal forty odd miles to Geelong, each stick and stone of which was
fast becoming known to Mahony; a journey that remained equally tiresome
whether the red earth rose as a thick red dust, or whether as now it had
turned to a mud like birdlime in which the wheels sank almost to the
axles. Arrived at Geelong they put up at an hotel, where Purdy awaited
them. Purdy had tramped down from Tarrangower, blanket on back, and
stood in need of a new rig-out from head to foot. Otherwise his
persistent ill-luck had left no mark on him.

The ceremony took place early the following morning, at the house of the
Wesleyan minister, the Anglican parson having been called away. The
Beamishes and Polly drove to town, a tight fit in a double buggy. On the
back seat, Jinny clung to and half supported a huge clothes-basket,
which contained the wedding-breakfast. Polly sat on her trunk by the
splashboard; and Tilly, crowded out, rode in on one of the cart-horses,
a coloured bed-quilt pinned round her waist to protect her skirts.

To Polly's disappointment neither her brother John nor his wife was
present; a letter came at the eleventh hour to say that Mrs. Emma was
unwell, and her husband did not care to leave her. Enclosed, however,
were ten pounds for the purchase of a wedding-gift; and the pleasure
Polly felt at being able to announce John's generosity helped to make up
to her for his absence. The only other guest present was an elder
sister, Miss Sarah Turnham, who, being out of a situation at the moment,
had sailed down from Melbourne. This young lady, a sprightly brunette of
some three or four and twenty, without the fine, regular features of Ned
and Polly, but with tenfold their vivacity and experience, caused quite
a sensation; and Tilly's audible raptures at beholding her Purdy again
were of short duration; for Purdy had never met the equal of Miss Sarah,
and could not take his eyes off her. He and she were the life of the
party. The Beamishes were overawed by the visitor's town-bred airs and
the genteel elegance of her dress; Polly was a mere crumpled rose-leaf
of pink confusion; Mahony too preoccupied with ring and licence to take
any but his formal share in the proceedings.

"Come and see you?" echoed Miss Sarah playfully: the knot was tied; the
company had demolished the good things laid out by Mrs. Beamish in the
private parlour of an hotel, and emptied a couple of bottles of
champagne; and Polly had changed her muslin frock for a black silk
travelling-gown. "Come and SEE you? Why, of course I will, little
silly!"--and, with her pretty white hands, she patted the already
perfect bow of Polly's bonnet-strings. Miss Sarah had no great opinion
of the match her sister was making; but she had been agreeably surprised
by Mahony's person and manners, and had said so, thus filling Polly's
soul with bliss. "Provided, of course, little goosey, you have a SPARE
ROOM to offer me.--For, I confess," she went on, turning to the rest of
the party, "I confess I feel inordinately curious to see, with my own
eyes, what these famous diggings are like. From all one hears, they must
be MARVELLOUSLY entertaining.--Now, I presume that you, Mr. Smith,
never touch at such RUDE, OUT-OF-THE-WORLD places in the course of YOUR
travels?"

Purdy, who had discreetly concealed the fact that he was but a
poverty-stricken digger himself, quibbled a light evasion, then changed
the subject, and offered his escort to the steam-packet by which Miss
Sarah was returning to Melbourne.

"And you, too, dear Tilly," urged little Polly, proceeding with her
farewells. "For, mind, you promised. And I won't forget to . . . you
know what!"

Tilly, sobbing noisily, wept on Polly's neck that she wished she was
dead or at the bottom of the sea; and Polly, torn between pride and pain
at Purdy's delinquency, could only kiss her several times without
speaking.

The farewells buzzed and flew.

"Good-bye to you, little lass . . . beg pardon, Mrs. Dr. Mahony!"----

"Mind you write, Poll! I shall die to 'ear."----

"Ta-ta, little silly goosey, and AU REVOIR!"--"Mind he don't pitch you
out of the cart, Polly!"--"Good-bye, Polly, my duck, and remember I'll
come to you in a winkin', h'if and when . . ." which speech on the part
of Mrs. Beamish distressed Polly to the verge of tears.

But finally she was torn from their arms and hoisted into the cart; and
Mahony, the reins in his hand, began to unstiffen from the wooden
figure-head he had felt himself during the ceremony, and under the
whirring tongues and whispered confidences of the women.

"And now, Polly, for home!" he said exultantly, when the largest
pocket-handkerchief had shrunk to the size of a nit, and Polly had ceased
to twist her neck for one last, last glimpse of her friends.

And then the bush, and the loneliness of the bush, closed round them.

It was the time of flowers--of fierce young growth after the fruitful
winter rains. The short-lived grass, green now as that of an English
meadow, was picked out into patterns by the scarlet of the Running
Postman; purple sarsaparilla festooned the stems of the scrub; there
were vast natural paddocks, here of yellow everlastings, there of heaths
in full bloom. Compared with the dark, spindly foliage of the she-oaks,
the ti-trees' waxy flowers stood out like orange-blossoms against firs.
On damp or marshy ground wattles were aflame: great quivering masses of
softest gold. Wherever these trees stood, the fragrance of their yellow
puff-ball blossoms saturated the air; one knew, before one saw them,
that they were coming, and long after they had been left behind one
carried their honeyed sweetness with one; against them, no other scent
could have made itself felt. And to Mahony these waves of perfume, into
which they were continually running, came, in the course of the hours,
to stand for a symbol of the golden future for which he and Polly were
making; and whenever in after years he met with wattles in full bloom,
he was carried back to the blue spring day of this wedding-journey, and
jogged on once more, in the light cart, with his girl-wife at his side.

It was necessarily a silent drive. More rain had fallen during the
night; even the best bits of the road were worked into deep, glutinous
ruts, and the low-lying parts were under water. Mahony, but a fairish
hand with the reins, was repeatedly obliged to leave the track and take
to the bush, where he steered a way as best he could through trees,
stumps, boulders and crab-holes. Sometimes he rose to his feet to
encourage the horse; or he alighted and pulled it by the bridle; or put
a shoulder to the wheel. But to-day no difficulties had power to daunt
him; and the farther he advanced the lighter-hearted he grew: he went
back to Ballarat feeling, for the first time, that he was actually going
home.

And Polly? Sitting motionless at her husband's side, her hands folded on
her black silk lap, Polly obediently turned her head this way and that,
when Richard pointed out a landmark to her, or called her attention to
the flowers. At first, things were new and arresting, but the novelty
soon wore off; and as they went on and on, and still on, it began to
seem to Polly, who had never been farther afield than a couple of miles
north of the "Pivot City," as if they were driving away from all the
rest of mankind, right into the very heart of nowhere. The road grew
rougher, too--became scored with ridges and furrows which threw them
violently from side to side. Unused to bush driving, Polly was sure at
each fresh jolt that this time the cart MUST tip over; and yet she
preferred the track and its dangers to Richard's adventurous attempts to
carve a passage through the scrub. A little later a cold south wind
sprang up, which struck through her thin silk mantle; she was very
tired, having been on her feet since five o'clock that morning; and all
the happy fuss and excitement of the wedding was behind her. Her heart
sank. She loved Richard dearly; if he had asked her, she would have gone
to the ends of the earth with him; but at this moment she felt both
small and lonely, and she would have liked nothing better than Mrs.
Beamish's big motherly bosom, on which to lay her head. And when, in
passing a swamp, a well-known noise broke on her ear--that of hundreds
of bell-frogs, which were like hundreds of hissing tea-kettles just
about to boil--then such a rush of homesickness took her that she would
have given all she had, to know she was going back, once more, to the
familiar little whitewashed room she had shared with Tilly and Jinny.

The seat of the cart was slanting and slippery. Polly was continually
sliding forward, now by inches, now with a great jerk. At last Mahony
noticed it. "You are not sitting very comfortably, Polly, I fear?" he
said.

Polly righted herself yet again, and reddened. "It's my . . . my feet
aren't long enough," she replied.

"Why, my poor little love!" cried Mahony, full of quick compunction.
"Why didn't you say so?" And drawing rein and getting down, he stuffed
some of Mrs. Beamish's bundles--fragments of the feast, which the good
woman had sent with them--under his wife's feet; stuffed too many, so
that Polly drove the rest of the way with her knees raised to a hump in
front of her. All the afternoon they had been making for dim blue
ranges. After leaving the flats near Geelong, the track went up and
down. Grey-green forest surrounded them, out of which nobbly hills rose
like islands from a sea of trees. As they approached the end of their
journey, they overtook a large number of heavy vehicles labouring along
through the mire. A coach with six horses dashed past them at full
gallop, and left them rapidly behind. Did they have to skirt bull-punchers
who were lashing or otherwise ill-treating their teams, Mahony
urged on the horse and bade Polly shut her eyes.

Night had fallen and a drizzling rain get in, by the time they travelled
the last couple of miles to Ballarat. This was the worst of all; and
Polly held her breath while the horse picked its way among yawning pits,
into which one false step would have plunged them. Her fears were not
lessened by hearing that in several places the very road was undermined;
and she was thankful when Richard--himself rendered uneasy by the
precious cargo he bore--got out and walked at the horse's head. They
drew up before a public-house. Cramped from sitting and numb with cold,
Polly climbed stiffly down as bidden; and Mahony having unloaded the
baggage, mounted to his seat again to drive the cart into the yard. This
was a false move, as he was quick to see: he should not have left Polly
standing alone. For the news of the arrival of "Doc." Mahony and his
bride flew from mouth to mouth, and all the loafers who were in the bar
turned out to stare and to quiz. Beside her tumulus of trunk, bag,
bundle little Polly stood desolate, with drooping shoulders; and cursing
his want of foresight, Mahony all but drove into the gatepost, which
occasioned a loud guffaw. Nor had Long Jim turned up as ordered, to
shoulder the heavy luggage. These blunders made Mahony very hot and
curt. Having himself stowed the things inside the bar and borrowed a
lantern, he drew his wife's arm through his, and hurried her away.

It was pitch-dark, and the ground was wet and squelchy. Their feet sank
in the mud. Polly clung to Richard's arm, trembling at the rude voices,
the laughter, the brawling, that issued from the grog-shops; at the
continual apparition of rough, bearded men. One of these, who held a
candle stuck in a bottle, was accosted by Richard and soundly rated.
When they turned out of the street with its few dismal oil-lamps, their
way led them among dirty tents and black pits, and they had to depend
for light on the lantern they carried. They crossed a rickety little
bridge over a flooded river; then climbed a slope, on which in her
bunchy silk skirts Polly slipped and floundered, to stop before
something that was half a tent and half a log-hut.--What! this the end
of the long, long journey! This the house she had to live in?

Yes, Richard was speaking. "Welcome home, little wife! Not much of a
place, you see, but the best I can give you."

"It's . . . it's very nice, Richard," said Polly staunchly; but her lips
trembled.

Warding off the attack of a big, fierce, dirty dog, which sprang at her,
dragging its paws down her dress, Polly waited while her husband undid
the door, then followed him through a chaos, which smelt as she had
never believed any roofed-in place could smell, to a little room at the
back.

Mahony lighted the lamp that stood ready on the table, and threw a
satisfied glance round. His menfolk had done well: things were in
apple-pie order. The fire crackled, the kettle was on the boil, the cloth
spread. He turned to Polly to kiss her welcome, to relieve her of bonnet
and mantle. But before he could do this there came a noise of rowdy
voices, of shouting and parleying. Picking up the lantern, he ran out to
see what the matter was.

Left alone Polly remained standing by the table, on which an array of
tins was set--preserved salmon, sardines, condensed milk--their tops
forced back to show their contents. Her heart was heavy as lead, and she
felt a dull sense of injury as well. This hut her home!--to which she
had so freely invited sister and friend! She would be ashamed for them
ever to set eyes on it. Not in her worst dreams had she imagined it as
mean and poor as this. But perhaps . . . . With the lamp in her hand,
she tip-toed guiltily to a door in the wall: it opened into a tiny
bedroom with a sloping roof. No, this was all, all there was of it: just
these two miserable little poky rooms! She raised her head and looked
round, and the tears welled up in spite of herself. The roof was so low
that you could almost touch it; the window was no larger than a
pocket-handkerchief; there were chinks between the slabs of the walls. And
from one of these she now saw a spider crawl out, a huge black tarantula,
with horrible hairy legs. Polly was afraid of spiders; and at this the
tears began to overflow and to trickle down her cheeks. Holding her
skirts to her--the new dress she had made with such pride, now damp,
and crushed, and soiled--she sat down and put her feet, in their
soaked, mud-caked, little prunella boots, on the rung of her chair, for
fear of other monsters that might be crawling the floor.

And then, while she sat thus hunched together, the voices outside were
suddenly drowned in a deafening noise--in a hideous, stupefying din,
that nearly split one's eardrums: it sounded as though all the tins and
cans in the town were being beaten and banged before the door. Polly
forgot the tarantula, forgot her bitter disappointment with her new
home. Her black eyes wide with fear, her heart thudding in her chest,
she sprang to her feet and stood ready, if need be, to defend herself.
Where, oh where was Richard?

It was the last straw. When, some five minutes later, Mahony came
bustling in: he had soothed the "kettledrummers" and sent them off with
a handsome gratuity, and he carried the trunk on his own shoulder, Long
Jim following behind with bags and bundles: when he entered, he found
little Polly sitting with her head huddled on her arms, crying as though
her heart would break.





Part II




Chapter I



Over the fathomless grey seas that tossed between, dissevering the
ancient and gigantic continent from the tiny motherland, unsettling
rumours ran. After close on forty years' fat peace, England had armed
for hostilities again, her fleet set sail for a foreign sea. Such was
the news the sturdy clipper-ships brought out, in tantalising fragments;
and those who, like Richard Mahony, were mere birds-of-passage in the
colony, and had friends and relatives going to the front, caught
hungrily at every detail. But to the majority of the colonists what
England had done, or left undone, in preparation for war, was of small
account. To them the vital question was: will the wily Russian Bear take
its revenge by sending men-of-war to annihilate us and plunder the gold
in our banks--us, months removed from English aid? And the opinion was
openly expressed that in casting off her allegiance to Great Britain,
and becoming a neutral state, lay young Australia's best hope of safety.

But, even while they made it, the proposers of this scheme were knee-deep
in petty, local affairs again. All Europe was depressed under the
cloud of war; but they went on belabouring hackneyed themes--the
unlocking of the lands, iniquitous licence-fees, official corruption.
Mahony could not stand it. His heart was in England, went up and down
with England's hopes and fears. He smarted under the tales told of the
inefficiency of the British troops and the paucity of their numbers;
under the painful disclosures made by journalists, injudiciously allowed
to travel to the seat of war; he questioned, like many another of his
class in the old country, the wisdom of the Duke of Newcastle's orders
to lay siege to the port of Sebastopol. And of an evening, when the
store was closed, he sat over stale English newspapers and a map of the
Crimea, and meticulously followed the movements of the Allies.

But in this retirement he was rudely disturbed, by feeling himself
touched on a vulnerable spot--that of his pocket. Before the end of the
year trade had come to a standstill, and the very town he lived in was
under martial law.

On both Ballarat and the Bendigo the agitation for the repeal of the
licence-tax had grown more and more vehement; and spring's arrival found
the digging-community worked up to a white heat. The new Governor's tour
of inspection, on which great hopes had been built, served only to
aggravate the trouble. Misled by the golden treasures with which the
diggers, anxious as children to please, dazzled his eyes, the Governor
decided that the tax was not an outrageous one; and ordered licence-raids
to be undertaken twice as often as before. This defeat of the
diggers' hopes, together with the murder of a comrade and the acquittal
of the murderer by a corrupt magistrate, goaded even the least sensitive
spirits to rebellion: the guilty man's house was fired, the police were
stoned, and then, for a month or more, deputations and petitions ran to
and fro between Ballarat and Melbourne. In vain: the demands of the
voteless diggers went unheard. The consequence was that one day at the
beginning of summer all the troops that could be spared from the
capital, along with several pieces of artillery, were raising the dust
on the road to Ballarat.

On the last afternoon in November work was suspended throughout the
diggings, and the more cautious among the shopkeepers began to think of
closing their doors. In front of the "Diggers' Emporium," where the
earth was baked as hard as a burnt crust, a little knot of people stood
shading their eyes from the sun. Opposite, on Bakery Hill, a monster
meeting had been held and the "Southern Cross" hoisted--a blue bunting
that bore the silver stars of the constellation after which it was
named. Having sworn allegiance to it with outstretched hands, the rebels
were lining up to march off to drill.

Mahony watched the thin procession through narrowed lids. In theory he
condemned equally the blind obstinacy of the authorities, who went on
tightening the screw, and the foolhardiness of the men. But--well, he
could not get his eye to shirk one of the screaming banners and
placards: "Down with Despotism!" "Who so base as be a Slave!" by means
of which the diggers sought to inflame popular indignation. "If only
honest rebels could get on without melodramatic exaggeration! As it is,
those good fellows yonder are rendering a just cause ridiculous."

Polly tightened her clasp of his arm. She had known no peace since the
evening before, when a rough-looking man had come into the store and,
with revolver at full cock, had commanded Hempel to hand over all the
arms and ammunition it contained. Hempel, much to Richard's wrath, had
meekly complied; but it might have been Richard himself; he would for
certain have refused; and then. . . . Polly had hardly slept for
thinking of it. She now listened in deferential silence to the men's
talk; but when old Ocock--he never had a good word to say for the
riotous diggers--took his pipe out of his mouth to remark: "A pack o'
Tipperary boys spoilin' for a fight--that's what I say. An' yet, blow
me if I wouldn't 'a bin glad if one o' my two 'ad 'ad spunk enough to
join 'em,"--at this Polly could not refrain from saying pitifully: "Oh,
Mr. Ocock, do you really MEAN that?" For both Purdy and brother Ned were
in the rebel band, and Polly's heart was heavy because of them.

"Can't you see my brother anywhere?" she asked Hempel, who held an old
spyglass to his eyes.

"No, ma'am, sorry to say I can't," replied Hempel. He would willingly
have conjured up a dozen brothers to comfort Polly; but he could not
swerve from the truth, even for her.

"Give me the glass," said Mahony, and swept the line.--"No, no sign of
either of them. Perhaps they thought better of it after all.--Listen!
now they're singing--can you hear them? The MARSEILLAISE as I'm alive.
--Poor fools! Many of them are armed with nothing more deadly than picks
and shovels."

"And pikes," corrected Hempel. "Several carry pikes, sir."

"Ay, that's so, they've bin 'ammerin' out bits of old iron all the
mornin'," agreed Ocock. "It's said they 'aven't a quarter of a firearm
apiece. And the drillin'! Lord love yer! 'Alf of 'em don't know their
right 'and from their left. The troops 'ull make mincemeat of 'em, if
they come to close quarters."

"Oh, I hope not!" said Polly. "Oh, I do hope they won't get hurt."

Patting her hand, Mahony advised his wife to go indoors and resume her
household tasks. And since his lightest wish was a command, little Polly
docilely withdrew her arm and returned to her dishwashing. But though
she rubbed and scoured with her usual precision, her heart was not in
her work. Both on this day and the next she seemed to exist solely in
her two ears. The one strained to catch any scrap of news about "poor
Ned"; the other listened, with an even sharper anxiety, to what went on
in the store. Several further attempts were made to get arms and
provisions from Richard; and each time an angry scene ensued. Close up
beside the thin partition, her hands locked under her cooking-apron,
Polly sat and trembled for her husband. He had already got himself
talked about by refusing to back a Reform League; and now she heard him
openly declare to some one that he disapproved of the terms of this
League, from A to Z. Oh dear! If only he wouldn't. But she was careful
not to add to his worries by speaking of her fears. As it was, he came
to tea with a moody face.

The behaviour of the foraging parties growing more and more threatening,
Mahony thought it prudent to follow the general example and put up his
shutters. Wildly conflicting rumours were in the air. One report said a
contingent of Creswick dare-devils had arrived to join forces with the
insurgents; another that the Creswickers, disgusted at finding neither
firearms nor quarters provided for them, had straightway turned and
marched the twelve miles home again. For a time it was asserted that
Lalor, the Irish leader, had been bought over by the government; then,
just as definitely, that his influence alone held the rebel faction
together. Towards evening Long Jim was dispatched to find out how
matters really stood. He brought back word that the diggers had
entrenched themselves on a piece of rising ground near the Eureka lead,
behind a flimsy barricade of logs, slabs, ropes and overturned carts.
The Camp, for its part, was screened by a breastwork of firewood,
trusses of hay and bags of corn; while the mounted police stood or lay
fully armed by their horses, which were saddled ready for action at a
moment's notice.

Neither Ned nor Purdy put in an appearance, and the night passed without
news of them. Just before dawn, however, Mahony was wakened by a tapping
at the window. Thrusting out his head he recognised young Tommy Ocock,
who had been sent by his father to tell "doctor" that the soldiers were
astir. Lights could be seen moving about the Camp, a horse had neighed--
father thought spies might have given them the hint that at least half
the diggers from the Stockade had come down to Main Street last night,
and got drunk, and never gone back. With a concerned glance at Polly
Mahony struggled into his clothes. He must make another effort to reach
the boys--especially Ned, for Polly's sake. When Ned had first
announced his intention of siding with the insurgents, he had merely
shrugged his shoulders, believing that the young vapourer would soon
have had enough of it. Now he felt responsible to his wife for Ned's
safety: Ned, whose chief reason for turning rebel, he suspected, was
that a facetious trooper had once dubbed him "Eytalian organ-grinder,"
and asked him where he kept his monkey.

But Mahony's designs of a friendly interference came too late. The
troops had got away, creeping stealthily through the morning dusk; and
he was still panting up Specimen Hill when he heard the crack of a
rifle. Confused shouts and cries followed. Then a bugle blared, and the
next instant the rattle and bang of musketry split the air.

Together with a knot of others, who like himself had run forth half
dressed, Mahony stopped and waited, in extreme anxiety; and, while he
stood, the stars went out, one by one, as though a finger-tip touched
them. The diggers' response to the volley of the attacking party was
easily distinguished: it was a dropping fire, and sounded like a thin
hail-shower after a peal of thunder. Within half an hour all was over:
the barricade had fallen, to cheers and laughter from the military; the
rebel flag was torn down; huts and tents inside the enclosure were going
up in flames.

Towards six o'clock, just as the December sun, huge and fiery, thrust
the edge of its globe above the horizon, a number of onlookers ran up
the slope to all that was left of the ill-fated stockade. On the dust,
bloodstains, now set hard as scabs, traced the route by which a wretched
procession of prisoners had been marched to the Camp gaol. Behind the
demolished barrier huts smouldered as heaps of blackened embers; and the
ground was strewn with stark forms, which lay about--some twenty or
thirty of them--in grotesque attitudes. Some sprawled with outstretched
arms, their sightless eyes seeming to fix the pale azure of the sky;
others were hunched and huddled in a last convulsion. And in the course
of his fruitless search for friend and brother, an old instinct
reasserted itself in Mahony: kneeling down he began swiftly and
dexterously to examine the prostrate bodies. Two or three still heaved,
the blood gurgling from throat and breast like water from the neck of a
bottle. Here, one had a mouth plugged with shot, and a beard as stiff as
though it were made of rope. Another that he turned over was a German he
had once heard speak at a diggers' meeting--a windy braggart of a man,
with a quaint impediment in his speech. Well, poor soul! he would never
mouth invectives or tickle the ribs of an audience again. His body was a
very colander of wounds. Some had not bled either. It looked as though
the soldiers had viciously gone on prodding and stabbing the fallen.

Stripping a corpse of its shirt, he tore off a piece of stuff to make a
bandage for a shattered leg. While he was binding the limb to a board,
young Tom ran up to say that the military, returning with carts, were
arresting every one they met in the vicinity. With others who had been
covering up and carrying away their friends, Mahony hastened down the
back of the hill towards the bush. Here was plain evidence of a
stampede. More bloodstains pointed the track, and a number of odd and
clumsy weapons had been dropped or thrown away by the diggers in their
flight.

He went home with the relatively good tidings that neither Ned nor Purdy
was to be found. Polly was up and dressed. She had also lighted the fire
and set water on to boil, "just in case." "Was there ever such a
sensible little woman?" said her husband with a kiss.

The day dragged by, flat and stale after the excitement of the morning.
No one ventured far from cover; for the military remained under arms,
and detachments of mounted troopers patrolled the streets. At the Camp
the hundred odd prisoners were being sorted out, and the maimed and
wounded doctored in the rude little temporary hospital. Down in Main
Street the noise of hammering went on hour after hour. The dead could
not be kept, in the summer heat, must be got underground before dark.

Mahony had just secured his premises for the night, when there came a
rapping at the back door. In the yard stood a stranger who, when the dog
Pompey had been chidden and soothed, made mysterious signs to Mahony and
murmured a well-known name. Admitted to the sitting-room he fished a
scrap of dirty paper from his boot. Mahony put the candle on the table
and straightened out the missive. Sure enough, it was in Purdy's hand--
though sadly scrawled.

HAVE BEEN HIT IN THE PIN. COME IF POSSIBLE AND BRING YOUR TOOLS. THE
BEARER IS SQUARE.

Polly could hear the two of them talking in low, urgent tones. But her
relief that the visitor brought no bad news of her brother was dashed
when she learned that Richard had to ride out into the bush, to visit a
sick man. However she buttoned her bodice, and with her hair hanging
down her back went into the sitting-room to help her husband; for he was
turning the place upside down. He had a pair of probe-scissors
somewhere, he felt sure, if he could only lay hands on them. And while
he ransacked drawers and cupboards for one or other of the few poor
instruments left him, his thoughts went back, inopportunely enough, to
the time when he had been surgeon's dresser in the Edinburgh Royal
Infirmary. O TEMPORA, O MORES! He wondered what old Syme, that prince of
surgeons, would say, could he see his whilom student raking out a probe
from among the ladles and kitchen spoons, a roll of lint from behind the
saucepans.

Bag in hand, he followed his guide to where the latter had left a horse
in safe-keeping; and having lengthened the stirrups and received
instructions about the road, he set off for the hut in the ranges which
Purdy had contrived to reach. He had an awkward cross-country ride of
some four miles before him; but this did not trouble him. The chance-
touched spring had opened the gates to a flood of memories; and, as he
jogged along, he re-lived in thought the happy days spent as a student
under the shadow of Arthur's Seat, round the College, the Infirmary and
old Surgeons' Square. Once more he sat in the theatre, the breathless
spectator of famous surgical operations; or as house-surgeon to the
Lying-in Hospital himself assisted in daring attempts to lessen
suffering and save life. It was, of course, too late now to bemoan the
fact that he had broken with his profession. Yet only that very day envy
had beset him. The rest of the fraternity had run to and from the tents
where the wounded were housed, while he, behung with his shopman's
apron, pottered about among barrels and crates. No one thought of
enlisting his services; another, not he, would set (or bungle) the
fracture he had temporarily splinted.

The hut--it had four slab walls and an earthen floor--was in darkness
on his arrival, for Purdy had not dared to make a light. He lay tossing
restlessly on a dirty old straw palliasse, and was in great pain; but
greeted his friend with a dash of the old brio.

Hanging his coat over the chinks in the door, and turning back his
sleeves, Mahony took up the lantern and stooped to examine the injured
leg. A bullet had struck the right ankle, causing an ugly wound. He
washed it out, dressed and bandaged it. He also bathed the patient's
sweat-soaked head and shoulders; then sat down to await the owner of the
hut's return.

As soon as the latter appeared he took his leave, promising to ride out
again the night after next. In spite of the circumstances under which
they met, he and Purdy parted with a slight coolness. Mahony had loudly
voiced his surprise at the nature of the wound caused by the bullet: it
was incredible that any of the military could have borne a weapon of
this calibre. Pressed, Purdy admitted that his hurt was a piece of gross
ill-luck: he had been accidentally shot by a clumsy fool of a digger,
from an ancient holster-pistol.

To Mahony this seemed to cap the climax; and he did not mask his
sentiments. The pitiful little forcible-feeble rebellion, all along but
a futile attempt to cast straws against the wind, was now completely
over and done with, and would never be heard of again. Or such at least,
he added, was the earnest hope of the law-abiding community. This
irritated Purdy, who was spumy with the self-importance of one who has
stood in the thick of the fray. He answered hotly, and ended by rapping
out with a contemptuous click of the tongue: "Upon my word, Dick, you
look at the whole thing like the tradesman you are!"

These words rankled in Mahony all the way home.--Trust Purdy for not,
in anger, being able to resist giving him a flick on the raw. It made
him feel thankful he was no longer so dependent on this friendship as of
old. Since then he had tasted better things. Now, a woman's heart beat
in sympathetic understanding; there met his, two lips which had never
said an unkind word. He pushed on with a new zest, reaching home about
dawn. And over his young wife's joy at his safe return, he forgot the
shifting moods of his night-journey.

It had, however, this result. Next day Polly found him with his head in
one of the great old shabby black books which, to her mind, spoilt the
neat appearance of the bookshelves. He stood to read, the volume lying
open before him on the top of the cold stove, and was so deeply
engrossed that the store-bell rang twice without his hearing it. When,
reminded that Hempel was absent, he whipped out to answer it, he carried
the volume with him.




Chapter II



But his first treatment of Purdy's wound was also his last. Two nights
later he found the hut deserted; and diligently as he prowled round it
in the moonlight, he could discover no clue to the fate of its
occupants. There was nothing to be done but to head his horse for home
again. Polly was more fortunate. Within three days of the fight Ned
turned up, sound as a bell. He was sporting a new hat, a flashy silk
neckerchief and a silver watch and chain. At sight of these kickshaws a
dismal suspicion entered Mahony's mind, and refused to be dislodged. But
he did not breathe his doubts--for Polly's sake. Polly was rapturously
content to see her brother again. She threw her arms round his neck, and
listened, with her big, black, innocent eyes--except for their
fleckless candour, the counterpart of Ned's own--to the tale of his
miraculous escape, and of the rich gutter he had had the good luck to
strike.

Meanwhile public feeling, exasperated beyond measure by the tragedy of
that summer dawn, slowly subsided. Hesitation, timidity, and a very
human waiting on success had held many diggers back from joining in the
final coup; but the sympathy of the community was with the rebels, and
at the funerals of the fallen, hundreds of mourners, in such black coats
as they could muster, marched side by side to the wild little unfenced
bush cemetery. When, too, the relief-party arrived from Melbourne and
martial law was proclaimed, the residents handed over their firearms as
ordered; but an attempt to swear in special constables failed, not a
soul stepping forward in support of the government.

There was literally nothing doing during the month the military occupied
Ballarat. Mahony seized the opportunity to give his back premises a coat
of paint; he also began to catalogue his collection of Lepidoptera.
Hence, as far as business was concerned, it was a timely moment for the
arrival of a letter from Henry Ocock, to the effect that, "subject of
course to any part-heard case," "our case" was first on the list for a
date early in January.

None the less, the announcement threw Mahony into the fidgets. He had
almost clean forgotten the plaguey affair: it had its roots in the dark
days before his marriage. He wished now he had thought twice before
letting himself be entangled in a lawsuit. Now, he had a wife dependent
on him, and to lose the case, and be held responsible for costs, would
cripple him. And such a verdict was not at all unlikely; for Purdy, his
chief witness, could not be got at: the Lord alone knew where Purdy lay
hid. He at once sat down and wrote the bad news to his solicitor.

At six o'clock in the morning some few days later, he took his seat in
the coach for Melbourne. By his side sat Johnny Ocock, the elder of the
two brothers. Johnny had by chance been within earshot during the
negotiations with the rascally carrier, and on learning this, Henry had
straightway subpoenaed him. Mahony was none too well pleased: the boy
threatened to be a handful. His old father, on delivering him up at the
coach-office, had drawn Mahony aside to whisper: "Don't let the young
limb out o' yer sight, doc., or get nip or sip o' liquor. If 'e so much
as wets 'is tongue, there's no 'olding 'im." Johnny was a lean,
pimply-faced youth, with cold, flabby hands.

Little Polly had to stay behind. Mahony would have liked to give her the
trip and show her the sights of the capital; but the law-courts were no
place for a woman; neither could he leave her sitting alone in a hotel.
And a tentative letter to her brother John had not called forth an
invitation: Mrs. Emma was in delicate health at present, and had no mind
for visitors. So he committed Polly to the care of Hempel and Long Jim,
both of whom were her faithful henchmen. She herself, in proper wifely
fashion, proposed to give her little house a good red-up in its master's
absence.

Mahony and Johnny dismounted from the coach in the early afternoon,
sore, stiff and hungry: they had broken their fast merely on half-a-dozen
sandwiches, keeping their seats the while that the young toper
might be spared the sight of intoxicating liquors. Now, stopping only to
brush off the top layer of dust and snatch a bite of solid food, Mahony
hastened away, his witness at heel, to Chancery Lane.

It was a relief to find that Ocock was not greatly put out at Purdy
having failed them. "Leave it to us, sir. We'll make that all right." As
on the previous visit he dry-washed his hands while he spoke, and his
little eyes shot flashes from one to the other, like electric sparks. He
proposed just to run through the morrow's evidence with "our young
friend there"; and in the course of this rehearsal said more than once:
"Good . . . good! Why, sonny, you're quite smart." This when Johnny
succeeded in grasping his drift. But at the least hint of unreadiness or
hesitation, he tut-tutted and drew his brows together. And as it went
on, it seemed to Mahony that Ocock was putting words into the boy's
mouth; while Johnny, intimidated, said yes and amen to things he could
not possibly know. Presently he interfered to this effect. Ocock brushed
his remark aside. But after a second interruption from Mahony: "I think,
sir, with your permission we will ask John not to depart from what he
actually heard," the lawyer shuffled his papers into a heap and said
that would do for to-day: they would meet at the court in the morning.
Prior to shaking hands, however, he threw out a hint that he would like
a word with his brother on family matters. And for half an hour Mahony
paced the street below.

The remainder of the day was spent in keeping Johnny out of temptation's
way, in trying to interest him in the life of the city, its monuments
and curiosities. But the lad was too apathetic to look about him, and
never opened his mouth. Once only in the course of the afternoon did he
offer a kind of handle. In their peregrinations they passed a Book
Arcade, where Mahony stopped to turn the leaves of a volume. Johnny also
took up a book, and began to read.

"What is it?" asked Mahony. "Would you like to have it, my boy?"

Johnny stonily accepted the gift--it was a tale of Red Indians, the
pages smudged with gaudy illustrations--and put it under his arm.

At the good supper that was set before him he picked with a meagre zest;
then fell asleep. Mahony took the opportunity to write a line to Polly
to tell of their safe arrival; and having sealed the letter, ran out to
post it. He was not away for more than three minutes, but when he came
back Johnny was gone. He hunted high and low for him, ransacked the
place without success: the boy had spoken to no one, nor had he been
seen to leave the coffee-room; and as the clock-hands were nearing
twelve, Mahony was obliged to give up the search and go back to the
hotel. It was impossible at that hour to let Ocock know of this fresh
piece of ill-luck. Besides, there was just a chance the young scamp
would turn up in the morning. Morning came, however, and no Johnny with
it. Outwitted and chagrined, Mahony set off for the court alone.

Day had broken dim and misty, and by the time breakfast was over a north
wind was raging--a furnace-like blast that bore off the sandy deserts
of the interior. The sun was a yellow blotch in a copper sky; the
thermometer had leapt to a hundred and ten in the shade. Blinding clouds
of coarse, gritty dust swept house-high through the streets:
half-suffocated, Mahony fought his way along, his veil lowered, his
handkerchief at his mouth. Outside those public-houses that advertised
ice, crowds stood waiting their turn of entry; while half-naked barmen,
their linen trousers drenched with sweat, worked like niggers to mix
drinks which should quench these bottomless thirsts. Mahony believed he
was the only perfectly sober person in the lobby of the court. Even
Ocock himself would seem to have been indulging.

This suspicion was confirmed by the lawyer's behaviour. No sooner did
Ocock espy him than up he rushed, brandishing the note that had been got
to him early that morning--and now his eyes looked like little dabs of
pitch in his chalk-white face, and his manner, stripped of its veneer,
let the real man show through.

"Curse it, sir, and what's the meaning of this, I'd like to know?" he
cried, and struck at the sheet of notepaper with his free hand. "A
pretty fix to put us in at the last minute, upon my word! It was your
business, sir, to nurse your witness . . . after all the trouble I'd
been to with him! What the devil do you expect us to do now?"

Mahony's face paled under its top-dressing of dust and moisture. To
Ocock's gross: "Well, it's your own look-out, confound you!--entirely
your own look-out," he returned a cool: "Certainly," then moved to one
side and took up his stand in a corner of the hall, out of the way of
the jostle and bustle, the constant going and coming that gave the
hinges of the door no rest.

When after a weary wait the time came to enter court, he continued to
give Ocock, who had been deep in consultation with his clerk, a wide
berth, and moved forward among a number of other people. A dark,
ladder-like stair led to the upper storey. While he was mounting this,
some words exchanged in a low tone behind him arrested his attention.

"Are you O.K., old man?"

"We are, if our client doesn't give us away. But he has to be handled
like a hot--" Here the sentence snapped, for Mahony, bitten by a sudden
doubt, faced sharply round. But it was a stranger who uncivilly accused
him of treading on his toe.

The court--it was not much more than twenty feet square--was like an
ill-smelling oven. Every chink and crack had been stopped against the
searing wind; and the atmosphere was a brew of all the sour odours, the
offensive breaths, given off by the two-score odd people crushed within
its walls. In spite of precautions the dust had got in: it lay thick on
sills, desks and papers, gritted between the teeth, made the throat
raspy as a file.

Mahony had given up all hope of winning his case, and looked forward to
the sorry pleasure of assisting at a miscarriage of justice. During the
speech for the plaintiff, however, he began to see the matter in another
light. Not so much thanks to the speaker, as in spite of him.
Plaintiff's counsel was a common little fellow of ungainly appearance: a
double toll of fat bulged over the neck of his gown, and his wig,
hastily re-donned after a breathing-space, sat askew. Nor was he
anything of an orator: he stumbled over his sentences, and once or twice
lost his place altogether. To his dry presentment of the case nobody
seemed to pay heed. The judge, tired of wiping his spectacles dry, leant
back and closed his eyes. Mahony believed he slept, as did also some of
the jurors, deaf to the Citation of Dawes V. Peck and Dunlop V. Lambert;
to the assertion that the carrier was the agent, the goods were
accepted, the property had "passed." This "passing" of the property was
evidently a strong point; the plaintiff's name itself was not much
oftener on the speaker's lips. "The absconding driver, me Lud, was a
personal friend of the defendant's. Mr. Bolliver never knew him; hence
could not engage him. Had this person not been thrust upon him, Mr.
Bolliver would have employed the same carrier as on a previous
occasion." And so on and on.

Mahony listened hand at ear, that organ not being keyed up to the
mutterings and mumblings of justice. And for all the dullness of the
subject-matter and counsel's lack of eloquence his interest did not
flag. It was the first time he heard the case for the other side stated
plainly; and he was dismayed to find how convincing it was. Put thus, it
must surely gain over every honest, straight-thinking man. In
comparison, the points Ocock was going to advance shrank to mere legal
quibbles and hair-splitting evasions.

Then the plaintiff himself went into the witness-box--and Mahony's
feelings became involved as well. This his adversary!--this poor old
mangy greybeard, who stood blinking a pair of rheumy eyes and weakly
smiling. One did not pit oneself against such human flotsam. Drunkard
was stamped on every inch of the man, but this morning, in odd exception
to the well-primed crew around him, he was sober--bewilderedly sober--
and his shabby clothing was brushed, his frayed collar clean.
Recognising the pitiful bid for sympathy, Mahony caught himself
thinking: "Good Lord! I could have supplied him with a coat he'd have
cut a better figure than that in."

Bolliver clutched the edge of the box with his two hands. His unusual
condition was a hindrance rather than a help to him; without a peg or
two his woolly thoughts were not to be disentangled. He stammered forth
his evidence, halting either to piece together what he was going to say,
or to recollect what he had just said--it was clear he went in mortal
fear of contradicting himself. The scene was painful enough while he
faced his own counsel, but, when counsel for the defence rose, a half-hour
followed in which Mahony wished himself far from the court.

Bolliver could not come to the point. Counsel was merciless and coarsely
jocose, and brought off several laughs. His victim wound his knotty
hands in and out, and swallowed oftener than he had saliva for, in a
forlorn endeavour to evade the pitfalls artfully dug for him. More than
once he threw a covert glance, that was like an appeal for help, at all
the indifferent faces. Mahony drooped his head, that their eyes should
not meet.

In high feather at the effect he was producing, counsel inserted his
left arm under his gown, and held the stuff out from his back with the
tips of all five fingers.

"And now you'll p'raps have the goodness to tell us whether you've ever
had occasion to send goods by a carrier before, in the course of your
young life?"

"Yes." It was a humble monosyllable, returned without spirit.

"Then of course you've heard of this Murphy?"

"N . . . no, I haven't," answered Bolliver, and let his vacillating eyes
wander to the judge and back.

"You tell that to the marines!" And after half a dozen other tricky
questions: "I put it to you, it's a well-known fact that he's been a
carrier hereabouts for the last couple o' years or more?"

"I don't know--I sup . . . sup-pose so." Bolliver's tongue grew heavy
and tripped up his words.

"And yet you've the cheek, you old rogue you, to insinuate that this was
a put-up job?"

"I . . . I only say what I heard."

"I don't care a button what you heard or didn't hear. What I ask, my
pretty, is do you yourself say so?"

"The . . . the defendant recommended him."

"I put it to you, this man Murphy was one of the best known carriers in
Melbourne, and THAT was why the defendant recommended him--are you out
to deny it?"

"N . . . n . . . no."

"Then you can stand down!" and leaning over to Grindle, who was below
him, counsel whispered with a pleased spread of the hand: "There you
are! that's our case."

There was a painful moment just before Bolliver left the witness-box. As
if become suddenly alive to the sorry figure he had cut, he turned to
the judge with hands clasped, exclaimed: "My Lord, if the case goes
against me, I'm done . . . stony-broke! And the defendant's got a down
on me, my Lord--'e's made up his mind to ruin me. Look at him a-setting
there--a hard man, a mean man, if ever you saw one! What would the bit
of money 'ave meant to 'im? But . . ."

He was rudely silenced and hustled away, to a sharp rebuke from the
judge, who woke up to give it. All eyes were turned on Mahony. Under the
fire of observation--they were comparing him, he knew, with the poor
old Jeremy Diddler yonder, to the latter's disadvantage--his spine
stiffened and he held himself nervously erect. But, the quizzing at an
end, he fumbled with his finger at his neck--his collar seemed to have
grown too tight. While, without, the hot blast, dark with dust, flung
itself against the corners of the house, and howled like a soul in pain.

Counsel for the defence made an excellent impression. "Naturally! I can
afford to pay a better-class man," was Mahony's caustic note. He had
fallen to scribbling on a sheet of paper, and was resigned to sitting
through an adept presentment of Ocock's shifts and dodges. But the
opening words made him prick up his ears.

"My Lord," said counsel, "I submit there is here no case to go to the
jury. No written contract existed between the parties, to bring it
within the Statute of Frauds. Therefore, the plaintiff must prove that
the defendant accepted these goods. Now I submit to you, on the
plaintiff's own admission, that the man Murphy was a common carrier.
Your Lordship will know the cases of Hanson V. Armitage and various
others, in which it has been established beyond doubt that a carrier is
not an agent to accept goods."

The judge had revived, and while counsel called the quality of the
undelivered goods in question, and laid stress on the fact of no money
having passed, he turned the pages of a thick red book with a moistened
thumb. Having found what he sought, he pushed up his spectacles, opened
his mouth, and, his eyes bent meditatively on the speaker, picked a back
tooth with the nail of his first finger.

"Therefore," concluded counsel, "I hold that there is no question of
fact to go to the jury. I do not wish to occupy your Lordship's time any
further upon this submission. I have my client here, and all his
witnesses are in court whom I am prepared to call, should your Lordship
decide against me on the present point. But I do submit that the
plaintiff, on his own showing, has made out no case; and that under the
circumstances, upon his own evidence, this action must fail."

At the reference to witnesses, Mahony dug his pencil into the paper till
the point snapped. So this was their little game! And should the bluff
not work . . .? He sat rigid, staring at the chipped fragment of lead,
and did not look up throughout the concluding scene of the farce.

It was over; the judge had decided in his favour. He jumped to his feet,
and his coat-sleeve swept the dust off the entire length of the ledge in
front of him. But before he reached the foot of the stairs Grindle came
flying down, to say that Ocock wished to speak to him. Very good,
replied Mahony, he would call at the office in the course of the
afternoon. But the clerk left the courthouse at his side. And suddenly
the thought flashed through Mahony's mind: "The fellow suspects me of
trying to do a bolt--of wanting to make off without paying my bill!"

The leech-like fashion in which Grindle stuck to his heels was not to be
misread. "This is what they call nursing, I suppose--he's nursing ME
now!" said Mahony to himself. At the same time he reckoned up, with some
anxiety, the money he had in his pocket. Should it prove insufficient,
who knew what further affronts were in store for him.

But Ocock had recovered his oily sleekness.

"A close shave that, sir, a VE-RY close shave! With Warnock on the bench
I thought we could manage to pull it off. Had it been Guppy now . . .
Still, all's well that ends well, as the poet says. And now for a
trifling matter of business."

"How much do I owe you?"

The bill--it was already drawn up--for "solicitor's and client's
costs" came to twenty odd pounds. Mahony paid it, and stalked out of the
office.

But this was still not all. Once again Grindle ran after him, and pinned
him to the floor.

"I say, Mr. Mahony, a rare joke--gad, it's enough to make you burst
your sides! That old thingumbob, the plaintiff, ye know, now what'n
earth d'you think 'e's been an' done? Gets outer court like one o'clock
--'e'd a sorter rabbit-fancyin' business in 'is backyard. Well, 'ome 'e
trots an' slits the guts of every blamed bunny, an' chucks the bloody
corpses inter the street. Oh lor! What do you say to that, eh?
Unfurnished in the upper storey, what? Heh, heh, heh!"




Chapter III



How truly "home" the poor little gimcrack shanty had become to him,
Mahony grasped only when he once more crossed its threshold and Polly's
arms lay round his neck.

His search for Johnny Ocock had detained him in Melbourne for over a
week. Under the guidance of young Grindle he had scoured the city, not
omitting even the dens of infamy in the Chinese quarter; and he did not
know which to be more saddened by: the revolting sights he saw, or his
guide's proud familiarity with every shade of vice. But nothing could be
heard of the missing lad; and at the suggestion of Henry Ocock he put an
advertisement in the ARGUS, offering a substantial reward for news of
Johnny alive or dead.

While waiting to see what this would bring forth, he paid a visit to
John Turnham. It had not been part of his scheme to trouble his new
relatives on this occasion; he bore them a grudge for the way they had
met Polly's overture. But he was at his wits' end how to kill time:
chafing at the delay was his main employment, if he were not worrying
over the thought of having to appear before old Ocock without his son.
So, one midday he called at Turnham's place of business in Flinders
Lane, and was affably received by John, who carried him off to lunch at
the Melbourne Club. Turnham was a warm partisan of the diggers' cause.
He had addressed a mass meeting held in Melbourne, soon after the fight
on the Eureka; and he now roundly condemned the government's policy of
repression.

"I am, as you are aware, my dear Mahony, no sentimentalist. But these
rioters of yours seem to me the very type of man the country needs.
Could we have a better bedrock on which to build than these fearless
champions of liberty?"

He set an excellent meal before his brother-in-law, and himself ate and
drank heartily, unfolding his very table-napkin with a kind of relish.
In lunching, he inquired the object of Mahony's journey to town. At the
mention of Henry Ocock's name he raised his eyebrows and pursed his
lips.

"Ah, indeed! Then it is hardly necessary to ask the upshot."

He pooh-poohed Mahony's intention of staying till the defaulting witness
was found; disapproved, too, the offer of a reward. "To be paid out of
YOUR pocket, of course! No, my dear Mahony, set your mind at rest and
return to your wife. Lads of that sort never come to grief--more's the
pity! By the bye, how IS Polly, and how does she like life on the
diggings?"

In this connection, Mahony tendered congratulations on the expected
addition to Turnham's family. John embarked readily enough on the theme
of his beautiful wife; but into his voice, as he talked, came a note of
impatience or annoyance, which formed an odd contrast to his wonted
self-possession. "Yes. . . her third, and for some reason which I cannot
fathom, it threatens to prove the most trying of any." And here he went
into medical detail on Mrs. Emma's state.

Mahony urged compliance with the whims of the mother-to-be, even should
they seem extravagant. "Believe me, at a time like this such moods and
caprices have their use. Nature very well knows what she is about."

"Nature? Bah! I am no great believer in nature," gave back John, and
emptied his glass of madeira. "Nature exists to be coerced and
improved."

They parted; and Mahony went back to twirl his thumbs in the hotel
coffee-room. He could not persuade himself to take Turnham's advice and
leave Johnny to his fate. And the delay was nearly over. At dawn next
morning Johnny was found lying in a pitiable condition at the door of
the hotel. It took Mahony the best part of the day to rouse him; to make
him understand he was not to be horsewhipped; to purchase a fresh suit
of clothing for him: to get him, in short, halfway ready to travel the
following day--a blear-eyed, weak-witted craven, who fell into a cold
sweat at every bump of the coach. Not till they reached the end of the
awful journey--even a Chinaman rose to impudence about Johnny's nerves,
his foul breath, his cracked lips--did Mahony learn how the wretched
boy had come by the money for his debauch. At the public-house where the
coach drew up, old Ocock stood grimly waiting, with a leather thong at
his belt, and the news that his till had been broken open and robbed of
its contents. With an involuntary recommendation to mercy, Mahony handed
over the culprit and turned his steps home.

Polly stood on tip-toe to kiss him; Pompey barked till the roof rang,
making leaps that fell wide of the mark; the cat hoisted its tail, and
wound purring in and out between his legs. Tea was spread, on a clean
cloth, with all sorts of good things to eat; an English mail had brought
him a batch of letters and journals. Altogether it was a very happy
home-coming.

When he had had a sponge-down and finished tea, over which he listened,
with a zest that surprised him, to a hundred and one domestic details:
afterwards he and Polly strolled arm-in-arm to the top of the little
hill to which, before marriage, he used to carry her letters. Here they
sat and talked till night fell; and, for the first time, Mahony tasted
the dregless pleasure of coming back from the world outside with his
toll of adventure, and being met by a woman's lively and disinterested
sympathy. Agreeable incidents gained, those that were the reverse of
pleasing lost their sting by being shared with Polly. Not that he told
her everything; of the dark side of life he greatly preferred little
Polly to remain ignorant. Still, as far as it went, it was a delightful
experience. In return he confessed to her something of the uncertainty
that had beset him, on hearing his opponent's counsel state the case for
the other side. It was disquieting to think he might be suspected of
advancing a claim that was not strictly just.

"Suspected? . . . YOU? Oh, how could anybody be so silly!"

For all the fatigues of his day Mahony could not sleep. And after
tossing and tumbling for some time, he rose, threw on his clothing and
went out to smoke a pipe in front of the store. Various worries were
pecking at him--the hint he had given Polly of their existence seemed
to have let them fairly loose upon him. Of course he would be--he was--
suspected of having connived at the imposture by which his suit was won
--why else have put it in the hands of such a one as Ocock? John
Turnham's soundless whistle of astonishment recurred to him, and flicked
him. Imagine it! He, Richard Mahony, giving his sanction to these queasy
tricks!

It was bad enough to know that Ocock at any rate had believed him not
averse from winning by unjust means. Yet, on the whole, he thought this
mortified him less than to feel that he had been written down a Simple
Simon, whom it was easy to impose on. Ah well! At best he had been but a
kind of guy, set up for them to let off their verbal fireworks round.
Faith and that was all these lawyer-fellows wanted--the ghost of an
excuse for parading their skill. Justice played a negligible role in
this battle of wits; else not he but the plaintiff would have come out
victorious. That wretched Bolliver! . . . the memory of him wincing and
flushing in the witness-box would haunt him for the rest of his days. He
could see him, too, with equal clearness, broken-heartedly slitting the
gizzards of his, pets. A poor old derelict--the amen to a life which,
like most lives, had once been flush with promise. And it had been his
Mahony's., honourable portion to give the last kick, the ultimate shove
into perdition. Why, he would rather have lost the money ten times over!

To divert his mind, he began next morning to make an inventory of the
goods in the store. It was high time, too: thanks to the recent
disturbances he did not know where he stood. And while he was about it,
he gave the place a general clean-up. A job of this kind was a powerful
ally in keeping edged thoughts at bay. He and his men had their hands
full for several days, Polly, who was not allowed to set foot in the
store, peeping critically in at them to see how they progressed. And,
after business hours, there was little Polly herself.

He loved to contemplate her.

Six months of married life had worked certain changes in his black-eyed
slip of a girl; but something of the doe-like shyness that had caught
his fancy still clung to her. With strangers she could even yet be
touchingly bashful. Not long out of short frocks, she found it difficult
to stand upon her dignity as Mrs. Dr. Mahony. Besides, it was second
nature to Polly to efface herself, to steal mousily away. Unless, of
course, some one needed help or was in distress, in which case she
forgot to be shy. To her husband's habits and idiosyncrasies she had
adapted herself implicitly--but this came easy; for she was sure
everything Richard did was right, and that his way of looking at things
was the one and only way. So there was no room for discord between them.
By this time Polly could laugh over the dismay of her first homecoming:
the pitch-dark night and unfamiliar road, the racket of the serenade,
the apparition of the great spider: now, all this might have happened to
somebody else, not Polly Mahony. Her dislike of things that creep and
crawl was, it is true, inborn, and persisted; but nowadays if one of the
many "triantelopes" that infested the roof showed its hairy legs, she
had only to call Hempel, and out the latter would pop with a broomstick,
to do away with the creature. If a scorpion or a centipede wriggled from
under a log, the cry of "Tom!" would bring the idle lad next door
double-quick over the fence. Polly had learnt not to summon her husband
on these occasions; for Richard held to the maxim: "Live and let live."
If at night a tarantula appeared on the bedroom-wall, he caught it in a
covered glass and carried it outside: "Just to come in again," was her
rueful reflection. But indeed Polly was surrounded by willing helpers.
And small wonder, thought Mahony. Her young nerves were so sound that
Hempel's dry cough never grated them: she doctored him and fussed over
him, and was worried that she could not cure him. She met Long Jim's
grumbles with a sunny face, and listened patiently to his forebodings
that he would never see "home" or his old woman again. She even brought
out a clumsy good-will in the young varmint Tom; nor did his old
father's want of refinement repel her.

"But, Richard, he's such a kind old man," she met her husband's
admission of this stumbling-block. "And it isn't his fault that he
wasn't properly educated. He has had to work for his living ever since
he was twelve years old."

And Mr. Ocock cried quits by remarking confidentially: "That little lady
o' yours 'as got 'er 'eadpiece screwed on the right way. It beats me,
doc., why you don't take 'er inter the store and learn 'er the bizness.
No offence, I'm sure," he made haste to add, disconcerted by Mahony's
cold stare.

Had anyone at this date tried to tell Polly she lived in a mean, rough
home, he would have had a poor reception. Polly was long since certain
that not a house on the diggings could compare with theirs. This was a
trait Mahony loved in her--her sterling loyalty; a loyalty that
embraced not only her dear ones themselves, but every stick and stone
belonging to them. His discovery of it helped him to understand her
allegiance to her own multicoloured family: in the beginning he had
almost doubted its sincerity. Now, he knew her better. It was just as
though a sixth sense had been implanted in Polly, enabling her to pierce
straight through John's self-sufficiency or Ned's vapourings, to the
real kernel of goodness that no doubt lay hid below. He himself could
not get at it; but then his powers of divination were the exact opposite
of Polly's. He was always struck by the weak or ridiculous side of a
person, and had to dig laboriously down to the virtues. While his young
wife, by a kind of genius, saw the good at a glance--and saw nothing
else. And she did not stint with her gift, or hoard it up solely for use
on her own kith and kin. Her splendid sympathy was the reverse of
clannish; it was applied to every mortal who crossed her path.

Yes, for all her youth, Polly had quite a character of her own; and even
thus early her husband sometimes ran up against a certain native
sturdiness of opinion. But this did not displease him; on the contrary,
he would have thanked you for a wife who was only an echo of himself. To
take the case of the animals. He had a profound respect for those
creatures to which speech has been denied; and he treated the four-footers
that dwelt under his roof as his fellows, humanising them,
reading his own thoughts into them, and showing more consideration for
their feelings than if they had been able to speak up for themselves.
Polly saw this in the light of an exquisite joke. She was always kind to
Pompey and the stately Palmerston, and would as soon have forgotten to
set Richard's dinner before him as to feed the pair; but they remained
"the dog" and "the cat" to her, and, if they had enough to eat, and
received neither kicks nor blows, she could not conceive of their souls
asking more. It went beyond her to study the cat's dislike to being
turned off its favourite chair, or to believe that the dog did not make
dirty prints on her fresh scrubbed floor out of malice prepense; it was
also incredible that he should have doggy fits of depression, in which
up he must to stick a cold, slobbery snout into a warm human hand. And
when Richard tried to conciliate Palmerston stalking sulky to the door,
or to pet away the melancholy in the rejected Pompey's eyes, Polly had
to lay down her sewing and laugh at her husband, so greatly did his
behaviour amuse her.

Again, there was the question of literature. Books to Mahony were almost
as necessary as bread; to his girl-wife, on the other hand, they seemed
a somewhat needless luxury--less vital by far than the animals that
walked the floor. She took great care of the precious volumes Richard
had had carted up from Melbourne; but the cost of the transport was what
impressed her most. It was not an overstatement, thought Mahony, to say
that a stack of well-chopped, neatly piled wood meant more to Polly than
all the books ever written. Not that she did not enjoy a good story: her
work done, she liked few things better; and he often smiled at the ease
with which she lived herself into the world of make-believe, knowing, of
course, that it WAS make-believe and just a kind of humbug. But poetry,
and the higher fiction! Little Polly's professed love for poetry had
been merely a concession to the conventional idea of girlhood; or, at
best, such a burning wish to be all her Richard desired, that, at the
moment, she was convinced of the truth of what she said. But did he read
to her from his favourite authors her attention WOULD wander, in spite
of the efforts she made to pin it down.

Mahony declaimed:

'TIS THE SUNSET OF LIFE GIVES US MYSTICAL LORE,

AND COMING EVENTS CAST THEIR SHADOWS BEFORE,

and his pleasure in the swing of the couplet was such that he repeated
it.

Polly wakened with a start. Her thoughts had been miles away--had been
back at the "Family Hotel". There Purdy, after several adventures, his
poor leg a mass of supuration, had at length betaken himself, to be
looked after by his Tilly; and Polly's hopes were all alight again.

She blushed guiltily at the repetition, and asked her husband to say the
lines once again. He did so.

"But they don't really, Richard, do they?" she said in an apologetic
tone--she referred to the casting of shadows. "It would be so useful if
they did--" and she drew a sigh at Purdy's dilatory treatment of the
girl who loved him so well.

"Oh, you prosaic little woman!" cried Mahony, and laid down his book to
kiss her. It was impossible to be vexed with Polly: she was so honest,
so transparent. "Did you never hear of a certain something called poetic
licence?"

No: Polly was more or less familiar with various other forms of licence,
from the gold-diggers' that had caused all the fuss, down to the special
licence by which she had been married; but this particular one had not
come her way. And on Richard explaining to her the liberty poets allowed
themselves, she shifted uncomfortably in her chair, and was sorry to
think he approved. It seemed to her just a fine name for wanton
exaggeration--if not something worse.

There were also those long evenings they spent over the first hundred
pages of WAVERLEY. Mahony, eager for her to share his enthusiasm,
comforted her each night anew that they would soon reach the story
proper, and then, how interested she would be! But the opening chapters
were a sandy desert of words, all about people duller than any Polly had
known alive; and sometimes, before the book was brought out, she would
heave a secret sigh--although, of course, she enjoyed sitting cosily
together with Richard, watching him and listening to his voice. But they
might have put their time to a pleasanter use: by talking of themselves,
or their friends, or how further to improve their home, or what the
store was doing.

Mahony saw her smiling to herself one evening; and after assuring
himself that there was nothing on the page before him to call that
pleased look to her young face, he laid the book down and offered her a
penny for her thoughts. But Polly was loath to confess to wool-gathering.

"I haven't succeeded in interesting you, have I, Pollikins?"

She made haste to contradict him. Oh, it was very nice, and she loved to
hear him read.

"Come, honestly now, little woman!"

She faced him squarely at that, though with pink cheeks. "Well, not
much, Richard."

He took her on his knee. "And what were you smiling at?"

"Me? Oh, I was just thinking of something that happened yesterday"--and
Polly sat up, agog to tell.

It appeared that the day before, while he was out, the digger's wife who
did Polly's rough work for her had rushed in, crying that her youngest
was choking. Bonnetless, Polly had flown across to the woman's hut.
There she discovered the child, a fat youngster of a year or so, purple
in the face, with a button wedged in its throat. Taking it by the heels
she shook the child vigorously, upside-down; and, lo and behold! this
had the opposite effect to what she intended. When they straightened the
child out again the button was found to have passed the danger-point and
gone down. Quickly resolved, Polly cut slice on slice of thin
bread-and-butter, and with this she and Mrs. Hemmerde stuffed the willing
babe till, full to bursting, it warded them off with its tiny hands.

Mahony laughed heartily at the tale, and applauded his wife's prompt
measures. "Short of the forceps nothing could have been better!"

Yes, Polly had a dash of native shrewdness, which he prized. And a pair
of clever hands that were never idle. He had given her leave to make any
changes she chose in the house, and she was for ever stitching away at
white muslin, or tacking it over pink calico. These affairs made their
little home very spick and span, and kept Polly from feeling dull--if
one could imagine Polly dull! With the cooking alone had there been a
hitch in the beginning. Like a true expert Mrs. Beamish had not
tolerated understudies: none but the lowliest jobs, such as raisin-stoning
or potato-peeling, had fallen to the three girls' share: and in
face of her first fowl Polly stood helpless and dismayed. But not for
long. Sarah was applied to for the best cookery-book on sale in
Melbourne, and when this arrived, Polly gave herself up to the study of
it. She had many failures, both private and avowed. With the worst, she
either retired behind the woodstack, or Tom disposed of them for her, or
the dog ate them up. But she persevered: and soon Mahony could with
truth declare that no one raised a better loaf or had a lighter hand at
pastry than his wife.

Three knocks on the wooden partition was the signal which, if he were
not serving a customer, summoned him to the kitchen.

"Oh, Richard, it's ripen beautifully!" And, red with heat and pride,
Polly drew a great golden-crusted, blown-up sponge-cake along the oven
shelf. Richard, who had a sweet tooth, pretended to be unable to curb
his impatience.

"Wait! First I must see . . ." and she plunged a knife into the cake's
heart: it came out untarnished. "Yes, it's done to a turn."

There and then it was cut; for, said Mahony, that was the only way in
which he could make sure of a piece. Afterwards chunks were dealt out to
every one Polly knew--to Long Jim, Hempel, Tommy Ocock, the little
Hemmerdes. Side by side on the kitchen-table, their feet dangling in the
air, husband and wife sat boy-and-girl fashion and munched hot cake,
till their appetites for dinner were wrecked.

But the rains that heralded winter--and they set in early that year--
had not begun to fall when more serious matters claimed Mahony's
attention.




Chapter IV



It was an odd and inexplicable thing that business showed no sign of
improving. Affairs on Ballarat had, for months past, run their usual
prosperous course. The western township grew from day to day, and was
straggling right out to the banks of the great swamp. On the Flat, the
deep sinking that was at present the rule--some parties actually
touched a depth of three hundred feet before bottoming--had brought a
fresh host of fortune-hunters to the spot, and the results obtained bid
fair to rival those of the first golden year. The diggers' grievances
and their conflict with the government were now a turned page. At a
state trial all prisoners had been acquitted, and a general amnesty
declared for those rebels who were still at large. Unpopular ministers
had resigned or died; a new constitution for the colony awaited the
Royal assent; and pending this, two of the rebel-leaders, now prominent
townsmen, were chosen to sit in the Legislative Council. The future
could not have looked rosier. For others, that was. For him, Mahony, it
held more than one element of uncertainty.

At no time had he come near making a fortune out of storekeeping. For
one thing, he had been too squeamish. From the outset he had declined to
soil his hands with surreptitious grog-selling; nor would he be a party
to that evasion of the law which consisted in overcharging on other
goods, and throwing in drinks free. Again, he would rather have been
hamstrung than stoop to the tricks in vogue with regard to the weighing
of gold-dust: the greased scales, the wet sponge, false beams, and so
on. Accordingly, he had a clearer conscience than the majority and a
lighter till. But even at the legitimate ABC of business he had proved a
duffer. He had never, for instance, learned to be a really skilled hand
at stocking a shop. Was an out-of-the-way article called for, ten to one
he had run short of it; and the born shopman's knack of palming off or
persuading to a makeshift was not his. Such goods as he had, he did not
press on people; his attitude was always that of "take it or leave it";
and he sometimes surprised a ridiculous feeling of satisfaction when he
chased a drunken and insolent customer off the premises, or secured an
hour's leisure unbroken by the jangle of the store-bell.

Still, in spite of everything he had, till recently, done well enough.
Money was loose, and the diggers, if given long credit when down on
their luck, were in the main to be relied on to pay up when they struck
the lead or tapped a pocket. He had had slack seasons before now, and
things had always come right again. This made it hard for him to explain
the present prolonged spell of dullness.

That there was something more than ordinarily wrong first dawned on him
during the stock-taking in summer. Hempel and he were constantly coming
upon goods that had been too long on hand, and were now fit only to be
thrown away. Half-a-dozen boxes of currants showed a respectable growth
of mould; a like fate had come upon some flitches of bacon; and not a
bag of flour but had developed a species of minute maggot. Rats had got
at his coils of rope, one of which, sold in all good faith, had gone
near causing the death of the digger who used it. The remains of some
smoked fish were brought back and flung at his head with a shower of
curses, by a woman who had fallen ill through eating of it. And yet, in
spite of the replenishing this involved, the order he sent to town that
season was the smallest he had ever given. For the first time he could
not fill a dray, but had to share one with a greenhorn, who, if you
please, was setting up at his very door.

He and Hempel cracked their brains to account for the falling-off--or
at least he did: afterwards he believed Hempel had suspected the truth
and been too mealy-mouthed to speak out. It was Polly who innocently--
for of course he did not draw her into confidence--Polly supplied the
clue from a piece of gossip brought to the house by the woman Hemmerde.
It appeared that, at the time of the rebellion, Mahony's open antagonism
to the Reform League had given offence all round--to the extremists as
well as to the more wary on whose behalf the League was drafted. They
now got even with him by taking their custom elsewhere. He snorted with
indignation on hearing of it; then laughed ironically. He was expected,
was he, not only to bring his personal tastes and habits into line with
those of the majority, but to deny his politics as well? And if he
refused, they would make it hard for him to earn a decent living in
their midst. Nothing seemed easier to these unprincipled democrats than
for a man to cut his coat to suit his job. Why, he might just as well
turn Whig and be done with it!

He sat over his account-books. The pages were black with bad debts for
"tucker." Here however was no mystery. The owners of these names--Purdy
was among them--had without doubt been implicated in the Eureka riot,
and had made off and never returned. He struck a balance, and found to
his consternation that, unless business took a turn for the better, he
would not be able to hold out beyond the end of the year. Afterwards, he
was blessed if he knew what was going to happen. The ingenious Hempel
was full of ideas for tempting back fortune--opening a branch store on
a new lead was one of them, or removing bodily to Main Street--but
ready money was the SINE QUA NON of such schemes, and ready money he had
not got. Since his marriage he had put by as good as nothing; and the
enlarging and improving of his house, at that time, had made a big hole
in his bachelor savings. He did not feel justified at the present pass
in drawing on them anew. For one thing, before summer was out there
would be, if all went well, another mouth to feed. And that meant a
variety of seen and unforeseen expenses.

Such were the material anxieties he had to encounter in the course of
that winter. Below the surface a subtler embarrassment worked to destroy
his peace. In face of the shortage of money, he was obliged to thank his
stars that he had not lost the miserable lawsuit of a few months back.
Had that happened, he wouldn't at present have known where to turn. But
this amounted to confessing his satisfaction at having pulled off his
case, pulled it off anyhow, by no matter what crooked means. And as if
this were not enough, the last words he had heard Purdy say came back to
sting him anew. The boy had accused him of judging a fight for freedom
from a tradesman's standpoint. Now it might be said of him that he was
viewing justice from the same angle. He had scorned the idea of
distorting his political opinions to fit the trade by which he gained
his bread. But it was a far more serious thing if his principles, his
character, his sense of equity were all to be undermined as well. If he
stayed here, he would end by becoming as blunt to what was right and
fair as the rest of them. As it was, he was no longer able to regard the
two great landmarks of man's moral development--liberty and justice--
from the point of view of an honest man and a gentleman.

His self-annoyance was so great that it galvanised him to action. There
and then he made up his mind: as soon as the child that was coming to
them was old enough to travel, he would sell out for what he could get,
and go back to the old country. Once upon a time he had hoped, when he
went, to take a good round sum with him towards a first-rate English
practice. Now he saw that this scheme had been a kind of Jack-o'-lantern
--a marsh-light after which he might have danced for years to come. As
matters stood, he must needs be content if, the passage-moneys paid, he
could scrape together enough to keep him afloat till he found a modest
corner to slip into.

His first impulse was to say nothing of this to his wife in the
meantime. Why unsettle her? But he had reckoned without the sudden
upward leap his spirits made, once his decision was taken: the winter
sky was blue as violets again above him; he turned out light-heartedly
of a morning. It was impossible to hide the change in his mood from
Polly--even if he had felt it fair to do so. Another thing: when he
came to study Polly by the light of his new plan, he saw that his
scruples about unsettling her were fanciful--wraiths of his own
imagining. As a matter of fact, the sooner he broke the news to her the
better. Little Polly was so thoroughly happy here that she would need
time to accustom herself to the prospect of life elsewhere.

He went about it very cautiously though; and with no hint of the sour
and sorry incidents that had driven him to the step. As was only
natural, Polly was rather easily upset at present: the very evening
before, he had had occasion to blame himself for his tactless behaviour.

In her first sick young fear Polly had impulsively written off to Mother
Beamish, to claim the fulfilment of that good woman's promise to stand
by her when her time came. One letter gave another; Mrs. Beamish not
only announced that she would hold herself ready to support her "little
duck" at a moment's notice, but filled sheets with sage advice and old
wives' maxims; and the correspondence, which had languished, flared up
anew. Now came an ill-scrawled, misspelt epistle from Tilly--doleful,
too, for Purdy had once more quitted her without speaking the binding
word--in which she told that Purdy's leg, though healed, was
permanently shortened; the doctor in Geelong said he would never walk
straight again.

Husband and wife sat and discussed the news, wondered how lameness would
affect Purdy's future and what he was doing now, Tilly not having
mentioned his whereabouts. "She has probably no more idea than we have,"
said Mahony.

"I'm afraid not," said Polly with a sigh. "Well, I hope he won't come
back here, that's all"; and she considered the seam she was sewing, with
an absent air.

