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Title: Grif - A Story of Australian Life
Author: Farjeon, B. L. (Benjamin Leopold)
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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     2. The diphthong oe is represented by [oe]; the letter "i"
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                                 GRIF



                       B. L. FARJEON'S NOVELS.

                          *   *   *   *   *
                  In Crown 8vo, handsome cloth gilt.
                          *   *   *   *   *

     GRIF. An Australian Story. 3s. 6d.
     GREAT PORTER SQUARE. 3s. 6d.
     THE BETRAYAL OF JOHN FORDHAM. 3s. 6d.
     AARON THE JEW. 3s. 6d.
     THE LAST TENANT, 2s. 6d.
     THE TRAGEDY OF FEATHERSTONE. [_Reprinting_
     IN A SILVER SEA.                   "
     THE SACRED NUGGET.                 "
     THE HOUSE OF WHITE SHADOWS.        "
     MISER FAREBROTHER.                 "
     A SECRET INHERITANCE.              "

                          *   *   *   *   *
                       LONDON: HUTCHINSON & CO.



                                 GRIF


                      A Story of Australian Life



                                  BY
                            B. L. FARJEON

                              AUTHOR OF
"AARON THE JEW," "GREAT PORTER SQUARE," "IN A SILVER SEA," ETC. ETC.



                        _SEVENTEENTH EDITION_



                               LONDON:
                           HUTCHINSON & CO.
                         34, PATERNOSTER ROW.
                                 1898



                               LONDON:
              PRINTED BY J. S. VIRTUE AND CO., LIMITED,
                              CITY ROAD.



                              CONTENTS.

                            *   *   *   *

     CHAP.
       I. _Grif related some of his experiences_.

      II. _Husband and Wife_.

     III. _Grif loses a friend_.

      IV. _The Conjugal Nuttalls_.

       V. _The Moral Merchant entertains his friends at dinner_.

      VI. _Father and Daughter_.

     VII. _Grif promises to be honest_.

    VIII. _Grif is set up in life as a moral shoeblack_.

      IX. _A Banquet is given to the Moral Merchant_.

       X. _On the road to El Dorado_.

      XI. _Welsh Tom_.

     XII. _The new rush_.

    XIII. _Old Flick_.

     XIV. _Little Peter is provided for_.

      XV. _A hot day in Melbourne_.

     XVI. _Poor Milly_.

    XVII. _Bad luck_.

   XVIII. _Honest Steve_.

     XIX. _The Welshman reads his last chapter in the old Welsh
             Bible_.

      XX. _The tender-hearted Oysterman traps his game_.

     XXI. _The Moral Merchant calls a meeting of his creditors_.

    XXII. _Alice and Grif meet friends upon the road_.

   XXIII. _The story of Silver-headed Jack_.

    XXIV. _Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall takes possession_.

     XXV. _Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall receives visitors_.

    XXVI. _A night of adventures_.

   XXVII. _Grif bears false witness_.



                                GRIF;

                     A STORY OF AUSTRALIAN LIFE.



                              CHAPTER I.

                GRIF RELATES SOME OF HIS EXPERIENCES.


In one of the most thickly populated parts of Melbourne city, where
poverty and vice struggle for breathing space, and where narrow lanes
and filthy thoroughfares jostle each other savagely, there stood,
surrounded by a hundred miserable hovels, a gloomy house, which might
have been likened to a sullen tyrant, frowning down a crowd of abject,
poverty-stricken slaves. From its appearance it might have been built
a century ago; decay and rottenness were apparent from roof to base:
but in reality it was barely a dozen years old. It had lived a wicked
and depraved life, had this house, which might account for its
premature decay. It looked like a hoary old sinner, and in every
wrinkle of its weather-board casing was hidden a story which would
make respectability shudder. There are, in every large city,
dilapidated or decayed houses of this description, which we avoid or
pass by quickly, as we do drunken men in the streets.

In one of the apartments of this house, on a dismally wet night, were
two inmates, crouched before a fire as miserable as the night. A deal
table, whose face and legs bore the marks of much rough usage; a tin
candlestick containing a middle-aged tallow candle, the yellow light
from which flickered sullenly, as if it were weary of its life and
wanted to be done with it; a three-legged stool; and a wretched
mattress, which was hiding itself in a corner, with a kind of
shamefaced consciousness that it had no business to be where it
was:--comprised all the furniture of the room. The gloominess of the
apartment and the meanness of the furniture were in keeping with one
another, and both were in keeping with the night, which sighed and
moaned and wept without; while down the rickety chimney the wind
whistled as if in mockery, and the rain-drops fell upon the embers,
hissing damp misery into the eyes of the two human beings who sat
before the fire, bearing their burden quietly, if not patiently.

They were a strange couple. The one, a fair young girl, with a face so
mild and sweet, that the beholder, looking upon it when in repose,
felt gladdened by the sight. A sweet, fair young face; a face to love.
A look of sadness was in her dark brown eyes, and on the fringes,
which half-veiled their beauty, were traces of tears. The other, a
stunted, ragged boy, with pockmarked face, with bold and brazen eyes,
with a vicious smile too often playing about his lips. His hand was
supporting his cheek; hers was lying idly upon her knee. The fitful
glare of the scanty fire threw light upon both: and to look upon the
one, so small and white, with the blue veins so delicately traced; and
upon the other, so rough and horny, with every sinew speaking of
muscular strength, made one wonder by what mystery of life the two had
come into companionship. Yet, strange as was the contrast, there they
sat, she upon the stool, he upon the ground, as if they were
accustomed to each other's society. Wrapt in her thoughts the girl
sat, quiet and motionless, gazing into the fire. What shades of
expression passed across her face were of a melancholy nature; the
weavings of her fancy in the fitful glare brought nothing of pleasure
to her mind. Not far into the past could she look, for she was barely
nineteen years of age; but brief as must have been her experience of
life's troubles, it was bitter enough to sadden her eyes with tears,
and to cause her to quiver as if she were in pain. The boy's thoughts
were not of himself; they were of her, as was proven by his peering up
at her face anxiously every few moments in silence. That he met with
no responsive look evidently troubled him; he threw unquiet glances at
her furtively, and then he plucked her gently by the sleeve. Finding
that this did not attract her attention, he shifted himself uneasily
upon his seat, and in a hoarse voice, called,--

"Ally!"

"Yes," she replied vacantly, as if she were answering the voice of her
fancy.

"What are you thinkin' of, Ally?"

"I am thinking of my life," she answered, dreamily and softly, without
raising her eyes. "I am trying to see the end of it."

The boy's eyes followed the direction of her wistful gaze.

"Blest if I don't think she can see it in the fire!" he said, under
his breath. "I can't see nothin'." And then he exclaimed aloud,
"What's the use of botherin'? Thinkin' won't alter it."

"So it seems," she said, sadly; "my head aches with the whirl."

"You oughtn't to be unhappy, Ally; you're very good-looking and very
young."

"Yes, I am very young," she sighed. "How old are you, Grif?"

"Blest if I know," Grif replied, with a grin. "I ain't agoin' to
bother! I'm old enough, I am!"

"Do you remember your father, Grif?"

"Don't I! He was a rum 'un, he was. Usen't he to wallop us, neither!"

Lost in the recollection, Grif rubbed his back, sympathetically.

"And your mother?" asked the girl.

"Never seed her," he replied, shortly.

Thereafter they fell into silence for a while. But the boy's memory
had been stirred by her questions, and he presently spoke again:

"You see, Ally, father is a ticket-of-leave man, and a orfle bad un he
is! I don't know what he was sent out for, but it must have been
somethin' very desperate, for I've heerd him say so. He was worse nor
me--oh, ever so much; but then, of course," he added, apologetically,
as if it were to his discredit that he was not so bad as his convict
parent, "he was a sight older. And as for lush--my eye! he could lush,
could father! Well, when he was pretty well screwed, he used to lay
into us, Dick and me, and kick us out of the house. Dick was my
brother. Then Dick and me used to fight, for Dick wanted to lay into
me too, and I wasn't goin' to stand that. We got precious little to
eat, Dick and me; when we couldn't get nothin' to eat at home, we went
out and took it. And one day I was trotted up afore the beak, for
takin' a pie out of a confetchoner's. They didn't get the pie, though;
I eat that. The beak he give me a week for that pie, and wasn't I
precious pleased at it! It was the first time I'd ever been in quod,
and I was sorry when they turned me out, for all that week I got
enough to eat and drink. I arksed the cove to let me stop in another
week, so that I might be reformed, as the beak sed, but he only larfed
at me, and turned me out. When I got home, father he ses, 'Where have
you been, Grif?' And I tells him, I've been to quod. 'What for?' he
arks. 'For takin' a pie,' I ses. Blest if I didn't get the worst
wallopin' I ever had! 'You've been and disgraced your family,' he sed;
'git out of my sight, you warmint; _I_ was never in quod for stealin'
a pie!' And with that he shied a bottle at my 'ead. I caught it, but
there was nothin' in it! I was very savage for that wallopin'! 'What's
disgrace to one's family,' thought I, 'when a cove want's grub?' I was
awful hungry, as well as savage; so I made for the confetchoner's and
took another pie. I bolted the pie quick, for I knew they would be
down on me; and I was trotted up afore the beak agin, and he give me a
month. Wasn't I jolly glad! When I come out of quod, father had cut
off to the gold-diggins; and as I wanted to get into quod agin, I went
to the confetchoner's, and took another pie. The beak, wasn't he
flabbergasted! 'What!' he ses, 'have you been and stole another pie!'
and then he looks so puzzled that I couldn't help larfin'. 'What do
you go and do it for?' ses he. 'Cos I'm hungry, your washup,' ses I.
But the beak didn't seem to think nothin' of that; the missus of the
shop, she ses, 'Pore boy!' and wanted him to let me off; but he
wouldn't, and I wasn't sorry for it. I was five times in quod for
takin' pies out of that confetchoner's shop. Next time I was nabbed,
though. The old woman she knew I was jist come out, so she hides
herself behind the door; and when I cuts in to git my pie, she comes
out quick, and ketches 'old of me by the scruff. 'You little warmint,'
she ses; 'you shan't wear my life out in this here way! Five times
have I been before that blessed magerstrate, who ain't got no more
heart than a pump! I wouldn't go,' she ses, keepin' hold of my collar,
and looking me 'ard in the face--'I wouldn't go, but the ploesemen
they make me. I ain't goin' agin, that I'm determined on. Here! Here's
a pie for you!' and she 'olds out a big un. 'That's a rum start,' I
thort, as I looked at the pie in her hand. 'It won't do, though. If I
take her pie in a honest way, where's my blanket to come from?' But
the old woman looked so worried, that I thort I'd make her a offer.
'If I take your pie, missus,' I ses, 'will you let me sleep under the
counter?' 'What do you mean?' she ses. Then I tells her that it's no
use her givin' me a pie, for I hadn't no place to sleep in; and that
she'd better let me take one while she looked another way. 'When I've
eat it,' I ses, 'I'll cough, very loud, and then you turn round as if
you was surprised to see me, and give me in charge of a peeler.'
'What'll be the good of that?' she arks. 'Don't you see?' I ses. 'Then
I shall have the pie, and I shall get my blanket at the lock-up as
well!' She wasn't a bad un, by no manner of means. 'My pore boy,' she
ses, 'here's the pie, and here's a shillin'. Don't steal no more pies,
or you'll break my 'art. You shall have a shillin' a week if you'll
promise not to worry me, and whenever you want a pie I'll give you one
if you arks for it.' Well, you see, Ally, I thort that was a fair
offer, so I ses, 'Done!' and I took my pie and my shillin'. I don't
worry her more than I can help," said Grif; "when I'm very hungry I go
to the shop. She's a good old sort, she is; and I gets my shillin' a
week reglar."

"And have you not heard of your father since he went away?" asked the
girl.

"No, 'cept once I was told permiskusly that he was cut tin' some rum
capers up the country. They did say he was a bush-ranging, but I ain't
agoin' to bother. I was brought up very queer, I was; not like other
coves. Father he never give us no eddication; perhaps he didn't have
none to give. But he might have give us grub when we wanted it."

"Yours is a hard life, Grif," the girl said, pityingly.

"Yes, it is 'ard, precious 'ard, specially when a cove can't get
enough to eat. But I s'pose it's all right. What's the use of
botherin'? I wonder," he continued, musingly, "where the rich coves
gets all their money from? If I was a swell, and had lots of tin, I'd
give a pore chap like me a bob now and then. But they're orfle stingy,
Ally, is the swells; they don't give nothin' away for nothin'. When I
was in quod, a preacher chap comes and preaches to me. He sets hisself
down upon the bench, and reads somethin' out of a book--a Bible, you
know--and after he'd preached for arf an hour, he ses, 'What do you
think of that, 'nighted boy?' 'It's very good,' I ses, 'but I can't
eat it.' 'Put your trust above,' he ses. 'But s'pose all the grub is
down here?' ses I. 'I can't go up there and fetch it.' Then he groans,
and tells me a story about a infant who was found in the bulrushes,
after it had been deserted, and I ups and tells him that I've been
deserted, and why don't somebody come and take _me_ out of the
bulrushes! Wasn't he puzzled, neither!" Grif chuckled, and then,
encouraged by his companion's silence, resumed,--

"He come agin, did the preacher cove, afore I was let out, and he
preaches a preach about charity. 'Don't steal no more,' he ses, 'or
your sole 'll go to morchal perdition. Men is charitable and good;
jist you try 'em, and give up your evil courses.' 'How can I help my
evil courses?' I ses. 'I only wants my grub and a blanket, and I can't
get 'em no other way.' 'You can, young sinner, you can,' he ses. 'Jist
you try, and see if you can't.' He spoke so earnest-like, and the
tears was a runnin' down his face so hard, that I promised him I'd
try. So when I gets out of quod, I thort, I'll see now if the preacher
cove is right. I waited till I was hungry, and couldn't get nothin' to
eat, without stealin' it. I could have took a trotter, for the
trotter-man was a-drinkin' at a public-house bar, and his barsket was
on a bench; but I wouldn't. No; I goes straight to the swell streets,
and there I sees the swells a-walkin' up and down, and liftin' their
'ats, and smilin' at the gals. They was a rare nice lot of gals, and
looked as if butter wouldn't melt in their mouths; but there wasn't
one in all the lot as nice as you are, Ally! I didn't have courage at
first to speak to the swells, but when I did, send I may live! they
started back as if I was a mad dawg. 'You be awf,' they ses, 'or
you'll be guv in charge.' What could a pore beggar like me do, after
that? I dodged about, very sorry I didn't take the trotter, when who
should I see coming along but the preacher chap. 'Here's a slant!' ses
I to myself. 'He's charitable and good, he is, and 'll give me
somethin' in a minute. He had a lady on his arm, and they both looked
very grand. But when I went up to him he starts back too, and ses,
'Begawn, young reperrerbate!' When I heerd that, I sed, 'Charity be
blowed!' and I goes and finds out the trotter-man, and takes two
trotters, and no one knows nothin' about it."

Before he had finished his story, the girl's thoughts had wandered
again. A heavy step in the adjoining apartment roused her.

"Who is that?"

"That's Jim Pizey's foot," replied the boy; "they're up to some deep
game, they are. They was at it last night."

"Did you hear them talking about it, Grif?" she asked, earnestly.

"A good part of the time I was arf asleep, and a good part of the time
I made game that I was asleep. I heerd enough to know that they're up
to somethin' precious deep and dangerous. But, I say, Ally, you won't
peach, will you? I should get my neck broke if they was to know that I
blabbed."

"Don't fear me, Grif," said the girl; "go on."

"Jim Pizey, of course, he was at the 'ead of it, and he did pretty
nearly all the talkin'. The Tenderhearted Oysterman, he put in a word
sometimes, but the others only said yes and no. Jim Pizey, he ses, 'We
can make all our fortunes, mates, in three months, if we're game.
It'll be a jolly life, and I know every track in the country. We can
"stick-up"[1] the gold escort in the Black Forest, and we don't want
to do nothin' more all our lives. Forty thousand ounces of gold,
mates, not a pennyweight less?' Then the Tenderhearted Oysterman ses
he didn't care if there was forty million ounces, he wouldn't have
nothin' to do with it, if Jim wanted to hurt the poor coves. Didn't
they larf at him for sayin' that!"


--------------------

[Footnote 1: "Sticking-up" is an Australian term for burglary and
highway Robbery.]

--------------------


"Is he a kind man, Grif?"

"The Tenderhearted Oysterman, do you mean, Ally?" asked the boy, in
return.

"Yes, is he really tenderhearted?"

"He's the wickedest, cruellest, of all the lot, Ally. They call
him the Tenderhearted Oysterman out of fun. He's always sayin' how
soft-hearted he is, but he would think as much of killin' you and me
as he would of killin' a fly. After that I falls off in a doze, and
presently I hears 'em talkin' agin, between-whiles, like, 'If the
escort's too strong for us,' ses Jim Pizey, 'we can tackle the
squatters' stations. Some of the squatters keeps heaps of money in
their houses.' And then they called over the names of a lot of
stations where the squatters was rich men."

"Did you hear them mention Highlay Station, Grif?" the girl asked,
anxiously.

"Can't say I did, Ally."

The girl gave a sigh of relief.

"Who were there, Grif, while they were talking?"

"There was Jim Pizey, and Ned Rutt, and Black Sam, and the
Tenderhearted Oysterman, and--" but here Grif stopped, suddenly.

"Who else, Grif?" laying her hand upon his arm.

"I was considering Ally," the boy replied, casting a furtive look at
her white face, "if there _was_ anybody else. I was 'arf asleep, you
know."

The girl gazed at him with such distress depicted in her face that
Grif turned his eyes from her, and looked uneasily upon the ground.
For a few moments she seemed as if she feared to speak, and then she
inquired in a voice of pain,--

"Was my husband there, Grif?"

Grif threw one quick, sharp glance upon her, and, as if satisfied with
what he saw, turned away again, and did not reply.

"Was my husband there, Grif," the girl repeated.

Still the boy did not reply. He appeared to be possessed with some
dogged determination not to answer her question.

"Grif," the girl said, in a voice of such tender pleading that the
tears came into the boy's eyes, "Grif, be my friend!"

"Your friend, Ally!" he exclaimed, in amazement, and as he spoke a
thrill of exquisite pleasure quivered through him. "Me! A pore beggar
like me!"

"I have no one else to depend upon--no one else to trust to--no one
else to tell me what I must, yet what I dread to hear. Was my husband
there, Grif?"

"Yes, he was there," the boy returned, reluctantly; "more shame for
him, and you a sittin' here all by yourself. I say, Ally, why don't
you cut away from him? What do you stop here for?"

"Hush! Was he speaking with them about the plots you told me of?"

"No, he was very quiet. They was a tryin' to persuade him to join 'em;
but he wouldn't agree. They tried all sorts of games on him. They
spoke soft, and they spoke hard. They give him lots of lush, too, and
you know, Ally, he _can_--" but Grif pulled himself up short, dismayed
and remorseful, for his companion had broken into a passionate fit of
weeping.

"I didn't mean to do it, Ally," he said sorrowfully. "Don't take on
so. I'll never say it agin. I'm a ignorant beast, that's what I am!"
he exclaimed, digging his knuckles into his eyes. "I'm always a
puttin' my foot in it."

"Never mind, Grif," said the girl, sobbing. "Go on. Tell me all you
heard. I _must_ know. Oh, my heart! My heart!" and her tears fell
thick and fast upon his hand.

He waited until she had somewhat recovered herself, and then proceeded
very slowly.

"They was a-tryin' to persuade him to join 'em. They tried all sorts
of dodges, but they was all no go. The Tenderhearted Oysterman, he
comes the tender touch, and ses, 'I'm a soft-hearted cove, you know,
mate, and I wouldn't kill a worm, if I thort I should 'urt him; if
there was any violence a-goin' to be done, I wouldn't be the chap to
have a 'and in it.' 'Then why do you have anythin' to do with it?'
arks your--you know who I mean, Ally? 'Because I think it'll be a
jolly good spree,' ses the Oysterman, 'and because I know we can make
a 'cap of shiners without nobody bein' the worse for it.' But they
couldn't get him to say Yes; and at last Jim Pizey he gets up in a
awful scot, and he ses, 'Look here, mate, we've been and let you in
this here scheme, and we ain't a-goin' to have it blown upon. You make
up your mind very soon to join us, or it will be the worse for you.'"

"And my husband--"

"I didn't hear nothin' more. I fell right off asleep, and when I woke
up they was gone."

"Grif", said the girl, "he must not join in this plot. I _must_ keep
him from crime. He has been unfortunate--led away by bad companions."

"Yes; we're a precious bad lot, we are."

"But his heart is good, Grif," she continued.

"What does he mean by treatin' you like this, then?" interrupted Grif,
indignantly. "You've got no business here, you haven't. You ought to
have a 'ouse of your own, you ought."

"I can't explain; you would not understand. Enough that he is my
husband; it is sufficient that my lot is linked with his, and that
through poverty and disgrace I must be by his side. I can never desert
him while I have life. God grant that I may save him yet!"

The boy was hushed into silence by her solemn earnestness.

"He is weak, Grif, and we are poor. It was otherwise once. Those who
should assist us will not do so, unless I break the holiest tie--and
so we must suffer together."

"I don't see why you should suffer," said Grif, doggedly; "you don't
deserve to suffer, you don't."

"Did you ever have a friend, my poor Grif," the girl said, "whom you
loved, and for whose sake you would have sacrificed even the few
sweets of life you have enjoyed?"

Grif pondered, but being unable to come to any immediate conclusion
upon the point, did not reply.

"It is so with me," Alice continued. "I would sacrifice everything for
him and for his happiness: for I love him! Ah! how I love him! When he
is away from me he loses hope for my sake, not for his own, I know. If
he is weak, I must be strong. It is my duty."

She loved him. Yes. No thought that he might be unworthy of the
sacrifice she had already made for him tainted the purity of her love,
or weakened her sense of duty.

"I've got a dawg, Ally," Grif said, musingly, after a pause. "He ain't
much to look at, but he's very fond of me. Rough is his name. The
games we have together, me and Rough! He's like a brother to me, is
Rough. I often wonder what he can see in me, to be so fond of me--but
then they say dawgs ain't got no sense, and that's a proof of it. But
if he ain't got sense, he got somethin' as good. Pore old Rough! One
day a cove was agoin' to make a rush at me--it was the Tenderhearted
Oysterman (we always had a down on each other, him and me!) when
Rough, he pounces in, and gives him a nip in the calf of his leg.
Didn't the Oysterman squeal! He swore, that day, that he would kill
the dawg; but he'd better not try! Kill Rough!" and, at the thought of
it, the tears came into the boy's eyes; "and him never to rub his nose
agin me any more, after all the games we've had! No, I shouldn't like
to lose Rough, for he's a real friend to me, though he _is_ only a
dawg!"

The girl laid her hand upon Grif's head, and looked pityingly at him.
As their eyes met, a tender expression stole into his face, and rested
there.

"I'm very sorry for you, Ally. I wish I could do somethin' to make you
happy. It doesn't much matter for a pore beggar like me. We was always
a bad lot, was father, and Dick, and me. But _you!_--look here,
Ally!" he exclaimed, energetically. "If ever you want me to do
anythin'--never mind what it is long as I know I'm a-doin' of it for
you--I'll do it, true and faithful, I will, so 'elp me--!" Her hand
upon his lips checked the oath he was about to utter. He seized the
hand, and placed it over his eyes, and leant his cheek against it, as
if it brought balm and comfort to him; as indeed it did. "You believe
me, Ally, don't you?" he continued, eagerly. "I don't want you to say
nothin' more than if ever I can do somethin' for you, you'll let me do
it."

"I will, Grif, and I do believe you," she replied. "God help me, my
poor boy, you are my only friend."

"That's it!" he exclaimed, triumphantly. "That's what I am, till I
die!"



                             CHAPTER II.

                          HUSBAND AND WIFE.


The rain pattered down, faster and faster, as the night wore on, and
still the two strange companions sat, silent and undisturbed, before
the fire. At intervals sounds of altercation from without were heard,
and occasionally a woman's drunken shriek or a ruffian's muttered
curse was borne upon the angry wind. A step upon the creaking stairs
would cause the girl's face to assume an expression of watchfulness:
for a moment only; the next, she would relapse into dreamy
listlessness. Grif had thrown himself upon the floor at her feet. He
was not asleep, but dozing; for at every movement that Alice made, he
opened his eyes, and watched. The declaration of friendship he had
made to her had something sacramental in it. When he said that he
would be true and faithful to her, he meant it with his whole heart
and soul. The better instincts of the boy had been brought into play
by contact with the pure nature of a good woman. He had never met any
one like Alice. The exquisite tenderness and unselfishness exhibited
by her in every word and in every action, filled him with a kind of
adoration, and he vowed fealty to her with the full strength of his
uncultivated nature. His vow might be depended on. He was rough, and
dirty, and ugly, and a thief; but he was faithful and true. Some
glimpse of a better comprehension appeared to pass into his face as he
lay and watched. And so the hours lagged on until midnight, when a
change took place.

A sudden change--a change that transformed the hitherto quiet house
into a den of riotous vice and drunkenness. It seemed as though the
house had been forced into by a band of ruffianly bacchanals. They
came up the stairs, laughing, and singing, and screaming. A motley
throng--about a dozen in all--but strangely contrasted in appearance.
Men upon whose faces rascality had set its seal; women in whose eyes
there struggled the modesty of youth with the depravity of shame. Most
of the men were middle-aged; the eldest of the women could scarcely
have counted twenty winters from her birth: many of them, even in
their childhood, had seen but little of life's summer. With the men,
moleskin trousers, pea-jackets, billycock hats, and dirty pipes,
predominated. But the women were expensively dressed, as if they
sought to hide their shame by a costly harmony of colours. How strange
are the groupings we see, yet do not marvel at, in the kaleidoscope of
life!

The company were in the adjoining apartment, and, through the chinks
in the wall, Alice could see them flitting about. She had started to
her feet when she heard them enter the house, and her trembling frame
bespoke her agitation. All her heart was in her ears as she listened
for the voice she expected yet dreaded to hear.

"Get up, Grif," she whispered, touching the gently with her foot. On
the instant, he was standing, watchful by her side. "Listen! Can you
hear his voice?"

The boy listened attentively, and shook his head. At this moment, a
ribald jest called forth screams of laughter, and caused Alice to
cover her crimsoned face, and sink tremblingly into her seat. But
after it short struggle with herself, she rose again, and listened
anxiously.

"He must be there," she said, her hand twitching nervously at her
dress. "Oh, what if I should not see him to-night! I should be
powerless to save him. What if they have kept him away from me,
fearing that I should turn him from them! Oh, Grif, Grif, what shall I
do? what shall I do?"

"Hush!" Grif whispered. "You keep quiet. You pretend to be asleep, and
don't let 'em 'ear you. If anybody comes in, you shut your eyes, and
breathe 'ard. I'll go and see if he's there."

And he crept out of the room, closing the door softly behind him. Left
alone, the girl sat down again by the fire, whispering to herself, "I
must save him, I must save him;" as if the words were a charm. "Yes,"
she whispered, "I must save him from this disgrace, and then I will
make one more appeal;" and then she started up again, and listened,
and paced the room in an agony of expectation. Thus she passed the
next half-hour. At the end of that time, Grif came in, almost
noiselessly, and to her questioning look replied,

"He's there, all right."

"What is he doing?"

"He's a settin' in a corner, 'arf asleep, all by 'isself, and he
hasn't sed a word to no one. Where are you goin'?" he inquired
quickly, as Alice walked towards the door.

"I am going in to him."

"What for?" cried Grif hoarsely, gripping her arm. "Ally, are you
mad?"

"I must go and bring him away," she replied, firmly.

"Look here, Ally," said Grif, in a voice of terror; "don't you try it.
Pizey's got the devil in him to-night. I know it by his eye. It's jist
as cool and wicked as anythin'! When he sets his mind upon a thing
he'll do it, or be cut to pieces. If you go in, you can't do nothin',
and somethin' bad 'll 'appen. Pizey 'll think you know what you
oughtn't to know. Don't you go!"

"But I must save him, Grif," she said, in deep distress. "I must save
him, if I die!"

"Yes," Grif said in a thick undertone, and still keeping firm hold of
her arm; "that's right and proper, I dersay. But s'pose you die and
don't save him? They won't do nothin' to-night. You can't do no good
in there, Ally. The Oysterman 'll kill you, or beat you senseless, if
you go; and then what could you do? I've seen him beat a woman before
to-night. They're mad about somethin' or other, the whole lot of 'em.
You'll do him more good by stoppin' away."

"Of what use can my husband be to them, Grif?" she cried, yet
suppressing her voice, so that those in the next room should not hear.
"What plot of their hatching can he serve them in?"

"I don't know," Grif replied; "he can talk and look like a swell, and
that's what none of 'em can do. But you'll soon find out, if you keep
quiet. 'Ark! they're a clearin' out the gals," and as he spoke were
heard female voices and laughter, and the noise of the speakers who
were trooping into the miserable night. "They won't be very long
together. They won't be together at all!" he cried, as the door of the
adjoining apartment opened, and heavy steps went down the stairs.

"But suppose my husband goes with them?" Alice cried, and tried to
reach the door; but Grif restrained her.

"There's Jim Pizey's foot," he said, with a finger at his lips; "jist
as if he was tramplin' some one down with every step. And there's
Black Sam--I could tell him from a mob of people, for he walks as if
he was goin' to tumble down every minute. And there's Ned Rutt--he's
got the largest feet I ever sor. And there's the Tenderhearted
Oysterman, he treads like a cat. I'll be even with him one day for
sayin' he'd kill Rough! And there's--there's no more."

The street door was heavily slammed, and a strange stillness fell upon
the house--a stillness which did not appear to belong to it, and which
struck Alice with a sense of desolation, and made her shiver. A few
moments afterwards Alice's husband entered the apartment. He was a
handsome, indolent-looking man, with a reckless manner which did not
become him. There were traces of dissipation upon his countenance, and
his clothes were a singular mixture of rough coarseness and faded
refinement. He did not notice Grif, who had stepped aside, but, gazing
neither to the right nor to the left, walked to the seat which Alice
had occupied, and sinking into it, plunged his fingers in his hair,
and gazed vacantly at the ashes in the grate. He made no sign of
recognition to Alice, who went up to him, and encircled his neck with
her white arms. As she leant over him, with her face bending to his,
caressingly, it appeared, although he did not repulse her, as if there
were within him some wish to avoid her, and not be conscious of her
presence.

"Richard," she whispered.

But he doggedly turned his head from her.

"Richard," she whispered again, softly and sweetly.

"I hear you," he said, pettishly.

"Do not speak to me harshly to-night, dear," she said; "this day six
months we were married."

He winced as he heard this, as if the remembrance brought with it a
sense of physical pain, and said:--

"It is right that you should reproach me, yet it is bitter enough for
me without that."

"I do not say it to reproach you, dear,--indeed, indeed, I do not!"

"That makes it all the more bitter. This day six months we were
married, you say! Better for you, better for me, that we had never
seen each other."

"Yes," the girl said, sadly; "perhaps it would have been. But there is
no misery to me in the remembrance. I can still bless the day when we
first met. Oh, Richard, do not give me cause to curse it!"

"You have cause enough for that every day, every hour," he replied;
"to curse the day, and to curse me. You had the promise of a happy
future before you saw me, and I have blighted it. What had you done
that I should force this misery upon you? What had you done that I
should bring you into contact with this?" he looked loathingly upon
the bare walls. "And I am even too small-hearted to render you the
only reparation in my power--to die, and loose you from a tie which
has embittered your existence!"

"Hush, Richard!" she said. "Hush! my dear! All may yet be well, if you
have but the courage--"

"But I have not the courage," he interrupted. "I am beaten down,
crushed, nerveless. I was brought up with no teaching that existence
was a thing to struggle for, and I am too old or too idle to learn the
lesson now. What do such men as I in the world? Why, it has been
thrown in my teeth this very night that I haven't even soul enough for
revenge."

"Revenge, Richard!" she cried. "Not upon--"

"No, not that," he said; "nor anything that concerns you or yours. But
it has been thrown in my teeth, nevertheless. And it is true. For I am
a coward and a craven, if there ever lived one. It is you who have
made me feel that I am so; it is you who have shown me to myself in my
true colours, and who have torn from me the mask which I--fool that I
am!--had almost learnt to believe was my real self, and not a sham!
Had you reproached me, had you reviled me, I might have continued to
be deceived. But as it is, I tremble before you; I tremble, when I
look upon your pale face;" and turning to her suddenly, and meeting
the look of patient uncomplaining love in her weary eyes, he cried,
"Oh, Alice! Alice! what misery I have brought upon you!"

"Not more than I can bear, dear love," she said, "if you will be true
to yourself and to me. Have patience--"

"Patience!" he exclaimed. "When I think of the past, I lash myself
into a torment. Will patience feed us? Will it give us a roof
or a bed? Look here!" and he turned out his pockets. "Not a
shilling. Fill my pockets first. Give me the means to fight with my
fellow-cormorants, and I will have patience. Till then, I must fret,
and fret, and drink. Have you any brandy?"

"No," she said, with a bitter sigh.

"Perhaps it is better so," he said, slowly, for his passion had
somewhat exhausted him; "for what I have to say might seem the result
of courage that does not belong to me. I have refrained from drink
to-night that my resolution might not be tampered with."

He paused to recover himself; Alice bending forward, with clasped
hands, waited in anxious expectancy.

"Do you know how I have spent to-night and many previous nights?" he
asked. "In what company, and for what purpose?"

She had been standing during all this time, and her strength was
failing her. She would have fallen, had he not caught her in his arms,
whence she sank upon the ground at his feet, and bowed her head in her
lap.

"I have spent to-night, and many other nights," he continued, "in the
company of men whose touch, not long since, I should have deemed
contamination. I have spent them in the company of villains, who, for
some purpose of their own, are striving to inveigle me in their plots.
But they will fail. Yes, they will fail, if you will give me strength
to keep my resolution. Coward I am, I know, but I am not too great a
coward to say that you and I must part."

"Part!" she echoed, drearily.

"Look around," he said; "this is a nice home I have provided for you;
I have surrounded you with fit associates, have I not? How nobly I
have performed my part of husband! How you should bless my name,
respect, and love me, for the true manliness I have displayed towards
you! But by your patience and your love you have shown me the depth of
my degradation."

"Not degradation, Richard, not degradation for you!"

"Yes, degradation, and for me, in its coarsest aspect. Is not this
degradation?" and he pointed to Grif, who was crouching, observant, in
a corner. "Come here," he said to the lad, who slouched towards him,
reluctantly. "What are you?"

"What am I?" replied Grif, with a puzzled look; "I'm a pore
boy--Grif."

"You're a poor boy--Grif!" the man repeated. "How do you live!"

"By eatin' and drinkin'."

"How do you get your living?"

"I makes it as I can," answered Grif, gloomily.

"And when you can't make it?"

"Why, then I takes it."

"That is, you are a thief?"

"Yes, I s'pose so."

"And a vagabond?"

"Yes, I s'pose so."

"And you have been in prison?"

"Yes, I've been in quod, I have," said Grif, feeling, for the first
time in his life, slightly ashamed of the circumstance.

"And you say," Richard said, bitterly, as the boy slunk back to his
corner, "that this is not degradation!"

She turned her eyes to the ground, but did not reply.

"I was once a good arithmetician," he continued. "Let us see what
figures there are in the sum of our acquaintance, and what they amount
to."

"Of what use is it to recall the past, Richard?"