"Why, love? Don't you like old Dickybird?" asked Mahony in no small
surprise.

"Oh yes, quite well. But. . ."

"Is it because he still can't make up his mind to take your Tilly--eh?"

"That, too. But chiefly because of something he said."

"And what was that, my dear?"

"Oh, very silly," and Polly smiled.

"Out with it, madam! Or I shall suspect the young dog of having made
advances to my wife."

"Richard, DEAR!" Little Polly thought he was in earnest, and grew
exceedingly confused. "Oh no, nothing like that," she assured him, and
with red cheeks rushed into an explanation. "He only said, in spite of
you being such old friends he felt you didn't really care to have him
here on Ballarat. After a time you always invented some excuse to get
him away." But now that it was out, Polly felt the need of toning down
the statement, and added: "I shouldn't wonder if he was silly enough to
think you were envious of him, for having so many friends and being
liked by all sorts of people."

"Envious of him? I? Who on earth has been putting such ideas into your
head?" cried Mahony.

"It was 'mother' thought so--it was while I was still there," stammered
Polly, still more fluttered by the fact of him fastening on just these
words.

Mahony tried to quell his irritation by fidgeting round the room.
"Surely, Polly, you might give up calling that woman 'mother,' now you
belong to me--I thank you for the relationship!" he said testily. And
having with much unnecessary ado knocked the ashes out of his pipe, he
went on: "It's bad enough to say things of that kind; but to repeat
them, love, is in even poorer taste."

"Yes, Richard," said Polly meekly.

But her amazed inner query was: "Not even to one's own husband?"

She hung her head, till the white thread of parting between the dark
loops of her hair was almost perpendicular. She had spoken without
thinking in the first place--had just blurted out a passing thought.
But even when forced to explain, she had never dreamt of Richard taking
offence. Rather she had imagined the two of them--two banded lovingly
against one--making merry together over Purdy's nonsense. She had heard
her husband laugh away much unkinder remarks than this. And perhaps if
she had stopped there, and said no more, it might have been all right.
By her stupid attempt to gloss things over, she had really managed to
hurt him, and had made him think her gossipy into the bargain.

She went on with her sewing. But when Mahony came back from the brisk
walk by means of which he got rid of his annoyance, he fancied, though
Polly was as cheery as ever and had supper laid for him, that her
eyelids were red.

This was why, the following evening, he promised himself to be discreet.

Winter had come in earnest; the night was wild and cold. Before the
crackling stove the cat lay stretched at full length, while Pompey dozed
fitfully, his nose between his paws. The red-cotton curtains that hung
at the little window gave back the lamplight in a ruddy glow; the clock
beat off the seconds evenly, except when drowned by the wind, which came
in bouts, hurling itself against the corners of the house. And
presently, laying down his book--Polly was too busy now to be read to--
Mahony looked across at his wife. She was wrinkling her pretty brows
over the manufacture of tiny clothes, a rather pale little woman still,
none of the initial discomforts of her condition having been spared her.
Feeling his eyes on her, she looked up and smiled: did ever anyone see
such a ridiculous armhole? Three of one's fingers were enough to fill it
--and she held the little shirt aloft for his inspection. Here was his
chance: the child's coming offered the best of pretexts. Taking not only
the midget garment but also the hand that held it, he told her of his
resolve to go back to England and re-enter his profession.

"You know, love, I've always wished to get home again. And now there's
an additional reason. I don't want my . . . our children to grow up in a
place like this. Without companions--or refining influences. Who knows
how they would turn out?"

He said it, but in his heart he knew that his children would be safe
enough. And Polly, listening to him, made the same reservation: yes, but
OUR children. . . .

"And so I propose, as soon as the youngster's old enough to travel, to
haul down the flag for good and all, and book passages for the three of
us in some smart clipper. We'll live in the country, love. Think of it,
Polly! A little gabled, red-roofed house at the foot of some Sussex
down, with fruit trees and a high hedge round it, and only the oast-houses
peeping over. Doesn't it make your mouth water, my dear?"

He had risen in his eagerness, and stood with his back to the stove, his
legs apart. And Polly nodded and smiled up at him--though, truth to
tell, the picture he drew did not mean much to her: she had never been
in Sussex, nor did she know what an oast-house was. A night such as
this, with flying clouds and a shrill, piping wind, made her think of
angry seas and a dark ship's cabin, in which she lay deathly sick. But
it was not Polly's way to dwell on disagreeables: her mind glanced off
to a pleasanter theme.

"Have you ever thought, Richard, how strange it will seem when there ARE
three of us? You and I will never be quite alone together again. Oh, I
do hope he will be a good baby and not cry much. It will worry you if he
does--like Hempel's cough. And then you won't love him properly."

"I shall love it because it is yours, my darling. And the baby of such a
dear little mother is sure to be good."

"Oh, babies will be babies, you know!" said Polly, with a new air of
wisdom which sat delightfully on her.

Mahony pinched her cheek. "Mrs. Mahony, you're shirking my question.
Tell me now, should you not be pleased to get back to England?"

"I'll go wherever you go, Richard," said Polly staunchly. "Always. And
of course I should like to see mother--I mean my real mother--again.
But then Ned's here . . . and John, and Sarah. I should be very sorry to
leave them. I don't think any of them will ever go home now."

"They may be here, but they don't trouble YOU often, my dear," said
Mahony, with more than a hint of impatience. "Especially Ned the
well-beloved, who lives not a mile from your door."

"I know he doesn't often come to see us, Richard. But he's only a boy;
and has to work so hard. You see it's like this. If Ned should get into
any trouble, I'm here to look after him; and I know that makes mother's
mind easier--Ned was always her favourite."

"And an extraordinary thing, too! I believe it's the boy's good looks
that blind you women to his faults."

"Oh no, indeed it isn't!" declared Polly warmly. "It's just because
Ned's Ned. The dearest fellow, if you really know him."

"And so your heart's anchored here, little wife, and would remain here
even if I carried your body off to England?"

"Oh no, Richard," said Polly again. "My heart would always be where you
are. But I can't help wondering how Ned would get on alone. And Jerry
will soon be here too, now, and he's younger still. And HOW I should
like to see dear Tilly settled before I go!"

Judging that enough had been said for the time being, Mahony re-opened
his book, leaving his wife to chew the cud of innocent matchmaking and
sisterly cares.

In reality Polly's reflections were of quite another nature.

Her husband's abrupt resolve to leave the colony, disturbing though it
was, did not take her altogether by surprise. She would have needed to
be both deaf and blind not to notice that the store-bell rang much
seldomer than it used to, and that Richard had more spare time on his
hands. Yes, trade was dull, and that made him fidgety. Now she had
always known that someday it would be her duty to follow Richard to
England. But she had imagined that day to be very far off--when they
were elderly people, and had saved up a good deal of money. To hear the
date fixed for six months hence was something of a shock to her. And it
was at this point that Polly had a sudden inspiration. As she listened
to Richard talking of resuming his profession, the thought flashed
through her mind: why not here? Why should he not start practice in
Ballarat, instead of travelling all those thousands of miles to do it?

This was what she ruminated while she tucked and hemmed. She could
imagine, of course, what his answer would be. He would say there were
too many doctors on Ballarat already; not more than a dozen of them made
satisfactory incomes. But this argument did not convince Polly. Richard
wasn't, perhaps, a great success at storekeeping; but that was only
because he was too good for it. As a doctor, he with his cleverness and
gentlemanly manners would soon, she was certain, stand head and
shoulders above the rest. And then there would be money galore. It was
true he did not care for Ballarat--was down on both place and people.
But this objection, too, Polly waived. It passed belief that anybody
could really dislike this big, rich, bustling, go-ahead township, where
such handsome buildings were springing up and every one was so friendly.
In her heart she ascribed her husband's want of love for it to the
"infra dig" position he occupied. If he mixed with his equals again and
got rid of the feeling that he was looked down on, it would make all the
difference in the world to him. He would then be out of reach of snubs
and slights, and people would understand him better--not the residents
on Ballarat alone, but also John, and Sarah, and the Beamishes, none of
whom really appreciated Richard. In her mind's eye Polly had a vision of
him going his rounds mounted on a chestnut horse, dressed in surtout and
choker, and hand and glove with the bigwigs of society--the gentlemen
at the Camp, the Police Magistrate and Archdeacon Long, the rich
squatters who lived at the foot of Mount Buninyong. It brought the
colour to her cheeks merely to think of it.

She did not, however, breathe a word of this to Richard. She was a shade
wiser than the night before, when she had vexed him by blurting out her
thoughts. And the present was not the right time to speak. In these days
Richard was under the impression that she needed to be humoured. He
might agree with her against his better judgment, or, worse still,
pretend to agree. And Polly didn't want that. She wished fairly to
persuade him that, by setting up here on the diggings where he was known
and respected, he would get on quicker, and make more money, than if he
buried himself in some poky English village where no one had ever heard
of him.

Meanwhile the unconscious centre of her ambitions wore a perplexed
frown. Mahony was much exercised just now over the question of medical
attendance for Polly. The thought of coming into personal contact with a
member of the fraternity was distasteful to him; none of them had an
inkling who or what he was. And, though piqued by their
unsuspectingness, he at the same time feared lest it should not be
absolute, and he have the ill-luck to hit on a practitioner who had
heard of his stray spurts of doctoring and written him down a charlatan
and a quack. For this reason he would call in no one in the immediate
neighbourhood--even the western township seemed too near. Ultimately,
his choice fell on a man named Rogers who hailed from Mount Pleasant,
the rise on the opposite side of the valley and some two miles off. It
was true since he did not intend to disclose his own standing, the
distance would make the fellow's fees mount up. But Rogers was at least
properly qualified (half those claiming the title of physician were
impudent impostors, who didn't know a diploma from the Ten
Commandments), of the same ALMA MATER as himself--not a contemporary,
though, he took good care of that!--and, if report spoke true, a
skilful and careful obstetrician.

When, however, in response to a note carried by Long Jim Rogers drew
rein in front of the store, Mahony was not greatly impressed by him. He
proved to be a stout, reddish man, some ten years Mahony's senior, with
a hasty-pudding face and an undecided manner. There be sat, his ten
spread finger-tips meeting and gently tapping one another across his
paunch, and nodding: "Just so, just so!" to all he heard. He had the
trick of saying everything twice over. "Needs to clinch his own
opinion!" was Mahony's swift diagnosis. Himself, he kept in the
background. And was he forced to come forward his manner was both stiff
and forbidding, so on tenterhooks was he lest the other should presume
to treat him as anything but the storekeeper he gave himself out to be.

A day or so later who but the wife must arrive to visit Polly!--a piece
of gratuitous friendliness that could well have been dispensed with;
even though Mahony felt it keenly that, at this juncture, Polly should
lack companions of her own sex. But Rogers had married beneath him, and
the sight of the pursy upstart--there were people on the Flat who
remembered her running barefoot and slatternly--sitting there, in satin
and feathers, lording it over his own little Jenny Wren, was more than
Mahony could tolerate. The distance was put forward as an excuse for
Polly not returning the call, and Polly was docile as usual; though for
her part she had thought her visitor quite a pleasant, kindly woman. But
then Polly never knew when she was being patronised!

To wipe out any little trace of disappointment, her husband suggested
that she should write and ask one of the Beamish girls to stay with her:
it would keep her from feeling the days long.

But Polly only laughed. "Long?--when I have so much sewing to do?"

No, she did not want company. By now, indeed, she regretted having sent
off that impulsive invitation to Mrs. Beamish for the end of the year.
Puzzle as she would, she could not see how she was going to put "mother"
comfortably up.

Meanwhile the rains were changing the familiar aspect of the place.
Creeks--in summer dry gutters of baked clay--were now rich red rivers;
and the yellow Yarrowee ran full to the brim, keeping those who lived
hard by it in a twitter of anxiety. The steep slopes of Black Hill
showed thinly green; the roads were ploughed troughs of sticky mire.
Occasional night frosts whitened the ground, bringing cloudless days in
their wake. Then down came the rain once more, and fell for a week on
end. The diggers were washed out of their holes, the Flat became an
untraversable bog. And now there were floods in earnest: the creeks
turned to foaming torrents that swept away trees and the old roots of
trees; and the dwellers on the river banks had to fly for their bare
lives.

Over the top of book or newspaper Mahony watched his wife stitch,
stitch, stitch, with a zeal that never flagged, at the dolly garments.
Just as he could read his way, so Polly sewed hers, through the time of
waiting. But whereas she, like a sensible little woman, pinned her
thoughts fast to the matter in hand, he let his range freely over the
future. Of the many good things this had in store for him, one in
particular whetted his impatience. It took close on a twelvemonth out
here to get hold of a new book. On Ballarat not even a stationer's
existed; nor were there more than a couple of shops in Melbourne itself
that could be relied on to carry out your order. You perforce fell
behind in the race, remained ignorant of what was being said and done--
in science, letters, religious controversy--in the great world
overseas. To this day he didn't know whether Agassiz had or had not been
appointed to the chair of Natural History in Edinburgh; or whether fresh
heresies with regard to the creation of species had spoiled his chances;
did not know whether Hugh Miller had actually gone crazy over the
VESTIGES; or even if those arch-combatants, Syme and Simpson, had at
length sheathed their swords. Now, however, God willing, he would before
very long be back in the thick of it all, in intimate touch with the
doings of the most wide-awake city in Europe; and new books and
pamphlets would come into his possession as they dropped hot from the
press.




Chapter V



And then one morning--it was spring now, and piping hot at noon--Long
Jim brought home from the post-office a letter for Polly, addressed in
her sister Sarah's sloping hand. Knowing the pleasure it would give her,
Mahony carried it at once to his wife; and Polly laid aside broom and
duster and sat down to read.

But he was hardly out of the room when a startled cry drew him back to
her side. Polly had hidden her face, and was shaken by sobs As he could
not get her to speak, Mahony picked up the letter from the floor and
read it for himself.

Sarah wrote like one distracted.

OH, MY DEAR SISTER, HOW CAN I FIND WORDS TO TELL YOU OF THE TRULY
"AWFUL" CALAMITY THAT HAS BEFALLEN OUR UNHAPPY BROTHER. Mahony skipped
the phrases, and learnt that owing to a carriage accident Emma Turnham
had been prematurely confined, and, the best medical aid notwithstanding
--JOHN SPARED ABSOLUTELY "NO" EXPENSE--had died two days later. JOHN IS
LIKE A MADMAN. DIRECTLY I HEARD THE "SHOCKING" NEWS, I AT ONCE THREW UP
MY ENGAGEMENT--AT "SERIOUS" LOSS TO MYSELF, BUT THAT IS A MATTER OF
SMALL CONSEQUENCE--AND CAME TO TAKE MY PLACE BESIDE OUR POOR DEAR
BROTHER IN HIS GREAT TRIAL. BUT ALL MY EFFORTS TO BRING HIM TO A PROPER
AND "CHRISTIAN" FRAME OF MIND HAVE BEEN FRUITLESS. I AM INDEED ALARMED
TO BE ALONE WITH HIM, AND I TREMBLE FOR THE CHILDREN, FOR HE IS
POSSESSED OF AN "INSANE" HATRED FOR THE SWEET LITTLE LOVES. HE HAS
LOCKED HIMSELF IN HIS ROOM, WILL SEE "NO ONE" NOR TOUCH A "PARTICLE" OF
NOURISHMENT. DO, MY DEAREST POLLY, COME AT ONCE ON RECEIPT OF THIS, AND
HELP ME IN THE "TRULY AWFUL" TASK THAT HAS BEEN LAID UPON ME. AND PRAY
FORGIVE ME FOR USING THIS PLAIN PAPER. I HAVE HAD LITERALLY NO TIME TO
ORDER MOURNING "OF ANY KIND."

So that was Sarah! With a click of the tongue Mahony tossed the letter
on the table, and made it clear to Polly that under no consideration
would he allow her to attempt the journey to town. Her relatives seemed
utterly to have forgotten her condition; if, indeed., they had ever
grasped the fact that she was expecting a child.

But Polly did not heed him. "Oh, poor, poor Emma! Oh, poor dear John!"
Her husband could only soothe her by promising to go to Sarah's
assistance himself, the following day.

They had been entirely in the dark about things. For John Turnham
thought proper to erect a jealous wall about his family life. What went
on behind it was nobody's business but his own. You felt yourself--were
meant to feel yourself--the alien, the outsider. And Mahony marvelled
once more at the wealth of love and sympathy his little Polly had kept
fresh for these two, who had wasted so few of their thoughts on her.

Polly dried her eyes; he packed his carpet-bag. He did this with a good
deal of pother, pulling open the wrong drawers, tumbling up their
contents and generally making havoc of his wife's arrangements. But the
sight of his clumsiness acted as a kind of tonic on Polly: she liked to
feel that he was dependent on her for his material comfort and well-being.

They spoke of John's brief married life.

"He loved her like a pagan, my dear," said Mahony. "And if what your
sister Sarah writes is not exaggerated, he is bearing his punishment in
a truly pagan way."

"But you won't say that to him, dear Richard . . . will you? You'll be
very gentle with him?" pleaded Polly anxiously.

"Indeed I shall, little woman. But one can't help thinking these things,
all the same. You know it is written: 'Thou shalt have none other gods
but Me.'"

"Yes, I know. But then this was JUST Emma . . . and she was so pretty
and so good"--and Polly cried anew.

Mahony rose before dawn to catch the coach. Together with a packet of
sandwiches, Polly brought him a small black mantle.

"For Sarah, with my dear love. You see, Richard, I know she always wears
coloured dresses. And she will feel so much happier if she has SOMETHING
black to put on." Little Polly's voice was deep with persuasion. Richard
was none too well pleased, she could see, at having to unlock his bag
again; she feared too, that, after the letter of the day before, his
opinion of Sarah had gone down to zero.

Mahony secured a corner seat; and so, though his knees interlocked with
those of his VIS-A-VIS, only one of the eight inside passengers was
jammed against him. The coach started; and the long, dull hours of the
journey began to wear away. Nothing broke the monotony but speculations
whether the driver--a noted tippler--would be drunk before Melbourne
was reached and capsize them; and the drawling voice of a Yankee
prospector, who told lying tales about his exploits in California in '48
until, having talked his hearers to sleep, he dropped off himself. Then,
Mahony fell to reflecting on what lay before him. He didn't like the
job. He was not one of your born good Samaritans: he relished intruding
as little as being intruded on. Besides, morally to sustain, to forbear
with, a fellow-creature in misfortune, seemed to him as difficult and
thankless a task as any required of one. Infinite tact was essential,
and a skin thick enough to stand snubs and rebuffs. But here he smiled.
"Or my little wife's inability to recognise them!"

House and garden had lost their air of well-groomed smartness: the gate
stood ajar, the gravel was unraked, the verandah-flooring black with
footmarks. With all the blinds still down, the windows looked like so
many dead eyes. Mahony's first knock brought no response; at his second,
the door was opened by Sarah Turnham herself. But a very different Sarah
this, from the elegant and sprightly young person who had graced his
wedding. Her chignon was loose, her dress dishevelled. On recognising
Mahony, she uttered a cry and fell on his neck--he had to disengage her
arms by force and speak severely to her, declaring that he would go away
again, if she carried out her intention of swooning.

At last he got her round so far that she could tell her tale, which she
did with a hysterical overstatement. She had, it seemed, arrived there
just before her sister-in-law died. John was quarrelling furiously with
all three doctors, and, before the end, insulted the only one who was
left in such a fashion that he, too, marched out of the house. They had
to get the dead woman measured, coffined and taken away by stealth.
Whereupon John had locked himself up in his room, and had not been seen
since. He had a loaded revolver with him; through the closed door he had
threatened to shoot both her and the children. The servants had
deserted, panic-stricken at their master's behaviour, at the sudden
collapse of the well-regulated household: the last, a nurse-girl sent
out on an errand some hours previously, had not returned. Sarah was at
her wits' end to know what to do with the children--he might hear them
screaming at this moment.

Mahony, in no hesitancy now how to deal with the situation, laid his hat
aside and drew off his gloves. "Prepare some food," he said briefly. "A
glass of port and a sandwich or two, if you can manage nothing else--
but meat of some kind."

But there was not a morsel of meat in the house.

"Then go to the butcher's and buy some."

Sarah gasped, and bridled. She had never in her life been inside a
butcher's shop!

"Good God, woman, then the sooner you make the beginning the better!"
cried Mahony. And as he strode down the passage to the door she
indicated, he added: "Now control yourself, madam! And if you have not
got what I want in a quarter of an hour's time, I'll walk out of the
house and leave you to your own devices!" At which Sarah, cowed and
shaken, began tremblingly to tie her bonnet-strings.

Mahony knocked three times at the door of John Turnham's room, each time
more loudly. Then he took to battering with his fist on the panels, and
cried: "It is I, John, your brother-in-law! Have the goodness to unlock
this door at once!"

There was still an instant of suspense; then heavy footsteps crossed the
floor and the door swung back. Mahony's eyes met a haggard white face
set in a dusky background.

"You!" said John in a slow, dazed way, and blinked at the light. But in
the next breath he burst out: "Where's that damned fool of a woman? Is
she skulking behind you? I won't see her--won't have her near me!"

"If you mean your sister Sarah, she is not in the house at present,"
said Mahony; and stepping over the threshold he shut the door. The two
men faced each other in the twilight.

"What do you want?" demanded John in a hoarse voice. "Have you, too,
come to preach and sermonise? If so, you can go back where you came
from! I'll have none of that cant here."

"No, no, I leave that to those whose business it is. I'm here as your
doctor"; and Mahony drew up a blind and opened a window. Instantly the
level sun-rays flooded the room; and the air that came in with them
smacked of the sea. Just outside the window a quince-tree in full
blossom reared extravagant masses of pink snow against the blue
overhead; beyond it a covered walk of vines shone golden-green. There
was not a cloud in the sky. To turn back to the musty room from all this
lush and lovely life was like stepping down into a vault.

John had sunk into a seat before a secretaire, and shielded his eyes
from the sun. A burnt-out candle stood at his elbow; and in a line
before him were ranged such images as remained to him of his dead--a
dozen or more daguerrotypes, of various sizes: Emma and he before
marriage and after marriage; Emma with her first babe, at different
stages of its growth; Emma with the two children; Emma in ball-attire;
with a hat on; holding a book.

The sight gave the quietus to Mahony's scruples. Stooping, he laid his
hand on John's shoulder. "My poor fellow," he said gently. "Your sister
was not in a fit state to travel, so I have come in her place to tell
you how deeply, how truly, we feel for you in your loss. I want to try,
too, to help you to bear it. For it has to be borne, John."

At this the torrent burst. Leaping to his feet John began to fling
wildly to and fro; and then, for a time, the noise of his lamentations
filled the room. Mahony had assisted at scenes of this kind before, but
never had he heard the like of the blasphemies that poured over John's
lips. (Afterwards, when he had recovered his distance, he would refer to
it as the occasion on which John took the Almighty to task, for having
dared to interfere in his private life.)

At the moment he sat silent. "Better for him to get it out," he thought
to himself, even while he winced at John's scurrility.

When, through sheer exhaustion, John came to a stop, Mahony cast about
for words of consolation. All reference to the mystery of God's way was
precluded; and he shrank from entering that sound plea for the working
of Time, which drives a spike into the heart of the new-made mourner. He
bethought himself of the children. "Remember, she did not leave you
comfortless. You have your little ones. Think of them."

But this was a false move. Like a belated thunderclap after the storm is
over, John broke out again, his haggard eyes aflame. "Curse the
children!" he cried thickly. "Curse them, I say! If I had once caught
sight of them since she . . . she went, I should have wrung their necks.
I never wanted children. They came between us. They took her from me. It
was a child that killed her. Now, she is gone and they are left. Keep
them out of my way, Mahony! Don't let them near me.--Oh, Emma. . .
wife!" and here his shoulders heaved, under dry, harsh sobs.

Mahony felt his own eyes grow moist. "Listen to me, John. I promise you,
you shall not see your children again until you wish to--till you're
glad to recall them, as a living gift from her you have lost. I'll look
after them for you."

"You will? . . . God bless you, Mahony!"

Judging the moment ripe, Mahony rose and went out to fetch the tray on
which Sarah had set the eatables. The meat was but a chop, charred on
one side, raw on the other; but John did not notice its shortcomings. He
fell on it like the starving man he was, and gulped down two or three
glasses of port. The colour returned to his face, he was able to give an
account of his wife's last hours. "And to talk is what he needs, even if
he goes on till morning." Mahony was quick to see that there were things
that rankled in John's memory, like festers in flesh. One was that,
knowing the greys were tricky, he had not forbidden them to Emma long
ago. But he had felt proud of her skill in handling the reins, of the
attention she attracted. Far from thwarting her, he had actually urged
her on. Her fall had been a light one, and at the outset no bad results
were anticipated: a slight haemorrhage was soon got under control. A
week later, however, it began anew, more violently, and then all
remedies were in vain. As it became clear that the child was dead, the
doctors had recourse to serious measures. But the bleeding went on. She
complained of a roaring in her ears, her extremities grew cold, her
pulse fluttered to nothing. She passed from syncope to coma, and from
coma to death. John swore that two of the doctors had been the worse for
drink; the third was one of those ignorant impostors with whom the place
swarmed. And again he made himself reproaches.

"I ought to have gone to look for someone else. But she was dying . . .
I could not tear myself away.--Mahony, I can still see her. They had
stretched her across the bed, so that her head hung over the side. Her
hair swept the floor--one scoundrel trod on it . . . trod on her hair!
And I had to stand by and watch, while they butchered her--butchered my
girl.--Oh, there are things, Mahony, one cannot dwell on and live!"

"You must not look at it like that. Yet, when I recall some of the cases
I've seen contraction induced in . . ."

"Ah yes, if you had been here . . . my God, if only you had been here!"

But Mahony did not encourage this idea; it was his duty to unhitch
John's thoughts from the past. He now suggested that, the children and
Sarah safe in his keeping, John should shut up the house and go away. To
his surprise John jumped at the proposal, was ready there and then to
put it into effect. Yes, said he, he would start the very next morning,
and with no more than a blanket on his back, would wander a hundred odd
miles into the bush, sleeping out under the stars at night, and day by
day increasing the distance between himself and the scene of his loss.
And now up he sprang, in a sudden fury to be gone. Warning Sarah into
the background, Mahony helped him get together a few necessaries, and
then walked him to a hotel. Here he left him sleeping under the
influence of a drug, and next day saw him off on his tramp northwards,
over the Great Divide.

John's farewell words were: "Take the keys of the house with you, and
don't give them up to me under a month, at least."

That day's coach was full; they had to wait for seats till the following
afternoon. The delay was not unwelcome to Mahony; it gave Polly time to
get the letter he had written her the night before. After leaving John,
he set about raising money for the extra fares and other unforeseen
expenses: at the eleventh hour, Sarah informed him that their young
brother Jerry had landed in Melbourne during Emma's illness, and had
been hastily boarded out. Knowing no one else in the city, Mahony was
forced, much as it went against the grain, to turn to Henry Ocock for
assistance. And he was effusively received--Ocock tried to press double
the sum needed on him. Fortune was no doubt smiling on the lawyer. His
offices had swelled to four rooms, with appropriate clerks in each. He
still, however, nursed the scheme of transferring his business to
Ballarat.

"As soon, that is, as I can hear of suitable premises. I understand
there's only one locality to be considered, and that's the western
township." On which Mahony, whose address was in the outer darkness,
repeated his thanks and withdrew.

He found Jerry's lodging, paid the bill, and took the boy back to St.
Kilda--a shy slip of a lad in his early teens, with the colouring and
complexion that ran in the family. John's coachman, who had shown
himself not indisposed--for a substantial sum, paid in advance--to
keep watch over house and grounds, was installed in an outbuilding, and
next day at noon, after personally aiding Sarah, who was all a-tremble
at the prospect of the bush journey, to pack her own and the children's
clothes, Mahony turned the key in the door of the darkened house. But a
couple of weeks ago it had been a proud and happy home. Now it had no
more virtue left in it than a crab's empty shell.

He had fumed on first learning of Jerry's superfluous presence; but
before they had gone far he saw that he would have fared ill indeed, had
Jerry not been there. Sarah, too agitated that morning to touch a bite
of food, was seized, not an hour out, with sickness and fainting. There
she sat, her eyes closed, her salts to her nose or feebly sipping
brandy, unable to lift a finger to help with the children. The younger
of the two slept most of the way hotly and heavily on Mahony's knee; but
the boy, a regular pest, was never for a moment still. In vain did his
youthful uncle pinch his leg each time he wriggled to the floor. It was
not till a fierce-looking digger opposite took out a jack-knife and
threatened to saw off both his feet if he stirred again, to cut out his
tongue if he put another question that, scarlet with fear, little Johnny
was tamed. Altogether it was a nightmare of a journey, and Mahony
groaned with relief when, lamps having for some time twinkled past, the
coach drew up, and Hempel and Long Jim stepped forward with their
lanterns. Sarah could hardly stand. The children, wrathful at being
wakened from their sleep, kicked and screamed.




Chapter VI



For the first time in her young married life, Polly felt vexed with her
husband.

"Oh, he shouldn't have done that. . . no. really he shouldn't!" she
murmured; and the hand with the letter in it drooped to her lap.

She had been doing a little surreptitious baking in Richard's absence,
and without a doubt was hot and tired. The tears rose to her eyes.
Deserting her pastry-board she retreated behind the woodstack and sat
down on the chopping-block; and then, for some minutes, the sky was
blotted out. She felt quite unequal, in her present condition, to facing
Sarah, who was so sensitive, so easily shocked; and she was deeply
averse from her fine-lady sister discovering the straitness of Richard's
means and home.

But it was hard for Polly to secure a moment's privacy.

"An' so this is w'ere you're 'idin', is it?" said Long Jim snappishly--
he had been opening a keg of treacle and held a sticky plug in his hand.
"An' me runnin' my pore ol' legs off arter you!" And Hempel met her on
her entry with: "No further bad news, I 'ope and trust, ma'am?"--Hempel
always retained his smooth servility of manner. "The shopman PAR
EXCELLENCE, my dear!" Richard was used to say of him.

Polly reassured her attendants, blew her nose, re-read her letter; and
other feelings came uppermost. She noticed how scribbly the writing was
--Richard had evidently been hard pushed for time. There was an
apologetic tone about it, too, which was unlike him. He was probably
wondering what she would say; he might even be making himself
reproaches. It was unkind of her to add to them. Let her think rather of
the sad state poor John had been found in, and of his two motherless
babes. As for Sarah, it would never have done to leave her out.

Wiping her eyes Polly untied her cooking-apron and set to reviewing her
resources. Sarah would have to share her bed, Richard to sleep on the
sofa. The children . . . and here she knitted her brows. Then going into
the yard, she called to Tom Ocock, who sat whittling a stick in front of
his father's house; and Tom went down to Main Street for her, and bought
a mattress which he carried home on his shoulder. This she spread on the
bedroom floor, Mrs. Hemmerde having already given both rooms a sound
scouring, just in case a flea or a spider should be lying perdu. After
which Polly fell to baking again in good earnest; for the travellers
would be famished by the time they arrived.

Towards ten o'clock Tom, who was on the look-out, shouted that the coach
was in, and Polly, her table spread, a good fire going, stepped to the
door, outwardly very brave, inwardly all a-flutter. Directly, however,
she got sight of the forlorn party that toiled up the slope: Sarah
clinging to Hempel's arm, Mahony bearing one heavy child, and--could
she believe her eyes?--Jerry staggering under the other: her
bashfulness was gone. She ran forward to prop poor Sarah on her free
side, to guide her feet to the door; and it is doubtful whether little
Polly had ever spent a more satisfying hour than that which followed.

Her husband, watching her in silent amaze, believed she thoroughly
enjoyed the fuss and commotion.

There was Sarah, too sick to see anything but the bed, to undress, to
make fomentations for, to coax to mouthfuls of tea and toast. There was
Jerry to feed and send off, with the warmest of hugs, to share Tom
Ocock's palliasse. There were the children . . . well, Polly's first
plan had been to put them straight to bed. But when she came to peel off
their little trousers she changed her mind.

"I think, Mrs. Hemmerde, if you'll get me a tub of hot water, we'll just
pop them into it; they'll sleep so much better," she said . . . not
quite truthfully. Her private reflection was: "I don't think Sarah can
once have washed them properly, all that time."

The little girl let herself be bathed in her sleep; but young John stood
and bawled, digging fat fists into slits of eyes, while Polly scrubbed
at his massy knees, the dimpled ups and downs of which looked as if they
had been worked in by hand. She had never seen her brother's children
before and was as heartily lost in admiration of their plump, well-formed
bodies, as her helper of the costliness of their outfit.

"Real Injun muslin, as I'm alive!" ejaculated the woman, on fishing out
their night-clothes. "An' wid the sassiest lace for trimmin'!--Och, the
poor little motherless angels!--Stan' quiet, you young divil you, an'
lemme button you up!"

Clean as lily-bells, the pair were laid on the mattress-bed.

"At least they can't fall out," said Polly, surveying her work with a
sigh of content.

Every one else having retired, she sat with Richard before the fire,
waiting for his bath-water to reach the boil. He was anxious to know
just how she had fared in his absence, she to hear the full story of his
mission. He confessed to her that his offer to load himself up with the
whole party had been made in a momentary burst of feeling. Afterwards he
had repented his impulsiveness.

"On your account, love. Though when I see how well you've managed--you
dear, clever little woman!"

And Polly consoled him, being now come honestly to the stage of: "But,
Richard, what else could you do?"

"What, indeed! I knew Emma had no relatives in Melbourne, and who John's
intimates might be I had no more idea than the man in the moon."

"John hasn't any friends. He never had."

"As for leaving the children in Sarah's charge, if you'll allow me to
say so, my dear, I consider your sister Sarah the biggest goose of a
female it has ever been my lot to run across."

"Ah, but you don't really know Sarah yet," said Polly, and smiled a
little, through the tears that had ripen to her eyes at the tale of
John's despair.

What Mahony did not mention to her was the necessity he had been under
of borrowing money; though Polly was aware he had left home with but a
modest sum in his purse. He wished to spare her feelings. Polly had a
curious delicacy--he might almost call it a manly delicacy--with
regard to money; and the fact that John had not offered to put hand to
pocket; let alone liberally flung a blank cheque at his head, would,
Mahony knew, touch his wife on a tender spot. Nor did Polly herself ask
questions. Richard made no allusion to John having volunteered to bear
expenses, so the latter had evidently not done so. What a pity! Richard
was so particular himself, in matters of this kind, that he might write
her brother down close and stingy. Of course John's distressed state of
mind partly served to excuse him. But she could not imagine the calamity
that would cause Richard to forget his obligations.

She slid her hand into her husband's and they sat for a while in
silence. Then, half to herself, and out of a very different train of
thought she said: "Just fancy them never crying once for their mother."


* * * * *


"Talking of friends," said Sarah, and fastidiously cleared her throat.
"Talking of friends, I wonder now what has become of one of those young
gentlemen I met at your wedding. He was . . . let me see . . . why, I
declare if I haven't forgotten his name!"

"Oh, I know who you mean--besides there was only one, Sarah," Mahony
heard his wife reply, and therewith fall into her sister's trap. "You
mean Purdy--Purdy Smith--who was Richard's best man."

"Smith?" echoed Sarah. "La, Polly! Why don't he make it Smythe?"

It was a warm evening some three weeks later. The store was closed to
customers; but Mahony had ensconced himself in a corner of it with a
book: since the invasion, this was the one place in which he could make
sure of finding quiet. The sisters sat on the log-bench before the
house; and, without seeing them, Mahony knew to a nicety how they were
employed. Polly darned stockings, for John's children; Sarah was
tatting, with her little finger stuck out at right angles to the rest.
Mahony could hardly think of this finger without irritation: it seemed
to sum up Sarah's whole outlook on life.

Meanwhile Polly's fresh voice went on, relating Purdy's fortunes. "He
took part, you know, in the dreadful affair on the Eureka last
Christmas, when so many poor men were killed. We can speak of it, now
they've all been pardoned; but then we had to be very careful. Well, he
was shot in the ankle, and will always be lame from it."

"What!--go hobbling on one leg for the remainder of his days? Oh, my
dear!" said Sarah, and laughed.

"Yes, because the wound wasn't properly attended to--he had to hide
about in the bush, for ever so long. Later on he went to the Beamishes,
to be nursed. But by that time his poor leg was in a very bad state. You
know he is engaged--or very nearly so--to Tilly Beamish."

"What?" said Sarah once more. "That handsome young fellow engaged to one
of those vulgar creatures?"

"Oh, Sarah . . . not really vulgar. It isn't their fault they didn't
have a better education. They lived right up-country, where there were
no schools. Tilly never saw a town till she was sixteen; but she can sit
any horse.--Yes, we hope very much Purdy will soon settle down and marry
her--though he left the Hotel again without proposing." And Polly
sighed.

"There he shows his good taste, my dear."

"Oh, I'm sure he's fond of Tilly. It's only that his life is so
unsettled. He's been a barman at Euroa since then; and the last we heard
of him, he was shearing somewhere on the Goulburn. He doesn't seem able
to stick to anything."

"And a rolling stone gathers no moss!" gave back Sarah sententiously--
and in fancy Mahony saw the cut-and-dried nod with which she accompanied
the words.

Here Hempel passed through the store, clad in his Sunday best, his hair
plastered flat with bear's-grease.

"Going out for a stroll?" asked his master.

"That was my h'intention, sir. I don't think you'll find I've left any
of my dooties undone."

"Oh, go, by all means!" said Mahony curtly, nettled at having his
harmless query misconstrued. It pointed a suspicion he had had, of late,
that a change was coming over Hempel. The model employee was a shade
less prompt than heretofore to fly at his word, and once or twice seemed
actually to be studying his own convenience. Without knowing what the
matter was, Mahony felt it politic not to be over-exacting--even mildly
to conciliate his assistant. It would put him in an awkward fix, now
that he was on the verge of winding up affairs, should Hempel take it in
his head to leave him in the lurch.

The lean figure moved on and blocked the doorway. Now there was a sudden
babble of cheepy voices, and simultaneously Sarah cried: "Where have you
been, my little cherubs? Come to your aunt, and let her kiss you!"

But the children, who had frankly no great liking for Aunt Sarah, would,
Mahony knew, turn a deaf ear to this display of opportunism and make a
rush for his wife. Laying down his book he ran out. "Polly . . .
cautious!"

"It's all right, Richard, I'm being careful." Polly had let her mending
fall, and with each hand held a flaxen-haired child at arm's length.
"Johnny, dirty boy! what HAVE you been up to?"

"He played he was a digger and sat down in a pool--I couldn't get him
to budge," answered Jerry, and drew his sleeve over his perspiring
forehead.

"Oh fy, for shame!"

"Don' care!" said John, unabashed.

"Don' tare!" echoed his roly-poly sister, who existed but as his shadow.

"Don't-care was made to care, don't-care was hung!" quoted Aunt Sarah in
her severest copybook tones.

Turning his head in his aunt's direction young John thrust forth a
bright pink tongue. Little Emma was not behindhand.

Polly jumped up, dropping her work to the ground. "Johnny, I shall
punish you if ever I see you do that again. Now, Ellen shall put you to
bed instead of Auntie."--Ellen was Mrs. Hemmerde's eldest, and Polly's
first regular maidservant.

"Don' care," repeated Johnny. "Ellen plays pillers."

"Edn pays pidders," said the echo.

Seizing two hot, pudgy hands Polly dragged the pair indoors--though
they held back mainly on principle. They were not affectionate children;
they were too strong of will and set of purpose for that; but if they
had a fondness for anyone it was for their Aunt Polly: she was ruler
over a drawerful of sugar-sticks, and though she scolded she never
slapped.

While this was going on Hempel stood, the picture of indecision, and
eased now one foot, now the other, as if his boots pinched him.

At length he blurted out: "I was wondering, ma'am--ahem! Miss Turnham--
if, since it is an agreeable h'evening, you would care to take a walk to
that 'ill I told you of?"

"Me take a walk? La, no! Whatever put such an idea as that into your
head?" cried Sarah; and tatted and tatted, keeping time with a pretty
little foot.

"I thought per'aps . . ." said Hempel meekly.

"I didn't make your thoughts, Mr. Hempel," retorted Sarah, laying stress
on the aspirate.

"Oh no, ma'am. I 'ope I didn't presume to suggest such a thing"; and
with a hangdog air Hempel prepared to slink away.

"Well, well!" said Sarah double quick; and ceasing to jerk her
crochet-needle in and out, she nimbly rolled up her ball of thread. "Since
you're so insistent . . . and since, mind you, there's no society worth
calling such, on these diggings. . . ." The truth was, Sarah saw that
she was about to be left alone with Mahony--Jerry had sauntered off to
meet Ned--and this TETE-A-TETE was by no means to her mind. She still
bore her brother-in-law a grudge for his high-handed treatment of her at
the time of John's bereavement. "As if I had been one of the domestics,
my dear--a paid domestic! Ordered me off to the butcher's in language
that fairly shocked me."

Mahony turned his back and strolled down to the river. He did not know
which was more painful to witness: Hempel's unmanly cringing, or the air
of fatuous satisfaction that succeeded it. When he returned, the pair
was just setting out; he watched Sarah, on Hempel's arm, picking short
steps in dainty latchet-shoes.

As soon as they were well away he called to Polly.

"The coast's clear. Come for a stroll."

Polly emerged, tying her bonnet-strings. "Why, where's Sarah? Oh . . . I
see. Oh, Richard, I hope she didn't put on that--"

"She did, my dear!" said Mahony grimly, and tucked his wife's hand under
his arm.

"Oh, how I wish she wouldn't!" said Polly in a tone of concern. "She
does get so stared at--especially of an evening, when there are so many
rude men about. But I really don't think she minds. For she HAS a bonnet
in her box all the time." Miss Sarah was giving Ballarat food for talk,
by appearing on her promenades in a hat: a large, flat, mushroom hat.

"I trust my little woman will never put such a ridiculous object on her
head!"

"No, never . . . at least, not unless they become quite the fashion,"
answered Polly. "And I don't think they will. They look too odd."

"Another thing, love," continued Mahony, on whom a sudden light had
dawned as he stood listening to Sarah's trumpery. "I fear your sister is
trifling with the feelings of our worthy Hempel."

Polly, who had kept her own counsel on this matter, went crimson. "Oh,
do you really think so, Richard?" she asked evasively. "I hope not. For
of course nothing could come of it. Sarah has refused the most eligible
offers."

"Ah, but there are none here to refuse. And if you don't mind my saying
so, Poll, anything in trousers seems fish to her net!"

On one of their pacings they found Mr. Ocock come out to smoke an
evening pipe. The old man had just returned from a flying visit to
Melbourne. He looked glum and careworn, but livened up at the sight of
Polly, and cracked one of the mouldy jokes he believed beneficial to a
young woman in her condition. Still, the leading-note in his mood was
melancholy; and this, although his dearest wish was on the point of
being fulfilled.

"Yes, I've got the very crib for 'Enry at last, doc., Billy de la Poer's
liv'ry-stable, top o' Lydiard Street. We sol' poor Billy up yesterday.
The third smash in two days that makes. Lord! I dunno where it'll end."

"Things are going a bit quick over there. There's been too much
building."

"They're at me to build, too--'Enry is. But I says no. This place is
good enough for me. If 'e's goin' to be ashamed of 'ow 'is father lives,
'e'd better stop away. I'm an ol' man now, an' a poor one. What should I
want with a fine noo 'ouse? An' 'oo should I build it for, even if I 'ad
the tin? For them two good-for-nothin's in there? Not if I know it!"

"Mr. Ocock, you wouldn't believe how kind and clever Tom's been at
helping with the children," said Polly warmly.

"Yes, an' at bottle-washin' and sweepin' and cookin' a pasty. But a
female 'ud do it just as well," returned Tom's father with a snort of
contempt.

"Poor old chap!" said Mahony, as they passed out of earshot. "So even
the great Henry's arrival is not to be without its drop of gall."

"Surely he'll never be ashamed of his father?"

"Who knows! But it's plain he suspects the old boy has made his pile and
intends him to fork out," said Mahony carelessly; and, with this,
dismissed the subject. Now that his own days in the colony were
numbered, he no longer felt constrained to pump up a spurious interest
in local affairs. He consigned them wholesale to that limbo in which,
for him, they had always belonged.

The two brothers came striding over the slope. Ned, clad in blue serge
shirt and corduroys, laid an affectionate arm round Polly's shoulder,
and tossed his hat into the air on hearing that the "Salamander," as he
called Sarah, was not at home.

"For I've tons to tell you, Poll old girl. And when milady sits there
turning up her nose at everything a chap says, somehow the spunk goes
out of one."

Polly had baked a large cake for her darling, and served out generous
slices. Then, drawing up a chair she sat down beside him, to drink in
his news.

From his place at the farther end of the table Mahony studied the trio--
these three young faces which were so much alike that they might have
been different readings of one and the same face. Polly, by reason of
her woman's lot, looked considerably the oldest. Still, the lamplight
wiped out some of the shadows, and she was never more girlishly
vivacious than with Ned, entering as she did with zest into his plans
and ideas--more sister now than wife. And Ned showed at his best with
Polly: he laid himself out to divert her; forgot to brag or to swear;
and so natural did it seem for brother to open his heart to sister that
even his egoistic chatter passed muster. As for young Jerry, who in a
couple of days was to begin work in the same claim as Ned, he sat
round-eyed, his thoughts writ large on his forehead. Mahony translated
them thus: how in the world I could ever have sat prim and proper on the
school-bench, when all this--change, adventure, romance--was awaiting
me? Jerry was only, Mahony knew, to push a wheelbarrow from hole to
water and back again for many a week to come; but for him it would
certainly be a golden barrow, and laden with gold, so greatly had Ned's
tales fired his imagination.

The onlooker felt odd man out, debarred as he was by his profounder
experience from sharing in the young people's light-legged dreams. He
took up his book. But his reading was cut into by Ned's sprightly
account of the Magpie rush; by his description of an engine at work on
the Eureka, and of the wooden airpipes that were being used to ventilate
deep-sinkings. There was nothing Ned did not know, and could not make
entertaining. One was forced, almost against one's will, to listen to
him; and on this particular evening, when he was neither sponging, nor
acting the Big Gun, Mahony toned down his first sweeping judgment of his
young relative. Ned was all talk; and what impressed one so unfavourably
--his grumbling, his extravagant boastfulness--was the mere thistledown
of the moment, puffed off into space. It mattered little that he harped
continually on "chucking up" his job. Two years had passed since he came
to Ballarat, and he was still working for hire in somebody else's hole.
He still groaned over the hardships of the life, and still toiled on--
and all the rest was just the froth and braggadocio of aimless youth.




Chapter VII



Not twenty-four hours later, Sarah had an accident to her MACHOIRE and
returned post-haste to Melbourne.

"A most opportune breakage!" said Mahony, and laughed.

That day at the dinner-table he had given his sister-in-law a piece of
his mind. Sarah had always resented the name bestowed on her by her
parents, and was at present engaged in altering it, in giving it, so to
speak, a foreign tang: henceforth she was to be not Sarah, but Sara
(spoken Sahra). As often as Polly's tongue tripped over the unfamiliar
syllable, Sara gently but firmly put her right; and Polly corrected
herself, even begged pardon for her stupidity, till Mahony could bear it
no longer. Throwing politeness to the winds, he twitted Sara with her
finical affectations, her old-maidish ways, the morning sloth that
expected Polly, in her delicate state of health, to carry a breakfast-tray
to the bedside: cast up at her, in short, all that had made him
champ and fret in silence. Sara might, after a fitting period of the
huff, have overlooked the rest; but the "old-maidish" she could not
forgive. And directly dinner was over, the mishap to her mouthpiece was
made known.

Too much in awe of Mahony to stand up to him--for when he was angry, he
was very angry--Sara retaliated by abusing him to Polly as she packed
her trunk.

"Manners, indeed! To turn and insult a visitor at his own table! And who
and what is he, I should like to know, to speak to me so? Nothing but a
common storekeeper. My dear, you have my deepest sympathy. It's a
DREADFUL life for you. Of course you keep everything as nice as
possible, under the circumstances. But the surroundings, Polly! . . .
and the store . . . and the want of society. I couldn't put up with it,
not for a week!"

Polly, sitting on the side of the tester-bed and feeling very cast down
at Sara's unfriendly departure, shed a few tears at this. For part of
what her sister said was true: it had been wrong of Richard to be rude
to Sara while the latter was a guest in his house. But she defended him
warmly. "I couldn't be happier than I am; Richard's the best husband in
the world. As for his being common, Sara, you know he comes of a much
better family than we do."

"My dear, common is as common does; and a vulgar calling ends by
vulgarising those who have the misfortune to pursue it. But there's
another reason, Polly, why it is better for me to leave you. There are
certain circumstances, my dear, in which, to put it mildly, it is
AWKWARD for two people of OPPOSITE sexes to go on living under the same
roof."

"Sarah!--I mean Sara--do you really mean to say Hempel has made you a
proposal?" cried Polly, wide-eyed in her tears.

"I won't say, my dear, that he has so far forgotten himself as to
actually offer marriage. But he has let me see only too plainly what his
feelings are. Of course, I've kept him in his place--the preposterous
creature! But all the same it's not COMME IL FAUT any longer for me to
be here."

"Did she say where she was going, or what she intended to do?" Mahony
inquired of his wife that night as she bound the strings of her
nightcap.

No, she hadn't, Polly admitted, rather out of countenance. But then Sara
was like that--very close about her own affairs. "I think she's perhaps
gone back to her last situation. She had several letters while she was
here, in that lady's hand. People are always glad to get her back. Not
many finishing governesses can teach all she can"--and Polly checked
off Sara's attainments on the fingers of both hands. "She won't go
anywhere under two hundred a year."

"A most accomplished person, your sister!" said Mahony sleepily. "Still,
it's very pleasant to be by ourselves again--eh, wife?"

An even more blessed peace shortly descended on the house; for the time
was now come to get rid of the children as well. Since nothing had been
heard of John, they were to be boarded out over Polly's illness. Through
the butcher's lady, arrangements were made with a trooper's wife, who
lived outside the racket and dust of the township, and had a whole posse
of little ones of her own.--"Bless you! half-a-dozen more wouldn't make
any difference to me. There's the paddock for 'em to run wild in." This
was the best that could be done for the children. Polly packed their
little kit, dealt out a parting bribe of barley-sugar, and saw them
hoisted into the dray that would pass the door of their destination.

Once more husband and wife sat alone together, as in the days before
John's domestic catastrophe. And now Mahony said tentatively: "Don't you
think, love, we could manage to get on without that old Beamish woman?
I'll guarantee to nurse you as well as any female alive."

The question did not come as a surprise to Polly; she had already put it
to herself. After the affair with Sara she awaited her new visitor in
fear and trembling. Sara had at least stood in awe of Richard and held
her tongue before him; Mrs. Beamish prided herself on being afraid of
nobody, and on always speaking her mind. And yet, even while agreeing
that it would be well to put "mother" off, Polly drooped her wings. At a
time like this a woman was a woman. It seemed as if even the best of
husbands did not quite understand.

"Just give her the hint we don't want her," said Mahony airily.

But "mother" was not the person to take a hint, no matter how broad. It
was necessary to be blunt to the point of rudeness; and Polly spent a
difficult hour over the composition of her letter. She might have saved
her pains. Mrs. Beamish replied that she knew her darling little Polly's
unwillingness to give trouble; but it was not likely she would now go
back on her word: she had been packed and ready to start for the past
week. Polly handed the letter to her husband, and did not say what she
thought she read out of it, namely that "mother," who so seldom could be
spared from home, was looking forward with pleasure to her trip to
Ballarat.

"I suppose it's a case of making the best of a bad job," sighed Mahony;
and having one day drawn Mrs. Beamish, at melting point, from the inside
of a crowded coach, he loaded Long Jim with her bags and bundles.

His aversion was not lightened by his subsequently coming on his wife in
the act of unpacking a hamper, which contained half a ham, a stone jar
of butter, some home-made loaves of bread, a bag of vegetables and a
plum pudding. "Good God! does the woman think we can't give her enough
to eat?" he asked testily. He had all the poor Irishman's distrust of a
gift.

"She means it kindly, dear. She probably thought things were still
scarce here; and she knew I wouldn't be able to do much cooking,"
pleaded Polly. And going out to the kitchen she untied the last parcel,
in which was a big round cheese, by stealth.

She had pulled Mrs. Beamish over the threshold, had got her into the
bedroom and shut the door, before any of the "ohs" and "ahs" she saw
painted on the broad, rubicund face could be transformed into words. And
hugs and kisses over, she bravely seized the bull by the horns and
begged her guest not to criticise house or furnishings in front of
Richard.

It took Mrs. Beamish a minute or two to grasp her meaning. Then, she
said heartily: "There, there, my duck, don't you worry! I'll be as mum
as mum." And in a whisper: "So, 'e's got a temper, Polly, 'as 'e? But
this I will say: if I'd known this was all 'e 'ad to h'offer you, I'd
'a' said, stop w'ere you are, my lamb, in a comfortable, 'appy 'ome."

"Oh, I AM happy, mother dear, indeed I am!" cried Polly. "I've never
regretted being married--never once!"

"There, there, now!"

"And it's only . . . I mean . . . this is the best we can afford in the
meantime, and if I am satisfied . . ." floundered Polly, dismayed to
hear her words construed into blame of her husband. "It's only that it
upsets Richard if people speak slightingly of our house, and that upsets
me--and I musn't be worried just now, you know," she added with a
somewhat shaky smile.

"Not a word will I say, ducky, make yer pore little mind easy about
that. Though such a poky little 'en-coop of a place I never was in!"--
and, while tying her cap-strings, Mrs. Beamish swept the little bedroom
and its sloping roof with a withering glance. "I was 'orrified, girls,
simply 'ORRIFIED!" she related the incident to her daughters. "An' I up
an' told 'er so--just like me, you know. Not room enough to swing a cat
in, and 'im sittin' at the 'ead of the table as 'igh an' mighty as a
dook! You can thank yer stars, you two, 'e didn't take one o' you
instead o' Polly." But this was chiefly by way of a consolation-prize
for Tilly and Jinny.

"An' now, my dear, tell me EVERYTHING." With these words, Mrs. Beamish
spread her skirts and settled down to a cosy chat on the subject of
Polly's hopes.

But like the majority of her sex she was an adept at dividing her
attention; and while making delicate inquiries of the young wife, she
was also travelling her shrewd eye round the little bedchamber, spying
out and appraising: not one of poor Polly's makeshifts escaped her. The
result of her inspection was to cause her to feel justly indignant with
Mahony. The idea! Him to rob them of Polly just to dump her down in a
place like this! She would never be able to resist telling him what she
thought of him.

Here, however, she reckoned without Polly. Polly was sharp enough to
doubt "mother's" ability to hold her tongue; and saw to it that Richard
and she were not left alone together. And of an evening when talk
languished, she would beg her husband to read to them from the BALLARAT
STAR, until, as often as not, Mrs. Beamish fell asleep. Frequently, too,
she persuaded him to go out and take a hand in a newlyformed whist club,
or discuss politics with a neighbour.

Mahony went willingly enough; his home was less home than ever since the
big woman's intrusion. Even his food lost its savour. Mrs. Beamish had
taken over the cooking, and she went about it with an air that implied
he had not had a decent bite to eat since his marriage.

"There! what do you say to that now? That's something LIKE a pudding!"
and a great plum-duff was planked triumphantly down in the middle of the
dinner-table. "Lor, Polly! your bit of a kitchen . . . in this
weather . . . I'm fair dished." And the good woman mopped her streaming
face and could herself eat nothing.

Mahony much preferred his wife's cooking, which took account of his
tastes--it was done, too, without any fuss--and he persisted in
upholding Polly's skill, in face of Mrs. Beamish's good-natured
disbelief. Polly, on edge, lest he should openly state his preference,
nervously held out her plate.

"It's so good, mother, I must have a second helping," she declared; and
then, without appetite in the cruel, midday heat, did not know what to
do with the solid slab of pudding. Pompey and Palmerston got into the
way of sitting very close to her chair.

She confided to Richard that Mrs. Beamish disapproved of his evening
outings. "Many an 'usband takes to goin' out at such a time, my dear,
an' never gets back the 'abit of stoppin' at 'ome. So just you be
careful, ducky!" This was a standing joke between them. Mahony would
wink at Polly when he put his hat on, and wear it rakishly askew.

However, he quite enjoyed a crack with the postmaster or the
town-surveyor, at this juncture. Colonial politics were more interesting
than usual. The new Constitution had been proclaimed, and a valiant effort
was being made to form a Cabinet; to induce, that was, a sufficient
number of well-to-do men to give up time to the service of their
country. It looked as if the attempt were going to fail, just as on the
goldfields the Local Courts, by which since the Stockade the diggers
governed themselves, were failing, because none could afford to spend
his days sitting in them.

Yet however high the discussion ran, he kept one ear turned towards his
home. Here, things were at a standstill. Polly's time had come and gone
--but there was no end set to their suspense. It was blazing hot now in
the little log house; walls and roof were black with flies; mosquitoes
made the nights hideous. Even Polly lost patience with herself when,
morning after morning, she got up feeling as well as ever, and knowing
that she had to steer through another difficult day.

It was not the suspense alone: the strain of keeping the peace was
growing too much for her.

"Oh, DON'T quarrel with her, Richard, for my sake," she begged her
husband one night. "She means so well. And she can't help being like she
is--she has always been accustomed to order Mr. Beamish about. But I
wish she had never, never come," sobbed poor Polly. And Mahony, in a
sudden flash of enlightenment, put his arms round her, and made humble
promises. Not another word should cross his lips! "Though I'd like
nothing so well as to throw her out, and her bags and bundles after her.
Come, laugh a little, my Polly. Think of the old lady flying down the
slope, with her packages in a shower about her head!"

Rogers, M.D., looked in whenever he passed. At this stage he was of the
jocular persuasion. "Still an unwelcome visitor, ma'am? No little tidbit
of news for me to-day?" There he sat, twiddling his thumbs, reiterating
his singsong: "Just so!" and looking wise as an owl. Mahony knew the air
--had many a time seen it donned to cloak perplexity--and covert doubts
of Rogers' ability began to assail him. But then he fell mentally foul
of every one he came in touch with, at present: Ned, for the bare-faced
fashion in which he left his cheerfulness on the door-mat; Mrs. Beamish
for the eternal "Pore lamb!" with which she beplastered Polly, and the
antiquated reckoning-table she embarrassed them by consulting.

However, this state of things could not last for ever, and at dawn, one
hot January day, Polly was taken ill.

The early hours promised well. But the morning wore on, turned to
midday, then to afternoon, and matters still hung fire. While towards
six o'clock the patient dismayed them by sitting up in bed, saying she
felt much better, and asking for a cup of tea. This drew: "Ah, my pore
lamb, you've got to feel worse yet afore you're better!" from Mrs.
Beamish.

It ended in Rogers taking up his quarters there, for the night.

Towards eleven o'clock Mahony and he sat, one on each side of the table,
in the little sitting-room. The heat was insupportable and all three
doors and the window were propped open, in the feeble hope of creating a
draught. The lamp had attracted a swarm of flying things: giant moths
beat their wings against the globe, or fell singed and sizzling down the
chimney; winged-ants alighted with a click upon the table; blowflies and
mosquitoes kept up a dizzy hum.

From time to time Mahony rose and stole into the bedroom, where Mrs.
Beamish sat fanning the pests off Polly, who was in a feverish doze.
Leaning over his wife he let his finger lie on her wrist; and, back
again in the outer room, he bit nervously at his little-finger nail--an
old trick of his when in a quandary. He had curtly refused a game of
bezique; so Rogers had produced a pack of cards from his own pocket--
soiled, frayed cards, which had likely done service on many a similar
occasion--and was whiling the time away with solitaire. To sit there
watching his slow manipulation of the cards, his patent intentness on
the game; to listen any longer to the accursed din of the gnats and
flies passed Mahony's powers of endurance. Abruptly shoving back his
chair, he went out into the yard.

This was some twenty paces across--from the row of old kerosene-tins
that constituted his flower-garden, past shed and woodstack to the
post-and-rail fence. How often he walked it he did not know; but when he
went indoors again, his boots were heavy with mud. For a brief summer
storm had come up earlier in the evening. A dense black pall of cloud had
swept like a heavy curtain over the stars, to the tune of flash and
bang. Now, all was clear and calm again; the white star-dust of the
Milky Way powdered the sky just overhead; and though the heat was still
intense, the air had a fragrant smell of saturated dust and rain-soaked
earth--he could hear streamlets of water trickling down the hillside to
the river below.

Out there in the dark, several things became plain to him. He saw that
he had not had any real confidence in Rogers from the start; while the
effect of the evening spent at close quarters had been to sink his
opinion to nothing. Rogers belonged to an old school; his method was to
sit by and let nature take its course--perhaps just this slowness to
move had won him a name for extreme care. His old fogyism showed up
unmistakably in a short but heated argument they had had on the subject
of chloroform. He cited such hoary objections to the use of the new
anaesthetic in maternity cases as Mahony had never expected to hear
again: the therapeutic value of pain; the moral danger the patient ran
in yielding up her will ("What right have we to bid a fellow-creature
sacrifice her consciousness?") and the impious folly of interfering with
the action of a creative law. It had only remained for him to quote
Genesis, and the talking serpent!

Had the case been in his own hands he would have intervened before now.
Rogers, on the contrary, was still satisfied with the shape of affairs--
or made pretence to be. For, watching lynx-eyed, Mahony fancied each
time the fat man propelled his paunch out of the sickroom it was a shade
less surely: there were nuances, too, in the way he pronounced his
vapid: "As long as our strength is well maintained . . . well
maintained." Mahony doubted Polly's ability to bear much more; and he
made bold to know his own wife's constitution best. Rogers was
shilly-shallying: what if he delayed too long and Polly slipped through
his hands? Lose Polly? Good God! the very thought turned him cold. And
alive to his finger-tips with the superstition of his race, he impetuously
offered up his fondest dream to those invisible powers that sat aloft,
waiting to be appeased. If this was to be the price exacted of him--the
price of his escape from exile--then. . . then . . .

To come back to the present, however, he was in an awkward position: he
was going to be forced to take Polly's case out of the hands of the man
to whom he had entrusted it. Such a step ran counter to all the stiff
rules of conduct, the punctilios of decorum, laid down by the most
code-ridden profession in the world.

But a fresh visit to Polly, whose pulse had grown markedly softer, put
an end to his scruples.

Stalking into the sitting-room he said without preamble: "In my opinion
any further delay will mean a risk to my wife. I request you to operate
immediately."

Rogers blinked up from his cards, surprise writ across his ruddy
countenance. He pushed his spectacles to his forehead. "Eh? What? Well,
well . . . yes, the time is no doubt coming when we shall have to lend
Mother Nature a hand."

"Coming? It's come . . . and gone. Are you blind, man?"

Rogers had faced many an agitated husband in his day. "Now, now, Mr.
Mahony," he said soothingly, and laid his last two cards in line. "You
must allow me to be the judge of that. Besides," he added, as he took
off his glasses to polish them on a red bandanna; "besides, I should
have to ask you to go out and get some one to assist me."

"I shall assist you," returned Mahony.

Rogers smiled his broad, fat smile. "Easier said than done, my good sir!
. . . easier said than done."

Mahony considerately turned his back; and kept it turned. Emptying a
pitcher of water into a basin he began to lather his hands. "I am a
qualified medical man. Of the same university as yourself. I studied
under Simpson." It cost him an effort to get the words out. But, by
speaking, he felt that he did ample penance for the fit of tetchy pride
which, in the first instance, had tied his tongue.

Rogers was dumbfounded.

"Well, upon my word!" he ejaculated, letting his hands with glasses and
handkerchief fall to the table. "God bless my soul! why couldn't you say
so before? And why the deuce didn't you yourself attend--"

"We can go into all that afterwards."

But Rogers was not one of those who could deal rapidly with the
unexpected: he continued to vent his surprise, and to shoot distrustful
glances at his companion. He was flurried, too, at being driven forward
quicker than he had a mind to go, and said sulkily that Mahony must take
full responsibility for what they were about to do. Mahony hardly heard
him; he was looking at the instruments laid out on the table. His
fingers itched to close round them.

"I'll prepare my wife," he said briskly. And going into the bedroom he
bent over the pillow. It was damp with the sweat that had dripped from
Polly's head when the pains were on her.

"'Ere, you girl, get in quick now with your bucket and cloth, and give
that place a good clean-up afore that pore lamb opens 'er eyes again.
I'm cooked--that's what I am!" and sitting heavily down on the
kitchen-chair, Mrs. Beamish wiped her face towards the four points of the
compass.

Piqued by an unholy curiosity young Ellen willingly obeyed. But a minute
later she was back, having done no more than set her pail down inside
the bedroom door. "Oh, sure, Mrs. Beamish, and I can't do't!" she cried
shrilly. "It's jus' like Andy Soakes's shop . . . when they've bin
quarterin' a sheep."

"I'll QUARTER you, you lazy trollop, you!" cried Mrs. Beamish, rising to
her aching legs again; and her day-old anxiety found vent in a hearty
burst of temper. "I'll teach you!" pulling, as she spoke, the floorcloth
out of the girl's hand. "Such airs and graces! Why, sooner or later,
milady, you've got to go through it yourself."

"ME . . .? Catch me!" said Ellen, with enormous emphasis. "D'yer mean to
say that's 'ow . . . 'ow the children always come?"

"Of course it is, you mincing Nanny-hen!--every blessed child that
walks. And I just 'ope," said Mrs. Beamish, as she marched off herself
with brush and scrubber: "I 'ope, now you know it, you'll 'ave a little
more love and gratitoode for your own mother than ever you 'ad before."

"Oh lor!" said the girl. "Oh, lor!" And plumping down on the
chopping-block she snatched her apron to her face and began to cry.




Chapter VIII



Two months passed before Mahony could help Polly and Mrs. Beamish into
the coach bound for Geelong.

It had been touch and go with Polly; and for weeks her condition had
kept him anxious. With the inset of the second month, however, she
seemed fairly to turn the corner, and from then on made a steady
recovery, thanks to her youth and an unimpaired vitality.

He had hurried the little cradle out of sight. But Polly was quick to
miss it, and quite approved of its having been given to a needy
expectant mother near by. Altogether she bore the thwarting of her hopes
bravely.

"Poor little baby, I should have been very fond of it," was all she
said, when she was well enough to fold and pack away the tiny garments
at which she had stitched with such pleasure.

It was not to Mahony's mind that she returned with Mrs. Beamish--but
what else could be done? After lying a prisoner through the hot summer,
she was sadly in need of a change. And Mrs. Beamish promised her a diet
of unlimited milk and eggs, as well as the do nothing life that befitted
an invalid. Just before they left, a letter arrived from John demanding
the keys of his house, and proposing that Polly should come to town to
set it in order for him, and help him to engage a housekeeper. A
niggardly--a truly "John-ish"--fashion of giving an invitation,
thought Mahony, and was not for his wife accepting it. But Polly was so
pleased at the prospect of seeing her brother that he ended by agreeing
to her going on to Melbourne as soon as she had thoroughly recuperated.

Peace between him and Mrs. Beamish was dearly bought up to the last;
they barely avoided a final explosion. At the beginning of her third
month's absence from home the good woman grew very restive, and sighed
aloud for the day on which she would be able to take her departure.

"I expec' my bein' away like this'll run clean into a fifty-poun' note,"
she said one evening. "When it comes to managin' an 'ouse, those two
girls of mine 'aven't a h'ounce o' gumption between them."

It WAS tactless of her, even Polly felt that; though she could
sympathise with the worry that prompted the words. As for Mahony, had he
had the money to do it, he would have flung the sum named straight at
her head.

"She must never come again," said Polly to herself, as she bent over the
hair-chain she was making as a gift for John. "It is a pity, but it
seems as if Richard can't get on with those sort of people."

In his relief at having his house to himself, Mahony accepted even
Polly's absence with composure. To be perpetually in the company of
other people irked him beyond belief. A certain amount of privacy was as
vital to him as sleep.

Delighting in his new-found solitude, he put off from day to day the
disagreeable job of winding up his affairs and discovering how much--or
how little--ready money there would be to set sail with. Another thing,
some books he had sent home for, a year or more ago, came to hand at
this time, and gave him a fresh pretext for delay. There were eight or
nine volumes to unpack and cut the pages of. He ran from one to another,
sipping, devouring. Finally he cast anchor in a collected edition of his
old chief's writings on obstetrics--slipped in, this, as a gift from
the sender, a college chum--and over it, his feet on the table, his
dead pipe in the corner of his mouth, Mahony sat for the better part of
the night.

The effect of this master-mind on his was that of a spark on tinder.
Under the flash, he cursed for the hundredth time the folly he had been
guilty of in throwing up medicine. It was a vocation that had fitted him
as coursing fits a hound, or house-wifery a woman. The only excuse he
could find for his apostasy was that he had been caught in an epidemic
of unrest, which had swept through the country, upsetting the balance of
men's reason. He had since wondered if the Great Exhibition of '51 had
not had something to do with it, by unduly whetting people's
imaginations; so that but a single cry of "Gold!" was needed, to loose
the spirit of vagrancy that lurks in every Briton's blood. His case had
perhaps been peculiar in this: no one had come forward to warn or
dissuade. His next relatives--mother and sisters--were, he thought,
glad to know him well away. In their eyes he had lowered himself by
taking up medicine; to them it was still of a piece with barber's pole
and cupping-basin. Before his time no member of the family had entered
any profession but the army. Oh, that infernal Irish pride! . . . and
Irish poverty. It had choke-damped his youth, blighted the prospects of
his sisters. He could remember, as if it were yesterday, the jibes and
fleers called forth by the suit of a wealthy Dublin brewer, who had been
attracted--by sheer force of contrast, no doubt--to the elder of the
two swan-necked, stiff-backed Miss Townshend-Mahonys, with their long,
thin noses, and the ingrained lines that ran from the curled nostrils to
the corners of their supercilious mouths, describing a sneer so deep
that at a distance it was possible to mistake it for a smile. "Beer, my
dear, indeed and there are worse things in the world than beer!" he
heard his mother declare in her biting way. "By all means take him! You
can wash yourself in it if water gets scarce, and I'll place my kitchen
orders with you." Lucinda, who had perhaps sniffed timidly at release,
burnt crimson: thank you! she would rather eat rat-bane.--He supposed
they pinched and scraped along as of old--the question of money was
never broached between him and them. Prior to his marriage he had sent
them what he could; but that little was in itself an admission of
failure. They made no inquiries about his mode of life, preferring it to
remain in shadow; enough for them that he had not amassed a fortune. Had
that come to pass, they might have pardoned the rude method of its
making--in fancy he listened to the witty, cutting, self-derisive
words, in which they would have alluded to his success.

Lying back in his chair he thought of them thus, without unkindliness,
even with a dash of humour. That was possible, now that knocking about
the world had rubbed off some of his own corners. In his young days, he,
too, had been hot and bitter. What, however, to another might have
formed the chief crux in their conduct--it was by squandering such
money as there was, his own portion among it, on his scamp of an elder
brother, that they had forced him into the calling they despised--this
had not troubled him greatly. For medicine was the profession on which
his choice would anyhow have fallen. And to-night the book that lay
before him had infected him with the old enthusiasm. He re-lived those
days when a skilfully handled case of PLACENTA PREVIA, or a successful
delivery in the fourth position, had meant more to him than the Charge
of the Light Brigade.