"It may show us how to act in the future. Besides, I have a strange
feeling on me to-night, having met with an adventure which I will
presently relate. Listen. When I first saw you I was a careless
ne'er-do-well, with no thought of the morrow. You did not know this
then, but you know it now. It is the curse of my life that I was
brought up with expectations. How many possibly useful, if not good,
men have been wrecked on that same rock of expectations! Upon the
strength of 'expectations' I was reared into an idle incapable. And
this I was when you first knew me. I had an income then small, it is
true, but sufficient, or if it was not, I got into debt upon the
strength of my expectations, which were soon to yield to me a life's
resting-place. You know what happened. One day there came a letter,
and I learned that, in a commercial crash at home, my income and my
expectations had gone to limbo. The news did not hurt me much, Alice,
for I had determined on a scheme which, if successful, would give me
wealth and worldly prosperity. It is the truth--shamed as I am to
speak it--that, knowing you to be an only child and an heiress, I
deliberately proposed to myself to win your affections. I said, 'This
girl will be rich, and her money will compensate for what I have lost.
This girl has a wealthy father, not too well educated, not too well
connected, who will be proud when he finds that his daughter has
married a gentleman.' In the execution of my settled purpose, I sought
your society, and strove to make myself attractive to you. But your
pure nature won upon me. The thought that your father was wealthy, and
that you would make a good match for me, was soon lost in the love I
felt for you. For I learned to love you, honestly, devotedly--nay,
keep your place, and do not look at me while I speak, for I am
unworthy of the love I sought and gained. Yet, you may believe me when
I say, that as I learned to know you, all mercenary thoughts died
utterly away. Well, Alice, I won your love, and could not bear to part
from you. I had to do something to live; and so that I might be near
you, I accepted the post of tutor offered me by your father. I
accepted this to be near you--it was happiness enough for the
time, and I thought but little of the future. Happy, then, in the
present, I had no thought of the passing time, until the day arrived
when your father wished to force you into a marriage with a man,
ignorant, brutal mean, and vulgar,--but rich. You came to me in your
distress--Good God!" he exclaimed passionately; "shall I ever forget
the night on which you came to me, and asked for help and for advice?
The broad plains, bathed in silver light, stretched out for miles
before us. The branches of the old gum-trees glistened with white
smiles in the face of the moon--we were encompassed with a peaceful
glory. You stood before me, sad and trembling, and the love that had
brought sunshine to my heart rushed to my lips"--he stopped suddenly,
looked round, and smiled bitterly. Then he continued--"The next day we
fled, and at the first town we reached we were married. Then, and then
only, you learned for the first time, that the man you had married was
a beggar, and was unable to provide for his wife the common comforts
of a home. We appealed to your father--you know how he met our
appeals. The last time I went, at your request, to his house, he set
his dogs upon me--"

"Richard! Richard!" she cried entreatingly. "Do not recall that time.
Be silent for awhile, and calm yourself."

"I will go on to the end. We came to Melbourne. Brought up to no trade
or profession, and naturally idle, I could get nothing to do. Some
would have employed me, but they were afraid. I was not rough
enough--I was too much of a gentleman. They wanted coarser material
than I am composed of, and so, day by day, I have sunk lower and
lower. People begin to look on me with suspicion. I am fit for nothing
in this colony. I was born a gentleman, and I live the life of a dog;
and I have dragged you, who never before knew want, down with me. With
no friends, no influence to back me, we might starve and rot. What
wonder that I took to drink! The disgust with which I used to
contemplate the victims of that vice recoils now upon myself, and I
despise and abhor myself for what I am! By what fatality I brought you
here, I know not. I suppose it was because we were poor, and I could
not afford to buy you better lodging. Now, attend to me--but stay,
that boy is listening."

"He is a friend, Richard," said Alice.

"Yes," said Grif, "I am a friend that's what I am. Never you mind me I
ain't a-goin' to peach. I'd do any thin' to 'elp her, I would--sooner
than 'urt her, I'd be chopped up first. You talk better than the
preacher cove!"

"Very well. Now attend. These men want me to join them in their
devilish plots. I will not do so, if I can help it. But if I stop
here much longer, they will drive me to it. And so I must go away from
you and from them. I will go to the gold diggings, and try my luck
there--"

"Leaving me here?"

"Leaving you here, but not in this house. You have two or three
articles of jewellery left. I will sell them--the watch I gave you
will fetch ten pounds--and you will be able to live in a more
respectable house than this for a few weeks until you hear from me."

"How will you go?"

"I shall walk I cannot afford to ride. But I have not concluded yet. I
have something to tell you, which may alter our plans, so far as you
are concerned. I have a message for you, which I must deliver word for
word."

"A message for me!"

He paced the room for a few moments in silence. Then, standing before
Alice, he looked her in the face, and said:--

"I saw your father this evening."

"In town!" she exclaimed.

"In town. I do not know for what purpose he is here, nor do I care."

"Oh, Richard," cried the girl; "you did not quarrel with him?"

"No; I spoke to him respectfully. I told him you were in Melbourne, in
want. I begged him to assist us. I said that I was willing to do
anything--that I would take any situation, thankfully, in which I
could earn bread for you. He turned away impatiently. I followed him,
and continued to address him humbly, entreatingly. For your sake,
Alice, I did this."

She took his hand and kissed it, and rested her cheek against it.

"Hearken to his reply," he said, disengaging his hand, and standing
apart from her. "This was it. 'You married my daughter for my money.
You are a worthless, idle scoundrel, and I will not help you. If you
so much regret the condition to which you have brought my daughter,
divorce yourself from her.'"

"No, no, Richard!"

"Those were his words. 'Divorce yourself from her, and I will take her
back. When you come to me to consent to this, I will give you money.
Till then, you may starve. I am a hard man, as you know, obstinate and
self-willed; and rather than you should have one shilling of the money
you traded for when you married my daughter, I would fling it all in
the sea. Tell my daughter this. She knows me well enough to be sure I
shall not alter when once I resolve.' Those were his words, word for
word. That was the message he bade me give you. What is your answer?"

"What do you think it is?" she asked, sadly.

"I cannot tell," he said, doggedly, turning his face from her; "I know
what mine would be."

"What would it be?"

"I should say this" (he did not look at her while he spoke)--"You,
Richard Handfield, Scapegrace, Fortune-hunter, Vagabond (any of these
surnames would be sufficiently truthful), came to me, a young simple
girl, and played the lover to me, without the knowledge of my father,
for the sake of my father's money. You knew that I, a young simple
girl, bred upon the plains, and amidst rough men, would be certain to
be well affected towards you--would almost be certain to fall in love
with you, for the false gloss you parade to the world, and for the
refinement of manner which those employed about my father's station
did not possess. You played for my heart, and you won it. But you won
it without the money you thought you would have gained, for you were
disappointed in your calculations. And now that I know you for what
you are, and now that I have been sufficiently punished for my folly,
in the misery you have brought upon me, I shall go back to the home
from which I fled, and endeavour to forget the shame with which you
have surrounded me."

"Do you think that this would be my answer, Richard?"

He had not once looked at her while he spoke, and now as she addressed
him, with an indescribable sadness in her voice, he did not reply. For
full five minutes there was silence in the room. Then the grief which
filled her heart could no longer be suppressed, and short broken gasps
escaped her.

"Richard!" she exclaimed.

"Yes, Alice."

"Have you not more faith in me than this? As I would die to keep you
good, so I should die without your love. What matters poverty? We are
not the only ones in the world whose lot is hard to bear! Be true to
me, Richard, so that I may be true to myself and to you. You do not
believe that this would be my answer!"

There came no word from his lips.

"When I vowed to be faithful to you, Richard, I was but a
girl--indeed, I am no better now, except in experience but I vowed
with my whole heart. I had no knowledge then of life's hard trials,
but since I have learned them, I seem also to have learned what is my
duty, and what was the meaning of the faith I pledged. I never rightly
understood it till now, darling! You do not believe that this would be
my answer!"

Still he did not look at her. Although she waited in an anxious agony
of expectation, he did not speak. The plain words he had chosen in
which to make his confession, had brought to him, for the first time,
a true sense of the unworthy part he had played.

"If in the time that has gone, my dear," she continued, "there is any
circumstance, any remembrance, connected with me, that gives you pain,
forget it for my sake. If you have believed that any thought that, you
have done me wrong exists, or ever existed, in my mind, believe it no
longer. Think of me as I am--see me as I am--your wife, who loves you
now with a more perfect love than when she was a simple girl,
inexperienced in the world's hard ways. Ah! see how I plead to you,
and turn to me, my dear!"

She would have knelt to him, but he turned and clasped her in his
arms, and pressed her pure heart to his. Her fervent love had
triumphed; and as he kissed away her tears, he felt, indeed, that
wifely purity is man's best shield from evil.

"You shall do what you have said, Richard; but not to-morrow. Wait but
one day longer; and if I then say to you--'Go,' you shall go. I have a
reason for this, but I must not tell you what it is. Do you consent?"

"Yes, love."

"Brighter days will dawn upon us. I am happier now than I have been
for a long, long time! And oh, my dear!--bend your head closer,
Richard--there may come a little child to need our care--"

The light had gone out and the room was in darkness. But mean and
disreputable as it was, a good woman's unselfish love sanctified it
and made it holy!



                             CHAPTER III.

                         GRIF LOSES A FRIEND.


"It's a rum go," Grif muttered to himself, as he wiped the tears from
his eyes, and groped his way down the dark stairs; "a very rum go. If
I was Ally, I should do as he told her. But she don't care for
herself, she don't. She's too good for him by ever so many chalks,
that's what she is!"

By this time Grif had reached the staircase which led to the cellar.
Crouching upon the floor, he listened with his ear to the ground.

"I can hear him," he said, in a pleasant voice, "he's a beatin' his
tail upon the ground, but he won't move till I call him. I don't
believe there's another dawg in Melbourne to come up to him. Jist
listen to him! He's a thinkin' to himself, How much longer will he be,
I wonder, afore he calls me! And he knows I'm a-talkin' of him; he
knows it as well as I do myself."

He listened again, and laughed quietly.

"If I was to mention that dawg's name," Grif said in a confidential
tone, as if he were addressing a companion, "he'd be here in a minute.
He would! It's wonderful how he knows! I've had him since he was a
pup, and afore he could open his eyes. It would be nice sleepin' down
in the cellar, but we can't do it, can we, old feller? We've got
somebody else to look after, haven't we? You, and me, and him, ain't
had a bit of supper, I'll bet. But we'll get somethin' to eat somehow,
you see if we don't."

Here the lad whistled softly, and the next instant a singularly ugly
dog was by his side, licking his face, and expressing satisfaction in
a quiet but demonstrative manner.

"Ain't you jolly warm, Rough!" whispered Grif, taking the dog in his
arms, and gathering warmth from it. "Good old Rough! Dear old Rough!"

The dog could only respond to its master's affection by action, but
that was sufficiently expressive for Grif, who buried his face in
Rough's neck, and patted its back, and showed in twenty little ways
that he understood and appreciated the faithfulness of his dumb
servant. After this interchange of affectionate sentiment, Grif and
his dog crept out of the house. It was raining hard, but the lad took
no further heed of the weather than was expressed by drooping his chin
upon his breast, and putting his hands into the ragged pockets of his
still more ragged trousers. Slouching along the walls as if he derived
some comfort from the contact, Grif walked into a wider street of the
city, and stopped at the entrance of a narrow passage, leading to a
room used as a casino. The dog, which had been anxiously sniffing the
gutters in quest of such stray morsels of food as had escaped the eyes
and noses of other ravenous dogs, stopped also, and looked up humbly
at its master.

"I'll stay here," said Grif, resting against the wall. "Milly's in
there, I dare say, and she'll give me somethin' when she comes out, if
she's got it."

Understanding by its master's action that no further movement was to
be made for the present, Rough sat upon its haunches in perfect
contentment, and contemplated the rain-drops falling on the ground.
Grif was hungry, but he had a stronger motive than that for waiting;
as he had said, he had some one besides himself to provide for, and
the girl he expected to see had often given him money. Strains of
music floated down the passage, and the effect of the sounds, combined
with his tired condition sent him into a half doze. He started now and
then, as persons passed and repassed him; but presently he slid to the
earth, and, throwing his arm over the dog's neck, fell into a sound
sleep. He slept for nearly an hour, when a hand upon his shoulder
roused him.

"What are you sleeping in the rain for?" a girl's voice asked.

"Is that you, Milly?" asked Grif, starting to his feet, and shaking
himself awake. "I was waitin' for you, and I was so tired that I fell
off. Rough didn't bark at you, did he, when you touched me?"

"Not he! He's too sensible," replied Milly, stooping, and caressing
the dog, who licked her hand. "He knows friends from enemies. A good
job if all of us did!"

There was a certain bitterness in the girl's voice which jarred upon
the ear, but Grif, probably too accustomed to hear it, did not notice
it. She was very handsome, fair, with regular features, white teeth,
and bright eyes; but her mouth was too small, and there was a want of
firmness in her lips. Take from her face a careworn, reckless
expression, which it was sorrowful to witness in a girl so young, and
it would have been one which a painter would have been pleased to gaze
upon.

"I have been looking for Jim," she said, "and I cannot find him."

"I sor him to-night," Grif said; "he was up at the house--him and
Black Sam and Ned Rutt, and the Tenderhearted Oysterman."

"A nice gang!" observed the girl. "And Jim's the worst of the lot."

"No, he isn't," said Grif; and as he said it, Milly looked almost
gratefully at him. "Rough knows who's the worst of that lot; don't
you, Rough?"

The dog looked up into its master's face, as if it perfectly well
understood the nature of the question.

"Is Black Sam the worst?" asked Grif.

The dog wagged its stump of a tail, but uttered no sound.

"Is Ned Rutt the worst?" asked Grif.

The dog repeated the performance.

"Is Jim Pizey the worst?" asked Grif.

Milly caught the lad's arm as he put the last question, and looked in
the face of the dog as if it were a sibyl about to answer her heart's
fear. But the dog wagged its tail, and was silent.

"Thank God!" Milly whispered to herself.

"Is the Tenderhearted Oysterman the worst?" asked Grif.

Whether Grif spoke that name in a different tone, or whether some
magnetic touch of hate passed from the master's heart to that of the
dog, no sooner did Rough hear it, than its short yellow hair bristled
up, and it gave vent to a savage growl.

A stealthy step passed at the back of them at this moment.

"For God's sake!" cried Milly, putting her hand upon Grif's mouth, and
then upon the dog's.

Grif looked at her, inquiringly.

"That was the Oysterman who passed us," said Milly, with a pale face.
"I hope he didn't hear you."

"I don't care if he did. It can't make any difference between us. He
hates me and Rough, and Rough and me hates him; don't we?"

Rough gave a sympathetic growl.

"And so you were up at the house, eh, Grif?" said Milly, as if anxious
to change the subject. "What were you doing all the night?"

"I was sittin' with--"

But ignorant as Grif was, he hesitated here. He knew full well the
difference between the two women who were kind to him. He knew that
one was what he would have termed "respectable," and the other
belonged to society's outcasts. And he hesitated to bring the two
together, even in his speech.

"You were sitting with--?" Milly said.

"No one particler," Grif wound up, shortly.

"But I should like to know, and you _must_ tell me, Grif."

"Well, if I must tell you, it was with Ally I was sittin'. You never
seed her."

"No, I've never seen her," said Milly, scornfully. "I've heard of her,
though. She's a lady, isn't she?"

"Yes, she is."

Milly turned away her head and was silent for a few moments; then she
said,

"Yes, she's a lady, and I'm not good enough to be to about her. But
she isn't prettier than me for all that; she isn't so pretty; I've
been told so. She hasn't got finer eyes than me, and she hasn't got
smaller hands than me;" and Milly held out hers, proudly--a beautiful
little hand--"nor smaller feet, I know, though I've never seen them.
And yet she's a lady!"

"Yes, she is."

"And I am not. Of course not. Well, I shall go. Good-night."

"Good-night, Milly," Grif said, in a conflict of agitation. For he
knew that he had hurt Milly's feelings, and he was remorseful. He knew
that he was right in saying that Alice was a lady, and in inferring
that Milly was not; yet he could not have defined why he was right,
and he was perplexed. Then he was hungry, and Milly had gone without
giving him any money, and he knew that she was angry with him. And he
was angry with himself for making her angry.

While he was enduring this conflict of miserable feeling, Milly came
back to him. Grif was almost ashamed to look her in the face.

"She isn't prettier than me?" the girl said, as if she desired to be
certain upon the point.

"I didn't say she was," Grif responded, swinging one foot upon the
pavement.

"And she hasn't got smaller hands than me?"

"I didn't say she had, Milly."

"Nor smaller feet?"

"Nobody said so."

"Nor brighter eyes, nor a nicer figure? And yet," Milly said, with a
kind of struggle in her voice, "and yet she's a lady, and I'm not."

"Don't be angry with me, Milly," Grif pleaded, as if with him rested
the responsibility of the difference between the two women.

"Why should I be angry with you?" asked Milly, her voice hardening.
"It's not your fault. I often wonder if it is mine! It's hard to tell;
isn't it?"

Grif, not understanding the drift of the question, could not
conscientiously answer; yet, feeling himself called upon to express
some opinion, he nodded his head acquiescently.

"Never mind," said Milly; "it will be all the same in a hundred years!
Have you had anything to eat to-night, Grif?"

Grif felt even more remorseful, for, after what had passed, Milly's
question, kindly put, was like a dagger's thrust to him.

"Well, here's a shilling for you--it's the only one I've got, and
you're welcome to it. Perhaps the lady would give you her last
shilling! Any lady would, of course--that's the way of ladies! Why
don't you take the shilling?"

"I don't want it," said Grif, gently, turning aside.

Milly placed her hand on the boy's head, and turned his face to hers.
She could see the tears struggling to his eyes.

"Don't be a stupid boy," Milly said; "I have only been joking with
you. I don't mean half I said; I never do. Though she's a lady, and
I'm not, I'd do as much for you as she would, if I was able." And,
forcing the shilling into his hand, the girl walked quickly away.

Grif looked after her until she was out of sight, and shaking his
head, as if he had a problem in it which he could not solve, made
straight for a coffee-stall where pies were sold, and invested his
shilling. Carrying his investment carefully in his cap, which he
closed like a bag, so that the rain should not get to the pies, Grif,
with Rough at his heels, dived into the poorer part of the city, and
threaded his way among a very labyrinth of deformed streets. The rain
poured steadily down upon him, and soaked him through and through, but
his utter disregard of the discomfort of the situation showed how
thoroughly he was used to it. Grif was wending his way to bed; and
lest any misconception should arise upon this point, it may be as well
to mention at once that the bed was a barrel, which lay in the rear of
a shabby house. Not long since the barrel had been tenanted by a dog,
whose master had lived in the shabby house. But, happily, master and
dog had shifted quarters, and the barrel becoming tenantless, Grif
took possession without inquiring for the landlord. Whereby he clearly
laid himself open to an action for ejectment. And Grif was not the
only tenant, for when he arrived at his sleeping-place, he stooped,
and putting his head into the barrel, withdrew it again, and said,
"Yes; there he is!" the utterance of which common-place remark
appeared to afford him much satisfaction. Grif's action had disturbed
the occupant of the barrel, who had evidently been sleeping, and he
presently appeared, rubbing his eyes.

Such a strange little tenant! Such a white-faced, thin-faced,
haggard-faced, little tenant! Such a large-eyed, wistful-eyed, little
tenant! In truth, a small boy, a very baby-boy, who might have been an
infant, or who might have been an old man whom hunger had pinched,
whom misery had shaken hands and been most familiar with. He gazed at
Grif with his large eyes and smiled sleepily, and then catching sight
of Grif's cap with the pies in it, rubbed his little hands gladly, and
was wide-awake in an instant.

"You haven't had nothin' to eat to-night, I'll bet," said Grif.

The little fellow's lips formed themselves into a half-whispered No.

Grif insinuated his body into the barrel, and stretched himself full
length by the side of the baby-boy. Then he slightly raised himself,
and, resting his chin upon his hand, took a pie from his cap, and gave
it to his companion. The boy seized it eagerly, and bit into it,
without uttering a word.

"You haven't got me to thank for it, Little Peter," Grif said. "It's
Milly you have got to thank. Say, thank you, Milly."

"Thank you, Milly," said Little Peter obediently, devouring his pie.

There was another pie in the cap, but hungry as Grif was he did not
touch it. He looked at Little Peter, munching, and then at his dog,
who had crept to the mouth of the barrel, and who was eyeing the pie
wistfully. Had the dog known that its master was hungry, it would not
have looked at the pie as if it wanted it.

"_You've_ had precious little to eat to-night, too," said Grif to
Rough, who wagged its tail as its master spoke. "We'll have it between
us." And he broke the pie in two pieces.

He was about to give one piece of it to Rough, when he heard a
cat-like step within a few yards of him. "Who's there?" he cried,
creeping partly out of the barrel. No answer came, but the dog gave a
savage growl, and darted forwards. Grif listened, but heard nothing
but a faint laugh.

"I know that laugh, that's the Tenderhearted Oysterman's laugh. What
can he want here? Rough! Rough!" The dog came back at the call, with a
piece of meat in its mouth, which it was swallowing ravenously. "Well,
if this isn't a puzzler, I don't know what is," observed Grif. "Where
did you got that from? You're in luck's way to-night, you are, Rough.
All the better for Little Peter! Here, Little Peter, here's some more
pie for you."

Little Peter took the dog's share of the pie without compunction, and
expeditiously disposed of it. He then stretched himself on his face,
and was soon fast asleep again. Grif, having eaten his half of the
pie, coiled himself up, and prepared for sleep. No fear of rheumatism
assailed him; it was no new thing for him to sleep in wet clothes. He
was thankful enough for the shelter, poor as it was, and did not
repine because he did not have a more comfortable bed. He was very
tired, but the remembrance of the events of the day kept him dozing
for a little while. Alice, and her husband, and Milly, presented
themselves to his imagination in all sorts of confused ways. The story
he had heard Alice's husband tell of how their marriage came about was
also strong upon him, and he saw Alice and Richard standing in the
soft moonlight on her father's station. "I wonder what sort of a cove
her father is!" Grif thought, as he lay between sleeping and waking.
"He must be a nice 'ard-'earted bloke, he must? I wish I was her
father; I'd soon make her all right!" Then he heard Milly say, "She
hasn't got smaller hands than me!" and Milly's hands and Alice's hands
laid themselves before him, and he was looking to see which were the
smaller. Gradually, however, these fancies became indistinct, and
sleep fell upon him; but only to deepen them, to render them more
powerful. They were no longer fancies, they were realities. He was
crouching in a corner of the room, while Richard was speaking to
Alice; he was groping down the stairs, and calling for Rough, and
fondling him; he was standing at the entrance of the narrow passage,
waiting for Milly, and he was sleeping, with his arm embracing his
dog; he was talking to Milly, and asking Rough who was the worst of
all Jim Pizey's lot? he was listening to the Tenderhearted Oysterman's
retreating footsteps; and he was standing at the pie-stall, spending
Milly's last shilling. But here a new feature introduced itself into
the running commentary of his dreams. He fancied that, after he and
Little Peter had eaten the pies, the Tenderhearted Oysterman came
suddenly behind Rough, and, seizing the dog by the throat, thrust it
into a small box, the lid of which he clapped down and fastened; that
then the Oysterman forced the box into the barrel, and so fixed it
upon Grif s chest that the lad could not move; and that, although he
heard the dog moan and scratch, he could not release it. The weight
upon Grif's chest grew heavier and heavier; it was forcing the breath
out of his body. In his sleep he gasped, and fought release himself.
And after a violent struggle, he awoke.

There _was_ something lying upon his chest. It was Rough, who had
crawled into the barrel, and was licking its master's face. It had
been whining, but directly it felt Grif's hand, it grew quiet. The
rain was falling heavily, and the drops were forcing themselves
through the roof of the barrel. Grif shifted the dog gently on one
side.

"There's 'ardly room enough for two, let alone three of us," Grif
muttered. "Little Peter, are you awake?" The soft breathing of Peter
was the only reply. "You've no right to come shovin' yourself in,"
continued Grif, addressing the dog, who gave utterance to a pleading
moan; "but I ain't goin' to turn you out. What a night it is! And how
wet the barrel is! It would be much nicer if it was dry. It's almost
as bad as a gutter?" Here came a long-drawn sigh from Rough, and then
a piteous moan, as if the dog were in pain. "Be quiet Rough! What's
the use of botherin' about the rain!" exclaimed the boy. "There'll be
a flood in Melbourne, if this goes on!" And drawing his limbs closer
together, Grif disposed himself for sleep. He was almost on the
boundary of the land of dreams, when a yelp of agony from Rough
aroused him again, and caused him to start and knock his head against
the roof of the barrel. "Blest if I don't think somethin's the matter
with the dawg!" he exclaimed. "What are you yelpin' for, Rough?" The
dog uttered another sharp cry of agony, and trembled, and stretched
its limbs in convulsion. Thoroughly alarmed, Grif corkscrewed his way
out of the barrel as quietly as he could for fear of waking little
Peter, and called for Rough to follow him. Rough strove to obey its
master's voice even in the midst of its pain, but it had not strength.

"Rough! Rough!" cried Grif, drawing the dog out of the barrel. "What's
the matter, Rough? Are you hurt?" He felt all over its body, but could
discover nothing to account for Rough's distress. He took his faithful
servant in his arms, and looked at it by the dim light of the weeping
stars. Rough opened its eyes and looked gratefully at Grif, who
pressed the dog to his breast, and strove to control the violent
shuddering of its limbs; but its agony was too powerful. It rolled out
of Grif's arms on to the ground, where it lay motionless.

Cold and wet and shivering as he was, a deeper chill struck upon
Grif's heart as he gazed at the quiet form at his feet. He called the
dog by name, but it did not respond; he walked away a few steps and
whistled, but it did not follow; he came back, and stooping, patted it
upon its head, but it did not move; he whispered to it, "Rough! poor
old Rough! dear old Rough! speak to me, Rough!" but the dog uttered no
sound. Then Grif sitting down, took Rough in his arms, and began to
cry. Quietly and softly at first.

"What did Ally arks me to-night?" he half thought and half spoke
between his sobs. "Did I ever have a friend that I would sacrifice
myself for? Yes! I would for Rough! There wasn't another dawg in
Melbourne to come up to him! And now he's gone, and I ain't got no
friend left but Ally." And he laid his face upon the dog's wet coat,
and rained warm tears upon it.

"After all the games we've had together!" he continued. "After the
times he's stood up for me! He'll never stand up for me agin--never
agin!"

He knew that the dog was dead, and his anguish at the loss of his
dumb, faithful friend was very keen. Had it been human, he could not
have felt a deeper affliction.

"Everybody liked Rough! And he never had a growl for no one who spoke
kind to him. Everybody liked him--everybody except the Tenderhearted
Oysterman. The Tenderhearted Oysterman!" he cried, jumping to his feet
as if an inspiration had fallen upon him. "Why, it was him as swore he
would murder Rough! It was him as passed to-night when I was goin' to
give Rough the pie! It was him as give Rough the piece of meat! The
piece of meat! It was pizened! He swore he'd kill him, and he's done
it! That's what I heerd him laughin' at."

Grif wiped the tears from his eyes with the cuff of his ragged jacket,
and clenched his teeth.

"He's pizened Rough, has he?" he muttered, gloomily; and raising his
hand to the dark sky, he said, "If ever I can be even with him for
killin' my dawg, I will, so 'elp me--"

This time there was no one by to check the oath, and he uttered it
savagely and emphatically. Then he put his head in the barrel, and
shook Little Peter awake.

"Peter," he said, "Rough's dead. Ain't you sorry?"

"Yes," said Little Peter, without any show of feeling.

"He's been pizened. The Tenderhearted Oysterman's pizened him. Say
Damn him!"

"Damn him!" Little Peter said, readily.

"I'm going to bury him," said Grif. "Git up and come along with me."

Very obediently, but very sleepily, Little Peter came out of bed. Grif
looked about him, picked up a piece of rusty iron, and taking Rough in
his arms, walked away, and Little Peter, rubbing his eyes, trudged
sometimes behind and sometimes at Grif's side. Now and then the little
fellow placed his hand half carelessly and half caressingly upon
Rough's head, and now and then Grif stopped and kissed his dead
servant. In this way, slouching through the miserable streets, the
rain pouring heavily down, the funeral procession reached a large
burial-ground. The gates were closed, but they got in over a low wall
at the back. Everything about him was very solemn, very mournful, and
very dreary. The night was so dark that they could scarcely see, and
they stumbled over many a little mound of earth as they crept along.

"This'll do," said Grif, stopping at a spot where a tangle of grass
leaves were soiling their crowns in the muddy earth.

With the piece of iron he soon scraped a hole large enough for the
body. Some notion that he was performing a sacred duty which demanded
sacred observances was upon him.

"Take off your cap," he said to Little Peter.

Little Peter pulled off his cap; Grif did so likewise; and the rain
pattered down upon their bare heads. They stood so for a little while
in silence.

"Ashes to ashes!" Grif said, placing the body in the hole, and piling
the earth over it. He had followed many funerals to the churchyard,
and had heard the ministers speak those words.

"Good-bye, Rough!" murmured Grif, with a sob of grief. "Dear old
Rough! Poor old Rough!"

And then the two outcasts crept back again, through the dreary
streets, to their bed in the barrel.



                             CHAPTER IV.

                        THE CONJUGAL NUTTALLS.


The March of Progress is sounding loudly in the ears of the people who
throng the streets of Melbourne. It is not a lazy hum, a droning
whisper, with an invitation to sleep in its every note; there is
something martial in its tones, something that tells you to look alive
and move along, if you do not wish to be pushed into a corner and lost
sight of. It may be that the March of Progress is set to quicker time
in the busy thoroughfares of Melbourne than in those of the cities of
the older world. It makes itself more strongly felt; it asserts itself
more independently; it sets the blood in more rapid circulation. It
carries us along with it, past noble-looking stores filled with the
triumphs of the workshops of the world which emigrants call Old; past
great hotels whence men issue in the noonday light, wiping their
months unblushingly, and through the swinging doors of which you catch
glimpses of excited men, eating, drinking, talking, gesticulating, as
rapidly and fiercely as if they thirsted to trip up the heels of Time,
and take him prisoner by the forelock; past fine houses and squalid
houses; through quarters where wealth smiles and poverty groans; to
the very verge of the growing city, from which line the houses dot the
landscape pleasantly, and do not crowd it uncomfortably--from which
line are seen fair plains and fields, and shadows of primeval forests
in the clouds. And here, the air which had been swelling louder and
louder, until it grew into a clanging sound that banished all sense of
rest, grows fainter and sweeter; here in the suburbs, as you walk in
them by the side of the whispering river, over whose bosom the weeping
willow hangs, the March of Progress subsides into a hymn, which
travels on through the landscape to the primeval forests, and softly
sings, that soon--where now grim members of the eucalypti rear their
lofty heads; where now a blight is heavy on the bush, which before the
burning sun had waged fierce war with it and sucked the juices from
the earth, was bright and beautiful with tree and flower--the golden
corn shall wave, and gladden the face of nature with rippling smiles.

The March of Progress sounds but faintly before a prettily-built
weatherboard cottage in the suburbs, where dwell the family of the
Nuttalls. It is a pleasant cottage, and so Mr. Nicholas Nuttall seems
to think as he looks round the parlour with a smile, and then looks
down again, and reads, for at least the sixth time, a letter which is
lying open on the table.

"And Matthew is alive," he said, speaking to the letter as if it were
sentient; "alive and prosperous! To think that it should be thirty
years since I saw him; that I should come out here, scarcely hoping to
find him alive, and that, after being here only a month, I should hear
of him in such a wonderful manner. So amazingly rich, too! Upon my
word," he continued, apostrophising a figure of Time, which, with a
very long beard and a very long scythe, looked down upon him from the
family mantel-shelf; "upon my word, old daddy, you're a wonder. You
are," he continued, shaking his head at the figure; "there's no
getting over _you!_ You grow us up, you mow us down; you turn our hair
black, you turn it white; you make us strong, you make us feeble; and
we laugh at you and wheeze at you, until the day comes when we can
laugh and wheeze no more. Dear! dear! dear! What a handsome fellow he
was to be sure! I wonder if he is much altered. I wonder if he ever
thinks of old times. I shall know him again, for certain, directly I
clap eyes on him. He must have got grey by this time, though. Dear!
dear! dear!"

And Mr. Nicholas Nuttall fell to musing over thirty years ago, fishing
up from that deep well a hundred trifles which brought pleasant
ripples to his face. They had been buried so long that it might have
been excused them had they been rusted, but they were not so. They
came up quite bright at his bidding, and smiled in his face. They
twinkled in his eyes, those memories, and made him young again. In the
glowing wood fire rose up the pictures of his past life; the
intervening years melted away, and he saw once more his boyhood's
home, and the friends and associates whom he loved. As at the touch of
a magician's hand, the tide of youth came back, and brought with it
tender episodes of his happy boyhood; he looked again upon faces,
young as when he knew them, as if youth were eternal, and time had no
power to wrinkle; eyes gazed into his lovingly, as of yore; and days
passed before him containing such tender remembrances that his heart
throbbed with pleasure at the very thought of them. He and his brother
were walking hand-in-hand through a leafy forest; they came upon two
girls (who were afterwards drowned but he did not think of that!) whom
they greeted with hand-clasps, and then the four wandered on. He
remembered nothing more of that woodland walk; but the tender
pressure of the girl's hand lingered upon his even after so many
years, and made the day into a sweet and loving remembrance. And thus
he mused and mused, and all his young life passed before him,
phantasmagorically. The flowers in the garden of youth were blooming
once again in the life of Mr. Nicholas Nuttall.

But his reverie was soon disturbed. For the partner of his bosom, Mrs.
Nicholas Nuttall, suddenly bouncing into the room, and seating
herself, demonstratively, in her own particular arm-chair, on the
other side of the fire, puffed away his dreams in a trice.

Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall was a small woman. Mr. Nicholas Nuttall was a
large man. Mrs. Nichols Nuttall, divested of her crinolines and
flounces and other feminine vanities, in which she indulged
inordinately, was a very baby by the side of her spouse. In fact, the
contrast, to an impartial observer, would have been ridiculous. Her
condition, when feathered, was that of an extremely ruffled hen,
strutting about in offended majesty, in defiance of the whole poultry
race. Unfeather her, and figuratively speaking, Mr. Nicholas Nuttall
could have put Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall into his pocket--like a doll.

Yet if there ever was a man hopelessly under petticoat government; if
ever there was a man completely and entirely subjugated; if ever there
was a man prone and vanquished beneath woman's merciless thumb; that
man was the husband of Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall. It is a singular fact,
but one which may be easily ascertained by any individual who takes an
interest in studying the physiology of marriage life, that when a very
small man espouses a very large woman, he is, by tacit consent, the
king of the castle: it is an important, unexpressed portion of the
marriage obligation; and that, when a very small woman espouses a very
large man, she rules him with a rod of iron, tames him, subjugates
him, so to speak, until at length he can scarcely call his soul his
own.

This was the case with the conjugality of the Nuttalls, as was proven
by the demeanour of the male portion of the bond. For no sooner had
the feminine half (_plus_) seated herself opposite the masculine half
(_minus_) than the face of Mr. Nicholas Nuttall assumed an expression
of the most complete and perfect submission.

Mrs. Nuttall was not an agreeable-looking woman. As a girl she might
have been pretty: but twenty-five years of nagging and scolding and
complaining had given her a vinegarish expression. Her eyes had
contracted, as if they had a habit of looking inward for consolation;
her lips were thin, and her nose was sharp. This last feature would
not have been an ugly one if it had not been so bony; but constant
nagging had worn all the flesh away, and brought into conspicuous
notice a knob in the centre of the arc, for it was a Roman. If such
women only knew what a splendid interest amiability returned, how
eager they would be to invest in it!

Mrs. Nuttall sat in her chair and glared at her husband. Mr. Nuttall
sat in his chair and looked meekly at his wife. He knew what was
coming--the manner, not the matter. He knew that something had annoyed
the wife of his bosom, and that she presented herself before him only
for the purpose of distressing him with reproaches. He waited
patiently.

"Mr. Nuttall," presently said Mrs. Nuttall, "why don't you speak? Why
do you sit glaring at me, as if I were a sphinx?"

To throw the _onus_ of the interview upon Mr. Nuttall was manifestly
unfair, and the thought may have kept him silent; or, perhaps, he had
nothing to say.

"This place will be the death of me, I'm certain," Mrs. Nuttall
remarked with an air of resignation.

Nicholas shrugged his shoulders with an almost imperceptible
motion--shrugged them, as it were, beneath his shirt and coat, and in
such a manner that no movement was imparted to those garments. Ever
since they had been married, something or other was always going to be
the death of Mrs. Nuttall; about six times a day, on an average, since
the honeymoon, Mr. Nuttall had heard her utter the complaint,
accompanied by an expression of regret that she had ever married. That
regret she expressed upon the present occasion, and Mr. Nuttall
received it with equanimity. The first time he heard it, it was a
shock to him; but since then he had become resigned. So he merely put
in an expostulatory "My dear"--being perfectly well aware that he
would not be allowed to get any further.

"Don't my-dear me," interrupted Mrs. Nuttall, as he expected; he would
have been puzzled what to say if she had not taken up the cue. "I'm
tired of your my-dearing and my-loving. You ought never to have
married, Nicholas. You don't know how to appreciate a proper and
affectionate wife. Or if you were bent upon marrying--and bent you
must have been, for you would not take No, for answer--you ought to
have married Mary Plummer. I wish you had _her_ for a wife! Then you
would appreciate me better."

No wonder, that at so thoroughly illogical and bigamy-suggesting an
aspiration, Mr. Nuttall looked puzzled. But Mrs. Nuttall paid no
attention to his look, and proceeded,--

"I went to school with her, and I ought to know how she would turn
out. The way she brings up her family is disgraceful; the girls are as
untidy as can be. You should see the bed-rooms in the middle of the
day! And yet her husband indulges her in everything. He is something
like a husband should be. He didn't drag his wife away from her home,
after she had slaved for him all her life, and bring her out to a
place where everything is topsy-turvy, and ten times the price that it
is anywhere else, and where people who are not fit for domestics are
put over your heads. He didn't do that! Not he! He knows his duty as a
husband and a father of a family better."

Mr. Nuttall sighed.

"The sufferings I endured on board that dreadful ship," continued Mrs.
Nuttall, "ought to have melted a heart of stone. What with walking
with one leg longer than the other for three months, I'm sure I shall
never be able to walk straight again. I often wondered, when I woke up
in a fright in the middle of the night, and found myself standing on
my head in that horrible bunk, what I had done to meet with such
treatment from you. From the moment you broached the subject of our
coming to the colonies, my peace of mind was gone. The instant I
stepped on board that dreadful ship, which you basely told me was a
clipper, and into that black hole of a hen-coop, which you falsely
described as a lovely saloon, I felt that I was an innocent convict,
about to be torn from my native country. The entire voyage was nothing
but a series of insults; the officers paid more attention to my own
daughter than they did to me; and the sailors, when they were pulling
the ropes--what good they did by it I never could find out!--used to
sing a low song with a chorus about Maria, knowing that to be my name,
simply for the purpose of wounding my feelings. And when I told you to
interfere, you refused, and said it was only a coincidence! That is
the kind of consideration I get from you."

Mr. Nuttall sighed again.

"There's Jane," observed Mrs. Nuttall, approaching one of her
grievances; "the best servant I ever had. At home she was quite
satisfied with ten pounds a year; and now, after our paying her
passage out, she says she can't stop unless her wages are raised to
thirty pounds. Thir-ty pounds," said Mrs. Nuttall, elongating the
numeral. "And at home she was contented with twelve. Do you know how
you are to meet these frightful expenses? I'm sure _I_ don't. But
mind, Nicholas, if we come to ruin, don't blame me for it. I told you
all along what would be the result of your dragging us to the
colonies. I pray that I may be mistaken; but I have never been
mistaken yet, and you know it;" and Mrs. Nuttall spread out her skirts
(she was always spreading out her skirts, as if she could not make
enough of herself) complacently.

Still Mr. Nuttall made no remark, and sat as quiet as a mouse, gazing
humbly upon the household prophet.

"Thirty pounds a year for a servant-of-all-work!" continued the lady.
"Preposterous! The best thing we can do, if that's the way they're
paid, is all of us to go out as servants-of-all-work, and lay by a
provision for Marian."

A vision of himself, in feminine attire, floor-scrubbing on his knees,
flitted across the disturbed mind of Mr. Nuttall.

"She must have the money, I suppose. I know who has put her up to it;
it is either the baker's or the butcher's man. The two noodles are
hankering after her, and she encourages them. I saw the pair of them
at the back-gate last night, and she was flirting with them nicely.
You must give information to the police, Nicholas, and have them
locked up."

"Looked up!" exclaimed Mr. Nuttall.

"Certainly. Do you think the police would allow such goings on at
home?"

"Perhaps not, my dear," said Mr. Nuttall, with a sly smile; "the
police at home, I believe, are said to hold almost a monopoly in
servant-girls."

"I don't understand your coarse allusions, Mr. Nuttall," said Mrs.
Nuttall, loftily. "What I say is, you must give information to the
police, and have these goings-on stopped."

"It is perfectly impossible, Maria. Do be reasonable!"

"Sir!" exclaimed Mrs. Nuttall, glaring at her husband.

"What I meant to say, Maria," said Mr. Nuttall, clearing his throat,
as if something had gone down the wrong way, "is, that I don't believe
it is a criminal offence for a servant-girl to talk to a baker, or
even a butcher, over a gate; and I doubt if giving information to the
police would lead to any satisfactory result."

"It will be a very satisfactory result--won't it?--if Jane runs away
and gets married. Servant-girls don't think of that sort of thing at
home. I shall be in a nice situation. It would be like losing my right
hand. I tell you what this country is, Mr. Nuttall--it's demoralizing,
that's what it is." And Mrs. Nuttall wept, through sheer vexation.

All this was sufficiently distressing to Mr. Nuttall, but he did not
exhibit any outward show of annoyance. Time was when Mrs. Nuttall's
tears impressed him with the conviction that he was a man of hard
feeling, but he had got over that. And so Mrs. Nuttall wept, and Mr.
Nuttall only experienced a feeling of weariness; but he brightened up
as his eyes rested upon the letter which had occasioned him so much
pleasure, and he said--

"Oh, Maria, I have an invitation for you. At short notice, too. For
this evening. From Mr. and Mrs. Blemish. Great people, you know,
Maria."

Mrs. Nuttall instantly became attentive.

"And whom do you think we shall meet? When I tell you, you will be as
surprised as I was when I read it."

"Whom, Nicholas?" asked Mrs. Nuttall, impatiently. "Do _not_ keep me
in suspense."

"My brother Matthew!"

"Alive!" exclaimed Mrs. Nuttall.

"Of course. You would not wish to meet him in any other condition,
would you?"

"That you should make such a remark," observed Mrs. Nuttall, "of a
brother whom we all thought dead, is, to say the least of it,
heartless, Nicholas. Of course, if the Blemishes are, as you say,
great people, and he visits them, it is a comfort, as showing that his
position is not a bad one. But, if we are to go, can you tell me what
to wear? I don't know, in this outlandish colony, whether we are
expected to dress ourselves like Christians or aboriginals."

"The last would certainly be inexpensive, but it would scarcely be
decent, Maria," remarked Mr. Nuttall, slily.

"That may be very witty, Mr. Nuttall," responded his lady, loftily;
"but it is hardly an observation a man should make to his own wife.
Though for what you care about your wife's feelings I would not give
that," and she snapped her fingers, disdainfully.

From long and sad experience, Mr. Nicholas Nuttall had learned the
wisdom of saying as little as possible when his wife was in her
present humour. Indeed, he would sometimes lose all consciousness of
what was passing, or would find himself regarding it as an unquiet
dream from which he would presently awake. But Mrs. Nuttall was always
equal to the occasion; and now, as she observed him about to relapse
into a dreamy state of inattention, she cried, sharply--

"Nicholas!"

"Yes, my dear," he responded, with a jump, as if half-a-dozen needles
had been smartly thrust into a tender part.

"What am I to wear this evening?"

"Your usual good taste, Maria," he commenced--

"Oh, bother my good taste!" she interrupted. "You know that we are to
meet your brother to-night, and I am only anxious to do you credit.
Not that I shan't be a perfect fright, for I haven't a dress fit to
put on my back. If I wasn't such a good contriver, we should look more
like paupers than respectable people. My black silk has been turned
three times already; and my pearl grey--you ought to know what a state
that is in, for you spilt the port wine over it yourself. Is your
brother very rich, Nicholas?"

"They say so, Maria; he owns cattle stations, and thousands of sheep
and cattle. He is a squatter, you know."

"A what?" she screamed.

"A squatter."

"What a dreadful thing!" she exclaimed. "What a shocking calamity! Is
he always squatting, Nicholas?"

"My dear;" said Nicholas, amazed.

"Not that it matters much," she continued, not heeding him; "he may
squat as long as he likes, if he has plenty of money, and assists you
as a brother should. Thank heaven! none of my relations ever squatted.
Has he been squatting long, Nicholas?"

"For ever so many years," he replied.

"What a disagreeable position! Why, his legs must be quite round. You
ought to thank your stars that you have a wife who doesn't squat--"

But observing a furtive smile play about her husband's lips, she rose
majestically, and said,

"I shall not waste my conversation upon you any longer. I suppose the
cab will be here at half-past nine o'clock; everybody else, of course,
will go in their own carriages." (Here she took out her watch, and
consulted it.) "Bless my soul! it is nearly seven o'clock now. I have
barely three hours to dress."

And she whisked out of the room, leaving Mr. Nuttall, nothing loth, to
resume his musings.



                              CHAPTER V.

         THE MORAL MERCHANT ENTERTAINS HIS FRIENDS AT DINNER.


On the same evening, and at about the same hour, of the occurrence of
the foregoing matrimonial dialogue, Mr. Zachariah Blemish entertained
his friends at dinner. Mr. Zachariah Blemish was a merchant and a
philanthropist; he was also a gentleman of an imposing mien, and of a
portly appearance. Some of his detractors (and what man lives who has
them not?) said that the manly bosom which throbbed to the beats of
his patriotic heart was filled with as earthly desires as other
earthly flesh. If this assertion, which was generally made spitefully
and vindictively, was the worst that could be said against him,
Zachariah Blemish could look the world in the face without blushing.
True or untrue, he did look, unmoved, in the world's face, and if
either felt abashed in the presence of the other, it was the world,
and not Blemish. There was a self-assertion in his manner when he
appeared in public, which, if it could have been set down in so many
words, would have thus expressed itself:--"Here am I, sent among you
for your good; make much of me. You are frail, I am strong; you are
mean, I am noble. But do not be abashed. Do not be afraid of your own
unworthiness. I do not wish to hold myself above you. I will eat with
you, and talk with you, and sleep with you, as if I were one of
yourselves. It is not my fault that I am superior to you. Perhaps, if
you look up to me, you may one day reach my level. It would be much to
accomplish, but you have my best wishes. I am here to do you good, and
I hope I may." As he walked along the streets, people fell aside and
made way for him, deferentially. They looked after him, and pointed
him out to strangers as the great Mr. Blemish; and it was told of one
family that, when the children were put to bed at night, they were
taught to say, "God bless papa and mamma, and Good Mr. Blemish." His
snowy shirt-front, viewed from a distance, was a sight to look upon,
and, upon a nearer acquaintance, dazzled one with its pure whiteness.
At church he was the most devout of men, and the congregation wondered
how so much greatness and so much meekness could be found in the
breast of any one human being. There was not a crease in his face; it
was fat, and smooth, and ruddy; it looked like the blessed face of a
large cherubim; and it said as plainly as face could say, "Here dwell
content, and peace, and prosperity, and benevolence." He was Chairman
of the United Band of Temperance Aboriginals; President of the Moral
Boot-blacking Boys' Reformatory; Perpetual Grand Master of the Society
for the Total Suppression of Vice; the highest dignitary in the
Association of Universal Philanthropists; and a leading member of the
Fellowship of Murray Cods. He subscribed to all the charities; with a
condescending humility he allowed his name to appear regularly upon
all committees for religious and benevolent purposes, and would
himself go round with lists to collect subscriptions. In this
direction his power was enormous. Such a thing as a refusal was not
thought of. People wrote their names upon his list, in the firm belief
that twenty shillings invested in benevolence with Zachariah Blemish
returned a much larger rate of interest than if invested with any
other collector. Once, and once only, was he known to be unsuccessful.
He asked a mechanic for a subscription to the funds of the United Band
of Temperance Aboriginals, and the man refused him, in somewhat rough
terms, saying that the United Band of Temperance Aboriginals was a
Band of Humbugs. Blemish gazed mildly at the man, and turned away
without a word. The following day he displayed an anonymous letter, in
which the writer, signing himself "Repentant," enclosed one pound
three shillings and sixpence as the contribution of a working man
(being his last week's savings) towards the funds of the United Band
of Temperance Aboriginals, and a fervent wish was expressed in the
letter that the Band would meet with the success it deserved. There
was no doubt that it was the mechanic who sent it, and that it was the
magnetic goodness of the Moral Merchant that had softened his heart.
At the next meeting of the United Band of Temperance Aboriginals
(which was attended by a greasy Australian native clothed in a dirty
blanket, and smelling strongly of rum) a resolution was passed,
authorizing the purchase of a gilt frame for the mechanic's letter, to
perpetuate the goodness of Blemish, and the moral power of his eye.

On the present evening he was seated at the head of his table, round
which were ranged some dozen guests of undoubted respectability. He
was supported on his right by a member of the Upper House of
Parliament; he was supported on his left by a member of the Lower
House of ditto. One of the leading members of the Government was
talking oracularly to one of the leading merchants of the city. One of
the leading lawyers was laying down the law to one of the leading
physicians. And only three chairs off was Mr. David Dibbs, eating his
dinner like a common mortal. Like a common mortal? Like the commonest
of common mortals! He might have been a bricklayer for any difference
observable between them. For he gobbled his food did Mr. David Dibbs,
and he slobbered his soup did Mr. David Dibbs, and his chops were
greasy, and his hands were not nice-looking, and, altogether, he did
not present an agreeable appearance. But was he not the possessor of
half-a-dozen cattle and sheep-stations, each with scores of miles of
water frontage, and was not his income thirty thousand pounds a year?
Oh, golden calf! nestle in my bosom, and throw your glittering veil
over my ignorance, and meanness, and stupidity give me thirty thousand
pounds a year, that people may fall down and worship me!

The other guests were not a whit less respectable. Each of them, in
his own particular person, represented wealth or position. Could it
for a single moment be imagined that the guests of Mr. Zachariah
Blemish were selected for the purpose of throwing a halo of
respectability round the person of their host, and that they were one
and all administering to and serving his interest? If so, the guests
were unconscious of it; but it might not have been less a fact that he
made them all return, in one shape or another, good interest for the
hospitality he so freely lavished upon them. This evening he was
giving a dinner party to his male friends; and later in the night Mrs.
Zachariah Blemish would receive _her_ guests and entertain them.

The gentlemen are over their wine, and are conversing freely.
Politics, scandal, the state of the colony, and many other subjects,
are discussed with animation. Just now, politics is the theme. The
member of the Lower House and the member of the Upper House are the
principal speakers here. But, occasionally, others say a word or two,
which utterings are regarded by the two members as unwarrantable
interruptions. The member of the Government says very little on
politics, and generally maintains a cautious reticence.

"I should like to have been in the House last night," said one of the
conversational interlopers; "that was a smart thing Ritchie said."

"What was it?" asked another.

"Speaking of Beazley, who is awfully rich you know, and an
incorrigible miser, he said, 'He congratulated himself upon not
belonging to a party which had, for its principal supporter, a man
whose office was his church, whose desk was his pulpit, whose ledger
was his Bible, and whose money was his god.'"

"Very clever, but very savage," remarked one of the guests. "I do not
believe in such unbridled licence of debate."

"I met Beazley the other day, and he complained that the times were
dreadfully dull. He did not know what things were coming to. He had
seventy thousand pounds lying idle, he said, and he could not get more
than five per cent. for it. He shook his head and said, 'The golden
days of the colony are gone!'"

"And so they are," said the member of the Lower House, whose
proclivities were republican, "and they will not return until we
have Separation and Confederation. That's what we want to set us
going--separation from the home country, and a confederation of the
South Sea colonies. We don't want our most important matters settled
for us in the red-tape office over the water. We don't want our
Governors appointed for us; we want to select them ourselves from the
men who have grown up with us, and whose careers render them worthy
and prove them fit for the distinction. If we were in any serious
trouble we should have to extricate ourselves as best we could, and if
we _did_ have help from the home country, shouldn't we have to pay the
piper? That's the point--shouldn't we have to pay the piper?"

"Nay, nay," expostulated Mr. Zachariah Blemish. "Consider for a
moment, I beg--we are all loyal subjects, I hope--"

"I maintain," said the member of the Lower House, excited by his
theme, "that, notwithstanding our loyalty to the reigning Sovereign,
the day must come when we shall not be dependent upon the caprices of
a colonial office fourteen thousand miles distant, which very often
does not understand the nature of the difficulty it has to legislate
upon. I maintain that the day must come--"

"Gentlemen," called Mr. Zachariah Blemish, horrified at the utterance
of such sentiments over his dinner table, "gentlemen, I give you The
Queen! God bless her!"

"The Queen! God bless her!" responded all the guests, rising to their
feet, and drinking the toast enthusiastically. And then the
conversation took another turn. Presently, all ears were turned to the
leading physician, who was relating a circumstance to the leading
lawyer.

"It is a curious story," he said. "The man I speak of was always
reported to be very wealthy. No one knows more of his early career
than that, when the gold-diggings were first discovered, he was a
Cheap-Jack, as they call them, trading at all the new gold-fields. He
bought tents, picks, shovels, tubs, anything, from the diggers, who
were madly running from one place to another. He bought them for a
song, for the diggers could not carry those things about with them,
and they were glad to get rid of them at any price. When he sold them
he made enormous profits, and by these means he was supposed to have
amassed a great fortune. Then he speculated largely in sheep and
cattle, and grew to be looked upon as a sort of banker. Many men
deposited their savings with him, and, as he did not pay any interest
for the money, and traded with it, there is no doubt as to the
profitable nature of his operations. The great peculiarity about him
was that his face from beneath his eyes, was completely hidden in
bushy, brown, curly hair, He had been heard to say that he had never
shaved. Well, one night, at past eleven o'clock, he knocked up a
storekeeper at the diggings, and bought a razor and strop, a pair of
scissors, a pair of moleskin trousers, a pair of watertight boots, and
a blue serge shirt. In the course of conversation with the
storekeeper, and while he was selecting the articles, he said that
they were for a man whom he had engaged as a shepherd, and who was to
start at daybreak the following morning. That was the last
indisputable occurrence that was known in connection with him; the
next day he disappeared and was not heard of again. For a day or two,
no notice was taken of his absence; but, after that, depositors and
others grew uneasy, and rumour invented a hundred different stories
about him. A detective who knew him intimately, said that he was
standing at the pit entrance of the Theatre Royal in Bourke Street,
when a man passed in, the glitter of whose eyes attracted the
detective's attention strangely. He could not recall the man's face,
which was clean shaven, and he thought no more about it at the time.
The missing man was traced to Melbourne, but no further. Some three or
four weeks after his disappearance, the body of a drowned person was
found in a river in New South Wales, and, from certain marks about it,
it was supposed to be that of our missing friend. The inquest was
adjourned, to allow time for the production of evidence from Victoria,
and twelve medical men, all of whom knew the missing party were
subp[oe]naed for the purpose of identifying him, or otherwise. The
body was much decomposed, but some of the witnesses said that they
would know if it was the missing man by the peculiar shape of one of
his toes. The singularity of the affair lies in this. Six of the
witnesses swore that it was the missing man, and six of them swore
that it was not. Both sides were very positive. Some months after the
inquest, a story was current that he had been seen at Texas, which
story was shortly afterwards followed up by another, that he was shot
in a tavern in South America. Then came other reports that he was
living in great magnificence in all sorts of out-of-the-way places.
But whether he is alive or not, no one in the colony knows, and to
this day the mystery is not cleared up, and probably never will be."

"And the depositors' money?" asked the lawyer.

"Was never heard of. Vanished. If he was drowned, he did not like to
part with it, and he took it into the other world with him."

Everybody at the table was much interested in the story, and commented
upon it; after which there was a lull in the conversation.

"I have a great surprise in store for you to-night," said Mr. Blemish;
addressing a gentleman of about sixty years of age, whose face was
covered with iron-grey whiskers, beard, and moustache.

From some unexplained cause, the gentleman addressed looked suddenly
and excitedly into the face of his host, and exclaimed, in a quick,
nervous voice--

"A surprise!"

"Yes, and I hope a pleasant one."

"What surprise?" he asked, in the same agitated manner.

"Nay." returned Mr. Blemish, gently, "it will not be a surprise if I
tell you beforehand."

The flush that had risen to that portion of the gentleman's face which
the iron-grey whiskers, beard, and moustache allowed to be seen,
slowly died away, and was replaced by a whitish-grey tint, which
almost made him look like the ghost of an antique warrior. He
debated within himself for a few moments, and then, taking out his
pocket-book, wrote upon a leaf, "I shall take it as a particular
favour if you will let me know what is the surprise you have in store
for me; I have urgent reasons for asking;" and passed it, folded, to
his host. Mr. Blemish read it, smiled, and wrote beneath, in reply,
"Do you remember your brother?" and repassed the paper to his guest.

"Brother!" exclaimed that gentleman, in a voice betokening that,
although he was considerably astonished, he was also considerably
relieved.

"Yes," said Mr. Blemish, "your brother Nicholas."

"Good heavens!" exclaimed Mr. Matthew Nuttall; and the rest of the
guests stared hard at him. Excepting Mr. David Dibbs, who was not
disposed to be diverted from the serious occupation of eating and
drinking. For Mr. David Dibbs lived to eat; he did not eat to live.

It _is_ a shock to a man to be wrenched, without forewarning, from the
groove in which his life has been gliding for twenty years. For fully
that time Mr. Matthew Nuttall, engrossed in his own pursuits and his
own cares, had never once thought of his brother; and now, at the very
mention of his name, memories, long buried and forgotten, floated upon
his mind like the sudden rising of a ghostly tide.

"Have you seen him?" he asked.

"No," said Mr. Zachariah Blemish, "I learned by accident that he has
but lately arrived in the colony. Singularly enough, he had a letter
of introduction to me from some of my people at home, and Mrs.
Blemish, out of respect to you, invited him this evening to meet you."

"Mrs. Blemish is always kind. I shall be very glad to see Nicholas,"
said Mr. Matthew Nuttall, slowly and thoughtfully; and then the
conversation became more general.

"Sheep are rising in the market, are they not, Mr. Dibbs?" asked the
member of the Upper House.

"It's time they was," replied the great squatter, his mouth full of
pine-apple.

"The people are complaining loudly of the price of beef," observed the
democratic member of the Lower House.

"They're always a-growlin'," said Mr. David Dibbs, who, having
swallowed his pine-apple, was enabled to speak with greater clearness.
"They don't know what they want, don't the people. Beef ought to be
double the price. My motto all'as has been, 'Live and let live.' They
lay the blame on us squatters, but it's the butchers as sticks it on."

"It lies between the two of you, I suppose. Did you read in the papers
that Mr. Froth said at the Eastern Market last night that the
squatters were the ruin of the country?" asked the member of the Lower
House, who, in virtue of his position, did all he could to make
himself disagreeable.

"Mr. Froth wants his head punched," said Mr. Dibbs, elegantly, "and I
wouldn't mind a-doin' of it for him. Why doesn't he stick to his
business? He's a ignorant, lazy--a--a--" Here Mr. Dibbs wanted a word,
and could not get it.

"Demagogue," suggested one of the guests.

"That's it. He's a ignorant, lazy demagogue, and is always trying to
stir up the mob."

"The fact of it is, sir," said the member of the Upper House, seizing
the opportunity to give a blow to democracy, "the people, as you call
them, are a discontented set. Manhood suffrage has done it all. No man
ought to have a vote who has not a property qualification."

"Quite right, sir," said Mr. Dibbs. "A glass of wine?"

"With pleasure. For, sir, what is the result?" (This oracularly, as if
he were addressing the House.) "These men, sir, who have no property,
but have a vote, exercise a pressure upon property detrimental to the
interests of gentlemen who have property. What has property to do with
them, or what have they to do with property? When they have property,
let them speak; until then, let them be silent, and not interfere with
what does not concern them."

"Them's my sentiments," nodded Mr. Dibbs, approvingly, helping himself
to more wine and pine-apple.

"To what, sir, is this state of things to be attributed?" continued
the orator. "The answer is plain. It is to be attributed to the
unfortunate state of independence in which the working-man finds
himself in these colonies. The working-classes all over the world,
sir, are democratic, often dangerously democratic. But in such a
country as England they are kept in their proper position by a
sense of dependence. They cannot afford to quarrel with their
bread-and-butter there. But, sir, when the working-man lands upon
these shores, this spirit of dependence vanishes. Speaking vulgarly,
sir, he says within himself, 'Jack's as good as his master;' and
acting up to the spirit of that old adage (the author of it sir, ought
to have been put into the pillory)--acting, I say again, sir, up to
the spirit of that adage, he aims a blow at the interests of all of us
who have property in the colony. He does not pay property the respect:
to which it is entitled. He becomes democratic to a dangerous degree,
and has no regard for conservative interests. This must be put a stop
to, sir. It is incumbent upon us, who are loyal subjects, to put a
stop to it--as loyal subjects, I say, sir, for we all know what is the
meaning of democracy. It behoves all of us who have settled interests
in the colony to look sharply about us. We must, if necessary, band
together for the protection of our own interests; and, above all, sir,
we must stick to the Constitution."

"Quite right again, sir," assented Mr. Dibbs, whose only idea of the
Constitution was thirty thousand pounds a year for himself.

All the guests, with the exception of the member of the Lower House,
agreed to the proposition that they must stick to the Constitution.
The way that poor word was tossed about, and flung across the table
and back again, was deplorable. It was settled that the Constitution
was in danger, and, at all hazards, must be protected. No one could
define precisely the nature of the danger. It appeared, as far as
could be gathered, to resolve itself into this--that times were very
dull, and that, therefore, the Constitution was imperilled. They all,
with one exception, appeared to think that something was very wrong
somewhere, and that the country was in a most distressing condition.
Mr. Zachariah Blemish was the only person at the table who ventured to
remark that "We are young, gentlemen, we are young, and have plenty of
time before us for improvement. In all new colonies evils are sure to
creep in. We have a fine estate in our hands, gentlemen; one of the
finest estates in the world; and all it wants is proper management.
Certainly the state of commercial morality is very bad--"

Ah, here was a theme! Commercial morality! The guests grew eloquent
upon it. The member of the Upper House said it was deplorable; the
member of the Lower House said it was disgraceful; the leading
physician said it was frightful; the leading lawyer said it was
unparalleled; Mr. Dibbs said it was beastly; and they raised their
hands and their eyes, and shook their heads as much as to say, "Is it
not dreadful that we, who are immaculate, who are undefiled, should
live in the midst of such a state of things, without being able to
remedy the evil?" But the most impressive of all was Mr. Zachariah
Blemish; and, as a merchant of the highest standing, his words were
listened to with deep attention.

Commercial morality (he said) was at its lowest ebb. The spirit of
over-speculation among traders was something frightful to contemplate,
and disastrous results were sure to follow. Indeed, indications of the
approaching crisis were already observable in the records of the
Insolvency Court. It was all occasioned by the easiness with which men
got credit--men who commenced with nothing, who had nothing, with the
exception of self-assurance, and who speculated recklessly, with the
knowledge that when the crash came--and come it must, sooner or later,
with such-like speculators--their creditors would only be too glad to
take five shillings in the pound; would feel delighted at seven
shillings and sixpence; would congratulate themselves at ten
shillings; and then, after giving a full release, would actually do
business again, upon terms, with the very man who had robbed them.
Where was honesty? Where was morality? What would become of vested
interests if that sort of thing were to continue? Steps must be
taken--it behoved all of them to take steps. A check must be put to
the spirit of reckless speculation, and he himself had some idea of
initiating a movement in furtherance of the desired result. All that
was required was that merchants should be true to themselves and to
their own interests, and the country would soon recover from its
present depressed condition.

And after the utterance of these platitudes, Mr. Zachariah Blemish
stuck his thumbs in his waistcoat pockets, and looked round upon his
guests, who, one and all, bowed down to the spirit of honour and
integrity shining in the face of their merchant host!



                             CHAPTER VI.

                         FATHER AND DAUGHTER.


The house of Mr. Zachariah Blemish looked out upon the sea. It was a
magnificent mansion, worthy of the greatness of its inmate, and was
the resort of the most fashionable, as well as the most influential,
residents of Melbourne and its charming suburbs. It had a balcony
round three of its sides--a broad, spacious balcony, on which the
guests could promenade, and talk politics, or love, or philosophy, as
suited them. It was grand, on a quiet night, to sit thereon, and watch
the moon rising from the sea; it was grand to watch the sea itself,
cradled in the arms of night, while myriad cloud-shadows floated on
its breast, and flashed into lines of snow-fringed light with the
rising and the falling of the waves.

Lights were gleaming in the windows and round the balcony, and the
house was pleasant with the buzz of conversation, and soft laughter,
and sweet music. The party seemed altogether a very delightful one;
for a smile was on every lip, and distilled honey dropped from every
tongue, while the presiding genius of the establishment was benign and
affable, and moved among his guests like Jove dispensing agreeability.

The brothers Nuttall had met in the ball-room. The only words they
exchanged were "Matthew!" "Nicholas!" and then, after a long pressure
of the hand, they adjourned to the balcony, where their conversation
would be more private than in the house.

They felt somewhat awkward; the days they had passed together might
have belonged to another life, so long gone by did that time seem. The
bridge between their boyhood and their old age had crumbled down, and
the fragments had been almost quite washed by the stream of Time.
Still, some memory of the old affection was stirred into life by the
meeting, and they both felt softened and saddened as their hands lay
in each other's clasp.

They paced the balcony in silence at first. Then the elder, Matthew,
asked some stray questions as to the old places he used to frequent,
and smiled and pondered wonderingly as he heard of the changes that
had taken place.

"And the yew, where the parrot used to swing, gone!" he said. "And the
wood where we went nutting?"

"Almost a city, Mat. A tree here and there, that's all. I was thinking
only to-night of that wood, and of one happy day we spent there--you
know with whom?"

"I know--I know. Good God! I have not thought of it or them for twenty
years. And now they come to me again. Do they live?"

"Drowned!"

"Poor girls! There, Nick, let us talk of something else. It is no
wonder things have changed. We have changed more than they."

"Yes, we are old men now," responded his brother. "This is a strange
meeting, Mat, and in a new world, too."

"What did you come out to the colonies for?" asked the elder brother.

"For the same reason, I suppose, that thousands of other people come
out--to better myself. I don't know that I had any particular other
reason, and I don't know that I exactly knew how I was going to better
myself. But I thought it would come right somehow.

"Then there were the goldfields, eh, Nicholas?"

"Yes; then there were the goldfields. They did excite me certainly. I
heard of people picking up nuggets--of course you laugh--and I thought
it possible that such a thing might happen. I know now how foolish
even the stray thought of such a thing was for me, an old man. But
still the gold seemed to say to me, Come, and I came."

"You are not rich?"

"No," was the reply.

"Any fixed plans of what you are going to do?"

"No--a dozen things have occurred to me, but, to tell you the truth, I
am puzzled. Everything here appears to be so--so go-ahead," he said,
after hesitating for a term, "that I am bewildered somewhat. Then,
there is Mrs. Nuttall!"

"Mrs. Nuttall!"

"Yes," replied Nicholas, smiling; "my wife. I will introduce you
presently. She will be agreeably surprised at your appearance," and he
chuckled to himself as he thought of his wife's notions of squatting.
"Then there is the girl--"

"What girl?"

"My daughter."

"Daughter!" cried Matthew, almost convulsively. But he controlled
himself the moment after, and said, "A spasm, Nicholas, nothing more.
What is her age?"

"Sixteen," said Nicholas. "She is here to-night. I am very proud of
her, and hope you will like her."

"Marian! That was our mother's name."

Then there was silence, and, as they stood on the balcony looking out
upon the ocean, the snow-fringed waves might have been bringing back
to them the time that seemed to belong to another life.

"Stay here a moment, Mat," said Nicholas; "I will bring Marian to
you."

And going into the house, he returned with a beautiful girl, whose
face was rosy with youth and health, and whose eyes beamed with
pleasure. Her graceful person and her soft white dress made her a
pretty figure in the scene.

"Marian, my dear, your uncle."

He turned and took her hand, and made a movement as if about to kiss
her. But he restrained himself with a sudden impulse.

"This is her first ball, Mat," said Nicholas, with an affectionate
look at his daughter. "Are you enjoying yourself?"

"Oh, so much, papa!"

As she spoke, her uncle dropped her hand, and faced the sea. She was
moving away towards her partner, who was waiting for her, when her
uncle wheeled round, and said, as if the words were forced out of
him--

"Kiss me, child."

She raised her face to his, and he bent down and kissed her, then
pushed her lightly towards her partner.

"She is a dear good girl, Mat," said Nicholas; "and the greatest
blessing I have; that is," he added, not at all enthusiastically,
"next to Mrs. Nuttall, of course. By the bye, Mat--how careless of me,
to be sure, perhaps you have a family of your own. Are _you_ married?"

"Nicholas," said his brother, not answering the question, "do you
remember my character as a boy?"

"Quite well, Mat. Eager, pushing, brave, and determined."

"Very determined, Nicholas."

"Very determined. I often wish I had your determination of character.
Old Mr. Gray, our schoolmaster--you remember him, Mat?--used to say
your determination was so determined, that it was nothing less than
obstinacy. I heard him say of you one day, 'When Mat Nuttall makes up
his mind to do a thing, he'll do it, whether it be good or bad, and
whatever may be the result.' He said it was not a good trait--but he
was mistaken, Mat. There is nothing so manly as determination of
character. I wish I possessed it."

"Don't wish it, Nicholas. It often proves a curse."

"It has not proved so to you, Mat, for it has brought you riches and
prosperity."

"I am rich and prosperous, as the world goes; but let that pass.
Whether it be good or bad, I am not a whit less determined now than I
was when a boy. I cannot help it. It is my nature. Old Mr. Gray was
right. I am not to be turned from a determined purpose, whether I
think I am right or wrong. Now, I have made up my mind to do what is
in my power, so far as prudence goes, to advance your fortunes. But
when I say to you, you must not do such and such a thing, I expect you
not to do it. You are attending to me?"