Fresh from this dip into the past, this foretaste of the future, he
turned in good heart to business. An inventory had to be taken; damaged
goods cleared out; a list of bad and less bad debts drawn up: he and
Hempel were hard at work all next day. The result was worse even than he
had expected. His outlay that summer--ever since the day on which he
had set off to the aid of his bereaved relative--had been enormous.
Trade had run dry, and throughout Polly's long illness he had dipped
blindly into his savings. He could never have said no to Mrs. Beamish
when she came to him for money--rather would he have pawned the coat
off his back. And she, good woman, was unused to cheeseparing. His men's
wages paid, berths booked, the numerous expenses bound up with a
departure defrayed, he would have but a scanty sum in hand with which to
start on the other side.

For himself he was not afraid; but he shrank from the thought of Polly
undergoing privations. So far, they had enjoyed a kind of frugal
comfort. But should he meet with obstacles at the outset: if patients
were laggardly and the practice slow to move, or if he himself fell ill,
they might have a spell of real poverty to face. And it was under the
goad of this fear that he hit on a new scheme. Why not leave Polly
behind for a time, until he had succeeded in making a home for her?--
why not leave her under the wing of brother John? John stood urgently in
need of a head for his establishment, and who so well suited for the
post as Polly? Surely, if it were put before him, John must jump at the
offer! Parting from Polly, and were it only for a little while, would be
painful; but, did he go alone, he would be free to do his utmost--and
with an easy mind, knowing that she lacked none of the creature-comforts.
Yes, the more he considered the plan, the better he liked it.
The one flaw in his satisfaction was the thought that if their child had
lived, no such smooth and simple arrangement would have been possible.
He could not have foisted a family on Turnham.

Now he waited with impatience for Polly to return--his reasonable
little Polly! But he did not hurry her. Polly was enjoying her holiday.
Having passed to Melbourne from Geelong she wrote:

JOHN IS SO VERY KIND. HE DOESN'T OF COURSE GO OUT YET HIMSELF, BUT I WAS
PRESENT WITH SOME FRIENDS OF HIS AT A VERY ELEGANT SOIREE. JOHN GAVE ME
A HEADDRESS COMPOSED OF BLACK PEARLS AND FROSTED LEAVES. HE MEANS TO GO
IN FOR POLITIES AS SOON AS HIS YEAR OF MOURNING IS UP.

Mahony replied:

ENJOY YOURSELF, MY HEART, AND SET ALL THE SIGHTS YOU CAN.

While into more than one of his letters he slipped a banknote.

FOR YOU KNOW I LIKE YOU TO PAY YOUR OWN WAY AS FAR AS POSSIBLE.

And at length the day came when he could lift his wife out of the coach.
She emerged powdered brown with dust and very tired, but radiantly
happy: it was a great event in little Polly's life, this homecoming, and
coming, too, strong and well. The house was a lively place that
afternoon: Polly had so much to tell that she sat holding her bonnet for
over an hour, quite unable to get as far as the bedroom; and even Long
Jim's mouth went up at the corners instead of down; for Polly had
contrived to bring back a little gift for every one. And in presenting
these, she found out more of what people were thinking and feeling than
her husband had done in all the eight weeks of her absence.

Mahony was loath to damp her pleasure straightway; he bided his time. He
could not know that Polly also had been laying plans, and that she
watched anxiously for the right moment to unfold them.

The morning after her return, she got a lift in the baker's cart and
drove out to inspect John's children. What she saw and heard on this
visit was disquieting. The children had run wild, were grown dirty, sly,
untruthful. Especially the boy.--"A young Satan, and that's a fact,
Mrs. Mahony! What he needs is a man's hand over him, and a good hidin'
six days outer seven."

It was not alone little Johnny's misconduct, however, that made Polly
break silence. An incident occurred that touched her still more nearly.

Husband and wife sat snug and quiet as in the early days of their
marriage. Autumn had come round and a fire burnt in the stove, before
which Pompey snorted in his dreams. But, for all the cosy tranquillity,
Polly was not happy; and time and again she moistened and bit at the tip
of her thread, before pointing it through her needle. For the book open
before Richard, in which he was making notes as he read, was--the
Bible. Bending over him to drop a kiss on the top of his head, Polly had
been staggered by what she saw. Opposite the third verse of the first
chapter of Genesis: "And God said, Let there be light: and there was
light," he had written: "Three days before the sun!" Her heart seemed to
shrivel, to grow small in her breast, at the thought of her husband
being guilty of such impiety. Ceasing her pretence at sewing, she walked
out of the house into the yard. Standing there under the stars she said
aloud, as if some one, THE One, could hear her: "He doesn't mean to do
wrong. . . . I KNOW he doesn't!" But when she re-entered the room he was
still at it. His beautiful writing, reduced to its tiniest, wound round
the narrow margins.

Deeply red, Polly took her courage in both hands, and struck a blow for
the soul whose salvation was more to her than her own. "Richard, do you
think that . . . is . . . is right?" she asked in a low voice.

Mahony raised his head. "Eh?--what, Pollykin?"

"I mean, do you think you ought . . . that it is right to do what you
are doing?"

The smile, half-tender, half-quizzical that she loved, broke over her
husband's face. He held out his hand. "Is my little wife troubled?"

"Richard, I only mean. . ."

"Polly, my dear, don't worry your little head over what you don't
understand. And have confidence in me. You know I wouldn't do anything I
believed to be wrong?"

"Yes, indeed. And you are really far more religious than I am."

"One can be religious and yet not shut one's eyes to the truth. It's
Saint Paul, you know, who says: we can do nothing against the Truth but
for the Truth. And you may depend on it, Polly, the All-Wise would never
have given us the brains He has, if He had not intended us to use them.
Now I have long felt sure that the Bible is not wholly what it claims to
be--direct inspiration."

"Oh, Richard!" said Polly, and threw an anxious glance over her
shoulder. "If anyone should hear you!"

"We can't afford to let our lives be governed by what other people
think, Polly. Nor will I give any man the right to decide for me what my
share of the Truth shall be."

On seeing the Bible closed Polly breathed again, at the same time
promising herself to take the traitorous volume into safe-keeping, that
no third person's eye should rest on it. Perhaps, too, if it were put
away Richard would forget to go on writing in it. He had probably begun
in the first place only because he had nothing else to do. In the store
he sat and smoked and twirled his thumbs--not half a dozen customers
came in, in the course of the day. If he were once properly occupied
again, with work that he liked, he would not be tempted to put his gifts
to such a profane use. Thus she primed herself for speaking. For now was
the time. Richard was declaring that trade had gone to the dogs, his
takings dropped to a quarter of what they had formerly been. This headed
just where she wished. But Polly would not have been Polly, had she not
glanced aside for a moment, to cheer and console.

"It's the same everywhere, Richard. Everybody's complaining. And that
reminds me, I forgot to tell you about the Beamishes. They're in great
trouble. You see, a bog has formed in front of the Hotel, and the
traffic goes round another way, so they've lost most of their custom.
Mr. Beamish never opens his mouth at all now, and mother is fearfully
worried. That's what was the matter when she was here--only she was too
kind to say so."

"Hard lines!"

"Indeed it is. But about us; I'm not surprised to hear trade is dull.
Since I was over in the western township last, no less than six new
General Stores have gone up--I scarcely knew the place. They've all got
big plate-glass windows; and were crowded with people."

"Yes, there's a regular exodus up west. But that doesn't alter the fact,
wife, that I've made a very poor job of storekeeping. I shall leave here
with hardly a penny to my name."

"Yes, but then, Richard," said Polly, and bent over her strip of
needlework, "you were never cut out to be a storekeeper, were you?"

"I was not. And I verily believe, if it hadn't been for that old
sober-sides of a Hempel, I should have come a cropper long ago."

"Yes, and Hempel," said Polly softly; "Hempel's been wanting to leave
for ever so long."

"The dickens he has!" cried Mahony in astonishment. "And me humming and
hawing about giving him notice! What's the matter with him? What's he
had to complain of?"

"Oh, nothing like that. He wants to enter the ministry. A helper's
needed at the Baptist Chapel, and he means to apply for the post. You
see, he's saved a good deal, and thinks he can study to be a minister at
the same time."

"Study for his grave, the fool! So that's it, is it? Well, well! it
saves trouble in the end. I don't need to bother my head now over what's
to become of him . . . him or anyone else. My chief desire is to say
good-bye to this hole for ever. There's no sense, Polly, in my dawdling
on. Indeed, I haven't the money to do it. So I've arranged, my dear,
with our friend Ocock to come in and sell us off, as soon as you can get
our personal belongings put together."

Here Polly raised her head as if to interrupt; but Mahony, full of what
he had to say, ignored the movement, and went on speaking. He did not
wish to cause his wife uneasiness, by dwelling on his difficulties; but
some explanation was necessary to pave the way for his proposal that she
should remain behind, when he left the colony. He spent all his
eloquence in making this sound natural and attractive. But it was hard,
when Polly's big, astonished eyes hung on his face. "Do you think, for
my sake, you could be brave enough?" he wound up, rather unsurely. "It
wouldn't be for long, love, I'm certain of that. Just let me set foot in
England once more!"

"Why . . . why, yes, dear Richard, I . . . I think I could, if you
really wished it," said Polly in a small voice. She tried to seem
reasonable; though black night descended on her at the thought of
parting, and though her woman's eyes saw a hundred objections to the
plan, which his had overlooked. (For one thing, John had just installed
Sara as housekeeper, and Sara would take it very unkindly to be shown
the door.) "I THINK I could," she repeated. "But before you go on, dear,
I should like to ask YOU something."

She laid down her needlework; her heart was going pit-a-pat. "Richard,
did you ever.. . I mean have you never thought of. .. of taking up your
profession again--I mean here--starting practice here?--No, wait a
minute! Let me finish. I . . . I . . . oh, Richard!" Unable to find
words, Polly locked her fingers under the tablecloth and hoped she was
not going to be so silly as to cry. Getting up, she knelt down before
her husband, laying her hands on his knees. "Oh, Richard, I wish you
would--HOW I wish you would!"

"Why, Polly!" said Mahony, surprised at her agitation. "Why, my dear,
what's all this?--You want to know if I never thought of setting up in
practice out here? Of course I did . . . in the beginning. You don't
think I'd have chosen to keep a store, if there'd been any other opening
for me? But there wasn't, child. The place was overrun. Never a medico
came out and found digging too much for him, but he fell back in despair
on his profession. I didn't see my way to join their starvation band."

"Yes, THEN, Richard!--but now?" broke in Polly. "Now, it's quite, quite
different. Look at the size Ballarat has grown--there are more than
forty thousand people settled on it; Mr. Ocock told me so. And you know,
dear, doctors have cleared out lately, not come fresh. There was that
one, I forget his name, who drank himself to death; and the two, you
remember, who were sold up just before Christmas." But this was an
unfortunate line of argument to have hit on, and Polly blushed and
stumbled.

Mahony laughed at her slip, and smoothed her hair. "Typical fates, love!
They mustn't be mine. Besides, Polly, you're forgetting the main thing--
how I hate the place, and how I've always longed to get away."

"No, I'm not. But please let me go on.--You know, Richard, every one
believes some day Ballarat will be the chief city--bigger even than
Geelong or Melbourne. And then to have a good practice here would mean
ever such a lot of money. I'm not the only person who thinks so. There's
Sara, and Mrs. Beamish--I know, of course, you don't care much what
they say; but still--" Polly meant: still, you see, I have public
opinion on my side. As, however, once more words failed her, she
hastened to add: "John, too, is amazed to hear you think of going home
to bury yourself in some little English village. He's sure there'd be a
splendid opening for you here. John thinks very, very highly of you. He
told me he believes you would have saved Emma's life, if you had been
there."

"I'm much obliged to your brother for his confidence," said Mahony
dryly; "but--"

"Wait a minute, Richard! You see, dear, I can't help feeling myself that
you ought not to be too hasty in deciding. Of course, I know I'm young,
and haven't had much experience, but . . . You see, you're KNOWN here,
Richard, and that's always something; in England you'd be a perfect
stranger. And though you may say there are too many doctors on the Flat,
still, if the place goes on growing as it is doing, there'll soon be
room for more; and then, if it isn't you, it'll just be some one else.
And that DOES seem a pity, when you are so clever--so much, much
cleverer than other people! Yes, I know all about it; Mrs. Beamish told
me it was you I owed my life to, not Dr. Rogers"--at which Mahony
winced, indignant that anyone should have betrayed to Polly how near
death she had been. "Oh, I DO want people to know you for what you
really are!" said little Polly.

"Pussy, I believe she has ambitions for her husband," said Mahony to
Palmerston.

"Of course I have. You say you hate Ballarat, and all that, but have you
ever thought, Richard, what a difference it would make if you were in a
better position? You think people look down on you, because you're in
trade. But if you were a doctor, there'd be none of that. You'd call
yourself by your full name again, and write it down on the visiting list
at Government House, and be as good as anybody, and be asked into
society, and keep a horse. You'd live in a bigger house, and have a room
to yourself and time to read and write. I'm quite sure you'd make lots
of money and soon be at the top of the tree. And after all, dear
Richard, I don't want to go home. I would much rather stay here and look
after Jerry, and dear Ned, and poor John's children," said Polly,
falling back as a forlorn hope on her own preference.

"Why, what a piece of special pleading!" cried Mahony, and leaning
forward, he kissed the young flushed face.

"Don't laugh at me. I'm in earnest."

"Why, no, child. But Polly, my dear, even if I were tempted for a moment
to think seriously of what you say, where would the money come from?
Fees are high, it's true, if the ball's once set a-rolling. But till
then? With a jewel of a wife like mine, I'd be a scoundrel to take
risks."

Polly had been waiting for this question. On hearing it, she sat back on
her heels and drew a deep breath. The communication she had now to make
him was the hub round which all turned. Should he refuse to consider
it.... Plucking at the fringe of the tablecloth, she brought out,
piecemeal, the news that John was willing to go surety for the money
they would need to borrow for the start. Not only that: he offered them
a handsome sum weekly to take entire charge of his children.--"Not
here, in this little house--I know that wouldn't do," Polly hastened to
throw in, forestalling the objection she read in Richard's eyes. Now did
he not think he should weigh an offer of this kind very carefully? A
name like John's was not to be despised; most people in their position
would jump at it. "I understand something about it," said the little
woman, and sagely nodded her head. "For when I was in Geelong, Mr.
Beamish tried his hardest to raise some money and couldn't, his sureties
weren't good enough." Mahony had not the heart to chide her for
discussing his private affairs with her brother. Indeed, he rather
admired the businesslike way she had gone about it. And he admitted
this, by ceasing to banter and by calling her attention to the various
hazards and inconveniences the step would entail.

Polly heard him out in silence. Enough for her, in the beginning, that
he did not decline off-hand. They had a long talk, the end of which was
that he promised to sleep over John's proposal, and delay fixing the
date of the auction till the morning.

Having yielded this point Mahony kissed his wife and sent her to bed,
himself going out with the dog for his usual stroll.

It was a fine night--moonless, but thick with stars. So much, at least,
could be said in favour of the place: there was abundant sky-room; you
got a clear half of the great vault at once. How he pitied, on such a
night, the dwellers in old, congested cities, whose view of the starry
field was limited to a narrow strip, cut through house-tops.

Yet he walked with a springless tread. The fact was, certain of his
wife's words had struck home; and in the course of the past year he had
learnt to put considerable faith in Polly's practical judgment. As he
wound his way up the little hill to which he had often carried his
perplexities, he let his pipe go out, and forgot to whistle Pompey off
butcher's garbage.

Sitting down on a log he rested his chin in his hands. Below him
twinkled the sparse lights of the Flat; shouts and singing rose from the
circus.--And so John would have been willing to go surety for him! Let
no one say the unexpected did not happen. All said and done, they were
little more than strangers to each other, and John had no notion what
his money-making capacities as a doctor might be. It was true, Polly had
been too delicate to mention whether the affair had come about through
her persuasions or on John's own initiative. John might have some
ulterior motive up his sleeve. Perhaps he did not want to lose his
sister . . . or was scheming to bind a pair of desirables fast to this
colony, the welfare of which he had so much at heart. Again, it might be
that he wished to buy off the memory of that day on which he had
stripped his soul naked. Simplest of all, why should he not be merely
trying to pay back a debt? He, Mahony, might shrink from lying under an
obligation to John, but, so far, the latter had not scrupled to accept
favours from him. But that was always the way with your rich men; they
were not troubled by paltry pride; for they knew it was possible to
acquit themselves of their debts at a moment's notice, and with
interest. This led him to reflect on the great help to him the loan of
his wealthy relative's name would be: difficulties would melt before it.
And surely no undue risk was involved in the use of it? Without
boasting, he thought he was better equipped, both by aptitude and
training, than the ruck of colonial practitioners. Did he enter the
lists, he could hardly fail to succeed. And out here even a moderate
success spelled a fortune. Gained double-quick, too. After which the
lucky individual sold out and went home, to live in comfort. Yes, that
was a point, and not to be overlooked. No definite surrender of one's
hopes was called for; only a postponement. Ten years might do it--meaty
years, of course, the best years of one's life--still . . . . It would
mean very hard work; but had he not just been contemplating, with
perfect equanimity, an even more arduous venture on the other side? What
a capricious piece of mechanism was the human brain!

Another thought that occurred to him was that his services might prove
more useful to this new country than to the old, where able men
abounded. He recalled many good lives and promising cases he had here
seen lost and bungled. To take the instance nearest home--Polly's
confinement. Yes, to show his mettle to such as Rogers; to earn respect
where he had lived as a mere null--the idea had an insidious
fascination. And as Polly sagely remarked: if it were not he, it would
be some one else; another would harvest the KUDOS that might have been
his. For the rough-and-ready treatment--the blue pills and black
draughts--that had satisfied the early diggers had fallen into
disrepute; medical skill was beginning to be appreciated. If this went
on, Ballarat would soon stand on a level with any city of its size at
home. But even as it was, he had never been quite fair to it; he had
seen it with a jaundiced eye. And again he believed Polly hit the nail
on the head, when she asserted that the poor position he had occupied
was responsible for much of his dislike.

But there was something else at work in him besides. Below the surface
an admission awaited him, which he shrank from making. All these pros
and cons, these quibbles and hair-splittings were but a misfit attempt
to cloak the truth. He might gull himself with them for a time: in his
heart he knew that he would yield--if yield he did--because he was by
nature only too prone to follow the line of least resistance. What he
had gone through to-night was no new experience. Often enough after
fretting and fuming about a thing till it seemed as if nothing under the
sun had ever mattered so much to him, it could happen that he suddenly
threw up the sponge and bowed to circumstance. His vitality exhausted
itself beforehand--in a passionate aversion, a torrent of words--and
failed him at the critical moment. It was a weakness in his blood--in
the blood of his race.--But in the present instance, he had an excuse
for himself. He had not known--till Polly came out with her brother's
offer--how he dreaded having to begin all over again in England, an
utter stranger, without influence or recommendations, and with no money
to speak of at his back.

But now he owned up, and there was no more need of shift or subterfuge:
now it was one rush and hurry to the end. He had capitulated; a
thin-skinned aversion to confronting difficulties, when he saw the chance
of avoiding them, had won the day. He intended--had perhaps the whole time
intended--to take the hand held out to him. After all, why not? Anyone
else, as Polly said, would have jumped at John's offer. He alone must
argue himself blue in the face over it.

But as he sat and pondered the lengthy chain of circumstance--Polly's
share in it, John's, his own, even the part played by incorporeal things
--he brought up short against the word "decision". He might flatter
himself by imagining he had been free to decide; in reality nothing was
further from the truth. He had been subtly and slily guided to his goal
--led blindfold along a road that not of his choosing. Everything and
every one had combined to constrain him: his favours to John, the
failure of his business, Polly's inclinations and persuasions, his own
fastidious shrinkings. So that, in the end, all he had had to do was to
brush aside a flimsy gossamer veil, which hung between him and his fate.
Was it straining a point to see in the whole affair the workings of a
Power outside himself--against himself, in so far as it took no count
of his poor earth-blind vision?

Well, if this were so, better still: his ways were in God's hand. And
after all, what did it matter where one strove to serve one's Maker--
east or west or south or north--and whether the stars overhead were
grouped in this constellation or in that? Their light was a pledge that
one would never be overlooked or forgotten, traced by the hand of Him
who had promised to note even a sparrow's fall. And here he spoke aloud
into the darkness the ancient and homely formula that is man's stand-by
in face of the untried, the unknown.

"If God wills.... God knows best."





Part III




Chapter I



The house stood not far from the Great Swamp. It was of weather-board,
with a galvanised iron roof, and might have been built from a child's
drawing of a house: a door in the centre, a little window on either
side, a chimney at each end. Since the ground sloped downwards, the
front part rested on piles some three feet high, and from the rutty
clay-track that would one day be a street wooden steps led up to the
door. Much as Mahony would have liked to face it with a verandah, he did
not feel justified in spending more than he could help. And Polly not
only agreed with him, but contrived to find an advantage in the plainer
style of architecture. "Your plate will be better seen, Richard, right
on the street, than hidden under a verandah." But then Polly was
overflowing with content. Had not two of the rooms fireplaces? And was
there not a wash-house, with a real copper in it, behind the detached
kitchen? Not to speak of a spare room!--To the rear of the house a high
paling-fence enclosed a good-sized yard. Mahony dreamed of a garden,
Polly of keeping hens.

There were no two happier people on Ballarat that autumn than the
Mahonys. To and fro they trudged down the hill, across the Flat, over
the bridge and up the other side; first, through a Sahara of dust, then,
when the rains began, ankle-deep in gluey red mud. And the building of
the finest mansion never gave half so much satisfaction as did that of
this flimsy little wooden house, with its thin lath-and-plaster walls.
In fancy they had furnished it and lived in it, long before it was even
roofed in. Mahony sat at work in his surgery--it measured ten by twelve
--Polly at her Berlin-woolwork in the parlour opposite: "And a cage with
a little parrot in it, hanging at the window."

The preliminaries to the change had gone smoothly enough--Mahony could
not complain. Pleasant they had not been; but could the arranging and
clinching of a complicated money-matter ever be pleasant? He had had to
submit to hearing his private affairs gone into by a stranger; to make
clear to strangers his capacity for earning a decent income.

With John's promissory letter in his pocket, he had betaken himself to
Henry Ocock's office.

This, notwithstanding its excellent position on the brow of the western
hill, could not deny its humble origin as a livery-barn. The entry was
by a yard; and some of the former horse-boxes had been rudely knocked
together to provide accommodation. Mahony sniffed stale dung.

In what had once been the harness-room, two young men sat at work.

"Why, Tom, my lad, you here?"

Tom Ocock raised his freckled face, from the chin of which sprouted some
long fair hairs, and turned red.

"Yes, it's me. Do you want to see 'En--" at an open kick from his
brother--"Mr. Ocock?"

"If you please."

Informed by Grindle that the "Captain" was at liberty, Mahony passed to
an inner room where he was waved to a chair. In answer to his statement
that he had called to see about raising some money, Ocock returned an:
"Indeed? Money is tight, sir, very tight!" his face instantly taking on
the blank-wall solemnity proper to dealings with this world's main
asset.

Mahony did not at once hand over John's way-soothing letter. He thought
he would first test the lawyer's attitude towards him in person--a
species of self-torment men of his make are rarely able to withstand. He
spoke of the decline of his business; of his idea of setting up as a
doctor and building himself a house; and, as he talked, he read his
answer pat and clear in the ferrety eyes before him. There was a bored
tolerance of his wordiness, an utter lack of interest in the concerns of
the petty tradesman.

"H'm." Ocock, lying back in his chair, was fitting five outstretched
fingers to their fellows. "All very well, my good sir, but may I ask if
you have anyone in view as a security?"

"I have. May I trouble you to glance through this?" and triumphantly
Mahony brandished John's letter.

Ocock raised his brows. "What? Mr. John Turnham? Ah, very good . . .
very good indeed!" The brazen-faced change in his manner would have made
a cat laugh; he sat upright, was interested, courteous, alert. "Quite in
order! And now, pray, how much do we need?"

Unadvised, he had not been able, said Mahony, to determine the sum. So
Ocock took pencil and paper, and, prior to running off a reckoning, put
him through a sharp interrogation. Under it Mahony felt as though his
clothing was being stripped piece by piece off his back. At one moment
he stood revealed as mean and stingy, at another as an unpractical
spendthrift. More serious things came out besides. He began to see,
under the limelight of the lawyer's inquiry, in what a muddle-headed
fashion he had managed his business, and how unlikely it was he could
ever have made a good thing of it. Still worse was his thoughtless folly
in wedding and bringing home a young wife without, in this settlement
where accident was rife, where fires were of nightly occurrence,
insuring against either fire or death. Not that Ocock breathed a hint of
censure: all was done with a twist of the eye, a purse of the lip; but
it was enough for Mahony. He sat there, feeling like an eel in the
skinning, and did not attempt to keep pace with the lawyer, who hunted
figures into the centre of a woolly maze.

The upshot of these calculations was: he would need help to the tune of
something over one thousand pounds. As matters stood at present on
Ballarat, said Ocock, the plainest house he could build would cost him
eight hundred; and another couple of hundred would go in furnishing;
while a saddle-horse might be put down at fifty pounds. On Turnham's
letter he, Ocock, would be prepared to borrow seven hundred for him--
and this could probably be obtained at ten per cent on a mortgage of the
house; and a further four hundred, for which he would have to pay twelve
or fifteen. Current expenses must be covered by the residue of this
savings, and by what he was able to make. They would include the keep of
the horse, and the interest on the borrowed money, which might be
reckoned roughly at a hundred and twenty per annum. In addition, he
would be well advised to insure his life for five to seven hundred
pounds.

The question also came up whether the land he had selected for building
on should be purchased or not. He was for doing so, for settling the
whole business there and then. Ocock, however, took the opposite view.
Considering, said he, that the site chosen was far from the centre of
the town, Mahony might safely postpone buying in the meanwhile. There
had been no government land-sales of late, and all main-road frontages
had still to come under the hammer. As occupier, when the time arrived,
he would have first chance at the upset price; though then, it was true,
he would also be liable for improvements. The one thing he must beware
of was of enclosing too small a block.

Mahony agreed--agreed to everything: the affair seemed to have passed
out of his hands. A sense of dismay invaded him while he listened to the
lawyer tick off the obligations and responsibilities he was letting
himself in for. A thousand pounds! He to run into debt for such a sum,
who had never owed a farthing to anyone! He fell to doubting whether,
after all, he had made choice of the easier way, and lapsed into a
gloomy silence.

Ocock on the other hand warmed to geniality.

"May I say, doctor, how wise I think your decision to come over to us?"
--He spoke as if Ballarat East were in the heart of the Russian steppes.
"And that reminds me. There's a friend of mine. . . . I may be able at
once to put a patient in your way."

Mahony walked home in a mood of depression which it took all Polly's
arts to dispel.

Under its influence he wrote an outspoken letter to Purdy--but with no
very satisfactory result. It was like projecting a feeler for sympathy
into the void, so long was it since they had met, and so widely had his
friend's life branched from his.

Purdy's answer--it was headed "The Ovens"--did not arrive till several
weeks later, and was mainly about himself.

IN A WAY I'M WITH YOU, OLD PILL-BOX, he wrote. YOU'LL CUT A JOLLY SIGHT
BETTER FIGURE AS AN M.D. THEN EVER YOU'VE DONE BEHIND A COUNTER. BUT I
DON'T KNOW THAT I'D CARE TO STAKE MY LAST DOLLAR ON YOU ALL THE SAME.
WHAT DOES MRS. POLLY SAY?--AS FOR ME, OLD BOY, SINCE YOU'RE GOOD ENOUGH
TO ASK, WHY THE LESS SAID THE BETTER. ONE OF THESE DAYS A POOR WORN OLD
SHICER'LL COME CRAWLING ROUND TO YOUR BACK DOOR TO SEE IF YOU'VE ANY
CAST-OFF DUDS YOU CAN SPARE HIM. SERIOUSLY, DICK, OLD MAN, I'M STONY-BROKE
ONCE MORE AND THE LORD ONLY KNOWS HOW I'M GOING TO WIN THROUGH.

In the course of that winter, custom died a natural death; and one day,
the few oddments that remained having been sold by auction, Mahony and
his assistant nailed boards horizontally across the entrance to the
store. The day of weighing out pepper and salt was over; never again
would the tinny jangle of the accursed bell smite his ears. The next
thing was that Hempel packed his chattels and departed for his new walk
in life. Mahony was not sorry to see him go. Hempel's thoughts had
soared far above the counter; he was arrived at the stage of: "I'm just
as good as you!" which everyone here reached sooner or later.

"I shall always be pleased to hear how you are getting on."

Mahony spoke kindly, but in a tone which, as Polly who stood by, very
well knew, people were apt to misunderstand.

"I should think so!" she chimed in. "I shall feel very hurt indeed,
Hempel, if you don't come and see us."

With regard to Long Jim, she had a talk with her husband one night as
they went to bed.

"There really won't be anything for him to do in the new house. No heavy
crates or barrels to move about. And he doesn't know a thing about
horses. Why not let him go home?--he does so want to. What would you
say, dear, to giving him thirty pounds for his passage-money and a
trifle in his pocket? It would make him very happy, and he'd be off your
hands for good.--Of course, though, just as you think best."

"We shall need every penny we can scrape together, for ourselves, Polly.
And yet, my dear, I believe you're right. In the new house, as you say,
he'll be a mere encumbrance. As for me, I'd be only too thankful never
to hear his cantankerous old pipe again. I don't know now what evil
genius prompted me to take him in."

"Evil genius, indeed!" retorted Polly. "You did it because you're a
dear, good, kind-hearted man."

"Think so, wifey? I'm inclined to put it down to sheer dislike of
botheration--Irish inertia . . . the curse of our race."

"Yes, yes, I knoo you'd be wantin' to get rid o' me, now you're goin' up
in the world," was Long Jim's answer when Polly broached her scheme for
his benefit. "Well, no, I won't say anythin' against you, Mrs. Mahony;
you've treated me square enough. But doc., 'e's always thought 'imself a
sight above one, an' when 'e does, 'e lets you feel it."

This was more than Polly could brook. "And sighing and groaning as you
have done to get home, Jim! You're a silly, ungrateful old man, even to
hint at such a thing."

"Poor old fellow, he's grumbled so long now, that he's forgotten how to
do anything else," she afterwards made allowance for him. And added,
pierced by a sudden doubt: "I hope his wife will still be used to it, or
. . . or else . . ."

And now the last day in the old house was come. The furniture, stacked
in the yard, awaited the dray that was to transport it. Hardly worth
carrying with one, thought Mahony, when he saw the few poor sticks
exposed to the searching sunlight. Pipe in mouth he mooned about,
feeling chiefly amazed that he could have put up, for so long, with the
miserable little hut which his house, stripped of its trimmings, proved
to be.

His reflections were cut short by old Ocock, who leaned over the fence
to bid his neighbours good-bye.

"No disturbance! Come in, come in!" cried Mahony, with the rather
spurious heartiness one is prone to throw into a final invitation. And
Polly rose from her knees before a clothes-basket which she was filling
with crockery, and bustled away to fetch the cake she had baked for such
an occasion.

"I'll miss yer bright little face, that I will!" said Mr. Ocock, as he
munched with the relish of a Jerry or a Ned. He held his slice of cake
in the hollow of one great palm, conveying with extreme care the pieces
he broke off to his mouth.

"You must come and see us, as soon as ever we're settled."

"Bless you! You'll soon find grander friends than an old chap like me."

"Mr. Ocock! And you with three sons in the law!"

"Besides, mark my words, it'll be your turn next to build," Mahony
removed his pipe to throw in. "We'll have you over with us yet."

"And what a lovely surprise for Miss Amelia when she arrives, to find a
bran'-new house awaiting her."

"Well, that's the end of this little roof-tree," said Mahony.--The
loaded dray had driven off, the children and Ellen perched on top of the
furniture, and he was giving a last look round. "We've spent some very
happy days under it, eh, my dear?"

"Oh, very," said Polly, shaking out her skirts. "But we shall be just as
happy in the new one."

"God grant we may! It's not too much to hope I've now seen all the downs
of my life. I've managed to pack a good many into thirty short years.--
And that reminds me, Mrs. Townshend-Mahony, do you know you will have
been married to me two whole years, come next Friday?"

"Why, so we shall!" cried Polly, and was transfixed in the act of tying
her bonnet-strings. "How time does fly! It seems only the other day I
saw this room for the first time. I peeped in, you know, while you were
fetching the box. DO you remember how I cried, Richard? I was afraid of
a spider or something." And the Polly of eighteen looked back, with a
motherly amusement, at her sixteen-year-old eidolon. "But now, dear, if
you're ready . . . or else the furniture will get there before we do.
We'd better take the short cut across Soldiers' Hill. That's the cat in
that basket, for you to carry, and here's your microscope. I've got the
decanter and the best teapot. Shall we go?"




Chapter II



And now for a month or more Mahony had been in possession of a room that
was all his own. Did he retire into it and shut the door, he could make
sure of not being disturbed. Polly herself tapped before entering; and
he let her do so. Polly was dear; but dearer still was his long-coveted
privacy.

He knew, too, that she was happily employed; the fitting-up and
furnishing of the house was a job after her own heart. She had proved
both skilful and economical at it: thanks to her, they had used a bare
three-quarters of the sum allotted by Ocock for the purpose--and this
was well; for any number of unforeseen expenses had cropped up at the
last moment. Polly had a real knack for making things "do". Old empty
boxes, for instance, underwent marvellous transformations at her hands--
emerged, clad in chintz and muslin, as sofas and toilet-tables. She hung
her curtains on strings, and herself sewed the seams of the parlour
carpet, squatting Turk-fashion on the floor, and working away, with a
great needle shaped like a scimitar, till the perspiration ran down her
face. It was also she who, standing on the kitchen-table, put up the
only two pictures they possessed, Ned and Jerry giving opinions on the
straightness of her eye, from below: a fancy picture of the Battle of
Waterloo in the parlour; a print of "Harvey Discovering the Circulation
of the Blood" on the surgery wall.

From where he sat Mahony could hear the voices of the children--John's
children--at play. They frolicked with Pompey in the yard. He could
endure them, now that he was not for ever tumbling over them. Yes, one
and all were comfortably established under the new roof--with the
exception of poor Palmerston the cat. Palmerston had declined to
recognise the change, and with the immoderate homing-instinct of his
kind had returned night after night to his old haunts. For some time
Mahony's regular evening walk was back to the store--a road he would
otherwise not have taken; for it was odious to him to see Polly's neat
little appointments going to rack and ruin, under the tenancy of a dirty
Irish family. There he would find the animal sitting, in melancholy
retrospect. Again and again he picked him up and carried him home; till
that night when no puss came to his call, and Palmerston, the black and
glossy, was seen no more: either he had fallen down a shaft, or been
mangled by a dog, or stolen, cats still fetching a high price on
Ballarat.

The window of Mahony's room faced a wide view: not a fence, hardly a bit
of scrub or a tuft of grass-tree marked the bare expanse of uneven
ground, now baked brown as a piecrust by the December sun. He looked
across it to the cemetery. This was still wild and unfenced--just a
patch of rising ground where it was permissible to bury the dead. Only
the day before--the second anniversary of the Eureka Stockade--he had
watched some two to three hundred men, with crepe on their hats and
sleeves, a black-draped pole at their head, march there to do homage to
their fallen comrades. The dust raised by the shuffling of these many
feet had accompanied the procession like a moving cloud; had lingered in
its rear like the smoke from a fire. Drays and lorries crawled for ever
laboriously along it, seeming glued to the earth by the monstrous sticky
heat of the veiled sun. Further back rose a number of bald hills--
rounded, swelling hills, shaped like a woman's breasts. And behind all,
pale china-blue against the tense white sky, was the embankment of the
distant ranges. Except for these, an ugly, uninviting outlook, and one
to which he seldom lifted his eyes.

His room pleased him better. Polly had stretched a bright green drugget
on the floor; the table had a green cloth on it; the picture showed up
well against the whitewashed wall. Behind him was a large deal cupboard,
which held instruments and drugs. The bookshelves with their precious
burden were within reach of his hand; on the top shelf he had stacked
the boxes containing his botanical and other specimens.

The first week or so there was naturally little doing: a sprained wrist
to bandage, a tooth to draw, a case of fly-blight. To keep himself from
growing fidgety, he overhauled his minerals and butterflies, and renewed
faded labels. This done, he went on to jot down some ideas he had, with
regard to the presence of auriferous veins in quartz. It was now
generally agreed that quartz was the matrix; but on the question of how
the gold had found its way into the rock, opinions were sharply divided.
The theory of igneous injection was advanced by some; others inclined to
that of sublimation. Mahony leaned to a combination of the two
processes, and spent several days getting his thoughts in order; while
Polly, bursting with pride, went about on tiptoe audibly hushing the
children: their uncle was writing for the newspapers.

Still no patients worth the name made their appearance. To fend off the
black worry that might get the better of him did he sit idle, he next
drew his Bible to him, and set about doing methodically what he had so
far undertaken merely by fits and starts--deciding for himself to what
degree the Scriptures were inspired. Polly was neither proud nor happy
while this went on, and let the children romp unchecked. At present it
was not so much the welfare of her husband's soul she feared for: God
must surely know by this time what a good man Richard was; he had not
his equal, she thought, for honesty and uprightness; he was kind to the
poor and the sick, and hadn't missed a single Sunday at church, since
their marriage. But all that would not help, if once he got the
reputation of being an infidel. Then, nobody would want him as a doctor
at all.

Casually begun, Mahony's studies soon absorbed him to the exclusion of
everything else.

Brought up in the cast-iron mould of Irish Protestantism, to which,
being of a sober and devout turn of mind, he had readily submitted, he
had been tossed, as a youthful student, into the freebooting Edinburgh
of the forties. Edinburgh was alive in those days to her very
paving-stones; town and university combined to form a hotbed of
intellectual unrest, a breeding-ground for disturbing possibilities. The
"development theory" was in the air; and a book that appeared anonymously
had boldly voiced, in popular fashion, Maillet's dream and the Lamarckian
hypothesis of a Creation undertaken once and for all, in place of a
continuous creative intenention. This book, opposing natural law to
miracle, carried complete conviction to the young and eager. Audacious
spirits even hazarded the conjecture that primitive life itself might
have originated in a natural way: had not, but recently, an investigator
who brought a powerful voltaic battery to bear on a saturated solution
of silicate of potash, been startled to find, as the result of his
experiment, numberless small mites of the species ACARUS HORRIDUS? Might
not the marvel electricity or galvanism, in action on albumen, turn out
to be the vitalising force? To the orthodox zoologist, phytologist and
geologist, such a suggestion savoured of madness; they either took
refuge in a contemptuous silence, or condescended only to reply: Had one
visited the Garden of Eden during Creation, one would have found that,
in the morning, man was not, while in the evening he was!--morning and
evening bearing their newly established significance of geological
epochs. The famous tracing of the Creator's footsteps, undertaken by a
gifted compromiser, was felt by even the most bigoted to be a lame
rejoinder. His ASTEROLEPSIS, the giant fossil-fish from the Old Red
Sandstone, the antiquity of which should show that the origin of life
was not to be found solely in "infusorial points," but that highly
developed forms were among the earliest created--this single prop was
admittedly not strong enough to carry the whole burden of proof. No, the
immutability of species had been seriously impugned, and bold minds
asked themselves why a single act of creation, at the outset, should not
constitute as divine an origin of life as a continued series of
"creative fiats."

Mahony was one of them. The "development theory" did not repel him. He
could see no impiety in believing that life, once established on the
earth, had been left to perfect itself. Or hold that this would
represent the Divine Author of all things as, after one master-stroke,
dreaming away eternal ages in apathy and indifference. Why should the
perfect functioning of natural law not be as convincing an expression of
God's presence as a series of cataclysmic acts of creation?

None the less it was a time of crisis, for him, as for so many. For, if
this were so, if science spoke true that, the miracle of life set a-going,
there had been no further intervention on the part of the
Creator, then the very head-and-corner stone of the Christian faith, the
Bible itself, was shaken. More, much more would have to go than the
Mosaic cosmogony of the first chapter of Genesis. Just as the Elohistic
account of creation had been stretched to fit the changed views of
geologists, so the greater part of the scriptural narratives stood in
need of a wider interpretation. The fable of the Eternal's personal
mediation in the affairs of man must be accepted for what it was--a
beautiful allegory, the fondly dreamed fulfilment of a world-old desire.
And bringing thus a sharpened critical sense to bear on the Scriptures,
Mahony embarked on his voyage of discovery. Before him, but more as a
warning than a beacon, shone the example of a famous German savant, who,
taking our Saviour's life as his theme, demolished the sacred idea of a
Divine miracle, and retold the Gospel story from a rationalistic
standpoint. A savagely unimaginative piece of work this, thought Mahony,
and one that laid all too little weight on the deeps of poetry, the
mysteries of symbols, and the power the human mind drew from these, to
pierce to an ideal truth. His own modest efforts would be of quite
another kind.

For he sought, not to deny God, but to discover Him anew, by freeing Him
from the drift of error, superstition and dead-letterism which the
centuries had accumulated about Him. Far was it from His servant's mind
to wish to decry the authority of the Book of Books. This he believed to
consist, in great part, of inspired utterances, and, for the rest, to be
the wisest and ripest collection of moral precept and example that had
come down to us from the ages. Without it, one would be rudderless
indeed--a castaway in a cockleshell boat on a furious sea--and from
one's lips would go up a cry like to that wrung from a famous infidel:
"I am affrighted and confounded with the forlorn solitude in which I am
placed by my philosophy . . .begin to fancy myself in the most
deplorable condition imaginable, environed by the deepest darkness."

No, Mahony was not one of those who held that the Christian faith, that
fine flower of man's spiritual need, would suffer detriment by the
discarding of a few fabulous tales; nor did he fear lest his own faith
should become undermined by his studies. For he had that in him which
told him that God was; and this instinctive certainty would persist, he
believed, though he had ultimately to admit the whole fabric of
Christianity to be based on the Arimathean's dream. It had already
survived the rejection of externals: the surrender of forms, the
assurance that ceremonials were not essential to salvation belonged to
his early student-days. Now, he determined to send by the board the last
hampering relics of bigotry and ritual. He could no longer concede the
tenets of election and damnation. God was a God of mercy, not the blind,
jealous Jahveh of the Jews, or the inhuman Sabbatarian of a narrow
Protestantism. And He might be worshipped anywhere or anyhow: in any
temple built to His name--in the wilderness under the open sky--in
silent prayer, or according to any creed.

In all this critical readjustment, the thought he had to spare for his
fellow-men was of small account: his fate was not bound to theirs by the
altruism of a later generation. It was a time of intense individualism;
and his efforts towards spiritual emancipation were made on his own
behalf alone. The one link he had with his fellows--if link it could be
termed--was his earnest wish to avoid giving offence: never would it
have occurred to him to noise his heterodoxy abroad. Nor did he want to
disturb other people's convictions. He respected those who could still
draw support from the old faith, and, moreover, had not a particle of
the proselytiser in him. He held that religion was either a matter of
temperament, or of geographical distribution; felt tolerantly inclined
towards the Jews, and the Chinese; and did not even smile at processions
to the Joss-house, and the provisioning of those silent ones who needed
food no more.

But just as little as he intermeddled with the convictions of others
would he brook interference with his own. It was the concern of no third
person what paths he followed in his journeyings after the truth--in
his quest for a panacea for the ills and delusions of life. For, call it
what he would--Biblical criticism, scientific inquiry--this was his
aim first and last. He was trying to pierce the secret of existence--to
rede the riddle that has never been solved.--What am I? Whence have I
come? Whither am I going? What meaning has the pain I suffer, the evil
that men do? Can evil be included in God's scheme?--And it was well, he
told himself, as he pressed forward, that the flame in him burnt
unwaveringly, which assured him of his kinship with the Eternal, of the
kinship of all created things; so unsettling and perplexing were the
conclusions at which he arrived.

Summoned to dinner, he sat at table with stupid hands and evasive eyes.
Little Johnny, who was, as Polly put it, "as sharp as mustard," was
prompt to note his uncle's vacancy.

"What you staring at, Nunkey?" he demanded, his mouth full of
roly-pudding, which he was stuffing down with all possible dispatch.

"Hush, Johnny. Don't tease your uncle."

"What do you mean, my boy?"

"I mean . . ." Young John squeezed his last mouthful over his windpipe
and raised his plate. "I mean, you look just like you was seein' a
emeny.--More puddin', Aunt Polly!"

"What does the child mean? An anemone?"

"NO!" said John with the immense contempt of five years. "I didn't say
anner emeny." Here, he began to tuck in anew, aiding the slow work of
his spoon with his more habile fingers. "A emeny's d emeny. Like on de
pickshur in Aunt Polly's room. One . . . one's de English, an' one's de
emeny."

"It's the Battle of Waterloo," explained Polly. "He stands in front of
it every day."

"Yes. An' when I'm a big man, I'm goin' to be a sojer, an' wear a red
coat, an' make 'bung'!" and he shot an imaginary gun at his sister, who
squealed and ducked her head.

"An ancient wish, my son," said Mahony, when Johnny had been reproved
and Trotty comforted. "Tom-thumbs like you have voiced it since the
world--or rather since war first began."

"Don't care. Nunkey, why is de English and why is de emeny?"

But Mahony shrank from the gush of whats and whys he would let loose on
himself, did he attempt to answer this question. "Come, shall uncle make
you some boats to sail in the wash-tub?"

"Wiv a mast an' sails an' everyfing?" cried John wildly; and throwing
his spoon to the floor, he scrambled from his chair. "Oh yes, Nunkey--
dear Nunkey!"

"Dea Unkey!" echoed the shadow.

"Oh, you cupboard lovers, you!" said Mahony as, order restored and
sticky mouths wiped, two pudgy hands were thrust with a new kindness
into his.

He led the way to the yard; and having whittled out for the children
some chips left by the builders, he lighted his pipe and sat down in the
shade of the house. Here, through a veiling of smoke, which hung
motionless in the hot, still air, he watched the two eager little
mortals before him add their quota to the miracle of life.




Chapter III



Polly had no such absorbing occupation to tide her over these empty days
of waiting; and sometimes--especially late in the afternoon, when her
household duties were done, the children safely at play--she found it
beyond her power to stitch quietly at her embroidery. Letting the canvas
fall to her knee, she would listen, listen, listen till the blood sang
in her ears, for the footsteps and knocks at the door that never came.
And did she draw back the window-curtain and look out, there was not a
soul to be seen: not a trace of the string of prosperous, paying
patients she had once imagined winding their way to the door.

And meanwhile Richard was shut up in his room, making those dreadful
notes in the Bible which it pinched her heart even to think of. He
really did not seem to care whether he had a practice or not. All the
new instruments, got from Melbourne, lay unused in their casings; and
the horse was eating its head off, at over a pound a week, in the
livery-barn. Polly shrank from censuring her husband, even in thought;
but as she took up her work again, and went on producing in wools a
green basket of yellow fruit on a magenta ground, she could not help
reflecting what she would have done at this pass, had she been a man.
She would have announced the beginning of her practice in big letters in
the STAR, and she would have gone down into the township and mixed with
people and made herself known. With Richard, it was almost as if he felt
averse from bringing himself into public notice.

Only another month now, and the second instalment of interest would fall
due. Polly did not know exactly what the sum was; but she did know the
date. The first time, they had had no difficulty in meeting the bill,
owing to their economy in furnishing. But what about this one, and the
next again? How were payments to be made, and kept up, if the patients
would not come?

She wished with all her heart that she was ten years older. For what
could a person who was only eighteen be supposed to understand of
business? Richard's invariable answer, did she venture a word, was not
to worry her little head about such things.

When, however, another week had dribbled away in the same fashion, Polly
began to be afraid the date of payment had slipped his memory
altogether. She would need to remind him of it, even at the risk of
vexing him. And having cast about for a pretext to intrude, she decided
to ask his advice on a matter that was giving her much uneasiness;
though, had he been REALLY busy, she would have gone on keeping it to
herself.

It related to little Johnny.

Johnny was a high-spirited, passionate child, who needed most careful
handling. At first she had managed him well enough. But ever since his
five months' boarding-out, he had fallen into deceitful ways; and the
habit of falsehood was gaining on him. Bad by nature, Polly felt sure
the child was not; but she could not keep him on the straight path now
he had discovered that a lie might save him a punishment. He was not to
be shamed out of telling it; and the only other cure Polly knew of was
whipping. She whipped him; and provoked him to fury.

A new misdeed on his part gave her the handle she sought. Johnny had
surreptitiously entered her pantry and stolen a plateful of cakes. Taxed
with the theft he denied it; and cornered, laid, Adam-like, the blame on
his companion, asserting that Trotty had persuaded him to take the
goodies; though bewildered innocence was writ all over the baby's chubby
face.

Mahony had the young sinner up before him. But he was able neither to
touch the child's heart, nor to make him see the gravity of what he had
done: never being allowed inside the surgery, John could now not take
his eyes off the wonderful display of gold and purple and red moths,
which were pinned, with outstretched wings, to a sheet of cork. He stood
o-mouthed and absentminded, and only once shot a blue glance at his
uncle to say: "But if dey're so baddy . . . den why did God MAKE lies
an' de debble?"--which intelligent query hit the nail of one of
Mahony's own misgivings on the head.

No real depravity, was his verdict. Still, too much of a handful, it was
plain, for Polly's inexperience. "A problem for John himself to tackle,
my dear. Why should we have to drill a non-existent morality into his
progeny? Besides, I'm not going to have you blamed for bad results,
later on." He would write to John there and then, and request that
Johnny be removed from their charge.

Polly was not prepared for this summary solution of her dilemma, and
began to regret having brought it up; though she could not but agree
with Richard that it would never do for the younger child to be
corrupted by a bad example. However she kept her wits about her. Did
John take the boy away, said she, she was afraid she would have to ask
for a larger housekeeping allowance. The withdrawal of the money for
Johnny's board would make a difference to their income.

"Of course," returned Mahony easily, and was about to dismiss the
subject.

But Polly stood her ground. "Talking of money, Richard, I don't know
whether you remember . . . you've been so busy . . . that it's only
about a fortnight now till the second lot of interest falls due."

"What!--a fortnight?" exclaimed her husband, and reached out for an
almanack. "Good Lord, so it is! And nothing doing yet, Polly . . .
absolutely nothing!"

"Well, dear, you can't expect to jump into a big practice all at once,
can you? But you see, I think the trouble is, not nearly enough people
know you've started." And a little imploringly, and very apologetically,
Polly unfolded her artless schemes for self-advertisement.

"Wife, I've a grave suspicion!" said Mahony, and took her by the chin.
"While I've sat here with my head in the clouds, you've been worrying
over ways and means, and over having such an unpractical old dreamer for
a husband. Now, child, that won't do. I didn't marry to have my girl
puzzling her little brains where her next day's dinner was to come from.
Away with you, to your stitching! Things will be all right, trust to
me."

And Polly did trust him, and was so satisfied with what she had effected
that, raising her face for a kiss, she retired with an easy mind to
overhaul Johnny's little wardrobe.

But the door having clicked behind her, Mahony's air of forced assurance
died away. For an instant he hesitated beside the table, on which a
rampart of books lay open, then vigorously clapped each volume to and
moved to the window, chewing at the ends of his beard. A timely
interruption! What the dickens had he been about, to forget himself in
this fool's paradise, when the crassest of material anxieties--that of
pounds, shillings and pence--was crouched, wolf-like, at his door?

That night he wakened with a jerk from an uneasy sleep. Though at noon
the day before, the thermometer had registered over a hundred in the
shade, it was now bitterly cold, and these abrupt changes of temperature
always whipped up his nerves. Even after he had piled his clothes and an
opossum-rug on top of the blankets, he could not drop off again. He lay
staring at the moonlit square of the window, and thinking the black
thoughts of night.

What if he could not manage to work up a practice? . . . found it
impossible to make a living? His plate had been on the door for close on
two months now, and he had barely a five-pound note to show for it. What
was to be done? Here Polly's words came back to him with new stress.
"Not nearly enough people know you've started." That was it!--Polly had
laid her finger on the hitch. The genteel manners of the old country did
not answer here; instead of sitting twiddling his thumbs, waiting for
patients to seek him out, he ought to have adopted the screaming methods
of advertisement in vogue on Ballarat. To have had "Holloway's Pills
sold here!" "Teeth extracted painlessly!" "Cures guaranteed!" painted
man-high on his outside house-wall. To have gone up and down and round
the township; to have been on the spot when accidents happened; to have
hobnobbed with Tom, Dick and Harry in bars and saloons. And he saw a
figure that looked like his the centre of a boisterous crowd; saw
himself slapped on the back by dirty hands, shouting and shouted to
drinks. He turned his pillow, to drive the image away. Whatever he had
done or not done, the fact remained that a couple of weeks hence he had
to make up the sum of over thirty pounds. And again he discerned a
phantom self, this time a humble supplicant for an extension of term,
brought up short against Ocock's stony visage, flouted by his cocksy
clerk. Once more he turned his pillow. These quarterly payments, which
dotted all his coming years, were like little rock-islands studding the
surface of an ocean, and telling of the sunken continent below: this
monstrous thousand odd pounds he had been fool enough to borrow. Never
would he be able to pay off such a sum, never again be free from the
incubus of debt. Meanwhile, not the ground he stood on, not the roof
over his head could actually be called his own. He had also been too
pushed for money, at the time, to take Ocock's advice and insure his
life.

These thoughts spun themselves to a nightmare-web, in which he was the
hapless fly. Putting a finger to his wrist, he found he had the pulse of
a hundred that was not uncommon to him. He got out of bed, to dowse his
head in a basin of water. Polly, only half awake, sat up and said:
"What's the matter, dear? Are you ill?" In replying to her he disturbed
the children, the door of whose room stood ajar; and by the time quiet
was restored, further sleep was out of the question. He dressed and
quitted the house.

Day was breaking; the moon, but an hour back a globe of polished silver,
had now no light left in her, and stole, a misty ghost, across the
dun-coloured sky. A bank of clouds that had had their night-camp on the
summit of Mount Warrenheip was beginning to disperse; and the air had
lost its edge. He walked out beyond the cemetary, then sat down on a
tree-stump and looked back. The houses that nestled on the slope were
growing momently whiter; but the Flat was still sunk in shadow and haze,
making old Warrenheip, for all its half-dozen miles of distance, seem
near enough to be touched by hand. But even in full daylight this woody
peak had a way of tricking the eye. From the brow of the western hill,
with the Flat out of sight below, it appeared to stand at the very foot
of those streets that headed east--first of one, then of another,
moving with you as you changed position, like the eyes of a portrait
that follow you wherever you go.--And now the sky was streaked with
crimson-madder; the last clouds scattered, drenched in orange and rose,
and flames burned in the glass of every window-pane. Up came the tip of
the sun's rim, grew to a fiery quarter, to a half; till, bounding free
from the horizon, it began to mount and to lose its girth in the
immensity of the sky.

The phantasms of the night yielded like the clouds to its power. He was
still reasonably young, reasonably sound, and had the better part of a
lifetime before him. Rising with a fresh alacrity, he whistled to his
dog, and walked briskly home to bath and breakfast.

But that evening, at the heel of another empty day, his nervous
restlessness took him anew. From her parlour Polly could hear the thud
of his feet, going up and down, up and down his room. And it was she who
was to blame for disturbing him!

"Yet what else could I do?"

And meditatively pricking her needle in and out of the window-curtain,
Polly fell into a reverie over her husband and his ways. How strange
Richard was . . . how difficult! First, to be able to forget all about
how things stood with him, and then to be twice as upset as other
people.

John demanded the immediate delivery of his young son, undertaking soon
to knock all nasty tricks out of him. On the day fixed for Johnny's
departure husband and wife were astir soon after dawn. Mahony was to
have taken the child down to the coach-office. But Johnny had been awake
since two o'clock with excitement, and was now so fractious that Polly
tied on her bonnet and accompanied them. She knew Richard's hatred of a
scene.

"You just walk on, dear, and get his seat," she said, while she dragged
the cross, tired child on her hand to the public-house, where even at
this hour a posse of idlers hung about.

And she did well to be there. Instantly on arriving Johnny set up a
wail, because there was talk of putting him inside the vehicle; and this
persisted until the coachman, a goat-bearded Yankee, came to the rescue
and said he was darned if such a plucky young nipper shouldn't get his
way: he'd have the child tied on beside him on the box-seat--be blowed
if he wouldn't! But even this did not satisfy Johnny; and while Mahony
went to procure a length of rope, he continued to prance round his aunt
and to tug ceaselessly at her sleeve.

"Can I dwive, Aunt Polly, can I dwive? Ask him, can I dwive!" he roared,
beating her skirts with his fists. He was only silenced by the driver
threatening to throw him as a juicy morsel to the gang of bushrangers
who, sure as blazes, would be waiting to stick the coach up directly it
entered the bush.

Husband and wife lingered to watch the start, when the champing horses
took a headlong plunge forward and, together with the coach, were
swallowed up in a whirlwind of dust. A last glimpse discovered Johnny,
pale and wide-eyed at the lurching speed, but sitting bravely erect.

"The spirit of your brother in that child, my dear!" said Mahony as they
made to walk home.

"Poor little Johnny," and Polly wiped her eyes. "If only he was going
back to a mother who loved him, and would understand."

"I'm sure no mother could have done more for him than you, love."

"Yes, but a real mother wouldn't need to give him up, however naughty he
had been."

"I think the young varmint might have shown some regret at parting from
you, after all this time," returned her husband, to whom it was
offensive if even a child was lacking in good feeling. "He never turned
his head. Well, I suppose it's a fact, as they say, that the natural
child is the natural barbarian."

"Johnny never meant any harm. It was I who didn't know how to manage
him," said Polly staunchly.--"Why, Richard, what IS the matter?" For
letting her arm fall Mahony had dashed to the other side of the road.

"Good God, Polly, look at this!"

"This" was a printed notice, nailed to a shed, which announced that a
sale of frontages in Mair and Webster Streets would shortly be held.

"But it's not our road. I don't understand."

"Good Lord, don't you see that if they're there already, they'll be out
with us before we can say Jack Robinson? And then where shall I be?"
gave back Mahony testily.

"Let us talk it over. But first come home and have breakfast. Then . . .
yes, then, I think you should go down and see Mr. Henry, and hear what
he says."

"You're right. I must see Ocock.--Confound the fellow! It's he who has
let me in for this."

"And probably he'll know some way out. What else is a lawyer for, dear?"

"Quite true, my Polly. None the less, it looks as if I were in for a run
of real bad luck, all along the line."




Chapter IV



One hot morning some few days later, Polly, with Trotty at her side,
stood on the doorstep shading her eyes with her hand. She was on the
look-out for her "vegetable man," who drove in daily from the Springs
with his greenstuff. He was late as usual: if Richard would only let her
deal with the cheaper, more punctual Ah Sing, who was at this moment
coming up the track. But Devine was a reformed character: after, as a
digger, having squandered a fortune in a week, he had given up the drink
and, backed by a hard-working, sober wife, was now trying to earn a
living at market-gardening. So he had to be encouraged.

The Chinaman jog-trotted towards them, his baskets a-sway, his mouth
stretched to a friendly grin. "You no want cabbagee to-day? Me got velly
good cabbagee," he said persuasively and lowered his pole.

"No thank you, John, not to-day. Me wait for white man."

"Me bling pleasant for lilly missee," said the Chow; and unknotting a
dirty nosecloth, he drew from it an ancient lump of candied ginger.
"Lilly missee eatee him . . . oh, yum, yum! Velly good. My word!"

But Chinamen to Trotty were fearsome bogies, corresponding to the
swart-faced, white-eyed chimney-sweeps of the English nursery. She hid
behind her aunt, holding fast to the latter's skirts, and only stealing an
occasional peep from one saucer-like blue eye.

"Thank you, John. Me takee chowchow for lilly missee," said Polly, who
had experience in disposing of such savoury morsels.

"You no buy cabbagee to-day?" repeated Ah Sing, with the catlike
persistence of his race. And as Polly, with equal firmness and
good-humour, again shook her head, he shouldered his pole and departed at
a half-run, crooning as he went.

Meanwhile at the bottom of the road another figure had come into view.
It was not Devine in his spring-cart; it was some one on horseback, was
a lady, in a holland habit. The horse, a piebald, advanced at a sober
pace, and--"Why, good gracious! I believe she's coming here."

At the first of the three houses the rider had dismounted, and knocked
at the door with the butt of her whip. After a word with the woman who
opened, she threw her riding-skirt over one arm, put the other through
the bridle, and was now making straight for them.

As she drew near she smiled, showing a row of white teeth. "Does Dr.
Mahony live here?"

Misfortune of misfortunes!--Richard was out.

But almost instantly Polly grasped that this would tell in his favour.
"He won't be long, I know."

"I wonder," said the lady, "if he would come out to my house when he
gets back? I am Mrs Glendinning--of Dandaloo."

Polly flushed, with sheer satisfaction: Dandaloo was one of the largest
stations in the neighbourhood of Ballarat. "Oh, I'm certain he will,"
she answered quickly.

"I am so glad you think so," said Mrs. Glendinning. "A mutual friend,
Mr. Henry Ocock, tells me how clever he is."

Polly's brain leapt at the connection; on the occasion of Richard's last
visit the lawyer had again repeated the promise to put a patient in his
way. Ocock was one of those people, said Richard, who only remembered
your existence when he saw you.--Oh, what a blessing in disguise had
been that troublesome old land sale!

The lady had stooped to Trotty, whom she was trying to coax from her
lurking-place. "What a darling! How I envy you!"

"Have you no children?" Polly asked shyly, when Trotty's relationship
had been explained.

"Yes, a boy. But I should have liked a little girl of my own. Boys are
so difficult," and she sighed.

The horse nuzzling for sugar roused Polly to a sense of her remissness.
"Won't you come in and rest a little, after your ride?" she asked; and
without hesitation Mrs. Glendinning said she would like to, very much
indeed; and tying the hone to the fence, she followed Polly into the
house.

The latter felt proud this morning of its apple-pie order. She drew up
the best armchair, placed a footstool before it and herself carried in a
tray with refreshments. Mrs. Glendinning had taken Trotty on her lap,
and given the child her long gold chains to play with. Polly thought her
the most charming creature in the world. She had a slender waist, and an
abundant light brown chignon, and cheeks of a beautiful pink, in which
two fascinating dimples came and went. The feather from her riding-hat
lay on her neck. Her eyes were the colour of forget-me-nots, her mouth
was red as any rose. She had, too, so sweet and natural a manner that
Polly was soon chatting frankly about herself and her life, Mrs.
Glendinning listening with her face pressed to the spun-glass of
Trotty's hair.

When she rose, she clasped both Polly's hands in hers. "You dear little
woman. . . may I kiss you? I am ever so much older than you."

"I am eighteen," said Polly.

"And I on the shady side of twenty-eight!"

They laughed and kissed. "I shall ask your husband to bring you out to
see me. And take no refusal. AU REVOIR!" and riding off, she turned in
the saddle and waved her hand.

For all her pleasurable excitement Polly did not let the grass grow
under her feet. There being still no sign of Richard--he had gone to
Soldiers' Hill to extract a rusty nail from a child's foot--Ellen was
sent to summon him home; and when the girl returned with word that he
was on the way, Polly dispatched her to the livery-barn, to order the
horse to be got ready.

Richard took the news coolly. "Did she say what the matter was?"

No, she hadn't; and Polly had not liked to ask her; it could surely be
nothing very serious, or she would have mentioned it.

"H'm. Then it's probably as I thought. Glendinning's failing is well
known. Only the other day, I heard that more than one medical man had
declined to have anything further to do with the case. It's a long way
out, and fees are not always forthcoming. HE doesn't ask for a doctor,
and, womanlike, she forgets to pay the bills. I suppose they think
they'll try a greenhorn this time."

Pressed by Polly, who was curious to learn everything about her new
friend, he answered: "I should be sorry to tell you, my dear, how many
bottles of brandy it is Glendinning's boast he can empty in a week."

"Drink? Oh, Richard, how terrible! And that pretty, pretty woman!" cried
Polly, and drove her thoughts backwards: she had seen no hint of tragedy
in her caller's lovely face. However, she did not wait to ponder, but
asked, a little anxiously: "But you'll go, dear, won't you?"

"Go? Of course I shall! Beggars can't be choosers." "Besides, you know,
you MIGHT be able to do something where other people have failed."

Mahony rode out across the Flat. For a couple of miles his route was one
with the Melbourne Road, on which plied the usual motley traffic. Then,
branching off at right angles, it dived into the bush--in this case a
scantly wooded, uneven plain, burnt tobacco-brown and hard as iron.

Here went no one but himself. He and the mare were the sole living
creatures in what, for its stillness, might have been a painted
landscape. Not a breath of air stirred the weeping grey-green foliage of
the gums; nor was there any bird-life to rustle the leaves, or peck, or
chirrup. Did he draw rein, the silence was so intense that he could
almost hear it.

On striking the outlying boundary of Dandaloo, he dismounted to slip a
rail. After that he was in and out of the saddle, his way leading
through numerous gateless paddocks before it brought him up to the
homestead.

This, a low white wooden building, overspread by a broad verandah--from
a distance it looked like an elongated mushroom--stood on a hill. At
the end, the road had run alongside a well-stocked fruit and
flower-garden; but the hillside itself, except for a gravelled walk in
front of the house, was uncultivated--was given over to dead thistles and
brown weeds.

Fastening his bridle to a post, Mahony unstrapped his bag of necessaries
and stepped on to the verandah. A row of French windows stood open; but
flexible green sun-blinds hid the rooms from view. The front door was a
French window, too, differing from the rest only in its size. There was
neither bell nor knocker. While he was rapping with the knuckles on the
panel, one of the. blinds was pushed aside and Mrs. Glendinning came
out.

She was still in hat and riding-habit; had herself, she said, reached
home but half an hour ago. Summoning a station-hand to attend to the
horse, she raised a blind and ushered Mahony into the dining-room, where
she had been sitting at lunch, alone at the head of a large table. A
Chinaman brought fresh plates, and Mahony was invited to draw up his
chair. He had an appetite after his ride; the room was cool and dark;
there were no flies.

Throughout the meal, the lady kept up a running fire of talk--the
graceful chitchat that sits so well on pretty lips. She spoke of the
coming Races; of the last Government House Ball; of the untimely death
of Governor Hotham. To Mahony she instinctively turned a different side
out, from that which had captured Polly. With all her well-bred ease,
there was a womanly deference in her manner, a readiness to be swayed,
to stand corrected. The riding-dress set off her figure; and her
delicate features were perfectly chiselled. ("Though she'll be florid
before she's forty.")

Some juicy nectarines finished, she pushed back her chair. "And now,
doctor, will you come and see your patient?"

Mahony followed her down a broad, bare passage. A number of rooms opened
off it, but instead of entering one of these she led him out to a back
verandah. Here, before a small door, she listened with bent head, then
turned the handle and went in.

The room was so dark that Mahony could see nothing. Gradually he made
out a figure lying on a stretcher-bed. A watcher sat at the bedside. The
atmosphere was more than close, smelt rank and sour. His first request
was for light and air.

It was the wreck of a fine man that lay there, strapped over the chest,
bound hand and foot to the framework of the bed. The forehead, on which
the hair had receded to a few mean grey wisps, was high and domed, the
features were straight with plenty of bone in them, the shoulders broad,
the arms long. The skin of the face had gone a mahogany brown from
exposure, and a score of deep wrinkles ran out fan-wise from the corners
of the closed lids. Mahony untied the dirty towels that formed the
bandages--they had cut ridges in the limbs they confined--and took one
of the heavy wrists in his hand.

"How long has he lain like this?" he asked, as he returned the arm to
its place.

"How long is it, Saunderson?" asked Mrs. Glendinning. She had sat down
on a chair at the foot of the bed; her skirts overflowed the floor.

The watcher guessed it would be since about the same time yesterday.

"Was he unusually violent on this occasion?--for I presume such attacks
are not uncommon with him," continued Mahony, who had meanwhile made a
superficial examination of the sick man.

"I am sorry to say they are only too common, doctor," replied the lady.
--"Was he worse than usual this time, Saunderson?" she turned again to
the man; at which fresh proof of her want of knowledge Mahony mentally
raised his eyebrows.

"To say trewth, I never see'd the boss so bad before," answered
Saunderson solemnly, grating the palms of the big red hands that hung
down between his knees. "And I've helped him through the jumps more'n
once. It's my opinion it would ha' been a narrow squeak for him this
time, if me and a mate hadn't nipped in and got these bracelets on him.
There he was, ravin' and sweatin' and cursin' his head off, grey as
death. Hell-gate, he called it, said he was devil's-porter at hell-gate,
and kept hollerin' for napkins and his firesticks. Poor ol' boss! It WAS
hell for him and no mistake!"

By dint of questioning Mahony elicited the fact that Glendinning had
been unseated by a young horse, three days previously. At the time, no
heed was paid to the trifling accident. Later on, however, complaining
of feeling cold and unwell, he went to bed, and after lying wakeful for
some hours was seized by the horrors of delirium.

Requesting the lady to leave them, Mahony made a more detailed
examination. His suspicions were confirmed: there was internal trouble
of old standing, rendered acute by the fall. Aided by Saunderson, he
worked with restoratives for the best part of an hour. In the end he had
the satisfaction of seeing the coma pass over into a natural repose.

"Well, he's through this time, but I won't answer for the next," he
said, and looked about him for a basin in which to wash his hands.
"Can't you manage to keep the drink from him?--or at least to limit
him?"

"Nay, the Almighty Himself couldn't do that," gave back Saunderson,
bringing forward soap and a tin dish.

"How does it come that he lies in a place like this?" asked Mahony, as
he dried his hands on a corner of the least dirty towel, and glanced
curiously round. The room--in size it did not greatly exceed that of a
ship's-cabin--was in a state of squalid disorder. Besides a deal table
and a couple of chairs, its main contents were rows and piles of old
paper-covered magazines, the thick brown dust on which showed that they
had not been moved for months--or even years. The whitewashed walls
were smoke-tanned and dotted with millions of fly-specks; the dried
corpses of squashed spiders formed large black patches; all four corners
of the ceiling were festooned with cobwebs.

Saunderson shrugged his shoulders. "This was his den when he first was
manager here, in old Morrison's time, and he's stuck to it ever since.
He shuts himself up in here, and won't have a female cross the threshold
--nor yet Madam G. herself."

Having given final instructions, Mahony went out to rejoin the lady.

"I will not conceal from you that your husband is in a very precarious
condition."

"Do you mean, doctor, he won't live long?" She had evidently been lying
down: one side of her face was flushed and marked. Crying, too, or he
was much mistaken: her lids were red-rimmed, her shapely features
swollen.

"Ah, you ask too much of me; I am only a woman; I have no influence over
him," she said sadly, and shook her head.