"Yes."

"I am glad to have seen you--I am glad to have seen your--your Marian.
But there is one subject which must never be mentioned between us, and
that is the question of my family. Say that I have none. Tell Mrs.
Nuttall this, and spare me any questions from her. Tell her and
your"--(and here the same indecision expressed itself when he spoke of
his brother's daughter)--"your Marian, that I am wifeless and
childless. I must not be questioned upon the point. I have made up my
mind not to be. I will not allow it to be referred to, or hinted at."

He spoke with distinctness, and yet with a strange hurriedness, as if
he wished to be done quickly with the subject.

"You see those two figures yonder," he said, pointing to where the
shadows of two persons could be seen upon the seashore.

"Yes, Mat, I can see them, although my eyes are not so good as they
were."

"Suppose those two should walk out upon the sea, and sink, and sink,
and be lost to the world--you can suppose it?"

"I can suppose it, Mat," said his brother, wonderingly.

"Suppose they are walking out upon the sea, and that they are taking
this subject with them, and that it sinks with them, and is heard no
more. See" (and he waved his hand as the two figures disappeared),
"they are gone, and the subject is gone, and they are lost to us for
ever. And there is an end to them and to it. You understand me,
Nicholas?"

"I understand you, Mat."

"Very well. We will go in now, and you shall introduce me to your
wife."


Meanwhile, the two persons, whose shadows the brothers had noticed,
were pacing the shore. The tide was running out, and each receding
wave rippled in sympathy with the soft touches of melody which floated
from the brilliantly-lighted mansion. The music brought no pleasure to
the couple walking slowly upon the sands; they were too much engrossed
in their melancholy condition. The boy had been crying at some tale he
had told, and the girl's voice expressed much sympathy as she said--

"So poor Rough is dead!"

"Yes, he's dead," replied the boy. "I shall never see him agin. I hate
the sight of dawgs now. I was very fond of 'em before. But didn't you
say you wanted me to do somethin', Ally?"

"Wait a minute, Grif; I will tell you presently." Alice appeared to be
struggling with some powerful agitation which threatened to master
her, for she stopped, and placed her hand to her heart, as if to check
its beatings. "You see that house," she then said.

"Yes," Grif said; "I peeped in there a little while ago. They're very
jolly, all of 'em, Ally. There's lots of swells with their white
chokers, and lots of gals lookin' very sweet and nice."

"They are happier than we are, Grif."

"I should think they was--they'd be precious fools if they wasn't! I
got a squint at the kitchen--there's ducks, and geese, and turkeys,
and jellies painted all sorts of colours, and sugar cakes--such a
spread! I wish we had some of it here. They ought to be happy with
such lots to eat. I tell you what, Ally; if I thought I was agoin' to
be hung, I wouldn't mind it a bit if they'd put me down in that there
kitchen jist as it is now, for about three hours. I'd like to have
Little Peter with me, though--wouldn't we go it!" Grif's eyes
glistened at the bare anticipation.

"I want you to take a letter for me to that house. You don't mind?"

"Not a bit of it. I'll jist do anythin' as you tells me, Ally."

"You can't read."

"I can spell large letters on the walls. I never bothered about
nothin' else."

"Pay attention to what I say, and do exactly as I tell you," said
Alice, placing her hand on the boy's shoulder. Grif' s face assumed an
expression of close attention. Alice took a letter from her pocket,
and continued, "Go to the house, and ask if the gentleman to whom this
letter is addressed is within. If they say he is, tell them that the
letter is to be given to him at once--it is very important. Do not
drop it, Grif, or lose it. It contains my hope, my happiness, perhaps
my life. Be sure you give it to some one who will promise to deliver
it without delay."

She spoke in short broken gasps, and stayed her speech to recover her
breath.

"Don't cry, Ally," said Grif; "am I to arks to see the gentleman?"

"No. You can give the letter to any of the servants; then go away and
keep out of sight. If you see a gentleman speaking with me, do not
disturb us, but when he is gone, and I am alone, come to me, and we
will go home."

Her voice was very desolate as she spoke the last word. Grif gave a
nod of comprehension, and walked to the house, while the girl strained
her eyes thitherward in eager watchfulness. The night was changing
now; a low wail of wind came across the sea, striking a colder chill
of desolation to her heart. She shivered, and wrapped her shawl more
closely about her. But for this movement she might have been an image
of Sadness, so drear and lonely did she appear as she stood upon the
glistening sands.

Grif mused as he walked along; Alice's words had deeply impressed him.
He weighed the letter in his hand, and thought, "It contains her
happiness, perhaps her life; then the cove who gets it has got
somethin' to do with Ally. I wonder who he is: I'll have a good look
at him; I'll know him agin, _I_ bet, after I've seen him once." Thus
soliloquising, he reached the house, and, standing in the shade,
watched the people flitting about. They were all so beautifully
dressed that he felt ashamed of his rags; it was clearly, to his mind,
an act of presumption to speak to such well-dressed people. With an
instinctive exercise of good judgment, he resolved to ask one of the
maids to deliver the letter. A man-servant might hustle him away; a
girl would be more susceptible to pity. So, plucking up courage, he
walked boldly to the back-door, and, seeing a girl with a pretty face,
with a tray of custards in her hand, he approached her.

"Oh, dear!" exclaimed the girl, almost dropping the tray, as ragged
Grif emerged from the shade into the light. "What do you want? Go
away; I mustn't give you any."

Grif eyed the custards hungrily and longingly. Then he wrenched his
attention from the tempting glasses, and said, falsely, "I don't want
nothin', miss; only if you'll please to tell me if the gentleman's
name writ on this letter is in this house."

The girl looked at it, and said he was, she thought.

"Will you please give him the letter? It's very partic'ler, it is."

The girl took the letter, and said she would deliver it. Grif ducked
his head, and turned slowly away. But he cast a wistful glance over
his shoulder at the food for which he was longing. The kind-hearted
maid saw hunger in his face, and, catching up a half-devoured fowl,
ran after him. She looked round hurriedly, to see that she was not
observed, and saying, "Here, dirty boy!" thrust the food into his
eager hands, and ran back to the house as fast as her legs would carry
her. Grif, walking carefully in the shade, commenced at a wing; he was
dreadfully hungry, but in the midst of his enjoyment he stopped, and
thought of Rough, and wished the dog was there to eat the bones. The
tears ran down the boy's face as he thought, and he strolled on,
munching and crying. When he got to the front of the house, he saw the
servant girl delivering the letter. The gentleman went in the light to
read it, and Grif had an opportunity of seeing his face. "I shall know
_you_ agin," Grif thought. "You ain't much to look at, _you_ ain't.
He's goin' to Ally, and I'm not to bother 'em. All right; I'll watch
for all that."

During the whole of this time Alice had not stirred. She stood where
Grif had left her--her eyes turned towards the house. So fixed and
rapt was her attention that her very breathing could scarcely be
heard. As the form of the man came nearer and nearer to her, she
shrank, and then stretched forth her arms, as if in supplication; but
her feet seemed rooted to the spot. He came close to her, and said in
a hard, stern voice--

"Is it you who wish to speak with me?"

"Father!" she cried.

"Alice!"

The sadden surprise robbed his voice of its sternness. He recoiled a
step from her as she addressed him, and his face grew pale; but if the
next moment the moon had shone upon it, no trace of emotion would have
been there observable.

"So!" he said, coldly. "A trick! Another lesson you did not learn in
my house."

She looked down and twisted her fingers nervously, but did not reply.

"Why did you address a note to me in a strange hand?"

"I thought you would not have come if you recognised my writing," she
answered, sadly.

"What do you out at this time of night, and alone?"

"I am not alone, father," she said, glancing to where Grif was
crouching.

"What! Is your husband here?" he exclaimed with suppressed passion,
following her look.

"No, sir; it is but a poor lad. I was afraid to come out by myself."

"And your husband?"

"He does not know, sir, that I have come. If he had--"

"He would have kept you away; it would have been wise in him."

"Father, have you no pity?"

"What do you want of me?"

"Help and forgiveness."

"I will give you both. You can come to my home, and I will receive you
as my daughter."

"And Richard--my husband--"

"I will have nought to do with him. I give you once again your choice.
You are my daughter, or his wife. You cannot and shall not be both. As
this is the first, so it shall be the last time I will see you upon
the subject. You shall juggle me no more with false writing. The day
you ran away from your home, from me who was hoarding and saving for
you, I resolved to shut you from my heart as long as you were tied to
that scheming scapegrace. You know how constant I can be when I
resolve."

"Alas! I know."

"So I have resolved on this, and no power on earth can change me.
Richard Handfield came to my house a guest, and he played the knave.
He stopped in my house a servant, and he played the cheat. He took my
money, he ate my bread, he displayed his fine gentleman's airs and
accomplishments at my expense. And all this time he was stealing you
from me, and laughing in his sleeve at the trick he was playing
the wealthy squatter. He robbed me of the one object of my life. What!
shall a father toil and scheme for a lifetime, and set his heart upon
a thing, and be foiled in a day by a supercilious cheat! What does a
child owe a father? Obedience. You owed me that--but a small return
for all I had lavished upon you, but a small return for the fortune I
was amassing for you. Did I ask you for anything else? What was this
for a father to ask a daughter, that she should play the traitress to
him?"

"Father, have pity!"

"You have thwarted the scheme of my life. But what was my strongest
wish when it clashed with your girlish fancy? Listen. Do you know what
I have suffered in this colony? I have suffered privation, hunger,
misery, raging thirst, over and over again. I have walked, with
blistered feet, hundreds and hundreds of miles; I have laboured with
my axe till I was faint with fatigue; I have hidden from Blacks in
fear of my life; I have been left for dead upon the burning plains; I
have been lost in the bush until my whole being was one great despair!
Was this a pleasant life to lead, and did I deserve no recompense? Was
life so sweet to me, with those burdens, that I should enjoy it in the
then present? I had a child--a daughter. But for her I might have
grown into a wild man of the bush, and growled at the world and at
humanity. I had provocation enough, for I was poor. Men who knew me
when I first came to the colony, and when I had money, knew me not
when I lost it. I lost my wife, too; and I had but my daughter and my
poverty left. Then, when men turned their backs to me, and I felt the
bitterness of it--(I know now that they were right; poverty should be
shunned)--I bent all my mind and soul to the one desire--to make
money. A slice of good fortune fell to my share. I resolved to grow
rich, and to make my daughter rich. I toiled, I slaved, I schemed for
her. I had an object, and life was less bitter than before. I said, My
daughter shall be the envy of those who knew me when I was poor; she
shall marry riches, and grow into fashion and into power from the
force of her father's and her husband's money. She shall be called the
rich squatter's daughter, and her children shall be educated to rule
the State. I knew well then, and know well now, the power of gold; it
could do all this for me, and more. There is no aristocracy in this
colony but the aristocracy of wealth; money is the god all worship
here! It ennobles the mean, it dignifies the vulgar. It is all
powerful. See what it does for me. What fascinations, what graces,
what virtues, do I possess, that people should cringe to me and
adulate me? And as they idolize me, a man of money, for my wealth, so
I idolize my wealth for what it brings me."

As he spoke from the vile selfishness of his heart, did the wailing
wind, sighing mournfully around him, suggest to his mind no more
precious thing in the world than gold? Did the pale stars and the
restless waves teach no lesson that such an egotist might learn, and
be the better for the learning? Did they tell no story from which he
might have learned a noble creed, had he but listened to their
teaching? No! he felt not their influence. He lived only in himself.
What was Nature to him? She gave him nothing that he should be
grateful for; what he received, all others received. And so he beheld
the swelling waves, and heard the wailing wind, and looked up to the
glimmering stars with indifference. What was the glory of the heavens
to him or to his life? A handful of gold and a sightful of stars! Was
not the gold which bought him human worship, more precious to him than
all?

"Oh, father!" murmured Alice: "money is not everything."

"Money is everything," he replied; "everything to me. Can you undo,
with a word, the study of my life? It was but little I asked in return
for the future I was working out for you. The man I selected for you
had wealth, position. Even if you had failed (as you _have_ failed,
but in a different manner) in the duty you owed to me, I could not
have forced the man upon you; even although you knew it was the only
reward I coveted for my life's labour, and refused at the last moment
to give it to me, you might still have been the daughter of my heart,
as you are of my blood. But to fly from me to _him_--a penniless
adventurer, a shallow, brainless coxcomb!" The thought seemed to cool
his passion, and exclaiming, "Why do I waste my time here?" he made a
movement towards the house.

"Stop, for pity's sake," Alice cried, stretching forth her arms; "stop
and hear me."

"Speak on," he said, between his clenched teeth. There was no hope in
his voice; it was hard and bitter.

"I came to-night, sir," Alice said, humbly bowing her head, and
forcing back her tears, "to appeal to you for the last time. You
may send me away, unhappy and broken-hearted--indeed, I am that
already--but oh, sir! reflect before you do so, and let your better
feelings guide you. Ah, sir! are all your thoughts about yourself and
your money, and have you no thought of me? I do not know a parent's
feelings, but soon"--and here her voice faltered--"soon I may become a
mother--forgive me, sir, these tears--I try to conquer them, but they
are too strong for me." She paused a few moments, and then continued:
"What sympathy, sir, could you expect me, a simple girl, to have with
your aspirations? I knew them not, and if you had confided them to me,
I should not have understood them--"

"Have you come to tutor me, girl?" he asked, coldly.

"No, sir. If my distress and my misery have no weight with you, what
can my poor words do? My husband--forgive me--I must speak of him."

"Go on."

"My husband, to whose fate and lot I am linked for ever--for ever,"
she repeated firmly, "is willing to work for me, is contented to keep
me, poor and friendless as I am. But he needs help. Give it him; give
it me, and I will trouble you no more. I will be content, so that you
assist us to live."

"Your husband is a man; he can work like other men. Let him do so. He
shall not live upon my bounty. No man need starve in this land of
plenty. Let him work, if he be not too proud."

"He is not too proud, sir. He has tried to get work, but failed. Help
him in his endeavor--you can do so. You have power, influence. And
think, sir, that even if I would, I cannot undo the past."

"Would you, if you could?"

"For pity's sake, sir, do not ask me."

"Would you, if you could?" he repeated, relentlessly.

"Then, sir, as you insist," she returned, "I reply, as is my duty, No.
He is my husband, and my future life is linked with his."

"Have you done?"

"I have but little more to say, sir. I feel from your voice that there
is scant hope for me! But oh, sir, before you turn from me, think of
what my future may be if you remain inexorable. You, who have
undergone privations in your early life, know what a stern master is
necessity. As yet, my husband is saved from crime--"

"Is this your last argument?" he interrupted. "It has no weight with
me. You cannot more disgrace me than you have already done. Here let
this end. I _am_ inexorable."

His voice, stern and unforgiving, carried conviction with it.

"Heaven help me!" she exclaimed sadly. "Then we must trust to chance."
And she turned from him, weeping.

There was a pause, and then he said, "I will not leave you entirely
unsatisfied. It is money, I suppose, you want. Here are fifty pounds.
It is the last you will ever receive from me while he and you are
together. Good night."

She raised her arms imploringly, but he was making towards the house.
He saw not the entreating action, nor did he hear the low wailing sobs
which broke from her as he walked away. A sad contrast was her
drooping figure upon the lonely sands to the glad life that moved in
the merchant's house! A sad accompaniment were her sobs to the strains
of music and the sounds of light laughter with which they mingled! The
guests within were joyous, while she, who should have been his one
joy, stood desolate on the shore. But despite her misery there was
hope deep within her heart--hope of a happy future yet with the man
with whose lot hers was linked. Her father had cast her off; but love
remained--love strong and abiding. How great the contrast! A good
woman's love and a hard man's greed of gold!



                             CHAPTER VII.

                     GRIF PROMISES TO BE HONEST.


Hunger has many phases; but in every phase except its physical one it
is comparative. Thus, a person may be eagerly desirous, hungry, for
something which his neighbour has, but which his neighbour,
possessing, does not value and thinks of no regard. What is wanted is
a moral, equable dispensation; yet if by any possibility such could be
arranged, false weights would be sure to be introduced, and things
would be unequal as before. And so the world goes on hungering, and
one hungry class groans for that with which the belly of another
hungry class is filled. Every step in the ladder of life is thronged
with climbers ready to reach the next, and although some be twenty
rounds above others, they are as restlessly unhappy in their high
position, and as restlessly desirous of getting a foot higher, as
those who are so far beneath them. It is the way of the world. The
heaven is always above us, and we climb, and climb, and climb, and
never reach our hopes.

And yet some of our desires are very small. Ambition is various;
large-souled aspirations and the meanest of cravings come within its
scope. Casually, we admire the aspirations of a noble mind which looks
above and beyond the grovelling littleness of humanity, and strives to
reach a goal where dwell the nobler virtues, studded with the jewels
of their worth and goodness. Casually, we pass by, as scarcely worthy
of contempt, certainly not worthy of notice, the paltry desires for
common things which fill some creatures' souls. Nevertheless, the
aspiration which stretches itself towards the nobler virtues may be no
finer than the paltry desire which pines for common things. 'Tis ten
to one that the latter is more human; and what is human must be good,
notwithstanding what some preachers say about the corruption of flesh,
and the vanity of desire.

Ask Grif. How paltry, how mean is his ambition! Ask him, in such
language as he can understand, what it is he most desires, what it is
he most craves for? He will answer, in his own way, Sufficient of the
commonest food to eat in the day, and a shelter and blanket to cover
him in the night. Is it his fault that he strives no higher? His
hungry body cries out to him, and he responds to its prompting. He
does not openly rebel against his fate. He knows that _it is_, and,
without any concerted action of the mind to assist him to that
conclusion, he feels that he cannot alter it. He does not repine; he
only wonders sometimes that things are so. Of course, when he is
hungry he suffers; that he cannot help. But he suffers in silence, and
thereby shows that he has within him the qualities that would make a
hero. But still the fact remains that he aspires no higher; still the
fact remains that he is dead to the conscious exercise of the nobler
virtues. Spread them before him, if such were possible, and he would
not even wonder. But his eyes would light up, and all his intellectual
forces would be gratified, at the sight of a bone with a little meat
upon it. Such is Grif, a human waif living in the midst of a grand and
mighty civilisation.

Is it possible that this same civilisation, of which we comfortable
ones prate and vaunt, depraves as well as ennobles? The thought is
pertinent to the subject. For here is Grif (unquestionably depraved
and debased in the eyes of that civilisation which does nothing for
him, which absolutely turns its back upon him), a piece of raw
material out of which much good might be wrought, suffering
much unmerited suffering, and surrounded by an atmosphere of
actively-conscious vice. The law looks unkindly upon him; policemen
push him aside as if he were an interloper in the world; and
well-dressed people shrink from contact with him as he slouches by.
Civilisation presses upon him unkindly. He does not deserve it. There
is a better nature within him than he is called upon to exercise in
his intercourse with his enemy, the world. The chord of that better
nature has been touched by Alice, so kindly, so commiseratingly, that
every nerve in his frame quivers with a passionate longing to serve
her. He can reckon on the fingers of one hand the objects for which he
has any human affection. Alice he loves far beyond the others, for he
feels that she is different to them. He has seen that she is unselfish
and self-sacrificing; and he knows (though he could not express it in
so many words) that she is good from principle, and that she is pure
because it is her nature to be pure. He has heard her renounce ease
and comfort, and choose poverty and suffering, so that she might play
the good angel to the man whom she loves. And at the goodness of that
renunciation, at the holiness of it, Grif fell down and worshipped her
with all his soul. Then there was Milly: his love for her had no
adoration in it, but was born of pity, tenderness, and gratitude. He
would do much to serve Milly, for she had been very kind to him. Then
came Little Peter. Grif loved that other little waif because he was so
helpless, and because it was so sweet to have some one to cherish and
take care of. His love for Little Peter had in it something of the
love of a mother. He asked for no reward in the shape of gratitude. It
was sufficient for him that Peter was dependent upon him--was his to
protect. It is truly more blessed to give than to receive!

Counting, then, upon one hand the objects of his love, Grif could
mention Alice, Milly, and Little Peter, and still leave a finger
unprovided for. A short time since--only two days ago--the dog Rough
would have closed the list; but Rough was dead, and the finger might
be regarded as widowed. Yes, Rough was dead. Grif's faithful follower,
his dumb companion, his honest servant, was gone--poisoned, murdered,
meanly killed! Tears, born of rage and desolation, came into Grif's
eyes as he thought of the death and the manner of it. But the
murderer! Revengeful justice found strong expression when Grif swore
and swore again that he would be even with the villain who had
murdered his dog.

It was the second night after the burial, and Grif and Little Peter
were sitting upon the ground near the grave. Grif was mourning for his
lost friend; if Rough had been his brother he could not have mourned
with more genuine grief. The night was chilly, and the wind whistled
sharply about the rags in which the boys were clothed. But they were
too much engrossed in special cares and griefs to pay more attention
to the remorseless wind than was expressed by a cold shiver now and
then, and an involuntary huddling together of their limbs. "I wouldn't
care if Rough was alive," mused Grif. "If he'd only come when I
whistle!" And the next moment he absolutely whistled the old familiar
call, and looked down, almost expecting to feel Rough's cold nose
rubbing against his hand. Disappointed in this, he looked to Little
Peter for sympathy.

He got none. Little Peter's nature was not sympathetic, and Grif
obtained no response from Little Peter's eyes or tongue as he placed
his hand against the lad's cheek. How thin and pale was that poor
little face of poor Little Peter's! What weariness of the trouble of
living was expressed in the attitude of his body and in every line of
his features! As he sat, drooping, trembling, hollow-cheeked,
wistful-eyed, he looked like a shrunken old child-man with every drop
of healthful life-blood squeezed clean out of him.

Gazing at the drooping figure, Grif forgot his own grief, and saying
"Poor Little Peter!" in a tone of much pity, drew closer to the lad,
and sat motionless for many minutes. Then he rose.

"Come along, Peter," he said, "it's time we was off."

But Little Peter did not move.

"Asleep, Peter?" asked Grif.

A slight quivering of Little Peter's body was the only reply.

"Wake up, Peter!" persisted Grif, shaking him gently by the shoulder.

Still Little Peter made no response, but sat quiet, with head drooping
to his knees.

Grif knelt quickly upon the ground, and raised Peter's head. The large
eyes opened slowly and gazed vacantly at Grif, and a strong trembling
took possession of Peter. His limbs relaxed, and he would have fallen
upon his face to the earth had not Grif caught him in his arms. Where
he lay, trembling and shivering.

"He's took ill!" cried Grif, with a sudden apprehension. "They won't
take him in at the horspital! What shall I do?"

Grif, aware of the necessity of immediate action, lifted Little Peter
upon his shoulder. As he did so, and as Little Peter's head sank
forward upon Grif s breast, a small stone heart, hanging from a piece
of common string, fell from the little fellow's neck. Grif caught it
in his hand and held it. Ever since he had known Peter this little
stone heart had been round the boy's neck. He would have lost it long
ago, had it been of any value; but its worthlessness was its security.
So with the stone heart in his hand and Peter upon his shoulder, Grif
walked slowly back to the city. Now and then a wayfarer stopped and
looked after ragged Grif and his ragged burden. But Grif walked
steadily on, taking no notice of curiosity mongers. Once he was
stopped by a policeman, who questioned him.

"He's my brother," said Grif, telling the lie without the smallest
compunction, "and he's took ill. I'm carryin' of him home."

Carrying of him home! The words caused Grif to reflect and ask himself
where he _should_ carry Little Peter. The barrel? Clearly, that was
not a fit place for the sick lad. He knew what he would do. He would
take Peter to Milly's house. Grif's instincts were nearly always
right.

Soon he was in the city, and choosing the quietest streets, he made
his way to the quarter where Milly lived. There was a light in her
room. He walked slowly up the stairs, and knocked at the door. No
answer came. He knocked again, and listened. A sound of soft singing
reached his ears, and opening the door, he entered the room and stood
still.

Milly was at the further end of the room, kneeling by the side of a
bed on which lay a baby asleep. Her hands were clasped, and she was
smiling, and singing softly to herself, and looking at the face of her
baby, the while she gently swayed her body to and fro. He stood
wondering. "I never knowed she had a baby," he muttered inly, under
his breath.

Love and devotion were expressed in every curve of the girl's body.
The outline of her face, her hair hanging loosely down, the graceful
undulations of her figure, were beautiful to look at. She was singing
some simple words which might have been sung to her when she was a
sinless child, and the good influence of sweet remembrance was upon
her, and robed her with tenderness.

"Milly!" whispered Grif.

She turned quickly at the sound, and seeing Grif, cautioned him by
signs not to make a noise; and then, after placing her cheek
caressingly against her baby's, came towards him.

"What do you want, Grif?" she asked. "Who have you got there?"

"It's Little Peter," said Grif, placing the boy on the ground; "he's
took ill, and I don't know what to do."

Milly raised Peter's head to her lap, and bent over him.

"Poor Little Peter!" she said. "How white he is, and how thin! Perhaps
he's hungry."

"No," said Grif. "I know what's the matter with him. He caught cold
t'other night, when I took him with me to bury my dawg. It was rainin'
hard, and we both got soppin' wet. It didn't matter for me, but he was
always a pore little chap. I ought to have knowed better."

"To bury your dog!" repeated Milly. "Why, I saw him with you the night
before last."

"Yes, Milly, that was when you gave me that shillin'. Rough was all
right then. But he was pizened that night."

"Poisoned!"

"Yes," very mournfully.

"Who poisoned him?"

"The Tenderhearted Oysterman."

"The mean hound!"

"He heerd me say somethin' agin him when I was speakin' to you, Milly,
so he took it out of me by pizenin' the dawg. But I'll be even with
him!"

By this time Milly had undressed Little Peter, and placed him in the
bed by the side of her baby.

"There!" she said. "He'll be all right to-morrow. I'll make him some
gruel presently. He's got a bad cold, and wants keeping warm."

"You're a good sort, Milly," said Grif, gratefully. "I'd have carried
him to the horspital, but I didn't think they'd take him in."

"No; they wouldn't take him there without a ticket, and where could
you have got _that_ from?"

"Blest if I know!" exclaimed Grif. "Nobody would give _me_ a ticket, I
shouldn't think!" This remark was made by Grif in a tone sufficiently
indicative of his sense of his abasement.

"But I say, Milly," he continued, "I didn't know you had a baby. May I
look at him?"

"It's a little girl," said Milly, smiling, leading Grif towards the
bed, and turning down the coverlid so that he might get a peep of
baby's face. "Isn't she a beauty?"

Grif bent over the bed, and timidly put his hand upon baby's. The
little creature involuntarily grasped one of Grit's dirty fingers in
her dimpled fist, and held it fast.

"It's like a bit of wax," said Grif, contemplating with much
admiration the difference between baby's pretty hand and his own
coarse fingers. "Will she always be as nice, Milly?"

"You were like that once, Grif," Milly remarked.

"Was I, though?" he replied, reflectively; "I shouldn't have thought
it. How did I come like this I wonder?"

Here the baby opened her eyes--which had a very wide-awake look in
them, as if she had been shamming sleep--and stared at Grif,
seriously, as at some object really worth studying. To divert her
attention from a study so unworthy, Grif smiled at the baby, who, thus
encouraged, reflected back his smile with interest, and crowed into
the bargain. Whereat Milly caught her in her arms, and pressing her to
her breast, covered her face with kisses.

"How old is she, Milly?" asked Grif, regarding this proceeding with
honest pleasure.

"Ten weeks the day after to-morrow," replied Milly, who, as is usual
with young mothers, reckoned forward. "And now, Grif, if you will hold
her, I will make some gruel for Little Peter. Be careful. No; you
mustn't take her like that! Sit down, and I will put her in your lap."

So Grif squatted upon the ground, and Milly placed the child in his
lap. He experienced a strange feeling of pleasure at his novel
position. It was a new revelation to him, this child of Milly's. Milly
herself was so different. He had never seen her in so good a light as
now. Hitherto he had in his thoughts drawn a wide line between her and
Alice; a gulf that seemed impassable had divided them. Now the gulf
was bridged with human love and human tenderness. Alice was all good;
but was Milly all bad?

He looked at her as she was making the gruel. Tender thoughts
beautify; a mother's love refines. She was kneeling before the fire,
pausing in her occupation now and then to bestow a smile upon her
child. Once she rested her face in baby's neck, caressingly. Her hair
hung upon Grif's hand, and he touched it and marvelled at the contrast
between Milly of yesterday and Milly of to-day. Then he fell to
wondering more about Milly than he had ever wondered before. Had she a
father, like Alice, who was unkind to her? What was it that she saw in
Jim Pizey that made her cling to him? Why was it that everything
seemed to be wrong with those persons whom he loved? Rough had been
poisoned, Little Peter was ill, Milly was attached to a bad man, and
Alice--well, it was a puzzle, the whole of it! While he thus thought,
Milly had been giving Little Peter the gruel.

"Milly," Grif said, when she returned from the bed, "have you got a
mother and father?"

The girl turned a startled look upon him, and was about to make some
passionate reply, but suddenly checked herself.

"Don't ask me, Grif," she said, in a hard voice. "How is your lady?"

Her old spirit was coming upon her. Grif knew that she meant Alice by
"your lady," and he was hurt by the scornful ring of her voice. Seeing
that he was grieved, Milly said:

"Don't mind me, Grif; now I'm soft, and now I'm hard. I've got the
devil in me sometimes, and I can't keep him down. But I mustn't
think--I mustn't think--I mustn't think. Of course, I've got a mother
and father, and my mother and father's got a daughter they might be
proud of. Everybody used to tell me so. I had a pretty face, pretty
hands, pretty feet, pretty hair. I'm a pretty daughter altogether! Why
wasn't I ugly? Then I might have been good!"

She took the baby from Grif s arms, and pressed it to her bosom.

"If I knew how to be good," she said, in a softened voice, "I think I
would be. But I don't know how. If I was to go out of this house
to-night, I shouldn't know which way to turn to be good. I'd be sure
to turn wrong. I don't care!" And then she sang, recklessly, "I'm
happy, I'm careless, I'm good-natured and free; and I don't care a
single pin what the world thinks of me!"

"Don't, Milly! don't!" pleaded Grif, placing his hand upon hers, and
looking earnestly at her.

She took his hand convulsively, and put it to her baby's lips.

"That won't do baby any harm," she said, after a pause. "I wonder if
baby will grow up pretty, like me. Oh, I hope not, I hope not!"

"She's got eyes like your'n," said Grif, wishing to change her humour.

"Prettier than mine," Milly replied. "But if it wasn't that I should
go mad if I was to lose her, I wish she would die! It would be better
for her, but I think it would be worse for me. What's that in your
hand?"

It was Little Peter's stone heart, which Grif had held all the while.

"It's Little Peter's heart," he said.

"Of course it is; I remember it now. It belonged to his mother."

"Where is she?" asked Grif, eagerly, for this was the first time he
had heard of Little Peter's mother.

"She died two years ago in the hospital."

"Did you know her, Milly?"

"I went with a friend to see her when she was dying. She was a Welsh
woman. She put the heart round Little Peter's neck when we took him to
wish her good-bye, for the doctor said she would die before night."

"What did she die of, Milly?" The subject was full of interest to
Grif.

"Broken heart. Somebody played her false, as usual. I shan't die of a
broken heart--not I! Drink will be my death--the sooner the better!
Hush! There's Jim. Who else? The Tenderhearted Oysterman."

Grif jumped to his feet, trembling with passion.

"He mustn't see you. He'll do you a mischief. Perhaps he won't stop
long. Get under the bed-clothes, and pretend to be asleep. Quick! For
God's sake!"

She thrust him hurriedly into the bed, and had barely time to conceal
him and resume her position, before Jim and his companion entered.

Milly smiled at Jim, but neither he nor his companion took heed of
her. They seated themselves near the fire, and Milly sat upon the bed,
which was in the shadow of the room.

"We must have him," said the Tenderhearted Oysterman, apparently in
continuance of a conversation. "The old bloke always keeps a heap of
money in his safe at Highlay Station; and Dick Handfield knows every
nook and cranny of the place. I've heard him say so. He knows all the
secret drawers, too, I'll be bound, and where the keys are to be
found, and where the hiding places are. We must have him, Jim."

At the mention of Highlay Station, Grif pricked up his ears. That was
the Station which Alice had spoken of in their conversation a couple
of nights ago. But when, the next instant, the Tenderhearted Oysterman
uttered Richard Handfield's name, he started, and caught Milly's hand
excitedly. Milly pressed him down with quiet, warning action, and,
recalled to the necessity of being cautious, Grif lay still and
listened. Milly paid but little attention to the conversation. She did
not know anything of Highlay Station, nor that Alice was Richard
Handfield's wife, and it was no novelty to her to hear schemes of
robbery discussed by Jim and his associates.

"You talk," said Jim Pizey. "But I like to do."

"What do you mean by that?" asked the other.

"Not that you're not cool enough," continued Jim, "you're as good a
pal as I ever want to have, if you'd only stop that damned cant of not
hurting people." (The Tenderhearted Oysterman gave a quiet chuckle.)
"I know well enough that you don't mean it."

"Now Jim," expostulated the Oysterman, and yet evidently regarding his
comrade's words as a compliment. "It's a good job there's no one by to
hear you take away my character."

"But others don't know you as well as I do, and there's plenty of them
would think you were chicken-hearted."

"Do I look like it?" asked the Tenderhearted Oysterman in a tone of
villanous humility.

"No, you don't. But you'd make believe that you was. If I didn't know
you for one who would stick at nothing--nothing, not even short of--"

"Never mind what," interrupted the Oysterman, looking at Milly, who
was employed nursing her baby, and did not appear to be taking heed of
what was said.

"If I didn't know you for that, then, I'd have nothing to do with you,
for your infernal cant sickens me."

There was a pause in the conversation. Grif still held Milly's hand
hard. He felt there was something coming which would affect Alice, and
every word that was being uttered stamped itself upon his mind.

"Dick Handfield we must have, and Dick Handfield we will have,"
resumed Jim. "If we can't have him one way, we will another. I've got
a hook in him already, and if he hangs on and off as he's been doing,
the white-livered skunk! the last two weeks, he'll get a dose that'll
pretty well settle him."

"What sort of a dose, Jim?"

"I bought a watch of him this morning--here it is. I gave him five
pounds for it. It's a pretty little thing. Just the thing for Milly!
Milly."

"Yes, Jim," answered Milly, disengaging her hand from Grif's grasp,
and walking towards Jim, for fear he should come to the bed, and
discover Grif.

"Here's a watch I've bought for you. It belonged to a lady."

"Oh, what a beauty!" cried Milly, her eyes sparkling with eager
delight as she looked at the pretty bauble.

"Well, it's yours now, my girl. I promised you should have one when
the young 'un came."

"Thank you, Jim," said Milly, returning to the bed, with the present
in her hand.

"He's just like me, Milly," said the Tenderhearted Oysterman; "he's as
soft as a piece of putty. But I can't see how that watch is a dose,
Jim."

"I gave Dick Handfield five pounds for that watch," said Jim, "and I
paid him for it with a forged note."

At these words, Milly, who had been looking at the watch, and
examining it with the pleasure of a child when it receives a new toy,
dropped it upon the bed, with a heavy sigh.

"Then I took him to Old Flick's, and Old Flick gave him five
sovereigns for the note. There was a man in the store when Dick
Handfield changed the note, and Old Flick, who knew all about the lay,
asked Dick Handfield all sorts of questions and regularly confused
him. That's a pretty good dose for him, I think. I shall ask him
to-morrow for the last time to join us. If he refuses, Old Flick shall
give him in charge for passing a forged note, and the man who was in
the store at the time will be the witness. Handfield will be glad
enough to join us when he finds he's in the web. He'd sooner go up the
country with us than go to quod--if it was only for the sake of that
woman of his, that white-faced piece of virtue he calls his wife."

"Alice her name is," said the Tenderhearted Oysterman, sneeringly.
"She's as much his wife as I am."

"It's a lie, Milly, a lie!" whispered Grif, in an agony of rage and
despair at what he had heard. "She _is_ his wife!" Oh, if he could get
away from the room to tell Alice of the danger which surrounded her
husband! He dug his nails in his hand, and his faithful heart beat
furiously.

Milly placed her hand upon his lips.

"You're a liar, Oysterman!" she said, quietly. "The girl _is_ his
wife."

Grif took Milly's hand, and kissed it again and again for the
vindication.

The Tenderhearted Oysterman turned sharply upon Milly, and was about
to answer her when Jim Pizey said,--

"Milly's right. The girl is his wife. You don't know everything,
Oysterman. But now I'll tell you that that girl is the daughter of Old
Nuttall, the rich squatter of Highlay Station. Dick Handfield was
living on the Station for a goodish time--that's how he came to know
all about it. The girl fell in love with him, and they ran away and
got married."

"And a pretty nice thing she made of it!" sneered the Oysterman. "I
hate these milk-sop women!"

"I wonder what sort of a woman you'd ever be fond of, Oysterman!" said
Milly, with bitter sarcasm. "I wonder if _you'd_ ever get a woman to
love you, and think you a model of anything but what's mean!"

"Serve you right, Oysterman," said Jim, laughing. "Never you speak
against women when a woman is by."

The Tenderhearted Oysterman had turned white in the face when Milly
spoke.

"You're a nice sort of woman, _you_ are," he exclaimed, with a snarl.
"I'd never want _you_ to love me and think me a model."

"A good job for you," she exclaimed. "I pity the woman you'd take a
fancy to, or the man either, for that matter. If I was Jim, I'd pitch
you downstairs."

"Come, come, Milly," said Jim, "we've had enough of that."

"No, we haven't," cried Milly, who was thoroughly roused. "You're a
man, you are. You're bad enough, God knows! but there _is_ something
of a man in you. But that cur!" She placed her baby on the bed, and
advanced a step towards the men, and pointed to the Oysterman. "That
cur!" she repeated in a tone of such contempt that the Oysterman's
blood boiled with fury. "That kicker of women and poisoner of dogs!
What do you think he did, the night before last, Jim? He crawled to
where poor little Grif was sleeping, and gave a piece of poisoned meat
to Grif's dog. He did, the mean hound! That was a nice manly thing to
do, wasn't it!"

"Come along, Oysterman," said Jim Pizey, half angry and half amused,
taking his comrade by the arm. "It's no use answering her. She talks
to me sometimes like that. Come along, and have a drink."

And by sheer strength he forced the Oysterman out of the room.

"That's done me good," said Milly, when the men were gone, taking her
baby to the fire.

Grif started to his feet.

"Thank you, Milly," he said. "I'll tell Ally how you stood up for
her."

"Don't you do anything of the sort," said Milly, who, now her passion
was over, was crying. "It isn't fit that my name should be mentioned
to her. She's a good woman."

"And so are you, Milly," said Grif, inwardly struggling with his
doubts.

"I'm not, nor ever shall be. That watch" (pointing to it) "was hers, I
suppose."

"I s'pose so. I never sor it."

Milly took it in her hand and opened the case.

"Here's her name," she said. "Alice Handfield. And here's a motto:
Hope, Faith, and Love. And she gave it back to her husband, because
they were hard up, perhaps, and Jim bought it of him with a forged
note. Oh, my God! What a web of wickedness and goodness!"

"I must go" cried Grif, "I must go and tell them--I must go and put
Ally up to it."

"Up to what?" exclaimed Milly, a light breaking upon her. "Up to the
forged note! You'll go and tell her that you heard Jim say he paid for
the watch with a forged note? And her husband 'll have Jim took up,
and you'll be witness against him!" She glided swiftly to the door,
and turning the key, put it in her pocket.

"What do you do that for?" asked Grif. "I _must_ go, Milly. I'll break
open the door."

"No, you won't," said Milly, taking fast hold of him. "You shan't get
Jim into trouble. He's been kind to me, though he is a bad man, and
you shan't peach upon him."

"Let me go, Milly," cried Grif, gently struggling.

"You don't go till Jim comes in," she said, still retaining her hold
of him, "and then--good God!" she cried, in a voice of despair and
horror. "Then, he'll kill you!"

The conflict of thought was too much for her. She relaxed her hold,
and Grif flew to the door, and broke the frail lock. Then he looked
back. Milly had fallen to the floor, and was sobbing convulsively. Her
baby was lying by her side.

Grif went to her and raised her.

"Milly," he said, "don't take on so. I won't hurt you or Jim. But I
must be true to Ally. If I couldn't I'd go and drown myself. I
couldn't live, and not be true to her. She said I was her only friend,
and I swore that I'd be so till I die! And I will be, till I die--and
I'd like to die for her, for she's a good woman, Milly!"

"She is--she is," groaned Milly; "and I'm a bad and wicked one."

"You're not, Milly, you're not," said Grif, emphatically. "You're
good, but another sort of good! See what you've done for Little Peter
to-night," and he kissed her hand; "see what you've done for me many
and many a time; and see how you stood up for Ally jist now, although
every word you said was agin yourself!" he kissed her hand again. "You
can't be bad and wicked! And I won't hurt you, and I won't hurt Jim,
because of you. I won't, you may believe me! I'll tell Ally that her
husband must go away to-night. He was agoin' away--I heerd him say
so--and perhaps he's gone already. I won't tell her about the forged
note. I'll say that I heerd a plot, and I won't tell her what it is.
She'll believe me, I know she will. And so I shall do her good, and I
shan't do you any harm!"

Grif spoke earnestly, for as his words brought to his mind the
remembrance of Milly' s unselfish kindness, the conviction that it
would be wicked to harm her or wound her feelings, grew stronger and
stronger.

"God bless you!" said Milly.

Truly, Grif was not entirely unhappy or forsaken. The blessing, even
from Milly, fell upon his heart like dew upon a parched field.

"Ah, if you sor Ally!" Grif continued. "If you knew her! You wouldn't
wonder at me then for sayin' I'd like to die for her! Why, do you know
what I've heerd her do? I've heerd her refuse to go where she'd have
everything she could set her heart upon. I've heerd her refuse it
because it wouldn't be right, although lots of women would think it
was, and because she means to keep good if she dies for it! She'd make
you good, Milly!"

Milly looked at him and laughed hysterically.

"Make me good!" she exclaimed, half-defiantly. "She couldn't, she
couldn't! It's too late for that?" Then, as Grif rose to go, she said,
"You won't say anything about the forged note?"

"No, Milly. Take care of poor Little Peter. If ever I can do you a
good turn, I'll do it--you mind if I don't!"

He went to the bed where little Peter was sleeping. The lad was lying
on his side, hot and flushed, with his lips partly open, as if thought
were struggling to find expression there. Grif placed his hand
tenderly upon Peter's cheek, and then went out of the house.

When he arrived at Alice's lodging he crept up the stairs, and with a
settled purpose, which gave intensity to his face, opened the door.
Husband and wife were standing, looking into each other's eyes. Tender
words had evidently been exchanged, for they stood hand in hand, he
with the dawn of a good and strong purpose upon his face, she
encouraging him with hopeful, loving speech. A blanket, rolled up,
gold-digger fashion, was upon the ground. Grif walked swiftly towards
them and asked abruptly--

"Are you goin' away to-night?"

There was so much earnestness in his manner, that, with startled
looks, they asked for his meaning.

"I can't tell you," he said, in a rapid, sharp tone; "I'm under a
promise not to tell. But you must go away to-night."

"We were thinking just now, Grif," said Alice, "whether it would not
be better for him to go in the morning."

"Make up your mind at once," said Grif, looking round as if he were
fearful of being overheard, "that it won't do to wait here any longer.
I've overheerd somethin', Ally, and I'm bound down not to tell. If you
stop till to-morrow, somethin' dreadful 'll happen."

"Richard, you must go," said Alice, with gathering alarm, for Grif's
impressiveness was filling her with fearful forebodings. "You must go,
and at once."

"But why?" asked Richard, fretfully, and regarding Grif as if he were
anything but a friend. "Why must I go? Why can't he tell what he
knows? What difference will a few hours make?"

"All the difference," said Grif; "in a few hours perhaps you won't be
able to go at all, unless--"

"Unless--" repeated Alice, eagerly.

"Unless it's in company with Jim Pizey and the Tenderhearted
Oysterman. They've set a trap for you that you won't be able to get
out of, if you refuse to join 'em. Don't ask me again to tell you what
I've overheerd, for I can't I mustn't I darn't! I've run all the way
here to tell you that there's more and more danger every minute you
stop. It'll be all the better for you to go away in the dark."

Weak natures like Richard Handfield's are easily impressed, and more
easily impressed with fear, which springs from selfishness, than with
any other feeling. Almost without knowing what he was doing, Richard
proceeded to sling the blanket round his shoulders. Alice's eager
fingers assisted him.

"Grif is right, dearest," she said; "I'm sure he is. His looks are
against him, but he is a faithful friend." Grif nodded his head, and
his eyes brightened. "After all, it is but a few hours more. They
would soon be past. Bless you, darling I bless you, Richard!" She
kissed him again and again, and clung to him, and broke away from him,
choosing rather to endure the pain springing from repressed
tenderness, than do aught, in word or deed, to weaken him in his
purpose.

"Yes, I will go," he said, in a decided tone, and having made up his
mind, he took Alice in his arms and held her to him. While thus they
clung together, she whispered,--

"Be strong and firm, Richard dear!"

"I will, dearest and best," he said, as with a passionate
love-clinging he held the good and faithful woman to his breast.

"If the thought that I am true to you, darling--that I am yours in
life, and afterwards--that I would share a crust with you and be happy
if you were so--if that thought will strengthen and comfort you,
Richard, take it with you, keep it in your mind, for, oh! it is true,
my darling, it is true!"

"I know it, Alice, I know it."

"I shall bless you and pray for you every day. Until we are together
again, my eyes can never close without thinking of you. See, Richard,
I am not crying." She put his hand to her eyes, which were hot but
tearless. "I can send you away with gladness, for it is the beginning
of a better time. Though I feel that it is hard to part with you, I
can say cheerfully, Go, my dear, for I know that your going is for the
good of both of us. Write to me often, and tell me how and where to
write to you. Good bye, good bye--Heaven bless and preserve you!"

And she broke from him, and then, meeting his eyes, a look of electric
love brought them together again, and once more their arms were twined
about each other's neck. Then she glided from his embrace, and sank
upon the stool. Richard walked slowly out of the room, his heart
filled with love and tenderness, his eyes seeking the ground. It was
bitter to part. Even in the agony of separation he found time to
murmur at the hardness of his lot which tore him away from the woman
who was to him as a saint. As he walked down the stairs, his foot
kicked against something. He stooped and picked it up. A stone heart!
Indeed, Little Peter's stone heart which Grif had dropped without
knowing it. Richard's nature was superstitious. The shape of the stone
was comforting to him. A heart! It was a good omen. He put it
carefully in his pocket, and was about to close the street door when
an uncontrollable impulse urged him to look again upon Alice's face.
He ran up the stairs into the room. Alice was still sitting upon the
stool, her head and arms were resting upon the table; and she was
convulsed with outward evidences of a grief she had no longer any
motive to conceal.

He spake no word, but kneeling before her, bowed his head in her lap,
as a child might have done. She looked at him through her tears, and
placed her hands upon his head: in that action were blended the
tenderness of a mother to her child and a wife to her husband. He
raised his lips to hers; they kissed once more, solemnly, and he went
out of the house with her tears upon his face. As he walked along the
streets towards the country where was hidden the gold which had
tempted thousands to break up happy homes and sever fond ties of
affection, the picture of Alice mourning for him, and Grif quiet and
sad in the background, was very vivid to his mind. No forewarning of
the manner of their next meeting was upon him; if it had been, he
would have taken Grif's hand, and kissed it humbly, penitently,
instead of parting from him without a farewell nod.


Left alone with Alice, Grif, with a delicacy of feeling in keeping
with his general character, was about to retire, when Alice, in a
voice broken by emotion, said,--

"Do not go for a minute or two, Grif. I want to speak to you."

Grif gave a nod of acquiescence, and sat upon the floor, patiently.

Presently Alice dried her eyes and beckoned him to come closer to her.

"Grif," she said, in a sweet voice. "Why are you not honest?"

Now, Grif knew perfectly well the meaning of honesty--that is to say,
he knew the meaning of the word literally. To be honest, one must not
take what belongs to other people. Well, he was not honest; he had
often taken what did not belong to him. But he was not a systematic
thief; what he had stolen he had stolen from necessity. And he had
never stolen anything but food, and then only when hunger sharply
pressed him. The thought flew swiftly to his mind that if he had not
taken food when he wanted it, he must have starved. Was that right?
No, he was sure it was not. Little as he knew about it, he was sure he
was not sent into the world to starve. But he must have starved if he
had not taken what belonged to other people! Clearly, then, it was not
wrong to steal. Grif's mind was essentially logical, as may be seen
from the process of thought which occupied it directly after Alice
asked him the question. And yet if he were right, Alice was wrong.
Could she be wrong? Could the woman who was to him the perfection of
women, the embodiment of all that was pure and noble--could she be
wrong? Here came the doubt whether it would not have been the proper
thing to have starved, and not stolen. "There'd have been an end of
it, at all events," he muttered to himself, when his musings reached
this point. After which he grew perplexed, and the logical sequence of
his thoughts became entangled. He did not blame Alice for asking the
question; but, for all that, he bit his lip and looked imploringly at
her.

"You have been so good a friend to me and Richard," she said, "that it
pains me to see you as you are. I would like to see you better, for
your sake and for mine, Grif."

"I never know'd how to be honest, Ally," he said. Then he thought of
Milly's words to him that night. "If I knew how to be good," she had
said, "I think I would be. But I don't know how." That was just the
case with him. He did not know how to be honest. And yet he had told
Milly that Alice could make her good. Perhaps Alice could make him
honest. Not that he cared particularly about being honest, but he
would like to please Alice. "I don't want not to be honest," he said;
"all I wants is my grub and a blanket."

"And those, Grif," she said, gently, yet firmly, "you can earn if you
like."

"Can I? I'd like to know how, Ally?"

"You must work for them."

"Yes, that's all right. I'm willin' enough to work. I'd go out this
minute to work, if I had it to do. But I couldn't get no work--a pore
beggar like me! I don't know nothin', that's one thing. And then, if I
get a 'orse to mind, the peelers take it from me and tell me to cut
off. I tried to git papers to sell, and I did one day; but some of the
other boys told the paper man I was a thief, and when I went for more
papers the next mornin' he wouldn't give 'em to me. I've got a
precious bad character, Ally, there's no mistake about that; and I've
been to quod a good many times. I can't look a peeler in the face,
upon my soul I can't!"

Grif did not make this last remark in a humorous manner; he made it
reflectively. It really was a fact, and he stated it seriously.

But Alice was not convinced.

"You're willing to work," she said.

"Yes, I'm willin' enough."

"Every one can get work if he likes, and if he tries."

Grif looked dubious. His knowledge of the world was superior to hers.
He had battled with it and fought with it since he was a baby. "She
don't know what a bad lot we are," he thought. But he was sincerely
desirous to please her.

"What do you want me to do, Ally?"

"I want you to give me a promise to be honest, Grif," she said,
earnestly.

"I'll do it," he replied, without a moment's hesitation. And then he
added seriously, for he felt he was undertaking a great
responsibility, "I'll be honest, Ally, whatever comes of it."

"And if ever you want anything to eat and can't earn it, Grif, you
will come to me."

"Yes, I'll come to you, Ally," he said, almost crying, for he knew how
poor she was.

"Suppose now, to-morrow morning you go into all the shops and ask if
they want an errand boy. That does not require any learning, Grif."

"No, I could do that all right; I can run fast, too. But you'll see,
Ally; it'll be no go."

"You'll try, Grif, will you not?"

"I'll try, Ally."

"This is the last night I shall be here. I am going to other lodgings
to-morrow, and shall remain there until my husband writes for me.
Perhaps he will write for me to join him on the diggings; if he does,
and you fail in getting work, you shall come with me, Grif."

He stood before her, mute and grateful. She wrote an address on a
piece of paper. "This is where I am going to live," she said, giving
it to him. He took it, and seeing that she was weary, bade her good
night.

"Good night, Grif, my good boy. I am very grateful for the service you
have done us this night."

"You've got no call to be grateful to me, Ally," said Grif. "Only let
me be your friend, as you said I was, and I don't want no more."

Outside the door, Grif considered where he should sleep. He did not
care to go to the barrel, for it would be so lonely there without
Little Peter. It had been Grif's chronic condition, before he took
possession of the barrel, never to know in the morning where he was
going to sleep at night. It all depended upon where he found himself
when he made up his mind to retire to rest. Knowing there was a cellar
to the house, he groped his way down to it.

"I wish I had a match," he muttered, when he was at the bottom of the
stairs. "There was a empty packin'-case somewhere about; I remember
seein' it. Oh, here it is; it's hardly long enough, but I can double
myself up;" thus soliloquising, he crept into it. "Now then," he said,
as he lifted the cover of the packing-case on the top, popping his
head down quickly to avoid a bump; "that's warm and comfortable, that
is. It'd be warmer, though, if I had Rough here, or Little Peter.
Wouldn't it be jolly! I'm honest now," he thought, recurring to his
promise, as he closed his eyes. "I'm honest now, that's what I am. I
ain't a-goin' to crib no more pies or trotters. It's a rum go, and no
mistake!"

And Grif fell asleep, and dreamt that all the pies and trotters he had
pilfered were transformed into little hobgoblins, and were holding a
jubilee because he had turned honest!



                            CHAPTER VIII.

             GRIF IS SET UP IN LIFE AS A MORAL SHOEBLACK.


Grif, although but a poor and humble member of the human family, was
as gregariously inclined as the rest of his species, and loved, when
opportunity offered, to associate with his fellows. The circumstance
of birth had placed him upon the lowest rang of the social ladder,
and, being grovelling by nature, he had no thought of striving
upwards, and was always prowling about, like a hungry dog searching
for a bone. Being gregariously inclined, he was to be depended upon as
an item in a mob. The object of a gathering of people was not a thing
to be considered--politics, religion, amusement, were all one to him.
If he but chanced to come across a throng, he added one more to the
number, from sheer force of habit. Thus he was a passive auditor of
street preachers of every denomination, and being in the habit of
standing quite still, with his mouth open and his hands in his
pockets, or where his pockets ought to be, he grew to be looked upon
as a godsend by the orators, who spoke at him, and scoffed at him, and
humbled him, and hurled anathemas at his head, as representing a class
entirely devoid of godliness. They twisted his moral nature, and
picked at it, and pulled it to pieces, and grew eloquent upon it. They
said--Look at his rags, look at his dirt, look at the ignorance
written on his countenance. They told him to repent if he wished to be
saved from damnation; and they prayed for him and wept for him so
earnestly that sometimes he experienced a dull wonder that the earth
did not open and swallow him, he felt so utterly and thoroughly bad.
To the political orators who were in the habit of "stumping-it" in the
Market-square he was not of so much importance. "The People" in the
aggregate was what the stump politicians gnashed their teeth at and
wept over; and it was remarkable to observe with what complacency the
People listened to these bemoanings. At the period during which Grif
played his insignificant part in the history of the gold-colony,
working-men-politicians were in great force, and night after night the
Market-square would be thronged with an auditory not unwilling to be
amused by listening to the outpourings of half-crazy or wholly-knavish
demagogues, who had either gone mad over "the people's wrongs," or
were working to get into the parliament, where they could make
"pickings" for themselves. Many a red-hot radical who could not get an
audience in Great Britain, and who had emigrated to what he thought
was to be the "people's paradise" here was listened to, and laughed
at, and applauded, and--did no harm after all. Grif did not understand
what it all meant. He heard a great deal about the ground-down people,
the crushed people, the poor starving people, upon whose substance the
oligarchs were fattening; but all he could make out was that things
were wrong altogether, a conclusion which precisely tallied with his
own experience. But he, for one, bore his lot uncomplainingly, and
with an unconscious exercise of philosophy, walked in the gutters (not
feeling himself good enough to indulge in the pavement) without a
murmur. Grif did not object to gutters; he had formed their
acquaintance in his earliest infancy, and time and association had
almost endeared them to him. Everything in the world is comparative.
Pleasure, pain, success, disappointment, act in different ways upon
different people: the effect depends upon constitution and education.
So, dirt and cleanliness are differently regarded by different classes
of society. To a well-regulated mind the spectacle of Grif walking in
a narrow street, and picking his steps carefully along the gutter,
would have caused a sensation of wondering disgust; and a pair of
well-polished Wellington boots might naturally have objected to come
into contact with the dirty broken bluchers in which Grif's feet
slip-slopped constantly. But, in the eyes of Grif, dirty boots were no
disgrace; he felt not the shame of them. From the moment he came into
possession of a second-hand pair (he had never known the respectable
bliss of a new tight-fitting boot, pressing on corn or bunion), they
were dragged down to his own level, and forfeited their position in
society. They may have been occasionally scraped, but they were never
polished; and so they lost their respectability, and became depraved
and degraded, and their seams and soles were eaten into with mud and
dirt, until they gave up the ghost in the boot world, and trod the
earth no more.

It might be gathered from Grif's mutterings, as he walked along the
streets the day after he had given Alice the promise to be honest,
that his mind was disturbed. "She's right, o' course she is," he said,
"I know that well enough; but what was I to do? I know it'll be no go
my tryin'. He must be a precious green cove who'd have anythin' to do
with me!" and he looked down upon his boots, not with disgust, but
with distrust, and stepped out of the gutter on to the pavement. "I
never wanted to steal; I only wanted my grub and a blanket. If any
swell'd have given 'em to me, it'd have been all right. But they ain't
a bit of use to any one, ain't the swells. I've got to try to got a
billet as a errand boy. All right. It ain't a bit of good, I know.
Every one on 'em knows what sort of a cove I am. But I'll try, at all
events. I promised her I would, and I ain't agoin' to deceive her!"

And thus it fell out that Grif had issued from his last night's bed,
the packing-case, with the intention, for the first time in his life,
of endeavouring to obtain an honest livelihood.

But Grif did not seem destined to be successful. He walked into scores
of shops and places of business with the timid yet half defiant
inquiry, "Do you want a errand boy?" and was sometimes roughly, often
ignominiously, turned out. Scarcely from one of the storekeepers did
he obtain a kind word, and it was not in his favour that many of them
knew him, and had been in the habit of seeing him prowl about the
Melbourne streets. He was not a savoury-looking boy, and did not bear
upon his outward appearance any recommendation to the situation he was
soliciting. His boots were muddy, his clothes were ragged, his skin
was dirty, his hair was matted. He did not add another word to the
query, "Do you want a errand boy?" and he did not at all take it in
bad part that he was treated with contumely. Indeed, if such a state
of mind can be conceived, he was in a sort of measure exultant at each
rebuff. "I told her so," he muttered to himself, triumphantly; "who'd
have anything to do with a beggar like me? But I promised her I'd try,
and I ain't agoin' to deceive her." Two or three times he was surlily
spoken to by the policemen, and on each occasion he slunk off without
a murmur, not without a dim consciousness that he was absolutely
compromising his character by attempting to obtain an honest
livelihood. Readers who are not acquainted with colonial life, must
not suppose that the police, or that other "institutions," differ in
any essential in the colonies from those of the older countries. The
colonies are certainly new, but they do not commence their career at
the year One, but at the year Eighteen Hundred and Odd. There is just
about the same comparative amount of vice and virtue, goodness and
wickedness, ruffianism and kind-heartedness, as is to be met with in
any other part of the world. Those who say otherwise, and cause others
to think otherwise, are in the wrong. There are in the colonies, just
as much average unkindness and uncharitableness, just as much charity
and benevolence, just as much ignorance, just as noble-mindedness, as
can be found amongst of human creatures anywhere. It is true that men
get into false positions oftener than in older countries, but that is
scarcely to be wondered at in new colonies where people of all classes
are thrown indiscriminately together, and have not had time to settle
into their proper positions. Those readers will therefore please not
to wonder that Grif should be looked upon in precisely the some light
as he would be looked upon if he were prowling about London streets.
To the Melbourne constable, he was just what a ragged pilfering boy
would be to London constable. It did not much affect him. He was
accustomed to be buffeted, and cuffed, and maltreated. The world had
given him nothing but hard knocks since his birth, and he took them
without murmuring. He looked upon it quite as a matter of course when
the conservators of public peace spoke harshly to him. But he had a
promise to perform; and he resolved to perform it conscientiously. So
it happened that he stood at the door of the great place of business
of Mr. Zachariah Blemish, with the intention of asking for the
situation of an errand boy. The green baize folding doors somewhat
daunted him; but hesitating for one moment only, he pushed them open
and entered. It chanced that, exactly upon his entrance, Zachariah
Blemish came out of his own particular private room for the purpose of
putting a question to one of his clerks, and that the great Blemish
and the small Grif stood face to face. It was a marvellous contrast!
The great Blemish, sleek and shining; the small Grif, rough and muddy:
the great Blemish clean and polished, smooth-shaved and glossy; the
small Grif, dirty and ragged, with the incipient stubble of manhood
upon his chin and cheeks. For nature is impartial in her supply of
beard and whiskers. Money will not buy them, nor will grease produce
them, though it be puffed and perfumed.

The rich, great Blemish, then, looked down upon the poor little Grif.
For a moment, the great man's breath was taken away at the sight. In
his counting-house, sanctified by the visits of Members of Parliament,
of Ministers, and of merchants of the highest standing--in sight of
his books, wherein were daily entered records of transactions
amounting to thousands of pounds--the appearance of a ragged boy, and
such a ragged boy, was, to speak of it in the mildest terms, an
anomaly.

"What do you want here?" asked Blemish.

"Do you want a errand boy?" asked Grif, in return.

"A what?" inquired Blemish, sharply.

"A errand boy," replied Grif, calmly.

At this juncture, a policeman, who had watched Grif enter the office,
and who was sycophantishly disposed to protect the interests of wealth
and position, popped his head in at the door, and touching his hat,
begged Mr. Blemish's pardon, but the boy was a thief, and he thought
he was up to no good.

"Umph!" said Mr. Blemish. "He looks like it. But thank you,
policeman," this with a stately affability, "I do not think you will
be wanted."

Whereupon the policeman touched his hat again, and vanished,
determining, however, to keep an eye upon Grif, and find out what he
was up to.

"Come this way," said Mr. Blemish to Grif, who, considerably
astonished that he had not been given into custody, followed the great
man into his private room. There he found himself in the presence of
two other gentlemen, Mr. Matthew Nuttall, and Mr. David Dibbs. Mr.
Nuttall was sitting at a table, writing, and his face was hidden from
Grif. "Now, then," said Mr. Blemish, when Grif had disposed himself
before the great merchant like a criminal; "what do you mean by coming
into my place of business?"

"I wants a sitiwation as a errand boy," immediately replied Grif.

"The policeman says you are a thief," interrogated Mr. Blemish; "what
do you say to that?"

"Nothin'," replied Grif, shortly.

"You _are_ a thief, then?"

"No, I ain't," said Grif: "I'm honest, now," and he blushed with shame
as he made the confession.

"Oh, you are honest now," Mr. Blemish observed, with a slight dash of
sarcasm. "Since when has that occurred?"

"Since this mornin'; this is my first day at it."

Grif's candid statement appeared to perplex the great merchant. He
paused a little before he said,--

"You _were_ a thief, then?"

"When I couldn't get nothin' to eat for nothin', I took it," returned
Grif, uncompromisingly; "I wasn't a-goin' to starve."

"Starve!" exclaimed Mr. Blemish, lifting up his hands in pious
wonderment. "Starve! In this land of plenty!"

"It ain't a land of plenty to me; I wish it was."

"Really," observed Mr. Blemish, to surrounding space, "the unblushing
manner in which such ragamuffins as this give the lie to political
economists is positively frightful. Do you believe in statistics,
boy?"

"Not as I knows on," said Grif.

"Did you expect a situation here?" inquired Mr. Blemish, looking down
upon the lad, as if wondering what business he had in the world.

"No."

"Why did you come, then?"

"I promised her to try, though I told her it wasn't a bit o' good."

"Who is 'her'?" inquired Mr. Matthew Nuttall, turning suddenly round,
and facing Grif.

Grif gave a great start, and threw a sudden sharp look at the
questioner's face. He knew him at once. The likeness was
unmistakeable. Even in his deep voice there was a ring of Alice's
sweeter tones. If anything could have shaken Grif, it was the sight of
that stern face, and the knowledge that the man before him could make
Alice happy if he chose. Eager words rushed to Grif's lips, but he
dared not give them utterance. What good could a ragamuffin like him
do? He had best hold his tongue, or he would make matters worse.

"Who is 'her'?" repeated the gentleman.

"She's a lady, that's what she is," replied Grif, recovering his
composure.

"A lady!" and Mr. Nuttall laughed.

"Ah, if you knew!" thought Grif, but he contented himself with saying,
"Yes, she is, and so you'd say if you sor her."

"Upon my word," remarked Mr. Blemish, blandly, "I did not know that
vagabonds like you associated with ladies. This boy is evidently an
original."

"Don't you call no names," said Grif. "If you don't want a errand boy,
say so, and send me away."

"Better and better," observed Mr. Blemish, composedly. "Now, this is
something in my way, although I am not aware that I have met with such
a character before to-day. Why did you start when this gentleman spoke
to you?"

"I thort I knew his voice," returned Grif.

"And do you know it? Have you had the pleasure of this gentleman's
acquaintance?" this said so pleasantly that both the gentlemen smiled.

"Never seed the gentleman afore, as I knows on," said Grif, to whom a
lie was of the very smallest consequence.

"What do you do for a living?" asked Mr. Blemish.

"Nothin' partikeler."

"And you find it very hard work, I have no doubt," observed Mr.
Blemish.

"Yes, I do; very hard," replied Grif, literally; and then, with sudden
exasperation, he exclaimed, "What's the use of badgerin' me? You ain't
agoin' to do nothin' for me. Why don't you let me go?"

"Come," said Mr. David Dibbs, who up to this time had taken no part in
the dialogue, "I tell you what it is, young feller! You keep a civil
tongue in your head, or I'll commit you on the spot. I'm a magistrate,
that's what I am, and I'll give you a month, as sure as eggs is eggs,
if you don't mind what you're up to!"

"I don't care," responded Grif. "I ain't a-goin' to be badgered."

"You don't care!" exclaimed Mr. David Dibbs, turning as red as a
turkey-cock. "Send for the policeman, Blemish. I'll have him put in
jail, and flogged. Is a magistrate to be sauced at in this here way?"

The small puffed-up soul of Mr. David Dibbs swelled with indignation.
Things were come to a pretty pass, indeed, when the possessor of
thirty thousand pounds a year, and a magistrate into the bargain, was
thus openly defied by a ragged boy, probably without sixpence in his
pockets! They glared at each other, did Grif and Mr. David Dibbs, and
Mr. Dibbs did not have much the best of the situation.

"Nay, nay, Mr. Dibbs," said Mr. Blemish, soothingly; "you have every
right to be angry, but let me deal with the boy, I beg.--Now,
suppose," he said, addressing Grif, impressively, "suppose I were to
take it into my head (I haven't any such idea, mind you) to give you a
situation as errand boy, what remuneration would you require in
return?"

"What what?"

"What remuneration--what salary--how much a week would you expect?"

"I don't expect nothin' a week," answered Grif; "I only wants my grub
and a blanket. But if you ain't got no such idea, what's the good of
keeping me here?"

"Of course you know nothing of religion?"

"I've been preached to," responded Grif, "till I'm sick of it."

"This boy interests me," remarked Mr. Blemish, speaking to society in
general; "I should like to make an experiment with him. Who knows but
that we might save his soul?"

"You can't do that," said Grif, moodily.

"Can't save your soul!"

"No; the preacher chap sed it'd go to morchel perdition; and I s'pose
he knows."

Mr. Blemish raised his eyes to the ceiling, and an expression of
sublime pity stole over his countenance. Grif edged closer to the
door, as if anxious to be dismissed.

Mr. Blemish folded his hands with a sort of pious horror, and
exclaimed--"I am amazed!"

"What are you amazed at?" inquired Mr. David Dibbs. "I've seen
hundreds of boys like this here one--he ain't no different to the
rest. They're a bad, vicious lot."

Grif assented to the last remark by a nod.

"But our duty is clear," said Mr. Blemish, as if in answer to a voice
within him, perhaps the voice of morality. "Listen to me"--this to
Grif, with a forefinger warningly held up; "I am about to give you a
chance of reforming."

"All right; I'm agreeable," said Grif, in a tone that betokened utter
indifference of the matter.

"In my capacity as President of the Moral Boot Blacking Boys'
Reformatory, I will provide you with a boot-stand, a set of brushes,
and a pot of the best blacking. You can polish boots?"

"I've only got to rub at 'em, I s'pose," said Grif, wishing his own
feet, with their dirty bluchers, would fly off his legs.

Mr. Blemish waived the question as one of detail, which it was
evidently beneath him to enter upon.

"You can take up your stand at once. What do you say? Are you willing
to be honest?"

"Didn't I tell you that this is my first day at it," replied Grif.
"I'm willin' enough; I only wants my grub and a blanket. It don't
matter to me how I gets 'em, so long as I do get 'em."

"Very well," and Mr. Blemish touched the bell, which on the instant
brought a clerk, to whom he gave instructions. "Go with this young
man, and he will provide you with everything that is necessary, and
come to-night to the meeting of the Moral Boot Blacking Boys'
Reformatory. Do you know why it is called the Moral Boot Blacking
Boys' Reformatory?"

"No."

"Because all the boys are moral. If they are not moral when they are
admitted, they are made moral. So mind that you're moral. The more
moral you are, the better you will get on."

"I'll be very moral, I will," promised Grif, without the slightest
idea of the meaning of his promise.

"Now you can go; I shall keep my eye on you, and watch how you conduct
yourself;" and Mr. Blemish straightened himself, and swelled and
puffed, as who should say, "I have done a noble and a moral action,
and now I can transact my business with an easy conscience."

Grif, finding himself set up in life as a moral shoeblack, felt
uncomfortably strange as he stood behind his stand in one of the
Melbourne streets. He had been provided with a boot-stand, a set of
brushes, and a pot of the best blacking; and as he surveyed his stock
in trade, he was not quite certain whether he ought to be gratified or
disgusted. He was so awkward altogether; and he did not know what
to do with his hands. He placed them behind him--that was not
business-like; he let them hang before him, and he became so painfully
conscious of them, that he absolutely began to hate them. Never until
now had he experienced what a dreadful responsibility it was to have
two hands and not know what to do with them.