"What is his age?"

"He is forty-seven."

Mahony had put him down for at least ten years older, and said so. But
the lady was not listening: she fidgeted with her lace-edged
handkerchief, looked uneasy, seemed to be in debate with herself.
Finally she said aloud: "Yes, I will." And to him: "Doctor, would you
come with me a moment?"

This time she conducted him to a well-appointed bedchamber, off which
gave a smaller room, containing a little four-poster draped in dimity.
With a vague gesture in the direction of the bed, she sank on a chair
beside the door.

Drawing the curtains Mahony discovered a fair-haired boy of some eight
or nine years old. He lay with his head far back, his mouth wide open--
apparently fast asleep.

But the doctor's eye was quick to see that it was no natural sleep.
"Good God! who is responsible for this?"

Mrs. Glendinning held her handkerchief to her face. "I have never told
any one before," she wept. "The shame of it, doctor . . . is more than I
can bear."

"Who is the blackguard? Come, answer me, if you please!"

"Oh, doctor, don't scold me. . . I am so unhappy." The pretty face
puckered and creased; the full bosom heaved. "He is all I have. And such
a bright, clever little fellow! You will cure him for me, won't you?"

"How often has it happened?"

"I don't know . . . about five or six times, I think . . . perhaps more.
There's a place not far from here where he can get it . . . an old
hut-cook my husband dismissed once, in a fit of temper--he has oh such a
temper! Eddy saddles his pony and rides out there, if he's not watched;
and then . . . then, they bring him back . . . like this."

"But who supplies him with money?"

"Money? Oh, but doctor, he can't be kept without pocket-money! He has
always had as much as he wanted.--No, it is all my husband's doing,"--
and now she broke out in one of those shameless confessions, from which
the medical adviser is never safe. "He hates me; he is only happy if he
can hurt me and humiliate me. I don't care what becomes of him. The
sooner he dies the better!"

"Compose yourself, my dear lady. Later you may regret such hasty words.
--And what has this to do with the child? Come, speak out. It will be a
relief to you to tell me."

"You are so kind, doctor," she sobbed, and drank, with hysterical
gurglings, the glass of water Mahony poured out for her. "Yes, I will
tell you everything. It began years ago--when Eddy was only a tot in
jumpers. It used to amuse my husband to see him toss off a glass of wine
like a grown-up person; and it WAS comical, when he sipped it, and
smacked his lips. But then he grew to like it, and to ask for it, and be
cross when he was refused. And then. . . then he learnt how to get it
for himself. And when his father saw I was upset about it, he egged him
on--gave it to him on the sly.--Oh, he is a bad man, doctor, a BAD,
cruel man! He says such wicked things, too. He doesn't believe in God,
or that it is wrong to take one's own life, and he says he never wanted
children. He jeers at me because I am fond of Eddy, and because I go to
church when I can, and says . . . oh, I know I am not clever, but I am
not quite such a fool as he makes me out to be. He speaks to me as if I
were the dirt under his feet. He can't bear the sight of me. I have
heard him curse the day he first saw me. And so he's only too glad to be
able to come between my boy and me . . . in any way he can."

Mahony led the weeping woman back to the dining-room. There he sat long,
patiently listening and advising; sat, till Mrs. Glendinning had dried
her eyes and was her charming self once more.

The gist of what he said was, the boy must be removed from home at once,
and placed in strict, yet kind hands.

Here, however, he ran up against a weak maternal obstinacy. "Oh, but I
couldn't part from Eddy. He is all I have. . . . And so devoted to his
mammy."

As Mahony insisted, she looked the picture of helplessness. "But I
should have no idea how to set about it. And my husband would put every
possible obstacle in the way."

"With your permission I will arrange the matter myself."

"Oh, how kind you are!" cried Mrs. Glendinning again. "But mind, doctor,
it must be somewhere where Eddy will lack none of the comforts he is
accustomed to, and where his poor mammy can see him whenever she wishes.
Otherwise he will fret himself ill."

Mahony promised to do his best to satisfy her, and declining, very
curtly, the wine she pressed on him, went out to mount his horse which
had been brought round.

Following him on to the verandah, Mrs. Glendinning became once more the
pretty woman frankly concerned for her appearance. "I don't know how I
look, I'm sure," she said apologetically, and raised both hands to her
hair. "Now I will go and rest for an hour. There is to be opossuming and
a moonlight picnic to-night at Warraluen." Catching Mahony's eye fixed
on her with a meaning emphasis, she changed colour. "I cannot sit at
home and think, doctor. I MUST distract myself; or I should go mad."

When he was in the saddle she showed him her dimples again, and her
small, even teeth. "I want you to bring your wife to see me next time
you come," she sad, patting the horse's neck. "I took a great fancy to
her--a sweet little woman!"

But Mahony, jogging downhill, said to himself he would think twice
before introducing Polly there. His young wife's sunny, girlish outlook
should not, with his consent, be clouded by a knowledge of the sordid
things this material prosperity hid from view. A whited sepulchre seemed
to him now the richly appointed house, the well-stocked gardens, the
acres on acres of good pasture-land: a fair outside when, within, all
was foul. He called to mind what he knew by hearsay of the owner.
Glendinning was one of the pioneer squatters of the district, had held
the run for close on fifteen years. Nowadays, when the land round was
entirely taken up, and a place like Ballarat stood within stone's-throw,
it was hard to imagine the awful solitude to which the early settlers
had been condemned. Then, with his next neighbour miles and miles away,
Melbourne, the nearest town, a couple of days' ride through trackless
bush, a man was a veritable prisoner in this desert of paddocks, with
not a soul to speak to but rough station-hands, and nothing to occupy
his mind but the damage done by summer droughts and winter floods. No
support or comradeship in the wife either--this poor pretty foolish
little woman: "With the brains of a pigeon!" Glendinning had the name of
being intelligent: was it, under these circumstances, matter for wonder
that he should seek to drown doubts, memories, inevitable regrets;
should be led on to the bitter discovery that forgetfulness alone
rendered life endurable? Yes, there was something sinister in the dead
stillness of the melancholy bush; in the harsh, merciless sunlight of
the late afternoon.

A couple of miles out his horse cast a shoe, and it was evening before
he reached home. Polly was watching for him on the doorstep, in a
twitter lest some accident had happened or he had had a brush with
bushrangers.

"It never rains but it pours, dear!" was her greeting: he had been twice
sent for to the Flat, to attend a woman in labour.--And with barely
time to wash the worst of the ride's dust off him, he had to pick up his
bag and hurry away.




Chapter V



"A very striking-looking man! With perfect manners--and beautiful
hands."

Her head bent over her sewing, Polly repeated these words to herself
with a happy little smile. They had been told her, in confidence, by
Mrs. Glendinning, and had been said by this lady's best friend, Mrs.
Urquhart of Yarangobilly: on the occasion of Richard's second call at
Dandaloo, he had been requested to ride to the neighbouring station to
visit Mrs. Urquhart, who was in delicate health. And of course Polly had
passed the flattering opinion on; for, though she was rather a good hand
at keeping a secret--Richard declared he had never known a better--yet
that secret did not exist--or up till now had not existed--which she
could imagine herself keeping from him.

For the past few weeks these two ladies had vied with each other in
singing Richard's praises, and in making much of Polly: the second time
Mrs. Glendinning called she came in her buggy, and carried off Polly,
and Trotty, too, to Yarangobilly, where there was a nestful of little
ones for the child to play with. Another day a whole brakeful of lively
people drove up to the door in the early morning, and insisted on Polly
accompanying them, just as she was, to the Racecourse on the road to
Creswick's Creek. And everybody was so kind to her that Polly heartily
enjoyed herself, in spite of her plain print dress. She won a pair of
gloves and a piece of music in a philippine with Mr Urquhart, a jolly,
carroty-haired man, beside whom she sat on the box-seat coming home; and
she was lucky enough to have half-a-crown on one of the winners. An
impromptu dance was got up that evening by the merry party, in a hall in
the township; and Polly had the honour of a turn with Mr. Henry Ocock,
who was most affable. Richard also looked in for an hour towards the
end, and valsed her and Mrs. Glendinning round.

Polly had quite lost her heart to her new friend. At the outset Richard
had rather frowned on the intimacy--but then he was a person given to
taking unaccountable antipathies. In this case, however, he had to
yield; for not only did a deep personal liking spring up between the two
women, but a wave of pity swept over Polly, blinding her to more subtle
considerations. Before Mrs. Glendinning had been many times at the
house, she had poured out all her troubles to Polly, impelled thereto by
Polly's quick sympathy and warm young eyes. Richard had purposely given
his wife few details of his visits to Dandaloo; but Mrs. Glendinning
knew no such scruples, and cried her eyes out on Polly's shoulder.

What a dreadful man the husband must be! "For she really is the dearest
little woman, Richard. And means so well with every one--I've never
heard her say a sharp or unkind word.--Well, not very clever, perhaps.
But everybody can't be clever, can they? And she's good--which is
better. The only thing she seems a teeny-weeny bit foolish about is her
boy. I'm afraid she'll never consent to part with him."--Polly said
this to prepare her husband, who was in correspondence on the subject
with Archdeacon Long and with John in Melbourne. Richard was putting
himself to a great deal of trouble, and would naturally be vexed if
nothing came of it.

Polly paid her first visit to Dandaloo with considerable trepidation.
For Mrs. Urquhart, who herself was happily married--although, it was
true, her merry, red-haired husband had the reputation of being a LITTLE
too fond of the ladies, and though he certainly did not make such a
paying concern of Yarangobilly as Mr. Glendinning of Dandaloo--Mrs.
Urquhart had whispered to Polly as they sat chatting on the verandah:
"Such a DREADFUL man, my dear! . . . a perfect brute! Poor little Agnes.
It is wonderful how she keeps her spirits up."

Polly, however, was in honour bound to admit that to her the owner of
Dandaloo had appeared anything but the monster report made him out to
be. He was perfectly sober the day she was there, and did not touch wine
at luncheon; and afterwards he had been most kind, taking her with him
on a quiet little broad-backed mare to an outlying part of the station,
and giving her several hints how to improve her seat. He was certainly
very haggard-looking, and deeply wrinkled, and at table his hand shook
so that the water in his glass ran over. But all this only made Polly
feel sorry for him, and long to help him.

"My dear, you ARE favoured! I never knew James make such an offer
before," whispered Mrs. Glendinning, as she pinned her ample riding-skirt
round her friend's slim hips.

The one thing about him that disturbed Polly was his manner towards his
wife: he was savagely ironic with her, and trampled hobnailed on her
timid opinions. But then Agnes didn't know how to treat him, Polly soon
saw that: she was nervous and fluttery--evasive, too; and once during
lunch even told a deliberate fib. Slight as was her acquaintance with
him, Polly felt sure this want of courage must displease him; for there
was something very simple and direct about his own way of speaking.

"My dear, why don't you stand up to him?" asked little Polly.

"Dearest, I dare not. If you knew him as I do, Polly. . . . He TERRIFIES
me.--Oh, what a lucky little woman you are . . . to have a husband like
yours."

Polly had recalled these words that very morning as she stood to watch
Richard ride away: never did he forget to kiss her good-bye, or to turn
and wave to her at the foot of the road. Each time she admired afresh
the figure he cut on horseback: he was so tall and slender, and sat so
straight in his saddle. Now, too, he had yielded to her persuasions and
shaved off his beard; and his moustache and side-whiskers were like his
hair, of an extreme, silky blond. Ever since the day of their first
meeting at Beamish's Family Hotel, Polly had thought her husband the
handsomest man in the world. And the best, as well. He had his
peculiarities, of course; but so had every husband; and it was part of a
wife's duty to study them, to adapt herself to them, or to endeavour to
tone them down. And now came these older, wiser ladies and confirmed her
high opinion of him. Polly beamed with happiness at this juncture, and
registered a silent vow always to be the best of wives.

Not like--but here she tripped and coloured, on the threshold of her
thought. She had recently been the recipient of a very distressing
confidence; one, too, which she was not at liberty to share, even with
Richard. For, after the relief of a thorough-paced confession, Mrs.
Glendinning had implored her not to breathe a word to him--"I could
never look him in the face again, love!" Besides, the affair was of such
a painful nature that Polly felt little desire to draw Richard into it;
it was bad enough that she herself should know. The thing was this: once
when Polly had stayed overnight at Dandaloo Agnes Glendinning in a
sudden fit of misery had owned to her that she cared for another person
more than for her own husband, and that her feelings were returned.

Shocked beyond measure, Polly tried to close her friend's lips. "I don't
think you should mention any names, Agnes," she cried. "Afterwards, my
dear, you might regret it."

But Mrs. Glendinning was hungry for the luxury of speech--not even to
Louisa Urquhart had she broken silence, she wept; and that, for the sake
of Louisa's children--and she persisted in laying her heart bare. And
here certain vague suspicions that had crossed Polly's mind on the night
of the impromptu ball--they were gone again, in an instant, quick as
thistledown on the breeze--these suddenly returned, life-size and
weighty; and the name that was spoken came as no surprise to her. Yes,
it was Mr. Henry Ocock to whom poor Agnes was attached. There had been a
mutual avowal of affection, sobbed the latter; they met as often as
circumstances permitted. Polly was thunder-struck: knowing Agnes as she
did, she herself could not believe any harm of her; but she shuddered at
the thought of what other people--Richard, for instance--would say,
did they get wind of it. She implored her friend to caution. She ought
never, never to see Mr. Ocock. Why did she not go away to Melbourne for
a time? And why had he come to Ballarat?

"To be near me, dearest, to help me if I should need him.--Oh, you
can't think what a comfort it is, Polly, to feel that he IS here--so
good, and strong, and clever!--Yes, I know what you mean . . . but this
is quite, quite different. Henry does not expect me to be clever, too--
does not want me to be. He prefers me as I am. He dislikes clever
women .. . would never marry one. And we SHALL marry, darling, some
day--when . . ."

Henry Ocock! Polly tried to focus everything she knew of him, all her
fleeting impressions, in one picture--and failed. He had made himself
very agreeable, the single time she had met him; but. . . . There was
Richard's opinion of him: Richard did not like him or trust him; he
thought him unscrupulous in business, cold and self-seeking. Poor, poor
little Agnes! That such a misfortune should befall just her! Stranger
still that she, Polly, should be mixed up in it.

She had, of course, always known from books that such things did happen;
but then they seemed quite different, and very far away. Her thoughts at
this crisis were undeniably woolly; but the gist of them was, that life
and books had nothing in common. For in stories the woman who forgot
herself was always a bad woman; whereas not the harshest critic could
call poor Agnes bad. Indeed, Polly felt that even if some one proved to
her that her friend had actually done wrong, she would not on that
account be able to stop caring for her, or feeling sorry for her. It was
all very uncomfortable and confusing.

While these thoughts came and went, she half sat, half knelt, a pair of
scissors in her hand. She was busy cutting out a dress, and no table
being big enough for the purpose, had stretched the material on the
parlour floor. This would be the first new dress she had had since her
marriage; and it was high time, considering all the visiting and going
about that fell to her lot just now. Sara had sent the pattern up from
Melbourne, and John, hearing what was in the wind, had most kindly and
generously made her a present of the silk. Polly hoped she would not
bungle it in the cutting; but skirts were growing wider and wider, and
John had not reckoned with quite the newest fashion.

Steps in the passage made her note subconsciously that Ned had arrived--
Jerry had been in the house for the past three weeks, with a sprained
wrist. And at this moment her younger brother himself entered the room,
Trotty throned on his shoulder.

Picking his steps round the sea of stuff, Jerry sat down and lowered
Trotty to his knee. "Ned's grizzling for tea."

Polly did not reply; she was laying an odd-shaped piece of paper now
this way, now that.

For a while Jerry played with the child. Then he burst out: "I say,
Poll!" And since Polly paid no heed to his apostrophe:

"Richard says I can get back to work to-morrow."

"That's a good thing," answered his sister with an air of abstraction:
she had solved her puzzle to within half a yard.

Jerry cast a boyishly imploring glance at her back, and rubbed his chin
with his hand. "Poll, old girl--I say, wouldn't you put in a word for
me with Richard? I'm hanged if I want to go back to the claim. I'm sick
to death of digging."

At this Polly did raise her head, to regard him with grave eyes. "What!
tired of work already, Jerry? I don't know what Richard will say to
that, I'm sure. You had better speak to him yourself."

Again Jerry rubbed his chin. "That's just it--what's so beastly hard. I
know he'll say I ought to stick to it."

"So do I."

"Well, I'd rather groom the horse than that."

"But think how pleased you were at first!"

Jerry ruefully admitted it. "One expects to dig out gold like spuds;
while the real thing's enough to give you the blight. As for stopping a
wages-man all my life, I won't do it. I might just as well go home and
work in a Lancashire pit."

"But Ned--"

"Oh, Ned! Ned walks about with his head in the clouds. He's always
blowing of what he's GOING to do, and gets his steam off that way. I'm
different."

But Jerry's words fell on deaf ears. A noise in the next room was
engaging Polly's whole attention. She heard a burr of suppressed
laughter, a scuffle and what sounded like a sharp slap. Jumping up she
went to the door, and was just in time to see Ellen whisk out of the
dining-room.

Ned sat in an armchair, with his feet on the chimney-piece. "I had the
girl bring in a log, Poll," he said; and looked back and up at his
sister with his cheery smile. Standing behind him, Polly laid her hand
on his hair. "I'll go and see after the tea." Ned was so unconcerned
that she hesitated to put a question.

In the kitchen she had no such tender scruples; nor was she imposed on
by the exaggerated energy with which Ellen bustled about. "What was that
noise I heard in the dining-room just now?" she demanded.

"Noise? I dunno," gave back the girl crossly without facing her.

"Nonsense, Ellen! Do you think I didn't hear?"

"Oh, get along with you! It was only one of Ned's jokes." And going on
her knees, Ellen set to scrubbing the brick floor with a hiss and a
scratch that rendered speech impossible. Polly took up the laden tea-tray
and carried it into the dining-room. Richard had come home, and the
four drew chairs to the table.

Mahony had a book with him; he propped it open against the butter-cooler,
and snatched sentences as he ate. It fell to Ned to keep the
ball rolling. Polly was distraite to the point of going wrong in her
sugars; Jerry uneasy at the prospect of coming in conflict with his
brother-in-law, whom he thought the world of.

Ned was as full of talk as an egg of meat. The theme he dwelt longest on
was the new glory that lay in store for the Ballarat diggings. At
present these were under a cloud. The alluvial was giving out, and the
costs and difficulties of boring through the rock seemed insuperable.
One might hear the opinion freely expressed that Ballarat's day as
premier goldfield was done. Ned set up this belief merely for the
pleasure of demolishing it. He had it at first hand that great companies
were being formed to carry on operations. These would reckon their areas
in acres instead of feet, would sink to a depth of a quarter of a mile
or more, raise washdirt in hundreds of tons per day. One such company,
indeed, had already sprung into existence, out on Golden Point; and now
was the time to nip in. If he, Ned, had the brass, or knew anybody who'd
lend it to him, he'd buy up all the shares he could get. Those who
followed his lead would make their fortunes. "I say, Richard, it'ud be
something for you."

His words evoked no response. Sorry though I shall be, thought Polly,
dear Ned had better not come to the house so often in future. I wonder
if I need tell Richard why. Jerry was on pins and needles, and even put
Trotty ungently from him: Richard would be so disgusted by Ned's
blatherskite that he would have no patience left to listen to him.

Mahony kept his nose to his book. As a matter of principle. He made a
rule of believing, on an average, about the half of what Ned said. To
appear to pay attention to him would spur him on to more flagrant
over-statements.

"D'ye hear, Richard? Now's your chance," repeated Ned, not to be done.
"A very different thing this, I can tell you, from running round dosing
people for the collywobbles. I know men who are raising the splosh any
way they can to get in."

"I dare say. There's never been any lack of gamblers on Ballarat," said
Mahony dryly, and passed his cup to be refilled.

Pig-headed fool! was Ned's mental retort, as he sliced a chunk of
rabbit-pie. "Well, I bet you'll feel sore some day you didn't take my
advice," he said aloud.

"We shall see, my lad, we shall see!" replied Mahony. "In the meantime,
let me inform you, I can make good use of every penny I have. So if
you've come here thinking you can wheedle something out of me, you're
mistaken." He could seldom resist tearing the veil from Ned's gross
hints and impostures.

"Oh no, Richard dear!" interpolated Polly, in her role of
keeper-of-the-peace.

Ned answered huffily: "'Pon my word, I never met such a fellow as you,
for thinking the worst of people."

The thrust went home. Mahony clapped his book to. "You lay yourself open
to it, sir! If I'm wrong, I beg your pardon. But for goodness' sake,
Ned, put all these trashy ideas of making a fortune out of your mind.
Digging is played out, I tell you. Decent people turned their backs on
it long ago."

"That's what I think, too," threw in Jerry.

Mahony bit his lip. "Come, come, now, what do you know about it?"

Jerry flushed and floundered, till Polly came to his aid. "He's been
wanting to speak to you, Richard. He hates the work as much as you did."

"Well, he has a tongue of his own.--Speak for yourself, my boy!"

Thus encouraged, Jerry made his appeal; and fearing lest Richard should
throw him, half-heard, into the same category as Ned, he worded it very
tersely. Mahony, who had never given much heed to Jerry--no one did--
was pleased by his straightforward air. Still, he did not know what
could be done for him, and said so.

Here Polly had an inspiration. "But I think I do. I remember Mr. Ocock
saying to me the other day he must take another boy into the business,
it was growing so--the fourth, this will make. I don't know if he's
suited yet, but even if he is, he may have heard of something else.--
Only you know, Jerry, you mustn't mind WHAT it is. After tea I'll put on
my bonnet and go down to the Flat with you. And Ned shall come, too,"
she added, with a consoling glance at her elder brother: Ned had
extended his huff to his second slice of pie, which lay untouched on his
plate.

"Somebody has always got something up her sleeve," said Mahony
affectionately, when Polly came to him in walking costume. "None the
less, wife, I shouldn't be surprised if those brothers of yours gave us
some trouble, before we're done with them."




Chapter VI



In the weeks and months that followed, as he rode from one end of
Ballarat to the other--from Yuille's Swamp in the west, as far east as
the ranges and gullies of Little Bendigo--it gradually became plain to
Mahony that Ned's frothy tales had some body in them after all. The
character of the diggings was changing before his very eyes. Nowadays,
except on an outlying muddy flat or in the hands of the retrograde
Chinese, tubs, cradles, and windlasses were rarely to be met with.
Engine-sheds and boiler-houses began to dot the ground; here and there a
tall chimney belched smoke, beside a lofty poppet-head or an aerial
trolley-line. The richest gutters were found to take their rise below
the basaltic deposits; the difficulties and risks of rock-mining had now
to be faced, and the capitalist, so long held at bay, at length made
free of the field. Large sums of money were being subscribed; and, where
these proved insufficient, the banks stepped into the breach with
subsidies on mortgages. The population, in whose veins the gold-fever
still burned, plunged by wholesale into the new hazard; and under the
wooden verandahs of Bridge Street a motley crew of jobbers and brokers
came into existence, who would demonstrate to you, a la Ned, how you
might reap a fortune from a claim without putting in an hour's work on
it--without even knowing where it was.

A temptation, indeed! . . . but one that did not affect him. Mahony let
the reins droop on his horse's neck, and the animal picked its way among
the impedimenta of the bush road. It concerned only those who had money
to spare. Months, too, must go by before, from even the most promising
of these co-operative affairs, any return was to be expected. As for
him, there still came days when he had not a five-pound note to his
name. It had been a delusion to suppose that, in accepting John's offer,
he was leaving money-troubles behind him. Despite Polly's thrift, their
improved style of life cost more than he had reckoned; the patients,
slow to come, were slower still to discharge their debts. Moreover, he
had not guessed how heavily the quarterly payments of interest would
weigh on him. With as good as no margin, with the fate of every shilling
decided beforehand, the saving up of thirty odd pounds four times a year
was a veritable achievement. He was always in a quake lest he should not
be able to get it together. No one suspected what near shaves he had--
not even Polly. The last time hardly bore thinking about. At the
eleventh hour he had unexpectedly found himself several pounds short. He
did not close an eye all night, and got up in the morning as though for
his own execution. Then, fortune favoured him. A well-to-do butcher, his
hearty: "What'll yours be?" at the nearest public-house waved aside, had
settled his bill off-hand. Mahony could still feel the sudden lift of
the black fog-cloud that had enveloped him--the sense of bodily
exhaustion that had succeeded to the intolerable mental strain.

For the coming quarter-day he was better prepared--if, that was,
nothing out of the way happened. Of late he had been haunted by the fear
of illness. The long hours in the saddle did not suit him. He ought to
have a buggy, and a second horse. But there could be no question of it
in the meantime, or of a great deal else besides. He wanted to buy Polly
a piano, for instance; all her friends had pianos; and she played and
sang very prettily. She needed more dresses and bonnets, too, than he
was able to allow her, as well as a change to the seaside in the summer
heat. The first spare money he had should go towards one or the other.
He loved to give Polly pleasure; never was such a contented little soul
as she. And well for him that it was so. To have had a complaining, even
an impatient wife at his side, just now, would have been unbearable. But
Polly did not know what impatience meant; her sunny temper, her fixed
resolve to make the best of everything was not to be shaken.

Well, comforts galore should be hers some day, he hoped. The practice
was shaping satisfactorily. His attendance at Dandaloo had proved a key
to many doors: folk of the Glendinnings' and Urquharts' standing could
make a reputation or mar it as they chose. It had got abroad, he knew,
that at whatever hour of the day or night he was sent for, he could be
relied on to be sober; and that unfortunately was not always the case
with some of his colleagues. In addition his fellow-practitioners showed
signs of waking up to his existence. He had been called in lately to a
couple of consultations; and the doyen of the profession on Ballarat,
old Munce himself, had praised his handling of a difficult case of
version.

The distances to be covered--that was what made the work stiff. And he
could not afford to neglect a single summons, no matter where it led
him. Still, he would not have grumbled, had only the money not been so
hard to get in. But the fifty thousand odd souls on Ballarat formed,
even yet, anything but a stable population: a patient you attended one
day might be gone the next, and gone where no bill could reach him. Or
he had been sold off at public auction; or his wooden shanty had gone up
in a flare--hardly a night passed without a fire somewhere. In these
and like accidents the unfortunate doctor might whistle for his fee. It
seldom happened nowadays that he was paid in cash. Money was growing as
scarce here as anywhere else. Sometimes, it was true, he might have
pocketed his fee on the spot, had he cared to ask for it. But the
presenting of his palm professionally was a gesture that was denied him.
And this stand-offishness drove from people's minds the thought that he
might be in actual need of money. Afterwards he sat at home and racked
his brains how to pay butcher and grocer. Others of the fraternity were
by no means so nice. He knew of some who would not stir a yard unless
their fee was planked down before them--old stagers these, who at one
time had been badly bitten and were now grown cynically distrustful. Or
tired. And indeed who could blame a man for hesitating of a pitch-dark
night in the winter rains, or on a blazing summer day, whether or no he
should set out on a twenty-mile ride for which he might never see the
ghost of a remuneration?

Reflecting thus, Mahony caught at a couple of hard, spicy, grey-green
leaves, to chew as he went: the gums, on which the old bark hung in
ribbons, were in flower by now, and bore feathery yellow blossoms side
by side with nutty capsules. His horse had been ambling forward
unpressed. Now it laid its ears flat, and a minute later its master's
slower senses caught the clop-clop of a second set of hoofs, the noise
of wheels. Mahony had reached a place where two roads joined, and saw a
covered buggy approaching. He drew rein and waited.

The occupant of the vehicle had wound the reins round the empty
lamp-bracket, and left it to the sagacity of his horse to keep the
familiar track, while he dozed, head on breast, in the corner. The animal
halted of itself on coming up with its fellow, and Archdeacon Long opened
his eyes.

"Ah, good-day to you, doctor!--Yes, as you see, enjoying a little nap.
I was out early."

He got down from the buggy and, with bent knees and his hands in his
pockets, stretched the creased cloth of his trousers, where this had cut
into his flesh. He was a big, brawny, handsome man, with a massive nose,
a cloven chin, and the most companionable smile in the world. As he
stood, he touched here a strap, there a buckle on the harness of his
chestnut--a well-known trotter, with which he often made a match--and
affectionately clapped the neck of Mahony's bay. He could not keep his
hands off a horse. By choice he was his own stableman, and in earlier
life had been a dare-devil rider. Now, increasing weight led him to
prefer buggy to saddle; but his recklessness had not diminished. With
the reins in his left hand, he would run his light, two-wheeled trap up
any wooded, boulder-strewn hill and down the other side, just as in his
harum-scarum days he had set it at felled trees, and, if rumour spoke
true, wire-fences.

Mahony admired the splendid vitality of the man, as well as the
indestructible optimism that bore him triumphantly through all the
hardships of a colonial ministry. No sick bed was too remote for Long,
no sinner sunk too low to be helped to his feet. The leprous Chinaman
doomed to an unending isolation, the drunken Paddy, the degraded white
woman--each came in for a share of his benevolence. He spent the
greater part of his life visiting the outcasts and outposts, beating up
the unbaptised, the unconfirmed, the unwed. But his church did not
suffer. He had always some fresh scheme for this on hand: either he was
getting up a tea-meeting to raise money for an organ; or a series of
penny-readings towards funds for a chancel; or he was training with his
choir for a sacred concert. There was a boyish streak in him, too. He
would enter into the joys of the annual Sunday-school picnic with a zest
equal to the children's own, leading the way, in shirt-sleeves, at
leap-frog and obstacle-race. In doctrine he struck a happy mean between
low-church practices and ritualism, preaching short, spirited sermons to
which even languid Christians could listen without tedium; and on a
week-day evening he would take a hand at a rubber of whist or
ecarte--and not for love--or play a sound game of chess. A man, too, who,
refusing to be bound by the letter of the Thirty-nine Articles, extended
his charity even to persons of the Popish faith. In short, he was one of
the few to whom Mahony could speak of his own haphazard efforts at
criticising the Pentateuch.

The Archdeacon was wont to respond with his genial smile: "Ah, it's all
very well for you, doctor!--you're a free lance. I am constrained by my
cloth.--And frankly, for the rest of us, that kind of thing's too--
well, too disturbing. Especially when we have nothing better to put in
its place."

Doctor and parson--the latter, considerably over six feet, made Mahony,
who was tall enough, look short and doubly slender--walked side by side
for nearly a mile, flitting from topic to topic: the rivalry that
prevailed between Ballarats East and West; the seditious uprising in
India, where both had relatives; the recent rains, the prospects for
grazing. The last theme brought them round to Dandaloo and its unhappy
owner. The Archdeacon expressed the outsider's surprise at the strength
of Glendinning's constitution, and the lively popular sympathy that was
felt for his wife.

"One's heart aches for the poor little lady, struggling to bear up as
though nothing were the matter. Between ourselves, doctor"--and Mr.
Long took off his straw hat to let the air play round his head--
"between ourselves, it's a thousand pities he doesn't just pop off the
hooks in one of his bouts. Or that some of you medical gentlemen don't
use your knowledge to help things on."

He let out his great hearty laugh as he spoke, and his companion's
involuntary stiffening went unnoticed. But on Mahony voicing his
attitude with: "And his immortal soul, sir? Isn't it the church's duty
to hope for a miracle? . . . just as it is ours to keep the vital spark
going," he made haste to take the edge off his words. "Now, now, doctor,
only my fun! Our duty is, I trust, plain to us both."

It was even easier to soothe than to ruffle Mahony. "Remember me very
kindly to Mrs. Long, will you?" he said as the Archdeacon prepared to
climb into his buggy. "But tell her, too, I owe her a grudge just now.
My wife's so lost in flannel and brown holland that I can't get a word
out of her."

"And mine doesn't know where she'd be, with this bazaar, if it weren't
for Mrs. Mahony." Long was husband to a dot of a woman who, having borne
him half a dozen children of his own feature and build, now worked as
parish clerk and district visitor rolled in one; driving about in
sunbonnet and gardening-gloves behind a pair of cream ponies--tiny,
sharp-featured, resolute; with little of her husband's large tolerance,
but an energy that outdid his own, and made her an object of both fear
and respect. "And that reminds me: over at the cross-roads by Spring
Hill, I met your young brother-in-law. And he told me, if I ran across
you to ask you to hurry home. Your wife has some surprise or other in
store for you. No, nothing unpleasant! Rather the reverse, I believe.
But I wasn't to say more. Well, good-day, doctor, good-day to you!"

Mahony smiled, nodded and went on his way. Polly's surprises were
usually simple and transparent things: some one would have made them a
present of a sucking-pig or a bush-turkey, and Polly, knowing his relish
for a savoury morsel, did not wish it to be overdone: she had sent
similar chance calls out after him before now.

When, having seen his horse rubbed down, he reached home, he found her
on the doorstep watching for him. She was flushed, and her eyes had
those peculiar high-lights in them which led him jokingly to exhort her
to caution: "Lest the sparks should set the house on fire!"

"Well, what is it, Pussy?" he inquired as he laid his bag down and hung
up his wide-awake. "What's my little surprise-monger got up her sleeve
to-day? Good Lord, Polly, I'm tired!"

Polly was smiling roguishly. "Aren't you going into the surgery,
Richard?" she asked, seeing him heading for the dining-room.

"Aha! So that's it," said he, and obediently turned the handle. Polly
had on occasion taken advantage of his absence to introduce some new
comfort or decoration in his room.

The blind had been let down. He was still blinking in the half-dark when
a figure sprang out from behind the door, barging heavily against him,
and a loud voice shouted: "Boh, you old beef-brains! Boh to a goose!"

Displeased at such horseplay, Mahony stepped sharply back--his first
thought was of Ned having unexpectedly returned from Mount Ararat. Then
recognising the voice, he exclaimed incredulously: "YOU, Dickybird?
You!"

"Dick, old man. . . . I say, Dick! Yes, it's me right enough, and not my
ghost. The old bad egg come back to roost!"

The blind was raised; and the friends, who had last met in the dingy
bush hut on the night of the Stockade, stood face to face. And now
ensued a babel of greeting, a quick fire of question and answer, the two
voices going in and out and round each other, singly and together, like
the voices in a duet. Tears rose to Polly's eyes as she listened; it
made her heart glow to see Richard so glad. But when, forgetting her
presence, Purdy cried: "And I must confess, Dick. . . . I took a kiss
from Mrs. Polly. Gad, old man, how she's come on!" Polly hastily retired
to the kitchen.

At table the same high spirits prevailed: it did not often happen that
Richard was brought out of his shell like this, thought Polly
gratefully, and heaped her visitor's plate to the brim. His first hunger
stilled, Purdy fell to giving a slapdash account of his experiences. He
kept to no orderly sequence, but threw them out just as they occurred to
him: a rub with bushrangers in the Black Forest, his adventures as a
long-distance drover in the Mildura, the trials of a week he had spent
in a boiling-down establishment on the Murray: "Where the stink wa so
foul, you two, that I vomited like a dog every day!" Under the force of
this Odyssey husband and wife gradually dropped into silence, which they
broke only by single words of astonishment and sympathy; while the child
Trotty spooned in her pudding without seeing it, her round, solemn eyes
fixed unblinkingly on this new uncle, who was like a wonderful
story-book come alive.

In Mahony's feelings for Purdy at this moment, there was none of the old
intolerant superiority. He had been dependent for so long on a mere
surface acquaintance with his fellows, that he now felt to the full how
precious the tie was that bound him to Purdy. Here came one for whom he
was not alone the reserved, struggling practitioner, the rather moody
man advancing to middle-age; but also the Dick of his boyhood and early
youth.

He had often imagined the satisfaction it would be to confide his
troubles to Purdy. Compared, however, with the hardships the latter had
undergone, these seemed of small importance; and dinner passed without
any allusion to his own affairs. And now the chances of his speaking out
were slight; he could have been entirely frank only under the first
stimulus of meeting.

Even when they rose from the table Purdy continued to hold the stage.
For he had turned up with hardly a shirt to his back, and had to be
rigged out afresh from Mahony's wardrobe. It was decided that he should
remain their guest in the meantime; also that Mahony should call on his
behalf on the Commissioner of Police, and put in a good word for him.
For Purdy had come back with the idea of seeking a job in the Ballarat
Mounted Force.

When Mahony could no longer put off starting on his afternoon round,
Purdy went with him to the livery-barn, limping briskly at his side. On
the way, he exclaimed aloud at the marvellous changes that had taken
place since he was last in the township. There were half a dozen gas-lamps
in Sturt Street by this time, the gas being distilled from a
mixture of oil and gum-leaves.

"One wouldn't credit it if one didn't see it with one's own peepers!" he
cried, repeatedly bringing up short before the plate-glass windows of
the shops, the many handsome, verandahed hotels, the granite front of
Christ Church. "And from what I hear, Dick, now companies have jumped
the claims and are deep-sinking in earnest, fortunes'll be made like one
o'clock."

But on getting home again, he sat down in front of Polly and said, with
a businesslike air: "And now tell me all about old Dick! You know, Poll,
he's such an odd fish; if he himself doesn't offer to uncork, somehow
one can't just pump him. And I want to know everything that concerns him
--from A to Z."

Polly could not hold out against this affectionate curiosity.
Entrenching her needle in its stuff, she put her work away and complied.
And soon to her own satisfaction. For the first time in her married life
she was led to discuss her husband's ways and actions with another; and,
to her amazement, she found that it was easier to talk to Purdy about
Richard than to Richard himself. Purdy and she saw things in the same
light; no rigmarole of explanation was necessary. Now with Richard, it
was not so. In conversation with him, one constantly felt that he was
not speaking out, or, to put it more plainly, that he was going on
meanwhile with his own, very different thoughts. And behind what he did
say, there was sure to lurk some imaginary scruple, some rather
far-fetched delicacy of feeling which it was hard to get at, and harder
still to understand.




Chapter VII



Summer had come round again, and the motionless white heat of December
lay heavy on the place. The low little houses seemed to cower beneath
it; and the smoke from their chimneys drew black, perpendicular lines on
the pale sky. If it was a misery at this season to traverse the blazing,
dusty roads, it was almost worse to be within doors, where the thin
wooden walls were powerless to keep out the heat, and flies and
mosquitoes raged in chorus. Nevertheless, determined Christmas
preparations went on in dozens of tiny, zinc-roofed kitchens, the
temperature of which was not much below that of the ovens themselves;
and kindly, well-to-do people like Mrs. Glendinning and Mrs. Urquhart
drove in in hooded buggies, with green fly-veils dangling from their
broad-brimmed hats, and dropped a goose here, a turkey there, on their
less prosperous friends. They robbed their gardens, too, of the summer's
last flowers, arum-lilies and brilliant geraniums, to decorate the
Archdeacon's church for the festival; and many ladies spent the whole
day beforehand making wreaths and crosses, and festoons to encircle the
lamps.

No one was busier than Polly. She wanted to give Purdy, who had been on
short commons for so long, a special Christmas treat. She had willing
helpers in him and Jerry: the two of them chopped and stoned and
stirred, while she, seated on the block of the woodstack, her head tied
up in an old pillow-case, plucked and singed the goose that had fallen
to her share. Towards four o'clock on Christmas Day they drew their
chairs to the table, and with loosened collars set about enjoying the
good things. Or pretending to enjoy them. This was Mahony's case; for
the day was no holiday for him, and his head ached from the sun. At
tea-time Hempel arrived to pay a call, looking very spruce in a long black
coat and white tie; and close on his heels followed old Mr. Ocock. The
latter, having deposited his hat under his seat and tapped several
pockets, produced a letter, which he unfolded and handed to Polly with a
broad grin. It was from his daughter, and contained the news of his
wife's death. "Died o' the grumbles, I lay you! An' the first good turn
she ever done me." The main point was that Miss Amelia, now at liberty,
was already taking advice about the safest line of clipper-ships, and
asking for a reply BY RETURN to a number of extraordinary questions.
Could one depend on hearing God's Word preached of a Sunday? Was it
customary for FEMALES to go armed as well as men? Were the blacks
CONVERTED, and what amount of clothing did they wear?

"Thinks she's comin' to the back o' beyond, does Mely!" chuckled the old
man, and slapped his thigh at the sudden idea that occurred to him of
"takin' a rise out of 'er." "Won't she stare when she gits 'ere, that's
all!"

"Well, now you'll simply HAVE to build," said Polly, after threatening
to write privately to Miss Amelia, to reassure her. Why not move over
west, and take up a piece of ground in the same road as themselves? But
from this he excused himself, with a laugh and a spit, on the score that
no land-sales had yet been held in their neighbourhood: when he DID turn
out of his present four walls, which had always been plenty good enough
for him, he wanted a place he could "fit up tidy"; which it 'ud stick in
his throat to do so, if he thought it might any day be sold over his
head. Mahony winced at this. Then laughed, with an exaggerated
carelessness. If, in a country like this, you waited for all to be fixed
and sure, you would wait till Domesday. None the less, the thrust
rankled. It was a fact that he himself had not spent a sou on his
premises since they finished building. The thought at the back of HIS
mind, too, was, why waste his hard-earned income on improvements that
might benefit only the next-comer? The yard they sat in, for instance!
Polly had her hens and a ramshackle hen-house; but not a spadeful of
earth had been turned towards the wished-for garden. It was just the
ordinary colonial backyard, fenced round with rude palings which did not
match, and were mended here and there with bits of hoop-iron; its ground
space littered with a medley of articles for which there was no room
elsewhere: boards left lying by the builders, empty kerosene-tins, a
couple of tubs, a ragged cane-chair, some old cases. Wash-lines, on
which at the moment a row of stockings hung, stretched permanently from
corner to corner; and the whole was dominated by the big round
galvanised-iron tank.

On Boxing Day Purdy got the loan of a lorry and drove a large party,
including several children, comfortably placed on straw, hassocks and
low chairs, to the Races a few miles out. Half Ballarat was making in
the same direction; and whoever owned a horse that was sound in the wind
and anything of a stepper had entered it for some item on the programme.
The Grand Stand, a bark shed open to the air on three sides, was
resorted to only in the case of a sudden downpour; the occupants of the
dust-laden buggies, wagonettes, brakes, carts and drays preferred to
follow events standing on their seats, and on the boards that served
them as seats. After the meeting, those who belonged to the
Urquhart-Glendinning set went on to Yarangobilly, and danced till long
pastmidnight on the broad verandah. It was nearly three o'clock before
Purdy brought his load safely home. Under the round white moon, the lorry
was strewn with the forms of sleeping children.

Early next morning while Polly, still only half awake, was pouring out
coffee and giving Richard who, poor fellow, could not afford to leave
his patients, an account of their doings--with certain omissions, of
course: she did not mention the glaring indiscretion Agnes Glendinning
had been guilty of, in disappearing with Mr. Henry Ocock into a dark
shrubbery--while Polly talked, the postman handed in two letters, which
were of a nature to put balls and races clean out of her head. The first
was in Mrs. Beamish's ill-formed hand, and told a sorrowful tale. Custom
had entirely gone: a new hotel had been erected on the new road; Beamish
was forced to declare himself a bankrupt; and in a few days the Family
Hotel, with all its contents, would be put up at public auction. What
was to become of them, God alone knew. She supposed she would end her
days in taking in washing, and the girls must go out as servants. But
she was sure Polly, now so up in the world, with a husband doing so
well, would not forget the old friends who had once been so kind to her
--with much more in the same strain, which Polly skipped, in reading the
letter aloud. The long and short of it was: would Polly ask her husband
to lend them a couple of hundred pounds to make a fresh start with, or
failing that to put his name to a bill for the same amount?

"Of course she hasn't an idea we were obliged to borrow money
ourselves," said Polly in response to Mahony's ironic laugh. "I couldn't
tell them that."

"No . . . nor that it's a perpetual struggle to keep the wolf from the
door," answered her husband, battering in the top of an egg with the
back of his spoon.

"Oh, Richard dear, things aren't quite so bad as that," said Polly
cheerfully. Then she heaved a sigh. "I know, of course, we can't afford
to help them; but I DO feel so sorry for them"--she herself would have
given the dress off her back. "And I think, dear, if you didn't mind
VERY much, we might ask one of the girls up to stay with us . . . till
the worst is over."

"Yes, I suppose that wouldn't be impossible," said Mahony. "If you've
set your heart on it, my Polly. If, too, you can persuade Master Purdy
to forgo the comfort of your good feather-bed. And I'll see if I can
wring out a fiver for you to enclose in your letter."

Polly jumped up and kissed him. "Purdy is going anyhow. He said only
last night he must look for lodgings near the Police Station." Here a
thought struck her; she coloured and smiled. "I'll ask Tilly first,"
said she.

Mahony laughed and shook his finger at her. "The best laid plans o' mice
and men! And what's one to say to a match-maker who is still growing out
of her clothes?"

At this Polly clapped a hand over his mouth, for fear Ellen should hear
him. It was a sore point with her that she had more than once of late
had to lengthen her dresses.

As soon as she was alone she sat down to compose a reply to Mrs.
Beamish. It was no easy job: she was obliged to say that Richard felt
unable to come to their aid; and, at the same time, to avoid touching on
his private affairs; had to disappoint as kindly as she could; to be
truthful, yet tactful. Polly wrote, and re-wrote: the business cost her
the forenoon.

She could not even press Tilly to pack her box and come at once; for her
second letter that morning had been from Sara, who wrote that, having
decided to shake the dust of the colony off her feet, she wished to pay
them a flying visit before sailing, "POUR FAIRE MES ADIEUX." She signed
herself "Your affectionate sister Zara," and on her arrival explained
that, tired of continually instructing people in the pronunciation of
her name, she had decided to alter the spelling and be done with it.
Moreover, a little bird had whispered in her ear that, under its new
form, it fitted her rather "FRENCH" air and looks a thousand times
better than before.

Descending from the coach, Zara eyed Polly up and down and vowed she
would never have known her; and, on the way home, Polly more than once
felt her sister's gaze fixed critically on her. For her part, she was
able to assure Zara that she saw no change whatever in her, since her
last visit--even since the date of the wedding. And this pleased Zara
mightily; for as she admitted, in removing hat and mantle, and passing
the damped corner of a towel over her face, she dreaded the ageing
effects of the climate on her fine complexion. Close as ever about her
own concerns, she gave no reason for her abrupt determination to leave
the country; but from subsequent talk Polly gathered that, for one
thing, Zara had found her position at the head of John's establishment--
"Undertaken in the first place, my dear, at immense personal sacrifice!"
--no sinecure. John had proved a regular martinet; he had countermanded
her orders, interfered about the household bills--had even accused her
of lining her own pocket. As for little Johnny--the bait originally
thrown out to induce her to accept the post--he had long since been
sent to boarding-school. "A thoroughly bad, unprincipled boy!" was
Zara's verdict. And when Polly, big with pity, expostulated: "But Zara,
he is only six years old!" her sister retorted with a: "My dear, I know
the world, and you don't," to which Polly could think of no reply.

Zara had announced herself for a bare fortnight's stay; but the man who
carried her trunk groaned and sweated under it, and was so insolent
about the size of the coin she dropped in his palm that Polly followed
him by stealth into the passage, to make it up to a crown. As usual Zara
was attired in the height of fashion. She brought a set of "the hoops"
with her--the first to be seen on Ballarat--and once more Polly was
torn between an honest admiration of her sister's daring, and an equally
honest embarrassment at the notice she attracted. Zara swam and glided
about the streets, to the hilarious amazement of the population; floated
feather-light, billowing here, depressing there, with all the
waywardness of a child's balloon; supported--or so it seemed--by two
of the tiniest feet ever bestowed on mortal woman. Aha! but that was one
of the chief merits of "the hoops," declared Zara; that, and the
possibility of getting still more stuff into your skirts without
materially increasing their weight. There was something in that,
conceded Polly, who often felt hers drag heavy. Besides, as she reminded
Richard that night, when he lay alternately chuckling and snorting at
woman's folly, custom was everything. Once they had smiled at Zara
appearing in a hat: "And now we're all wearing them."

Another practical consideration that occurred to her she expressed with
some diffidence. "But Zara, don't you . . . I mean . . . aren't they
very draughty?"

Zara had to repeat her shocked but emphatic denial in the presence of
Mrs. Glendinning and Mrs. Urquhart, both ladies having a mind to bring
their wardrobes up to date. They agreed that there was much to be said
in favour of the appliance, over and above its novelty. Especially would
it be welcome at those times when. . . But here the speakers dropped
into woman's mysterious code of nods and signs; while Zara, turning
modestly away, pretended to count the stitches in a crochet-antimacassar.

Yes, nowadays, as Mrs. Dr. Mahony, Polly was able to introduce her
sister to a society worthy of Zara's gifts; and Zara enjoyed herself so
well that, had her berth not been booked, she might have contemplated
extending her visit. She overflowed with gracious commendation. The
house--though, of course, compared with John's splendour, a trifle
plain and poky--was a decided advance on the store; Polly herself much
improved: "You DO look robust, my dear!" And--though Zara held her
peace about this--the fact of Mahony's being from home each day, for
hours at a stretch, lent an additional prop to her satisfaction. Under
these conditions it was possible to keep on good terms with her
brother-in-law.

Zara's natty appearance and sprightly ways made her a favourite with
every one especially the gentlemen. The episcopal bazaar came off at
this time; and Zara had the brilliant idea of a bran-pie. This was the
success of the entertainment. From behind the refreshment-stall where,
with Mrs. Long, she was pouring out cups of tea and serving cheesecakes
and sausage-rolls by the hundred, Polly looked proudly across the
beflagged hall, to the merry group of which her sister was the centre.
Zara was holding her own, even with Mr. Henry Ocock; and Mr. Urquhart
had constituted himself her right hand.

"Your sister is no doubt a most fascinating woman," said Mrs. Urquhart
from the seat with which she had been accommodated; and heaved a gentle
sigh. "How odd that she should never have married!"

"I'm afraid Zara's too particular," said Polly. "It's not for want of
being asked."

Her eyes met Purdy's as she spoke--Purdy had come up laden with empty
cups, a pair of infants' boots dangling round his neck--and they
exchanged smiles; for Zara's latest AFFAIRE DU COEUR was a source of
great amusement to them.

Polly had assisted at the first meeting between her sister and Purdy
with very mixed feelings. On that occasion Purdy happened to be in plain
clothes, and Zara pronounced him charming. The next day, however, he
dropped in clad in the double-breasted blue jacket, the high boots and
green-veiled cabbage-tree he wore when on duty; and thereupon Zara's
opinion of him sank to null, and was not to be raised even by him
presenting himself in full dress: white-braided trousers, red faced
shell jacket, pill-box cap, cartouche box and cavalry sword. "La, Polly!
Nothing but a common policeman!" In vain did Polly explain the
difference between a member of the ordinary force and a mounted trooper
of the gold-escort; in vain lay stress on Richard's pleasure at seeing
Purdy buckle to steady work, no matter what. Zara's thoughts had taken
wing for a land where such anomalies were not; where you were not asked
to drink tea with the well-meaning constable who led you across a
crowded thoroughfare or turned on his bull's eye for you in a fog,
preparatory to calling up a hackney-cab.

But the chilly condescension with which, from now on, Zara treated him
did not seem to trouble Purdy. When he ran in for five minutes of a
morning, he eschewed the front entrance and took up his perch on the
kitchen-table. From here, while Polly cooked and he nibbled half-baked
pastry, the two of them followed the progress of events in the parlour.

Zara's arrival on Ballarat had been the cue for Hempel's reappearance,
and now hardly a day went by on which the lay-helper did not neglect his
chapel work, in order to pay what Zara called his "DEVOIRS." Slight were
his pretexts for coming: a rare bit of dried seaweed for bookmark; a
religious journal with a turned-down page; a nosegay. And though Zara
would not nowadays go the length of walking out with a dissenter--she
preferred on her airings to occupy the box-seat of Mr. Urquhart's
four-in-hand--she had no objection to Hempel keeping her company during
the empty hours of the forenoon when Polly was lost in domestic cares. She
accepted his offerings, mimicked his faulty speech, and was continually
hauling him up the precipice of self-distrust, only to let him slip back
as soon as he reached the top.

One day Purdy entered the kitchen doubled up with laughter. In passing
the front of the house he had thrown a look in at the parlour-window;
and the sight of the prim and proper Hempel on his knees on the woolly
hearthrug so tickled his sense of humour that, having spluttered out the
news, back he went to the passage, where he crouched down before the
parlour-door and glued his eye to the keyhole.

"Oh, Purdy, no! What if the door should suddenly fly open?"

But there was something in Purdy's pranks that a laughter-lover like
Polly could never for long withstand. Here, now, in feigning to imitate
the unfortunate Hempel, he was sheerly irresistible. He clapped his
hands to his heart, showed the whites of his eyes, wept, gesticulated
and tore his hair; and Polly, after trying in vain to keep a straight
face, sat down and went off into a fit of stifled mirth--and when Polly
did give way, she was apt to set every one round her laughing, too.
Ellen's shoulders shook; she held a fist to her mouth. Even little
Trotty shrilled out her tinny treble, without knowing in the least what
the joke was.

When the merriment was at its height, the front door opened and in
walked Mahony. An instant's blank amazement, and he had grasped the
whole situation--Richard was always so fearfully quick at
understanding, thought Polly ruefully. Then, though Purdy jumped to his
feet and the laughter died out as if by command, he drew his brows
together, and without saying a word, stalked into the surgery and shut
the door.

Like a schoolboy who has been caned, Purdy dug his knuckles into his
eyes and rubbed his hindquarters--to the fresh delight of Trotty and
the girl.

"Well, so long, Polly! I'd better be making tracks. The old man's on the
warpath." And in an undertone: "Same old grouser! Never COULD take a
joke."

"He's tired. I'll make it all right," gave Polly back.

--"It was only his fun, Richard," she pleaded, as she held out a linen
jacket for her husband to slip his arms into.

"Fun of a kind I won't permit in my house. What an example to set the
child! What's more, I shall let Hempel know that he is being made a butt
of. And speak my mind to your sister about her heartless behaviour."

"Oh, don't do that, Richard. I promise it shan't happen again. It was
very stupid of us, I know. But Purdy didn't really mean it unkindly; and
he IS so comical when he starts to imitate people." And Polly was all
but off again, at the remembrance.

But Mahony, stooping to decipher the names Ellen had written on the
slate, did not unbend. It was not merely the vulgar joke that had
offended him. No, what really rankled was the sudden chill his
unlooked-for entrance had cast over the group; they had scattered and gone
scurrying about their business, like a pack of naughty children who had
been up to mischief behind their master's back. He was the schoolmaster
--the spoilsport. They were all afraid of him. Even Polly.

But here came Polly herself to say: "Dinner, dear," in her kindest tone.
She also put her arm round his neck and hugged him. "Not cross any more,
Richard? I know we behaved disgracefully." Her touch put the crown on
her words. Mahony drew her to him and kissed her.

But the true origin of the unpleasantness, Zara, who in her ghoulish
delight at seeing Hempel grovel before her--thus Mahony worded it--
behaved more kittenishly than ever at table: Zara Mahony could not so
easily forgive; and for the remainder of her stay his manner to her was
so forbidding that she, too, froze; and to Polly's regret the old bad
relation between them came up anew.

But Zara was enjoying herself too well to cut her visit short on
Mahony's account. "Besides, poor thing," thought Polly, "she has really
nowhere to go." What she did do was to carry her head very high in her
brother-in-law's presence; to speak at him rather than to him; and in
private to insist to Polly on her powers of discernment. "You may say
what you like, my dear--I can see you have a VERY GREAT DEAL to put up
with!"

At last, however, the day of her departure broke, and she went off amid
a babble of farewells, of requests for remembrance, a fluttering of
pocket-handkerchiefs, the like of which Polly had never known; and to
himself Mahony breathed the hope that they had seen the last of Zara,
her fripperies and affectations. "Your sister will certainly fit better
into the conditions of English life."

Polly cried at the parting, which might be final; then blew her nose and
dried her eyes; for she had a busy day before her. Tilly Beamish had
been waiting with ill-concealed impatience for Zara to vacate the spare
room, and was to arrive that night.

Mahony was not at home to welcome the new-comer, nor could he be present
at high tea. When he returned, towards nine o'clock, he found Polly with
a very red face, and so full of fussy cares for her guest's comfort--
her natural kindliness distorted to caricature--that she had not a word
for him. One look at Miss Tilly explained everything, and his respects
duly paid he retired to the surgery, to indulge a smile at Polly's
expense. Here Polly soon joined him, Tilly, fatigued by her journey and
by her bounteous meal, having betaken herself early to bed.

"Ha, ha!" laughed Mahony, not without a certain mischievous satisfaction
at his young wife's discomfiture. "And with the prospect of a second
edition to follow!"

But Polly would not capitulate right off. "I don't think it's very kind
of you to talk like that, Richard," she said warmly. "People can't help
their looks." She moved about the room putting things straight, and
avoiding his eye. "As long as they mean well and are good. . . . But I
think you would rather no one ever came to stay with us, at all."

Fixing her with meaning insistence and still smiling, Mahony opened his
arms. The next moment Polly was on his knee, her face hidden in his
shoulder. There she shed a few tears. "Oh, isn't she dreadful? I don't
know WHAT I shall do with her. She's been serving behind the bar,
Richard, for more than a year. And she's come expecting to be taken
everywhere and to have any amount of gaiety."

At coach-time she had dragged a reluctant Purdy to the office. But as
soon as he caught sight of Tilly: "On the box, Richard, beside the
driver, with her hair all towsy-wowsy in the wind--he just said: 'Oh,
lor, Polly!' and disappeared, and that was the last I saw of him. I
don't know how I should have got on if it hadn't been for old Mr. Ocock,
who was down meeting a parcel. He was most kind; he helped us home with
her carpet-bag, and saw after her trunk. And, oh dear, what do you
think? When he was going away he said to me in the passage--so loud I'm
sure Tilly must have heard him--he said: 'Well! that's something like a
figure of a female this time, Mrs. Doc. As fine a young woman as ever I
see!'"

And Polly hid her face again; and husband and wife laughed in concert.




Chapter VIII



That night a great storm rose. Mahony, sitting reading after everyone
else had retired, saw it coming, and lamp in hand went round the house
to secure hasps and catches; then stood at the window to watch the
storm's approach. In one half of the sky the stars were still peacefully
alight; the other was hidden by a dense cloud, which came racing along
like a giant bat with outspread wings, devouring the stars in its
flight. The storm broke; there was a sudden shrill screeching, a
grinding, piping, whistling, and the wind hurled itself against the
house as if to level it with the ground; failing in this, it banged and
battered, making windows and doors shake like loose teeth in their
sockets. Then it swept by to wreak its fury elsewhere, and there was a
grateful lull out of which burst a peal of thunder. And now peal
followed peal, and the face of the sky, with its masses of swirling,
frothy cloud, resembled an angry sea. The lightning ripped it in fierce
zigzags, darting out hundreds of spectral fangs. It was a magnificent
sight.

Polly came running to see where he was, the child cried, Miss Tilly
opened her door by a hand's-breadth, and thrust a red, puffy face,
framed in curl-twists, through the crack. Nobody thought of sleep while
the commotion lasted, for fear of fire: once alight, these exposed
little wooden houses blazed up like heaps of shavings. The clock-hands
pointed to one before the storm showed signs of abating. Now, the rain
was pouring down, making an ear-splitting din on the iron roof and
leaping from every gutter and spout. It had turned very cold. Mahony
shivered as he got into bed.

He seemed hardly to have closed an eye when he was wakened by a loud
knocking; at the same time the wire of the night-bell was almost
wrenched in two. He sat up and looked at his watch. It wanted a few
minutes to three; the rain was still falling in torrents, the wind
sighed and moaned. Wild horses should not drag him out on such a night!
Thrusting his arms into the sleeves of his dressing-gown, he threw up
the parlour window. "Who's there?" The hiss of the rain cut his words
through.

A figure on the doorstep turned at the sound. "Is this a doctor's? I wuz
sent here. Doctor! for God's sake . . ."

"What is it? Stop a minute! I'll open the door."

He did so, letting in a blast of wind and a rush of rain that flooded
the oilcloth. The intruder, off whom the water streamed, had to shout to
make himself audible.

"It's me--Mat Doyle's me name! It's me wife, doctor; she's dying. I've
bin all night on the road. Ah, for the love of--"

"Where is it?" Mahony put his hand to the side of his mouth, to keep his
words from flying adrift in the wind.

"Paddy's Rest. You're the third I've bin to. Not one of the dirty
dogs'ull stir a leg! Me girl may die like a rabbit for all they care."--
The man's voice broke, as he halloed particulars.

"Paddy's Rest? On a night like this? Why, the creek will be out."

"Doctor! you're from th' ould country, I can hear it in your lip.
Haven't you a wife, too, doctor? Then show a bit o' mercy to mine!"

"Tut, tut, man, none of that!" said Mahony curtly. "You should have
bespoken me at the proper time to attend your wife.--Besides, there'll
be no getting along the road to-night."

The other caught the note of yielding. "Sure an' you'd go out, doctor
dear, without thinkin', to save your dog if he was drownin'. I've got me
buggy down there; I'll take you safe. And you shan't regret it; I'll
make it worth your while, by the Lord Harry I will!"

"Pshaw!"--Mahony opened the door of the surgery and struck a match. It
was a rough grizzled fellow--a "cocky," on his own showing--who
presented himself in the lamplight. His wife had fallen ill that
afternoon. At first everything seemed to be going well; then she was
seized with fits, had one fit after another, and all but bit her tongue
in two. There was nobody with her but a young girl he had fetched from a
mile away. He had meant, when her time came, to bring her to the
District Hospital. But they had been taken unawares. While he waited he
sat with his elbows on his knees, his face between his clenched fists.

In dressing, Mahony reassured Polly, and instructed her what to say to
people who came inquiring after him; it was unlikely he would be back
before afternoon. Most of the patients could wait till then. The one
exception, a case of typhoid in its second week, a young Scotch surgeon,
Brace, whom he had obliged in a similar emergency, would no doubt see
for him--she should send Ellen down with a note. And having poured
Doyle out a nobbler and put a flask in his own pocket, Mahony reopened
the front door to the howl of the wind.

The lantern his guide carried shed only a tiny circlet of light on the
blackness; and the two men picked their steps gingerly along the flooded
road. The rain ran in jets off the brim of Mahony's hat, and down the
back of his neck.

Having climbed into the buggy they advanced at a funeral pace, leaving
it to the sagacity of the horse to keep the track. At the creek, sure
enough, the water was out, the bridge gone. To reach the next bridge,
five miles off, a crazy cross-country drive would have been necessary;
and Mahony was for giving up the job. But Doyle would not acknowledge
defeat. He unharnessed the horse, set Mahony on its back, and himself
holding to its tail, forced the beast, by dint of kicking and lashing,
into the water; and not only got them safely across, but up the steep
sticky clay of the opposite bank. It was six o'clock and a cloudless
morning when, numb with cold, his clothing clinging to him like wet
seaweed, Mahony entered the wooden hut where the real work he had come
out to do began.

Later in the day, clad in an odd collection of baggy garments, he sat
and warmed himself in the sun, which was fast drawing up in the form of
a blankety mist the moisture from the ground. He had successfully
performed, under the worst possible conditions, a ticklish operation;
and was now so tired that, with his chin on his chest, he fell fast
asleep.

Doyle wakened him by announcing the arrival of the buggy. The good man,
who had more than one nobbler during the morning could not hold his
tongue, but made still another wordy attempt to express his gratitude.
"Whither me girl lives or dies, it'll not be Mat Doyle who forgits what
you did for him this night, doctor! An' if iver you want a bit o' work
done, or some one to do your lyin' awake at night for you, just you
gimme the tip. I don't mind tellin' you now, I'd me shootin'-iron here"
--he touched his right hip--"an' if you'd refused--you was the third,
mind you,--I'd have drilled you where you stood, God damn me if I
wouldn't!"

Mahony eyed the speaker with derision. "Much good that would have done
your wife, you fathead! Well, well, we'll say nothing to MINE, if you
please, about anything of that sort."

"No, may all the saints bless 'er and give 'er health! An' as I say,
doctor. . . ." In speaking he had drawn a roll of bank-notes from his
pocket, and now he tried to stuff them between Mahony's fingers.

"What's this? My good man, keep your money till it's asked for!" and
Mahony unclasped his hands, so that the notes fluttered to the ground.

"Then there let 'em lay!"

But when, in clothes dried stiff as cardboard, Mahony was rolling
townwards--his coachman, a lad of some ten or twelve who handled the
reins to the manner born--as they went he chanced to feel in his coat
pocket, and there found five ten-pound notes rolled up in a neat bundle.

The main part of the road was dry and hard again; but all dips and holes
were wells of liquid mud, which bespattered the two of them from top to
toe as the buggy bumped carelessly in and out. Mahony diverted himself
by thinking of what he could give Polly with this sum. It would serve to
buy that pair of gilt cornices or the heavy gilt-framed pierglass on
which she had set her heart. He could see her, pink with pleasure,
expostulating: "Richard! What WICKED extravagance!" and hear himself
reply: "And pray may my wife not have as pretty a parlour as her
neighbours?" He even cast a thought, in passing, on the pianoforte with
which Polly longed to crown the furnishings of her room--though, of
course, at least treble this amount would be needed to cover its cost.--
But a fig for such nonsense! He knew but one legitimate use to make of
the unexpected little windfall, and that was, to put it by for a rainy
day. "At my age, in my position, I OUGHT to have fifty pounds in the
bank!"--times without number he had said this to himself, with a
growing impatience. But he had not yet managed to save a halfpenny.
Thrive as the practice might, the expenses of living held even pace with
it. And now, having got its cue, his brain started off again on the old
treadmill, reckoning, totting up, finding totals, or more often failing
to find them, till his head was as hot as his feet were cold. To-day he
could not think clearly at all.

Nor the next day either. By the time he reached home he was conscious of
feeling very ill: he had lancinating pains in his limbs, a chill down
his spine, an outrageous temperature. To set out again on a round of
visits was impossible. He had just to tumble into bed.

He got between the sheets with that sense of utter well-being, of almost
sensual satisfaction, which only one who is shivering with fever knows.
And at first very small things were enough to fill him with content: the
smoothness of the pillow's sleek linen; the shadowy light of the room
after long days spent in the dusty glare outside; the possibility of
resting, the knowledge that it was his duty to rest; Polly's soft, firm
hands, which were always of the right temperature--warm in the cold
stage, cool when the fever scorched him, and neither hot nor cold when
the dripping sweats came on. But as the fever declined, these slight
pleasures lost their hold. Then he was ridden to death by black
thoughts. Not only was day being added to day, he meanwhile not turning
over a penny; but ideas which he knew to be preposterous insinuated
themselves in his brain. Thus, for hours on end he writhed under the
belief that his present illness was due solely to the proximity of the
Great Swamp, and lay and cursed his folly in having chosen just this
neighbourhood to build in. Again, there was the case of typhoid he had
been anxious about, prior to his own breakdown: under his LOCUM,
peritonitis had set in and carried off the patient. At the time he had
accepted the news from Polly's lips with indifference--too ill to care.
But a little later the knowledge of what it meant broke over him, and he
suffered the tortures of the damned. Not Brace; he alone would be held
responsible for the death; and perhaps not altogether unjustly. Lying
there, a prey to morbid apprehensions, he rebuilt the case in memory,
struggling to recall each slight variation in temperature, each swift
change for better or worse; but as fast as he captured one such detail,
his drowsy brain let the last but one go, and he had to beat it up anew.
During the night he grew confident that the relatives of the dead woman
intended to take action against him, for negligence or improper
attendance.

An attempt to speak of these devilish imaginings to wife and friend was
a failure. He undertook it in a fit of desperation, when it seemed as if
only a strong and well grounded opposition would save his reason. But
this was just what he could not get. Purdy, whom he tried first, held
the crude notion that a sick person should never be gainsaid; and
soothingly sympathised and agreed, till Mahony could have cried aloud at
such blundering stupidity. Polly did better; she contradicted him. But
not in the right way. She certainly pooh-poohed his idea of the nearness
of Yuille's Swamp making the house unhealthy; but she did not argue the
matter, step by step, and CONVINCE him that he was wrong. She just
laughed at him as at a foolish child, and kissed him, and tucked him in
anew. And when it came to the typhoid's fatal issue, she had not the
knowledge needed to combat him with any chance of success. She heard him
anxiously out, and allowed herself to be made quite nervous over a
possible fault on his part, so jealous was she for his growing
reputation.

So that in the end it was he who had to comfort her.

"Don't take any notice of what I say to-day, wife. It's this blessed
fever. . . . I'm light-headed, I think."

But he could hear her uneasily consulting with Purdy in the passage.

It was not till his pulse beat normally again that he could smile at his
exaggerated fears. Now, too, reviving health brought back a wholesome
interest in everyday affairs. He listened with amusement to Polly's
account of the shifts Purdy was reduced to, to enter the house unseen by
Miss Tilly. On his faithful daily call, the young man would creep round
by the back door, and Tilly was growing more and more irate at her
inability to waylay him. Yes, Polly was rather redly forced to admit,
she HAD abetted him in his evasions. ("You know, Poll, I might just as
well tie myself up to old Mother B. herself and be done with it!") Out
of sheer pique Tilly had twice now accepted old Mr. Ocock's invitation
to drive with him. Once, she had returned with a huge bag of lollies;
and once, with a face like a turkey-cock. Polly couldn't help
thinking . . . no, really, Richard, she could not! . . . that perhaps
something might COME of it. He should not laugh; just wait and see.

Many inquiries had been made after him. People had missed their doctor,
it seemed, and wanted him back. It was a real red-letter day when he
could snap to the catches of his gloves again, and mount the step of a
buggy.

He had instructed Purdy to arrange for the hire of this vehicle,
saddle-work being out of the question for him in the meantime. And on his
first long journey--it led him past Doyle's hut, now, he was sorry to see,
in the hands of strangers; for the wife, on the way to making a fair
recovery, had got up too soon, overtaxed her strength and died, and the
broken-hearted husband was gone off no one knew where--on this drive,
as mile after mile slid from under the wheels, Mahony felt how grateful
was the screen of a hood between him and the sun.

While he was laid up, the eternal question of how to live on his income
had left him, relatively speaking, in peace. He had of late adopted the
habit of doing his scraping and saving at the outset of each quarter, so
as to get the money due to Ocock put by betimes. His illness had
naturally made a hole in this; and now the living from hand to mouth
must begin anew.

With what remained of Doyle's money he proposed to settle his account at
the livery-stable. Then the unexpected happened. His reappearance--he
looked very thin and washed-out--evidently jogged a couple of sleepy
memories. Simultaneously two big bills were paid, one of which he had
entirely given up. In consequence, he again found himself fifty pounds
to the good. And driving to Ocock's office, on term day, he resolved to
go on afterwards to the Bank of Australasia and there deposit this sum.

Grindle, set off by a pair of flaming "sideboards," himself ushered
Mahony into the sanctum, and the affair was disposed of in a trice.
Ocock was one of the busiest of men nowadays--he no longer needed to
invent sham clients and fictitious interviews--and he utilised the few
odd minutes it took to procure a signature, jot down a note, open a
drawer, unlock a tin box to remark abstractedly on the weather and put a
polite inquiry: "And your good lady? In the best of health, I trust?"