For an hour no customer came. Thinking that the state of his own boots
was not a recommendation to business, he set to work brushing and
polishing them up. It is amazing what a difference a well-polished
pair of boots makes in one's appearance. As he surveyed his shining
leathers, Grif felt that an important change had taken place in his
prospects. He was already a respectable member of society. But still
no customer came. He was a shrewd lad, and, thinking to tempt the
passers-by, he took off his boots, and placing them upon his stand,
courted custom with bare feet. In vain. Most of those who passed took
no heed of him; a few looked at him and smiled--some in pity, some in
derision. It was like standing in the pillory. He turned hot and cold,
and flushed and paled, by turns. In truth, it was no enviable task for
Grif, who had been a Bedouin of the byeways all his life, to stand
stock-still, as if proclaiming that he was ashamed of his past life,
and begged to be admitted into the ranks of honest respectability.
Besides, he was hungry, and gnawing sensations within made him
restless and unhappy. But Grif behaved bravely. He did not flinch from
his post. For hours he stood, patiently waiting. And then an incident
occurred. Two men, Jim Pizey and the Tenderhearted Oysterman, stopped
before him. The sight of the Oysterman so inflamed Grif, that he felt
inclined to do one of two things--to catch up his boots and fly away,
or to spring upon the Oysterman and choke him for murdering Rough. But
he did neither.

"Here's the young imp," I said Jim Pizey; "he's turned respectable,"
Grif's first impulse was to indignantly deny the imputation, but no
time for utterance was given him. "Have you seen Dick Handfield
to-day?" asked Pizey.

"No," answered Grif, shortly.

"Where have they gone to, him and his wife?" asked Jim. "Tell me any
lies, and I'll break your neck for you. Here, clean my boots." Jim
bade him do this, for he was fearful of attracting attention.

Grif would have liked to refuse; but he felt that to do so would be a
clear infraction of his promise to Alice.

"How should I know where they are?" exclaimed Grif, brushing at Jim's
boots.

"You were there last night, and they were there last night. You and
the girl have been together lot a of times, and you know well enough
where they're gone to. You're a pet of hers, I'm told."

"She's been very good to me, Ally has," said Grif, gently. "And
because o' that, you don't think I'd let on where they are, do you?
You don't think I'd let on, if I know, do you? No, I'd have my tongue
cut out first."

"I'll tear it out and pitch it down your throat, if you talk to us
like that," said the Oysterman, fiercely.

"Will you?" said Grif, standing up. "Or you'll pizen me, the same as
you pizened my dawg! You'd like to, wouldn't you? And because o' that,
if I didn't have no other reason, I wouldn't tell you where Dick
Handfield is, if I knew where you could put your hands on him this
minute. There!"

"You won't tell us?" asked Jim.

"No," answered Grif, bravely.

Jim looked darkly at him, and giving the stand a kick, sent the
blacking-bottle, the brushes, and Grif's boots, rolling in the gutter;
and, while Grif was busy picking them up, he took his companion's arm,
and walked away.

This was not an encouraging beginning to Grif's honest career, and
dark doubts entered his mind as to whether he really had made a change
for the better.

"What's the use of bein' moral," he grumbled, as he rearranged his
stand, "if this is the way I'm to be served? They've soon found out
that Dick Handfield's gone; and ain't they mad at it, neither! It's a
good job he went away to-day. Old Flick will be mad, too, at buyin'
the bad note. It's a reg'lar game, that's what it is. I'm precious
hungry. I wish I was near the confectioner's. I'd go and arks for a
pie. But I'll see it out. I promised Ally I would, and I will. Hallo!
what do _you_ want?"

This was addressed to a boy, if possible dirtier and more ragged than
Grif himself. Indeed, dirt and this boy had become so inseparable that
he was known by the simple but expressive name of Dirty Bob. Now,
Dirty Bob had seen Grif take up his stand, and had disdainfully
watched him wait for customers. In Dirty Bob's eyes Grif was a
renegade, a sneak, for setting up as a shoeblack. And he determined to
show his disdain in his own particular way. He possessed only one
sixpence in the world, and he resolved to spend it luxuriously.

"Oh, it's you, Dirty Bob, is it?" said Grif.

"Yes, it's me," responded Dirty Bob, loftily.

"What do you want?" asked Grif.

"What do I want?" echoed Dirty Bob. "Why, you're a bootblack, ain't
you?"

"Yes," replied Grif, with dignity. "I'm a moral shoeblack now."

"Ho! crikey!" exclaimed Dirty Bob. "What do you call yourself?"

"I'm a moral shoeblack," repeated Grif, with an inclination to punch
Dirty Bob's head.

"'Ere's a go!" cried Dirty Bob. "A moral shoeblack, are you? Well,
then, clean my boots, and mind you clean 'em morally;" and he flopped
upon the stand a foot encased in a boot in the very last stage of
decay.

In Grif's eyes this was a humiliation, and he almost quite made up his
mind to pitch into Dirty Bob; but the thought that by so doing he
might injure his character as a moral shoeblack, restrained him.

"Now, then," exclaimed Dirty Bob, "what are you waiting for? Clean my
boots, d'ye hear! What are you block in' up the street for if you
won't clean a genelman's boots when you're told?"

"Where's your tanner?" asked Grif, gloomily.

"'Ere it is," replied Dirty Bob, producing it. "It's a good un. It's
the only one I've got, but I'm goin' to spend it 'spectably and
genteelly. Brush away."

After a little uncomfortable communing, Grif spat upon his brush, and
commenced to rub, submitting silently to the scornful observations of
Dirty Bob.

"I say, sir," observed Dirty Bob (and be it remarked that the "sir"
was a nettle which stung Grif sharply); "I say, sir, do you want a
'prentice?"

"I don't want none of your cheek," said Grif, rubbing so smartly that
he almost rubbed off the upper leather; "that's what I don't want. So
you'd better hold your jaw."

"I beg your pardon, sir," said Dirty Bob, meekly; "I forgot that I was
speakin' to one of the Hupper Class. And ho! sir!" he exclaimed, in a
tone of anguish, "don't tell the perlice, or they'd put me in quod for
cheekin' a moral shoeblack."

"There; your boots are done!" ejaculated the disgusted Grif. "Where's
the tanner?"

"Don't you think, sir," said Dirty Bob, surveying his boots
critically, "that one on 'em is a little more polished than t'other?
Would you please make 'em even, and give this cove another rub?"

Grif commenced again rubbing viciously.

"Ho! don't rub so 'ard, sir," exclaimed Dirty Bob.

"I was brought up very tender, I was, and I've got a wopping corn on
my big toe. Thankey, sir! 'Ere's the tanner; and when you're Lord
Mayor, don't forget Dirty Bob!"

And he walked off, whistling. It was late in the day now, so Grif
prepared to close business. His heart was not very light, for the
first sixpence he had honestly earned in his life had been earned with
a sense of bitter humiliation.



                             CHAPTER IX.

              A BANQUET IS GIVEN TO THE MORAL MERCHANT.


The world is full of shams. As civilization advances, shams increase
and multiply; indeed, they multiply so fast that human nature in the
nineteenth century might be likened to a pie, with very little room
inside for the fruit, so thick is the crust of shams with which it is
overlaid. And as a chief lieutenant of shams--as a sham which takes
precedence of a host of other shams, from its very shamelessness, may
be ranked the toast of Our Guest, or Our Host, proposed at public
dinners and entertainments. The unblushing fibs told in the speeches
are dreadful to contemplate. Surely, some day a fearful retribution
will fall upon that man who is in the habit of rising when the dessert
is on the table, and endowing Messrs. Smith, Brown, Jones, and
Robinson with every virtue under the sun, and who unctuously dilates
upon their sublimities, their virtues, and their goodnesses. Beware!
thou weak and false platitudinarian! Think not to escape thy fate,
because the word which describes thee is not to be found in the
dictionary. Beware! and reform thy evil courses ere it be too late!

It is not to be supposed that any such thoughts as these entered the
mind of Mr. Zachariah Blemish, as he sat on the right hand of the
chairman at a grand public dinner given in his (Blemish's) honour. For
public enthusiasm with regard to this great and good man had risen to
a very high pitch--to such a pitch indeed, that it was resolved to
give Mr. Zachariah Blemish a banquet; and, all the preliminaries being
arranged, more than two hundred gentlemen, representing wealth and
position, sat down, and ate and guzzled to do him honour. The guest
himself ate sparingly, but Mr. David Dibbs made up for him. Mr. Dibbs
had but few articles of faith, and to eat as much as he could was one
of them. If it had not been that his gold threw a glare of sanctity
around him, Mr. Dibbs would have been looked upon as a glutton. As it
was, what would have been a vice in a poorer man, was in him nothing
but an amiable eccentricity. The company was composed of very
influential atoms: politics, religion, and L.S.D. were largely
represented, the latter especially. The Honourable Mr. Peter Puff was
in the Chair; another Honourable undertook the Vice; and a Bishop said
grace before meat. It was curious to note the conduct of the guest in
whose honour the entertainment was given. He appeared to be quite
oblivious of the occasion, and but for a shade of self-consciousness
which now and then passed across his face, he might have been regarded
as a perfectly disinterested observer. The committee would have been
justified in regarding this conduct as somewhat ungrateful, for they
had been indefatigable in their exertions. Fish of river and sea, game
of forest, fruit of hothouse, were cunningly served up in every
possible variety in honour of Blemish. For long weeks, celebrated
cooks had ransacked their brains to invent new dishes, and every one
admitted, when the dessert was laid, and the wine was passing, that
the result produced was glorious and worthy of the occasion.

Thump--thump--thump! Rattle--rattle--rattle! Gentlemen, Her Most
Gracious Majesty the Queen! Proposed with patriotic enthusiasm. The
Queen! Each gentleman, standing, drains his glass, and sits down again
with becoming solemnity. Buzz of conversation. Thump--thump--thump!
Rattle--rattle--rattle! Gentlemen, His Royal Highness the Prince of
Wales, and the rest of the Royal Family; and may he and they, etc.,
etc., etc. Enthusiasm and general geniality. Thump--thump--thump!
Rattle!--rattle--rattle! Gentlemen, His Excellency the Governor!
With appropriate flunkeyism. As Her Most Gracious Majesty's
Representative--most important and flourishing portion of Her Most
Gracious Majesty's dominions upon which the sun never sets--and so on,
and so on; with The Army and Navy, The Clergy, etc., until the
important moment arrives when the toast of the evening is to be
proposed.

"Gentlemen, are your glasses charged?"

"All charged in the East," responds an indiscreet Freemason, and then
there is a shifting and shuffling, until the Honourable Mr. Peter Puff
rises. He looks round upon the guests, blows his nose, lifts his
glass, puts it down again, coughs, and proceeds to speak.

"Gentlemen, it is now my proud task to perform a duty, which is no
less a duty than it is a pleasure. (Hear, hear.) I wish that it had
fallen to the lot of some more eloquent speaker than myself--(No,
no!)--to propose the toast or the evening; but being asked to preside
on this memorable occasion, I felt that I should have been wanting in
respect to myself, and in respect to the gentleman who sits upon my
right hand, if I had not at once joyfully and gratefully accepted the
honourable position. Gentlemen, some men are born great, some achieve
greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. (Considerable
doubt here intrudes itself the minds of fifty per cent, of the guests,
whether this is an original observation or a quotation.) Gentlemen, I
have, in this instance, had greatness thrust upon me; for no one can
doubt that the devolvement upon me to propose the toast I am about to
propose, reflects honour and greatness upon--upon the proposer. We
have amongst us this evening, a gentleman--(here every one looks at
Mr. Zachariah Blemish, who looks up to the ceiling, as if he considers
it likely that the gentleman about to be referred to may be discovered
somewhere in that locality)--a gentleman whose undeviating rectitude,
whose integrity, whose moral character, whose wealth, whose position,
are not only creditable and honourable to himself, but creditable and
honourable to the city which he has made his dwelling-place. (Hear,
hear.) We might say, with Hamlet, that in this gentleman (in a moral
sense) may be seen a combination and a form indeed, where every god
doth seem to set his seal to give the world assurance of a man. (Great
rattling of glasses and thumping of knives; Mr. Zachariah Blemish
looks curiously and unconsciously interested, as if still wondering
who is the individual indicated; and the Honourable Mr. Peter Puff
gives a sigh of relief, having delivered himself correctly of a
quotation which he had taken great pains the day before to learn by
heart.) Need I say, gentlemen, that I refer to our guest, Mr.
Zachariah Blemish? (Prolonged applause; the thumping and rattling are
terriffic. Mr. Blemish appears much astonished to learn that he is the
individual referred to, and perceiving that all eyes are turned
towards him, wrinkles his brows, as much as to say, 'Really! can this
be? I _am_ surprised?' and afterwards assumes an air of exceeding
humility.) Gentlemen, we all know him (Cries of 'We do!') and we are
all proud to know him. (Cries of 'We are!') Say that we know him only
as Chairman of the United Band of Temperance Aboriginals, and he is
entitled to our approval; say that we know him only as President of
the Moral Bootblacking Boys' Reformatory, and he is entitled to our
respect; say that we know him only as the Perpetual Grand Master of
the Society for the Total Suppression of Vice, and he is entitled to
our esteem; say that we know him only as the head of the Association
of Universal Philanthropists, and he is entitled to our admiration;
say that we know him only as a leading member of the Fellowship of
Murray Cods, and he is entitled to our veneration. But say that we
know him as all of these combined, and as a merchant of integrity, and
as a gentleman of honour, and words fail us in speaking of him.
Gentlemen, words fail _me_ when I speak of him. Far better for me to
stay my speech, and leave what is unsaid to your discrimination and
your intelligence. Suffice it for me to say that I am proud to know
him, and that I am proud of this opportunity of expressing my
sentiments. With these few remarks--inadequate as they are to the
occasion--I conclude, and propose the health of our guest, Mr.
Zachariah Blemish--in bumpers!"

Hurrah! In bumpers! Our guest, Mr. Zachariah Blemish. No heeltaps!
Three cheers for Mr. Zachariah Blemish! with a hip, hip, hip, hurrah!
hurrah! hurrah! Three cheers for Mrs. Zachariah Blemish! Three cheers
for the little Blemishes (which fell flat, for the little Blemishes
were not, and had never been). For he's a jolly good fellow--for he's
a jolly good fellow--which nobody can deny--with a hip, hip, hip,
hurrah! hurrah! hurrah! And a little one in--hurrah!

All which being enthusiastically performed, the guests, somewhat
exhausted with their exertions, sat down with the consciousness of
having nobly done their duty.

Mr. Zachariah Blemish, in voice which trembled with emotion, rose to
thank the gentlemen who had so enthusiastically responded to the toast
of his health.

"Mr. Chairman, Vice-Chairman, and Gentlemen," he said, "this is
the happiest moment of my life, and I am naturally much affected.
(Pocket-handkerchief.) When I look around and see the leading members
of every profession and every important interest in the Colony, and
when I consider that they are assembled here to render a tribute of
respect to so unworthy an object as myself (cries of 'No, no!')--yes,
I repeat, so unworthy an object as myself, I am lost in wonder as to
what I have done to entitle me to such an honour. I am conscious,
gentlemen, of having only performed my duty. It is no very hard task,
and yet it is not always done. As a merchant, as a citizen, and as a
public man, this has been my endeavour. In the performance of my duty
I may have done some little good. (Cries of 'A great deal.') You are
kind enough to say so. The good I have done reflects but small credit
upon myself; for it has been, as I may say, evoked by my position as a
not inconsiderable merchant in this city. Gentlemen, I _am_ proud of
my position as a merchant; and never in my hands shall commerce be
degraded--never in my hands shall the spirit of fair and honest
dealing which characterises the British nation be abused. (Thumps
and rattles.) I am extremely affected by this demonstration.
(Pocket-handkerchief.) You will excuse me if my emotion overcomes me,
and you will pardon the little incoherences you may detect in my
speech. (Pocket-handkerchief.) It is usual on such occasions as this
to give a brief _résumé_ of the movements and acts of the individual
upon whom is conferred an honour like the present; and I, with your
permission, will touch upon one or two little matters in which I have
taken a slight interest. Our worthy chairman, my friend, the
Honourable Mr. Peter Puff (a beaming smile from that individual)--has
mentioned the names of a few societies and associations with which I
am connected. You all know, gentlemen, the difficulties with which the
formation of the United Band of Temperance Aboriginals was attended.
When the white man first set his foot upon these shores he found the
native savage wallowing in ignorance and immorality. They ran about
naked; civilisation was a dead letter to them; they knew nothing of
Christianity; and although attempts have been made to throw a doubt
upon their practice of cannibalism, we are all perfectly well aware
that the Australian aboriginals were in the habit of eating and
enjoying one another. Then, again, they were given to intemperance,
and would sacrifice anything for a pint of rum. What was the duty of a
Christian when these things became known? To reform the savage. For
this purpose the United Band of Temperance Aboriginals was formed,
blankets were distributed, moralising influences were brought to bear,
and I am proud to be able to state my opinion, founded upon,
statistics, that in the course of fifty years from the present time,
not a single intoxicated aboriginal will be found in the length and
breadth of the colony. (Loud applause.) As for the Society for the
Total Suppression of Vice, we do our best. Vice is not yet totally
suppressed; but we look forward to the time when we shall view,
perhaps in the spirit, the successful accomplishment of the work we
have initiated in the flesh. The operations of the Moral Bootblacking
Boys' Reformatory, of which I am President, are well known. The
institution of boot-stands in the streets of Melbourne has been
attended with inconceivable blessings. A large number of boys, who did
not even know the meaning of morality, having been made moral through
the influence of boot-stands. It is but a few days ago that I was made
the humble instrument of redeeming a vagrant--a boy in years--who
unblushingly admitted that he was a thief; he had never before worked
at any honest employment, and when I incidentally introduced the
subject of salvation, he actually told me that his soul would go to
immortal perdition, and could not be saved. The saving of this lad's
soul--who bears the extraordinary name of Grif--dates from the moment
when he received from the Reformatory a set of blacking-brushes and a
boot-stand; and he may now be seen, daily, in the streets, waiting for
customers. (Cheers.) What shall I say, gentlemen, of the Murray Cods?
You are acquainted with the gigantic difficulties with which we had to
contend, and which we have successfully overcome. Here was a fish,
vast in its proportions, delicious in its flavour--(Hear, hear, from
Mr. David Dibbs),--which could only be caught in the River Murray. Why
should it not be transplanted, if I may use the word, to other waters?
That was a question, gentlemen, which naturally suggested itself to
the Murray Coddians. A society was formed, subscriptions were raised,
and the monopoly the River Murray enjoyed in its Cod was destroyed.
This is a single but significant proof of the determination of the
colonists. In our hearts, gentlemen, we are all Murray Coddians. The
energy which the Murray Coddians threw into their task reflects credit
upon the Colony--(here the Honourable Mr. Peter Puff whispers to the
speaker)--and I am informed by our honourable Chairman, that on this
very dinner-table was placed a Murray Cod which was not caught in the
River Murray, (Frantic applause.) I look upon the Cod placed upon the
dinner-table this evening as a mark of respect paid to me for my
efforts in its cause; and looking upon it in that light, I cannot
restrain a natural feeling of emotion. (Pocket-handkerchief.)
Gentlemen, here I pause. The remembrance of this happy evening will
always be with me. You have imposed upon me a debt of gratitude, which
is the only debt, gentlemen, which I doubt of ever being able to pay."

In the next morning's papers appeared glowing accounts of the dinner,
and verbatim reports of Mr. Blemish's speech. But if the reporters,
while they were transcribing their shorthand notes, could have seen
the object of the night's adulation, they might have been puzzled to
account for the singular change that had come over his appearance.
For, say it was two o'clock in the morning when they sent away the
printer's devil with the last slip, at that very hour Mr. Zachariah
Blemish was locked in the private room of his mansion near the sea,
his table strewn with papers and documents, and his head resting
wearily on his hands. Surely that was not the face of Mr. Zachariah
Blemish! Its freshness and roundness had departed from it; it looked
positively thin and haggard. Did the great Blemish possess a
skeleton, and was it even now staring at him in the face in his own
sanctum? It looked uncommonly like it. Or, perhaps the triumph of the
evening had been too much for him, and he was thinking of his own
unworthiness. Under any circumstances, it was well for the credit
(moral and commercial) of Mr. Zachariah Blemish that he kept such
expressions as his face then wore for his own private use, and that he
did not exhibit them in public.


It was about two o'clock in the morning, also, that Mr. Nicholas
Nuttall was wending his way, somewhat; unsteadily, homeward. He had
been at the Blemish banquet, and had lingered until the very last
moment. Then he had been cajoled into joining half a dozen gay fellows
in "just another glass," which just another glass having been
submitted to a multiplication process, rendered him a decidedly unfit
companion for a lady with such a strong sense of the proprieties as
Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall. Some notion of this sort floated across his
mind, and produced therein considerable disturbance, inasmuch as he
stopped suddenly in the midst of the chorus--"We won't go home till
morning," which was being trolled out by himself and a couple of young
gentlemen, who had volunteered to see him home, and shook his head
gravely and reproachfully.

"Ni--hic!--cholas Nuttall!" he observed, leaning his back
against a lamp-post, "Ni--hic!--cholas Nuttall, you are an immoral
cha--hic!--character."

The two young gentlemen, who had been induced to see Mr. Nuttall home
solely because he had a pretty daughter, endeavoured to persuade him
to walk on, and said, coaxingly, "Come along, old fellow. Come home."

"Home!" scornfully exclaimed Mr. Nicholas Nuttall, and regarding
them with an expression of deep disdain. "Home!--hic!--do you
know what home is--hic!--Home is a--hic!--place where you are
badgered--hic!--and nagged--hic!--and worried. I wish you were married
to Mrs. Nuttall!"

Here Mr. Nuttall began to cry, and called himself a villain, and a
destroyer of domestic hearths. He allowed himself, however, to be
prevailed upon to resume his homeward course, and in a very miserable
condition he arrived at his street-door.

"Gentlemen!" he then said, "my wife--hic!--does not--not allow me a
latch--hic!--key. Pull the bell. When you are married--hic!--have a
latch key put down--hic!--in the settlements. This--hic!--is the
advice of a miserable wretch."

The sound of steps along the passage drove Mr. Nuttall into a
condition of abject despair. "Don't go--hic!"--he exclaimed,
affectionately clinging to his companions. "Don't go--hic!--come in
and have a glass--toddy."

The person who was unfastening the door had evidently heard strange
voices, for it was suddenly thrown open, and a glimpse of a white
nightgown flying hastily up the stairs, flitted across the vision of
the three inebriates.

"Come in," said Mr. Nuttall, with a mingled feeling of exultation and
dismay, for he knew that the figure in white was the figure of the
wife of his bosom. "Hic!--come in, and we'll make a night of it."

But when they got in, they were doomed to disappointment. The
cupboards were locked, and not a bottle or glass could be found. The
young gentlemen were therefore compelled to beat a retreat. Left to
himself, Mr. Nicholas Nuttall sank into a chair. He was in the enemy's
camp, and he felt that there was no hope for him. With his head sunk
upon his bosom, he waited doggedly for the blow.

Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall, in her nightgown, looked ridiculously
diminutive; but her moral power was tremendous. Mr. Nuttall felt its
effects the instant she made her appearance; and he shivered. When she
seated herself opposite to him, he had not the courage to raise his
head. He thought that she would speak first, but he was mistaken. He
waited for a long time, and the silence grow so awfully oppressive
that he was compelled to break it.

"Why did you lock up all the de--hic!--canters?" he asked.

"Because I knew the state you would come home in," returned his
spouse; "and I have some regard for your health, little as you deserve
it."

"You've no right, Mrs. Nuttall, to make me look--hic!--ridiculous in
the eyes of my friends."

"Ridiculous!" said Mrs. Nuttall, with lofty sarcasm "As if you don't
make yourself look ridiculous enough without my help! You may outrage
my feelings as much as you like, sir, but you shall not turn the
parlour into a tap-room, although it _may_ be the custom in this
country!"

"The two gentlemen who came home with me are very
respect--hic!--table."

"Don't tell me, Mr. Nuttall!" said Mrs. Nuttall. "Gentlemen, indeed! A
couple of tipsy brutes!"

"Why didn't you--hic!--go to bed? You must be very cold, sitting up
with scarcely anything on."

"I _am_ very cold. But what do you care for that?"

"Not a bit," murmured Nicholas, recklessly.

"And this man I married!" exclaimed Mrs. Nuttall, in a horror-struck
voice, appealing to the chairs and tables. "This is the man I
sacrificed myself for. This is the man I sit up for night after night,
while he is dissipating and destroying the happiness of his family!"

"Don't be stupid--hic!--Maria!" said Mr. Nuttall, rising, and
staggering to the door. "I am going to bed. Where's the door-handle?
You haven't locked that up, have you?"

Mrs. Nuttall made no reply, but walked after him, statelily, with the
chamber-candlestick in her hand.

"A nice example you are to your children!" she said, when she got
between the sheets. "A nice example!"

"Children, Maria!" exclaimed Mr. Nuttall, before she could proceed any
further. "Children! You--hic!--forget yourself, my dear. We've only
got one."

"A pretty thing to reproach me with, upon my word!" exclaimed Mrs.
Nuttall, indignantly. "A nice example you are, then, to our only
child! I wonder you don't want to come to bed with your boots on! Oh,
if I had known this before I was married--"

"It's too late now, Maria," observed Mr. Nuttall, maliciously, tugging
at his boots.

"That's right," sobbed the lady, the frills of her nightcap fluttering
in sympathy with her agitation. "Taunt me with my folly! But I deserve
it. I brought it all on myself. Mamma warned me of the consequences,
when I told her that I had accepted you; but I wouldn't listen to her,
and now I am justly punished. Oh! turn your head the other way. How
you smell of tobacco! 'Take my word for it,' mamma said, 'if you marry
that ninny, you will repent it all your life.'" Here Mrs. Nuttall
jumped up suddenly in the bed, and said, "Mr. Nuttall, there is some
one walking about in the parlour."

"I don't care," murmured Nicholas, digging his head into his pillow.
"He won't find much to eat and drink; that's one comfort."

"Get up and see if there is any one there, or I shan't be able to
sleep a wink all the night."

"Get up yourself, and see," suggested Nicholas, drowsily.

"Is it possible," indignantly continued Mrs. Nuttall, "that any man
can be so unmanly? Nicholas! Do you hear me?"

"Don't bother! Let me go to sleep!"

"Perhaps it's the new servant I took this morning. I shouldn't wonder
if Australian servants walked in their sleep."

"If I thought so," murmured Nicholas, "I would go and admonish her.
She's a very pretty girl."

Wifely indignation kept Mrs. Nuttall silent for awhile, but she soon
commenced the nagging system again, and so worried her husband that,
in an agony of desperation, he sprang up like a Jack-in-a-box, and
after driving his fist fiercely into his pillow half-a-dozen times,
fell back exhausted.

"Very pretty!" exclaimed Mrs. Nuttall, sarcastically. "Very pretty,
indeed! I wonder you don't beat me!"

"The man who raises his hand against a woman," said Mr. Nuttall,
slumberously, "except in the way of kindness, is--is--I don't exactly
remember what he is. There's a thing, Maria, I have thought of often,
and have never spoken of to you. It isn't right--there should not be
any secrets between man and wife."

"My very words, Nicholas, my dear! What is it you are going to say?"

"In the course of our confidential conversations--as we are having
now, Maria"--(in her eagerness not to lose a word, Mrs. Nuttall placed
her close to her husband's lips, for he spoke very drowsily, and
appeared to be addressing his pillow)--"you have frequently mentioned
your respected mamma. Did she know a lady of the name of Mrs. Caudle?"

"I am not aware that she knew any person with such a vulgar name."

"You never heard her speak of Mrs. Caudle?"

"Never!"

"Strange!" murmured Mr. Nuttall. "There is a deep mystery here. For
you have the Mrs. Caudle spirit so very strongly developed, Maria,
that I am certain a family connection exists between you."

Not knowing whether this were meant for a compliment or a reproach,
Mrs. Nuttall deemed it wise to make no comment upon it. So she
proceeded to ask him about the dinner at which he had been present.

"It was a very nice dinner," said Mr. Nuttall.

"And how many people were there, Nicholas?"

"A room full."

"How do I know what sized room it was--it might hold twenty, or it
might hold a thousand--how many sat down to dinner?"

"A hundred--a hundred and fifty--two hundred--two hundred and fifty,"
said Mr. Nuttall, vaguely.

"Was your brother there, Nicholas?"

"No."

"Did Mr. Blemish make a speech?"

"What did he say?"

"All sorts of things."

"Nicholas, you are enough to vex a saint. Tell me instantly, what did
Mr. Blemish say?"

Instead of replying, Mr. Nuttall groaned, and screwed himself up tight
in the bed-clothes.

"That's right," said Mrs. Nuttall, tugging at the sheets. "I'd take up
the whole bed, if I were you!" Mr. Nuttall partially unscrewed
himself. "I'm much obliged, I'm sure! And now, Nicholas, answer me one
question. Are we going to spend Christmas at your brother's Station?"

"Yes. I have told you so a dozen times."

"I wanted to make certain," she said, sweetly. "Good night, Nicholas."

"Oh, good night," he said, somewhat savagely, muttering between his
clenched teeth, "I wish the man who invented Caudle lectures had been
at the bottom of the Red Sea first!"

And sleep then descended upon the Conjugal Nuttalls.



                              CHAPTER X.

                      ON THE ROAD TO EL DORADO.


Far and wide, through the length and breadth of Victoria, over its
borders into New South Wales, and over the seas to neighbouring
Colonies, floated marvellous stories of the New Rush. Ears burned,
eyes glistened, and fingers tingled at the news. Men, separated from
the spot by hundreds of miles of land, by thousands of miles of ocean,
made frantic arrangements to fly thither incontinently. The hearts of
those in Great Britain who contemplated emigration beat faster at the
news brought by the overland mail; and the tongues of the Celestials
who meant to move from China to the Land of Gold chattered and wagged
at a fearful rate when rumours of the big nugget reached them.
Merchants grew exultant as they thought of shipments on the road, and
reckoned up the profits beforehand. Servants threw up their
situations; family men broke up their homes; and tradesmen wound up
their businesses at any sacrifice. Cherished ambitions, life-dreams
approaching to fruition, calm, peaceful ways of living, were all
forgotten and forsaken in the fever of gold-greed, which spread itself
through many lands.

Over the waters came regiments of adventurers, each man burning to
give Nature a bruise or a blow. What brought them? Gold! It beckoned
them with its golden finger, it flung a yellow shade before them, it
filled their minds with desire in the day, it hopped about their
brains in the night. It wooed them, and kissed them, and embraced
them, and nestled in their hearts, and smiled in their eyes, and made
their fingers tingle. Down to the ports of distant countries hurried
cohorts of warriors, with beds upon their backs, and picks upon their
shoulders. The Gold God that had awakened into life threw its
irradiations thousands of miles around it, dyed the steeps of far-off
mountains and illumined far-off plains. From those plains and
mountains shoals of men hurried down to the ports. Ships were laid on,
labourers shouted and bellowed, chains creaked and squeaked, anchors
groaned and moaned, ropes strained every fibre, and bales and cases
piled themselves above another, jealous not of elbow-room. Blow winds,
and fill the sails! The sun is setting, and the shimmer of the Gold
God is in the west, and lights the waters with a golden radiance; the
sun is rising, and the shimmer of the Gold God is in the east, and is
reflected on the rosy clouds; the ship is rushing onward, and the
sails puff out their grey cheeks towards the promised land; the men
are sleeping in their bunks, and a little image of Queen Mab, cast in
pure gold, is sitting on a throne in the centre of each brain. If
thought were not immaterial and colourless, the fashion of that epoch
would have been bright yellow.

The Colony itself was in a ferment, and night and day the roads to the
locality of the New Rush were thronged with eager pedestrians. Scraps
of news, picked up Heaven only knew how, about wonderful "finds" of
gold, about great nuggets and bucketfuls of the precious metal, flew
from mouth to mouth. The stories lost nothing in the transmission; for
pennyweights were magnified to ounces, ounces to pounds, pounds to
hundredweights. Troops of sturdy diggers, their heavy "swags" upon
their backs, and their tin pots and pannikins buckled to their waists,
marched on bravely and cheerfully, and felt not fatigue. Truly have
such men been called the bone and sinew of the gold colonies. For
thorough manliness, for sturdy courage, for indomitable perseverance,
they are scarcely to be paralleled in the world's history. Strings
of shambling Chinamen, with pigtails and sallow faces, dressed in
half-modern costume, and bearing on their shoulders poles, upon which
were slung their boots, picks, shovels, and "cradles,"[2] were also
there, toiling patiently along to the El Dorado, and receiving with
good humour the badinage of the Saxon and the Celt. They did not
travel as swiftly as the Europeans; but, like the tortoise, they were
slow and sure, and were not unlikely to win the race. Drays creaked
and sighed in woeful tribulation beneath the weight of bags of flour
and cases of spirits, sent off to the New Rush by watchful
speculators. Many were the perils the goods encountered in gullies and
creeks; and many were the accidents, most of them, however serious,
having some ludicrous features. Here might be seen a waggon piled up
with diggers' swags, chiefly Chinamen's, the owners being perched on
the top, while the remainder trudged patiently along in the dust.
There, a troupe of Nigger serenaders, with bones and banjos, their
faces already blackened for the amusement of the wandering hordes.
Here, a couple of drays, in which were packed cases of type and
printing-press for the printing of a newspaper in the bush! There, a
travelling theatre, consisting of a huge tent with all the
paraphernalia of scenery and dresses: the leading tragedian (descended
to dull earth) played the part of driver for the nonce, entertaining
his cattle with morsels of morality from Hamlet or Macbeth; while the
low-comedy man, his face woefully begrimed with dust, tramped sturdily
along, bearing upon his shoulders the infant prodigy of the company.
Day after day the roads were thronged with workers from all parts of
the colony, and when night came, trees were cut down and fired, horses
and oxen were turned loose, water was fetched from adjacent creeks,
tea was prepared, and pipes were lighted, and tents and "mi-mis"[3]
hastily thrown up, beneath which the nomades rested their weary limbs,
hopefully and cheerfully. It was a pretty sight to see the fires
glancing out along the miles of dusky bush, and it was pleasant to
feel the sense of rest which had fallen upon the busy plains. The
tinkling bells attached to the necks of hobbled horses led musically
on the air, and from silver-toned flutinas, in the hands of
rough-bearded men, sounded "Home, Sweet Home," and many other airs as
touching, the strains of which lingered lovingly about the trees,
whose dark forms were glanced with light from a clear and brilliant
moon.


--------------------

[Footnote 2: Machines in which diggers wash the gold from the
auriferous soil.]

[Footnote 3: A shelter for the night, made with the boughs and
branches of the trees. Pronounced "m[=i]-,[=i]s."]