On emerging from the inner room, Mahony saw that the places formerly
filled by Tom and Johnny were occupied by strangers; and he was
wondering whether it would be indiscreet to ask what had become of the
brothers, when Ocock cut across his intention. "By the way, Jenkins, has
that memorandum I spoke of been drawn up?" he turned to a clerk.

With a sheet of foolscap in his hand, he invited Mahony with a beck of
the chin to re-enter his room. "Half a moment! Now, doctor, if you
happen to have a little money lying idle, I can put you on to a good
thing--a very good thing indeed. I don't know, I'm sure, whether you
keep an eye on the fluctuations of the share-market. If so, you'll no
doubt have noticed the . . . let me say the extreme instability of
'Porepunkahs.' After making an excellent start, they have dropped till
they are now to be had at one-twentieth of their original value."

He did not take much interest in mining matters was Mahony's reply.
However he knew something of the claim in question, if only because
several of his acquaintances had abandoned their shares, in disgust at
the repeated calls and the lack of dividends.

"Exactly. Well now, doctor, I'm in a position to inform you that
'Porepunkahs' will very shortly be prime favourites on the market,
selling at many times their original figure--their ORIGINAL figure,
sir! No one with a few hundreds to spare could find a better investment.
Now is the time to buy."

A few hundreds! . . . what does he take me for? thought Mahony; and
declined the transaction off-hand. It was very good of Mr. Ocock to
think of him; but he preferred to keep clear of that kind of thing.

"Quite so, quite so!" returned Ocock suavely, and dry-washed his hands
with the smile Mahony had never learnt to fathom. "Just as you please,
of course.--I'll only ask you, doctor, to treat the matter as strictly
confidential."

"I suppose he says the same to everyone he tells," was Mahony's comment
as he flicked up his horse; and he wondered what the extent might be of
the lawyer's personal interest in the "Porepunkah Company." Probably the
number of shareholders was not large enough to rake up the capital.

Still, the incident gave him food for thought, and only after closing
time did he remember his intention of driving home by way of the Bank.

Later in the day he came back on the incident, and pondered his abrupt
refusal of Ocock's offer. There was nothing unusual in this: he never
took advice well; and, was it forced upon him, nine times out of ten a
certain inborn contrariness drove him to do just the opposite. Besides,
he had not yet learned to look with lenience on the rage for speculation
that had seized the people of Ballarat; and he held that it would be
culpable for a man of his slender means to risk money in the great game.
--But was there any hint of risk in the present instance? To judge from
Ocock's manner, the investment was as safe as a house, and lucrative to
a degree that made one's head swim. "Many times their original figure!"
An Arabian-nights fashion of growing rich, and no mistake! Very
different from the laborious grind of HIS days, in which he had always
to reckon with the chance of not being paid at all. That very afternoon
had brought him a fresh example of this. He was returning from the Old
Magpie Lead, where he had been called to a case of scarlet fever, and
saw himself covering the same road daily for some time to come. But he
had learned to adjudge his patients in a winking; and these, he could
swear to it, would prove to be non-payers; of a kind even to cut and
run, once the child was out of danger. Was he really justified, cramped
for money as he was, in rejecting the straight tip Ocock had given him?
And he debated this moot point--argued his need against his principles
--the whole way home.

As soon as he had changed and seen his suspect clothing hung out to air,
he went impetuously back to Ocock's office. He had altered his mind. A
small gift from a grateful patient: yes, fifty, please; they might bring
him luck.--And he saw his name written down as the owner of half a
hundred shares.

After this, he took a new interest in the mining sheet of the STAR;
turned to it, indeed, first of all. For a week, a fortnight,
"Porepunkahs" remained stationary; then they made a call, and, if he did
not wish to forfeit, he had to pay out as many shillings as he held
shares. A day or two later they sank a trifle, and Mahony's hopes with
them. There even came a day when they were not mentioned; and he gave up
his money for lost. But of a sudden they woke to life again, took an
upward bound, and within a month were quoted at five pounds--on rumour
alone. "Very sensitive indeed," said the STAR. Purdy, his only
confidant, went about swearing at himself for having let the few he
owned lapse; and Mahony itched to sell. He could now have banked two
hundred and fifty pounds.

But Ocock laughed him out of countenance--even went so far as to pat
him on the shoulder. On no account was he to think of selling. "Sit
tight, doctor . . . sit tight! Till I say the word."

And Mahony reluctantly obeyed.




Chapter IX



In the course of the following winter John Turnham came to stand as one
of two candidates for the newly proclaimed electoral district of
Ballarat West.

The first news his relatives had of his intention was gleaned from the
daily paper. Mahony lit on the paragraph by chance one morning; said:
"Hullo! Here's something that will interest you, my dear," and read it
aloud.

Polly laid down her knife and fork, pushed her plate from her, and went
pink with pleasure and surprise. "Richard! You don't mean it!" she
exclaimed, and got up to look over his shoulder. Yes, there it was--
John's name in all the glory of print. "Mr. John Millibank Turnham, one
of the foremost citizens and most highly respected denizens of our
marvellous metropolis, and a staunch supporter of democratic rights and
the interests of our people." Polly drew a deep breath. "Do you know,
Richard, I shouldn't wonder if he came to live on Ballarat--I mean if
he gets in.--Does Trotty hear? This is Trotty's papa they're writing
about in the papers.--Of course we must ask him to stay with us." For
this happened during an interregnum, when the spare room was temporarily
out of use.

"Of course we must do nothing of the kind. Your brother will need the
best rooms Bath's can give him; and when he's not actually on the
hustings, he'll be hobnobbing in the bar, standing as many drinks as
there are throats in the crowd," gave back Mahony, who had the lowest
possible opinion of colonial politics.

"Well, at least I can write and tell him how delighted we are," said
Polly, not to be done.

"Find out first, my dear, if there's any truth in the report. I can
hardly think John would have left us in the dark to this extent."

But John corroborated the news; and, in the letter Polly read out a week
later, announced the opening of his campaign for the coming month.

I SHALL FEEL MUCH OBLIGED TO YOUR HUSBAND IF HE WILL MEANWHILE EXERT HIS
INFLUENCE ON MY BEHALF. HE IS NO DOUBT ACQUAINTED PROFESSIONALLY WITH
MANY OF THE LEADING SQUATTERS ROUND BALLARAT, WHOM HE CAN INDUCE TO
SUPPORT MY CANDIDATURE.

"Umph!" said Mahony grumpily, and went on scooping out his egg. "We're
good enough to tout for him."

"Ssh!" warned Polly, with a glance at Trotty. "Think what it means to
him, Richard, and to us, too. It will do your practice ever so much good
if he gets in--to be the brother-in-law of the member! We must help all
we can, dear."

She was going driving to Yarangobilly that day with Archdeacon Long to
see a new arrival Richard had recently brought into the world; and now
she laid plans to kill two birds with one stone, entering into the
scheme with a gusto that astonished Mahony. "Upon my word, wife, I
believe you're glad to have something to do."

"Will my own papa gimme a dolly? . . . like Uncle Papa?" here piped
Trotty.

"Perhaps. But you will have to be a VERY good girl, and not talk with
your mouth full or dirty your pinnies. Oh, here's a postscript!" Polly
had returned to the sheet, and was gloating over it. "John writes:

"ESPECIALLY MUST HE ENDEAVOUR TO WIN LAWYER OCOCK OVER TO MY SIDE. I LAY
GREAT WEIGHT ON O.'S SUPPORT.

"Oh, Richard, now ISN'T that unfortunate? I do hope it won't make any
difference to John's chances."

Polly's dismay had good grounds. A marked coolness had sprung up between
her husband and the lawyer; and on no account, she knew, would Richard
consent to approach Mr. Henry. Some very hot remarks made by the latter
had been passed on to her by Mrs. Glendinning. She had not dared to tell
Richard the worst.

The coolness dated from an afternoon when Tilly Beamish had burst into
the house in a state of rampant excitement. "Oh, Polly! oh, I say! my
dear, whatever do you think? That old cove--old O.--'as actually had
the cheek to make me a proposal."

"Tilly!" gasped Polly, and flushed to the roots of her hair. "Oh, my
dear, I AM pleased!" For Polly's conscience was still somewhat tender
about the aid she had lent Purdy in his evasions. The two women kissed,
and Tilly cried a little. "It's certainly her first offer," thought Mrs.
Polly. Aloud, she asked hesitatingly: "And do you . . . shall you . . .
I mean, are you going to accept him, Tilly?"

But this was just where Tilly could not make up her mind: should she
take him, or should she not? For two whole days she sat about debating
the question; and Polly listened to her with all the sympathy and
interest so momentous a step deserved.

"If you feel you could really learn to care for him, dear. Of course it
WOULD be nice for you to have a house of your own. And how happy it
would make poor mother to see you settled!"

Tilly tore the last veil from her feelings, uttered gross confidences.
Polly knew well enough where her real inclination lay. "I've hoped
against hope, Poll, that a CERTAIN PERSON would come to the scratch at
last." Yes, it was true enough, he had nothing to offer her; but she
wasn't the sort to have stuck at that. "I'd have worked my hands to the
bone for 'im, Poll, if 'e'd ONLY said the word." The one drawback to
marriage with "you know 'oo" would have been his infirmity. "Some'ow,
Polly, I can't picture myself dragging a husband with a gammy leg at my
heels." From this, Tilly's mind glanced back to the suitor who had
honourably declared himself. Of course "old O." hadn't a great deal of
the gentleman about him; and their ages were unsuitable. "'E owns to
fifty-eight, and as you know, Poll, I'm only just turned twenty-five,"
at which Polly drooped her head a little lower over the handkerchief she
was hemming, to avoid meeting her friend's eye. Poor dear Tilly! she
would never see thirty again; and she need hardly have troubled, thought
Polly, to be insincere with her. But in the same breath she took back
the reproach. A woman herself, she understood something of the fear, and
shame, and heartburning that had gone to the making of the lie. Perhaps,
too, it was a gentle hint from Tilly what age she now wished to be
considered. And so Polly agreed, and said tenderly: yes, certainly, the
difference was very marked. Meanwhile Tilly flowed on. These were the
two chief objections. On the other hand, the old boy was ludicrously
smitten; and she thought one might trust her, Tilly B., to soon knock
him into shape. It would also, no doubt, be possible to squeeze a few
pounds out of him towards assisting "pa and ma" in their present
struggle. Again, as a married woman she would have a chance of helping
Jinny to find a husband: "Though Jinn's gone off so, Polly, I bet you'd
hardly know her if you met 'er in the street." To end all, a bird in
hand, etc.; and besides, what prospects had she, if she remained a
spinster?

So, when she was asked, Tilly accepted without further humming and
hawing an invitation to drive out in the smart dog-cart Mr. Ocock had
hired for the purpose; and Polly saw her off with many a small private
sign of encouragement. All went well. A couple of hours later Tilly came
flying in, caught Polly up in a bear's hug, and danced her round the
room. "My dear, wish me joy!--Oh, lor, Polly, I DO feel 'appy!" She was
wearing a large half-hoop of diamonds on her ring-finger: nothing would
do "old O." but that they should drive there and then to the finest
jeweller's in Sturt Street, where she had the pick of a trayful. And now
Mr. Ocock, all a-smirk with sheepish pride, was fetched in to receive
congratulations, and Polly produced refreshments; and healths were
drunk. Afterwards the happy couple dallied in the passage and loitered
on the doorstep, till evening was far advanced.

It was Polly who, in clearing away, was struck dumb by the thought: "But
now whatever is to become of Miss Amelia?"

She wondered if this consideration troubled the old man. Trouble there
was, of some sort: he called at the house three days running for a word
with Richard. He wore a brand-new pair of shepherd's-plaid trousers, a
choker that his work-stained hands had soiled in tying, a black coat, a
massive gold watch-chain. On the third visit he was lucky enough to
catch Mahony, and the door of the surgery closed behind them.

Here Mr. Ocock sat on the extreme edge of a chair; alternately crushed
his wide-awake flat between his palms and expanded it again, as though
he were playing a concertina; and coughed out a wordy preamble. He
assured Mahony, to begin with, how highly he esteemed him. It was
because of this, because he knew doctor was as straight as a pound of
candles, that he was going to ask his advice on an awkward matter--
devilish awkward!--one nobody had any idea of either--except Henry.
And Henry had kicked up such a deuce of a row at his wanting to marry
again, that he was damned if he'd have anything more to do with him.
Besides, the doctor knew what lawyers were--the whole breed of 'em!
Sharp as needles--especially Henry--but with a sort of squint in their
upper storey that made 'em see every mortal thing from the point of view
of law. And that was no good to him. What he needed was a plain and
honest, a . . . he hesitated for a word and repeated, "a Honest
opinion;" for he only wanted to do the right thing, what was straight
and above board. And at last out it came: did "doc." think it would be
acting on the square, and not taking a low-down advantage of a female,
if he omitted to mention to "the future Mrs. O" that, up till six months
back, he had been obliged to . . . well, he'd spit it out short and say,
obliged to report himself to the authorities at fixed intervals? Women
were such shy cattle, so damned odd! You never knew how they'd take a
thing like this. One might raise Cain over it, another only laugh,
another send him packing. He didn't want to let a fine young woman like
Matilda slip if he could help it, by dad he didn't! But he felt he must
either win her by fair dealing or not at all. And having got the load
off his chest, the old colonist swallowed hard, and ran the back of his
hand over his forehead.

He had kept his eyes glued to the table-leg in speaking, and so saw
neither his hearer's involuntary start at the damaging disclosure, nor
the nervous tightening of the hand that lay along the arm of the chair.
Mahony sat silent, balancing a paper-knife, and fighting down a feeling
of extraordinary discomfort--his very finger-tips curled under the
strain. It was of little use to remind himself that, ever since he had
known him, Ocock had led a decent, God-fearing life, respected both in
his business relations and by his brethren of the chapel. Nor could he
spare more than a glance in passing for those odd traits in the old
man's character which were now explained: his itch for public approval;
his unvarying harshness towards the pair of incorrigibles who weighed
him down. At this moment he discounted even the integrity that had
prompted the confession. His attitude of mind was one of: why the deuce
couldn't the old fool have held his tongue?

Oh, these unbidden, injudicious confidences! How they complicated life!
And as a doctor he was pestered with only too many; he was continually
being forced to see behind the scenes. Now, outsiders, too, must needs
choose him for the storehouse of their privacies. Himself he never made
a confidence; but it seemed as though just this buttoned-upness on his
part loosened people's tongues. Blind to the flags of warning he hoisted
in looks and bearing, they innocently proceeded, as Ocock had done, to
throw up insurmountable barriers. He could hear a new tone in his own
voice when he replied, and was relieved to know the old man dull of
perception. For now Ocock had finished speaking, and sat perspiring with
anxiety to learn his fate. Mahony pulled himself together; he could, in
good faith, tender the advice to let the dead past bury its dead.
Whatever the original fault had been--no, no, please! . . . and he
raised an arresting hand--it was, he felt sure, long since fully
atoned. And Mr. Ocock had said a true word: women were strange
creatures. The revelation of his secret might shipwreck his late-found
happiness. It also, of course, might not--and personally Mahony did not
believe it would; for Ocock's buisness throve like the green bay-tree,
and Miss Tilly had been promised a fine two-storeyed house, with
bow-windows and a garden, and a carriage-drive up to the door. Again, the
admission might be accepted in peace just now, and later on used as a
weapon against him. In his, Mahony's, eyes, by far the wisest course
would be, to let the grass grow over the whole affair.

And here he rose, abruptly terminating the interview. "You and I, too,
sir, if you please, will forget what has passed between us this morning,
and never come back on it. How is Tom getting on in the drapery
business? Does he like his billet?"

But none the less as he ushered his visitor out, he felt that there was
a certain finality about the action. It was--as far as his private
feelings were concerned--the old man's moral exit from the scene.

On the doorstep Ocock hoped that nothing that had been said would reach
"your dear little lady." "To 'Enry, too, doc., if you'll be so good,
mum's the word! 'Enry 'ud never forgive me, nay, or you eether, if it
got to 'is 'ears I'd bin an' let the cat outer the bag. An' 'e's got a
bit of a down on you as it is, for it 'avin' bin your place I met the
future Mrs. O. at."

"My good man!" broke from Mahony--and in this address, which would
previously never have crossed his lips, all his sensations of the past
hour were summed up. "Has your son Henry the"--he checked himself;
"does he suppose I--I or my wife--had anything to do with it?"

He turned back to the surgery hot with annoyance. This, too! Not enough
that he must be put out of countenance by indiscreet babbling; he must
also get drawn into family squabbles, even be held responsible for them:
he who, brooking no interference in his own life, demanded only that
those about him should be as intolerant as he.

It all came from Polly's indiscriminate hospitality. His house was never
his own. And now they had the prospect of John and his electoral
campaign before them. And John's chances of success, and John's stump
oratory, and the backstair-work other people were expected to do for him
would form the main theme of conversation for many a day to come.

Mrs. Glendinning confirmed old Ocock's words.

She came to talk over the engagement with Polly, and sitting in the
parlour cried a little, and was sorry. But then "poor little Agnes"
cried so easily nowadays. Richard said her nerves had been shattered by
the terrible affair just before Christmas, when Mr. Glendinning had
tried first to kill her, and then to cut his own throat.

Agnes said: "But I told Henry quite plainly, darling, that I would not
cease my visits to you on that account. It is both wrong and foolish to
think you or Dr. Mahony had anything to do with it--and after the
doctor was so kind, too, so VERY kind, about getting poor Mr.
Glendinning into the asylum. And so you see, dear, Henry and I have had
quite a disagreement"; and Agnes cried again at the remembrance. "Of
course, I can sympathise with his point of view. . . . Henry is so
ambitious. All the same, dearest, it's not quite so bad--is it?--as he
makes out. Matilda is certainly not very COMME IL FAUT--you'll forgive
my saying so, love, won't you? But I think she will suit Henry's father
in every way. No, the truth is, the old gentleman has made a great deal
of money, and we naturally expected it to fall to Henry at his death; no
one anticipated his marrying again. Not that Henry really needs the
money; he is getting on so well; and I have. . . . I shall have plenty,
too, by and by. But you know, love, what men are."

"Dearest Agnes! . . . don't fret about it. Mr. Henry thinks too much of
you, I'm sure, to be vexed with you for long. And when he looks at it
calmly, he'll see how unfair it is to make us responsible. I'm like you,
dear; I can't consider it a misfortune. Tilly is not a lady; but she's a
dear, warm-hearted girl and will make the old man a good wife. I only
hope though, Agnes, Mr. Henry won't say anything to Richard. Richard is
so touchy about things of that sort."

The two women kissed, Polly with feelings of the tenderest affection:
the fact that, on behalf of their friendship, Agnes had pitted her will
against Mr. Henry's, endeared her to Polly as nothing else could have
done.

But when, vigilant as a mother-hen, she sought to prepare her husband
for a possible unpleasantness, she found him already informed; and her
well-meant words were like a match laid to his suppressed indignation.

"In all my born days I never heard such impudence!"

He turned embarrassingly cool to Tilly. And Tilly, innocent of offence
and quite unskilled in deciphering subtleties, put this sudden change of
front down to jealousy, because she was going to live in a grander house
than he did. For the same reason he had begun to turn up his nose at
"Old O.," or she was very much mistaken; and in vain did Polly strive to
convince her that she was in error. "I don't know anyone Richard has a
higher opinion of!"

But it was a very uncomfortable state of things; and when a message
arrived over the electric telegraph announcing the dangerous illness of
Mrs. Beamish, distressed though she was by the news, Polly could not
help heaving a tiny sigh of relief. For Tilly was summoned back to
Melbourne with all speed, if she wished to see her mother alive.

They mingled their tears, Polly on her knees at the packing, Tilly
weeping whole-heartedly among the pillows of the bed.

"If it 'ad only been pa now, I shouldn't have felt it half so much," and
she blew her nose for the hundredth time. "Pa was always such a rum old
stick. But poor ma . . . when I THINK how she's toiled and moiled 'er
whole life long, to keep things going. She's 'ad all the pains and none
of the pleasures; and now, just when I was hoping to be able to give 'er
a helping hand, THIS must happen."

The one bright spot in Tilly's grief was that the journey would be made
in a private conveyance. Mr. Ocock had bought a smart gig and was
driving her down himself; driving past the foundations of the new house,
along the seventy odd miles of road, right up to the door of the mean
lodging in a Collingwood back street, where the old Beamishes had hidden
their heads. "If only she's able to look out of the window and see me
dash up in my own turn-out!" said Tilly.

Polly fitted out a substantial luncheon-basket, and was keenest sympathy
to the last. But Mahony was a poor dissembler; and his sudden thaw, as
he assisted in the farewell preparations, could, Polly feared, have been
read aright by a child.

Tilly hugged Polly to her, and gave her kiss after kiss. "I shall NEVER
forget 'ow kind you've been, Poll, and all you've done for me. I've had
my disappointments 'ere, as you know; but p'raps after all it'll turn
out to be for the best. One o' the good sides to it anyhow is that you
and me'll be next-door neighbours, so to say, for the rest of our lives.
And I'll hope to see something of you, my dear, every blessed day. But
you'll not often catch me coming to this house, I can tell you that!
For, if you won't mind me saying so, Poll, I think you've got one of the
queerest sticks for a husband that ever walked this earth. Blows hot one
day and cold the next, for all the world like the wind in spring. And
without caring twopence whose corns 'e treads on."--Which, thought
Polly, was but a sorry return on Tilly's part for Richard's hospitality.
After all, it was his house she had been a guest in.

Such were the wheels within wheels. And thus it came about that, when
the question rose of paving the way for John Turnham's candidature,
Mahony drew the line at approaching Henry Ocock.




Chapter X



John drove from Melbourne in a drag and four, accompanied by numerous
friends and well-wishers. A mile or so out of Ballarat, he was met by a
body of supporters headed by a brass band, and escorted in triumph to
the George Hotel. Here, the horses having been led away, John at once
took the field by mounting the box-seat of the coach and addressing the
crowd of idlers that had gathered round to watch the arrival. He got an
excellent hearing--so Jerry reported, who was an eye and ear-witness of
the scene--and was afterwards borne shoulder-high into the hotel.

With Jerry at his heels, Mahony called at the hotel that evening. He
found John entertaining a large impromptu party. The table of the public
dining-room was disorderly with the remains of a liberal meal; napkins
lay crushed and flung down among plates piled high with empty nutshells;
the cloth was wine-stained, and bestrewn with ashes and breadcrumbs, the
air heady with the fumes of tobacco. Those of the guests who still
lingered at the table had pushed their chairs back or askew, and sat,
some a-straddle, some even with their feet on the cloth. John was
confabbing with half a dozen black-coats in a corner. Each held a
wineglass in his hand from which he sipped, while John, legs apart, did
all the talking, every now and then putting out his forefinger to prod
one of his hearers on the middle button of the waistcoat. It was some
time before he discovered the presence of his relatives; and Mahony had
leisure to admire the fashion in which, this corner-talk over, John
dispersed himself among the company; drinking with this one and that;
glibly answering questions; patting a glum-faced brewer on the back; and
simultaneously checking over, with an oily-haired agent, his
committee-meetings for the following days. His customary arrogance and
pompousness of manner were laid aside. For the nonce, he was a simple man
among men.

Then espying them, he hurried over, and rubbing his hands with pleasure
said warmly: "My dear Mahony, this is indeed kind! Jerry, my lad, how
do, how do? Still growing, I see! We'll make a fine fellow of you yet.--
Well, doctor! . . . we've every reason, I think, to feel satisfied with
the lie of the land."

But here he was snatched from them by an urgent request for a
pronouncement--"A quite informal word, sir, if you'll be so good,"--on
the vexed question of vote by ballot. And this being a pet theme of
John's, and a principle he was ready to defend through thick and thin,
he willingly complied.

Mahony had no further talk with him. The speech over--it was a concise
and spirited utterance, and, if you were prepared to admit the efficacy
of the ballot, convincing enough--Mahony quietly withdrew. He had to
see a patient at eleven. Polly, too, would probably be lying awake for
news of her brother.

As he threw back his braces and wound up his watch, he felt it incumbent
on him to warn her not to pitch her hopes too high. "You mustn't expect,
my dear, that your brother's arrival will mean much to us. He is now a
public man, and will have little time for small people like ourselves.
I'm bound to admit, Polly, I was very favourably impressed by the few
words I heard him say," he added.

"Oh, Richard, I'm SO glad!" and Polly, who had been sitting on the edge
of the bed, stood on tiptoe to give him a kiss.

As Mahony predicted, John's private feelings went down before the
superior interests of his campaign. Three days passed before he found
time to pay his sister a visit; and Polly, who had postponed a washing,
baked her richest cakes and pastries, and clad Trotty in her Sunday best
each day of the three: Polly was putting a good face on the matter, and
consoling herself with Jerry's descriptions of John's triumphs. How she
wished she could hear some of the speechifying! But Richard would never
consent; and electioneering did certainly seem, from what Jerry said, a
very rough-and-ready business--nothing for ladies. Hence her delight
knew no bounds when John drove up unexpectedly late one afternoon,
between a hard day's personal canvassing and another of the innumerable
dinners he had to eat his way through. Tossing the reins to the
gentleman who sat next him, he jumped out of the wagonette--it was hung
with placards of "Vote for Turnham!"--and gave a loud rat-a-tat at the
door.

Forgetting in her excitement that this was Ellen's job, Polly opened to
him herself, and drew him in. "John! How pleased I am to see you!"

"My dear girl, how are you? God bless me, how you've altered! I should
never have known you." He held her at arm's length, to consider her.

"But you haven't changed in the least, John. Except to grow younger.--
Richard, here's John at last!--and Trotty, John . . . here's Trotty!--
Take your thumb out of your mouth, naughty girl!--She's been watching
for you all day, John, with her nose to the window." And Polly pushed
forward the scarlet, shrinking child.

John's heartiness suffered a distinct check as his eyes lit on Trotty,
who stood stiff as a bit of Dresden china in her bunchy starched
petticoats. "Come here, Emma, and let me look at you." Taking the fat
little chin between thumb and first finger, he turned the child's face
up and kept it so, till the red button of a mouth trembled, and the
great blue eyes all but ran over. "H'm! Yes . . . a notable resemblance
to her mother. Ah, time passes, Polly my dear--time passes!" He sighed.
--"I hope you mind your aunt, Emma, and are properly grateful to her?"

Abruptly quitting his hold, he swept the parlour with a glance. "A very
snug little place you have here, upon my word!"

While Polly, with Trotty pattering after, bustled to the larder, Mahony
congratulated his brother-in-law on the more favourable attitude towards
his election policy which was becoming evident in the local press.
John's persuasive tongue was clearly having its effect, and the
hostility he had met with at the outset of his candidature was yielding
to more friendly feelings on all sides. John was frankly gratified by
the change, and did not hesitate to say so. When the wine arrived they
drank to his success, and Polly's delicacies met with their due share of
praise. Then, having wiped his mouth on a large silk handkerchief, John
disclosed the business object of his call. He wanted specific
information about the more influential of their friends and
acquaintances; and here he drew a list of names from his pocket-book.
Mahony, his chin propped on the flaxen head of the child, whom he
nursed, soon fell out of the running for Polly proved far the cleverer
at grasping the nature of the information John sought, and at retailing
it. And John complimented her on her shrewdness, ticked off names, took
notes on what she told him; and when he was not writing sat tapping his
thick, carnation-red underlip, and nodding assent. It was arranged that
Polly should drive out with him next day to Yarangobilly, by way of
Dandaloo; while for the evening after they plotted a card-party, at
which John might come to grips with Archdeacon Long. John expected to
find the reverend gentleman a hard nut to crack, their views on the
subject of a state aid to religion being diametrically opposed. Polly
thought a substantial donation to the chancel-fund might smooth things
over, while for John to display a personal interest in Mrs. Long's
charities would help still more. Then there were the Ococks. The old man
could be counted on, she believed; but John might have some difficulty
with Mr. Henry--and here she initiated her brother into the domestic
differences which had split up the Ocock family, and prevented Richard
from approaching the lawyer. John, who was in his most democratic mood,
was humorous at the expense of Henry, and declared the latter should
rather wish his father joy of coming to such a fine, bouncing young wife
in his old age. The best way of getting at Mr. Henry, Polly considered,
would be for Mrs Glendinning to give a luncheon or a bushing-party, with
the lawyer among the guests: "Then you and I, John, could drive out and
join them--either by chance or invitation, as you think best." Polly
was heart and soul in the affair.

But business over, she put several straight questions about the boy,
little Johnny--Polly still blamed herself for having meekly submitted
to the child's removal from her charge--and was not to be fobbed off
with evasions. The unfavourable verdict she managed to worm out of John:
"Incorrigible, my dear Polly--utterly incorrigible! His masters report
him idle, disobedient, a bad influence on the other scholars," she met
staunchly with: "Perhaps it has something to do with the school. Why not
try another? Johnny had his good qualities; in many ways was quite a
lovable child."

For the first time Mahony saw his wife and her eldest brother together
and he could not but be struck by Polly's attitude. Greatly as she
admired and reverenced John, there was not a particle of obsequiousness
in her manner, nor any truckling to his point of view; and she plainly
felt nothing of the peculiar sense of discomfort that invariably
attacked him, in John's presence. Either she was not conscious of her
brother's grossly patronising air, or, aware of it, did not resent it,
John having always been so much her superior in age and position. Or was
it indeed the truth that John did not try to patronise Polly? That his
overbearing nature recognised in hers a certain springy resistance,
which was not to be crushed? In other words, that, in a Turnham, Turnham
blood met its match.

John re-took his seat in the front of the wagonette, Trotty was lifted
up to see the rosettes and streamers adorning the horses, the gentlemen
waved their hats, and off they went again at a fine pace, and with a
whip-cracking that brought the neighbours to their windows.

Polly had pink cheeks with it all, and even sought to excuse the meagre
interest John had shown in his daughter. "Trotty was only a baby in arms
when he saw her last. Besides, I think she reminded him too much of her
dear mother. For I'm sure, though he doesn't let it be seen, John still
feels his loss."

"I wonder!" said Mahony slowly and with a strong downward inflection, as
he turned indoors.

On the eve of the polling Polly had the honour of accompanying her
brother to a performance at the Theatre Royal. A ticket came for
Richard, too; but, as usual, he was at the last moment called out. So
Purdy took her on his arm and escorted her--not exactly comfortably;
for, said Polly, no one who had not tried it, knew how hard it was to
walk arm-in-arm with a lame person, especially if you did not want to
hurt his feelings--Purdy took her to the theatre, helped her to
unmuffle and to change her boots, and bore her company till her brother
arrived. They had seats in the centre of the front row of the dress
circle; all eyes were turned on them as they entered; and Polly's
appearance was the subject of audible and embarrassing comment.

In every interval John was up and away, to shake a hand here, pass the
time of day there; and watching him with affectionate pride, Polly
wondered how Richard could ever have termed him "high-handed and
difficult." John had the knack, it seemed to her, of getting on with
people of every class, and of always finding the right word to say. But
as the evening advanced his seat remained empty even while the curtain
was up, and she was glad when, between the fourth and fifth acts, her
husband at last appeared.

On his way to her Mahony ran into his brother-in-law, and John
buttonholed him to discuss with him the prospects of the morrow. As they
talked, their eyes rested on Polly's glossy black chignon; on the nape
of her white neck; on the beautiful, rounded young shoulders which, in
obedience to the fashion, stood right out of her blue silk bodice.
Mahony shifted his weight uneasily from one foot to the other. He could
not imagine Polly enjoying her exposed position, and disapproved
strongly of John having left her. But for all answer to the hint he
threw out John said slowly, and with a somewhat unctuous relish: "My
sister has turned into a remarkably handsome woman!"--words which sent
the lightning-thought through Mahony that, had Polly remained the
insignificant little slip of a thing of earlier days, she would not have
been asked to fill the prominent place she did this evening.

John sent his adieux and excuses to Polly. He had done what was expected
of him, in showing himself at a public entertainment, and a vast mass of
correspondence lay unsorted on his desk. So Mahony moved forward alone.

"Oh, Richard, there you are! Oh dear, what you've missed! I never
thought there could be such acting." And Polly turned her great dark
eyes on her husband; they were moist from the noble sentiments of THE
TRUE BRITON.

The day of the election broke, a gusty spring day cut up by stinging
hail-showers, which beat like fusillades on the galvanised iron roofs.
Between the showers, the sun shone in a gentian-blue sky, against which
the little wooden houses showed up crassly white. Ballarat made holiday.
Early as Mahony left home, he met a long line of conveyances heading
townwards--spring carts, dogcarts, double and single buggies, in some
of which, built to seat two only, five or six persons were huddled.
These and similar vehicles drew up in rows outside the public-houses,
where the lean, long-legged colonial horses stood jerking at their
tethers; and they were still there, still jerking, when he passed again
toward evening. On a huge poster the "Unicorn" offered to lunch free all
those "thinking men" who registered their vote for "the one and only
true democrat, the miners' friend and tyrants' foe, John Turnham."

In the hope of avoiding a crush Mahony drove straight to the
polling-booth. But already all the loafers and roughs in the place seemed
to be congregated round the entrance, after the polite custom of the
country to chivy, or boo, or huzza those who went in. In waiting his turn,
he had to listen to comments on his dress and person, to put up with
vulgar allusions to blue pills and black draughts.

Just as he was getting back into his buggy John rode up, flanked by a
bodyguard of friends; John was galloping from booth to booth, to verify
progress and put the thumbscrew on wobblers. He beamed--as well he
might. He was certain to be one of the two members elected, and quite
likely to top the poll by a respectable majority.

For once Mahony did not grumble at his outlying patients; was only too
thankful to turn his back on the town. It was pandemonium. Bands of
music, one shriller and more discordant than the next, marched up and
down the main streets--from the fifes and drums of the Fire Brigade, to
the kerosene-tins and penny-whistles of mere determined noise-makers.
Straggling processions, with banners that bore the distorted features of
one or other of the candidates, made driving difficult; and, to add to
the confusion, the schoolchildren were let loose, to overrun the place
and fly advertisement balloons round every corner.--And so it went on
till far into the night, the dark hours being varied by torchlight
processions, fireworks, free fights and orgies of drunkenness.

The results of the polling were promised for two o'clock the following
day.

When, something after this hour Mahony reached home, he found Polly and
the gentle, ox-eyed Jinny Beamish, who was the present occupant of the
spare room, pacing up and down before the house. According to Jerry news
might be expected now at any minute. And when he had lunched and changed
his coat, Mahony, bitten by the general excitement, made his way down to
the junction of Sturt Street and the Flat.

A great crowd blocked the approaches to the hustings. Here were the four
candidates, who, in attending the issue, strove to look decently
unconcerned. John had struck a quasi-Napoleonic attitude: his right
elbow propped in the cup of his left hand, he held his drooped chin
between thumb and forefinger, leaving it to his glancing black eyes to
reveal how entirely alive he was to the gravity of the moment. Standing
on the fringe of the crowd, Mahony listened to the piebald jokes and
rude wit with which the people beguiled the interim; and tried to endure
with equanimity the jostling, the profane language and offensive odours,
by which he was assailed. Half an hour elapsed before the returning
officer climbed the ladder at the back of the platform, and came forward
to announce the result of the voting: Mr. John Millibank Turnham topped
the poll with a majority of four hundred and fifty-two. The crowd, which
at sight of the clerk had abruptly ceased its fooling, drowned his
further statements in a roar of mingled cheers and boos. The cheers had
it; hats were tossed into the air, and loud cries for a speech arose.
John's advance to grip the railing led to a fresh outburst, in which the
weakening opposition was quashed by the singing of: "When Johnny comes
marching home!" and "Cheer, boys, cheer, For home and mother country!"--
an incongruity of sentiment that made Mahony smile. And John, having
repeatedly bowed his thanks from side to side, joined in and sang with
the rest.

The opening of his speech was inaudible to Mahony. Just behind him stood
one of his brother-in-law's most arrant opponents, a butcher by trade,
and directly John began to hold forth this man produced a cornet-a-piston
and started to blow it. In vain did Mahony expostulate: he seemed
to have got into a very wasps'-nest of hostility; for the player's
friends took up the cudgels and baited him in a language he would have
been sorry to imitate, the butcher blaring away unmoved, with the fierce
solemnity of face the cornet demands. Mahony lost his temper; his
tormentors retaliated; and for a moment it looked as though there would
be trouble. Then a number of John's supporters, enraged by the bellowing
of the instrument, bore down and forcibly removed the musician and his
clique, Mahony along with them.

Having indignantly explained, and shaken coat and collar to rights, he
returned to his place on the edge of the crowd. The speaker's deep voice
had gone steadily on during the disturbance. Indeed John might have been
born to the hustings. Interruptions did not put him out; he was
brilliant at repartee; and all the stock gestures of the public speaker
came at his call: the pounding of the bowl of one hand with the closed
fist of the other; the dramatic wave of the arm with which he plumbed
the depths or invited defiance; the jaunty standing-at-ease, arms
akimbo; the earnest bend from the waist when he took his hearers into
his confidence. At this moment he was gripping the rail of the platform
as though he intended to vault it, and asserting: "Our first cry, then,
is for men to people the country; our next, for independence, to work
out our own salvation. Yes, my friends, the glorious future of this
young and prosperous colony, which was once and most auspiciously known
as Australia Felix--blest, thrice-blest Australia!--rests with
ourselves alone. We who inhabit here can best judge of her requirements,
and we refuse to see her hampered in her progress by the shackles of an
ancient tradition. What suits our hoary mother-country--God bless and
keep her and keep us loyal to her!--is but dry husks for us. England
knows nothing of our most pressing needs. I ask you to consider how,
previous to 1855, that pretty pair of mandarins, Lord John Russell and
Earl Grey, boggled and botched the crucial question of unlocking the
lands even yet, gentlemen, the result of their muddling lies heavy on
us. And the Land Question, though first in importance, is but one, as
you know, of many"--and here John, playing on the tips of five
wide-stretched fingers, counted them off. He wound up with a flaming plea
for the creation and protection of purely national industries. "For what,
I would ask you, is the true meaning of democracy in a country such as
ours? What is, for us, the democratic principle? The answer, my friends,
is conservatism; yes, I repeat it--conservatism!" . . . and thus to a
final peroration.

In the braying and hurrahing that followed--the din was heightened by
some worthy mounting a barrel to move that "this yere Johnny Turnham"
was not a fit person to represent "the constitooency," by the barrel
being dragged from under him, and the speaker rolled in the mud; while
this went on Mahony stood silent, and he was still standing meditatively
pulling his whiskers when a sudden call for a doctor reached his ear. He
pushed his way to the front.

How the accident happened no one knew. John had descended from the
platform to a verandah, where countless hands were stretched out to
shake his. A pile of shutters was leaning against the wall, and in some
unexplained fashion these had fallen, striking John a blow that knocked
him down. When Mahony got to him he was on his feet again, wiping a drop
of blood from his left temple. He looked pale, but pooh-poohed injury or
the idea of interfering with his audience's design; and Mahony saw him
shouldered and borne off.

That evening there was a lengthy banquet, in which all the notables of
the place took part. Mahony's seat was some way off John's; he had to
lean forward, did he wish to see his brother-in-law.

Towards eleven o'clock, just as he was wondering if he could slip out
unobserved, a hand was laid on his arm. John stood behind him, white to
the lips. "Can I have a word with you upstairs?"

Here he confessed to a knife-like pain in his left side; the brunt of
the blow, it seemed, had met him slantways between rib and hip. A
cursory examination made Mahony look grave.

"You must come back with me, John, and let me see to you properly."

Having expressed the chief guest's regrets to the company, he ordered a
horse and trap, and helping John into it drove him home. And that night
John lay in their bed, letting out the groans he had suppressed during
the evening; while Polly snatched forty winks beside Jinny Beamish, and
Mahony got what sleep he could on the parlour sofa.




Chapter XI



There for some weeks John was a prisoner, with a fractured rib encased
in strips of plaster. "In your element again, old girl!" Mahony chaffed
his wife, when he met her bearing invalid trays.

"Oh, it doesn't all fall on me, Richard. Jinny's a great help--sitting
with John and keeping him company."

Mahony could see it for himself. Oftenest when he entered the room it
was Jinny's black-robed figure--she was in mourning for her parents;
for Mrs. Beamish had sunk under the twofold strain of failure and
disgrace, and the day after her death it had been necessary to cut old
Beamish down from a nail--oftenest it was Jinny he found sitting behind
a curtain of the tester-bed, watching while John slept, ready to read to
him or to listen to his talk when he awoke. This service set Polly free
to devote herself to the extra cooking; and John was content. "A most
modest and unassuming young woman," ran his verdict on Jinny.

Polly reported it to her husband in high glee. "Who could ever have
believed two sisters would turn out so differently? Tilly to get
so . . . so . . . well, you know what I mean . . . and Jinny to improve as
she has done. Have you noticed, Richard, she hardly ever--really quite
seldom now--drops an h? It must all have been due to Tilly serving in
that low bar."

By the time John was so far recovered as to exchange bed for sofa, it
had come to be exclusively Jinny who carried in to him the dainties
Polly prepared--the wife as usual was content to do the dirty work!
John declared Miss Jinny had the foot of a fay; also that his meals
tasted best at her hands. Jinny even succeeded in making Trotty fond of
her; and the love of the fat, shy child was not readily won. Entering
the parlour one evening Mahony surprised quite a family scene: John,
stretched on the sofa, was stringing cats'-cradles, Jinny sat beside him
with Trotty on her knee.

On the whole, though, the child did not warm to her father.

"Aunty, kin dat man take me away f'om you?"

"That man? Why, Trotty darling, he's your father!" said Polly, shocked.

"Kin 'e take me away f'om you and Uncle Papa?"

"He could if he wanted to. But I'm sure he doesn't," answered her aunt,
deftly turning a well-rolled sheet of pastry.

And righting her dolly, which she had been dragging upside down, Trotty
let slip her fears with the sovereign ease of childhood.

From the kitchen Polly could hear the boom of John's deep bass: it made
nothing of the lath-and-plaster walls. Of course, shut up as he was, he
had to talk to somebody, poor fellow; and Richard was too busy to spare
him more than half an hour of an evening. Jinny was a good listener.
Through the crack of the door, Polly could see her sitting humbly
drinking in John's words, and even looking rather pretty, in her fair,
full womanliness.

"Oh, Polly!" she burst out one day, after being held thus spellbound.
"Oh, my dear, what a splendid man your brother is! I feel sometimes I
could sink through the floor with shame at my ignorance, when 'e talks
to me so."

But as time went on Mahony noticed that his wife grew decidedly
thoughtful; and if John continued to sing Jinny's praises, he heard
nothing more of it. He had an acute suspicion what troubled Polly; but
did not try to force her confidence.

Then one afternoon, on his getting home, she came into the surgery
looking very perturbed, and could hardly find words to break a certain
piece of news to him. It appeared that not an hour previously, Jinny,
flushed and tearful, had lain on her neck, confessing her feelings for
John and hinting at the belief that they were returned.

"Well, I think you might have been prepared for something of this sort,
Polly," he said with a shrug, when he had heard her out. "Convalescence
is notoriously dangerous for fanning the affections."

"Oh, but I never DREAMT of such a thing, Richard! Jinny is a dear good
girl and all that, but she is NOT John's equal. And that he can even
THINK of putting her in poor Emma's place!--What shall I say to him?"

"Say nothing at all. Your brother John is not the man to put up with
interference."

"He longs so for a real home again, Polly darling," said Jinny, wiping
her eyes. "And HOW 'appy it will make me to fulfil 'is wish! Don't let
me feel unwelcome and an intruder, dear. I know I'm not nearly good
enough for 'im, and 'e could 'ave had the choice of ever such handsome
women. But 'e 'as promised to be patient with me, and to teach me
everything I ought to know."

Polly's dismay at the turn of events yielded to a womanly sympathy with
her friend. "It's just like poor little Agnes and Mr. Henry over again,"
was her private thought. For she could not picture John stooping to
guide and instruct.

But she had been touched on a tender spot--that of ambitious pride for
those related to her--and she made what Mahony called "a real Turnham
attempt" to stand up to John. Against her husband's express advice.

"For if your brother chooses to contract a mesalliance of this kind,
it's nobody's business but his own. Upon my word though, Polly, if you
don't take care, this house will get a bad name over the matches that
are made in it. You had better have your spare room boarded up, my
dear."

Mahony was feeling particularly rasped by John's hoity-toity behaviour
in this connection. Having been nursed back to health, John went about
with his chin in the air, and hardly condescended to allude to his
engagement--let alone talk it over with his relatives. So Mahony
retired into himself--after all, the world of John's mind was so
dissimilar to his own that he did not even care to know what went on in
it. "The fellow has been caught on the hop by a buxom form and a
languishing eye," was how he dismissed the matter in thought.

"I raise my wife to my own station, Mary. And you will greatly oblige me
by showing Jane every possible attention," was the only satisfaction
Polly could get from John, made in his driest tone.

Before the engagement was a week old Tilly reappeared--she was to be
married from their house on the hither side of Christmas. At first she
was too full of herself and her own affairs to let either Polly or Jinny
get a word in. Just to think of it! That old cabbage-grower, Devine, had
gone and bought the block of land next the one Mr. O. was building on.
She'd lay a bet he would put up a house the dead spit of theirs. Did
ever anyone hear such cheek?

At the news that was broken to her, the first time she paused for
breath, she let herself heavily down on a chair.

"Well, I'm blowed!" was all she could ejaculate. "Blowed!. . . that's
what I am."

But afterwards, when Jinny had left the room, she gave free play to a
very real envy and regret. "In all my life I never did! Jinn to be Mrs.
John! . . . and, as like as not, the Honourable Mrs. John before she's
done. Oh, Polly, my dear, why EVER didn't I wait!"

On being presented to John, however, she became more reconciled to her
lot. "'E's got a temper, your brother has, or I'm very much mistaken. It
won't be all beer and skittles for 'er ladyship. For Jinn hasn't a scrap
of spunk in 'er, Polly. She got so mopey the last year or two, there was
no doing anything with 'er. Now it was just the other way round with me.
No matter how black things looked, I always kept my pecker up. Poor ma
used to say I grew more like her, every day."

And at a still later date: "No, Polly, my dear, I wouldn't change places
with the future Mrs. T. after all, thank you--not for Joseph! I SAY!
she'll need to mind her p's and q's." For Tilly had listened to John
explaining to Jinny what he expected of her, what she might and might
not do; and had watched Jinny sitting meekly by and saying yes to
everything.

There was nothing in the way of the marriage; indeed, did it not take
place immediately, Jinny would have to look about her for a situation of
some kind; and, said John, that was nothing for HIS wife. His house
stood empty; he was very much in love; and pressed for the naming of the
day. So it was decided that Polly should accompany Jinny to lodgings in
Melbourne, help her choose her trousseau and engage servants. Afterwards
there would be a quiet wedding--by reason of Jinny's mourning--at
which Richard, if he could possibly contrive to leave his patients,
would give the bride away. Polly was to remain in John's house while the
happy couple were on honeymoon, to look after the servants. This
arrangement would also make the break less hard for the child. Trotty
was still blissfully unconscious of what had befallen her. She had
learnt to say "new mamma" parrot-wise, without understanding what the
words meant. And meanwhile, the fact that she was to go with her aunt
for a long, exciting coach-ride filled her childish cup with happiness.
As Polly packed the little clothes, she thought of the night, six years
before, when the fat, sleeping babe had been laid in her arms.

"Of course it's only natural John should want his family round him
again. But I SHALL miss the dear little soul," she said to her husband
who stood watching her.

"What you need is a little one of your own, wife."

"Ah, don't I wish I had!" said Polly, and drew a sigh. "That would make
up for everything. Still if it can't be, it can't."

A few days before the set time John received an urgent summons to
Melbourne, and went on ahead, leaving Mahony suspecting him of a dodge
to avoid travelling EN FAMILLE. In order that his bride-elect should not
be put to inconvenience, John hired four seats for the three of them;
but: "He might just as well have saved his money," thought Polly, when
she saw the coach. Despite their protests they were packed like herrings
in a barrel--had hardly enough room to use their hands. Altogether it
was a trying journey. Jinny, worked on by excitement and fatigue, took a
fit of hysterics; Trotty, frightened by the many rough strangers, cried
and had to be nursed; and the whole burden of the undertaking lay on
Polly's shoulders. She had felt rather timid about it, before starting;
but was obliged to confess she got on better than she expected. A kind
old man sitting opposite, for instance--a splitter he said he was--
actually undid Jinny's bonnet-strings, and fetched water for her at the
first stoppage.

Polly had not been in Melbourne since the year after her marriage, and
was looking forward intensely to the visit. She went laden with
commissions; her lady-friends gave her a list as long as her arm.
Richard, too, had entrusted her to get him second-hand editions of
various medical works, as well as a new stethoscope. Thirdly, she had
promised old Mr. Ocock to go to William's Town to meet Miss Amelia, who
even now was tossing somewhere on the Indian Ocean, and to escort the
poor young lady up to Ballarat.

Having seen them start, Mahony went home to drink his coffee and read
his paper in a quiet that was new to him. John's departure had already
eased the strain. Then Tilly had been boarded out at the Methodist
minister's. Now, with the exit of Polly and her charges, a great peace
descended on the little house. The rooms lay white and still in the sun,
and though all doors stood open, there was not a sound to be heard but
the buzzing of the blowflies round the sweets of the flytraps. He was
free to look as glum as he chose of a morning if he had neuralgia; or to
be silent when worried over a troublesome case. No longer would Miss
Tilly's bulky presence and loud-voiced reiterations of her prospects
grate his nerves; or John's full-blooded absorption in himself, and poor
foolish Jinny's quavering doubts whether she would ever be able to live
up to so magnificent a husband, offend his sense of decorum.

Another reason he was glad to see the last of them was that, in the long
run, he had rebelled at the barefaced way they made use of Polly, and
took advantage of her good nature. She had not only cooked for them and
waited on them; he had even caught her stitching garments for the
helpless Jinny. This was too much: such extreme obligingness on his
wife's part seemed to detract from her personal dignity. He could never
though have got Polly to see it. Undignified to do a kindness? What a
funny, selfish idea! The fact was, there was a certain streak in Polly's
nature that made her more akin to all these good people than to him--
him with his unsociable leanings towards a hermit's cell; his genuine
need of an occasional hour's privacy and silence, in which to think a
few thoughts through to the end.

On coming in from his rounds he turned out an old linen jacket that
belonged to his bachelor days, and raked up some books he had not opened
for an almost equally long time. He also steered clear of friends and
acquaintances, went nowhere, saw no one but his patients. And Ellen, to
whose cookery Polly had left him with many misgivings, took things easy.
"He's so busy reading, he never knows what he puts in his mouth. I
believe he'd eat his boot-soles, if I fried 'em up neat wid a bit of
parsley," she reported over the back fence on Doctor's odd ways.

During the winter months the practice had as usual fallen off. By now it
was generally beginning to look up again; but this year, for some
reason, the slackness persisted. He saw how lean his purse was, whenever
he had to take a banknote from it to enclose to Polly; there was
literally nothing doing, no money coming in. Then, he would restlessly
lay his book aside, and drawing a slip of paper to him set to reckoning
and dividing. Not for the first time he found himself in the doctor's
awkward quandary: how to be decently and humanly glad of a rise in the
health-rate.

He had often regretted having held to the half-hundred shares he had
bought at Henry Ocock's suggestion; had often spent in fancy the sum
they would have brought in, had he sold when they touched their highest
figure. Such a chance would hardly come his way again. After the one
fictitious flare-up, "Porepunkahs" had fallen heavily--the first main
prospect-drive, at a depth of three hundred and fifty feet, had failed
to strike the gutter--and nowadays they were not even quoted. Thus had
ended his single attempt to take a hand in the great game.

One morning he sat at breakfast, and thought over his weekly epistle to
Polly. In general, this chronicled items of merely personal interest.
The house had not yet been burnt down--her constant fear, when absent;
another doctor had got the Asylum; he himself stood a chance of being
elected to the Committee of the District Hospital. To-day, however,
there was more to tell. The English mail had come in, and the table was
strewn with foreign envelopes and journals. Besides the usual letters
from relatives, one in a queer, illiterate hand had reached him, the
address scrawled in purple ink on the cheapest note-paper. Opening it
with some curiosity, Mahony found that it was from his former assistant,
Long Jim.

The old man wrote in a dismal strain. Everything had gone against him.
His wife had died, he was out of work and penniless, and racked with
rheumatism--oh, it was "a crewl climat"! Did he stop in England, only
"the house" remained to him; he'd end in a pauper's grave. But he
believed if he could get back to a scrap of warmth and the sun, he'd be
good for some years yet. Now he'd always known Dr. Mahony for the
kindest, most liberal of gentlemen; the happiest days of his life had
been spent under him, on the Flat; and if he'd only give him a lift now,
there was nothing he wouldn't do to show his gratitude. Doctor knew a
bit about him, too. Here, he couldn't seem to get on with folk at all.
They looked crooked at him, and just because he'd once been spunky
enough to try his luck overseas. Mahony pshawed and smiled; then
wondered what Polly would say to this letter. She it was who had been
responsible for packing the old man off.

Unfolding the STAR, he ran his eye over its columns. He had garnered the
chief local news and was skimming the mining intelligence, when he
suddenly stopped short with an exclamation of surprise; and his grip on
the paper tightened. There it stood, black on white. "Porepunkahs" had
jumped to three pounds per share! What the dickens did that mean? He
turned back to the front sheet, to find if any clue to the claim's
renewed activity had escaped him; but sought in vain. So bolting the
rest of his breakfast, he hurried down to the town, to see if, on the
spot, he could pick up information with regard to the mysterious rise.

The next few days kept him in a twitter of excitement. "Porepunkahs"
went on advancing--not by leaps and bounds as before, but slowly and
steadily--and threw off a dividend. He got into bed at night with a hot
head, from wondering whether he ought to hold on or sell out; and inside
a week he was off to consult the one person who was in a position to
advise him. Henry Ocock's greeting resembled an embrace--"It evidently
means a fortune for him"--and all trifling personal differences were
forgotten in the wider common bond. The lawyer virtually ordered Mahony
to "sit in", till he gave the word. By this time "Porepunkahs" had
passed their previous limit, and even paid a bonus: it was now an open
secret that a drive undertaken in an opposite direction to the first had
proved successful; the lead was scored and seamed with gold. Ocock spoke
of the stone, specimens of which he had held in his hand--declared he
had never seen its equal.

But when the shares stood at fifty-three pounds each, Mahony could
restrain himself no longer; and, in spite of Ocock's belief that another
ten days would see a COUP, he parted with forty-five of the half hundred
he held. Leaving the odd money with the lawyer for re-investment, he
walked out of the office the possessor of two thousand pounds.

It was only a very ordinary late spring day; the season brought its like
by the score: a pale azure sky, against which the distant hills looked
purple; above these a narrow belt of cloud, touched, in its curves, to
the same hue. But to Mahony it seemed as if such a perfect day had never
dawned since he first set foot in Australia. His back was eased of its
burden; and, like Christian on having passed the wall known as
Salvation, he could have wept tears of joy. After all these years of
pinching and sparing he was out of poverty's grip. The suddenness of the
thing was what staggered him. He might have drudged till his hair was
grey; it was unlikely he would ever, at one stroke, have come into
possession of a sum like this.--And that whole day he went about
feeling a little more than human, and seeing people, places, things,
through a kind of beatific mist. Now, thank God, he could stand on his
own legs again; could relieve John of his bond, pay off the mortgage on
the house, insure his life before it was too late. And, everything done,
he would still have over a thousand pounds to his credit. A thousand
pounds! No longer need he thankfully accept any and every call; or
reckon sourly that, if the leakage on the roof was to be mended, he must
go without a new surtout. Best of all, he could now begin in earnest to
save.

First, though, he allowed himself two very special pleasures. He sent
Polly a message on the electric telegraph to say that he would come down
himself to fetch her home. In secret he planned a little trip to
Schnapper Point. At the time of John's wedding he had been unable to get
free; this would be the first holiday he and Polly had ever had
together.

The second thing he did was: to indulge the love of giving that was
innate in him; and of giving in a somewhat lordly way. He enjoyed the
broad grin that illumined Ellen's face at his unlooked-for generosity;
Jerry's red stammered thanks for the gift of the cob the boy had long
coveted. It did him good to put two ten-pound notes in an envelope and
inscribe Ned's name on it; he had never yet been able to do anything for
these poor lads. He also, without waiting to consult Polly--fearing,
indeed, that she might advise against it--sent off the money to Long
Jim for the outward voyage, and a few pounds over. For there were
superstitious depths in him; and, at this turn in his fortunes, it would
surely be of ill omen to refuse the first appeal for help that reached
him.

Polly was so much a part of himself that he thought of her last of all.
But then it was with moist eyes. She, who had never complained, should
of a surety not come short! And he dropped asleep that night to the
happy refrain: "Now she shall have her piano, God bless her! . . . the
best that money can buy."





Part 4




Chapter I



The new house stood in Webster Street. It was twice as large as the old
one, had a garden back and front, a verandah round three sides. When
Mahony bought it, and the piece of ground it stood on, it was an
unpretentious weather-board in a rather dilapidated condition. The
situation was good though--without being too far from his former
address--and there was stabling for a pair of horses. And by the time
he had finished with it, it was one of those characteristically
Australian houses which, added to wherever feasible, without a thought
for symmetry or design--a room built on here, a covered passage there,
a bathroom thrown out in an unexpected corner, with odd steps up and
down--have yet a spacious, straggling comfort all their own.

How glad he was to leave the tiny, sunbaked box that till now had been
his home. It had had neither blind nor shutter; and, on his entering it
of a summer midday, it had sometimes struck hotter than outside. The
windows of his new room were fitted with green venetians; round the
verandah-posts twined respectively a banksia and a Japanese honey-suckle,
which further damped the glare; while on the patch of buffalo-grass
in front stood a spreading fig-tree, that leafed well and threw a
fine shade. He had also added a sofa to his equipment. Now, when he came
in tired or with a headache, he could stretch himself at full length. He
was lying on it at this moment.

Polly, too, had reason to feel satisfied with the change. A handsome
little Broadwood, with a ruby-silk and carved-wood front, stood against
the wall of her drawing-room; gilt cornices surmounted the windows; and
from the centre of the ceiling hung a lustre-chandelier that was the
envy of every one who saw it: Mrs. Henry Ocock's was not a patch on it,
and yet had cost more. This time Mahony had virtually been able to give
his wife a free hand in her furnishing. And in her new spare room she
could put up no less than three guests!

Of course, these luxuries had not all rained on them at once. Several
months passed before Polly, on the threshold of her parlour, could
exclaim, with an artlessness that touched her husband deeply: "Never in
my life did I think I should have such a beautiful room!" Still, as
regarded money, the whole year had been a steady ascent. The nest-egg he
had left with the lawyer had served its purpose of chaining that old
hen, Fortune, to the spot. Ocock had invested and re-invested on his
behalf--now it was twenty "Koh-i-noors," now thirty "Consolidated
Beehives"--and Mahony was continually being agreeably surprised by the
margins it threw off in its metamorphoses. That came of his having
placed the matter in such competent hands. The lawyer had, for instance,
got him finally out of "Porepunkahs" in the nick of time--the reef had
not proved as open to the day as was expected--and pulled him off, in
the process, another three hundred odd. Compared with Ocock's own
takings, of course, his was a modest spoil; the lawyer had made a
fortune, and was now one of the wealthiest men in Ballarat. He had built
not only new and handsome offices on the crest of the hill, but also,
prior to his marriage, a fine dwelling-house standing in extensive
grounds on the farther side of Yuille's Swamp. Altogether it had been a
year of great and sweeping changes. People had gone up, gone down--had
changed places like children at a game of General Post. More than one of
Mahony's acquaintances had burnt his fingers. On the other hand, old
Devine, Polly's one-time market-gardener, had made his thousands. There
was actually talk of his standing for Parliament, in which case his wife
bid fair to be received at Government House. And the pair of them with
hardly an "h" between them!

From the sofa where he lay, Mahony could hear the murmur of his wife's
even voice. Polly sat the further end of the verandah talking to Jinny,
who dandled her babe in a rocking-chair that made a light tip-tap as it
went to and fro. Jinny said nothing: she was no doubt sunk in adoration
of her--or rather John's--infant; and Mahony all but dozed off, under
the full, round tones he knew so well.

In his case the saying had once more been verified: to him that hath
shall be given. Whether it was due to the better position of the new
house; or to the fact that easier circumstances gave people more leisure
to think of their ailments; or merely that money attracted money:
whatever the cause, his practice had of late made giant strides. He was
in demand for consultations; sat on several committees; while a couple
of lodges had come his way as good as unsought.

Against this he had one piece of ill-luck to set. At the close of the
summer, when the hot winds were in blast, he had gone down under the
worst attack of dysentery he had had since the early days. He really
thought this time all was over with him. For six weeks, in spite of the
tenderest nursing, he had lain prostrate, and as soon as he could bear
the journey had to prescribe himself a change to the seaside. The
bracing air of Queenscliff soon picked him up; he had, thank God, a
marvellous faculty of recuperation: while others were still not done
pitying him, he was himself again, and well enough to take the daily
plunge in the Sea that was one of his dearest pleasures.--To feel the
warm, stinging fluid lap him round, after all these drewthy years of
dust and heat! He could not have enough of it, and stayed so long in the
water that his wife, sitting at a decent distance from the Bathing
Enclosure, grew anxious, and agitated her little white parasol.

"There's nothing to equal it, Mary, this side Heaven!" he declared as he
rejoined her, his towel about his neck. "I wish I could persuade you to
try a dip, my dear."

But Mary preferred to sit quietly on the beach. "The dressing and
undressing is such a trouble," said she. As it was, one of her
elastic-sides was full of sand.

Yes, Polly was Mary now, and had been, since the day Ned turned up again
on Ballarat, accompanied by a wife and child. Mary was in Melbourne at
the time, at John's nuptials; Mahony had opened the door himself to
Ned's knock; and there, in a spring-cart, sat the frowsy, red-haired
woman who was come to steal his wife's name from her. This invasion was
the direct result of his impulsive generosity. Had he only kept his
money in his pocket!

He had been forced to take the trio in and give them house-room. But he
bore the storming of his hard-won privacy with a bad grace, and Mary had
much to gloss over on her return.

She had been greatly distressed by her favourite brother's ill-considered
marriage. For, if they had not held Jinny to be John's equal,
what WAS to be said of Ned's choice? Mrs. Ned had lived among the mining
population of Castlemaine, where her father kept a public-house; and,
said Richard, her manners were accordingly: loud, slap-dash, familiar--
before she had been twenty-four hours under his roof she was bluntly
addressing him as "Mahony." There was also a peculiar streak of
touchiness in her nature ("Goes with hair of that colour, my dear!")
which rendered her extremely hard to deal with. She had, it seemed,
opposed the idea of moving to Ballarat--that was all in her favour,
said Mary--and came primed to detect a snub or a slight at every turn.
This morbid suspiciousness it was that led Mary to yield her rights in
the matter of the name: the confusion between them was never-ending;
and, at the first hint that the change would come gracefully from her,
Mrs. Ned had flown into a passion.

"It's all the same to me, Richard, what I'm called," Mary soothed him.
"And don't you think Polly was beginning to sound RATHER childish, now
I'm nearly twenty-four?"

But: "Oh, what COULD Ned have seen in her?" she sighed to herself
dismayed. For Mrs. Ned was at least ten years older than her husband;
and whatever affection might originally have existed between them was
now a thing of the past She tyrannised mercilessly over him, nagging at
him till Ned, who was nothing if not good-natured, turned sullen and
left off tossing his child in the air.

"We must just make the best of it, Richard," said Mary. "After all,
she's really fond of the baby. And when the second comes. . . you'll
attend her yourself, won't you, dear? I think somehow her temper may
improve when that's over."

For this was another thing: Mrs. Ned had arrived there in a condition
that raised distressing doubts in Mary as to the dates of Ned's marriage
and the birth of his first child. She did not breathe them to Richard;
for it seemed to her only to make matters of this kind worse, openly to
speak of them. She devoted herself to getting the little family under a
roof of its own. Through Richard's influence Ned obtained a clerkship in
a carrying-agency, which would just keep his head above water; and she
found a tiny, three-roomed house that was near enough to let her be
daily with her sister-in-law when the latter's time came. Meanwhile, she
cut out and helped to sew a complete little outfit ("What she had before
was no better than rags!"); and Mrs. Ned soon learned to know on whom
she could lean and to whom she might turn, not only for practical aid,
but also for a never failing sympathy in what she called her "troubles."

"I vow your Mary's the kindest-hearted little soul it's ever been me
luck to run across," she averred one day to Mahony, who was visiting her
professionally. "So common-sense, too--no nonsense about HER! I
shouldn't have thought a gaby like Ned could have sported such trump of
a sister."

"Another pensioner for your CARITAS, dear," said Mahony, in passing on
the verdict. What he did not grieve his wife by repeating were certain
bad reports of Ned lately brought him by Jerry. According to Jerry--and
the boy's word was to be relied on--Ned had kept loose company in
Castlemaine, and had acquired the habit of taking more than was good for
him. Did he not speedily amend his ways, there would be small chance of
him remaining in his present post.

Here, Mahony was effectually roused by a stir on the verandah. Jinny had
entered the house to lay down her sleeping babe, and a third voice,
Purdy's, became audible. The wife had evidently brought out a bottle of
her famous home-brewed gingerbeer: he heard the cork pop, the drip of
the overflow on the boards, the clink of the empty glass; and Purdy's
warm words of appreciation.

Then there was silence. Rising from the sofa, Mahony inserted himself
between blind and window, and peeped out.

His first thought was: what a picture! Mary wore a pale pink cotton gown
which, over the light swellings of her crinoline, bulged and billowed
round her, and generously swept the ground. Collar and cuffs of spotless
lawn outlined neck and wrists. She bent low over her stitching, and the
straight white parting of her hair intensified the ebony of the glossy
bands. Her broad pure forehead had neither line nor stain. On the
trellis behind her a vine hung laden with massy bunches of muscatelles.

Purdy sat on the edge of the verandah, with his back to Mahony. Between
thumb and forefinger he idly swung a pair of scissors.

Urged by some occult sympathy, Mary at once glanced up and discovered
her husband. Her face was lightly flushed from stooping--and the least
touch of colour was enough to give its delicate ivory an appearance of
vivid health. She had grown fuller of late--quite fat, said Richard,
when he wished to tease her: a luxuriant young womanliness lay over and
about her. Now, above the pale wild-rose of her cheeks her black eyes
danced with a mischievous glee; for she believed her husband intended
swinging his leg noiselessly over the sill and creeping up to startle
Purdy--and this appealed to her sense of humour. But, as he remained
standing at the window, she just smiled slyly, satisfied to be in
communion with him over their unsuspecting friend's head.

Here, however, Purdy brought his eyes back from the garden, and she
abruptly dropped hers to her needlework.

The scissors were shut with a snap, and thrown, rather than laid, to the
other implements in the workbox. "One 'ud think you were paid to finish
that wretched sewing in a fixed time, Polly," said Purdy cantankerously.
"Haven't you got a word to say?"

"It's for the Dorcas Society. They're having a sale of work."

"Oh, damn Dorcases! You're always slaving for somebody. You'll ruin your
eyes. I wonder Dick allows it. I shouldn't--I know that."

The peal of laughter that greeted these words came equally from husband
and wife. Then: "What the dickens does it matter to you, sir, how much
sewing my wife chooses to do?" cried Mahony, and, still laughing,
stepped out of the window.

"Hello!--you there?" said Purdy and rose to his feet. "What a beastly
fright to give one!" He looked red and sulky.

"I scored that time, my boy!" and linking his arm in Mary's, Mahony
confronted his friend. "Afraid I'm neglecting my duties, are you?
Letting this young woman spoil her eyes?--Turn 'em on him, my love, in
all their splendour, that he may judge for himself."

"Nonsense, Richard," said Mary softly, but with an affectionate squeeze
of his arm.

"Well, ta-ta, I'm off!" said Purdy. And as Mahony still continued to
quiz him, he added in a downright surly tone: "Just the same old Dick as
ever! Blinder than any bat to all that doesn't concern yourself! I'll
eat my hat if it's ever entered your noddle that Polly's quite the
prettiest woman on Ballarat."

"Don't listen to him, Richard, please!" and: "Don't let your head be
turned by such fulsome flattery, my dear!" were wife and husband's
simultaneous exclamations.

"I shouldn't think so," said Mary sturdily, and would have added more,
but just at this minute Jinny came out of the house, with the peculiar
noiseless tread she had acquired in moving round an infant's crib; and
Purdy vanished.

Jinny gazed at her sister-in-law with such meaning--that Mary could not
but respond.

"Did you get her safely laid down, dear?"

"Perfectly, Mary! Without even the quiver of an eyelash. You recollect,
I told you yesterday when her little head touched the pillow, she opened
her eyes and looked at me. To-day there was nothing of that sort. It was
quite perfect"; and Jinny's voice thrilled at the remembrance: it was as
if, in continuing to sleep during the transit, her--or rather John's--
tiny daughter had proved herself a marvellous sagacity.

Mahony gave an impatient shrug in Jinny's direction. But he, too, had to
stand fire: she had been waiting all day for a word with him. The babe,
who was teething, was plagued by various disorders; and Jinny knew each
fresh pin's-head of a spot that joined the rash.

Mahony made light of her fears; then turning to his wife asked her to
hurry on the six-o'clock dinner: he had to see a patient between that
meal and tea. Mary went to make arrangements--Richard always forgot to
mention such things till the last moment--and also to please Jinny by
paying a visit to the baby.

"The angels can't look very different when they sleep, I think,"
murmured its mother, hanging over the couch.

When Mary returned, she found her husband picking caterpillars off the
vine: Long Jim, odd man now about house and garden, was not industrious
enough to keep the pests under. In this brief spell of leisure--such
moments grew ever rarer in Richard's life--husband and wife locked
their arms and paced slowly up and down the verandah. It was late
afternoon on a breathless, pale-skied February day; and the boards of
the flooring gritted with sandy dust beneath their feet.

"He WAS grumpy this afternoon, wasn't he?" said Mary, without preamble.
"But I've noticed once or twice lately that he can't take a joke any
more. He's grown queer altogether. Do you know he's the only person who
still persists in calling me by my old name? He was quite rude about it
when I asked him why. Perhaps he's liverish, from the heat. It might be
a good thing, dear, if you went round and overhauled him. Somehow, it
seems unnatural for Purdy to be bad-tempered."

"It's true he may be a bit out of sorts. But I fear the evil's
deeper-seated. It's my opinion the boy is tiring of regular work. Now that
he hasn't even the excitement of the gold-escort to look forward to. . . .
And he's been a rolling stone from the beginning, you know."

"If only he would marry and settle down! I do wish I could find a wife
for him. The right woman could make anything of Purdy"; and yet once
more Mary fruitlessly scanned, in thought, the lists of her
acquaintance.

"What if it's a case of sour grapes, love? Since the prettiest woman on
Ballarat is no longer free. . . ."

"Oh, Richard, hush! Such foolish talk!"

"But is it? . . . let me look at her. Well, if not the prettiest, at
least a very pretty person indeed. It certainly becomes you to be
stouter, wife."

But Mary had not an atom of vanity in her. "Speaking of prettiness
reminds me of something that happened at the Races last week--I forgot
to tell you, at the time. There were two gentlemen there from Melbourne;
and as Agnes Ocock went past, one of them said out loud: 'Gad! That's a
lovely woman.' Agnes heard it herself, and was most distressed. And the
whole day, wherever she went, they kept their field-glasses on her. Mr.
Henry was furious."

"If you'll allow me to say so, my dear, Mrs. Henry cannot hold a candle
to some one I know--to my mind, at least."

"If I suit you, Richard, that's all I care about."

"Well, to come back to what we were saying. My advice is, give Master
Purdy a taste of the cold shoulder the next time he comes hanging about
the house. Let him see his ill-temper didn't pass unnoticed. There's no
excuse for it. God bless me! doesn't he sleep the whole night through in
his bed?"--and Mahony's tone took on an edge. The broken nights that
were nowadays the rule with himself were the main drawbacks to his
prosperity. He had never been a really good sleeper; and, in
consequence, was one of those people who feel an intense need for sleep,
and suffer under its curtailment. As things stood at present his rest
was wholly at the mercy of the night-bell--a remorseless instrument,
given chiefly to pealing just as he had managed to drop off. Its
gentlest tinkle was enough to rouse him--long before it had succeeded
in penetrating the ears of the groom, who was supposed to open. And when
it remained silent for a night, some trifling noise in the road would
simulate its jangle in his dreams. "It's a wonder I have any nerves
left," he grumbled, as the hot, red dawns crept in at the sides of the
bedroom-window. For the shortening of his sleep at one end did not mean
that he could make it up at the other. All that summer he had fallen
into the habit of waking at five o'clock, and not being able to doze off
again. The narrowest bar of light on the ceiling, the earliest twitter
of the sparrows was enough to strike him into full consciousness; and
Mary was hard put to it to darken the room and ensure silence; and would
be till the day came when he could knock off work and take a thorough
holiday. This he promised himself to do, before he was very much older.




Chapter II



Mary sat with pencil and paper and wrinkled her brows. She was composing
a list, and every now and then, after an inward calculation, she lowered
the pencil to note such items as: three tipsy-cakes, four trifles, eight
jam-sandwiches. John Turnham had run up from Melbourne to fetch home
wife and child; and his relatives were giving a musical card-party in
his honour. By the window Jinny sat on a low ottoman suckling her babe,
and paying but scant heed to her sister-in-law's deliberations: to her
it seemed a much more important matter that the milk should flow
smoothly down the precious little throat, than that Mary's supper should
be a complete success. With her free hand she imprisoned the two little
feet, working one against the other in slow enjoyment; or followed the
warm little limbs up inside the swaddling, after the fashion of nursing
mothers.

The two women were in the spare bedroom, which was dusk and cool and
dimity-white; and they exchanged remarks in a whisper; for the lids had
come down more than once on the big black eyes, and now only lifted
automatically from time to time, to send a last look of utter satiation
at the mother-face. Mary always said: "She'll drop off sooner indoors,
dear." But this was not the whole truth. Richard had hinted that he
considered the seclusion of the house better suited to the business of
nursing than the comparative publicity of the verandah; for Jinny was
too absorbed in her task to take thought for the proprieties. Here now
she sat--she had grown very big and full since her marriage in the
generous, wide-lapped pose of some old Madonna.

Mary, thrown entirely on her own judgment, was just saying with
decision: "Well, better to err on the right side and have too much than
too little," and altering a four into a five, when steps came down the
passage and John entered the room. Jinny made him a sign, and John, now
Commissioner of Trade and Customs, advanced as lightly as could be
expected of a heavy, well-grown man.

"Does she sleep?" he asked.

His eyes had flown to the child; only in the second place did they rest
on his wife. At the sight of her free and easy bearing his face changed,
and he said stiffly: "I think, Jane, a little less exposure of your
person, my dear. . . ."

Flushing to her hair-roots, Jinny began as hastily as she dared to
re-arrange her dress.

Mary broke a lance on her behalf. "We were quite alone, John," she
reminded her brother. "Not expecting a visit from you." And added:
"Richard says it is high time Baby was weaned. Jinny is feeling the
strain."

"As long as this rash continues I shall not permit it," answered John,
riding rough-shod over even Richard's opinion. ("I shouldn't agree to it
either, John dear," murmured Jinny.) "And now, Mary, a word with you
about the elder children. I understand that you are prepared to take
Emma back--is that so?"

Yes, Mary was pleased to say Richard had consented to Trotty's return;
but he would not hear of her undertaking Johnny. At eleven years of age
the proper place for a boy, he said, was a Grammar School. With Trotty,
of course, it was different. "I always found her easy to manage, and
should be more than glad to have her"; and Mary meant what she said. Her
heart ached for John's motherless children. Jinny's interest in them had
lasted only so long as she had none of her own; and Mary, who being
childless had kept a large heart for all little ones, marvelled at the
firm determination to get rid of her stepchildren which her sister-in-law,
otherwise so pliable, displayed.

Brother and sister talked things over, intuitively meeting half-way,
understanding each other with a word, as only blood relations can.
Jinny, the chief person concerned, sat meekly by, or chimed in merely to
echo her husband's views.

"By the way, I ran into Richard on Specimen Hill," said John as he
turned to leave the room. "And he asked me to let you know that he would
not be home to lunch."

"There. . . if that isn't always the way!" exclaimed Mary. "As sure as I
cook something he specially likes, he doesn't come in. Tilly sent me
over the loveliest little sucking-pig this morning. Richard would have
enjoyed it."

"You should be proud, my dear Mary, that his services are in such
demand."

"I am, John--no one could be prouder. But all the same I wish he could
manage to be a little more regular with his meals. It makes cooking so
difficult. To-morrow, because I shan't have a minute to spare, he'll be
home punctually, demanding something nice. But I warn you, to-morrow
you'll all have to picnic!"

However, when the day came, she was better than her word, and looked to
it that neither guests nor husband went short. Since a couple of tables
on trestles took up the dining-room, John and Mahony lunched together in
the surgery; while Jinny's meal was spread on a tray and sent to her in
the bedroom. Mary herself had time only to snatch a bite standing. From
early morning on, tied up in a voluminous apron, she was cooking in the
kitchen, very hot and floury and preoccupied, drawing grating shelves
out of the oven, greasing tins and patty-pans, dredging flour. The
click-clack of egg-beating resounded continuously; and mountains of
sponge-cakes of all shapes and sizes rose under her hands. This would be
the largest, most ambitious party she had ever given--the guests
expected numbered between twenty and thirty, and had, besides, carte
blanche to bring with them anyone who happened to be staying with them--
and it would be a disgrace under which Mary, reared in Mrs. Beamish's
school, could never again have held up her head, had a single article on
her supper-table run short.

In all this she had only such help as her one maidservant could give her
--John had expressly forbidden Jinny the kitchen. True, during the
morning Miss Amelia Ocock, a gentle little elderly body with a harmless
smile and a prominent jaw, who was now an inmate of her father's house,
together with Zara, returned from England and a visitor at the Ocock's--
these two walked over to offer their aid in setting the tables. But Miss
Amelia, fluttery and undecided as a bird, was far too timid to do
herself justice; and Zara spent so long arranging the flowers in the
central epergnes that before she had finished with one of them it was
lunch time.

"I could have done it myself while she was cutting the stalks," Mary
told her husband. "But Zara hasn't really been any good at flowers since
her 'mixed bouquet' took first prize at the Flower Show. Of course,
though, it looks lovely now it's done."

Purdy dropped in during the afternoon and was more useful; he sliced the
crusts off loaf-high mounds of sandwiches, and tested the strength and
flavour of the claret-cup. Mary could not make up her mind, when it came
to the point, to follow Richard's advice and treat him coldly. She did,
however, tell him that his help would be worth a great deal more to her
if he talked less and did not always look for an answer to what he said.
But Purdy was not to be quashed. He had taken it into his head that she
was badly treated, in being left "to slave" alone, within the oven's
radius; and he was very hard on Jinny, whom he had espied comfortably
dandling her child on the front verandah. "I'd like to wring the
bloomin' kid's neck!"

"Purdy, for shame!" cried Mary outraged. "It's easy to see you're still
a bachelor. Just wait, sir, till you have children of your own!"

Under her guidance he bore stacks of plates across the yard to the
dining-room--where the blinds were lowered to keep the room cool--and
strewed these, and corresponding knives and forks, up and down the
tables. He also carried over the heavy soup-tureen in which was the
claret-cup. But he had a man's slippery fingers, and, between these and
his limp, Mary trembled for the fate of her crockery. He made her laugh,
too, and distracted her attention; and she was glad when it was time for
him to return to barracks.

"Now come early to-night," she admonished him. "And mind you bring your
music. Miss Amelia's been practising up that duet all the week. She'll
be most disappointed if you don't ask her to sing with you."

On the threshold of the kitchen Purdy set his fingers to his nose in the
probable direction of Miss Amelia; then performed some skittish female
twists and turns about the yard. "So hoarse, love . . . a bad cold . . .
not in voice!" Mary laughed afresh, and ordered him off.

But when he had gone she looked grave, and out of an oddly disquieting
feeling said to herself: "I do hope he'll be on his best behaviour
to-night, and not tread on Richard's toes."

As it was, she had to inform her husband of something that she knew
would displease him. John had come back in the course of the afternoon
and announced, without ceremony, that he had extended an invitation to
the Devines for the evening.

"It's quite true what's being said, dear," Mary strove to soothe
Richard, as she helped him make a hasty toilet in the bathroom. "Mr.
Devine is going to stand for Parliament; and he has promised his
support, if he gets in, to some measure John has at heart. John wants to
have a long talk with him to-night."

But Richard was exceedingly put out. "Well, I hope, my dear, that as
it's your brother who has taken such a liberty, YOU'LL explain the
situation to your guests. I certainly shall not. But I do know there was
no need to exclude Ned and Polly from such an omnium-gatherum as this
party of yours will be."

Even while he spoke there came a rat-a-tat at the front door, and Mary
had to hurry off. And now knock succeeded knock with the briefest of
intervals, the noise carrying far in the quiet street. Mysteriously
bunched-up figures, their heads veiled in the fleeciest of clouds, were
piloted along the passage; and: "I HOPE we are not the first!" was
murmured by each new-comer in turn. The gentlemen went to change their
boots on the back verandah; the ladies to lay off their wraps in Mary's
bedroom. And soon this room was filled to overflowing with the large
soft abundance of crinoline; hoops swaying from this side to that, as
the guests gave place to one another before the looking-glass, where
bands of hair were smoothed and the catches of bracelets snapped.
Music-cases lay strewn over the counterpane; the husbands who lined up in
the passage, to wait for their wives, also bearing rolls of music. Mary,
in black silk with a large cameo brooch at her throat, and only a delicate
pink on her cheeks to tell of all her labours, moved helpfully to and
fro, offering a shoe-horn, a hand-mirror, pins and hairpins. She was
caught, as she passed Mrs. Henry Ocock, a modishly late arrival, by that
lady's plump white hand, and a whispered request to be allowed to retain
her mantle. "Henry was really against my coming, dearest. So
anxious . . . so absurdly anxious!"

"And pray where's the Honourable Mrs. T. to-night?" inquired "old Mrs.
Ocock," rustling up to them: Tilly was the biggest and most handsomely
dressed woman in the room. "On her knees worshipping, I bet you, up to
the last minute! Or else not allowed to show her nose till the
Honourable John's got his studs in.--Now then, girls, how much longer
are you going to stand preening and prinking?"

The "girls" were Zara, at this present a trifle PASSEE, and Miss Amelia,
who was still further from her prime; and gathering the two into her
train, as a hen does its chickens, Tilly swept them off to face the
ordeal of the gentlemen and the drawing-room.

Mary and Agnes brought up the rear. Mr. Henry was on the watch, and
directly his wife appeared wheeled forward the best armchair and placed
her in it, with a footstool under her feet. Mary planted Jinny next her
and left them to their talk of nurseries: for Richard's sake she wished
to screen Agnes from the vulgarities of Mrs. Devine. Herself she saw
with dismay, on entering, that Richard had already been pounced on by
the husband: there he stood, listening to his ex-greengrocer's words--
they were interlarded with many an awkward and familiar gesture--on his
face an expression his wife knew well, while one small, impatient hand
tugged at his whiskers.

But "old Mrs. Ocock" came to his rescue, bearing down upon him with an
outstretched hand, and a howdee-do that could be heard all over the
room: Tilly had long forgotten that she had ever borne him a grudge; she
it was who could now afford to patronise. "I hope I see you well,
doctor?--Oh, not a bit of it. . . . I left him at 'ome. Mr. O. has
something wrong, if you please, with his leg or his big toe--gout or
rheumatiz or something of that sort--and 'e's been so crabby with it
for the last day or so that to-night I said to 'im: 'No, my dear, you'll
just take a glass of hot toddy, and go early and comfortable to your
bed.' Musical parties aren't in his line anyhow."

A lively clatter of tongues filled the room, the space of which was
taxed to its utmost: there were present, besides the friends and
intimates of the house, several of Mahony's colleagues, a couple of Bank
Managers, the Police Magistrate, the Postmaster, the Town Clerk, all
with their ladies. Before long, however, ominous pauses began to break
up the conversation, and Mary was accomplished hostess enough to know
what these meant. At a sign from her, Jerry lighted the candles on the
piano, and thereupon a fugue-like chorus went up: "Mrs. Mahony, won't
you play something?--Oh, do!--Yes, please, do. . . . I should enjoy it
so much."

Mary did not wait to be pressed; it was her business to set the ball
rolling; and she stood up and went to the piano as unconcernedly as she
would have gone to sweep a room or make a bed.

Placing a piece of music on the rack, she turned down the corners of the
leaves. But here Archdeacon Long's handsome, weatherbeaten face looked
over her shoulder. "I hope you're going to give us the cannons, Mrs.
Mahony?" he said genially. And so Mary obliged him by laying aside the
MORCEAU she had chosen, and setting up instead a "battle-piece," that
was a general favourite.

"Aha! that's the ticket," said Henry Ocock, and rubbed his hands as Mary
struck up, pianissimo, the march that told of the enemy's approach.

And: "Boompity-boomp-boomp-boomp!" Archdeacon Long could not refrain
from underlining each fresh salvo of artillery; while: "That's a breach
in their walls for 'em!" was Chinnery of the London Chartered's
contribution to the stock of fun.

Mahony stood on the hearthrug and surveyed the assembly. His eyes fled
Mrs. Devine, most unfortunately perched on an ottoman in the middle of
the room, where she sat, purple, shiny and beaming, two hot, fat, red
hands clasped over her stomach ("Like a heathen idol! Confound the
woman! I shall have to go and do the polite to her"), and sought Mary at
the piano, hanging with pleasure on the slim form in the rich silk
dress. This caught numberless lights from the candles, as did also the
wings of her glossy hair. He watched, with a kind of amused tenderness,
how at each forte passage head and shoulders took their share of lending
force to the tones. He never greatly enjoyed Mary's playing. She did
well enough at it, God bless her!--it would not have been Mary if she
hadn't--but he came of a musical family; his mother had sung Handel
faultlessly in her day, besides having a mastery of several instruments:
and he was apt to be critical. Mary's firm, capable hands looked out of
place on a piano; seemed to stand in a sheerly business relation to the
keys. Nor was it otherwise with her singing: she had a fair contralto,
but her ear was at fault; and he sometimes found himself swallowing
nervously when she attacked high notes.

"Oh, doctor! your wife DO play the pianner lovely," said Mrs. Devine,
and her fat front rose and fell in an ecstatic sigh.

"Richard dear, will you come?" Mary laid her hands on his shoulder:
their guests were clamouring for a DUO. Her touch was a caress: here he
was, making himself as pleasant as he knew how, to this old woman. When
it came to doing a kindness, you could rely on Richard; he was all bark
and no bite.

Husband and wife blended their voices--Mary had been at considerable
pains to get up her part--and then Richard went on to a solo. He had a
clear, true tenor that was very agreeable to hear; and Mary felt quite
proud of his attainments. Later in the evening he might be persuaded to
give them a reading from Boz, or a recitation. At that kind of thing, he
had not his equal.

But first there was a cry for his flute; and in vain did Mahony protest
that weeks had elapsed since he last screwed the instrument together. He
got no quarter, even from Mary--but then Mary was one of those
inconvenient people to whom it mattered not a jot what a fool you made
of yourself, as long as you did what was asked of you. And so, from
memory and unaccompanied, he played them the old familiar air of THE
MINSTREL BOY. The theme, in his rendering, was overlaid by florid
variations and cumbered with senseless repetitions; but, none the less,
the wild, wistful melody went home, touching even those who were not
musical to thoughtfulness and retrospect. The most obstinate chatterers,
whom neither sham battles nor Balfe and Blockley had silenced, held
their tongues; and Mrs. Devine openly wiped her eyes.

O, THE MINSTREL BOY TO THE WARS HAS GONE!
IN THE RANKS OF DEATH YOU'LL FIND HIM.

While it was proceeding, Mary found herself seated next John. John
tapped his foot in time to the tune; and under cover of the applause at
its close remarked abruptly: "You should fatten Richard up a bit, Mary.
He could stand it."

From where they sat they had Richard in profile, and Mary studied her
husband critically, her head a little on one side. "Yes, he IS rather
thin. But I don't think he was ever meant to be fat."

"Ah well! we are none of us as young as we used to be," was John's
tribute to the power of music. And throwing out his stomach, he leaned
back in his chair and plugged the armholes of his vest with his thumbs.

And now, after due pressing on the part of host and hostess, the other
members of the company advanced upon the piano, either singly or in
couples, to bear a hand in the burden of entertainment. Their seeming
reluctance had no basis in fact; for it was an unwritten law that every
one who could must add his mite; and only those who literally had "not a
note of music in them" were exempt. Tilly took a mischievous pleasure in
announcing bluntly: "So sorry, my dear, not to be able to do you a
tool-de-rool! But when the Honourable Mrs. T. and I were nippers we'd no
time to loll round pianos, nor any pianos to loll round!"--this, just to
see her brother-in-law's dark scowl; for no love--not even a liking--was
lost between her and John. But with this handful of exceptions all nobly
toed the line. Ladies with the tiniest reeds of voices, which shook like
reeds, warbled of Last Roses and Prairie Flowers; others, with more
force but due decorum, cried to Willie that they had Missed Him, or
coyly confessed to the presence of Silver Threads Among the Gold; and
Mrs. Chinnery, an old-young woman with a long, lean neck, which she
twisted this way and that in the exertion of producing her notes,
declared her love for an Old Armchair. The gentlemen, in baritones and
profundos, told the amorous adventures of Ben Bolt; or desired to know
what Home would be Without a Mother. Purdy spiced the hour with a comic
song, and in the character of an outraged wife tickled the risibility of
the ladies.

WELL, WELL, SIR, SO YOU'VE COME AT LAST!
I THOUGHT YOU'D COME NO MORE.
I'VE WAITED, WITH MY BONNET ON,
FROM ONE TILL HALF-PAST FOUR!

Zara and Mrs. Long both produced HOME THEY BROUGHT HER WARRIOR DEAD!
from their portfolios; so Zara good-naturedly gave way and struck up
ROBERT, TOI QUE J'AIME! which she had added to her repertory while in
England. No one could understand a word of what she sang; but the mere
fitting of the foreign syllables to the appropriate notes was considered
a feat in itself, and corroborative of the high gifts Zara possessed.

Strenuous efforts were needed to get Miss Amelia to her feet. She was
dying, as Mary knew, to perform her duet with Purdy; but when the moment
came she put forward so many reasons for not complying that most people
retired in despair. It took Mary to persevere. And finally the little
woman was persuaded to the piano, where, red with gratification, she sat
down, spread her skirts and unclasped her bracelets.

"Poor little Amelia!" said Mary to herself, as she listened to a
romantic ballad in which Purdy, in the character of a high-minded
nobleman, sought the hand of a virtuous gipsy-maid. "And he doesn't give
her a second thought. If one could just tell her not to be so silly!"

Not only had Purdy never once looked near Amelia--for the most part he
had sat rather mum-chance, half-way in and out of a French window, even
Zara's attempts to enliven him falling flat--but, during an extra loud
performance, Tilly had confided to Mary the family's plans for their
spinster relative. And: "The poor little woman!" thought Mary again as
she listened. For, after having been tied for years to the sick bed of a
querulous mother; after braving the long sea-voyage, which for such a
timid soul was full of ambushes and terrors, Miss Amelia had reached her
journey's end only to find both father and brother comfortably wived,
and with no use for her. Neither of them wanted her. She had been given
house-room first by her father, then by the Henrys, and once more had
had to go back to the paternal roof.

"It was nothing for Mossieu Henry in the long run," was his stepmother's
comment. But she laughed good-humouredly as she said it; for, his first
wrath at her intrusion over, Henry had more or less become her friend;
and now maintained that it was not a bad thing for his old father to
have a sensible, managing woman behind him. Tilly had developed in many
ways since her marriage; and Henry and she mutually respected each
other's practical qualities.

The upshot of the affair was, she now told Mary, that Miss Amelia's male
relatives had subscribed a dowry for her. "It was me that insisted Henry
should pay his share--him getting all the money 'e did with Agnes." And
Amelia was to be married off to--"Well, if you turn your head, my dear,
you'll see who. Back there, helping to hold up the doorpost."

Under cover of Zara's roulades Mary cautiously looked round. It was
Henry's partner--young Grindle, now on the threshold of the thirties.
His side-whiskers a shade less flamboyant than of old, a heavy watch-chain
draped across his front, Grindle stood and lounged with his hands
in his pockets.

Mary made round eyes. "Oh, but Tilly!. . . isn't it very risky? He's so
much younger than she is. Suppose she shouldn't be happy?"

"That'll be all right, Mary, trust me. Only give 'er a handle to 'er
name, and Amelia 'ud be happy with any one. She hasn't THAT much
backbone in 'er. Besides, my dear, you think, she's over forty! Let her
take 'er chance and be thankful. It isn't every old maid 'ud get such an
offer."

"And is . . . is HE agreeable?" asked Mary, still unconvinced.

Tilly half closed her right eye and protruded the tip of her tongue.
"You could stake your last fiver on it, he is!"

But now that portion of the entertainment devoted to art was at an end,
and the serious business of the evening began. Card-tables had been set
out--for loo, as for less hazardous games. In principle, Mahony
objected to the high play that was the order of the day; but if you
invited people to your house you could not ask them to screw their
points down from crowns to halfpence. They would have thanked you kindly
and have stayed at home. Here, at the loo-table places were eagerly
snapped up, Henry Ocock and his stepmother being among the first to
secure seats: both were keen, hard players, who invariably re-lined
their well-filled pockets.

It would not have been the thing for either Mahony or his wife to take a
hand; several of the guests held aloof. John had buttonholed old Devine;
Jinny and Agnes were still lost in domesticities. Dear little Agnes had
grown so retiring of late, thought Mary; she quite avoided the society
of gentlemen, in which she had formerly taken such pleasure. Richard and
Archdeacon Long sat on the verandah, and in moving to and fro, Mary
caught a fragment of their talk: they were at the debatable question of
table-turning, and her mental comment was a motherly and amused: "That
Richard, who is so clever, can interest himself in such nonsense!"
Further on, Zara was giving Grindle an account of her voyage "home," and
ticking off the reasons that had led to her return. She sat across a
hammock, and daintily exposed a very neat ankle. "It was much too sleepy
and dull for ME! No, I've QUITE decided to spend the rest of my days in
the colony."

Mrs. Devine was still perched on her ottoman. She beamed at her hostess.
"No, I dunno one card from another, dearie, and don' want to. Oh, my
dear, what a LOVELY party it 'as been, and 'ow well you've carried it
h'off!"

Mary nodded and smiled; but with an air of abstraction. The climax of
her evening was fast approaching. Excusing herself, she slipped away and
went to cast a last eye over her supper-tables, up and down which
benches were ranged, borrowed from the Sunday School. To her surprise
she found herself followed by Mrs. Devine.

"DO let me 'elp you, my dear, do, now! I feel that stiff and silly
sittin' stuck up there with me 'ands before me. And jes' send that young
feller about 'is business."

So Purdy and his offers of assistance were returned with thanks to the
card-room, and Mrs. Devine pinned up her black silk front. But not till
she had freely vented her astonishment at the profusion of Mary's good
things. "'Ow DO you git 'em to rise so?--No, I never did! Fit for
Buckin'am Palace and Queen Victoria! And all by your little self, too.--
My dear, I must give you a good 'UG!"

Hence, when at twelve o'clock the company began to stream in, they found
Mrs. Devine installed behind the barricade of cups, saucers and glasses;
and she it was who dispensed tea and coffee and ladled out the claret-cup;
thus leaving Mary free to keep an argus eye on her visitors'
plates. At his entry Richard had raised expostulating eyebrows; but his
tongue of course was tied. And Mary made a lifelong friend.

And now for the best part of an hour Mary's sandwiches, sausage-rolls
and meat-pies; her jam-rolls, pastries and lemon-sponges; her jellies,
custards and creams; her blanc and jaunemanges and whipped syllabubs;
her trifles, tipsy-cakes and charlotte-russes formed the theme of talk
and objects of attention. And though the ladies picked with becoming
daintiness, the gentlemen made up for their partners' deficiencies; and
there was none present who did not, in the shape of a hearty and
well-turned compliment, add yet another laurel to Mary's crown.




Chapter III



It had struck two before the party began to break up. The first move
made, however, the guests left in batches, escorting one another to
their respective house-doors. The Henry Ococks' buggy had been in
waiting for some time, and Mrs. Henry's pretty head was drooping with
fatigue before Henry, who was in the vein, could tear himself from the
card-table. Mahony went to the front gate with them; then strolled with
the Longs to the corner of the road.

He was in no hurry to retrace his steps. The air was balmy, after that
of the overcrowded rooms, and it was a fabulously beautiful night. The
earth lay steeped in moonshine, as in the light of a silver sun. Trees
and shrubs were patterned to their last leaf on the ground before them.
What odd mental twist made mortals choose rather to huddle indoors, by
puny candle-light, than to be abroad laving themselves in a splendour
such as this?

Leaning his arms on the top rail of a fence, he looked across the slope
at the Flat, now hushed and still as the encampment of a sleeping army.
Beyond, the bush shimmered palely grey--in his younger years he had
been used, on a night like this when the moon sailed full and free, to
take his gun and go opossuming. Those two old woody gods, Warrenheip and
Buninyong, stood out more imposingly than by day; but the ranges seemed
to have retreated. The light lay upon them like a visible burden,
flattening their contours, filling up clefts and fissures with a milky
haze.

"Good evening, doctor!"

Spoken in his very ear, the words made him jump. He had been lost in
contemplation; and the address had a ghostly suddenness. But it was no
ghost that stood beside him--nor indeed was it a night for those
presences to be abroad whose element is the dark.

Ill-pleased at the intrusion, he returned but a stiff nod: then, since
he could not in decency greet and leave-take in a breath, feigned to go
on for a minute with his study of the landscape. After which he said:
"Well, I must be moving. Good night to you."

"So you're off your sleep, too, are you?" As often happens, the impulse
to speak was a joint one. The words collided.

Instinctively Mahony shrank into himself; this familiar bracketing of
his person with another's was distasteful to him. Besides, the man who
had sprung up at his elbow bore a reputation that was none of the best.
The owner of a small chemist's shop on the Flat, he contrived to give
offence in sundry ways: he was irreligious--an infidel, his neighbours
had it--and of a Sabbath would scour his premises or hoe potatoes
rather than attend church or chapel. Though not a confirmed drunkard, he
had been seen to stagger in the street, and be unable to answer when
spoken to. Also, the woman with whom he lived was not generally believed
to be his lawful wife. Hence the public fought shy of his nostrums; and
it was a standing riddle how he managed to avoid putting up his
shutters. More nefarious practices no doubt, said the relentless VOX
POPULI.--Seen near at hand, he was a tall, haggard-looking fellow of
some forty years of age, the muscles on his neck standing out like those
of a skinny old horse.

Here, his gratuitous assumption of a common bond drew a cold: "Pray,
what reason have you to think that?" from Mahony. And without waiting
for a reply he again said good night and turned to go.

The man accepted the rebuff with a meekness that was painful to see.
"Thought, comin' on you like this, you were a case like my own. No
offence, I'm sure," he said humbly. It was evident he was well used to
getting the cold shoulder. Mahony stayed his steps. "What's the matter
with you?" he asked. "Aren't you well? There's a remedy to be found for
most ills under the sun."

"Not for mine! The doctor isn't born or the drug discovered that could
cure me."

The tone of bragging bitterness grated anew. Himself given to the vice
of overstatement, Mahony had small mercy on it in others. "Tut, tut!"
he deprecated.

There was a brief silence before the speaker went on more quietly:
"You're a young man, doctor, I'm an old one." And he looked old as he
spoke; Mahony saw that he had erred in putting him down as merely
elderly. He was old and grey and down-at-heel--fifty, if a day--and
his clothes hung loose on his bony frame. "You'll excuse me if I say I
know better'n you. When a man's done, he's done. And that's me. Yes,"--
he grew inflated again in reciting his woes--"I'm one o' your hopeless
cases, just as surely as if I was being eaten up by a cancer or a
consumption. To mend me, you doctors 'ud need to start me afresh--from
the mother-egg."

"You exaggerate, I'm sure."

"It's that--knowin' one's played out, with by rights still a good third
of one's life to run--that's what puts the sleep away. In the daylight
it's none so hard to keep the black thoughts under; themselves they're
not so daresome; and there's one's pipe, and the haver o' the young fry.
But night's the time! Then they come tramplin' along, a whole army of
'em, carryin' banners with letters a dozen feet high, so's you shan't
miss rememberin' what you'd give your soul to forget. And so it'll go
on, et cetera and ad lib., till it pleases the old Joker who sits
grinnin' up aloft to put His heel down--as you or me would squash a
bull-ant or a scorpion."

"You speak bitterly, Mr. Tangye. Does a night like this not bring you
calmer, clearer thoughts?" and Mahony waved his arm in a large, loose
gesture at the sky.

His words passed unheeded. The man he addressed spun round and faced
him, with a rusty laugh. "Hark at that!" he cried. "Just hark at it!
Why, in all the years I've been in this God-forsaken place--long as
I've been here--I've never yet heard my own name properly spoken.
You're the first, doctor. You shall have the medal."

"But, man alive, you surely don't let that worry you? Why, I've the same
thing to put up with every day of my life. I smile at it." And Mahony
believed what he said, forgetting, in the antagonism such spleen roused
in him, the annoyance the false stressing of his own name could
sometimes cause him.

"So did I, once," said Tangye, and wagged his head. "But the day came
when it seemed the last straw; a bit o' mean spite on the part o' this
hell of a country itself."

"You dislike the colony, it appears, intensely?"

"You like it?" The counter question came tip for tap.

"I can be fair to it, I hope, and appreciate its good sides." As always,
the mere hint of an injustice made Mahony passionately just.

"Came 'ere of your own free will, did you? Weren't crowded out at home?
Or bamboozled by a pack o' lying tales?" Tangye's voice was husky with
eagerness.

"That I won't say either. But it is entirely my own choice that I remain
here."

"Well, I say to you, think twice of it! If you have the chance of
gettin' away, take it. It's no place this, doctor, for the likes of you
and me. Haven't you never turned and asked yourself what the devil you
were doin' here? And that reminds me. . . . There was a line we used to
have drummed into us at school--it's often come back to me since.
COELUM, NON ANIMUM, MUTANT, QUI TRANS MARE CURRUNT. In our green days we
gabbled that off by rote; then, it seemed just one more o' the eel-sleek
phrases the classics are full of. Now, I take off my hat to the man who
wrote it. He knew what he was talkin' about--by the Lord Harry, he
did!"

The Latin had come out tentatively, with an odd, unused intonation.
Mahony's retort: "How on earth do you know what suits me and what
doesn't?" died on his lips. He was surprised into silence. There had
been nothing in the other's speech to show that he was a man of any
education--rather the reverse.

Meanwhile Tangye went on: "I grant you it's an antiquated point o' view;
but doesn't that go to prove what I've been sayin'; that you and me are
old-fashioned, too--out-o'-place here, out-o'-date? The modern sort,
the sort that gets on in this country, is a prime hand at cuttin' his
coat to suit his cloth; for all that the stop-at-homes, like the writer
o' that line and other ancients, prate about the Ethiopian's hide or the
leopard and his spots. They didn't buy their experience dear, like we
did; didn't guess that if a man DON'T learn to fit himself in, when he
gets set down in such a land as this, he's a goner; any more'n they knew
that most o' those who hold out here--all of 'em at any rate who've
climbed the ladder, nabbed the plunder--have found no more difficulty
in changin' their spots than they have their trousers. Yes, doctor,
there's only one breed that flourishes, and you don't need me to tell
you which it is. Here they lie"--and he nodded to right and left of him
--"dreamin' o' their money-bags, and their dividends, and their profits,
and how they'll diddle and swindle one another afresh, soon as the sun
gets up to-morrow. Harder 'n nails they are, and sharp as needles. You
ask me why I do my walkin' out in the night-time? It's so's to avoid the
sight o' their mean little eyes, and their greedy, graspin' faces."

Mahony's murmured disclaimer fell on deaf ears. Like one who had been
bottled up for months, Tangye flowed on. "What a life! What a set! What
a place to end one's days in! Remember, if you can, the yarns that were
spun round it for our benefit, from twenty thousand safe miles away. It
was the Land o' Promise and Plenty, topful o' gold, strewn over with
nuggets that only waited for hands to pick 'em up.--Lies!--lies from
beginnin' to end! I say to you this is the hardest and cruellest country
ever created, and a man like me's no more good here than the muck--the
parin's and stale fishguts and other leavin's--that knocks about a
harbour and washes against the walls. I'll tell you the only use I'll
have been here, doctor, when my end comes: I'll dung some bit o' land
for 'em with my moulder and rot. That's all. They'd do better with my
sort if they knocked us on the head betimes, and boiled us down for our
fat and marrow."

Not much in that line to be got from YOUR carcase, my friend, thought
Mahony, with an inward smile.

But Tangye had paused merely to draw breath. "What I say is, instead o'
layin' snares for us, it ought to be forbid by law to give men o' my
make ship room. At home in the old country we'd find our little nook,
and jog along decently to the end of our days. But just the staid,
respectable, orderly sort I belonged to's neither needed nor wanted
here. I fall to thinkin' sometimes on the fates of the hundreds of
honest, steady-goin' lads, who at one time or another have chucked up
their jobs over there--for this. The drink no doubt's took most: they
never knew before that one COULD sweat as you sweat here. And the rest?
Well, just accident . . . or the sun . . . or dysentery. . . or the
bloody toil that goes by the name o' work in these parts--you know the
list, doctor, better'n me. They say the waste o' life in a new country
can't be helped; doesn't matter; has to be. But that's cold comfort to
the wasted. No! I say to you, there ought to be an Act of Parliament to
prevent young fellows squanderin' themselves, throwin' away their lives
as I did mine. For when we're young, we're not sane. Youth's a fever o'
the brain. And I WAS young once, though you mightn't believe it; I had
straight joints, and no pouch under my chin, and my full share o' windy
hopes. Senseless truck these! To be spilled overboard bit by bit--like
on a hundred-mile tramp a new-chum finishes by pitchin' from his swag
all the needless rubbish he's started with. What's wanted to get on
here's somethin' quite else. Horny palms and costive bowels; more'n a
dash o' the sharper; and no sickly squeamishness about knockin' out
other men and steppin' into their shoes. And I was only an ordinary
young chap; not over-strong nor over-shrewd, but honest--honest, by God
I was! That didn't count. It even stood in my way. For I was too good
for this and too mealy-mouthed for that; and while I stuck, considerin'
the fairness of a job, some one who didn't care a damn whether it was
fair or not, walked in over my head and took it from me. There isn't
anything I haven't tried my luck at, and with everything it's been the
same. Nothin's prospered; the money wouldn't come--or stick if it did.
And so here I am--all that's left of me. It isn't much; and by and by a
few rank weeds 'ull spring from it, and old Joey there, who's paid to
grub round the graves, old Joey 'ull curse and say: a weedy fellow that,
a rotten, weedy blackguard; and spit on his hands and hoe, till the
weeds lie bleedin' their juices--the last heirs of me . . . the last
issue of my loins!"

"Pray, does it never occur to you, you fool, that FLOWERS may spring
from you?"

He had listened to Tangye's diatribe in a white heat of impatience. But
when he spoke he struck an easy tone--nor was he in any hesitation how
to reply: for that, he had played devil's advocate all too often with
himself in private. An unlovely country, yes, as Englishmen understood
beauty; and yet not without a charm of its own. An arduous life,
certainly, and one full of pitfalls for the weak or the unwary; yet he
believed it was no more impossible to win through here, and with clean
hands, than anywhere else. To generalise as his companion had done was
absurd. Preposterous, too, the notion that those of their fellow-townsmen
who had carried off the prizes owed their success to some
superiority in bodily strength . . . or sharp dealing . . . or thickness
of skin. With Mr. Tangye's permission he would cite himself as an
example. He was neither a very robust man, nor, he ventured to say, one
of any marked ability in the other two directions. Yet he had managed to
succeed without, in the process, sacrificing jot or tittle of his
principles; and to-day he held a position that any member of his
profession across the seas might envy him.

"Yes, but till you got there!" cried Tangye. "Hasn't every superfluous
bit of you--every thought of interest that wasn't essential to the
daily grind--been pared off?"

"If," said Mahony stiffening, "if what you mean by that is, have I
allowed my mind to grow narrow and sluggish, I can honestly answer no."

In his heart he denied the charge even more warmly; for, as he spoke, he
saw the great cork-slabs on which hundreds of moths and butterflies made
dazzling spots of colour; saw the sheets of pink blotting-paper between
which his collection of native plants lay pressed; the glass case filled
with geological specimens; his Bible, the margins of which round Genesis
were black with his handwriting; a pile of books on the new marvel
Spiritualism; Colenso's PENTATEUCH; the big black volumes of the ARCANA
COELESTIA; Locke on Miracles: he saw all these things and more. "No, I'm
glad to say I have retained many interests outside my work."

Tangye had taken off his spectacles and was polishing them on a crumpled
handkerchief. He seemed about to reply, even made a quick half-turn
towards Mahony; then thought better of it, and went on rubbing. A smile
played round his lips.

"And in conclusion let me say this," went on Mahony, not unnettled by
his companion's expression. "It's sheer folly to talk about what life
makes of us. Life is not an active force. It's we who make what we will,
of life. And in order to shape it to the best of our powers, Mr. Tangye,
to put our brief span to the best possible use, we must never lose faith
in God or our fellow-men; never forget that, whatever happens, there is
a sky, with stars in it, above us."

"Ah, there's a lot of bunkum talked about life," returned Tangye dryly,
and settled his glasses on his nose. "And as man gets near the end of
it, he sees just WHAT bunkum it is. Life's only got one meanin', doctor;
seen plain, there's only one object in everything we do; and that's to
keep a sound roof over our heads and a bite in our mouths--and in those
of the helpless creatures who depend on us. The rest has no more sense
or significance than a nigger's hammerin' on the tam-tam. The lucky one
o' this world don't grasp it; but we others do; and after all p'raps,
it's worth while havin' gone through it to have got at ONE bit of the
truth, however, small. Good night."

He turned on his heel, and before his words were cold on the air had
vanished, leaving Mahony blankly staring.

The moonshine still bathed the earth, gloriously untroubled by the
bitterness of human words and thoughts. But the night seemed to have
grown chilly; and Mahony gave an involuntary shiver. "Some one walking
over my . . . now what would that specimen have called it? Over the four
by eight my remains will one day manure!"

"An odd, abusive, wrong-headed fellow," he mused, as he made his way
home. "Who would ever have thought, though, that the queer little
chemist had so much in him? A failure? . . . yes, he was right there;
and as unlovely as failures always are--at close quarters." But as he
laid his hands on the gate, he jerked up his head and exclaimed half
aloud: "God bless my soul! What he wanted was not argument or reason but
a little human sympathy." As usual, however, the flash of intuition came
too late. "For such a touchy nature I'm certainly extraordinarily obtuse
where the feelings of others are concerned," he told himself as he
hooked in the latch.

"Why, Richard, where HAVE you been?" came Mary's clear voice--muted so
as not to disturb John and Jinny, who had retired to rest. Purdy and she
sat waiting on the verandah. "Were you called out? We've had time to
clear everything away. Here, dear, I saved you some sandwiches and a
glass of claret. I'm sure you didn't get any supper yourself, with
looking after other people."

Long after Mary had fallen asleep he lay wakeful. His foolish blunder in
response to Tangye's appeal rankled in his mind. He could not get over
his insensitiveness. How he had boasted of his prosperity, his moral
nicety, his saving pursuits--he to boast!--when all that was asked of
him was a kindly: "My poor fellow soul, you have indeed fought a hard
fight; but there IS a God above us who will recompense you at His own
time, take the word for it of one who has also been through the Slough
of Despond." And then just these . . . these hobbies of his, of which he
had made so much. Now that he was alone with himself he saw them in a
very different light. Lepidoptera collected years since were still
unregistered, plants and stones unclassified; his poor efforts at
elucidating the Bible waited to be brought into line with the Higher
Criticism; Home's levitations and fire-tests called for investigation;
while the leaves of some of the books he had cited had never even been
cut. The mere thought of these things was provocative, rest-destroying.
To induce drowsiness he went methodically through the list of his
acquaintances, and sought to range them under one or other of Tangye's
headings. And over this there came moments when he lapsed into
depths . . . fetched himself up again--but with an effort . . . only to
fall back. . . .

But he seemed barely to have closed his eyes when the night-bell rang.
In an instant he was on his feet in the middle of the room, applying
force to his sleep-cogged wits.

He threw open the sash. "Who's there? What is it?"

Henry Ocock's groom. "I was to fetch you out to our place at once,
governor."

"But--Is Mrs. Henry taken ill?"

"Not as I know of," said the man dryly. "But her and the boss had a bit
of a tiff on the way home, and Madam's excited-like."

"And am I to pay for their tiffs?" muttered Mahony hotly.

"Hush, Richard! He'll hear you," warned Mary, and sat up.

"I shall decline to go. Henry's a regular old woman."

Mary shook her head. "You can't afford to offend the Henrys. And you
know what he is so hasty. He'd call in some one else on the spot, and
you'd never get back. If only you hadn't stayed out so long, dear,
looking at the moon!"

"Good God! Mary, is one never to have a moment to oneself? Never a
particle of pleasure or relaxation?"

"Why, Richard!" expostulated his wife, and even felt a trifle ashamed of
his petulance. "What would you call to-night, I wonder? Wasn't the whole
evening one of pleasure and relaxation?"

And Mahony, struggling into shirt and trousers, had to admit that he
would be hard put to it to give it another name.




Chapter IV



Hush, dolly! Mustn't cry, and make a noise. Uncle Richard's cross.

Trotty sat on a hassock and rocked a china babe, with all the
appurtenant mother-fuss she had picked up from the tending of her tiny
stepsister. The present Trotty was a demure little maid of some seven
summers, who gave the impression of having been rather rudely elongated.
Her flaxen hair was stiffly imprisoned behind a round black comb; and
her big blue eyes alone remained to her from a lovely infancy. ("Poor
Emma's eyes," said Mary.)

Imitative as a monkey she went on--with a child's perfect knowledge
that it is all make-believe, yet with an entire credence in the power of
make-believe: "Naughty child--WILL you be quiet? There! You've frown
your counterpane off now. Wonder what next you'll do. I declare I'll
slap you soon--you make me so cross."

Through the surgery-window the words floated out: "For goodness' sake,
don't bother me now with such trifles, Mary! It's not the moment--with
a whole string of people waiting in the other room."

"Well, if only you'll be satisfied with what I do, dear, and not blame
me afterwards."

"Get Purdy to give you a hand with Ned's affair. He has time and to
spare." And wetting his finger-tip Mahony nervously flipped over a dozen
pages of the book that lay open before him.

"Well . . . if you think I should," said Mary, with a spice of doubt.

"I do. And now go, wife, and remember to shut the door after you. Oh,
and tell that woman in the kitchen to stop singing. Her false notes
drive me crazy.--How many are there, this morning?"

"Eight--no, nine, if that's another," replied Mary, with an ear to the
front door.

"Tch! I'll have to stop then," and Mahony clapped to the work he had
been consulting. "Never a minute to keep abreast of the times." But:
"That's a good, helpful wife," as Mary stooped to kiss him. "Do the best
you can, mavourneen, and never mind me."

"Take me with you, Auntie!" Trotty sprang up from her stool, overturning
babe and cradle.

"Not to-day, darling. Besides, why are you here? You know I've forbidden
you to be on the front verandah when the patients come. Run away to the
back, and play there."

Mary donned hat and shawl, opened her parasol and went out into the sun.
With the years she had developed into rather a stately young woman: she
held her head high and walked with a firm, free step.

Her first visit was to the stable to find Long Jim--or Old Jim as they
now called him; for he was nearing the sixties. The notice to leave,
which he had given the day before, was one of the "trifles" it fell to
her to consider. Personally Mary thought his going would be no great
loss: he knew nothing about a garden, yet resented instruction; and it
had always been necessary to get outside help in for the horses. If he
went they could engage some one who would combine the posts. But Richard
had taken umbrage at the old man's tone; had even been nervously upset
over it. It behoved her to find out what the matter was.

"I want a change," said Old Jim dourly in response to her inquiry; and
went on polishing wheel-spokes, and making the wheel fly. "I've bin 'ere
too long. An' now I've got a bit o' brass together, an' am thinkin' I'd
like to be me own master for a spell."

"But at your age, Jim, is it wise?--to throw up a comfortable home,
just because you've laid a little past?"

"It's enough to keep me. I turned over between four and five 'undred
last week in 'Piecrusts.'"

"Oh!" said Mary, taken by surprise. "Then that--that's your only reason
for wishing to leave?" And as he did not reply, but went on swishing:
"Come, Jim, if you've anything on your mind, say it out. The doctor
didn't like the way you spoke to him last night."

At this the old man straightened his back, took a straw from between his
teeth, spat and said: "Well, if you must know, Mrs. Mahony, the doctor's
not the boss it pleases me to be h'under any more--and that's the
trewth. I'm tired of it--dog-tired. You can slave yer 'ead off for 'im,
and 'e never notices a thing you do, h'or if 'e does, it's on'y to find
fault. It h'ain't 'uman, I say, and I'll be danged if I stand it h'any
longer."

But people who came to Mary with criticism of Richard got no mercy.
"You're far too touchy, Jim. YOU know, if any one does, how rushed and
busy the doctor is, and you ought to be the first to make allowance for
him--after all he's done for you. You wouldn't be here now, if it
hadn't been for him. And then to expect him to notice and praise you for
every little job you do!"

But Jim was stubborn. 'E didn't want to deny anything. But 'e'd rather
go. An' this day a week if it suited her.

" It's really dreadful how uppish the lower classes get as soon as they
have a little money in their pocket," she said to herself, as she walked
the shadeless, sandy road. But this thought was like a shadow cast by
her husband's mind on hers, and was ousted by the more indigenous: "But
after all who can blame him, poor old fellow, for wanting to take life
easy if he has the chance." She even added: "He might have gone off, as
most of them do, without a word."

Then her mind reverted to what he had said of Richard, and she pondered
the antagonism that had shown through his words. It was not the first
time she had run up against this spirit, but, as usual, she was at a
loss to explain it. Why should people of Old Jim's class dislike Richard
as they did?--find him so hard to get on with? He was invariably
considerate of them, and treated them very generously with regard to
money. And yet . . . for some reason or other they felt injured by him;
and thought and spoke of him with a kind of churlish resentment. She was
not clever enough to find the key to the riddle--it was no such simple
explanation as that he felt himself too good for them. That was not the
case: he was proud, certainly, but she had never known any one who--
under, it was true, a rather sarcastic manner--was more broadly
tolerant of his fellow-men. And she wound up her soliloquy with the lame
admission: "Yes, in spite of all his kindness, I suppose he IS
queer . . . decidedly queer," and then she heaved a sigh. What a pity it
was! When you knew him to be, at heart, such a dear, good, well-meaning
man.

A short walk brought her to the four-roomed cottage where Ned lived with
wife and children. Or had lived, till lately. He had been missing from
his home now for over a week. On the last occasion of his being in
Melbourne with the carrying-van, he had decamped, leaving the boy who
was with him to make the return journey alone. Since then, nothing could
be heard of him; and his billet in the Agency had been snapped up.

"Or so they say!" said his wife, with an angry sniff. "I don't believe a
word of it, Mary. Since the railway's come, biz has gone to the dogs;
and they're only too glad to get the chance of sacking another man."

Polly looked untidier than ever; she wore a slatternly wrapper, and her
hair was thrust unbrushed into its net. But she suffered, no doubt, in
her own way; she was red-eyed, and very hasty-handed with her nestful of
babes. Sitting in the cheerless parlour, Ned's dark-eyed eldest on her
knee, Mary strove to soothe and encourage. But: it has never been much
of a home for the poor boy was her private opinion; and she pressed her
cheek affectionately against the little black curly head that was a
replica of Ned's own.

"What's goin' to become of us all, the Lord only knows," said Polly,
after having had the good cry the sympathetic presence of her
sister-in-law justified. "I'm not a brown cent troubled about Ned--only
boiling with 'im. 'E's off on the booze, sure enough--and 'e'll turn up
again, safe and sound, like loose fish always do. Wait till I catch 'im
though! He'll get it hot."

"We never ought to have come here," she went on drying her eyes. "Drat
the place and all that's in it, that's what I say! He did better'n this
in Castlemaine; and I'd pa behind me there. But once Richard had sent
'im that twenty quid, he'd no rest till he got away. And I thought, when
he was so set on it, may be it'd have a good effect on 'im, to be near
you both. But that was just another shoot into the brown. You've been
A1, Mary; you've done your level best. But Richard's never treated Ned
fair. I don't want to take Ned's part; he's nothing in the world but a
pretty-faced noodle. But Richard's treated 'im as if he was the dirt
under 'is feet. And Ned's felt it. Oh, I know whose doing it was, we
were never asked up to the house when you'd company. It wasn't YOURS, my
dear! But we can't all have hyphens to our names, and go driving round
with kid gloves on our hands and our noses in the air."

Mary felt quite depressed by this fresh attack on her husband. Reminding
herself, however, that Polly was excited and over-wrought, she did not
speak out the defence that leapt to her tongue. She said staunchly: "As
you put it, Polly, it does seem as if we haven't acted rightly towards
Ned. But it wasn't Richard's doing alone. I've been just as much to
blame as he has."

She sat on, petting the fractious children and giving kindly assurances:
as long as she and Richard had anything themselves, Ned's wife and Ned's
children should not want: and as she spoke, she slipped a substantial
proof of her words into Polly's unproud hand. Besides, she believed
there was every chance now of Ned soon being restored to them; and she
told how they were going, that very morning, to invoke Mr. Smith's aid.
Mr. Smith was in the Police, as Polly knew, and had influential friends
among the Force in Melbourne. By to-morrow there might be good news to
bring her.

Almost an hour had passed when she rose to leave. Mrs. Ned was so
grateful for the visit and the help that, out in the narrow little
passage, she threw her arms round Mary's neck and drew her to her bosom.
Holding her thus, after several hearty kisses, she said in a mysterious
whisper, with her lips close to Mary's ear: "Mary, love, may I say
something to you?" and the permission granted, went on: "That is, give
you a bit of a hint, dearie?"

"Why, of course you may, Polly."

"Sure you won't feel hurt, dear?"

"Quite sure. What is it?" and Mary disengaged herself, that she might
look the speaker in the face.

"Well, it's just this--you mentioned the name yourself, or I wouldn't
have dared. It's young Mr. Smith, Mary. My dear, in future don't you
have 'im quite so much about the house as you do at present. It ain't
the thing. People WILL talk, you know, if you give 'em a handle."("Oh,
but Polly!" in a blank voice from Mary.) "Now, now, I'm not blaming you
--not the least tiddly-wink. But there's no harm in being careful, is
there, love, if you don't want your name in people's mouths? I'm that
fond of you, Mary--you don't mind me speaking, dearie?"

"No, Polly, I don't. But it's the greatest nonsense--I never heard such
a thing!" said Mary hotly. "Why, Purdy is Richard's oldest friend. They
were schoolboys together."

"May be they were. But I hear 'e's mostly up at your place when
Richard's out. And you're a young and pretty woman, my dear; it's
Richard who ought to think of it, and he so much older than you. Well,
just take the hint, love. It comes best, don't it, from one of the
family?"

But Mary left the house in a sad flurry; and even forgot for a street
length to open her parasol.

Her first impulse was to go straight to Richard. But she had not covered
half a dozen yards before she saw that this would never do. At the best
of times Richard abominated gossip; and the fact of it having, in the
present case, dared to fasten its fangs in some one belonging to him
would make him doubly wroth. He might even try to find out who had
started the talk; and get himself into hot water over it. Or he might
want to lay all the blame on his own shoulders--make himself the
reproaches Ned's Polly had not spared him. Worse still, he would perhaps
accuse Purdy of inconsiderateness towards her, and fly into a rage with
him; and then the two of them would quarrel, which would be a thousand
pities. For though he often railed at Purdy, yet that was only Richard's
way: he was genuinely fond of him, and unbent to him as to nobody else.

But these were just so many pretexts put forward to herself by Mary for
keeping silence; the real reason lay deeper. Eight years of married life
had left her, where certain subjects were concerned, with all the
modesty of her girlhood intact. There were things, indelicate things,
which COULD not be spoken out, even between husband and wife. For her to
have to step before Richard and say: some one else feels for me in the
same way as you, my husband, do, would make her ever after unable
frankly to meet his eyes. Besides giving the vague, cobwebby stuff a
body it did not deserve.

But yet again this was not the whole truth: she had another, more
uncomfortable side of it to face; and the flies buzzed unheeded round
her head. The astonishment she had shown at her sister-in-law's warning
had not been altogether sincere. Far down in her heart Mary found a
faint, faint trace of complicity. For months past--she could admit it
now--she had not felt easy about Purdy. Something disagreeable,
disturbing, had crept into their relations. The jolly, brotherly manner
she liked so well had deserted him; besides short-tempered he had grown
deadly serious, and not the stupidest woman could fail altogether to see
what the matter was. But she had wilfully bandaged her eyes. And if, now
and then, some word or look had pierced her guard and disquieted her in
spite of herself, she had left it at an incredulous: "Oh, but
then. . .  But even if. . . In that case. . . ." She now saw her fervent
hope had been that the affair would blow over without coming to anything;
prove to be just another passing fancy on the part of the unstable Purdy.
How many had she not assisted at! This very summer, for instance, a
charming young lady from Sydney had stayed with the Urquharts; and, as
long as her visit lasted, they had seen little or nothing of Purdy.
Whenever he got off duty he was at Yarangobilly. As it happened, however,
Mr. Urquhart himself had been so assiduous in taking his guest about that
Purdy had had small chance of making an impression. And, in looking back
on the incident, what now rose most clearly before Mary's mind was the
way in which Mrs. Urquhart--poor thing, she was never able to go
anywhere with her husband: either she had a child in arms or another
coming; the row of toddlers mounted up in steps--the way in which she
had said, with her pathetic smile: "Ah, my dear! Willie needs some one
gayer and stronger than I am, for company." Mary's heart had been full
of pity at the time, for her friend's lot; and it swelled again now at
the remembrance.

But oh dear! this was straying from the point. Impatiently she jerked
her thoughts back to herself and her own dilemma. What ought she to do?
She was not a person who could sit still with folded hands and await
events. How would it be if she spoke to Purdy herself? . . . talked
seriously to him about his work? . . . tried to persuade him to leave
Ballarat. Did he mean to hang on here for ever, she would say--never
intend to seek promotion? But then again, the mere questioning would
cause a certain awkwardness. While, at the slightest trip or blunder on
her part, what was unsaid might suddenly find itself said; and the whole
thing cease to be the vague, cloudy affair it was at present. And though
she would actually rather this happened with regard to Purdy than
Richard, yet . . . yet. . . .

Worried and perplexed, unable to see before her the straight plain path
she loved, Mary once more sighed from the bottom of her heart.

"Oh if ONLY men wouldn't be so foolish!"

Left to himself Mahony put away his books, washed his hands and summoned
one by one to his presence the people who waited in the adjoining room.
He drew a tooth, dressed a wounded wrist, prescribed for divers internal
disorders--all told, a baker's dozen of odd jobs.

When the last patient had gone he propped open the door, wiped his
forehead and read the thermometer that hung on the wall: it marked 102
degrees. Dejectedly he drove, in fancy, along the glaring, treeless roads,
inches deep in cinnamon-coloured dust. How one learnt to hate the sun out
here. What wouldn't he give for a cool, grey-green Irish day, with a wet
wind blowing in from the sea?--a day such as he had heedlessly squandered
hundreds of, in his youth. Now it made his mouth water only to think of
them.

It still wanted ten minutes to ten o'clock and the buggy had not yet
come round. He would lie down and have five minutes' rest before
starting: he had been up most of the night, and on getting home had been
kept awake by neuralgia.

When an hour later Mary reached home, she was amazed to find groom and
buggy still drawn up in front of the house.

"Why, Molyneux, what's the matter? Where's the doctor?"

"I'm sure I don't know, Mrs. Mahony. I've hollered to Biddy half a dozen
times, but she doesn't take any notice. And the mare's that
restless. . . . There, there, steady old girl, steady now! It's these damn
flies."

Mary hurried indoors. "Why, Biddy. . . ."

"Sure and it's yourself," said the big Irishwoman who now filled the
kitchen-billet. "Faith and though you scold me, Mrs. Mahony, I couldn't
bring it over me heart to wake him. The pore man's sleeping like a
saint."

"Biddy, you ought to know better!" cried Mary peeling off her gloves.

"It's pale as the dead he is."

"Rubbish. It's only the reflection of the green blind. RICHARD! Do you
know what the time is?"

But the first syllable of his name was enough. "Good Lord, Mary, I must
have dropped off. What the dickens. . . . Come, help me, wife. Why on
earth didn't those fools wake me?"

Mary held his driving-coat, fetched hat and gloves, while he flung the
necessaries into his bag. "Have you much to do this morning? Oh, that
post-mortem's at twelve, isn't it?"

"Yes; and a consultation with Munce at eleven--I'll just manage it and
no more," muttered Mahony with an eye on his watch. "I can't let the
mare take it easy this morning. Yes, a full day. And Henry Ocock's
fidgeting for a second opinion; thinks his wife's not making enough
progress. Well, ta-ta, sweetheart! Don't expect me back to lunch." And
taking a short cut across the lawn, he jumped into the buggy and off
they flew.

Mary's thoughts were all for him in this moment. "How proud we ought to
feel!" she said to herself. "That makes the second time in a week old
Munce has sent for him. But how like Henry Ocock," she went on with
puckered brow. "It's quite insulting--after the trouble Richard has put
himself to. If Agnes's case puzzles him, I should like to know who will
understand it better. I think I'll go and see her myself this afternoon.
It can't be HER wish to call in a stranger."

Not till some time after did she remember her own private embarrassment.
And, by then, the incident had taken its proper place in her mind--had
sunk to the level of insignificance to which it belonged.

"Such a piece of nonsense!" was her final verdict. "As if I could worry
Richard with it, when he has so many really important things to occupy
him."




Chapter V



Yes, those were palmy days; the rate at which the practice spread
astonished even himself. No slack seasons for him now; winter saw him as
busy as summer; and his chief ground for complaint was that he was
unable to devote the meticulous attention he would have wished to each
individual case. "It would need the strength of an elephant to do that."
But it was impossible not to feel gratified by the many marks of
confidence he received. And if his work had but left him some leisure
for study and an occasional holiday, he would have been content. But in
these years he was never able to get his neck out of the yoke; and Mary
took her annual jaunts to Melbourne and sea-breezes alone.

In a long talk they had with each other, it was agreed that, except in
an emergency, he was to be chary of entering into fresh engagements--
this referred in the first place to confinements, of which his book was
always full; and secondly, to outlying bush-cases, the journey to and
from which wasted many a precious hour. And where it would have been
impolitic to refuse a new and influential patient, some one on his list
--a doubtful payer or a valetudinarian--was gently to be let drop. And
it was Mary who arranged who this should be. Some umbrage was bound to
be given in the process; but with her help it was reduced to a minimum.
For Mary knew by heart all the links and ramifications of the houses at
which he visited; knew precisely who was related to whom, by blood or
marriage or business; knew where offence might with safety be risked,
and where it would do him harm. She had also a woman's tact in smoothing
things over. A born doctor's wife, declared Mahony in grateful
acknowledgment. For himself he could not keep such fiddling details in
his head for two minutes on end.

But though he thus succeeded in setting bounds to his activity, he still
had a great deal too much to do; and, in tired moments, or when tic
plagued him, thought the sole way out of the impasse would be to
associate some one with him as partner or assistant. And once he was
within an ace of doing so, chance throwing what he considered a likely
person across his path. In attending a coroner's inquest, he made the
acquaintance of a member of the profession who was on his way from the
Ovens district--a coach journey of well over two hundred miles--to a
place called Walwala, a day's ride to the west of Ballarat. And since
this was a pleasant-spoken man and intelligent--though with a somewhat
down-at-heel look--besides being a stranger to the town, Mahony
impulsively took him home to dinner. In the evening they sat and talked.
The visitor, whose name was Wakefield, was considerably Mahony's senior.
By his own account he had had but a rough time of it for the past couple
of years. A good practice which he had worked up in the seaport of
Warrnambool had come to an untimely end. He did not enter into the
reasons for this. "I was unfortunate . . . had a piece of ill-luck," was
how he referred to it. And knowing how fatally easy was a trip in
diagnosis, a slip of the scalpel, Mahony tactfully helped him over the
allusion. From Warrnambool Wakefield had gone to the extreme north of
the colony; but the eighteen months spent there had nearly been his
undoing. Money had not come in badly; but his wife and family had
suffered from the great heat, and the scattered nature of the work had
worn him to skin and bone. He was now casting about him for a more
suitable place. He could not afford to buy a practice, must just creep
in where he found a vacancy. And Walwala, where he understood there had
never been a resident practitioner, seemed to offer an opening.

Mahony felt genuinely sorry for the man; and after he had gone sat and
revolved the idea, in the event of Walwala proving unsuitable, of taking
Wakefield on as his assistant. He went to bed full of the scheme and
broached it to Mary before they slept. Mary made big eyes to herself as
she listened. Like a wise wife, however, she did not press her own views
that night, while the idea bubbled hot in him; for, at such times, when
some new project seemed to promise the millennium, he stood opposition
badly. But she lay awake telling off the reasons she would put before
him in the morning; and in the dark allowed herself a tender, tickled
little smile at his expense.

"What a man he is for loading himself up with the wrong sort of people!"
she reflected. "And then afterwards, he gets tired of them, and
impatient with them--as is only natural."

At breakfast she came back on the subject herself. In her opinion, he
ought to think the matter over very carefully. Not another doctor on
Ballarat had an assistant; and his patients would be sure to resent the
novelty. Those who sent for Dr. Mahony would not thank you to be handed
over to "goodness knows who."

"Besides, Richard, as things are now, the money wouldn't really be
enough, would it? And just as we have begun to be a little easy
ourselves--I'm afraid you'd miss many comforts you have got used to
again, dear," she wound up, with a mental glance at the fine linen and
smooth service Richard loved.

Yes, that was true, admitted Mahony with a sigh; and being this morning
in a stale mood, he forthwith knocked flat the card-house it had amused
him to build. Himself he had only half believed in it; or believed so
long as he refrained from going into prosaic details. There was work for
two and money for one--that was the crux of the matter. Successful as
the practice was, it still did not throw off a thousand a year. Bad
debts ran to a couple of hundred annually; and their improved style of
living--the expenses of house and garden, of horses and vehicles, the
men-servants, the open house they had to keep--swallowed every penny of
the rest. Saving was actually harder than when his income had been but a
third of what it was at present. New obligations beset him. For one
thing, he had to keep pace with his colleagues; make a show of being
just as well-to-do as they. Retrenching was out of the question. His
patients would at once imagine that something was wrong--the practice
on the downgrade, his skill deserting him--and take their ailments and
their fees elsewhere. No, the more one had, the more one was forced to
spend; and the few odd hundreds for which Henry Ocock could yearly be
counted on came in very handy. As a rule he laid these by for Mary's
benefit; for her visits to Melbourne, her bonnets and gowns. It also let
her satisfy the needs of her generous little heart in matters of
hospitality--well, it was perhaps not fair to lay the whole blame of
their incessant and lavish entertaining at her door. He himself knew
that it would not do for them to lag a foot behind other people.

Hence the day on which he would be free to dismiss the subject of money
from his mind seemed as far off as ever. He might indulge wild schemes
of taking assistant or partner; the plain truth was, he could not afford
even the sum needed to settle in a LOCUM TENENS for three months, while
he recuperated.--Another and equally valid reason was that the right
man for a LOCUM was far to seek. As time went on, he found himself
pushed more and more into a single branch of medicine--one, too, he had
never meant to let grow over his head in this fashion. For it was common
medical knowledge out here that, given the distances and the general
lack of conveniences, thirty to forty maternity cases per year were as
much as a practitioner could with comfort take in hand. HIS books for
the past year stood at over a hundred! The nightwork this meant was
unbearable, infants showing a perverse disinclination to enter the world
except under cover of the dark.

His popularity--if such it could be called--with the other sex was
something of a mystery to him. For he had not one manner for the bedside
and another for daily life. He never sought to ingratiate himself with
people, or to wheedle them; still less would he stoop to bully or
intimidate; was always by preference the adviser rather than the
dictator. And men did not greatly care for this arm's-length attitude;
they wrote him down haughty and indifferent, and pinned their faith to a
blunter, homelier manner. But with women it was otherwise; and these
also appreciated the fact that, no matter what their rank in life, their
age or their looks, he met them with the deference he believed due to
their sex. Exceptions there were, of course. Affectation or insincerity
angered him--with the "Zaras" of this world he had scant patience--
while among the women themselves, some few--Ned's wife, for example--
felt resentment at his very appearance, his gestures, his tricks of
speech. But the majority were his staunch partisans; and it was becoming
more and more the custom to engage Dr. Mahony months ahead, thus binding
him fast. And though he would sometimes give Mary a fright by vowing
that he was going to "throw up mid. and be done with it," yet her
ambition--and what an ambitious wife she was, no one but himself knew--
that he should some day become one of the leading specialists on
Ballarat, seemed not unlikely of fulfilment. If his health kept good.
And . . . and if he could possibly hold out!

For there still came times when he believed that to turn his back for
ever, on place and people, would make him the happiest of mortals. For a
time this idea had left him in peace. Now it haunted him again. Perhaps,
because he had at last grasped the unpalatable truth that it would never
be his luck to save: if saving were the only key to freedom, he would
still be there, still chained fast, and though he lived to be a hundred.
Certain it was, he did not become a better colonist as the years went
on. He had learnt to hate the famous climate--the dust and drought and
brazen skies; the drenching rains and bottomless mud--to rebel against
the interminable hours he was doomed to spend in his buggy. By nature he
was a recluse--not an outdoor-man at all. He was tired, too, of the
general rampage, the promiscuous connexions and slap-dash familiarity of
colonial life; sick to death of the all-absorbing struggle to grow
richer than his neighbours. He didn't give a straw for money in itself--
only for what it brought him. And what was the good of that, if he had
no leisure to enjoy it? Or was it the truth that he feared being dragged
into the vortex? . . . of learning to care, he, too, whether or no his
name topped subscription-lists; whether his entertainments were the most
sumptuous, his wife the best-dressed woman in her set? Perish the
thought!

He did not disquiet Mary by speaking of these things. Still less did he
try to explain to her another, more elusive side of the matter. It was
this. Did he dig into himself, he saw that his uncongenial surroundings
were not alone to blame for his restless state of mind. There was in him
a gnawing desire for change as change; a distinct fear of being pinned
for too long to the same spot; or, to put it another way, a conviction
that to live on without change meant decay. For him, at least. Of
course, it was absurd to yield to feelings of this kind; at his age, in
his position, with a wife dependent on him. And so he fought them--even
while he indulged them. For this was the year in which, casting the
question of expense to the winds, he pulled down and rebuilt his house.
It came over him one morning on waking that he could not go on in the
old one for another day, so cramped was he, so tortured by its
lath-and-plaster thinness. He had difficulty in winning Mary over; she was
against the outlay, the trouble and confusion involved; and was only
reconciled by the more solid comforts and greater conveniences offered
her. For the new house was of brick, the first brick house to be built
on Ballarat (and oh the joy! said Richard, of walls so thick that you
could not hear through them), had an extra-wide verandah which might be
curtained in for parties and dances, and a side-entrance for patients,
such as Mary had often sighed for.

As a result of the new grandeur, more and more flocked to his door. The
present promised to be a record year even in the annals of the Golden
City. The completion of the railway-line to Melbourne was the
outstanding event. Virtually halving the distance to the metropolis in
count of time, it brought a host of fresh people capitalists,
speculators, politicians--about the town, and money grew perceptibly
easier. Letters came more quickly, too; Melbourne newspapers could be
handled almost moist from the press. One no longer had the sense of
lying shut off from the world, behind the wall of a tedious coach
journey. And the merry Ballaratians, who had never feared or shrunk from
the discomforts of this journey, now travelled constantly up and down:
attending the Melbourne race-meetings; the Government House balls and
lawn-parties; bringing back the gossip of Melbourne, together with its
fashions in dress, music and social life.

Mary, in particular, profited by the change; for in one of those
"general posts" so frequently played by the colonial cabinet, John
Turnham had come out Minister of Railways; and she could have a "free
pass" for the asking. John paid numerous visits to his constituency; but
he was now such an important personage that his relatives hardly saw
him. As likely as not he was the guest of the Henry Ococks in their new
mansion, or of the mayor of the borough. In the past two years Mahony
had only twice exchanged a word with his brother-in-law.

And then they met again.

In Melbourne, at six o'clock one January morning, the Honourable John,
about to enter a saloon-compartment of the Ballarat train, paused, with
one foot on the step, and disregarding the polite remarks of the
station-master at his heels, screwed up his prominent black eyes against
the sun. At the farther end of the train, a tall, thin, fair-whiskered
man was peering disconsolately along a row of crowded carriages. "God
bless me! isn't that . . . Why, so it is!" And leaving the official
standing, John walked smartly down the platform.

"My dear Mahony!--this is indeed a surprise. I had no idea you were in
town."

"Why not have let me know you proposed coming?" he inquired as they made
their way, the train meanwhile held up on their account, towards John's
spacious, reserved saloon.

("What he means is, why I didn't beg a pass of him.") And Mahony, who
detested asking favours, laid exaggerated emphasis on his want of
knowledge. He had not contemplated the journey till an hour beforehand.
Then, the proposed delegate having been suddenly taken ill, he had been
urgently requested to represent the Masonic Lodge to which he belonged,
at the Installation of a new Grand Master.