--------------------


Amongst those who were attracted to the promised land by the news of
the wonderful discoveries was Richard Handfield. He had picked up as a
mate an old digger, whose Herculean frame appeared fit to bear any
amount of fatigue--a man known as Tom the Welshman, and commonly
called Welsh Tom for brevity's sake. He was a simple, kind-hearted
creature, always ready to do a good turn, and not always able to avoid
being imposed upon. He was fond of nursing children, and drawing
water, and chopping wood, to lighten the labours of the women who were
fortunate enough to be living in his neighbourhood. He was a lucky
digger, and he scattered his gold about freely. He had been in the
Colonies since his youth, and for a great portion of his time he had
been a bullock-driver. One might have thought that this would have
been sufficient to make him cruel and hard-hearted; but the contrary
was the case. He swore at his bullocks like other bullock-drivers, but
he did not lash them. Even when he swore at them, the poor oxen seemed
to know that he was not unkindly; and if such a feeling as gratitude
be inherent in bullock nature, it must surely have been strong in the
Welshman's oxen, for he regarded with pity a sore shoulder or a wound,
and would apply such simple remedies as he was acquainted with to ease
the pain. And yet, gentle as he was by nature, loved as he was by all
his acquaintances, there was a stain upon him which would never, in
this world, be wiped out. He had been convicted of some offence in the
home country, and had been sentenced to life transportation. He did
not often refer to this portion of his career, although, when the
subject arose, he solemnly and consistently protested his innocence.
He never travelled without his concertina, from which he extracted the
most exquisite music. But his greatest treasure was an old Welsh
Bible; which had been his mother's, and no night passed without his
reading a chapter from it. He was fond of his glass, was the Welshman,
and sometimes he took more than was good for him. On such occasions he
would retire to some secluded spot, and, bareheaded, preach to the
hills in red-hot Welsh. It was a thing to remember, was the sight of
this gaunt, strong man, flinging his arms wildly about in his
enthusiasm, while the impassioned gutturals rolled fast and furious
from his throat. Those who knew him never interfered with him when he
was in such ecstasies; he was perfectly harmless, and on the
succeeding morning was always up with the sun, ready for work.

Richard Handfield was fortunate in picking up Welsh Tom for a mate;
for Richard was an idle fellow, while the Welshman buckled to his
work with overwilling zeal. When their day's walking was done,
and a suitable place had been found to camp in, it was the Welshman
who felled the tree, and the Welshman who fetched the water from
the creek, and the Welshman whose ready hands extemporised a
sleeping-place; while all that Richard did was to gather a few
branches and to make the tea. Even this he did unwillingly and
grumblingly, repining at what he thought his hard lot. He had never
been used to work, and, although he and his mate had walked but
twenty-five miles that day, his feet were blistered, and he was sore
and weary. The Welshman, whose limbs were hardened by constant
exposure and years of toil, felt as fresh as when he started in the
morning, and could have walked another twenty-five miles with ease.
But, anxious as he was to arrive quickly at the new diggings, he did
not grumble at the short day's journey, and, when tea was over, he sat
down, pipe in mouth, with perfect contentedness.

Of course, the talk between them was of the new gold discovery, which
had been made upon an immense plain.

"Discovered by Chinamen, eh, Tom?" queried Richard.

"Yes, Dick," answered the Welshman. (It is soon Tom and Dick with new
acquaintances upon gold-fields. The conventional "Mr." is but seldom
used, and never among diggers.) "John Chinaman got the first bite."

"Just like their luck," grumbled Richard; "why couldn't a white man
have found it?"

Tom did not reply, for in common with most of the European gold
diggers, he entertained a very low estimate of the Mongolian race, and
looked upon them in the light of interlopers.

"I always thought gold would be found in that quarter," he said,
presently; "I passed over the flat six years ago, and I almost fancied
I could see the gold at the bottom."

"I should have tried it," said Richard.

"I was taking a load of wool down to Melbourne at the time, and I was
single-handed. Besides, it's a thousand chances to one if I had hit
upon gold. A rich gold-field gets scratched over a hundred times
before it's found out. No gold-field ever is any good, or ever proves
itself very rich, until a big rush sets into it."

The conversation not being continued, Welsh Tom took his concertina
from its case, and played some simple melodies. Attracted by the
sounds, a party of diggers, camping not many yards away, strolled
towards the spot, and stood about the musician in easy attitudes,
listening to his music. At the conclusion of a little piece of
delicious extemporising, one of the party asked the Welshman to play
"Shades of Evening," which he did very sweetly; and then the same man
said, "Play 'Alice Gray,' mate." It was an especially favourite air
with the Welshman, and he played it with much feeling. As the
last note died softly away, the diggers strolled back to their
camping-place.

Perhaps the only one who heard the melodies, and who was not
thoroughly softened by them, was Richard Handfield. In the hearts of
the rough diggers there was a stir of deep emotion as the sounds
travelled into space; the music of sweet remembrance dimmed many an
eye, and took their thoughts from the strange present into the realms
of long ago. But not so with Richard. His was a nature that needed
constant control. With Alice by his side to strengthen him, he could
be strong; left to his own resources, his weak nature asserted itself
in repinings. He pined for a result, but had not sufficient strength
of purpose to work for its accomplishment. Thus, fortified as he was,
brave as he felt himself to be, when he parted from Alice, no sooner
was he torn from the influence of her presence, than he became again a
murmurer at hardships of his lot. The picture of this man's nature is
a true one, and is not overdrawn.

He sat, on this evening, moody and discontented, looking with a dash
of contempt at the Welshman, who, reclining upon the earth, with his
back against a tree, was playing softly the old familiar airs. He
could not help thinking that this man was beneath him, this man who
could be contented with so little, and who had no disturbing memories
to render him miserable. At the same time he was envious of him, as
was evidenced by the remark he made.

"I wish I was like you, Welshman."

"Like me!" the Welshman exclaimed, in a tone of simple surprise.

"Yes; you haven't a care. No wife, no children, no ambition. Give you
your pipe and your concertina, and you are happy and contented."

Welsh Tom sighed, and said, "And you?"

"I am the most miserable dog in the world. I wish I had never been
born."

"There's no use in wishing that, mate. The best way is, to make the
best of it."

"That's all very well for you. You have led a rough life, and are used
to it. I wish I had been brought up like you. It would have been all
the better for me."

Welsh Tom sighed again, but did not reply.

"I was brought up as a gentleman," continued Richard, following the
current of his own selfish thoughts, "and just at my age, when I ought
to be enjoying life, I have to sweat for my living. You would not
think of it so lightly if you were married--"

"I think it would make life all the sweeter," said the Welshman,
simply.

"_You_ think!" exclaimed Richard, so disdainfully, that any man but
the Welshman would have fired up. "What do you know of marriage and
its responsibilities?"

"Nothing."

"What do you know of the weight it is upon a man, what a clog it is
upon him when he is in misfortune; how it frets him and worries him,
and drives him almost mad? Why, I doubt if you have ever been in
love!"

"I don't think I have."

"Well, then," said Richard, impatiently, "what's the use of talking
about it?"

"Not much; yet I've sometimes wished that my life had been different.
I've sometimes wished that I had a woman to love me, and children to
bring up. I've often thought, What use am I, rough and strong as I am,
in the world? I have been sinful enough at times to envy my mates who
had wives and children; and, as I've laid myself down upon my bed,
have wished that I could hear the prattle of children about my pillow.
Foolish of me, no doubt!"

"Better to be without them. You have no cares and no one but yourself
to look after. Why, look here! I have a wife whom I married for
love--her father is a wealthy hunks, but he discarded her for marrying
me. What is the result? Misfortune pursued me, and we are both
miserable. Would it not have been better that we had never met? Of
course it would. So you may thank your stars that you haven't a wife
to drag your thoughts down to desperation point, as my wife does
mine."

"Isn't she a good wife?"

"Fifty thousand times too good for me."

The Welshman refilled his pipe, and, after puffing for a few moments,
said--

"What one man sighs for, another man groans at. Of course it's absurd
tor such a rough-and-ready chap as me to say that if I had a wife
fifty thousand times too good for me, I should look upon her as a
blessing. I've never had much experience of women. The only woman I
ever loved was my old mother; but although I dare say I am ignorant
enough with regard to womankind, I often think that the world is like
a garden, and that the women and children are the flowers in it."

"Is the world like a garden to you! I've heard that you've had pretty
hard lines in it, too."

"So I have. But, you see, it is not my fault. I might make things
worse for myself, but I don't know how I could make them better."

"Very fine philosophy that, I dare say," Richard continued to grumble;
"but all men are not made the same, and all men don't think the same.
What is one man's meat is another man's poison. You like this sort of
life; you don't feel it any hardship to walk thirty or forty miles a
day. You were never brought up to expect anything better. I was. And I
can't sit still, and be grateful for misfortune."

Far away, through the miles of tall gaunt trees that stood in dark
relief, like sentinels of the night, the watch-fires were glimmering!
men bodily weary, but into whose hearts had stolen the peacefulness of
nature, were lying contentedly about, enjoying the sweet incense of
repose. Heaven's eyes were looking down upon them; God's handiwork
surrounded and encompassed them. The solemn trees, the bright stars;
the evanescent flash that marked the lizard's track; the hushed air
that glided through the forests of the New World, the faintest tracery
of whose minutest leaf is more marvellous than man's greatest work;
and all the myriad visible and invisible wonders of the wondrous
earth: contributed to the holiness of the night. The Welshman looked
round and beyond, where the glimmering watch-fires lost themselves in
dark depths. Then he looked at Richard, and said, as if wishful to woo
him to a softer mood,--

"If she were here--"

"My wife?" queried Richard.

"Your wife. If she were here, she would think this very beautiful."

"If she were here," said Richard, less fretfully; and then more softly
still, he repeated, "If she were here--ah! I know what I would wish."

"What?"

"I should wish but first (I don't mind telling you, Welshman, for you
are a good fellow, I think), I should like to lie with my head in her
lap, and see her soft eyes looking into mine--I should wish that we
might fall asleep upon this peaceful night, and never wake up again!
What a grand and awful thing to think of! All of us, as far as we can
see, to fall asleep for ever, and for it to be always quiet and
peaceful as it is now. Yet quiet as it is, I do not feel inclined for
sleep."

"I will tell you my story, if you like," said Welsh Tom. "It isn't
very long, and I don't suppose it is very interesting. But I feel as
if I should like to tell it to-night."

"All right," said Richard, with some slight show of curiosity. "I'm
listening."



                             CHAPTER XI.

                              WELSH TOM.


"I was born in North Wales," commenced the Welshman, "near the Valley
of Clwyd, in Denbighshire, and I passed my days at home in idleness.
My father died when I was very young, and I cannot remember him. My
mother was a little dark-skinned woman. I can see her now in her
widow's weeds; she never left them off from the time of my father's
death. I got some little education from an old clergyman, but not
much, for I was too fond of roaming over the hills and valleys to pay
attention to study. You can tell by my accent that I am Welsh born. My
dear mother was very proud of her descent, and like many old Welsh
families, hers had a pedigree which she could trace back many
centuries, and which connected us with a royal line. My father left
some property which brought in about forty pounds a year. Upon this we
lived, and we were looked upon as quite rich people. There were three
of us at home--my mother, my sister, and myself. We were the family.
When I say I passed my days in idleness, I mean that I was brought
up to no trade, and did not work for money. But I found the days
quite short enough. I fished, and hunted, and made excursions
to the neighbouring mountains. One day, when I was returning from
Moel-Fammau, I fell in with a gentleman, who told me he was making a
pedestrian tour for pleasure. We got into conversation together, and
he walked with me until we came to my mother's house. I was pleased
him, and I invited him to our evening meal. He made himself very
agreeable, and we offered him a bed for the night. The chance
acquaintance ripened into intimacy, and he stayed with us some time.
Lake and woodland round about the Valley of Clwyd are magnificent. He
was delighted with the scenery, and, being an artist, was desirous of
taking away with him some sketches of what he called a paradise upon
earth. So, he with his sketch-book, and I with my gun and rod, would
go in search of pretty bits of scenery, and he would sketch while I
shot or fished. We were away from home sometimes for two or three
days. We climbed Snowdon together, and caught otters on the banks of
shy streams, which seemed to be trying to hide themselves from our
sight. Many weeks passed in this manner, and we became much attached
to one another--that is, I became much attached to him. The life of
seclusion I had led made me like him better than I should have done,
perhaps, had I been a worldly man, or had I been, as I am now, better
acquainted with the world. He was to my life as bright clouds are to
the sky. We were all fond of him: I, because I had never had a friend;
my mother, because he would indulge her in her pet pride of royal
descent (he would talk with her for hours about ancient Wales and its
noble kings); and my sister--half a minute, mate, my pipe's out."

He paused to relight it, and continued:

"My sister liked him too well, although I did not suspect it at the
time. We took no notice of their being often together, for you see he
was our guest, and no suspicion of wrong entered our minds. Even when
the time drew near that he must depart, I did not think it strange
that my sister should look grieved at his going from us. We all felt
sorry--he had so enlivened our quiet home with his gay manners and
conversation, that it was impossible he could have been easily
forgotten. I accompanied him many miles on his road, and with
expressions of friendship we parted. For some days after his
departure, the sunshine of our home seemed to have disappeared; but
little by little it came back, and our quiet life was resumed. But not
for long--for one day my sister was missing, and all our anxious
searchings and inquiries brought us no tidings of her. My mother was
distracted, and I thought at the time it would be her death. A few
weeks after my sister's disappearance, a letter came from her, asking
our forgiveness for her flight, and saying that she hoped soon to
visit us, a happy wife. She made no allusion to any person in the
letter, but a mother's loving perception detected the sad strain in
which it was written; and many were the bitter tears she wept over the
letter. I looked at the postmark on the envelope, 'Wenlock,' and
resolved to go to Shropshire to try and find my sister. Dishonour had
never fallen on our family, and although no word of the fear which
haunted us passed between my mother and myself, I saw and knew the
dread which possessed her. I went to Wenlock. I did not think, as I
left my home, with a look at my gun and my fishing-tackle, that I
should never see them again, and that the Valley of Clwyd would
receive me no more. The day after my arrival at Wenlock, I met the man
whose name was Hardy who had made our home so bright while he stopped
with us. Then, when I saw him, the suspicion that had entered my
mind that he was connected with my sister's flight, flashed into
conviction. I questioned him, but he denied all knowledge of her. It
needed not the unquiet look or the hesitating speech to convince me
that he lied. He did lie, as I knew. It was not long before I found my
sister, and learned from her lips the shame that had fallen upon our
family. I can see her now, crouching before me, as she sobbed out her
confession; indeed, it was little she said, but it was enough. I can
see her face--it might be looking upon me in the light of this
beautiful moon!--as she raised it, tear-covered, to me, and implored
my forgiveness. Poor child! I could not reproach her; she was punished
enough already for her sin. But I determined to seek my false friend,
and to force him to make reparation. He received me civilly enough,
but almost laughed in my face when I asked him to marry my sister. I
spoke of the honour of our family, and begged him not to tarnish it; I
recalled to his mind the welcome and the hospitality he, a stranger,
had received at our hands; I spoke of my mother, and of the blow it
would be to her;--but he only sneered at me, and with his specious
tongue tried to put me off. I was hot, and he was cool, and when he
left me, I was goaded almost into madness. It appeared to me
incredible that hospitality should be so violated. That night, after I
had once more visited my sister, I determined to see this man again,
and to appeal more strongly, if I could, to his sense of honour. And
if he does not marry her, I thought, I will kill him! For what reason
I do not know, for I was strong enough for anything, I put a pistol
into my pocket. It was late in the night when I went to his residence.
The doors were closed, but at the back of the house I saw a light
shining in a window, and a shadow I could swear was his upon the
blind. I soon climbed over the low wall which enclosed the garden, and
then I scrambled up to the window, and dashed into the room. He was
half undressed, and his face turned very white when he saw me. My
words were few: I told him I was determined not to submit to
dishonour. He would have called out, but I presented my pistol, and
swore I would shoot him if he raised his voice. He knew that I would
keep my word, and he promised me that he would marry my sister on the
morrow. I held out my hand to him, and he shook it. We spent a few
minutes in friendly talk, and then, with a light heart, I prepared to
leave the house the way I had entered it. But no sooner had I got my
leg over the window-sill than he rushed to the door, and throwing it
open, called loudly for assistance. I was bewildered. The pistol I had
brought with me dropped to the ground. He picked it up quickly and
pulled the trigger, then let it fall again to the ground. As he did so
I jumped back into the room, which in an instant was filled with
people, and the next moment I was seized and dragged off to prison on
a charge of burglary and attempted murder. The case was quite clear:
my presence in the room, the smashed window-panes, the pistol, which
was proved to be mine, the bullet in the wall, made up a chain of
evidence too strong, of course, to admit of doubt. There was only my
bare word that the story was false; they shrugged their shoulders when
they heard it, and the judge himself said that it was nothing but a
shallow fabrication. They did not hesitate over the verdict; they
found me guilty, and I was sentenced to transportation for life."

The Welshman paused for a few moments, and puffed away at his pipe
before he resumed.

"While I was lying in prison, my sister fled. I wanted sadly to see
her, but it was denied me. She was nowhere to be found. Three days
before the ship sailed which was to convey me from my country, my
mother came to see me. Poor thing! she had almost lost her reason. She
wept over me, and gave me this little Welsh Bible, which I have never
parted with, and which shall be buried with me when I am dead. Then
she was taken away, and I never saw or heard of her again. I was
chained by the leg to a fellow-convict, and put on board ship. We were
eight months getting to Botany Bay. The ship was a leaky old tub. The
Government in those days picked out the rottenest vessels it could get
to convey the convicts from their native shores. The filth and dirt of
the ship were horrible. The water was poisonous; the food was
disgusting. A plan was mooted among the convicts to murder the
officers, and seize the ship; but it was discovered, and half-a-dozen
men were shot and thrown overboard. After that we were kept nearly the
whole of the time under close hatches. How that old tub creaked and
strained! Many a time I thought we were going down, and I prayed that
the vessel might be dashed to pieces, and make an end of us. For
during a great part of the voyage, I was angry and despairing, and
almost doubted the goodness of God. But this" (and here he touched the
Bible) "has taught me better! We arrived at our destination safely
enough, and were set to work. Some of the convicts in our ship did
well. The man I was chained to during the voyage is now a millionaire.
He bought some land in Sydney with his savings, and sold it at twenty
thousand pounds an acre. I was never very fortunate. I got my
ticket-of-leave, and worked for myself, chiefly at bullock-driving. I
could tell you some queer anecdotes of colonial life in those days.
Bushranging was all the go, and it wasn't safe to travel a hundred
miles with anything valuable about you. I remember once, as I was
coming into Sydney with my dray, seeing a buggy, without a horse,
standing on the road. When I drove up to it there was a man inside,
stark naked. He had been stuck up by bushrangers, and they had
stripped him of every bit of clothing, down to his socks. They had
torn from the buggy everything that he might have converted into a
covering: otherwise, they did not ill-treat him. I have been a
shepherd, too, and have lived by myself for months and months, without
seeing the face of a single human creature. It is a trying life. I
have known men grow into a state of incurable idiocy after a few
months' solitariness. It is not disagreeable at first; one takes a
pride in the sheep, and enjoys the sense of independence which is the
great feature in a shepherd's life; but, after a time, it is awful. To
sit, night after night, with no soul to speak to, with nothing to
read, with nothing to do but to smoke and think--it is no wonder that
men go mad! The wonder is, that so many escape with reason. I remember
a narrow brush I had with the natives. I remember it with pleasure,
for even the sight of a savage, although he was eager to kill me, was
a relief. I had missed some sheep, at odd times, within two or three
weeks. I was actually pleased when I first made the discovery, for it
gave me something new to think of. One night I determined to watch;
and, sure enough, I came upon the natives, carrying off half-a-dozen
or so of the fattest sheep. I did not see them sooner than they saw
me, and I had to run for it. I had provided for such a contingency,
and when I arrived, almost breathless, at the hut, I made all fast in
a twinkling, and prepared to receive them. They came up pretty fast at
my heels, but I saluted them with three barrels from my six-shooter,
and all but two retreated, yelling, faster than they came. The hut was
rather queerly built, just in a nook of some overhanging rocks, and
there was only the front of it exposed. This was an advantage to me,
for the savages could not get at me at the back. I watched their dusky
forms in the distance with absolute pleasure. It must have been quite
four months since I had seen anything in the shape of a man, and
though I saw him now in the shape of a deadly foe, it was better than
living any longer the devil's life of solitude. Besides, I did not
care much for them. If they had fought fair, I could have kept them
off as long as my powder lasted. But they don't fight fair. The
'noble' savage will take any mean advantage he can of an enemy. They
are a skulking, idle, dirty lot of thieves. They came to the attack
three times, and each time I received them with my six-shooter, and
sent them scampering back. Then they made preparations for doing what
I expected, and what I was prepared for. They collected all the dead
timber and dry brushwood they could lay their hands on, and threw it
before my hut, topping it with a lot of green branches. They were
going to smoke me out. But I was ready for them. My hut, built in the
cleft of a mass of rock, concealed a great fissure at the rear. In
fact, the fissure served as a sort of tunnel. I had worked at it for a
long while, and had dug along the natural tunnel until I came to an
outlet. This outlet I had filled up carelessly, with loose pieces of
rock, so that no one unacquainted with the secret would have suspected
that it was a place of concealment. When the savages in front of the
hut set fire to the pile of wood, which they did by throwing lighted
branches into it from a distance, I crawled through the tunnel. A
feeling did come over me, that if the savages knew of this retreat
they would be sure to guard it, and it would be all up with me; and
when I reached the outlet, I was a bit curious to know if I should see
any black skins knocking about. Luckily for me, there were none, and I
crept away. I did not have much time to lose, for I knew they would
rush the hut before it was half burnt, and would discover the tunnel;
so I only crept slowly along until I thought I was out of sight of
them, and then I scudded off. I ran a good many miles that night, and
I thought I was pretty clear of them. But the next day, when I was
within eight or ten miles of the station I was making for, I saw three
of the black devils racing after me, with their skinny legs. They
haven't much superfluous flesh about them, haven't the blacks. They
are all skin, bone, and muscle. They had tracked me the whole way,
nearly thirty miles, and when they caught sight of me, they set up a
hullaballoo of delight. I was pretty tired at the time, but the sight
of them put fresh life into me, and I ran my fastest. But they were
too much for me. I saw one of them disappear round a clump of timber
for the purpose of cutting me off, while the other two followed
straight after me. I soon came to where there was a bend in the track,
and just as I turned it, the first one sprang out of the timber. He
was within two hundred yards of me, and when he saw me he raised his
'boomerang,' and sent it whizzing into the air. Quick as lightning,
for I knew how true those savages could aim, I turned, and ran towards
the other two. Seeing this, and knowing that I had turned upon them to
escape the 'boomerang,' they stopped short, suddenly, and threw their
spears at me. I felt that there was nothing for it but fight. I had my
revolver in my hand, loaded in its six barrels. One of their spears
grazed my cheek as I flew along; and when I got close enough, I sent a
bullet into the nearest one, which dropped him. Then, with a sudden
rush, I closed with his companion. I had not climbed the Welsh hills
in my young days for nothing. The hardy life I had spent served me
now; and, as I flung my arms round the dirty savage, I knew that I
could master him in the end. But, in the meantime, the one who had
thrown the 'boomerang' was after me with raised spear. He did not dare
to throw it, for fear of hitting his comrade; for we were by this time
upon the ground, locked in each other's arms, and rolling over one
another, enveloped in a thick cloud of dust. Throughout the struggle,
I kept my revolver in my hand, but had no opportunity of using it. My
finger was on the trigger, and, in the scuffle, I must unconsciously
have pressed upon it; for, to my surprise, it suddenly went off. For a
moment I thought I was hit; but presently the clasp of the savage with
whom I was struggling relaxed, and he rolled back dead. The one who
had thrown the 'boomerang,' took to his heels upon hearing the report.
When I rose, and got away from the dust, I could see him scampering
off. I did not care to follow him. I made my way as quickly as I could
to the station: and so ended my shepherd's life. After that, I turned
bullock-driver. That is a dreary life enough, but it's better than
being a shepherd: it's more humanising. You get a chance, now and
again, of giving a lift to a poor fellow, and that does a man good,
you know. I remember, one morning, missing two of my bullocks. I did
not find them till pretty late in the day. I was glad enough when I
heard the tinkle of their bells, I can tell you; and as I was
following the sound, I came upon a man lying in the bush. At, first, I
thought he was dead; but I felt his heart beat--very faintly, though.
I carried him to the dray, and after a good deal of trouble, I brought
him to. He had lost his way in the bush, and had wandered about
without food for three days, until, what with hunger and despair, he
had almost lost his senses. I remember he told me a curious impression
he had, while he lay waiting, as he thought for death. He had quite
resigned himself to die, and as he was waiting, waiting, his thoughts
of course wandered back to the time when he was a boy at home. And he
came to a day when he was lying, quite a little lad, on the grass,
listening to the bells of his village church. His thoughts, just then,
did not wander farther back, for the death-forest he was imprisoned in
changed to the field of waving grass; he saw the leaves bending over
him and about him. And the death-silence which had shrouded him
was suddenly invaded by musical bells: they were the bells of his
village-church, playing the old familiar peals, and they actually
brought to his mind a long-forgotten rhyme, which he murmured with
parched lips to the ringing of the bells. He heard them sure enough,
but they were not the bells of his village church; they were the bells
on the necks of my lost cattle. If my bullocks hadn't strayed, it
would have been all over with him, for he couldn't have lasted another
day. So what I looked upon at first as precious hard, turned out to be
a piece of real good fortune. When the goldfields were discovered, I
turned to gold-digging; and between that and bullock-driving I have
spent all my time. It isn't a very attractive story, mine--is it,
mate? I don't think I ever had an ambition, and my life was over when
I was transported. I have often thought that if I were to meet the
false friend who wrecked my life, and who destroyed the happiness of
my family, I should kill him. But there is no chance of our ever
meeting, and I do not yearn for it. But I _do_ yearn, and have for
many a year yearned, to know what became of my sister. Once I
thought--it was in Melbourne three years ago, when I was loading flour
for up-country--that I saw a face like hers, but it passed like a
flash, and I did not see it again. It was but fancy, I know, yet it
has often haunted me since. I am not the only innocent convict in the
Colonies. I know some who were transported for life, for less crimes
than mine--perfectly innocent men, who are living victims of what is
called justice. If I had happened to stroll a different way the day I
met that false friend, my life might have been very different. I might
have married, and had children, and been a happy man. I wonder if, by
and by, those who suffer unjustly are recompensed in any way!"

"You are a queer fellow, Welshman," said Richard Handfield. "If I were
you, and had been treated as you have been treated, I should have
turned desperate, I think. By what right are men oppressed and hunted
down? Say I owe a duty to society; does not society owe a duty to me?
Just think for one moment of what I have suffered--"

"Of course," said the Welshman; "I do not mean to say I have as much
to complain of as you. You were educated and brought up in luxury--"

"That's where it is. If I had been brought up as roughly as yourself,
I might take the same view of misfortune."

"Certainly," said Welsh Tom, but in a voice which struck somewhat
strangely upon his companion's ears. "There's no comparison between
the hardship of our lives. But it is time to turn in. We must be up
with the sun. Good night!"

And then they prepared for their night's rest. Before falling asleep,
Richard glanced at the Welshman, and saw him, with an earnest
expression on his face, reading, by the light of the moon, a chapter
from his mother's old Welsh Bible.



                             CHAPTER XII.

                            THE NEW RUSH.


Early in the morning the plains were busy with moving life. Refreshed
by their rest, the hardy gold-diggers, full of health and vigour, rose
from their primitive beds, and raced to distant creeks to lave their
faces, and draw the water for the morning meal. Little do the constant
residents in a crowded city know of the vigorous healthful life that
stirs in the veins of these sturdy pioneers in the New World. "Take up
thy bed and walk," was literally illustrated by thousands of eager
men. Quickly were their rough toilets completed; quickly were the
hobbles taken from the horses' feet and the bells from their necks,
and quickly were they harnessed and ready to play their parts in the
moving panorama; quickly were the heavy-jawed, wisdom-faced oxen yoked
to the drays and waggons, patiently waiting for the flick of the whip
which bade them move along, which they did at a snail's pace, as if
they were weary of their day's work before it was begun; and soon were
log fires blazing, chops and steaks frizzling, and boiling tea
impatiently bubbling in the queerest of utensils. Scant time was given
to breakfast; scantier time was employed in rolling up blankets; less
time still was occupied in arranging them over broad backs and
shoulders, and starting on the march to the promised land. But one
operation all performed, and all took time in performing. When
everything else was adjusted, a black stump of a pipe was carefully
produced, carefully loaded, and carefully lighted by the aid of a
burning branch. Then, refreshed by their first pipe, the adventurers
whistled away dull care, and "stumped it" at the rate of four miles an
hour. It was a lovely summer morning. The sun was rising over a
snow-capped range, which reared its head in the distance, a picture of
beauty. As the warm rays fell upon the moss-clad giant, rills of
sparkling snowdrops gemmed its face with myriad silver tears. It was a
marvellous picture. But few stayed to pay it tribute. Among the few, a
ragged German, upon whose shoulders were placed all his worldly
treasure--a calico tent, a couple of blankets, and a flat-faced,
stolid-looking little boy, who, as his father pointed to the range,
crowed and clapped his hands at the glorious sight.

When evening came, and they were within twenty miles of the New Rush,
Richard Handfield and the Welshman halted at a wayside inn, which had
been built but a few days, and in which the proprietors were making
their fortunes rapidly. It belonged to two young Scotchmen, upon whom
fortune had descended unexpectedly. They had taken to woodsplitting,
and were happy at that, and contented even with the little they
earned, as is the proverbial way of Scotchmen. But they had the
national characteristic, an eye to the main chance: and they had the
still more national characteristic, the wit to take advantage of the
chance. So, directly the gold fever broke out, and they saw the signs
of it floating past their little six-feet-by-nine tent of drill, they
built themselves a building of gum-tree slabs. In less than two days
it was finished; the same evening they bargained for a dray-load
of bottled beer and spirits, the first on the road to the new
gold-fields; and the next morning, as impromptu hotel keepers, they
commenced to make their fortunes to the tune of two hundred pounds a
day. Their building was the only one for miles around, and as it stood
in the midst of an amphitheatre of hills, they dignified it by the
title of the Amphitheatre Hotel. Night and day it was crowded with men
who recklessly squandered their money at the bar in a state of the
wildest excitement.

At ten o'clock at night, Richard and his mate were standing by the
door of the Amphitheatre Hotel. The riotous noise within the hotel
precluded all idea of sleep, and they stood there, looking at the
moon, whose brightness was hardly dimmed by a screen of light floating
clouds, and talking over the chances of their being able to get a good
piece of ground at the New Rush. What is that in the distance? A white
object! Moving? Yes, and moving fast. Running, racing, like one
demented. White trousers, white guernsey shirt, bare arms, and bare
head--running like mad, under the white face of the moon. Who can he
be? Where has he come from? Is he mad? All the inmates of the calico
hotel came out to the door, waiting for the racer. And here he is,
panting, his strong chest heaving, his brawny arms waving, his blue
eye glaring! "Well, mate, what's the row! What's up?" Without
returning any answer to these questions, the racing individual points
in the direction of the New Rush, whence he has come, and gasps out,
"There--got a claim--heaps of gold--saw a bucketful dug up just before
I left--off to fetch my mates!" And off he is, without--wonder of
wonders!--stopping to drink. There he goes, racing off to fetch his
mates: a large white speck dotting the plain beyond--a small white
speck--a smaller white speck--an infinitesimal white speck--no speck
at all! Meanwhile, the conversation has become very animated. They all
thought so--that was the real El Dorado--they had been waiting for it
for a long while, and here it was at last! Anecdotes are related as
authentic, of fortunes made in a week, in a day, in an hour. Goodness
knows how the information has been obtained, but suddenly these men
are relating to each other wonderful accounts of thousands of ounces
obtained by single individuals at the New Rush, although, before the
arrival of the racing individual, they did not appear to know very
much about the new field. Gradually the conversation dies out, and the
diggers retire to their rest. Nothing disturbs the stillness of the
night. The scene is so lovely that it might serve for the Kingdom of
Dreamland. On the top of yon lofty mountain stands an old castle,
wrapped about, grim shadow as it is, by the soft moonlight. Near it,
each rugged rock and stone assumes a living shape. Why creep they away
so stealthily? Are they rock or human? Psha! They are but two diggers,
who, excited by the news, have given up all thoughts of sleep, and are
stealing away to the New Rush, so that they may not be too late for
the chance of digging up a bucketful of gold!

At noon on the following day, Richard and the Welshman arrived on the
ground. There were thousands of diggers there, and a long street of
calico stores was already erected to supply their wants. As the new
arrivals poured in, they had to traverse this street, which commenced
at the mouth of the main road, so that it presented a very animated
appearance, and was always thronged. Flags of all nations and flags of
no nations, were waving over the stores, many of which rejoiced in
high-sounding titles. There were the Great Wonder, the Little Wonder,
the Wonder of the World, and a great quantity of other Wonders. There
were the Monster Emporium (which, properly, would represent an
Emporium for Monsters); the Blue Store, and the Red Store (which were
impositions, for they were built of unbleached calico); and the Bee
Hive, which looked like one, for it was crowded with customers. There
was the Right Man in the Right Place, which was the sign of a
stationer's store, where old newspapers were being sold at exorbitant
prices, and where you had to pay half-a-crown for two sheets of
notepaper, two envelopes, and a pen. This store was also a kind of
post-office, where you might deposit letters on payment of one
shilling each, and receive them, if there were any to receive, at the
same price. There were half-a-dozen auctioneers, going, going, going,
with all their might. There were scores of draymen unloading their
drays, and blocking up the road with cases of goods. There was a horse
sale-yard, where horses were being galloped madly up and down, to the
infinite risk of life and limb; and wherein the salesman talked the
most outrageous nonsense, and told the most outrageous fibs, as to the
wonderful qualities of the cattle he was anxious to dispose of. There
were scores of hotels and restaurants for the accommodation of the
natives of almost every nation under the sun. There were the
Hibernian, the Spanish, the French, the American, and a host of
others. Those who could not find their native clime indicated on the
broad strips of calico in front of the stores, might console
themselves at the All Nations; while philanthropists might rest their
weary limbs at the Live and Let Live.

Forcing their way through the bustling crowd, Richard Handfield and
the Welshman soon reached the end of the straggling street of stores,
and came upon the gold diggings. These were situated upon a great
plain, which was dotted with strong sunburnt men, straining at
windlasses. Round some of the shafts small knots of diggers were
congregated, waiting eagerly for the "prospect." One shaft had just
come upon the gold, and great excitement was produced by the statement
that the first bucketful of earth had yielded twelve pennyweights of
the precious metal. There was no chance of getting ground near this
spot, for every inch for a mile around was monopolised; so the
new-comers had to walk on till they came to a less busy part of the
plain. A claim was there soon measured and marked out with pegs, and
the orthodox custom of sticking the pick[4] in the centre was duly
performed. Then Richard and his mate went in search of a spot to put
up their tent, and before evening their house was built, and Richard
was sitting at the door smoking his pipe, while Welsh Tom commenced to
build a new chimney. Welsh Tom was in his glory. He worked and sang,
and looked every inch a man of might; even Richard could not help
admiring him. His shirt sleeves of blue twill were tucked up to his
shoulders, and the hard muscles of his arms stood out so grandly that
Tubal-Cain himself might have been proud of them. Every now and then
he fell back and contemplated his mud chimney, which grew like magic
beneath his hands. Sad as was the story of this man's life, he was
happy and contented. Work--God's heritage to man--sweetened his days
for him!


--------------------

[Footnote 4: This sticking the pick in the ground is an honoured
gold-digging custom. It is the title-deed to the property. The
first thing gold-diggers do when they arrive upon a newly-discovered
gold-field is to look about them for a piece of ground which is most
likely to be auriferous. Having made their selection, they measure as
much of it as the gold-mining regulations of the colony allow them to
occupy (perhaps forty feet by sixty), stick a boundary wooden peg at
each corner, and then drive their pick into the centre of their
ground, which is called "claim." Then they reconnoitre, and set about
putting up their tent, and building a chimney. After-comers seeing the
pick in the ground, consider it a good title-deed, and pass on to
fresh spots.]