"Ah, so you found it possible to get out of harness for once?" said John
affably, as they took their seats.

"Yes, by a lucky chance I had no case on hand that could not do without
me for twenty-four hours. And my engagement-book I can leave with
perfect confidence to my wife."

"Mary is no doubt a very capable woman; I noticed that afresh, when last
she was with us," returned John; and went on to tick off Mary's
qualities like a connoisseur appraising the points of a horse. "A
misfortune that she is not blessed with any family," he added.

Mahony stiffened; and responded dryly: "I'm not sure that I agree with
you. With all her energy and spirit Mary is none too strong."

"Well, well! these things are in the hands of Providence; we must take
what is sent us." And caressing his bare chin John gave a hearty yawn.

The words flicked Mahony's memory: John had had an addition to his
family that winter, in the shape--to the disappointment of all
concerned--of a second daughter. He offered belated congratulations. "A
regular Turnham this time, according to Mary. But I am sorry to hear
Jane has not recovered her strength."

"Oh, Jane is doing very well. But it has been a real disadvantage that
she could not nurse. The infant is . . . well, ah . . . perfectly
formed, of course, but small--small."

"You must send them both to Mary, to be looked after."

The talk then passed to John's son, now a schoolboy in Geelong; and John
admitted that the reports he received of the lad continued as
unsatisfactory as ever. "The young rascal has ability, they tell me, but
no application." John propounded various theories to account for the boy
having turned out poorly, chief among which was that he had been left
too long in the hands of women. They had overindulged him. "Mary no more
than the rest, my dear fellow," he hastened to smooth Mahony's rising
plumes. "It began with his mother in the first place. Yes, poor Emma was
weak with the boy--lamentably weak!"

Here, with a disconcerting abruptness, he drew to him a blue linen bag
that lay on the seat, and loosening its string took out a sheaf of
official papers, in which he was soon engrossed. He had had enough of
Mahony's conversation in the meantime, or so it seemed; had thought of
something better to do, and did it.

His brother-in-law eyed him as he read. "He's a bad colour. Been living
too high, no doubt."

A couple of new books were on the seat by Mahony; but he did not open
them. He had a tiring day behind him, and the briefest of nights.
Besides attending the masonic ceremony, which had lasted into the small
hours, he had undertaken to make various purchases, not the least
difficult of which was the buying of a present for Mary--all the little
fal-lals that went to finish a lady's ball-dress. Railway-travelling
was, too, something of a novelty to him nowadays; and he sat idly
watching the landscape unroll, and thinking of nothing in particular.
The train was running through mile after mile of flat, treeless country,
liberally sprinkled with trapstones and clumps of tussock grass, which
at a distance could be mistaken for couched sheep. Here and there stood
a solitary she-oak, most doleful of trees, its scraggy, pine-needle
foliage bleached to grey. From the several little stations along the
line: mere three-sided sheds, which bore a printed invitation to
intending passengers to wave a flag or light a lamp, did they wish to
board the train: from these shelters long, bare, red roads, straight as
ruled lines, ran back into the heart of the burnt-up, faded country. Now
and then a moving ruddy cloud on one of them told of some vehicle
crawling its laborious way.

When John, his memoranda digested, looked up ready to resume their talk,
he found that Mahony was fast asleep; and, since his first words, loudly
uttered, did not rouse him, he took out his case, chose a cigar,
beheaded it and puffed it alight.

While he smoked, he studied his insensible relative. Mahony was sitting
uncomfortably hunched up; his head had fallen forward and to the side,
his mouth was open, his gloved hands lay limp on his knee.

"H'm!" said John to himself as he gazed. And: "H'm," he repeated after
an interval.--Then pulling down his waistcoat and generally giving
himself a shake to rights, he reflected that, for his own two-and-forty
years, he was a very well preserved man indeed.




Chapter VI



"Oh, Richard!. . . and my dress is blue," said Mary distractedly, and
sitting back on her heels let her arms fall to her sides. She was on her
knees, and before her lay a cardboard box from which she had withdrawn a
pink fan, pink satin boots with stockings to match, and a pink head-dress.

"Well, why the dickens didn't you say so?" burst out the giver.

"I did, dear. As plainly as I could speak."

"Never heard a word!"

"Because you weren't listening. I told you so at the time. Now what am I
to do?" and, in her worry over the contretemps, Mary quite forgot to
thank her husband for the trouble he had been to on her behalf.

"Get another gown to go with them."

"Oh, Richard. . . how like a man! After all the time and money this one
has cost me. No, I couldn't do that. Besides, Agnes Ocock is wearing
pink and wouldn't like it." And with a forehead full of wrinkles she
slowly began to replace the articles in their sheaths. "Of course
they're very nice," she added, as her fingers touched the delicate
textures.

"They would need to be, considering what I paid for them. I wish now I'd
kept my money in my pocket."

"Well, your mistake is hardly my fault, is it, dear?" But Richard had
gone off in a mood midway between self-annoyance and the huff.

Mary's first thought was to send the articles to Jinny with a request to
exchange them for their counterparts in the proper colour. Then she
dismissed the idea. Blind slave to her nursery that Jinny was, she would
hardly be likely to give the matter her personal supervision: the box
would just be returned to the shop, and the transfer left to the
shop-people's discretion. They might even want to charge more. No, another
plan now occurred to Mary. Agnes Ocock might not yet have secured the
various small extras to go with her ball-dress; and, if not, how nice it
would be to make her a present of these. They were finer, in better
taste, than anything to be had on Ballarat; and she had long owed Agnes
some return for her many kindnesses. Herself she would just make do with
the simpler things she could buy in town. And so, without saying
anything to Richard, who would probably have objected that Henry Ocock
was well able to afford to pay for his own wife's finery, Mary tied up
the box and drove to Plevna House, on the outer edge of Yuille's Swamp.

"Oh, no, I could never have got myself such beautiful things as these,
Mary," and Mrs. Henry let her hands play lovingly with the silk
stockings, her pretty face a-glow with pleasure. "Henry has no
understanding, dear, for the etceteras of a costume. He thinks, if he
pays for a dress or a mantle, that that is enough; and when the LITTLE
bills come in, he grumbles at what he calls my extravagance. I sometimes
wish, Mary, I had kept back just a teeny-weeny bit of my own money.
Henry would never have missed it, and I should have been able to settle
a small bill for myself now and then. But you know how it is at first,
love. Our one idea is to hand over all we possess to our lord and
master." She tried on the satin boots; they were a little long, but she
would stuff the toes with wadding. "If I am REALLY not robbing you,
Mary?"

Mary reassured her, and thereupon a visit was paid to the nursery, where
Mr. Henry's son and heir lay sprawling in his cradle. Afterwards they
sat and chatted on the verandah, while a basket was being filled with
peaches for Mary to take home.

Not even the kindly drapery of a morning-wrapper could conceal the fact
that Agnes was growing stout--quite losing her fine figure. That came
of her having given up riding-exercise. And all to please Mr. Henry. He
did not ride himself, and felt nervous or perhaps a little jealous when
his wife was on horseback.

She was still very pretty of course--though by daylight the fine bloom
of her cheeks began to break up into a network of tiny veins--and her
fair, smooth brow bore no trace of the tragedy she has gone through. The
double tragedy; for, soon after the master of Dandaloo's death in a
Melbourne lunatic asylum, the little son of the house had died, not yet
fourteen years of age, in an Inebriate's Home. Far was it from Mary to
wish her friend to brood or repine; but to have ceased to remember as
utterly as Agnes had done had something callous about it; and, in her
own heart, Mary devoted a fresh regret to the memory of the poor little
stepchild of fate.

The ball for which all these silken niceties were destined had been
organised to raise funds for a public monument to the two explorers,
Burke and Wills, and was to be one of the grandest ever given in
Ballarat. His Excellency the Governor would, it was hoped, be present in
person; the ladies had taken extraordinary pains with their toilettes.
and there had been the usual grumblings at expense on the part of the
husbands--though not a man but wished and privately expected HIS wife
"to take the shine out of all the rest."

Mary had besought Richard to keep that evening free--it was her lot
always to go out to entertainments under some one else's wing--and he
had promised to do his utmost. But, a burnt child in this respect, Mary
said she would believe it when she saw it; and the trend of events
justified her scepticism. The night arrived; she was on the point of
adjusting her wreath of forget-me-nots before her candle-lit mirror,
when the dreaded summons came. Mahony had to change and hurry off,
without a moment's delay.

"Send for Purdy. He'll see you across," he said as he banged the front
door.

But Mary despatched the gardener at a run with a note to Tilly Ocock,
who, she knew, would make room for her in her double-seated buggy.

Grindle got out, and Mary, her bunchy skirts held to her, took his place
at the back beside Mrs. Amelia. Tilly sat next the driver, and talked to
them over her shoulder--a great big jolly rattle of a woman, who ruled
her surroundings autocratically.

"Lor, no--we left 'im counting eggs," she answered an inquiry on Mary's
part. "Pa's got a brood of Cochin Chinas that's the pride and glory of
'is heart. And 'e's built 'imself the neatest little place for 'em you
could meet on a summer's day: you MUST come over and admire it, my dear
--that'll please 'im, no end. It was a condition I made for 'is going on
keeping fowls. They were a perfect nuisance, all over the garden and
round the kitchen and the back, till it wasn't safe to put your foot
down anywhere--fowls ARE such messy things! At last I up and said I
wouldn't have it any longer. So then 'e and Tom set to work and built
themselves a fowl-house and a run. And there they spend their days
thinking out improvements."

Here Tilly gave the driver a cautionary dig with her elbow; as she did
this, an under-pocket chinked ominously. "Look out now, Davy, what
you're doing with us!--Yes, that's splosh, Mary. I always bring a bag
of change with me, my dear, so that those who lose shan't have an excuse
for not paying up." Tilly was going to pass her evening, as usual, at
the card-table. "Well, I hope you two'll enjoy yourselves. Remember now,
Mrs. Grindle, if you please, that you're a married woman and must behave
yourself, and not go in for any high jinks," she teased her prim little
stepdaughter, as they dismounted from the conveyance and stood
straightening their petticoats at the entrance to the hall.

"You know, Matilda, I do not intend to dance to-night," said Mrs Amelia
in her sedate fashion: it was as if she sampled each word before parting
with it.

"Oh, I know, bless you! and know why, too. If only it's not another
false alarm! Poor old pa' so like to have a grandchild 'e was allowed to
carry round. 'E mustn'n go near Henry's, of course, for fear the kid 'ud
swallow one of 'is dropped aitches and choke over it." And Tilly threw
back her head and laughed. "But you must hurry up, Mely, you know, if
you want to oblige 'im."

"Really, Tilly!" expostulated Mary. ("She sometimes DOES go too far,"
she thought to herself. "The poor little woman!") "Let us two keep
together," she said as she took Amelia's arm. "I don't intend to dance
much either, as my husband isn't here."

But once inside the gaily decorated hall, she found it impossible to
keep her word. Even on her way to a seat beside Agnes Ocock she was
repeatedly stopped, and, when she sat down, up came first one, then
another, to "request the pleasure." She could not go on refusing
everybody: if she did, it would look as if she deliberately set out to
be peculiar--a horrible thought to Mary. Besides, many of those who
made their bow were important, influential gentlemen; for Richard's sake
she must treat them politely.

For his sake, again, she felt pleased; rightly or wrongly she put the
many attentions shown her down to the fact of her being his wife. So she
turned and offered apologies to Agnes and Amelia, feeling at the same
time thankful that Richard had not Mr. Henry's jealous disposition.
There sat Agnes, looking as pretty as a picture, and was afraid to dance
with any one but her own husband. And he preferred to play at cards!

"I think, dear, you might have ventured to accept the Archdeacon for a
quadrille," she whispered behind her fan, as Agnes regretfully declined
Mr. Long.

But Agnes shook her head. "It's better not, Mary. It saves trouble
afterwards. Henry DOESN'T care to see it." Perhaps Agnes herself, once a
passionate dancer, was growing a little too comfortable, thought Mary,
as her own programme wandered from hand to hand.

Among the last to arrive was Purdy, red with haste, and making a great
thump with his lame leg as he crossed the floor.

"I'm beastly late, Polly. What have you got left for me?"

"Why, really nothing, Purdy. I thought you weren't coming. But you may
put your name down here if you like," and Mary handed him her programme
with her thumb on an empty space: she generally made a point of sitting
out a dance with Purdy that he might not feel neglected; and of late she
had been especially careful not to let him notice any difference in her
treatment of him. But when he gave back the card she found that he had
scribbled his initials in all three blank lines. "Oh, you mustn't do
that. I'm saving those for Richard."

"Our dance, I believe, Mrs. Mahony?" said a deep voice as the band
struck up "The Rat Quadrilles." And, swaying this way and that in her
flounced blue tarletan, Mary rose, put her hand within the proffered
crook, and went off with the Police Magistrate, an elderly greybeard;
went to walk or be teetotumed through the figures of the dance, with the
supremely sane unconcern that she displayed towards all the arts.

"What odd behaviour!" murmured Mrs. Henry, following Purdy's retreating
form with her eyes. "He took no notice of us whatever. And did you see,
Amelia, how he stood and stared after Mary? Quite rudely, I thought."

Here Mrs. Grindle was forced to express an opinion of her own--always a
trial for the nervous little woman. "I think it's because dear Mary
looks so charming to-night, Agnes," she ventured in her mouselike way.
Then moved up to make room for Archdeacon Long, who laid himself out to
entertain the ladies.


* * * * *


It was after midnight when Mahony reached home. He would rather have
gone to bed, but having promised Mary to put in an appearance, he
changed and walked down to the town.

The ball was at its height. He skirted the rotating couples, seeking
Mary. Friends hailed him.

"Ah, well done, doctor!"

"Still in time for a spin, sir."

"Have you seen my wife?"

"Indeed and I have. Mrs. Mahony's the belle o' the ball."

"Pleased to hear it. Where is she now?"

"Look here, Mahony, we've had a reg'lar dispute," cried Willie Urquhart
pressing up; he was flushed and decidedly garrulous. "Almost came to
blows we did, over whose was the finest pair o' shoulders--your wife's
or Henry O.'s. I plumped for Mrs. M., and I b'lieve she topped the poll.
By Jove! that blue gown makes 'em look just like . . . what shall I say?
. . . like marble."

"Does fortune smile?" asked Mahony of Henry Ocock as he passed the
card-players: he had cut Urquhart short with a nod. "So his Excellency
didn't turn up, after all?"

"Sent a telegraphic communication at the last moment. No, I haven't seen
her. But stay, there's Matilda wanting to speak to you, I believe."

Tilly was making all manner of signs to attract his attention.

"Good evening, doctor. Yes, I've a message. You'll find 'er in the
cloakroom. She's been in there for the last half-'our or so. I think
she's got the headache or something of that sort, and is waiting for you
to take 'er home."

"Oh, thank goodness, there you are, Richard!" cried Mary as he opened
the door of the cloakroom; and she rose from the bench on which she had
been sitting with her shawl wrapped round her. "I thought you'd never
come." She was pale, and looked distressed.

"Why, what's wrong, my dear? . . . feeling faint?" asked Mahony
incredulously. "If so, you had better wait for the buggy. It won't be
long now; you ordered it for two o'clock."

"No, no, I'm not ill, I'd rather walk," said Mary breathlessly. "Only
please let us get away. And without making a fuss."

"But what's the matter?"

"I'll tell you as we go. No, these boots won't hurt. And I can walk in
them quite well. Fetch your own things, Richard." Her one wish was to
get her husband out of the building.

They stepped into the street; it was a hot night and very dark. In her
thin satin dancing-boots, Mary leaned heavily on Richard's arm, as they
turned off the street-pavements into the unpaved roads.

Mahony let the lights of the main street go past; then said: "And now,
Madam Wife, you'll perhaps be good enough to enlighten me as to what all
this means?"

"Yes, dear, I will," answered Mary obediently. But her voice trembled;
and Mahony was sharp of hearing.

"Why, Polly sweetheart . . . surely nothing serious?"

"Yes, it is. I've had a very unpleasant experience this evening, Richard
--very unpleasant indeed. I hardly know how to tell you. I feel so
upset."

"Come--out with it!"

In a low voice, with downcast eyes, Mary told her story. All had gone
well till about twelve o'clock: she had danced with this partner and
that, and thoroughly enjoyed herself. Then came Purdy's turn. She was
with Mrs. Long when he claimed her, and she at once suggested that they
should sit out the dance on one of the settees placed round the hall,
where they could amuse themselves by watching the dancers. But Purdy
took no notice--"He was strange in his manner from the very beginning"
--and led her into one of the little rooms that opened off the main body
of the hall.

"And I didn't like to object. We were conspicuous enough as it was, his
foot made such a bumping noise; it was worse than ever to-night, I
thought."

For the same reason, though she had felt uncomfortable at being hidden
away in there, she had not cared to refuse to stay: it seemed to make
too much of the thing. Besides, she hoped some other couple would join
them. But

"But, Mary. . .!" broke from Mahony; he was blank and bewildered.

Purdy, however, had got up after a moment or two and shut the door. And
then--"Oh, it's no use, Richard, I can't tell you!" said poor Mary. "I
don't know how to get the words over my lips. I think I've never felt so
ashamed in all my life." And, worn out by the worry and excitement she
had gone through, and afraid, in advance, of what she had still to face,
Mary began to cry.

Mahony stood still; let her arm drop. "Do you mean me to understand," he
demanded, as if unable to believe his ears: "to understand that
Purdy. . . dared to. . . that he dared to behave to you in any but a--"
And since Mary was using her pocket-handkerchief and could not reply:
"Good God! Has the fellow taken leave of his senses? Is he mad? Was he
drunk? Answer me! What does it all mean?" And Mary still continuing
silent, he threw off the hand she had replaced on his arm. "Then you must
walk home alone. I'm going back to get at the truth of this."

But Mary clung to him. "No, no, you must hear the whole story first."
Anything rather than let him return to the hall. Yes, at first she
thought he really had gone mad. "I can't tell you what I felt,
Richard . . . knowing it was Purdy--just Purdy. To see him like
that--looking so horrible--and to have to listen to the dreadful things he
said! Yes, I'm sure he had had too too much to drink. His breath smelt
so." She had tried to pull away her hands; but he had held her, had put
his arms round her.

At the anger she felt racing through her husband she tightened her grip,
stringing meanwhile phrase to phrase with the sole idea of getting him
safely indoors. Not till they were shut in the bedroom did she give the
most humiliating detail of any: how, while she was still struggling to
free herself from Purdy's embrace, the door had opened and Mr. Grindle
looked in. "He drew back at once, of course. But it was awful, Richard!
I turned cold. It seemed to give me more strength, though. I pulled
myself away and got out of the room, I don't know how. My wreath was
falling off. My dress was crumpled. Nothing would have made me go back
to the ballroom. I couldn't have faced Amelia's husband--I think I
shall never be able to face him again," and Mary's tears flowed anew.

Richard was stamping about the room, aimlessly moving things from their
places. "God Almighty! he shall answer to me for this. I'll go back and
take a horsewhip with me."

"For my sake, don't have a scene with him. It would only make matters
worse," she pleaded.

But Richard strode up and down, treading heedlessly on the flouncings of
her dress. "What?--and let him believe such behaviour can go
unpunished? That whenever it pleases him, he can insult my wife--insult
my wife? Make her the talk of the place? Brand her before the whole town
as a light woman?"

"Oh, not the whole town, Richard. I shall have to explain to
Amelia. . . and Tilly . . . and Agnes--that's all," sobbed Mary in
parenthesis.

"Yes, and I ask if it's a dignified or decent thing for you to have to
do?--to go running round assuring your friends of your virtue!" cried
Richard furiously. "Let me tell you this, my dear: at whatever door you
knock, you'll be met by disbelief. Fate played you a shabby trick when
it allowed just that low cad to put his head in. What do you think would
be left of any woman's reputation after Grindle Esquire had pawed it
over? No, Mary, you've been rendered impossible; and you'll be made to
feel it for the rest of your days. People will point to you as the wife
who takes advantage of her husband's absence to throw herself into
another man's arms; and to me as the convenient husband who provides the
opportunity"--and Mahony groaned. In an impetuous flight of fancy he
saw his good name smirched, his practice laid waste.

Mary lifted her head at this, and wiped her eyes. "Oh, you always paint
everything so black. People know me--know I would never, never do such
a thing."

"Unfortunately we live among human beings, my dear, not in a community
of saints! But what does a good woman know of how a slander of this kind
clings?"

"But if I have a perfectly clear conscience?" Mary's tone was
incredulous, even a trifle aggrieved.

"It spells ruin all the same in a hole like this, if it once gets
about."

"But it shan't. I'll put my pride in my pocket and go to Amelia the
first thing in the morning. I'll make it right somehow.--But I must
say, Richard, in the whole affair I don't think you feel a bit sorry for
me. Or at least only for me as your wife. The horridest part of what
happened was mine, not yours--and I think you might show a little
sympathy."

"I'm too furious to feel sorry," replied Richard with gaunt
truthfulness, still marching up and down.

"Well, I do," said Mary with a spice of defiance. "In spite of
everything, I feel sorry that any one could so far forget himself as
Purdy did to-night."

"You'll be telling me next you have warmer feelings still for him!"
burst out Mahony. "Sorry for the crazy lunatic who, after all these
years, after all I've done for him and the trust I've put in him,
suddenly falls to making love to the woman who bears my name? Why, a
madhouse is the only place he's fit for."

"There you're unjust. And wrong, too. It . . . it wasn't as sudden as
you think. Purdy has been queer in his behaviour for quite a long time
now."

"What in Heaven's name do you mean by that?"

"I mean what I say," said Mary staunchly, though she turned a still
deeper red. "Oh, you might just as well be angry with yourself for being
so blind and stupid."

"Do you mean to tell me you were aware of something?" Mahony stopped
short in his perambulations and fixed her, open-mouthed.

"I couldn't help it.--Not that there was much to know, Richard. And I
thought of coming to you about it--indeed I did. I tried to, more than
once. But you were always so busy; I hadn't the heart to worry you. For
I knew very well how upset you would be."

"So it comes to this, does it?" said Mahony with biting emphasis. "My
wife consents to another man paying her illicit attentions behind her
husband's back!"

"Oh, no, no, no! But I knew how fond you were of Purdy. And I always
hoped it would blow over without . . . without coming to anything."

"God forgive me!" cried Mahony passionately. "It takes a woman's brain
to house such a preposterous idea."

"Oh, I'm not quite the fool you make me out to be, Richard. I've got
some sense in me. But it's always the same. I think of you, and you
think of no one but yourself. I only wanted to spare you. And this is
the thanks I get for it." And sitting down on the side of the bed she
wept bitterly.

"Will you assure me, madam, that till to-night nothing I could have
objected to has ever passed between you?"

"No, Richard, I won't! I won't tell you anything else. You get so angry
you don't know what you're saying. And if you can't trust me better than
that--Purdy said to-night you didn't understand me. . . and never had."

"Oh, he did, did he? There we have it! Now I'll know every word the
scoundrel has ever said to you--and if I have to drag it from you by
force."

But Mary set her lips, with an obstinacy that was something quite new in
her. It first amazed Mahony, then made him doubly angry. One word gave
another; for the first time in their married lives they quarrelled--
quarrelled hotly. And, as always at such times, many a covert criticism
a secret disapproval which neither had ever meant to breathe to the
other, slipped out and added fuel to the fire. It was appalling to both
to find on how many points they stood at variance.

Some half hour later, leaving Mary still on the edge of the bed, still
crying, Mahony stalked grimly into the surgery and taking pen and paper
scrawled, without even sitting down to do it:

YOU DAMNED SCOUNDREL! IF EVER YOU SHOW YOUR FACE HERE AGAIN, I'LL THRASH
YOU TO WITHIN AN INCH OF YOUR LIFE.

Then he stepped on to the verandah and crossed the lawn, carrying the
letter in his hand.

But already his mood was on the turn: it seemed as if, in the physical
effort of putting the words to paper, his rage had spent itself. He was
conscious now of a certain limpness, both of mind and body; his fit of
passion over, he felt dulled, almost indifferent to what had happened.
Now, too, another feeling was taking possession of him, opening up
vistas of a desert emptiness that he hardly dared to face.

But stay! . . . was that not a movement in the patch of blackness under
the fig-tree? Had not something stirred there? He stopped, and strained
his eyes. No, it was only a bough that swayed in the night air. He went
out of the garden to the corner of the road and came back empty handed.
But at the same spot he hesitated, and peered. "Who's there?" he asked
sharply. And again: "Is there any one there?" But the silence remained
unbroken; and once more he saw that the shifting of a branch had misled
him.

Mary was moving about the bedroom. He ought to go to her and ask pardon
for his violence. But he was not yet come to a stage when he felt equal
to a reconciliation; he would rest for a while, let his troubled balance
right itself. And so he lay down on the surgery sofa, and drew a rug
over him.

He closed his eyes, but could not sleep. His thoughts raced and flew;
his brain hunted clues and connections. He found himself trying to piece
things together; to fit them in, to recollect. And every now and then
some sound outside would make him start up and listen . . . and listen.
Was that not a footstep? . . . the step of one who might come feeling
his way. . . dim-eyed with regret? There were such things in life as
momentary lapses, as ungovernable impulses--as fiery contrition . . .
the anguish of remorse. And yet, once more, he sat up and listened till
his ears rang.

Then, not the ghostly footsteps of a delusive hope, but a hard, human
crunching that made the boards of the verandah shake. Tossing off the
opossum-rug, which had grown unbearably heavy, he sprang to his feet;
was wide awake and at the window, staring sleep-charged into the dawn,
before a human hand had found the night-bell and a distracted voice
cried:

"Does a doctor live here? A doctor, I say . . .?"




Chapter VII



The hot airless night had become the hot airless day: in the garden the
leaves on trees and shrubs drooped as under an invisible weight. All the
stale smells of the day before persisted--that of the medicaments on
the shelves, of the unwetted dust on the roads, the sickly odour of malt
from a neighbouring brewery. The blowflies buzzed about the ceiling; on
the table under the lamp a dozen or more moths lay singed and dead. Now
it was nearing six o'clock; clad in his thinnest driving-coat, Mahony
sat and watched the man who had come to fetch him beat his horse to a
lather.

"Mercy! . . . have a little mercy on the poor brute," he said more than
once.

He had stood out for some time against obeying the summons, which meant,
at lowest, a ten-mile drive. Not if he were offered a hundred pounds
down, was his first impetuous refusal; for he had not seen the inside of
a bed that night. But at this he trapped an odd look in the other's
eyes, and suddenly became aware that he was still dressed as for the
ball. Besides, an equally impetuous answer was flung back at him: he
promised no hundred pounds, said the man--hadn't got it to offer. He
appealed solely to the doctor's humanity: it was a question of saving a
life--that of his only son. So here they were.

"We doctors have no business with troubles of our own," thought Mahony,
as he listened to the detailed account of an ugly accident. On the roof
of a shed the boy had missed his footing, slipped and fallen some twenty
feet, landing astride a piece of quartering. Picking himself up, he had
managed to crawl home, and at first they thought he would be able to get
through the night without medical aid. But towards two o'clock his
sufferings had grown unbearable. God only knew if, by this time, he had
not succumbed to them.

"My good man, one does not die of pain alone."

They followed a flat, treeless road, the grass on either side of which
was burnt to hay. Buggy and harness--the latter eked out with bits of
string and an old bootlace--were coated with the dust of months; and
the gaunt, long-backed horse shuffled through a reddish flour, which
accompanied them as a choking cloud. A swarm of small black flies kept
pace with the vehicle, settling on nose, eyes, neck and hands of its
occupants, crawling over the horse's belly and in and out of its
nostrils. The animal made no effort to shake itself free, seemed
indifferent to the pests: they were only to be disturbed by the hail of
blows which the driver occasionally stood up to deliver. At such moments
Mahony, too, started out of the light doze he was continually dropping
into.

Arrived at their destination--a miserable wooden shanty on a sheep-run
at the foot of the ranges--he found his patient tossing on a dirty bed,
with a small pulse of 120, while the right thigh was darkly bruised and
swollen. The symptoms pointed to serious internal injuries. He performed
the necessary operation.

There was evidently no woman about the place; the coffee the father
brought him was thick as mud. On leaving, he promised to return next day
and to bring some one with him to attend to the lad.

For the home-journey, he got a mount on a young and fidgety mare, whom
he suspected of not long having worn the saddle. In the beginning he had
his hands full with her. Then, however, she ceased her antics and
consented to advance at an easy trot.

HOW tired he felt! He would have liked to go to bed and sleep for a week
on end. As it was, he could not reckon on even an hour's rest. By the
time he reached home the usual string of patients would await him; and
these disposed of, and a bite of breakfast snatched, out he must set
anew on his morning round. He did not feel well either: the coffee
seemed to have disagreed with him. He had a slight sense of nausea and
was giddy; the road swam before his eyes. Possibly the weather had
something to do with it; though a dull, sunless morning it was hot as he
had never known it. He took out a stud, letting the ends of his collar
fly.

Poor little Mary, he thought inconsequently: he had hurt and frightened
her by his violence. He felt ashamed of himself now. By daylight he
could see her point of view. Mary was so tactful and resourceful that
she might safely be trusted to hush up the affair, to explain away the
equivocal position in which she had been found. After all, both of them
were known to be decent, God-fearing people. And one had only to look at
Mary to see that here was no light woman. Nobody in his senses--not
even Grindle--could think evil of that broad, transparent brow, of
those straight, kind, merry eyes.

No, this morning his hurt was a purely personal one. That it should just
be Purdy who did him this wrong! Purdy, playmate and henchman, ally in
how many a boyish enterprise, in the hardships and adventures of later
life. "Mine own familiar friend, in whom I trusted, which did eat of my
bread!" Never had he turned a deaf ear to Purdy's needs; he had fed him
and clothed him, caring for him as for a well-loved brother. Surely few
things were harder to bear than a blow in the dark from one who stood
thus deeply in your debt, on whose gratitude you would have staked your
head. It was, of course, conceivable that he had been swept off his feet
by Mary's vivid young beauty, by over-indulgence, by the glamour of the
moment. But if a man could not restrain his impulses where the wife of
his most intimate friend was concerned . . . Another thing: as long as
Mary had remained an immature slip of a girl, Purdy had not given her a
thought. When, however, under her husband's wing she had blossomed out
into a lovely womanhood, of which any man might be proud, then she had
found favour in his eyes. And the slight this put on Mary's sterling
moral qualities, on all but her physical charms, left the worst taste of
any in the mouth.

Then, not content with trying to steal her love, Purdy had also sought
to poison her mind against him. How that rankled! For until now he had
hugged the belief that Purdy's opinion of him was coloured by affection
and respect, by the tradition of years. Whereas, from what Mary had let
fall, he saw that the boy must have been sitting in judgment on him,
regarding his peculiarities with an unloving eye, picking his motives to
pieces: it was like seeing the child of your loins, of your hopes, your
unsleeping care, turn and rend you with black ingratitude. Yes,
everything went to prove Purdy's unworthiness. Only HE had not seen it,
only he had been blind to the truth. And wrapped in this smug blindness
he had given his false friend the run of his home, setting, after the
custom of the country, no veto on his eternal presence. Disloyalty was
certainly abetted by just the extravagant, exaggerated hospitality of
colonial life. Never must the doors of your house be shut; all you had
you were expected to share with any sundowner of fortune who chanced to
stop at your gate.

The mare shied with a suddenness that almost unseated him: the next
moment she had the bit between her teeth and was galloping down the
road. Clomp-clomp-clomp went her hoofs on the baked clay; the dust
smothered and stung, and he was holding for all he was worth to reins
spanned stiff as iron. On they flew; his body hammered the saddle; his
breath came sobbingly. But he kept his seat; and a couple of miles
farther on he was down, soothing the wild-eyed, quivering, sweating
beast, whose nostrils worked like a pair of bellows. There he stood,
glancing now back along the road, now up at the sky. His hat had gone
flying at the first unexpected plunge; he ought to return and look for
it. But he shrank from the additional fatigue, the delay in reaching
home this would mean. The sky was still overcast: he decided to risk it.
Knotting his handkerchief he spread it cap-wise over his head and got
back into the saddle.

Mine own familiar friend! And more than that: he could add to David's
plaint and say, my only friend. In Purdy the one person he had been
intimate with passed out of his life. There was nobody to take the
vacant place. He had been far too busy of late years to form new
friendships: what was left of him after the day's work was done was but
a kind of shell: the work was the meaty contents. As you neared the
forties, too, it grew ever harder to fit yourself to other people: your
outlook had become too set, your ideas too unfluid. Hence you clung the
faster to ties formed in the old, golden days, worn though these might
be to the thinness of a hair. And then, there was one's wife, of course
--one's dear, good wife. But just her very dearness and goodness served
to hold possible intimates at arm's length. The knowledge that you had
such a confidante, that all your thoughts were shared with her, struck
disastrously at a free exchange of privacies. No, he was alone. He had
not so much as a dog now, to follow at heel and look up at him with the
melancholy eyes of its race. Old Pompey had come at poison, and Mary had
not wished to have a strange dog in the new house. She did not care for
animals, and the main charge of it would have fallen on her. He had no
time--no time even for a dog!

Better it would assuredly be to have some one to fall back on: it was
not good for a man to stand so alone. Did troubles come, they would
strike doubly hard because of it; then was the time to rejoice in a
warm, human handclasp. And moodily pondering the reasons for his
solitariness, he was once more inclined to lay a share of the blame on
the conditions of the life. The population of the place was still in a
state of flux: he and a mere handful of others would soon, he believed,
be the oldest residents in Ballarat. People came and went, tried their
luck, failed, and flitted off again, much as in the early days. What was
the use of troubling to become better acquainted with a person, when,
just as you began really to know him, he was up and away? At home, in
the old country, a man as often as not died in the place where he was
born; and the slow, eventless years, spent shoulder to shoulder,
automatically brought about a kind of intimacy. But this was only a
surface reason: there was another that went deeper. He had no talent for
friendship, and he knew it; indeed, he would even invert the thing, and
say bluntly that his nature had a twist in it which directly hindered
friendship; and this, though there came moments when he longed, as your
popular mortal never did, for close companionship. Sometimes he felt
like a hungry man looking on at a banquet, of which no one invited him
to partake, because he had already given it to be understood that he
would decline. But such lapses were few. On nine days out of ten, he did
not feel the need of either making or receiving confidences; he shrank
rather, with a peculiar shy dread, from personal unbosomings. Some imp
housed in him--some wayward, wilful, mocking Irish devil--bidding him
hold back, remain cool, dry-eyed, in face of others' joys and pains.
Hence the break with Purdy was a real calamity. The associations of some
five-and-twenty years were bound up in it; measured by it, one's
marriage seemed a thing of yesterday. And even more than the friend, he
would miss the friendship and all it stood for: this solid base of joint
experience; this past of common memories into which one could dip as
into a well; this handle of "Do you remember?" which opened the door to
such a wealth of anecdote. From now on, the better part of his life
would be a closed book to any but himself; there were allusions, jests
without number, homely turns of speech, which not a soul but himself
would understand. The thought of it made him feel old and empty;
affected him like the news of a death.--But MUST it be? Was there no
other way out? Slow to take hold, he was a hundred times slower to let
go. Before now he had seen himself sticking by a person through
misunderstandings, ingratitude, deception, to the blank wonder of the
onlookers. Would he not be ready here, too, to forgive . . . to forget?

But he felt hot, hot to suffocation, and his heart was pounding in
uncomfortable fashion. The idea of stripping and plunging into ice-cold
water began to make a delicious appeal to him. Nothing surpassed such a
plunge after a broken night. But of late he had had to be wary of
indulging: a bath of this kind, taken when he was over-tired, was apt to
set the accursed tic a-going; and then he could pace the floor in agony.
And yet. . . Good God, how hot it was! His head ached distractedly; an
iron band of pain seemed to encircle it. With a sudden start of alarm he
noticed that he had ceased to perspire--now he came to think of it, not
even the wild gallop had induced perspiration. Pulling up short, he
fingered his pulse. It was abnormal, even for him . . . and feeble. Was
it fancy, or did he really find a difficulty in breathing? He tore off
his collar, threw open the neck of his shirt. He had a sensation as if
all the blood in his body was flying to his head: his face must
certainly be crimson. He put both hands to this top-heavy head, to
support it; and in a blind fit of vertigo all but lost his balance in
the saddle: the trees spun round, the distance went black. For a second
still he kept upright; then he flopped to the ground, falling face
downwards, his arms huddled under him.

The mare, all her spirit gone, stood lamb-like and waited. As he did not
stir she turned and sniffed at him, curiously. Still he lay prone, and,
having stretched her tired jaws, she raised her head and uttered a
whinny--an almost human cry of distress. This, too, failing in its
effect, she nosed the ground for a few yards, then set out at a gentle,
mane-shaking trot for home.


* * * * *


Found, a dark conspicuous heap on the long bare road, and carted back to
town by a passing bullock-waggon, Mahony lay, once the death-like coma
had yielded, and tossed in fever and delirium. By piecing his broken
utterances together Mary learned all she needed to know about the case
he had gone out to attend, and his desperate ride home. But it was
Purdy's name that was oftenest on his lips; it was Purdy he reviled and
implored; and when he sprang up with the idea of calling his false
friend to account, it was as much as she could do to restrain him.

She had the best of advice. Old Dr. Munce himself came two and three
times a day. Mary had always thought him a dear old man; and she felt
surer than ever of it when he stood patting her hand and bidding her
keep a good heart; for they would certainly pull her husband through.

"There aren't so many of his kind here, Mrs. Mahony, that we can afford
to lose him."

But altogether she had never known till now how many and how faithful
their friends were. Hardly, for instance, had Richard been carried in,
stiff as a log and grey as death, when good Mrs. Devine was fumbling
with the latch of the gate, an old sunbonnet perched crooked on her
head: she had run down just as she was, in the midst of shelling peas
for dinner. She begged to be allowed to help with the nursing. But Mary
felt bound to refuse. She knew how the thought of what he might have
said in his delirium would worry Richard, when he recovered his senses:
few men laid such weight as he on keeping their private thoughts
private.

Not to be done, Mrs. Devine installed herself in the kitchen to
superintend the cooking. Less for the patient, into whom at first only
liquid nourishment could be injected, than: "To see as your own strength
is kep' up, dearie." Tilly swooped down and bore off Trotty. Delicate
fruits, new-laid eggs, jellies and wines came from Agnes Ocock; while
Amelia Grindle, who had no such dainties to offer arrived every day at
three o'clock, to mind the house while Mary slept. Archdeacon Long was
also a frequent visitor, bringing not so much spiritual as physical aid;
for, as the frenzy reached its height and Richard was maddened by the
idea that a plot was brewing against his life, a pair of strong arms
were needed to hold him down. Over and above this, letters of sympathy
flowed in; grateful patients called to ask with tears in their eyes how
the doctor did; virtual strangers stopped the servant in the street with
the same query. Mary was sometimes quite overwhelmed by the kindness
people showed her.

The days that preceded the crisis were days of keenest anxiety. But Mary
never allowed her heart to fail her. For if, in the small things of
life, she was given to building on a mortal's good sense, how much more
could she rely at such a pass on the sense of the One above all others.
What she said to herself as she moved tirelessly about the sick room,
damping cloths, filling the ice-bag, infiltering drops of nourishment,
was: "God is good!" and these words, far from breathing a pious
resignation, voiced a confidence so bold that it bordered on
irreverence. Their real meaning was: Richard has still ever so much work
to do in the world, curing sick people and saving their lives. God must
know this, and cannot now mean to be so foolish as to WASTE him, by
letting him die.

And her reliance on the Almighty's far-sighted wisdom was justified.
Richard weathered the crisis, slowly revived to life and health; and the
day came when, laying a thin white hand on hers, he could whisper: "My
poor little wife, what a fright I must have given you!" And added: "I
think an illness of some kind was due--overdue--with me."

When he was well enough to bear the journey they left home for a
watering-place on the Bay. There, on an open beach facing the Heads,
Mahony lay with his hat pulled forward to shade his eyes, and with
nothing to do but to scoop up handfuls of the fine coral sand and let it
flow again, like liquid silk, through his fingers. From beneath the brim
he watched the water churn and froth on the brown reefs; followed the
sailing-ships which, beginning as mere dots on the horizon, swelled to
stately white waterbirds, and shrivelled again to dots; drank in, with
greedy nostrils, the mixed spice of warm sea, hot seaweed and aromatic
tea-scrub.

And his strength came back as rapidly as usual. He soon felt well
enough, leaning on Mary's arm, to stroll up and down the sandy roads of
the township; to open book and newspaper; and finally to descend the
cliffs for a dip in the transparent, turquoise sea. At the end of a
month he was at home again, sunburnt and hearty, eager to pick up the
threads he had let fall. And soon Mary was able to make the comfortable
reflection that everything was going on just as before.

In this, however, she was wrong; never, in their united lives, would
things be quite the same again. Outwardly, the changes might pass
unnoticed--though even here, it was true, a certain name had now to be
avoided, with which they had formerly made free. But this was not
exactly hard to do, Purdy having promptly disappeared: they heard at
second-hand that he had at last accepted promotion and gone to
Melbourne. And since Mary had suffered no inconvenience from his
thoughtless conduct, they tacitly agreed to let the matter rest. That
was on the surface. Inwardly, the differences were more marked. Even in
the mental attitude they adopted towards what had happened, husband and
wife were thoroughly dissimilar. Mary did not refer to it because she
thought it would be foolish to re-open so disagreeable a subject. In her
own mind, however, she faced it frankly, dating back to it as the night
when Purdy had been so odious and Richard so angry. Mahony, on the other
hand, gave the affair a wide berth even in thought. For him it was a
kind of Pandora's box, of which, having once caught a glimpse of the
contents, he did not again dare to raise the lid. Things might escape
from it that would alter his whole life. But he, too, dated from it in
the sense of suddenly becoming aware, with a throb of regret, that he
had left his youth behind him. And such phrases as: "When I was young,"
"In my younger days," now fell instinctively from his lips.

Nor was this all. Deep down in Mary's soul there slumbered a slight
embarrassment; one she could not get the better of: it spread and grew.
This was a faint, ever so faint a doubt of Richard's wisdom. Odd she had
long known him to be, different in many small and some great ways from
those they lived amongst; but hitherto this very oddness of his had
seemed to her an outgrowth on the side of superiority--fairer judgment,
higher motives. Just as she had always looked up to him as rectitude in
person, so she had thought him the embodiment of a fine, though somewhat
unworldly wisdom. Now her faith in his discernment was shaken. His
treatment of her on the night of the ball had shocked, confused her. She
was ready to make allowance for him: she had told her story clumsily,
and had afterwards been both cross and obstinate; while part of his
violence was certainly to be ascribed to his coming breakdown. But this
did not cover everything; and the ungenerous spirit in which he had met
her frankness, his doubt of her word, of her good faith--his utter
unreasonableness in short--had left a cold patch of astonishment in
her, which would not yield. She lit on it at unexpected moments.
Meanwhile, she groped for an epithet that would fit his behaviour.
Beginning with some rather vague and high-flown terms she gradually came
down, until with the sense of having found the right thing at last, she
fixed on the adjective "silly"--a word which, for the rest, was in
common use with Mary, had she to describe anything that struck her as
queer or extravagant. And sitting over her fancywork, into which, being
what Richard called "safe as the grave," she sewed more thoughts than
most women: sitting thus, she would say to herself with a half smile and
an incredulous shake of the head: "SO silly!"

But hers was one of those inconvenient natures which trust blindly or
not at all: once worked on by a doubt or a suspicion, they are never
able to shake themselves free of it again. As time went on, she suffered
strange uncertainties where some of Richard's decisions were concerned.
In his good intentions she retained an implicit belief; but she was not
always satisfied that he acted in the wisest way. Occasionally it struck
her that he did not see as clearly as she did; at other times, that he
let a passing whim run away with him and override his common sense. And,
her eyes thus opened, it was not in Mary to stand dumbly by and watch
him make what she held to be mistakes. Openly to interfere, however,
would also have gone against the grain in her; she had bowed for too
long to his greater age and experience. So, seeing no other way out, she
fell back on indirect methods. To her regret. For, in watching other
women "manage" their husbands, she had felt proud to think that nothing
of this kind was necessary between Richard and her. Now she, too, began
to lay little schemes by which, without his being aware of it, she might
influence his judgment, divert or modify his plans.

Her enforced use of such tactics did not lessen the admiring affection
she bore him: that was framed to withstand harder tests. Indeed, she was
even aware of an added tenderness towards him, now she saw that it
behoved her to have forethought for them both. But into the wife's love
for her husband there crept something of a mother's love for her child;
for a wayward and impulsive, yet gifted creature, whose welfare and
happiness depended on her alone. And it is open to question whether the
mother dormant in Mary did not fall with a kind of hungry joy on this
late-found task. The work of her hands done, she had known empty hours.
That was over now. With quickened faculties, all her senses on the
alert, she watched, guided, hindered, foresaw.




Chapter VIII



Old Ocock failed in health that winter. He was really old now, was two
or three and sixty; and, with the oncoming of the rains and cold, gusty
winds, various infirmities began to plague him.

"He's done himself rather too well since his marriage," said Mahony in
private. "After being a worker for the greater part of his life, it
would have been better for him to work on to the end."

Yes, that, Mary could understand and agree with. But Richard continued:
"All it means, of course, is that the poor fellow is beginning to
prepare for his last long journey. These aches and pains of his
represent the packing and the strapping without which not even a short
earthly journey can be undertaken. And his is into eternity."

Mary, making lace over a pillow, looked up at this, a trifle
apprehensively. "What things you do say! If any one heard you, they'd
think you weren't very. . . very religious." Her fear lest Richard's
outspokenness should be mistaken for impiety never left her.

Tilly was plain and to the point. "Like a bear with a sore back that's
what 'e is, since 'e can't get down among his blessed birds. He leads
Tom the life of the condemned, over the feeding of those bantams. As if
the boy could help 'em not laying when they ought!"

At thirty-six Tilly was the image of her mother. Entirely gone was the
slight crust of acerbity that had threatened her in her maiden days,
when, thanks to her misplaced affections, it had seemed for a time as if
the purple prizes of life--love, offers of marriage, a home of her own
--were going to pass her by. She was now a stout, high-coloured woman
with a roar of a laugh, full, yet firm lips, and the whitest of teeth.
Mary thought her decidedly toned down and improved since her marriage;
but Mahony put it that the means Tilly now had at her disposal were such
as to make people shut an eye to her want of refinement. However that
might be, "old Mrs. Ocock" was welcomed everywhere--even by those on
whom her bouncing manners grated. She was invariably clad in a thick and
handsome black silk gown, over which she wore all the jewellery she
could crowd on her person--huge cameo brooches, ear-drops, rings and
bracelets, lockets and chains. Her name topped subscription-lists, and,
having early weaned her old husband of his dissenting habits, she was a
real prop to Archdeacon Long and his church, taking the chief and most
expensive table at tea-meetings, the most thankless stall at bazaars.
She kept open house, too, and gave delightful parties, where, while some
sat at loo, others were free to turn the rooms upside-down for a dance,
or to ransack wardrobes and presses for costumes for charades. She drove
herself and her friends about in various vehicles, briskly and well, and
indulged besides in many secret charities. Her husband thought no such
woman had ever trodden the earth, and publicly blessed the day on which
he first set eyes on her.

"After the dose I'd 'ad with me first, 'twas a bit of a risk, that I
knew. And it put me off me sleep for a night or two before'and. But my
Tilly's the queen o' women--I say the queen, sir! I've never 'ad a
wrong word from 'er, an' when I go she gits every penny I've got. Why,
I'm jiggered if she didn't stop at 'ome from the Races t'other day, an'
all on my account!"

"Now then, pa, drop it. Or the doctor'll think you've been mixing your
liquors. Give your old pin here and let me poultice it."

He had another sound reason for gratitude. Somewhere in the background
of his house dwelt his two ne'er-do-well sons; Tilly had accepted their
presence uncomplainingly. Indeed she sometimes stood up for Tom, against
his father. "Now, pa, stop nagging at the boy, will you? You'll never
get anything out of 'im that way. Tom's right enough if you know how to
take him. He'll never set the Thames on fire, if that's what you mean.
But I'm thankful, I can tell you, to have a handy chap like him at my
back. If I 'ad to depend on your silly old paws, I'd never get anything
done at all."

And so Tom, a flaxen-haired, sheepish-looking man of something over
thirty, led a kind of go-as-you-please existence about the place, a
jack-of-all-trades--in turn carpenter, whitewasher, paper-hanger--an
expert fetcher and carrier, bullied by his father, sheltered under his
stepmother's capacious wing. "It isn't his fault 'e's never come to
anything. 'E hadn't half a chance. The truth is, Mary, for all they say
to the opposite, men are harder than women--so unforgiving-like. Just
because Tom made a slip once, they've never let 'im forget it, but tied
it to 'is coat-tails for 'im to drag with 'im through life. Littleminded
I call it.--Besides, if you ask me, my dear, it must have been a case
of six of one and half a dozen of the other. Tom as sedoocer!--can you
picture it, Mary? It's enough to make one split." And with a meaning
glance at her friend, Tilly broke out in a contagious peal of laughter.

As for Johnny--well . . . and she shrugged her shoulders. "A bad egg's
bad, Mary, and no amount o' cooking and doctoring 'll sweeten it. But he
didn't make 'imself, did 'e?--and my opinion is, parents should look to
themselves a bit more than they do."

As she spoke, she threw open the door of the little room where Johnny
housed. It was an odd place. The walls were plastered over with
newspaper-cuttings, with old prints from illustrated journals, with
snippets torn off valentines and keepsakes. Stuck one on another, these
formed a kind of loose wallpaper, which stirred in the draught. Tilly
went on: "I see myself to it being kept cleanish; 'e hates the girl to
come bothering round. Oh, just Johnny's rubbish!" For Mary had stooped
curiously to the table which was littered with a queer collection of
objects: matchboxes on wheels; empty reels of cotton threaded on
strings; bits of wood shaped in rounds and squares; boxes made of paper;
dried seaweed glued in patterns on strips of cardboard. "He's for ever
pottering about with 'em. What amusement 'e gets out of it, only the
Lord can tell."

She did not mention the fact, known to Mary, that when Johnny had a
drinking-bout it was she who looked after him, got him comfortably to
bed, and made shift to keep the noise from his father's ears. Yes,
Tilly's charity seemed sheerly inexhaustible.

Again, there was the case of Jinny's children.

For in this particular winter Tilly had exchanged her black silk for a
stuff gown, heavily trimmed with crepe. She was in mourning for poor
Jinny, who had died not long after giving birth to a third daughter.

"Died OF the daughter, in more senses than one," was Tilly's verdict.

John had certainly been extremely put out at the advent of yet another
girl; and the probability was that Jinny had taken his reproaches too
much to heart. However it was, she could not rally; and one day Mary
received a telegram saying that if she wished to see Jinny alive, she
must come at once. No mention was made of Tilly, but Mary ran to her
with the news, and Tilly declared her intention of going, too. "I
suppose I may be allowed to say good-bye to my own sister, even though
I'm not a Honourable?"

"Not that Jinn and I ever really drew together," she continued as the
train bore them over the ranges. "She'd too much of poor pa in 'er. And
I was all ma. Hard luck that it must just be her who managed to get such
a domineering brute for a husband. You'll excuse me, Mary, won't you?--
a domineering brute!"

"And to think I once envied her the match!" she went on meditatively,
removing her bonnet and substituting a kind of nightcap intended to keep
her hair free from dust. "Lauks, Mary, it's a good thing fate doesn't
always take us at our word. We don't know which side our bread's
buttered on, and that's the truth. Why, my dear, I wouldn't exchange my
old boy for all the Honourables in creation!"

They were in time to take leave of Jinny lying white as her pillows
behind the red rep hangings of the bed. The bony parts of her face had
sprung into prominence, her large soft eyes fallen in. John, stalking
solemnly and noiselessly in a long black coat, himself led the two women
to the bedroom, where he left them; they sat down one on each side of
the great fourposter. Jinny hardly glanced at her sister: it was Mary
she wanted, Mary's hand she fumbled for while she told her trouble.
"It's the children, Mary," she whispered. "I can't die happy because of
the children. John doesn't understand them." Jinny's whole existence was
bound up in the three little ones she had brought into the world.

"Dearest Jinny, don't fret. I'll look after them for you, and take care
of them," promised Mary wiping away her tears.

"I thought so," said the dying woman, relieved, but without gratitude:
it seemed but natural to her, who was called upon to give up everything,
that those remaining should make sacrifices. Her fingers plucked at the
sheet. "John's been good to me," she went on, with closed eyes.
"But. . . if it 'adn't been for the children . . . yes, the children.... I
think I'd 'a' done better--" her speech lapsed oddly, after her years of
patient practice--"to 'ave taken . . . to 'a' taken"--the name
remained unspoken.

Tilly raised astonished eyebrows at Mary. "Wandering!" she telegraphed
in lip-language, forming the word very largely and distinctly; for
neither knew of Jinny having had any but her one glorious chance.

Tilly's big heart yearned over her sister's forlorn little ones; they
could be heard bleating like lambs for the mother to whom till now they
had never cried in vain. Her instant idea was to gather all three up in
her arms and carry them off to her own roomy, childless home, where she
would have given them a delightful, though not maybe a particularly
discriminating upbringing. But the funeral over, the blinds raised, the
two ladies and the elder babes clad in the stiff, expensive mourning
that befitted the widower's social position, John put his foot down: and
to Mary was extremely explicit: "Under no circumstances will I permit
Matilda to have anything to do with the rearing of my children excellent
creature though she be!"

On the other hand, he would not have been unwilling for Mary to mother
them. This, of course, was out of the question: Richard had accustomed
himself to Trotty, but would thank you, she knew, for any fresh
encroachment on his privacy. Before leaving, however, she promised to
sound him on the plan of placing Trotty as a weekly boarder at a Young
Ladies' Seminary, and taking the infant in her place. For it came out
that John intended to set Zara--Zara, but newly returned from a second
voyage to England and still sipping like a bee at the sweets of various
situations--at the head of his house once more. And Mary could not
imagine Zara rearing a baby.

Equally hard was it to understand John not having learnt wisdom from his
two previous failures to live with his sister. But, in seeking tactfully
to revive his memory, she ran up against such an ingrained belief in the
superiority of his own kith and kin that she was baffled, and could only
fold her hands and hope for the best.

"Besides, Jane's children are infinitely more tractable than poor
Emma's," was John's parting shot.--Strange, thought Mary, how attached
John was to his second family.

He had still another request to make of her. The reports he received of
the boy Johnny, now a pupil at the Geelong Grammar School, grew worse
from term to term. It had become clear to him that he was unfortunate
enough to possess an out-and-out dullard for a son. Regretfully giving
up, therefore, the design he had cherished of educating Johnny for the
law, he had resolved to waste no more good money on the boy, but to take
him, once he was turned fifteen, into his own business. Young John,
however, had proved refractory, expressing a violent antipathy to the
idea of office-life. "It is here that I should be glad of another
opinion--and I turn to you, Mary, my dear. Jane was of no use whatever
in such matters, none whatever, being, and very properly so, entirely
wrapped up in her own children." So Mary arranged to break her homeward
journey at Geelong, for the purpose of seeing and summing up her nephew.

Johnny--he was Jack at school, but that, of course, his tomfools of
relations couldn't be expected to remember--Johnny was waiting on the
platform when the train steamed in. "Oh, what a bonny boy!" said Mary to
herself. "All poor Emma's good looks."

Johnny had been kicking his heels disconsolately: another of these
wretched old women coming down to jaw him! He wished every one of them
at the bottom of the sea. However he pulled himself together and went
forward to greet his aunt: he was not in the least bashful. And as they
left the station he took stock of her, out of the tail of his eye. With
a growing approval: this one at any rate he needn't feel ashamed of; and
she was not so dreadfully old after all. Perhaps she mightn't turn out
quite such a wet blanket as the rest; though, from experience, he
couldn't connect any pleasure with relatives' visits: they were nasty
pills that had to be swallowed. He feared and disliked his father; Aunt
Zara had been sheerly ridiculous, with her frills and simpers--the boys
had imitated her for weeks after--and once, most shameful of all, his
stepmother had come down and publicly wept over him. His cheeks still
burnt at the remembrance; and he had been glad to hear that she was
dead: served her jolly well right! But this Aunt Mary seemed a horse of
another colour; and he did not sneak her into town by a back way, as he
had planned to do before seeing her.

Greatly as Mary might admire the tall fair lad by her side, she found
herself at a loss how to deal with him, the mind of a schoolboy of
thirteen being a closed book to her. Johnny looked demure and answered
"Yes, Aunt Mary," to everything she said; but this was of small
assistance in getting at the real boy inside.

Johnny had no intention, in the beginning, of taking her into his
often-betrayed and badly bruised confidence. However a happy instinct led
her to suggest a visit to a shop that sold brandy-snaps and gingerbeer;
and this was too much for his strength of mind. Golly, didn't he have a
tuck-in! And a whole pound of bull's-eyes to take back with him to
school!

It was over the snaps, with an earth-brown moustache drawn round his
fresh young mouth, the underlip of which swelled like a ripe cherry,
that he blurted out: "I say, Aunt Mary, DON'T let the pater stick me in
that beastly old office of his. I . . . I want to go to sea."

"Oh, but Johnny! Your father would never consent to that, I'm sure."

"I don't see why not," returned the boy in an aggrieved voice. "I hate
figures and father knows it. I tell you I mean to go to sea." And as he
said it his lip shot out, and suddenly, for all his limpid blue eyes and
flaxen hair, it was his father's face that confronted Mary.

"He wouldn't think it respectable enough, dear. He wants you to rise
higher in the world, and to make money. You must remember who he is."

"Bosh!" said Johnny. "Look at Uncle Ned . . . and Uncle Jerry . . . and
the governor himself. He didn't have to sit in a beastly old hole of an
office when he was my age."

"That was quite different," said Mary weakly. "And as for your Uncle
Jerry, Johnny--why, afterwards he was as glad as could be to get into
an office at all."

"Well, I'd sooner be hanged!" retorted young John. But the next minute
flinging away dull care, he inquired briskly: "Can you play tipcat, Aunt
Mary?" And vanquished by her air of kindly interest, he gave her his
supreme confidence. "I say, don't peach, will you, but I've got a white
rat. I keep it in a locker under my bed."

A NICE FRANK HANDSOME BOY, wrote Mary. DON'T BE TOO HARD ON HIM, JOHN.
HIS GREAT WISH IS TO TRAVEL AND SEE THE WORLD--OR AS HE PUTS IT, TO GO
TO SEA. MIGHTN'T IT BE A GOOD THING TO HUMOUR HIM IN THIS? A TASTE OF
THE HARDSHIPS OF LIFE WOULD SOON CURE HIM OF ANY SUCH FANCIES.

"Stuff and nonsense!" said John the father, and threw the letter from
him. "I didn't send Mary there to let the young devil get round her like
that." And thereupon he wrote to the Headmaster that the screw was to be
applied to Johnny as never before. This was his last chance. If it
failed, and his next report showed no improvement, he would be taken
away without further ado and planked down under his father's nose. No
son of his should go to sea, he was damned if they should! For, like
many another who has yielded to the wandering passion in his youth, John
had small mercy on it when it reared its head in his descendants.




Chapter IX



Henry Ocock was pressing for a second opinion; his wife had been in poor
health since the birth of her last child. Mahony drove to Plevna House
one morning between nine and ten o'clock.

A thankless task lay before him. Mrs. Henry's case had been a fruitful
source of worry to him; and he now saw nothing for it but a straight
talk with Henry himself.

He drove past what had once been the Great Swamp. From a bed of
cattle-ploughed mud interspersed with reedy water-holes; in summer a dry
and dust-swept hollow: from this, the vast natural depression had been
transformed into a graceful lake, some three hundred acres in extent. On
its surface pleasure boats lay at their moorings by jetties and
boatsheds; groups of stiff-necked swans sailed or ducked and straddled;
while shady walks followed the banks, where the whiplike branches of the
willows, showing shoots of tenderest green, trailed in the water or
swayed like loose harp-strings to the breeze.

All the houses that had sprung up round Lake Wendouree had well-stocked
spreading grounds; but Ocock's outdid the rest. The groom opening a pair
of decorative iron gates which were the showpiece of the neighbourhood,
Mahony turned in and drove past exotic firs, Moreton Bay fig-trees and
araucarias; past cherished English hollies growing side by side with
giant cacti. In one corner stood a rockery, where a fountain played and
goldfish swam in a basin. The house itself, of brick and two-storeyed,
with massive bay-windows, had an ornamental verandah on one side. The
drawing-room was a medley of gilt and lustres, mirrors and glass shades;
the finest objects from Dandaloo had been brought here, only to be
outdone by Henry's own additions. Yes, Ocock lived in grand style
nowadays, as befitted one of the most important men in the town. His old
father once gone--and Mahony alone knew why the latter's existence
acted as a drag--he would no doubt stand for Parliament.

Invited to walk into the breakfast-room, Mahony there found the family
seated at table. It was a charming scene. Behind the urn Mrs. Henry, in
be-ribboned cap and morning wrapper, dandled her infant; while Henry, in
oriental gown and Turkish fez, had laid his newspaper by to ride his
young son on his foot. Mahony refused tea or coffee; but could not avoid
drawing up a chair, touching the peachy cheeks of the children held
aloft for his inspection, and meeting a fire of playful sallies and
kindly inquiries. As he did so, he was sensitively aware that it fell to
him to break up the peace of this household. Only he knew the canker
that had begun to eat at its roots.

The children borne off, Mrs. Henry interrogated her husband's pleasure
with a pretty: "May I?" or "Should I?" lift of the brows; and gathering
that he wished her to retire, laid her small, plump hand in Mahony's,
sent a graceful message to "dearest Mary," and swept the folds of her
gown from the room. Henry followed her with a well-pleased eye--his
opinion was no secret that, in figure and bearing, his wife bore a
marked resemblance to her Majesty the Queen--and admonished her not to
fail to partake of some light refreshment during the morning, in the
shape of a glass of sherry and a biscuit. "Unless, my love, you prefer
me to order cook to whip you up an egg-nog.--Mrs. Ocock is, I regret to
say, entirely without appetite again," he went on, as the door closed
behind his wife. "What she eats is not enough to keep a sparrow going.
You must prove your skill, doctor, and oblige us by prescribing a still
more powerful tonic or appetiser. The last had no effect whatever." He
spoke from the hearthrug, where he had gone to warm his skirts at the
wood fire, audibly fingering the while a nest of sovereigns in a
waistcoat pocket.

"I feared as much," said Mahony gravely; and therewith took the plunge.

When some twenty minutes later he emerged from the house, he was
unaccompanied, and himself pulled the front door to behind him. He stood
frowning heavily as he snapped the catches of his gloves, and fell foul
of the groom over a buckle of the harness, in a fashion that left the
man open-mouthed. "Blow me, if I don't believe he's got the sack!"
thought the man in driving townwards.

The abrupt stoppage of Richard's visits to Plevna House staggered Mary.
And since she could get nothing out of her husband, she tied on her
bonnet and went off hotfoot to question her friend. But Mrs. Henry
tearfully declared her ignorance she had listened in fear and trembling
to the sound of the two angry voices--and Henry was adamant. They had
already called in another doctor.

Mary came home greatly distressed, and, Richard still wearing his
obstinate front, she ended by losing her temper. He knew well enough,
said she, it was not her way to interfere or to be inquisitive about his
patients; but this was different; this had to do with one of her dearest
friends; she must know. In her ears rang Agnes's words: "Henry told me,
love, he wouldn't insult me by repeating what your husband said of me.
Oh, Mary, isn't it dreadful? And when I liked him so as a doctor!"--She
now repeated them aloud.

This was too much for Mahony. He blazed up. "The confounded
mischiefmonger--the backbiter! Well, if you will have it, wife, here
you are . . . here's the truth. What I said to Ocock was: I said, my
good man, if you want your wife to get over her next confinement more
quickly, keep the sherry-decanter out of her reach."

Mary gasped and sank on a chair, letting her arms flop to her side.
"Richard!" she ejaculated. "Oh, Richard, you never did!"

"I did indeed, my dear.--Oh well, not in just those words, of course;
we doctors must always wrap the truth up in silver paper.--And I should
feel it my duty to do the same again to-morrow; though there are
pleasanter things in life, Mary, I can assure you, than informing a low
mongrel like Ocock that his wife is drinking on the sly. You can have no
notion, my dear, of the compliments one calls down on one's head by so
doing. The case is beyond my grasp, of course, and I am cloaking my own
shortcomings by making scandalous insinuations against a delicate lady,
who 'takes no more than her position entitles her to'--his very words,
Mary!--'for the purpose of keeping up her strength.'" And Mahony
laughed hotly.

"Yes, but was it--I mean. . . was it really necessary to say it?"
stammered Mary still at sea. And as her husband only shrugged his
shoulders: "Then I can't pretend to be surprised at what has happened,
Richard. Mr. Henry will NEVER forgive you. He thinks so much of
everything and every one belonging to him."

"Pray, can I help that? . . . help his infernal pride? And, good God,
Mary, can't you see that, far more terrible than my having had to tell
him the truth, is the fact of there being such a truth to tell?"

"Oh yes, indeed I can," and the warm tears rushed to Mary's eyes. "Poor,
poor little Agnes!--Richard, it comes of her having once been married
to that dreadful man. And though she doesn't say so, yet I don't believe
she's really happy in her second marriage either. There are so many
things she's not allowed to do--and she's afraid of Mr. Henry, I know
she is. You see he's displeased when she's dull or unwell; she must
always be bright and look pretty; and I expect the truth is, since her
illness she has taken to taking things, just to keep her spirits up."
Here Mary saw a ray of light, and snatched at it. "But in that case
mightn't the need for them pass, as she grows stronger?"

"I lay no claim to be a prophet, my dear."

"For it does seem strange that I never noticed anything," went on Mary,
more to herself than to him. "I've seen Agnes at all hours of the
day. . . when she wasn't in the least expecting visitors.--Yes, Richard, I
do know people sometimes eat things to take the smell away. But the idea
of Agnes doing anything so . . . so low--oh, isn't it JUST possible there
might be some mistake?"

"Oh, well, if you're going to imitate Ocock and try to teach me my
business!" gave back Mahony with an angry gesture, and sitting down at
the table, he pulled books and papers to him.

"As if such a thing would ever occur to me! It's only that . . . that
somehow my brain won't take it in. Agnes has always been such a dear
good little soul, all kindness. She's never done anybody any harm or
said a hard word about any one, all the years I've known her. I simply
CAN'T believe it of her, and that's the truth. As for what people will
say when it gets about that you've been shown the door in a house like
Mr. Henry's--why, I'm afraid even to think of it!" and powerless any
longer to keep back her tears, Mary hastened from the room.

But she also thought it wiser to get away before Richard had time to
frame the request that she should break off all intercourse with Plevna
House. This, she could never promise to do; and the result might be a
quarrel. Whereas if she avoided giving her word, she would be free to
slip out now and then to see poor Agnes, when Richard was on his rounds
and Mr. Henry at business. But this was the only point clear to her. In
standing up for her friend she had been perfectly sincere: to think ill
of a person she cared for, cost Mary an inward struggle. Against this,
however, she had an antipathy to set that was almost stronger than
herself. Of all forms of vice, intemperance was the one she hated most.
She lived in a country where it was, alas! only too common; but she had
never learnt to tolerate it, or to look with a lenient eye on those who
succumbed: and whether these were but slaves of the nipping habit; or
the eternal dram-drinkers who felt fit for nothing if they had not a peg
inside them; or those seasoned topers who drank their companions under
the table without themselves turning a hair; or yet again those who,
sober for three parts of the year, spent the fourth in secret debauches.
Herself she had remained as rigidly abstemious as in the days of her
girlhood. And she often mused, with a glow at her heart, on her great
good fortune in having found in Richard one whose views on this subject
were no less strict than her own. Hence her distress at his disclosure
was caused not alone by the threatened loss of a friendship: she wept
for the horror with which the knowledge filled her.

Little by little, though, her mind worked round to what was, after all,
the chief consideration: Richard's action and its probable consequences.
And here once more she was divided against herself. For a moment she had
hoped her husband would own the chance of him being in error. But she
soon saw that this would never do. A mistake on his part would be a blow
to his reputation. Besides making enemies of people like the Henrys for
nothing. If he had to lose them as patients, it might as well be for a
good solid reason, she told herself with a dash of his own asperity. No,
it was a case of either husband or friend. And though she pitied Agnes
from the bottom of her heart, yet there were literally no lengths she
would have shrunk from going to, to spare Richard pain or even anxiety.
And this led her on to wonder whether, granted things were as he said,
he had approached Mr. Henry in the most discreet way. Could he not have
avoided a complete break? She sat and pondered this question till her
head ached, finding herself up against the irreconcilability of the
practical with the ideal which complicates a man's working life. What
she belatedly tried to think out for her husband was some little
common-sense stratagem by means of which he could have salved his
conscience, without giving offence. He might have said that the drugs he
was prescribing would be nullified by the use of wine or spirits; even
better, have warned Agnes in private. Somehow, it might surely have been
managed. Mr. Henry had no doubt been extremely rude and overbearing; but
in earlier years Richard had known how to behave towards ill-breeding.
She couldn't tell why, but he was finding it more and more difficult to
get on with people nowadays. He certainly had a very great deal to do,
and was often tired out. Again, he did not need to care so much as
formerly whether he offended people or not--ordinary patients, that
was; the Henrys, of course, were of the utmost consequence. Still, once
on a time he had been noted for his tact; it was sad to see it leaving
him in the lurch. Several times of late she had been forced to step in
and smooth out awkwardnesses. But a week ago he had had poor little
Amelia Grindle up in arms, by telling her that her sickly first-born
would mentally never be quite like other children. To every one else
this had been plain from the outset; but Amelia had suspected nothing,
having, poor thing, no idea when a babe ought to begin to take notice or
cut its teeth. Richard said it was better for her to face the truth
betimes than to spend her life vainly hoping and fretting; indeed, it
would not be right of him to allow it. Poor dear Richard! He set such
store by truth and principle--and she, Mary, would not have had him
otherwise. All the same, she thought that in both cases a small
compromise would not have hurt him. But compromise he would not . . . or
could not. And as, recalled to reality by the sight of the week's
washing, which strained, ballooned, collapsed, on its lines in the yard
--Biddy was again letting the clothes get much too dry!--as Mary rose
to her feet, she manfully squared her shoulders to meet the weight of
the new burden that was being laid on them.

With regard to Mahony, it might be supposed that having faithfully done
what he believed to be his duty, he would enjoy the fruits of a quiet
mind. This was not so. Before many hours had passed he was wrestling
with the incident anew; and a true son of that nation which, for all its
level-headedness, spends its best strength in fighting shadows, he felt
a great deal angrier in retrospect than he had done at the moment. It
was not alone the fact of him having got his conge--no medico was safe
from THAT punch below the belt. His bitterness was aimed at himself.
Once more he had let himself be hoodwinked; had written down the smooth
civility it pleased Ocock to adopt towards him to respect and esteem.
Now that the veil was torn, he saw how poor the lawyer's opinion of him
actually was. And always had been. For a memory was struggling to emerge
in him, setting strings in vibration. And suddenly there rose before him
a picture of Ocock that time had dimmed. He saw the latter standing in
the dark, crowded lobby of the court-house, cursing at him for letting
their witness escape. There it was! There, in these two scenes, far
apart as they lay, you had the whole man. The unctuous blandness, the
sleek courtesy was but a mask, which he wore for you just so long as you
did not hinder him by getting in his way. That was the unpardonable sin.
For Ocock was out to succeed--to succeed at any price and by any means.
In tracing his course, no goal but this had ever stood before him. The
obligations that bore on your ordinary mortal--a sense of honesty, of
responsibility to one's fellows, the soft pull of domestic ties--did
not trouble Ocock. He laughed them down, or wrung their necks like so
many pullets. And should the poor little woman who bore his name become
a drag on him, she would be tossed on to the rubbish-heap with the rest.
In a way, so complete a freedom from altruistic motives had something
grandiose about it. But those who ran up against it, and could not fight
it with its own weapons, had not an earthly chance.

Thus Mahony sat in judgment, giving rein for once to his ingrained
dislike for the man of whom he had now made an enemy. In whose debt, for
the rest, he stood deep. And had done, ever since the day he had been
fool enough, like the fly in the nursery rhyme, to seek out Ocock and
his familiars in their grimy little "parlour" in Chancery Lane.

But his first heat spent he soon cooled down, and was able to laugh at
the stagy explosiveness of his attitude. So much for the personal side
of the matter. Looked at from a business angle it was more serious. The
fact of him having been shown the door by a patient of Ocock's standing
was bound, as Mary saw, to react unfavourably on the rest of the
practice. The news would run like wildfire through the place; never were
such hotbeds of gossip as these colonial towns. Besides, the colleague
who had been called in to Mrs. Agnes in his stead, was none too well
disposed towards him.

His fears were justified. It quickly got about that he had made a
blunder: all Mrs. Henry needed, said the new-comer, was change of air
and scene; and forthwith the lady was packed off on a trial trip to
Sydney. Mahony held his head high, and refused to notice looks and
hints. But he knew all about what went on behind his back: he was
morbidly sensitive to atmosphere; could tell how a house was charged as
soon as he crossed the threshold. People were saying: a mistake there,
why not here, too? Slow recoveries asked themselves if a fresh treatment
might not benefit them; lovers of blue pills hungered for more drastic
remedies. The disaffection would blow over, of course; but it was
painful while it lasted; and things were not bettered by one of his
patients choosing just this inconvenient moment to die--an elderly man,
down with the Russian influenza, who disobeyed orders, got up too early
and was carried off by double pneumonia inside a week.--Worry over the
mishap robbed his poor medical attendant of sleep for several nights on
end.

Not that this was surprising; he found it much harder than of old to
keep his mind from running on his patients outside working-hours. In his
younger days he had laid down fixed rules on this score. Every
brainworker, he held, must in his spare time be able to detach his
thoughts from his chief business, pin them to something of quite another
kind, no matter how trivial: keep fowls or root round gardens, play the
flute or go in for carpentry. Now, he might have dug till his palms
blistered, it would not help. Those he prescribed for teased him like a
pack of spirit-presences, which clamour to be heard. And if a serious
case took a turn for the worse, he would find himself rising in a sweat
of uncertainty, and going lamp in hand into the surgery, to con over a
prescription he had written during the day. And one knew where THAT kind
of thing led!

Now, as if all this were not enough, there was added to it the old,
evergreen botheration about money.




Chapter X



Thus far, Ocock had nursed his mining investments for him with a
fatherly care. He himself had been free as a bird from responsibility.
Every now and again he would drop in at the office, just to make sure
the lawyer was on the alert; and each time he came home cheerful with
confidence. That was over now. As a first result of the breach, he
missed--or so he believed--clearing four hundred pounds. Among the
shares he held was one lot which till now had proved a sorry bargain.
Soon after purchase something had gone wrong with the management of the
claim; there had been a lawsuit, followed by calls unending and never a
dividend. Now, when these shares unexpectedly swung up to a high level--
only to drop the week after to their standing figure--Ocock failed to
sell out in the nick of time. Called to account, he replied that it was
customary in these matters for his clients to advise him; thus deepening
Mahony's sense of obligation. Stabbed in his touchiness, he wrote for
all his scrip to be handed over to him; and thereafter loss and gain
depended on himself alone. It certainly brought a new element of variety
into his life. The mischief was, he could get to his study of the
money-market only with a fagged brain. And the fear lest he should do
something rash or let a lucky chance slip kept him on tenter-hooks.

It was about this time that Mary, seated one evening in face of her
husband, found herself reflecting: "When one comes to think of it, how
seldom Richard ever smiles nowadays."

For a wonder they were at a soiree together, at the house of one of
Mahony's colleagues. The company consisted of the inner circle of
friends and acquaintances: "Always the same people--the old job lot!
One knows before they open their mouths what they'll say and how they'll
say it," Richard had grumbled as he dressed. The Henry Ococks were not
there though, it being common knowledge that the two men declined to
meet; and a dash of fresh blood was present in the shape of a lady and
gentleman just "out from home." Richard got into talk with this couple,
and Mary, watching him fondly, could not but be struck by his animation.
His eyes lit up, he laughed and chatted, made merry repartee: she was
carried back to the time when she had known him first. In those days his
natural gravity was often cut through by a mood of high spirits, of
boyish jollity, which, if only by way of contrast, rendered him a
delightful companion. She grew a little wistful, as she sat comparing
present with past. And loath though she was to dig deep, for fear of
stirring up uncomfortable things, she could not escape the discovery
that, in spite of all his success--and his career there had surpassed
their dearest hopes--in spite of the natural gifts fortune had showered
on him, Richard was not what you would call a happy man. No, nor even
moderately happy. Why this should be, it went beyond her to say. He had
everything he could wish for: yes, everything, except perhaps a little
more time to himself, and better health. He was not as strong as she
would have liked to see him. Nothing radically wrong, of course, but
enough to fidget him. Might not this . . . this--he himself called it
"want of tone"--be a reason for the scant pleasure he got out of life?
And: "I think I'll pop down and see Dr. Munce about him one morning,
without a word to him," was how she eased her mind and wound up her
reverie.

But daylight, and the most prosaic hours of the twenty-four, made the
plan look absurd.

Once alive though to his condition, she felt deeply sorry for him in his
patent inability ever to be content. It was a thousand pities. Things
might have run so smoothly for him, he have got so much satisfaction out
of them, if only he could have braced himself to regard life in cheerier
fashion. But at this Mary stopped . . . and wondered . . . and wondered.
Was that really true? Positively her experiences of late led her to
believe that Richard would be less happy still if he had nothing to be
unhappy about.--But dear me! this was getting out of her depth
altogether. She shook her head and rebuked herself for growing fanciful.

All the same, her new glimpse of his inmost nature made her doubly
tender of thwarting him; hence, she did not set her face as firmly as
she might otherwise have done, against a wild plan he now formed of
again altering, or indeed rebuilding the house; although she could
scarcely think of it with patience. She liked her house so well as it
stood; and it was amply big enough: there was only the pair of
them. . . and John's child. It had the name, she knew, of being one of the
most comfortable and best-kept in Ballarat. Brick for solidity, where wood
prevailed, with a wide snowy verandah up the posts of which rare
creepers ran, twining their tendrils one with another to form a screen
against the sun. Now, what must Richard do but uproot the creepers and
pull down the verandah, thus baring the walls to the fierce summer heat;
plaster over the brick; and, more outlandish still, add a top storey.
When she came back from Melbourne, where she had gone a-visiting to
escape the upset--Richard, ordinarily so sensitive, had managed to
endure it quite well, thus proving that he COULD put up with discomfort
if he wanted to--when she saw it again, Mary hardly recognised her
home. Personally she thought it ugly, for all its grandeur; changed
wholly for the worse. Nor did time ever reconcile her to the upper
storey. Domestic worries bred from it: the servant went off in a huff
because of the stairs; they were at once obliged to double their staff.
To cap it all, with its flat front unbroken by bay or porch, the house
looked like no other in the town. Now, instead of passing admiring
remarks, people stood stock-still before the gate to laugh at its droll
appearance.

Yet, she would gladly have made the best of this, had Richard been the
happier for it. He was not--or only for the briefest of intervals. Then
his restlessness broke out afresh.

There came days when nothing suited him; not his fine consulting room,
or the improved furnishings of the house, or even her cookery of which
he had once been so fond. He grew dainty to a degree; she searched her
cookery-book for piquant recipes. Next he fell to imagining it was
unhealthy to sleep on feathers, and went to the expense of having a hard
horsehair mattress made to fit the bed. Accustomed to the softest down,
he naturally tossed and turned all night long, and rose in the morning
declaring he felt as though he had been beaten with sticks. The mattress
was stowed away in a lean-to behind the kitchen, and there it remained.
It was not alone. Mary sometimes stood and considered, with a rueful
eye, the many discarded objects that bore it company. Richard--oddly
enough he was ever able to poke fun at himself--had christened this
outhouse "the cemetery of dead fads." Here was a set of Indian clubs he
had been going to harden his muscles with every morning, and had used
for a week; together with an india-rubber gymnastic apparatus bought for
the same purpose. Here stood a patent shower-bath, that was to have
dashed energy over him after a bad night, and had only succeeded in
giving him acute neuralgia; a standing-desk he had broken his back at
for a couple of days; a homoeopathic medicine-chest and a phrenological
head--both subjects he had meant to satisfy his curiosity by looking
into, had time not failed him. Mary sighed, when she thought of the
waste of good money these and similar articles stood for. (Some day he
would just have them privately carted away to auction!) But if Richard
set his heart on a thing he wanted it so badly, so much more than other
people did, that he knew no peace till he had it.

Mahony read in his wife's eyes the disapproval she was too wise to
utter. At any other time her silent criticism would have galled him; in
this case, he took shelter behind it. Let her only go on setting him
down for lax and spendthrift, incapable of knowing his own mind. He
would be sorry, indeed, for her to guess how matters really stood with
him. The truth was, he had fallen a prey to utter despondency, was
become so spiritless that it puzzled even himself. He thought he could
trace some of the mischief back to the professional knocks and jars
Ocock's action had brought down on him: to hear one's opinion doubted,
one's skill questioned, was the tyro's portion; he was too old to treat
such insolence with the scorn it deserved. Of course he had lived the
affair down; but the result of it would seem to be a bottomless ENNUI, a
TEDIUM VITAE that had something pathological about it. Under its
influence the homeliest trifles swelled to feats beyond his strength.
There was, for instance, the putting on and off one's clothing: this
infinite boredom of straps and buttons--and all for what? For a day
that would be an exact copy of the one that had gone before, a night as
unrefreshing as the last. Did any one suspect that there were moments
when he quailed before this job, suspect that more than once he had even
reckoned the number of times he would be called on to perform it, day
in, day out, till that garment was put on him that came off no more; or
that he could understand and feel sympathy with those faint souls--and
there were such--who laid hands on themselves rather than go on doing
it: did this get abroad, he would be considered ripe for Bedlam.

Physician, heal thyself! He swallowed doses of a tonic preparation, and
put himself on a fatty diet.

Thereafter he tried to take a philosophic view of his case. He had now,
he told himself, reached an age when such a state of mind gave cause
neither for astonishment nor alarm. How often had it not fallen to him,
in his role of medical adviser, to reassure a patient on this score. The
arrival of middle age brought about a certain lowness of spirits in even
the most robust: along with a more or less marked bodily languor went an
uneasy sense of coming loss: the time was at hand to bid farewell to
much that had hitherto made life agreeable; and for most this was a
bitter pill. Meanwhile, one held a kind of mental stocktaking. As often
as not by the light of a complete disillusionment. Of the many glorious
things one had hoped to do--or to be--nothing was accomplished: the
great realisation, in youth breathlessly chased but never grasped, was
now seen to be a mist-wraith, which could wear a thousand forms, but
invariably turned to air as one came up with it. In nine instances out
of ten there was nothing to put in its place; and you began to ask
yourself in a kind of horrific amaze: "Can this be all? . . . THIS? For
this the pother of growth, the struggles, and the sufferings?" The
soul's climacteric, if you would, from which a mortal came forth dulled
to resignation; or greedy for the few physical pleasures left him; or
prone to that tragic clinging to youth's skirts, which made the later
years of many women and not a few men ridiculous. In each case the
motive power was the same: the haunting fear that one had squeezed life
dry; worse still, that it had not been worth the squeezing.

Thus his reason. But, like a tongue of flame, his instinct leapt up to
give combat. By the gods, this cap did NOT fit him! Squeezed life
try? . . . found it not worth while? Why, he had never got within
measurable distance of what he called life, at all! There could be no
question of him resigning himself: deep down in him, he knew, was an
enormous residue of vitality, of untouched mental energy that only waited
to be drawn on. It was like a buried treasure, jealously kept for the
event of his one day catching up with life: not the bare scramble for a
living that here went by that name, but Life with a capital L, the
existence he had once confidently counted on as his--a tourney of
spiritual adventuring, of intellectual excitement, in which the prize
striven for was not money or anything to do with money. Far away,
thousands of miles off, luckier men than he were in the thick of it. He,
of his own free will, had cut himself adrift, and now it was too late.

But was it? Had the time irretrievably gone by? The ancient idea of
escape, long dormant, suddenly reawoke in him with a new force. And,
once stirring, it was not to be silenced, but went on sounding like a
ground-tone through all he did. At first he shut his ears to it, to
dally with side issues. For example, he worried the question why the
breaking-point should only now have been reached and not six months, a
year ago. It was quibbling to lay the whole blame on Ocock's shoulders.
The real cause went deeper, was of older growth. And driving his mind
back over the past, he believed he could pin his present loss of grip to
that fatal day on which he learnt that his best friend had betrayed him.
Things like that gave you a crack that would not mend. He had been
rendered suspicious where he had once been credulous; prone to see evil
where no evil was. For, deceived by Purdy, in whom could he trust? Of a
surety not in the pushful set of jobbers and tricksters he was condemned
to live amongst. No discoveries he might make about them would surprise
him.--And once more the old impotent anger with himself broke forth,
that he should ever have let himself take root in such detestable
surroundings.

Why not shake the dust of the country off his feet?--From this direct
attack he recoiled, casting up his hands as if against the evil eye.
What next? But exclaim as he might, now that the idea had put on words,
it was by no means so simple to fend it off as when it had been a mere
vague humming at the back of his mind. It seized him; swept his brain
bare of other thoughts. He began to look worn. And never more so than
when he imagined himself taking the bull by the horns and asking Mary's
approval of his wild-goose scheme. He could picture her face, when she
heard that he planned throwing up his fine position and decamping on
nothing a year. The vision was a cold douche to his folly. No, no! it
would not do. You could not accustom a woman to ease and luxury and
then, when you felt YOU had had enough and would welcome a return to
Spartan simplicity, to an austere clarity of living, expect her to be
prepared, at the word, to step back into poverty. One was bound . . .
bound . . . and by just those silken threads which, in premarital days,
had seemed sheerly desirable. He wondered now what it would be like to
stand free as the wind, answerable only to himself. The bare thought of
it filled him as with the rushing of wings.

Once he had been within an ace of cutting and running. That was in the
early days, soon after his marriage. Trade had petered out; and there
would have been as little to leave behind as to carry with him. But,
even so, circumstances had proved too strong for him: what with Mary's
persuasions and John's intermeddling, his scheme had come to nothing.
And if, with so much in his favour, he had not managed to carry it out,
how in all the world could he hope to now, when every thing conspired
against him. It was, besides, excusable in youth to challenge fortune; a
very different matter for one of his age.

Of his age! . . . the words gave him pause. By their light he saw why he
had knuckled under so meekly, at the time of his first attempt. It was
because then a few years one way or another did not signify; he had them
to spare. Now, each individual year was precious to him; he parted with
it lingeringly, unwillingly. Time had taken to flashing past, too;
Christmas was hardly celebrated before it was again at the door. Another
ten years or so and he would be an old man, and it would in very truth
be too late. The tempter voice--in this case also the voice of reason--
said: now or never!

But when he came to look the facts in the face his heart failed him
anew, so heavily did the arguments against his taking such a step--and,
true to his race, it was these he began by marshalling--weigh down the
scales. He should have done it, if done it was to be,
five . . . three . . . even a couple of years ago. Each day that dawned
added to the tangle, made the idea seem more preposterous. Local dignities
had been showered on him: he sat on the Committees of the District
Hospital and the Benevolent Asylum; was Honorary Medical Officer to this
Society and that; a trustee of the church; one of the original founders of
the Mechanics' Institute; vice-president of the Botanical Society; and so
on, AD INFINITUM. His practice was second to none; his visiting-book
rarely shewed a blank space; people drove in from miles round to consult
him. In addition, he had an extremely popular wife, a good house and
garden, horses and traps, and a sure yearly income of some twelve or
thirteen hundred. Of what stuff was he made, that he could lightly
contemplate turning his back on prizes such as these?

Even as he told them off, however, the old sense of hollowness was upon
him again. His life there reminded him of a gaudy drop-scene, let down
before an empty stage; a painted sham, with darkness and vacuity behind.
At bottom, none of these distinctions and successes meant anything to
him; not a scrap of mental pabulum could be got from them: rather would
he have chosen to be poor and a nobody among people whose thoughts flew
to meet his half-way. And there was also another side to it. Stingy
though the years had been of intellectual grist, they had not scrupled
to rob him of many an essential by which he set store. His old faculty--
for good or evil--of swift decision, for instance. It was lost to him
now; as witness his present miserable vacillation. It had gone off
arm-in-arm with his health; physically he was but a ghost of the man he
had once been. But the bitterest grudge he bore the life was for the
shipwreck it had made of his early ideals. He remembered the pure joy,
the lofty sentiments with which he had returned to medicine. Bah!--
there had been no room for any sentimental nonsense of that kind here.
He had long since ceased to follow his profession disinterestedly; the
years had made a hack of him--a skilled hack, of course--but just a
hack. He had had no time for study; all his strength had gone in keeping
his income up to a certain figure; lest the wife should be less well
dressed and equipped than her neighbours; or patients fight shy of him;
or his confreres wag their tongues.--Oh! he had adapted himself
supremely well to the standards of this Australia, so-called Felix. And
he must not complain if, in so doing, he had been stripped, not only of
his rosy dreams, but also of that spiritual force on which he could once
have drawn at will. Like a fool he had believed it possible to serve
mammon with impunity, and for as long as it suited him. He knew better
now. At this moment he was undergoing the sensations of one who, having
taken shelter in what he thinks a light and flimsy structure, finds that
it is built of the solidest stone. Worse still: that he has been walled
up inside.

And even suppose he COULD pull himself together for the effort required,
how justify his action in the eyes of the world? His motives would be
double-dutch to the hard-headed crew around him; nor would any go to the
trouble of trying to understand. There was John. All John would see was
an elderly and not over-robust man deliberately throwing away the fruits
of year-long toil--and for what? For the privilege of, in some remote
spot, as a stranger and unknown, having his way to make all over again;
of being free to shoulder once more the risks and hazards the
undertaking involved. And little though he cared for John or any one
else's opinion, Mahony could not help feeling a trifle sore, in advance,
at the ridicule of which he might be the object, at the zanyish figure
he was going to be obliged to cut.

But a fig for what people thought of him! Once away from here he would,
he thanked God, never see any of them again. No, it was Mary who was the
real stumbling-block, the opponent he most feared. Had he been less
attached to her, the thing would have been easier; as it was, he shrank
from hurting her. And hurt and confuse her he must. He knew Mary as well
--nay, better than he knew his own unreckonable self. For Mary was not a
creature of moods, did not change her mental envelope a dozen times a
day. And just his precise knowledge of her told him that he would never
get her to see eye to eye with him. Her clear, serene outlook was
attuned to the plain and the practical; she would discover a thousand
drawbacks to his scheme, but nary a one of the incorporeal benefits he
dreamed of reaping from it. There was his handling of money for one
thing: she had come, he was aware, to regard him as incurably
extravagant; and it would be no easy task to convince her that he could
learn again to fit his expenses to a light purse. She had a woman's
instinctive distrust, too, of leaving the beaten track. Another point
made him still more dubious. Mary's whole heart and happiness were bound
up in this place where she had spent the flower-years of her life: who
knew if she would thrive as well on other soil? He found it intolerable
to think that she might have to pay for his want of stability.--Yes,
reduced to its essentials, it came to mean the pitting of one soul's
welfare against that of another; was a toss-up between his happiness and
hers. One of them would have to yield. Who would suffer more by doing so
--he or she? He believed that a sacrifice on his part would make the
wreck of his life complete. On hers--well, thanks to her doughty habit
of finding good everywhere, there was a chance of her coming out
unscathed.

Here was his case in a nutshell.

Still he did not tackle Mary. For sometimes, after all, a disturbed
doubt crept upon him whether it would not be possible to go on as he
was; instead of, as she would drastically word it, cutting his throat
with his own hand. And to be perfectly honest, he believed it would. He
could now afford to pay for help in his work; to buy what books he
needed or fancied; to take holidays while putting in a LOCUM; even to
keep on the LOCUM, at a good salary, while he journeyed overseas to
visit the land of his birth. But at this another side of him--what he
thought of as spirit, in contradistinction to soul--cried out in alarm,
fearful lest it was again to be betrayed. Thus far, though by rights
coequal in the house of the body, it had been rigidly kept down.
Nevertheless it had persisted, like a bright cold little spark at dead
of night: his restlessness, the spiritual malaise that encumbered him
had been its mute form of protest. Did he go on turning a deaf ear to
its warnings, he might do himself irreparable harm. For time was flying,
the sum of his years mounting, shrinking that roomy future to which he
had thus far always postponed what seemed too difficult for the moment.
Now he saw that he dared delay no longer in setting free the imprisoned
elements in him, was he ever to grow to that complete whole which each
mortal aspires to be.--That a change of environment would work this
miracle he did not doubt; a congenial environment was meat and drink to
him, was light and air. Here in this country, he had remained as utterly
alien as any Jew of old who wept by the rivers of Babylon. And like a
half-remembered tune there came floating into his mind words he had lit
on somewhere, or learnt on the school-bench--Horace, he thought, but,
whatever their source, words that fitted his case to a nicety. COELUM,
NON ANIMUM, MUTANT, QUI TRANS MARE CURRUNT. "Non animum"? Ah! could he
but have foreseen this--foreknown it. If not before he set sail on what
was to have been but a swift adventure, then at least on that fateful
day long past when, foiled by Mary's pleadings and his own inertia, he
had let himself be bound anew.

Thus the summer dragged by; a summer to try the toughest. Mahony thought
he had never gone through its like for heat and discomfort. The drought
would not break, and on the great squatting-stations round Ballarat and
to the north, the sheep dropped like flies at an early frost. The forest
reservoirs dried up, displaying the red mud of their bottoms, and a bath
became a luxury--or a penance--the scanty water running thick and red.
Then the bush caught fire and burnt for three days, painting the sky a
rusty brown, and making the air hard to breathe. Of a morning his first
act on going into his surgery was to pick up the thermometer that stood
on the table. Sure as fate, though the clock had not long struck nine,
the mercury marked something between a hundred and a hundred and five
degrees. He let it fall with a nerveless gesture. Since his sunstroke he
not only hated, he feared the sun. But out into it he must, to drive
through dust-clouds so opaque that one could only draw rein till they
subsided, meanwhile holloaing off collisions. Under the close leather
hood he sat and stifled; or, removing his green goggles for the fiftieth
time, climbed down to enter yet another baked wooden house, where he
handled prostrate bodies rank with sweat, or prescribed for pallid or
fever-speckled children. Then home, to toy with the food set before him,
his mind already running on the discomforts of the afternoon.--Two bits
of ill-luck came his way this summer. Old Ocock fell, in dismounting
from a vehicle, and sustained a compound fracture of the femur. Owing to
his advanced age there was for a time fear of malunion of the parts, and
this kept Mahony on the rack. Secondly, a near neighbour, a common
little fellow who kept a jeweller's shop in Bridge Street, actually took
the plunge: sold off one fine day and sailed for home. And this seemed
the unkindest cut of all.

But the accident that gave the death-blow to his scruples was another.
On the advice of a wealthy publican he was treating, whose judgment he
trusted, Mahony had invested--heavily for him, selling off other stock
to do it--in a company known as the Hodderburn Estate. This was a
government affair and ought to have been beyond reproach. One day,
however, it was found that the official reports of the work done by the
diamond drill-bore were cooked documents; and instantly every one
connected with the mine--directors, managers, engineers--lay under the
suspicion of fraudulent dealings. Shares had risen as high as ten pounds
odd; but when the drive reached the bore and, in place of the deep
gutter-ground the public had been led to expect, hard rock was found
overhead, there was a panic; shares dropped to twenty-five shillings and
did not rally. Mahony was a loser by six hundred pounds, and got,
besides, a moral shaking from which he could not recover. He sat and bit
his little-finger nail to the quick. Was he, he savagely asked himself,
going to linger on until the little he had managed to save was snatched
from him?

He dashed off a letter to John, asking his brother-in-law to recommend a
reliable broker. And this done, he got up to look for Mary, determined
to come to grips with her at last.




Chapter XI



How to begin, how reduce to a few plain words his subtle tangle of
thought and feeling, was the problem.

He did not find his wife on her usual seat in the arbour. In searching
for her, upstairs and down, he came to a rapid decision. He would lay
chief stress on his poor state of health.

"I feel I'm killing myself. I can't go on."

"But Richard dear!" ejaculated Mary, and paused in her sewing, her
needle uplifted, a bead balanced on its tip. Richard had run her to
earth in the spare bedroom, to which at this time she often repaired.
For he objected to the piece of work she had on hand--that of covering
yards of black cashmere with minute jet beads--vowing that she would
ruin her eyesight over it. So, having set her heart on a fashionable
polonaise, she was careful to keep out of his way.

"I'm not a young man any longer, wife. When one's past forty . . ."

"Poor mother used to say forty-five was a man's prime of life."

"Not for me. And not here in this God-forsaken hole!"

"Oh dear me! I do wonder why you have such a down on Ballarat. I'm sure
there must be many worse places in the world to live in", and lowering
her needle, Mary brought the bead to its appointed spot. "Of course you
have a lot to do, I know, and being such a poor sleeper doesn't improve
matters." But she was considering her pattern sideways as she spoke,
thinking more of it than of what she said. Every one had to work hard
out here; compared with some she could name, Richard's job of driving
round in a springy buggy seemed ease itself. "Besides I told you at the
time you were wrong not to take a holiday in winter, when you had the
chance. You need a thorough change every year to set you up. You came
back from the last as fresh as a daisy."

"The only change that will benefit me is one for good and all," said
Mahony with extreme gloom. He had thrown up the bed-curtain and
stretched himself on the bed, where he lay with his hands clasped under
his neck.

Tutored by experience, Mary did not contradict him.

"And it's the kind I've finally made up my mind to take."

"Richard! How you do run on!" and Mary, still gently incredulous but a
thought wider awake, let her work sink to her lap. "What is the use of
talking like that?"

"Believe it or not, my dear, as you choose. You'll see--that's all."

At her further exclamations of doubt and amazement, Mahony's patience
slipped its leash. "Surely to goodness my health comes first . . .
before any confounded practice?"

"Ssh! Baby's asleep.--And don't get cross, Richard. You can hardly
expect me not to be surprised when you spring a thing of this sort on
me. You've never even dropped a hint of it before."

"Because I knew very well what it would be. You dead against it, of
course!"

"Now I call that unjust. You've barely let me get a word in edgeways."

"Oh, I know by heart everything you're going to say. It's nonsense . . .
folly . . . madness . . . and so on: all the phrases you women fish up
from your vocabulary when you want to stave off a change--hinder any
alteration of the STATUS QUO. But I'll tell you this, wife. You'll bury
me here, if I don't get away soon. I'm not much more than skin and bone
as it is. And I confess, if I've got to be buried I'd rather lie
elsewhere--have good English earth atop of me."

Had Mary been a man, she might have retorted that this was a very
woman's way of shifting ground. She bit her lip and did not answer
immediately. Then: "You know I can't bear to hear you talk like that,
even in fun. Besides, you always say much more than you mean, dear."

"Very well then, if you prefer it, wait and see! You'll be sorry some
day."

"Do you mean to tell me, Richard, you're in earnest, when you talk of
selling off your practice and going to England?"

"I can buy another there, can't I?"

With these words he leapt to his feet, afire with animation. And while
Mary, now thoroughly uneasy, was folding up her work, he dilated upon
the benefits that would accrue to them from the change. Good-bye to
dust, and sun, and drought, to blistering hot winds and PAPIER MACHE
walls! They would make their new home in some substantial old stone
house that had weathered half a century or more, tangled over with
creepers, folded away in its own privacy as only an English house could
be. In the flower-garden roses would trail over arch and pergola; there
would be a lawn with shaped yews on it; while in the orchard old
apple-trees would flaunt their red abundance above grey, lichened walls.

("As if there weren't apples enough here!" thought Mary.)

He got a frog in his throat as he went on to paint in greater detail for
her, who had left it so young, the intimate charm of the home country--
the rich, green, dimpled countryside. And not till now did he grasp how
sorely he had missed it. "Oh, believe me, to talk of 'going home' is no
mere figure of speech, Mary!" In fancy he trod winding lanes that ran
between giant hedges: hedges in tender bud, with dew on them; or snowed
over with white mayflowers; or behung with the fairy webs and gossamer
of early autumn, thick as twine beneath their load of moisture. He
followed white roads that were banked with primroses and ran headlong
down to the sea; he climbed the shoulder of a down on a spring morning,
when the air was alive with larks carolling. But chiefly it was the
greenness that called to him--the greenness of the greenest country in
the world. Viewed from this distance, the homeland looked to him like
one vast meadow. Oh, to tread its grass again!--not what one knew as
grass here, a poor annual, that lasted for a few brief weeks; but lush
meadow-grass, a foot high; or shaven emerald lawns on which ancient
trees spread their shade; or the rank growth in old orchards, starry
with wild flowers, on which fruit-blossoms fluttered down. He longed,
too, for the exquisite finishedness of the mother country, the soft
tints of cloud-veiled northern skies. His eyes ached, his brows had
grown wrinkled from gazing on iron roofs set against the hard blue
overhead; on dirty weatherboards innocent of paint; on higgledy-piggledy
backyards and ramshackle fences; on the straggling landscape with its
untidy trees--all the unrelieved ugliness, in short, of the colonial
scene.

He stopped only for want of breath. Mary was silent. He waited. Still
she did not speak.

He fell to earth with a bump, and was angry. "Come . . . out with it! I
suppose all this seems to you just the raving of a lunatic?"

"Oh, Richard, no. But a little . . . well, a little unpractical. I never
heard before of any one throwing up a good income because he didn't like
the scenery. It's a step that needs the greatest consideration."

"Good God! Do you think I haven't considered it?--and from every angle?
There isn't an argument for or against, that I haven't gone over a
thousand and one times."

"And with never a word to me, Richard?" Mary was hurt; and showed it.
"It really is hardly fair. For this is my home as well as yours.--But
now listen. You're tired out, run down with the heat and that last
attack of dysentery. Take a good holiday--stay away for three months if
you like. Sail over to Hobart Town, or up to Sydney, you who'er so fond
of the water. And when you come back strong and well we'll talk about
all this again. I'm sure by then you'll see things with other eyes."

"And who's to look after the practice, pray?"

"Why, a LOCUM TENENS, of course. Or engage an assistant."

"Aha! you'd agree to that now, would you? I remember how opposed you
were once to the idea."

"Well, if I have to choose between it and you giving up altogether. . .
Now, for your own sake, Richard, don't go and do anything rash. If once
you sell off and leave Ballarat, you can never come back. And then, if
you regret it, where will you be? That's why I say don't hurry to
decide. Sleep over it. Or let us consult somebody--John perhaps--"

"No you don't, madam, no you don't!" cried Richard with a grim dash of
humour. "You had me once . . . crippled me . . . handcuffed me--you and
your John between you! It shan't happen again."

"I crippled you? I, Richard! Why, never in my life have I done anything
but what I thought was for your good. I've always put you first." And
Mary's eyes filled with tears.

"Yes, where it's a question of one's material welfare you haven't your
equal--I admit that. But the other side of me needs coddling too--yes,
and sympathy. But it can whistle for such a thing as far as you're
concerned."

Mary sighed. "I think you don't realise, dear, how difficult it
sometimes is to understand you . . . or to make out what you really do
want," she said slowly.

Her tone struck at his heart. "Indeed and I do!" he cried contritely.
"I'm a born old grumbler, mavourneen, I know--contrariness in person!
But in this case . . . come, love, do try to grasp what I'm after; it
means so much to me." And he held out his hand to her, to beseech her.

Unhesitatingly she laid hers in it. "I am trying, Richard, though you
mayn't believe it. I always do. And even if I sometimes can't manage it
--well, you know, dear, you generally get your own way in the end. Think
of the house. I'm still not clear why you altered it. I liked it much
better as it was. But I didn't make any fuss, did I?--though I should
have, if I'd thought we were only to occupy it for a single year after.
--Still, that was a trifle compared with what you want to do now. Though
I lived to a hundred I should never be able to approve of this. And you
don't know how hard it is to consent to a thing one disapproves of. You
couldn't do it yourself. Oh, what WAS the use, Richard, of toiling as
you have, if now, just when you can afford to charge higher fees and the
practice is beginning to bring in money--"

Mahony let her hand drop, even giving it a slight push from him, and
turned to pace the floor anew. "Oh, money, money, money! I'm sick of the
very sound of the word. But you talk as if nothing else mattered. Can't
you for once, wife, see through the letter of the thing to the spirit
behind? I admit the practice HAS brought in a tidy income of late; but
as for the rest of the splendours, they exist, my dear, only in your
imagination. If you ask me, I say I lead a dog's life--why, even a
navvy works only for a fixed number of hours per diem! My days have
neither beginning nor end. Look at yesterday! Out in the blazing sun
from morning till night--I didn't get back from the second round till
nine. At ten a confinement that keeps me up till three. From three till
dawn I toss and turn, far too weary to sleep. By the time six o'clock
struck--you of course were slumbering sweetly--I was in hell with tic.
At seven I could stand it no longer and got up for the chloroform
bottle: an hour's rest at any price--else how face the crowd in the
waiting-room? And you call that splendour?--luxurious ease? If so, my
dear, words have not the same meaning any more for you and me."

Mary did not point out that she had said nothing of the kind, or that he
had set up an extreme case as typical. She tightened her lips; her big
eyes were very solemn.

"And it's not the work alone," Richard was declaring, "it's the place,
wife--the people. I'm done with 'em, Mary--utterly done! Upon my word,
if I thought I had to go on living among them even for another
twelvemonth . . ."

"But PEOPLE are the same all the world over!" The protest broke from her
in spite of herself.

"No, by God, they're not!" And here Richard launched out into a diatribe
against his fellow-colonists: "This sordid riff-raff! These hard, mean,
grasping money-grubbers!" that made Mary stand aghast. What could be the
matter with him? What was he thinking of, he who was ordinarily so
generous? Had he forgotten the many kindnesses shown him, the warm
gratitude of his patients, people's sympathy, at the time of his
illness? But he went on: "My demands are most modest. All I ask is to
live among human beings with whom I have half an idea in common--men
who sometimes raise their noses from the ground, instead of eternally
scheming how to line their pockets, reckoning human progress solely in
terms of l.s.d. No, I've sacrificed enough of my life to this country.
I mean to have the rest for myself. And there's another thing, my dear--
another bad habit this precious place breeds in us. It begins by making
us indifferent to those who belong to us but are out of our sight, and
ends by cutting our closest ties. I don't mean by distance alone. I have
an old mother still living, Mary, whose chief prayer is that she may see
me once again before she dies. I was her last-born--the child her arms
kept the shape of. What am I to her now? . . . what does she know of me,
of the hard, tired, middle-aged man I have become? And you are in much
the same box, my dear; unless you've forgotten by now that you ever had
a mother."

Mary was scandalised. "Forget one's mother? . . . Richard! I think
you're trying what dreadful things you can find to say . . . when I
write home every three months!" And provoked by this fresh piece of
unreason she opened fire in earnest, in defence of what she believed to
be their true welfare. Richard listened to her without interrupting;
even seemed to grant the truth of what she said. But none the less, even
as she pleaded with him, a numbing sense of futility crept over her. She
stuttered, halted, and finally fell silent. Her words were like so many
lassos thrown after his vagrant soul; and this was out of reach. It had
sniffed freedom--it WAS free; ran wild already on the boundless plains
of liberty.

After he had gone from the room she sat with idle hands. She was all in
a daze. Richard was about to commit an out-and-out folly, and she was
powerless to hinder it. If only she had had some one she could have
talked things over with, taken advice of! But no--it went against the
grain in her to discuss her husband's actions with a third person. Purdy
had been the sole exception, and Purdy had become impossible.

Looking back, she marvelled at her own dullness in not fore-seeing that
something like this might happen. What more natural than that the
multitude of little whims and fads Richard had indulged should culminate
in a big whim of this kind? But the acknowledgment caused her fresh
anxiety. She had watched him tire, like a fickle child, of first one
thing, then another; was it likely that he would now suddenly prove more
stable? She did not think so. For she attributed his present mood of
pettish aversion wholly to the fact of his being run down in health. It
was quite true: he had not been himself of late. But, here again, he was
so fanciful that you never knew how literally to take his ailments: half
the time she believed he just imagined their existence; and the long
holiday she had urged on him would have been enough to sweep the cobwebs
from his brain. Oh, if only he could have held on in patience! Four or
five years hence, at most, he might have considered retiring from
general practice. She almost wept as she remembered how they had once
planned to live for that day. Now it was all to end in smoke.

Then her mind reverted to herself and to what the break would mean to
her; and her little world rocked to its foundations. For no clear call
went out to Mary from her native land. She docilely said "home" with the
rest, and kept her family ties intact; but she had never expected to go
back, except on a flying visit. She thought of England rather vaguely as
a country where it was always raining, and where--according to John--
an assemblage of old fogies, known as the House of Commons, persistently
intermeddled in the affairs of the colony. For more than half her life--
and the half that truly counted--Australia had been her home.

Her home! In fancy she made a round of the house, viewing each cosy
room, lingering fondly over the contents of cupboards and presses,
recollecting how she had added this piece of furniture for convenience'
sake, that for ornament, till the whole was as perfect as she knew how
to make it. Now, everything she loved and valued--the piano, the
wax-candle chandelier, the gilt cornices, the dining-room horsehair--
would fall under the auctioneer's hammer, go to deck out the houses of
other people. Richard said she could buy better and handsomer things in
England; but Mary allowed herself no illusions on this score. Where was
the money to come from? She had learnt by personal experience what slow
work building up a practice was. It would be years and years before they
could hope for another such home. And sore and sorry as SHE might feel
at having to relinquish her pretty things, in Richard's case it would
mean a good deal more than that. To him the loss of them would be a real
misfortune, so used had he grown to luxury and comfort, so strongly did
the need of it run in his blood.

Worse still was the prospect of parting from relatives and friends. The
tears came at this, freely. John's children!--who would watch over them
when she was gone? How could she, from so far away, keep the promise she
had made to poor Jinny on her death-bed? She would have to give up the
baby of which she had grown so fond--give it back into Zara's
unmotherly hands. And never again of a Saturday would she fetch poor
little long-legged Trotty from school. She must say good-bye to one and
to all--to John, and Zara, and Jerry--and would know no more, at close
quarters, how they fared. When Jerry married there would be no one to
see to it that he chose the right girl. Then Ned and Polly--poor souls,
poor souls! What with the rapid increase of their family and Ned's
unsteadiness--he could not keep any job long because of it--they only
just contrived to make ends meet. How they would do it when she was not
there to lend a helping hand, she could not imagine. And outside her
brothers and sisters there was good Mrs. Devine. Mary had engaged to
guide her friend's tottery steps on the slippery path of Melbourne
society, did Mr. Devine enter the ministry. And poor little Agnes with
her terrible weakness. . . and Amelia and her sickly babes . . . and
Tilly, dear, good, warm-hearted Tilly! Never again would the pair of
them enjoy one of their jolly laughs; or cook for a picnic; or drive out
to a mushroom hunt. No, the children would grow up anyhow; her brothers
forget her in carving out their own lives; her friends find other
friends.

For some time, however, she kept her own counsel. But when she had tried
by hook and by crook to bring Richard to reason, and failed; when she
saw that he was actually beginning, on the quiet, to make ready for
departure, and that the day was coming on which every one would have to
know: then she threw off her reserve. She was spending the afternoon
with Tilly. They sat on the verandah together, John's child, black-eyed,
fat, self-willed, playing, after the manner of two short years, at their
feet. At the news that was broken to her Tilly began by laughing
immoderately, believing that Mary was "taking a rise out of her." But
having studied her friend's face she let her work fall, slowly opened
mouth and eyes, and was at first unequal to uttering a word.

Thereafter she bombarded Mary with questions.

"Wants to leave Ballarat? To go home to England?" she echoed, with an
emphasis such as Tilly alone could lay. "Well! of all the . . . What
for? What on earth for? 'As somebody gone and left 'im a fortune? Or 'as
'e been appointed pillmonger-in-ordinary to the Queen 'erself? What is
it, Mary? What's up?"

What indeed! This was the question Mary dreaded, and one that would leap
to every tongue: why was he going? She sat on the horns of a dilemma. It
was not in her to wound people's feelings by blurting out the truth--
this would also put Richard in a bad light--and, did she give no reason
at all, many would think he had taken leave of his senses. Weakly, in a
very un-Maryish fashion, she mumbled that his health was not what it
should be, and he had got it into his head that for this the climate of
the colony was to blame. Nothing would do him but to return to England.

"I never! No, never in my born days did I hear tell of such a thing!"
and Tilly, exploding, brought her closed fist heavily down on her knee.
"Mary! . . . for a mere maggot like that, to chuck up a practice such as
'e's got. Upon my word, my dear, it looks as if 'e was touched 'ere,"--
and she significantly tapped her forehead. "Ha! Now I understand. You
know I've seen quite well, love, you've been looking a bit down in the
mouth of late. And so 'as pa noticed it, too. After you'd gone the other
day, 'e said to me: 'Looks reflexive-like does the little lady nowadays;
as if she'd got something on 'er mind.' And I to him: 'Pooh! Isn't it
enough that she's got to put up with the cranks and crotchets of one o'
YOUR sect?'--Oh Mary, my dear, there's many a true word said in jest.
Though little did I think what the crotchet would be." And slowly the
rims of Tilly's eyes and the tip of her nose reddened and swelled.

"No, I can't picture it, Mary--what it'ull be like 'ere without you,"
she said; and pulling out her handkerchief blew snort after snort, which
was Tilly's way nowadays of having a good cry. "There, there, Baby,
Auntie's only got the sniffles.--For just think of it, Mary: except
that first year or so after you were married, we've been together, you
and me, pretty much ever since you came to us that time at the 'otel--a
little black midget of a thing in short frocks. I can still remember 'ow
Jinn and I laughed at the idea of you teaching us; and 'ow poor ma said
to wait and make sure we weren't laughing on the wrong side of our
mouths. And ma was right as usual. For if ever a clever little kid trod
the earth, it was you."

Mary pooh-poohed the cleverness. "I knew very little more than you
yourselves. No, it was you who were all so kind to me. I had been
feeling so lonely--as if nobody wanted me--and I shall never forget
how mother put her arms round me and cuddled me, and how safe and
comfortable I felt. It was always just like home there to me."

"And why not, I'd like to know!--Look 'ere, Mary, I'm going to ask you
something, plump and plain. 'Ave you really been happy in your marriage,
my dear, or 'ave you not? You're such a loyal little soul, I know you'd
never show it if you weren't; and sometimes I've 'ad my doubts about
you, Mary. For you and the doctor are just as different as chalk and
cheese."

"Of course I have--as happy as the day's long!" cried Mary, sensitive
as ever to a reflection on her husband. "You mustn't think anything like
that, Tilly. I couldn't imagine myself married to anyone but Richard."

"Then that only makes it harder for you now, poor thing, pulled two ways
like, as you are," said Tilly, and trumpeted afresh. "All the same,
there isn't anything I'd stick at, Mary, to keep you here. Don't be
offended, my dear, but it doesn't matter half so much about the doctor
going as you. There's none cleverer than 'im, of course, in 'is own
line. But 'e's never fitted in properly here--I don't want to exactly
say 'e thinks 'imself too good for us; but there is something, Mary
love, and I'm not the only one who's felt it. I've known people go on
like anything about 'im behind 'is back: nothing would induce them to
have 'im and 'is haughty airs inside their doors again, etcetera."

Mary flushed. "Yes, I know, people do sometimes judge Richard very
unkindly. For at heart he's the most modest of men. It's only his
manner. And he can't help that, can he?"

"There are those who say a doctor ought to be able to, my dear.--But
never mind him. Oh, it's you I feel for, Mary, being dragged off like
this. Can't you DO anything, dear? Put your foot down?"

Mary shook her head. "It's no use. Richard is so . . . well, so queer in
some ways, Tilly. Besides, you know, I don't think it would be right of
me to really pit my will against his."

"Poor little you!--Oh! men are queer fish, Mary, aren't they? Not that
I can complain; I drew a prize in the lucky-bag when I took that old
Jawkins in there. But when I look round me, or think back, and see what
we women put up with! There was poor old ma; she 'ad to be man for both.
And Jinn, Mary, who didn't dare to call 'er soul 'er own. And milady
Agnes is travelling the selfsame road--why, she 'as to cock 'er eye at
Henry nowadays before she trusts 'erself to say whether it's beef or
mutton she's eating! And now 'ere's you, love, carted off with never a
with-your-leave or by-your-leave, just because the doctor's tired of it
and thinks 'e'd like a change. There's no question of whether you're
tired or not--oh, my, no!"

"But he has to earn the money, Tilly. It isn't quite fair to put it that
way," protested her friend.

"Well! I don't know, Mary, I'm sure," and Tilly's plump person rose and
sank in a prodigious sigh. "But if I was 'is wife 'e wouldn't get off so
easy--I know that! It makes me just boil."

Mary answered with a rueful smile. She could never be angry with Richard
in cold blood, or for long together.

As time went on, though, and the break-up of her home began--by the
auctioneer's man appearing to paw over and appraise the furniture--a
certain dull resentment did sometimes come uppermost. Under its sway she
had forcibly to remind herself what a good husband Richard had always
been; had to tell off his qualities one by one, instead of taking them
as hitherto for granted. No, her quarrel, she began to see, was not so
much with him as with the Powers above. Why should HER husband alone not
be as robust and hardy as all the other husbands in the place? None of
THEIR healths threatened to fail, nor did any of them find the
conditions of the life intolerable. That was another shabby trick Fate
had played Richard in not endowing him with worldly wisdom, and a
healthy itch to succeed. Instead of that, he had been blessed with ideas
and impulses that stood directly in his way.--And it was here that Mary
bore more than one of her private ambitions for him to its grave. A new
expression came into her eyes, too--an unsure, baffled look. Life was
not, after all, going to be the simple, straightforward affair she had
believed. Thus far, save for the one unhappy business with Purdy, wrongs
and complications had passed her by. Now she saw that no more than
anyone else could she hope to escape them.

Out of this frame of mind she wrote a long, confidential letter to John:
John must not be left in ignorance of what hung over her; it was also a
relief to unbosom herself to one of her own family. And John was good
enough to travel up expressly to talk things over with her, and, as he
put it, to "call Richard to order." Like every one else he showed the
whites of his eyes at the latter's flimsy reasons for seeking a change.
But when, in spite of her warning, he bearded his brother-in-law with a
jocose and hearty: "Come, come, my dear Mahony! what's all this? You're
actually thinking of giving us the slip?" Richard took his interference
so badly, became so agitated over the head of the harmless question that
John's airy remonstrance died in his throat.

"Mad as a March hare!" was his private verdict, as he shook down his
ruffled plumes. To Mary he said ponderously: "Well, upon my soul, my
dear girl, I don't know--I am frankly at a loss what to say. Measured
by every practical standard, the step he contemplates is little short of
suicidal. I fear he will live to regret it."

And Mary, who had not expected anything from John's intervention, and
also knew the grounds for Richard's heat--Mary now resigned herself,
with the best grace she could muster, to the inevitable.




Chapter XII



House and practice sold for a good round sum; the brass plates were
removed from gate and door, leaving dirty squares flanked by screw-holes;
carpets came up and curtains down; and, like rats from a doomed
ship, men and women servants fled to other situations. One fine day the
auctioneer's bell was rung through the main streets of the town; and
both on this and the next, when the red flag flew in front of the house,
a troop of intending purchasers, together with an even larger number of
the merely curious, streamed in at the gate and overran the premises. At
noon the auctioneer mounted his perch, gathered the crowd round him, and
soon had the sale in full swing, catching head-bobs, or wheedling and
insisting with, when persuasion could do no more, his monotonous
parrot-cry of: "Going. . . going . . . gone!"

It would have been in bad taste for either husband or wife to be visible
while the auction was in progress; and, the night before, Mary and the
child had moved to Tilly's, where they would stay for the rest of the
time. But Mahony was still hard at work. The job of winding up and
getting in the money owed him was no light one. For the report had
somehow got abroad that he was retiring from practice because he had
made his fortune; and only too many people took this as a tacit
permission to leave their bills unpaid.

He had locked himself and his account-books into a small back room,
where stood the few articles they had picked out to carry with them:
Mary's sewing-table, his first gift to her after marriage; their modest
stock of silver; his medical library. But he had been forced to lower
the blind, to hinder impertinent noses flattening themselves against the
window, and thus could scarcely see to put pen to paper; while the
auctioneer's grating voice was a constant source of distraction--not to
mention the rude comments made by the crowd on house and furniture, the
ceaseless trying of the handle of the locked door.

When it came to the point, this tearing up of one's roots was a
murderous business--nothing for a man of his temperament. Mary was a
good deal better able to stand it than he. Violently as she had opposed
the move in the beginning, she was now, dear soul, putting a cheery face
on it. But then Mary belonged to that happy class of mortals who could
set up their Lares and Penates inside any four walls. Whereas he was a
very slave to associations. Did she regret parting with a pretty table
and a comfortable chair, it was soley because of the prettiness and
convenience: as long as she could replace them by other articles of the
same kind, she was content. But to him each familiar object was bound by
a thousand memories. And it was the loss of these which could never be
replaced that cut him to the quick.

Meanwhile this was the kind of thing he had to listen to.

"'Ere now, ladies and gents, we 'ave a very fine pier glass--a very
chaste and tasty pier glass indeed--a red addition to any lady's
drawin'room.--Mrs. Rupp? Do I understand you aright, Mrs. Rupp? Mrs.
Rupp offers twelve bob for this very 'andsome article. Twelve bob ...
going twelve.... Fifteen? Thank you, Mrs. Bromby! Going fifteen . . .
going--going--Eighteen? Right you are, my dear!" and so on.

It had a history had that pier glass; its purchase dated from a time in
their lives when they had been forced to turn each shilling in the palm.
Mary had espied it one day in Plaistows' Stores, and had set her heart
on buying it. How she had schemed to scrape the money together!--saving
so much on a new gown, so much on bonnet and mantle. He remembered, as
if it were yesterday, the morning on which she had burst in, eyes and
cheeks aglow, to tell him that she had managed it at last, and how they
had gone off arm in arm to secure the prize. Yes, for all their poverty,
those had been happy days. Little extravagances such as this, or the
trifling gifts they had contrived to make each other had given far more
pleasure than the costlier presents of later years.

"The next article I draw your attention to is a sofer," went on the
voice, sounding suddenly closer; and with a great trampling and
shuffling the crowd trooped after it to the adjoining room. "And a very
easy and comfortable piece o' furniture it is, too. A bit shabby and
worn 'ere and there, but not any the worse of that. You don't need to
worry if the kids play puff-puffs on it; and it fits the shape o' the
body all the better.--Any one like to try it? Jest the very thing for a
tired gent 'ome from biz, or 'andy to pop your lady on when she faints--
as the best of ladies will! Any h'offers? Mr. de la Plastrier"--he said
"Deelay plastreer"--"a guinea? Thank you, mister. One guinea! Going a
guinea!--Now, COME on, ladies and gen'elmen! D'ye think I've got a
notion to make you a present of it? What's that? Two-and-twenty? Gawd!
Is this a tiddlin' match?"

How proud he had been of that sofa! In his first surgery he had had
nowhere to lay an aching head. Well worn? Small wonder! He would like to
know how many hundreds of times he had flung himself down on it, utterly
played out. He had been used to lie there of an evening, too, when Mary
came in to chat about household affairs, or report on her day's doings.
And he remembered another time, when he had spent the last hours of a
distracted night on it . . . and how, between sleeping and waking, he
had strained his ears for footsteps that never came.

The sofa was knocked down to his butcher for a couple of pounds, and the
crying--or decrying--of his bookcases began. He could stand no more of
it. Sweeping his papers into a bag, he guiltily unlocked the door and
stole out by way of kitchen and back gate.

But once outside he did not know where to go or what to do. Leaving the
town behind him he made for the Lake, and roved aimlessly and
disconsolately about, choosing sheltered paths and remote roads where he
would be unlikely to run the gauntlet of acquaintances. For he shrank
from recognition on this particular day, when all his domestic privacies
were being bared to the public view. But altogether of late he had
fought shy of meeting people. Their hard, matter-of-fact faces showed
him only too plainly what they thought of him. At first he had been fool
enough to scan them eagerly, in the hope of finding one saving touch of
sympathy or comprehension. But he might as well have looked for grief in
the eyes of an undertaker's mute. And so he had shrunk back into
himself, wearing his stiffest air as a shield and leaving it to Mary to
parry colonial inquisitiveness.

When he reckoned that he had allowed time enough for the disposal of the
last pots and pans, he rose and made his way--well, the word "home" was
by now become a mere figure of speech. He entered a scene of the wildest
confusion. The actual sale was over, but the work of stripping the house
only begun, and successful bidders were dragging off their spoils. His
glass-fronted bookcase had been got as far as the surgery-door. There it
had stuck fast; and an angry altercation was going on, how best to set
it free. A woman passed him bearing Mary's girandoles; another had the
dining-room clock under her arm; a third trailed a whatnot after her. To
the palings of the fence several carts and buggies had been hitched, and
the horses were eating down his neatly clipped hedge--it was all he
could do not to rush out and call their owners to account. The level
sunrays flooded the rooms, showing up hitherto unnoticed smudges and
scratches on the wall-papers; showing the prints of hundreds of dusty
feet on the carpetless floors. Voices echoed in hollow fashion through
the naked rooms; men shouted and spat as they tugged heavy articles
along the hall, or bumped them down the stairs. It was pandemonium. The
death of a loved human being could not, he thought, have been more
painful to witness. Thus a home went to pieces; thus was a page of one's
life turned.--He hastened away to rejoin Mary.

There followed a week of Mrs. Tilly's somewhat stifling hospitality,
when one was forced three times a day to over-eat oneself for fear of
giving offence; followed formal presentations of silver and plate from
Masonic Lodge and District Hospital, as well as a couple of public
testimonials got up by his medical brethren. But at length all was over:
the last visit had been paid and received, the last evening party in
their honour sat through; and Mahony breathed again. He had felt stiff
and unnatural under this overdose of demonstrativeness. Now--as always
on sighting relief from a state of things that irked him--he underwent
a sudden change, turned hearty and spontaneous, thus innocently
succeeding in leaving a good impression behind him. He kept his temper,
too, in all the fuss and ado of departure: the running to and fro after
missing articles, the sitting on the lids of overflowing trunks, the
strapping of carpet-bags, affixing of labels. Their luggage hoisted into
a spring-cart, they themselves took their seats in the buggy and were
driven to the railway station; and to himself Mahony murmured an
all's-well--that-ends-well. On alighting, however, he found that his
greatcoat had been forgotten. He had to re-seat himself in the buggy and
gallop back to the house, arriving at the station only just in time to
leap into the train.

"A close shave that!" he ejaculated as he sank on the cushions and wiped
his face. "And in more senses than one, my dear. In tearing round a
corner we nearly had a nasty spill. Had I pitched out and broken my
neck, this hole would have got my bones after all.--Not that I was
sorry to miss that cock-and-hen-show, Mary. It was really too much of a
good thing altogether."

For a large and noisy crowd had gathered round the door of the carriage
to wish the travellers god-speed, among them people to whom Mahony could
not even put a name, whose very existence he had forgotten. And it had
fairly snowed last gifts and keepsakes. Drying her eyes, Mary now set to
collecting and arranging these. "Just fancy so many turning up, dear.
The railway people must have wondered what was the matter.--Oh, by the
way, did you notice--I don't think you did, you were in such a rush--
who I was speaking to as you ran up? It was Jim, Old Jim, but so changed
I hardly knew him. As spruce as could be, in a black coat and a
belltopper. He's married again, he told me, and has one of the
best-paying hotels in Smythesdale. Yes, and he was at the sale, too--he
came over specially for it--to buy the piano."

"He did, confound him!" cried Mahony hotly.

"Oh, you can't look at it that way, Richard. As long as he has the money
to pay for it. Fancy, he told me had always admired the 'tune' of it so
much, when I played and sang. My dear little piano!"

"You shall have another and a better one, I promise you, old girl--
don't fret. Well, that slice of our life's over and done with," he
added, and laid his hand on hers. "But we'll hold together, won't we,
wife, whatever happens?"

They had passed Black Hill and its multicoloured clay and gravel heaps,
and the train was puffing uphill. The last scattered huts and
weatherboards fell behind, the worked-out holes grew fewer, wooded rises
appeared. Gradually, too, the white roads round Mount Buninyong came
into view, and the trees became denser. And having climbed the shoulder,
they began to fly smoothly and rapidly down the other side.

Mahony bent forward in his seat. "There goes the last of old Warrenheip.
Thank the Lord, I shall never set eyes on it again. Upon my word, I
believe I came to think that hill the most tiresome feature of the
place. Whatever street one turned into, up it bobbed at the foot. Like a
peep-show . . . or a bad dream . . . or a prison wall."

In Melbourne they were the guests of John--Mahony had reluctantly
resigned himself to being beholden to Mary's relatives and Mary's
friends to the end of the chapter. At best, living in other people's
houses was for him more of a punishment than a pleasure; but for sheer
discomfort this stay capped the climax. Under Zara's incompetent rule
John's home had degenerated into a lawless and slovenly abode: the meals
were unpalatable, the servants pert and lazy, while the children ran
wild--you could hardly hear yourself speak for the racket. Whenever
possible, Mahony fled the house. He lunched in town, looked up his
handful of acquaintances, bought necessaries--and unnecessaries--for
the voyage. He also hired a boat and had himself rowed out to the ship,
where he clambered on board amid the mess of scouring and painting, and
made himself known to the chief mate. Or he sat on the pier and gazed at
the vessel lying straining at her anchor, while quick rain-squalls swept
up and blotted out the Bay.

Of Mary he caught but passing glimpses; her family seemed determined to
make unblushing use of her as long as she was within reach. A couple of
days prior to their arrival, John and Zara had quarrelled violently; and
for the dozenth time Zara had packed her trunks and departed for one of
those miraculous situations, the doors of which always stood open to
her.

John was for Mary going after her and forcing her to admit the error of
her ways. Mary held it wiser to let well alone.

"DO be guided by me this time, John," she urged, when she had heard her
brother out: "You and Zara will never hit it off, however often you
try."

But the belief was ingrained in John that the most suitable head for his
establishment was one of his own blood. He answered indignantly. "And
why not pray, may I ask? Who IS to hit it off, as you put it, if not two
of a family?"

"Oh, John. . . "--Mary felt quite apologetic for her brother. "Clever
as Zara is, she's not at all fitted for a post of this kind. She's no
hand with the servants, and children don't seem to take to her--young
children, I mean."

"Not fitted? Bah!" said John. "Every woman is fitted by nature to rear
children and manage a house."

"They should be, I know," yielded Mary in conciliatory fashion. "But
with Zara it doesn't seem to be the case."

"Then she ought to be ashamed of herself, my dear Mary--ashamed of
herself--and that's all about it!"

Zara wept into a dainty handkerchief and was delivered of a rigmarole of
complaints against her brother, the servants, the children. According to
her, the last were naturally perverse, and John indulged them so
shockingly that she had been powerless to carry out reforms. Did she
punish them, he cancelled the punishments; if she left their naughtiness
unchecked, he accused her of indifference. Then her housekeeping had not
suited him: he reproached her with extravagance, with mismanagement,
even with lining her own purse. "While the truth is, John is mean as
dirt! I had literally to drag each penny out of him."

"But what ever induced you to undertake it again, Zara?"

"Yes, what indeed!" echoed Zara bitterly. "However, once bitten, Mary,
twice shy. NEVER again!"

But remembering the bites Zara had already received, Mary was silent.

Even Zara's amateurish hand thus finally withdrawn, it became Mary's
task to find some worthy and capable person to act as mistress. Taking
her obligations seriously, she devoted her last days in Australia to
conning and penning advertisements, and interviewing applicants.

"Now no one too attractive, if you please, Mrs. Mahony!--if you don't
want him to fall a victim," teased Richard. "Remember our good John's
inflammability. He's a very Leyden jar again at present."

"No, indeed I don't," said Mary with emphasis. "But the children are the
first consideration. Oh, dear! it does seem a shame that Tilly shouldn't
have them to look after. And it would relieve John of so much
responsibility. As it is, he's even asked me to make it plain to Tilly
that he wishes Trotty to spend her holidays at school."

The forsaking of the poor little motherless flock cut Mary to the heart.
Trotty had dung to her, inconsolable. "Oh, Auntie, TAKE me with you! Oh,
what shall I do without you?"

"It's not possible, darling. Your papa would never agree. But I tell you
what, Trotty: you must be a good girl and make haste and learn all you
can. For soon, I'm sure, he'll want you to come and be his little
housekeeper, and look after the other children."

Sounded on this subject, however, John said dryly: "Emma's influence
would be undesirable for the little ones." His prejudice in favour of
his second wife's children was an eternal riddle to his sister. He
dandled even the youngest, whom he had not seen since its birth, with
visible pleasure.

"It must be the black eyes," said Mary to herself; and shook her head at
men's irrationality. For Jinny's offspring had none of the grace and
beauty that marked the two elder children.

And now the last night had come; and they were gathered, a family party,
round John's mahogany. The cloth had been removed; nuts and port were
passing. As it was a unique occasion the ladies had been excused from
withdrawing, and the gentlemen left their cigars unlighted. Mary's eyes
roved fondly from one face to another. There was Tilly, come over from
her hotel--("Nothing would induce me to spend a night under his roof,
Mary")--Tilly sat hugging one of the children, who had run in for the
almonds and raisins of dessert. "What a mother lost in her!" sighed Mary
once more. There was Zara, so far reconciled to her brother as to
consent to be present; but only speaking at him, not to him. And dear
Jerry, eager and alert, taking so intelligent a share in what was said.
Poor Ned alone was wanting, neither Richard nor John having offered to
pay his fare to town. Young Johnny's seat was vacant, too, for the boy
had vanished directly dinner was over.

In the harmony of the evening there was just one jarring note for Mary;
and at moments she grew very thoughtful. For the first time Mrs. Kelly,
the motherly widow on whom her choice had fallen, sat opposite John at
the head of the table; and already Mary was the prey of a nagging doubt.
For this person had doffed the neat mourning-garb she had worn when
being engaged, and come forth in a cap trimmed with cherry coloured
ribbons. Not only this, she smiled in sugary fashion and far too
readily; while the extreme humility with which she deferred to John's
opinion, and hung on his lips, made another bad impression on Mary. Nor
was she alone in her observations. After a particularly glaring example
of the widow's complaisance, Tilly looked across and shut one eye, in an
unmistakable wink.

Meanwhile the men's talk had gradually petered out: there came long
pauses in which they twiddled and twirled their wine-glasses, unable to
think of anything to say. At heart, both John and Mahony hailed with a
certain relief the coming break. "After all I dare say such a queer
faddy fellow IS out of his element here. He'll go down better over
there," was John's mental verdict. Mahony's, a characteristic: "Thank
God, I shall not have to put up much longer with his confounded
self-importance, or suffer under his matrimonial muddles!"

When at a question from Mary John began animatedly to discuss the
tuition of the younger children, Mahony seized the chance to slip away.
He would not be missed. He never was--here or anywhere.

On the verandah a dark form stirred and made a hasty movement. It was
the boy Johnny--now grown tall as Mahony himself--and, to judge from
the smell, what he tried to smuggle into his pocket was a briar.

"Oh well, yes, I'm smoking," he said sullenly, after a feeble attempt at
evasion. "Go in and blab on me, if you feel you must, Uncle Richard."

"Nonsense. But telling fibs about a thing does no good."

"Oh yes, it does; it saves a hiding," retorted the boy. And added with a
youthful vehemence: "I'm hanged if I let the governor take a stick to me
nowadays! I'm turned sixteen; and if he dares to touch me--"

"Come, come. You know, you've been something of a disappointment to your
father, Johnny--that's the root of the trouble."

"Glad if I have! He hates me anyway. He never cared for my mother's
children," answered Johnny with a quaint dignity. "I think he couldn't
have cared for her either."

"There you're wrong. He was devoted to her. Her death nearly broke his
heart.--She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, my
boy."

"Was she?" said Johnny civilly, but with meagre interest. This long dead
mother had bequeathed him not even a memory of herself--was as unreal
to him as a dream at second hand. From the chilly contemplation of her
he turned back impatiently to his own affairs, which were burning,
insistent. And scenting a vague sympathy in this stranger uncle who,
like himself, had drifted out from the intimacy of the candle-lit room,
he made a clean breast of his troubles.

"I can't stand the life here, Uncle Richard, and I'm not going to--not
if father cuts me off with a shilling! I mean to see the world. THIS
isn't the world--this dead-and-alive old country! . . . though it's got
to seem like it to the governor, he's been here so long. And HE cleared
out from his before he was even as old as I am. Of course there isn't
another blessed old Australia for me to decamp to; he might be a bit
sweeter about it, if there was. But America's good enough for me, and
I'm off there--yes, even if I have to work my passage out!"

Early next morning, fully equipped for their journey, the Mahonys stood
on the William's Town pier, the centre of the usual crowd of relatives
and friends. This had been further swelled by the advent of Mrs. Devine,
who came panting up followed by her husband, and by Agnes Ocock and
Amelia Grindle, who had contrived to reach Melbourne the previous
evening. Even John's children were tacked on, clad in their Sunday best.
Everybody talked at once and laughed or wept; while the children played
hide-and-seek round the ladies' crinolines. Strange eyes were bent on
their party, strange ears cocked in their direction; and yet once again
Mahony's dislike to a commotion in public choked off his gratitude
towards these good and kindly people. But his star was rising: tears and
farewells and vows of constancy had to be cut short, a jaunt planned by
the whole company to the ship itself abandoned; for a favourable wind
had sprung up and the captain was impatient to weigh anchor. And so the
very last kisses and handclasps exchanged, the travellers climbed down
into a boat already deep in the water with other cuddy-passengers and
their luggage, and were rowed out to where lay that good clipper-ship,
the RED JACKET. Sitting side by side husband and wife watched, with
feelings that had little in common, the receding quay, Mary fluttering
her damp handkerchief till the separate figures had merged in one dark
mass, and even Tilly, planted in front, her handkerchief tied flagwise
to the top of Jerry's cane, could no longer be distinguished from the
rest.

Mahony's foot met the ribbed teak of the deck with the liveliest
satisfaction; his nostrils drank in the smell of tarred ropes and oiled
brass. Having escorted Mary below, seen to the stowing away of their
belongings and changed his town clothes for a set of comfortable baggy
garments, he returned to the deck, where he passed the greater part of
the day tirelessly pacing. They made good headway, and soon the ports
and towns at the water's edge were become mere whitey smudges. The hills
in the background lasted longer. But first the Macedon group faded from
sight; then the Dandenong Ranges, grown bluer and bluer, were also lost
in the sky. The vessel crept round the outside of the great Bay, to
clear shoals and sandbanks, and, by afternoon, with the sails close
rigged in the freshening wind, they were running parallel with the Cliff
--"THE Cliff!" thought Mahony with a curl of the lip. And indeed there
was no other; nothing but low scrub-grown sandhills which flattened out
till they were almost level with the sea.

The passage through the Heads was at hand. Impulsively he went down to
fetch Mary. Threading his way through the saloon, in the middle of which
grew up one of the masts, he opened a door leading off it.

"Come on deck, my dear, and take your last look at the old place. It's
not likely you'll ever see it again."

But Mary was already encoffined in her narrow berth.

"Don't ask me even to lift my head from the pillow, Richard. Besides,
I've seen it so often before."

He lingered to make some arrangements for her comfort, fidgeted to know
where she had put his books; then mounted a locker and craned his neck
at the porthole. "Now for the Rip, wife! By God, Mary, I little thought
this time last year, that I should be crossing it to-day."

But the cabin was too dark and small to hold him. Climbing the steep
companion-way he went on deck again, and resumed his flittings to and
fro. He was no more able to be still than was the good ship under him;
he felt himself one with her, and gloried in her growing unrest. She was
now come to the narrow channel between two converging headlands, where
the waters of Hobson's Bay met those of the open sea. They boiled and
churned, in an eternal commotion, over treacherous reefs which thrust
far out below the surface and were betrayed by straight, white lines of
foam. Once safely out, the vessel hove to to drop the pilot. Leaning
over the gunwale Mahony watched a boat come alongside, the man of
oilskins climb down the rope-ladder and row away.

Here, in the open, a heavy swell was running, but he kept his foot on
the swaying boards long after the last of his fellow-passengers had
vanished--a tall, thin figure, with an eager, pointed face, and hair
just greying at the temples. Contrary to habit, he had a word for every
one who passed, from mate to cabin-boy, and he drank a glass of wine
with the Captain in his cabin. Their start had been auspicious, said the
latter; seldom had he had such a fair wind to come out with.

Then the sun fell into the sea and it was night--a fine, starry night,
clear with the hard, cold radiance of the south. Mahony looked up at the
familiar constellations and thought of those others, long missed, that
he was soon to see again.--Over! This page of his history was turned
and done with; and he had every reason to feel thankful. For many and
many a man, though escaping with his life, had left youth and health and
hope on these difficult shores. He had got off scot-free. Still in his
prime, his faculties green, his zest for living unimpaired, he was
heading for the dear old mother country--for home. Alone and unaided he
could never have accomplished it. Strength to will the enterprise,
steadfastness in the face of obstacles had been lent him from above. And
as he stood gazing down into the black and fathomless deep, which sent
crafty, licking tongues up the vessel's side, he freely acknowledged his
debt, gave honour where honour was due.--FROM THEE COMETH VICTORY, FROM
THEE COMETH WISDOM, AND THINE IS THE GLORY AND I AM THY SERVANT.

The last spark of a coast-light went out. Buffeted by the rising wind,
the good ship began to pitch and roll. Her canvas rattled, her joints
creaked and groaned as, lunging forward, she cut her way through the
troubled seas that break on the reef-bound coasts of this old, new
world.



End of this Project Gutenberg of Australia etext of
Australia Felix by Henry Handel Richardson





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