--------------------


Night was a busy time in the township. The bars of the calico
restaurants and hotels were crowded, and money was lavishly squandered
in the dancing-saloons and concert-rooms, with which the township
abounded. The men danced with each other; a barmaid was a _rara avis_
indeed, and could, with impunity, give herself as many airs as the
most fashionable drawing-room belle. The fever excitement of a New
Rush is most intense: men grow frantic from mere contagion. There was
one free-and-easy concert-room, filled with diggers, who shouted out
the choruses to the songs, and smoked and drank amidst a very Babel of
riot and noise. In this room, one night, a little excitable Frenchman
drunk himself into a state of madness, and, calling for a dozen of
Champagne, knocked the necks off half the bottles, and poured the wine
upon the ground; and three minutes afterwards, in a wild delirium, he
lit his pipe with a five-pound note.

So days and weeks passed, and every day and every week the gold-field
grew and grew until it extended over many miles. With magical celerity
a city was built, and before the birth of a new moon the thousand and
one institutions of a civilised life were growing in the light of
enterprise and industry. Streets were laid out, roads were made,
newspapers and banks were established, a theatre was erected; and
while the busy life of the city was in full glow, homely men were
building modest snuggeries in the suburbs, and the welcome faces of
women and children began to be seen.



                            CHAPTER XIII.

                              OLD FLICK.


Old Flick's dwelling-place was in a narrow thoroughfare--so narrow,
that Old Flick might have shaken hands with his neighbour on the
opposite side of the way without moving from his own side of the
pavement. Not that he ever tried the experiment; Old Flick was not
given to the shaking of hands and was as secret and close as the
grave. The thoroughfare was a misnomer; for if you walked about twenty
yards beyond Old Flick's dwelling-place, you came, to your great
discomfiture, plump upon the dead wall of a building which checked all
further progress. Many deluded pedestrians, who had strolled into the
place, curious to know whither it led, had been compelled to retire in
dudgeon. A clever speculator had purchased the land round about Old
Flick's dwelling, and had mapped it out and built upon it with so much
ingenuity, that when he came to Old Flick's Thoroughfare, which was
the last built upon, he, to his exceeding surprise, found himself
blocked in; and rushing to his plans, discovered that he had given
himself a few feet of land more upon paper than he actually possessed
upon earth. But he derived consolation from the thought that he had
accomplished his object, which was, to build as many tenements as he
could crowd upon his freehold, and to allow as little walking and
breathing space as possible to his tenantry. This result being
successfully attained, he took a first-class passage home, and retired
to Bermondsey, where he lives to the present day upon the results of
his ingenuity, and talks continually, in grandiloquent strains, of his
Estates in Victoria.

Old Flick's Thoroughfare, as it had grown to be called, boasted of
about two feet of pavement and six feet of road, and contained sixteen
tenements--eight on each side. In the owner's plan of the estate,
which decorated the walls of his parlour in Bermondsey, it was
represented as a magnificent street, lined on each side with handsome
edifices, four storeys high, and crowded with carriages and
pedestrians of the most fashionable character; whereas, in truth, the
tenements were each composed of but one storey, and there was scarcely
room in the road to wheel a barrow. Over the portico of Old Flick's
dwelling was the inscription:--


                             OLD FLICK'S
                           ALL-SORTS STORE.
               WHOLESALE, RETAIL, AND FOR EXPORTATION.


For be it here remarked, it is the fashion of all small traders in the
colonies to sell everything down to oranges and gingerbread,
"wholesale, retail, and for exportation." It is an idiosyncrasy
peculiar to the class. In the windows of Old Flick's All-sorts Store
was heaped the most worthless collection of worthless articles that
could possibly be compressed within so small a space. Blunt saws,
dirty pannikins, broken crockery, worn-out dog collars, two-bladed
penknives, empty ink bottles, rust-eaten picks and shovels, a few torn
books, the broken works of two or three clocks and watches, with a
multitude of other utterly incongruous things, were tumbled
indiscriminately upon each other. In one pane there was an
advertisement to the effect that "Doctor Flick prescribed for and
cured every disorder incidental to the human frame, at the lowest
possible rates;" and in another pane appeared the announcement that
Old Flick was a land and estate agent, and collected rents and debts,
and acted as the confidential adviser of all persons in trouble and
difficulty, and that secrecy and despatch might be relied upon. To
show that he was ready for consultation or active business, Old Flick,
with his palsied frame and blear eyes, might be seen, half the day,
standing in ragged slippers, at his door, on the watch for customers.
He might not inaptly have been likened to an ugly spider on the
look-out for flies.

The origin of Old Flick was wrapped in mystery. Nothing further was
known of him than that he had sprung up suddenly in Canvas Town, in
the early days of the gold-diggings, and that, when that motley
delectability was swept away, he had migrated to the blind alley to
which he gave his name, and which had just then been formed by the
operations of the Bermondsey speculator. Canvas Town, when Old Flick
first made his appearance there, was indeed a delectable locality.
Take a few acres of level ground, where in the winter people sank over
their ankles in thick mud, and where in the summer they were blinded
with the fine dust which an Australian hot wind drove mercilessly in
their faces; divide the ground into the narrowest and most irregular
of streets and lanes; erect (if it may be so called) upon it a few
hundreds of canvas tents, of all sizes and shapes, which in a
civilised city would not be thought fit for pigs or poultry; smoke-dry
the entire space until the canvas of the tents becomes black and
rotten, and hangs in shreds from weak battens and crazy poles; let the
wretched habitations be tenanted by gaol-refuse, by unscrupulous
traders, by dismayed and distressed immigrants who have journeyed over
stormy seas in search of gold, by brute faces and kind faces, by
flaunting women and ladies of tender rearing; let the spaces be choked
up with packing-cases, and immigrants' trunks, and crying children,
and perplexed wanderers from distant lands; above all, let no vice be
hidden, let no shame be shame-faced: and a reasonably correct picture
of Canvas Town, Melbourne, in the early days of the gold-diggings,
will be portrayed. But even in Canvas Town, where probably was
assembled the most incongruous mass of human beings ever congregated
together; where thief and gentleman slept with but the division
of a strip of calico between them, and where ladies cooked their
family meals, and washed their family clothes, in the open
thoroughfares--even there, Old Flick was a mystery. He was a tall,
thin, stooping man, with an unwholesome-looking face, always stubbled
and dirty. He was a dealer in everything, whether honestly come by or
not, and professed himself a doctor; and as a proof of his skill he
was in the habit of exhibiting a musty, yellow, old cash-book, in
which were inscribed more than fifty testimonials from grateful
patients who had been cured of lumbago, tooth-ache, and other plagues
which human flesh is heir to. He was sixty years of age, or
thereabouts, and he was so shaky that he could scarcely hold a glass
to his lips without spilling half its contents. He said it was ague;
others said it was rum. At the time of his introduction to the reader,
he was standing at his door, as usual, in his ragged slippers, with
his blear eyes looking frequently over his shoulder to the room at the
back of his store. While thus engaged, he was accosted by Milly, whose
manner and appearance betokened that she had been drinking.

"Hallo! Old Flick! Who is inside?"

"No one, Milly," he answered.

"What a liar you are, Flick!" said Milly. "Jim's inside, and you know
it."

"Jim isn't inside," he returned. "You're drunk."

"I say, Old Flick," said Milly, "I never saw you blush. Tell the truth
for once, and set your face on fire."

Old Flick looked venomously at the girl, but she only laughed at him
in return.

"Go in, and tell Jim I want to speak to him," she said.

"I have told you he isn't there."

"All right. Then I'll sit here and wait for him;" and she sat down on
the pavement in front of the store. Old Flick was in despair. He
glared at her, and swore at her.

"Get up, you she-devil!" he quavered, in a voice shaking with passion.

"I shan't. If you call me names, I'll pull your whiskers out."

"Go away, Milly," said Old Flick, coaxingly; "go away, there's a dear!
You'll have the peelers on you, and if Jim hears you--"

"Oh, he _is_ in there, is he!" exclaimed Milly, rising to her feet.

"Yes, but it's more than my life's worth to disturb him. Go away,
quietly, there's a dear!"

"All right; just you tell him, when you go in, to come home soon. I
didn't want to see him, you old fool. I only wanted to know where he
was. Oh, what a liar you are, Flick!"

And giving him a playful pinch on his withered cheek, she walked away,
singing.

In the back room of Old Flick's dwelling was assembled a quartette,
each member of which bore upon his face a certificate for the gallows.
It was composed of Jim Pizey, Black Sam, Ned Rutt, and the
Tenderhearted Oysterman. Spirits and glasses were on the table, and
the room was filled with smoke.

"That's arranged, then," said Jim Pizey; "we meet at Gisborne this day
fortnight?"


His companions nodded.

"Until then," he continued, "try quietly to find out where Dick
Handfield has got to."

"If I knew where that milk-faced woman of his was," said Ned Rutt,
with a dark look, "I'd soon work it out of her."

"Strike me blind!" exclaimed the Tenderhearted Oysterman. "You don't
mean to say you'd hurt a woman!"

"Wouldn't I?" sneered Ned Rutt. "You wouldn't hurt a woman, of course,
Oysterman?"

"Strike me dizzy!" exclaimed the Oysterman. "I wouldn't hurt a fly."

"There's that young devil, Grif," says Pizey; "he knows where Dick
Handfield is. If you could get hold of him and frighten him,
Oysterman, he might tell."

"I'd frighten him if I got hold of him," muttered the Oysterman, with
a villanous scowl.

"Come here, Old Flick," shouted Jim Pizey, striking the table
violently, and putting an end to the discussion. "Come here, you bag
of rattling old bones, and let's settle up with you."

Which settling-up caused a great deal of whining on the part of Old
Flick, and a great deal of cursing on the part of the quartette.

"Milly's been here, Jim," said Old Flick, when the settling was
arranged, and Ned Rutt and Black Sam had departed. "She kicked up a
nice row! I had as much as I could do to prevent her coming in."

"She'll be whimpering nicely when she knows I'm going away," said
Pizey, with a touch of softness in his voice, for bad as he was, he
had a sincere affection for the girl. "I haven't told her, and don't
intend to. I shall leave that job to you, Flick. And now just listen
to what I say, and don't miss a word."

With their heads close together, Jim Pizey and the Tenderhearted
Oysterman laid bare their scheme. It was complete in its
villanousness. Highway robbery, burglary, murder--they would stop
short at nothing.

"Never mind about Dick Handfield giving us the slip," said Jim. "He's
gone up the country, that's certain; we shall hear something of him,
and when we do, he shan't escape us a second time."

"I'll lay a trap for him when I come across him," said the Oysterman
with a lowering look, "that he'll be clever to get out of. A better
trap than the forged five-pound note."

"What do you think of our plan, Flick?" asked Pizey.

"It sounds very well, Jim," said Old Flick. "But I've heard such lots
of these schemes, and they've all ended in smoke."

"And why?" asked Jim Pizey, with passion. "Why have they all ended
in smoke? Because, when everything has been cut and dried, some
white-livered thief grew squeamish, and backed out of it; or because
the infernal cowards have turned dainty at the sight of a drop of
blood, and didn't have heart enough among the lot of 'em to kill a
man! But this shan't end so--if any man turns tail when I am leading,
I'll give him six barrels, one after another; he shall never turn tail
again! We've got the right lot this time; there are four of us down
here, and I can reckon upon four up the country. Grif's father's one
of 'em. When we've got them all together, perhaps we'll 'stick up' the
gold escort. I'll take care we won't bungle over it. We'll kill every
damned trooper among 'em."

"But we won't hurt 'em, Flick," said the Tenderhearted Oysterman. "If
I thought we should hurt the poor coves, I wouldn't have anything to
do with it."

"There shan't be many left to blab about it," said Jim. "How would you
like to have your hands in the gold-boxes, Flick, and run the dust
through your fingers, eh?" Old Flick's eyes glistened, and his fingers
twitched, as if they were already playing with the precious dust. "How
would you like to buy it at so much a measureful,--eh, Flick? That's
the way lots of it was sold after the 'Nelson' was stuck up in
Hobson's Bay."

"Ah," said Old Flick, pensively, "that was a smart trick, that was!
But them men had pluck in them."

"It's all very well to say that," grumbled Jim; "I could find men with
lots of pluck, but there are no opportunities, worse luck!"

"Only think," said Old Flick, gloating upon the subject; "the dark
night; the ship ready for sea, and going to sail the next day; the
gold on board; the captain and officers on shore. I can see it all.
The ship lies snugly at anchor; a boat with muffled oars, comes
quietly to the side; half a dozen plucky men glide up like snakes on
to the deck. Down goes the watch, gagged and bound in no time! The
iron boxes, filled with gold--thousands and thousands of ounces--are
lowered into the boat, and in a few minutes the brave fellows are
pulling back to shore, made for life." And old Flick's villanous face
brightened, and his eyes glistened.

"Made for life!" sneered Jim. "Not they! They were robbed right and
left by such villains as yourself. I could lay my hands on a man in
this town who would only put down a hundred sovereigns for every tin
measure of gold-dust he bought. A fairish-sized measure, too!"

"That's the way they do us poor hard-working coves," grumbled the
Oysterman. "Why, every one of them measures was worth a thousand
pounds! He ought to be had up for embezzlement."

And thus conversing, they sat together until late in the night,
hatching their villanous schemes; and when they departed, Old Flick
chuckled, and rubbed his hands, and with one leg, and nearly the whole
of the other in the grave, indulged in anticipations of a glowing
future, as he drank his rum-and-water.



                             CHAPTER XIV.

                    LITTLE PETER IS PROVIDED FOR.


Sailing down the stream of life in his new moral boat, of which he,
the Moral Shoeblack, was the Skipper, Grif was often at a loss what to
do with his leisure time. Having relinquished his profession of
vagrancy, he no longer felt himself at liberty to wander through the
streets without an object. He had an instinctive foreboding that the
Eye of the public was upon him, and was watching that he did not
misconduct himself. Every time he met that Eye (and he met it as often
as he dared to look into the human face) it appeared to be holding up
a warning finger, if such a metaphor may be allowed. It appeared to
say, Take care, now; be careful; no slouching about and trying to
deceive ME; I am watching you! He was so acutely sensitive of this
that it soon became his custom of an evening, when his day's work was
done, to wander into the suburbs, that he might escape from the Eye
which distressed him in the city's crowded streets. His day's work
often proved, in its result, a delusion and a snare; and on many and
many an evening did he gather together the implements of his trade,
and walk away without a sixpence in his pocket. He had no place where
he could safely deposit his bootstand and brushes, so wherever he
wandered he carried them with him.

Behold him now, with these badges of his office slung round his
shoulders, sauntering down a shady lane, with Little Peter by his
side. For Little Peter was better. Milly had nursed him through his
illness, and by her care had restored him to health. Was he grateful?
It is hard to say. Little Peter's mind was almost a blank. He suffered
without repining; he enjoyed without rejoicing. He took things as they
came, and never dreamt that any effort on his part could alter them.
After a scanty meal came hunger, and he waited patiently for the next
poor crumbs which charity bestowed him, and which he received without
gratitude. Then he hungered again and so on. It was all one to him.
Whether it were night or day was a matter of indifference.

Walking along listlessly by the side of his best friend, he paid no
heed to the beauty of nature, nor to the balmy air of evening. With
Grif it was different. He was keenly alive to the joys and sorrows of
life, and to all its surroundings. Even now, although he was hungry,
and heart-sore, and weary, he looked from side to side with eager
wonder and delight. The soft breeze was sweet to him, and he breathed
it in so gratefully that the shadow of a spiritual beauty stole into
his common face. He felt and rejoiced with nature that summer was
coming. The clouds smiled at its approach, and as Zephyr whispered the
glad tidings to field and forest, pretty blossoms peeped shyly out
from the bosom of the earth, wondering if winter had really taken its
departure. Grif was far from insensible to these influences, and the
delicious air of spring was in some measure a recompense to him for
the sufferings of his lot. So he sat him down under a hawthorn edge,
hungry yet grateful, and Little Peter sat beside him, looking at the
blood of the dying sun staining the western sky.

Not far from where he sat was the house of Nicholas Nuttall. The
female head of that house was in a high state of glorification, for
Matthew, their rich brother, had dined with them that day, and had
behaved so graciously that visions of future greatness grew in her
imagination. Matthew was a single man; of that fact she had made
herself sure by a process of cross-examination to which she had
subjected her lord and master the previous night. Certainly, her task
had not been an easy one, for Nicholas was singularly reticent and
hesitating in his replies to her eager queries; but goaded, pushed
thereto by his wife's perseverance, he had at length given her to
understand that his brother had no family.

"And why you should have endeavoured to keep the fact from me," Mrs.
Nicholas had said, before composing herself to sleep, "is beyond my
comprehension. I am not a murderess, and I don't wish to poison your
brother--I may say _our_ brother--to-morrow at dinner. But you always
_were_ aggravating, Nicholas. I wonder I've a bit of flesh left on my
bones!"

"You haven't much," thought Nicholas as, shifting himself in bed, he
came in contact with some of her bony protuberances; "you have worn it
nearly all away by nagging."

But Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall was satisfied. She had ascertained that
Matthew had no family, and that was sufficient for her. Whether he
were a widower or a bachelor was immaterial. He had no ties, and
Nicholas was his only brother. Nicholas was, therefore, the natural
heir to the property, and the one remaining duty her newly-found
brother-in-law owed to his family was not to remain too long upon
earth. Such a proceeding would be manifestly indecent.

Dinner was over, and Matthew and Nicholas were sitting in the
verandah, smoking their cigars. Had Matthew wished to smoke in the
drawing-room he might have done so; indeed, Mrs. Nuttall had hinted as
much, had even tried to prevail upon him to do so. She was so fond of
smoke! nothing was so agreeable as a good cigar! the fragrance, and
all that, was so delicious! (It was lucky for Nicholas that the wife
of his bosom did not see the sly smile which played about his lips
while she was uttering these rhapsodies.) But Matthew Nuttall would
not be persuaded. He was too shrewd a man not to see through the small
soul of Mrs. Nicholas, and he valued her excess of politeness at
exactly its proper worth.

Thus it was that, notwithstanding the importunities of Mrs. Nuttall,
Matthew and his brother were sitting in the verandah smoking their
cigars. When he had consented to dine with them he made it a special
provision that no guests were to be invited to meet them; it was
to be a quiet family dinner. And Mrs. Nuttall, although inwardly
disquieted--for she had laid out plans for a grand entertainment in
honour of the rich squatter, an entertainment which would humiliate
her neighbours (there is even that sort of pride in the Australian
colonies)--wisely deferred to his wish. They had spent a pleasant
afternoon. Mrs. Nuttall was amiability personified, although her
graciousness was a trifle too obtrusive; and both Matthew and
Nicholas, without any thought of pounds, shillings, and pence, were
genuinely glad to renew brotherly relations. They sat together in
silence, each engrossed in his own special thoughts. Nicholas was
speculating upon his brother's previous life. From what Matthew had
said to him on the occasion of their first meeting, he knew that there
was present unhappiness connected with it--some domestic misery which
even now, in spite of all his obstinate attempts at concealment, was
preying upon his heart. Nothing could more surely denote this than his
behaviour to his niece, Marian. Now, he would be all tenderness to
her, would speak to her affectionately, caressingly; and now, as if
some sudden remembrance had risen, which chilled the tender feeling,
he would turn cold and stern, and would strive to steel himself
against her girlish graces and fascinations. It was happiness and
torture to be in her society, for she reminded him of his daughter.
When she was present he juggled with his senses, and, shutting his
eyes, believed that it was Alice who was in the room. Ha could feel
her presence about him, and while the impression was strong upon him,
the love he bore to her came back to his heart, bringing with it a
painful sense of desolation. For he did love her, in spite of all; he
did love her, although he would never look upon her face again. To
that he was pledged. He had told her he would never see her again
unless she renounced her husband; at the time he had told her, and
ever since, he knew that she would be faithful to her marriage
vows--he knew that she would be faithful till death to the man she had
chosen. The words he had spoken to her on the night she made her last
appeal to him were constantly recurring to him: "The day you ran away
from your home I resolved to shut you from my heart as long as you
were tied to that scheming scapegrace." Ah! but could he shut her from
his heart? No, he felt that he could not do that. Her sweet pale face
was for ever pleading to him. It was indelibly stamped upon his mind,
and he could not efface it. Not long ago, when he was in his grand
house at Highlay Station, he rose from his bed one night, and went to
the room she used to occupy. There he sat down, and conjured her
before him. Then he went outside the house, and looked around. All was
his as far as he could see, and miles beyond and on every side of him.
He was lord of range and gully, and all that was thereon. Forests of
iron-bark and gum, tens of thousands of sheep, vast herds of oxen,
droves of horses, the growing wealth of mountain and plain, were his.
He was lord of all. Yet, as he stood there gazing on his greatness, he
would gladly have bartered it for his daughter's love. Thus much he
confessed to himself. He knew his own weakness, but the world should
not know it. He owed it to himself that he should be consistent in
this. Often and often he thought to himself that Alice might be in
want, might be suffering. Well, if she suffered, did he not suffer
also? The worst of suffering was his. The suffering of a lonely life,
unblessed by a single caress. No, not one--not one loving smile, not
one bright look, of the tender light of which he could say, "This is
for me, from the heart; it is not bought." Worshipper as he was of the
power of money, these thoughts came home to him, and brought
desolation with them.

The soft sycophancy of Mrs. Nuttall disgusted him; he knew well enough
what evoked it. And he marvelled how it was that his brother, who was
unselfish and tender-hearted, could have married such a cross-grained
woman. "But I suppose Nicholas did not know her nature until it was
too late," he thought; "all women are false--all women are two-faced,
deceitful, or mean, or selfish, or something worse." All? He knew he
was lying to himself. All women were not so. The remembrance of his
married life rose before him, for it had been a happy one. His wife
had been to him an angel of devotion and goodness. All women were not
bad; but he took a stern delight in striving to make himself believe
so.

Nicholas had been watching the shadows of sad remembrance pass over
his brother's face; he was getting to be an old man, but his heart was
very tender to his brother, and he yearned to administer consolation.

"Mat," he said, "you are not happy."

"No, I am not." The reply was drawn from him almost involuntarily.

"Can I do anything?"

"Nothing, Nic." He paused for a short while, and then, laying his hand
upon his brother's arm, he said, "When we first met I hinted that I
did not wish my domestic life touched upon. I may one day speak of it
to you; until then let it remain a sealed book between us." Nicholas
bent his head. "I think it is your pretty little blossom, Marian, that
has opened my wounds this afternoon, for I--I once had a daughter
myself." He passed his hand across his eyes, and rose. "I see Marian
in the garden," he said; "I will take a stroll with her."

He pressed his brother's hand, and joined Marian. Nicholas looked
after him, and sighed. "So rich," he said, "and so unhappy! I am
happier than he, notwithstanding--yes, notwithstanding that I am
blessed with Mrs. Nuttall." The appearance of that lady upon the
verandah just at the moment he uttered this qualification, made him
feel very guilty, and he mutely thanked Heaven that she had not heard
him.

"Where is brother Matthew, my dear?" she inquired, in her most sugary
tones.

"He is taking a stroll with Marian," replied her spouse, pointing to
the two figures in the distance. "They are just turning into the
lane."

Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall looked, and seated herself with a satisfied air.
Things were going on famously. Matthew would make his niece his
heiress. Should they stop in the colony, or return to England when
that event occurred? It might occur any day. People went off so
suddenly in these hot climates. As she pondered, the servant came on
to the verandah with coffee, of which Nicholas took a cup thankfully.
It was not every day that such attention was paid him. Mrs. Nicholas
Nuttall declined coffee. Her soul was too highly attuned for such
common beverage.

"She is a dear good girl!" she mused.

"That she is, Maria," assented Nicholas, sipping his coffee, "and her
wages are not at all high, as wages go. So neat and tidy, too!"

"Of whom are you speaking, Mr. Nuttall?" asked Mrs. Nuttall, with a
lofty stare of surprise at her husband.

"Of Jane, my dear, the new servant, of course."

"I referred to our child," said Mrs. Nuttall, in her grandest tones,
which always conveyed a frozen sensation to Mr. Nuttall's marrow; "to
our child, Marian. You do not suppose that I should speak in that
manner of a menial."

"Oh, I beg your pardon, I am sure," apologised Nicholas, very
crest-fallen. The next moment he almost choked himself in an attempt
to hide his shame by swallowing his coffee too hastily.

Mrs. Nuttall regarded with complacency his efforts to recover his
breath. His punishment was just.

"A dear good girl," repeated the lady, with emphasis, when Nicholas's
struggles had subsided. "And I shouldn't wonder if she mightn't look
as high as a lord, or even a marquis."

"I shouldn't wonder either, Maria," said Nicholas, profoundly
stupified by his wife's words. "I have often looked as high myself."

"The coffee has surely got into your head, Mr. Nuttall," observed Mrs.
Nuttall, with a look of supreme contempt.

"I must have coughed it up, I suppose, my dear," said Nicholas,
jocularly; he was fond of his joke, and enjoyed it even when Mrs.
Nuttall's freezing influence was upon him. "Don't be alarmed, Maria.
It will settle down eventually."

"Your coarse wit is beneath contempt," exclaimed Mrs. Nuttall,
severely, "and is cruelly out of place when the happiness of our only
child is concerned."

"Upon my soul, I haven't the slightest idea what you mean, Maria."

"Then I shall not explain, sir," said Mrs. Nuttall, rising with
dignity, and walking away.

Nicholas, perfectly satisfied at being deprived of her company,
disposed himself for a nap. Clearly, Mr. Nicholas Nuttall was not a
model for husbands.


In the meantime, Grif and Little Peter had not moved from where they
had at first seated themselves, under the shadow of the hawthorn
hedge. Their conversation had not been very animated. Once, Grif had
asked Little Peter if he was hungry, and Little Peter had answered,
Yes. And then Grif had unconsciously constituted himself a committee
of ways and means, and found that he was totally unable to vote the
supplies. Time was when, Little Peter being hungry, Grif would issue
forth and prowl about and beg, or steal perhaps; at all events, he
would seldom return to Little Peter without food, obtained somehow or
other. He could not do that now; he had taken the pledge of honesty;
he had renounced vagrancy, and he was helpless. Glancing at Little
Peter every now and then, he began to be perplexed with an entirely
new consideration. It was this. Little Peter was hungry. Grif had only
one means open of obtaining food. Supposing he was unfortunate the
next day, and was unable to supply Little Peter's stomach, what was to
be done? Here was a great difficulty; and looking it steadily in the
face, it dawned grimly upon Grif's mind that Little Peter was a
serious responsibility.

Engaged in the contemplation of this subject, Grif became suddenly
aware of the approach of two long shadows, and looking up, saw Matthew
Nuttall and Marian. Although the day was waning fast, he recognised
Alice's father on the instant. Their eyes met, and Matthew stopped.
Marian, whose hand was resting lightly on her uncle's arm, looked at
the two lads with compassion.

"You are the boy who came to Mr. Blemish's office for a situation one
day when I was there," said Matthew Nuttall in a tone of inquiry.

Grif looked an affirmative. He did not dare to trust himself to speak
just yet.

"And Mr. Blemish kindly gave you one," said Matthew.

Grif looked another affirmative.

"Are you doing well?"

"No, sir," Grif found voice to reply.

"He looks very miserable, uncle," said Marian, in a half whisper; "and
see that other little boy there. Is he asleep?"

"No, miss; he is hungry," Grif had to check a rising sob as he said
this. "Look up, Little Peter."

Little Peter looked up with his large pleading eyes, and then turned
his face to the ground again.

"He seems ill, uncle," whispered Marian. "Shall I run to the house,
and bring him something to eat?"

"Hush! my dear," said Matthew Nuttall, taking the girl's hand in his.
The little bit of womanly sympathy reminded him of his daughter, who
never allowed a poor man to go hungry from Highlay Station. "Wait a
moment. Is he your brother?" This to Grif.

"No, sir."

"Any relation?"

"Not as I knows on."

"Why are you two together?"

"I takes care on him," said Grif; "but I don't know what to do now. I
ain't got nothin' to give him to eat."

"Oh, uncle!" cried Marian.

But he did not release her hand.

"Where is his mother and father?"

"Got none."

"And yours?"

"Got none." Grif told the lie readily enough. He was ashamed of his
father, and did not want to be questioned about him.

"What have you earned to-day?"

"Nothin'."

"And have you had nothing to eat?"

"Not since this mornin'."

"How am I to know that you are telling the truth?"

The tears came to Grif's eyes. He would have given a saucy independent
answer, but the thought of Little Peter restrained him. He did the
best thing he could. He was silent.

"And you have no money?"

Grif turned out his pockets. Every one of them was full of holes. He
had answered Matthew Nuttall's questions quietly and sadly, not in
that reckless defiant manner which Matthew remembered he had used in
Mr. Blemish's office. This itself pleaded for him. The stern man of
the world knew genuine suffering when he saw it before him. The very
hopelessness which spoke out of Grif's voice was in the lad's favour.
He felt a desire to befriend Grif. But there were more questions to
ask before he determined.

"When you applied to Mr. Blemish for a situation, you said you had
given a promise to a lady. What was your promise?"

"I promised to be honest," answered Grif, wondering whether Matthew
Nuttall had any suspicion who the lady was.

"And you have kept your promise?"

"Yes."

"Why do you not go to the lady now you are hungry, and ask her for
assistance?"

"I don't like to," said Grif. "Somethin' pulls me back. She's hardly
got enough for herself, I think. She'd give it me out of her own
mouth, she would. She's poor--but she's good, mind! I never knowed any
one so good as her! And I'd lay down my life for her this minute if
she wanted me to!" He burned to tell who she was; he forgot his own
cause when he spoke of her. Ah! if he could make her happy! But some
feeling restrained him--some fear that he might make matters worse for
Alice if her father knew that she was a friend and companion to him,
who was no better than a thief.

"He speaks the truth, uncle, I am sure," said Marian.

"And so am I, my dear." He considered how he could best assist them.
"You lead a hard life," he presently said.

"I don't care for myself," Grif said; "only for Little Peter."

"Well, I will send you and Little Peter on to one of my Stations, if
you like, where you can learn to make yourself useful, and where at
all events you will have enough to eat and drink. Anything else will
depend upon yourself. What do you say?"

Grif's mind was made up in an instant. For Little Peter--yes. For
himself--no. He could not leave Alice. He would starve sooner.

"Will you take Little Peter, sir, and not me?" he asked, in a
trembling voice. "I can't leave this, sir. I've made a promise, and
daren't break it. The lady who's been kind to me might want me, and I
mustn't be away. I shan't like to part with Little Peter, sir, but
it'll be for his good. He's often hungry when I've got nothin' to give
him to eat. I ain't give him anythin' to-day, and p'rhaps shan't be
able to to-morrow. Don't say no, sir! Take Little Peter, and not me,
and I'll do anythin'--anythin' but go away from where she is." And
Grif burst into a passion of tears, and stood imploringly before
Alice's father.

He turned to his niece, and she caught his hand and pressed it to her
lips. He needed no stronger appeal in his then softening mood.

"It shall be as you ask," he said. "Little Peter, as you call him,
shall go with us now."

Grif lifted Little Peter to his feet. "This gentleman's going to take
care of you, Peter," he said. "You'll never be hungry no more." Little
Peter opened his eyes very wide. "You're to go with the gentleman,"
Grif continued, "and he'll give you plenty to eat and drink. You are
not sorry to part with me, are you?"

"No," replied Little Peter, with perfect sincerity.

A keen pang of disappointment caused Grif to press his nails into his
hands; he threw a troubled look at Little Peter, but he soon recovered
himself, and taking the child's wasted hand, he said tenderly, "Good
bye, Little Peter."

"Good bye," said Little Peter, without the slightest show of feeling.

A big lump rose in Grif's throat as he stooped to kiss the lad. He
touched his ragged cap when Matthew Nuttall gave him a piece of
silver.

"Thank you, sir," he said. "You'll take care on him?"

Matthew Nuttall nodded, and the three walked away. So Grif and Little
Peter parted. Grif gazed after the lad, but Little Peter did not turn
his head to give his more than brother one parting look of affection.
"Never mind," Grif thought, with a heavy sigh; "he'll never be hungry
no more." He sat upon the ground, and watched them till they were out
of sight. He was alone now. Rough was dead, and Little Peter was gone,
for ever. How lonely everything seemed! But there was comfort in the
thought that Little Peter was provided for, and would always have his
grub and a blanket. And with that reflection to console him, Grif laid
him down beneath the hawthorn hedge, and went to sleep with the stars
shining upon him.



                             CHAPTER XV.

                       A HOT DAY IN MELBOURNE.


A hot, scorching day. The winds having travelled, over hundreds of
miles of arid plain and smoking bush, floated into Melbourne, laden
with blazing heat. The sky glared down whitely, and the blinding sun
scorched up moisture and vegetation with its eye of fire. The very
clouds where white with heat, and to look up at them made one dizzy.
In the city, mankind panted with thirst and fatigue, and, regardless
of consequences, revelled, inordinately and greedily, in ices and cool
drinks. Womankind retreated to cellars and shady nooks, and, divested
of superfluous attire, indulged, gratefully, in water-melons; and
mankind, coming home wearied and parched, joined womankind in her
retreat, and lay at her feet, tamely. Dogkind panted, and lolled out
its tongue, distressfully; but though it wandered in despair through
the streets, it found no relieving moisture in kennel or gutter; and
being, by its constitution and laws, debarred from the luxury of ices
and cool drinks, it endured agonies of silent suffering. Clerks fell
asleep over their ledgers, and storekeepers grew dozy behind their
desks. At the sea-side the very waves were too wearied to roll, and
lay, supine, beneath the dreadful glare of the sun. The beaches were
deserted: not even a crab was to be seen. In the country, the bush
smoked and blazed, and wretched oxen strained at their chains, and did
their half-a-mile an hour in dire distress. With suffering noses
almost touching the ground, they smelt in vain along the earth for
liquid life. The drivers with their cabbage-tree hats slouched over
their eyes, were too lazy to crack their whips, and too fatigued to
swear loudly at their cattle; but, determined not to be cheated of
their privilege, they growled and cursed in voices almost inaudible.
The leafless trees smoked beneath the glare of the sun, and stretched
their bare branches to the sky as if for pity, but got none. On the
goldfields, diggers stripped to their shirts, and were glad to hide
themselves at the bottom of deep pits, with bottles of lager beer or
cold tea by their side; those who could find no such shelter threw
themselves upon their rough beds, and longed eagerly for the night.
Everywhere, business, except where bare-armed men or muslin-clad
barmaids served long drinks to thirsty souls, was at a standstill.
Merchants were too lazy to haggle. Percentages were forgotten, and
invoices disregarded. Even Zachariah Blemish, dressed in white linen
from the top of his head to the sole of his foot, and looking, with
his rubicund face, like a white and pink saint, ready and fit to fly
heavenward, lolled idly in his sanctum, and refreshed himself with
hock and seltzer water. The conjugal Nuttalls were in the deepest
misery. The head of the family, Nicholas Nuttall, was in his
dressing-room, pouring jugfuls of cold water over his head, as if he
were afraid of its taking fire: and, directing his eyes to the bed,
beheld thereupon the partner of his bosom, whose face was puffed up
with mosquito bites, and who, glaring reproachfully at her husband,
said as plainly as eloquent looks could speak, Fiend! behold your
handiwork! Walls and pavement were smoking; and all nature, excepting
the flies and the fishes, was in a state of misery. The blazing wind
was comparable to nothing but the blast from a fiercely-heated
furnace, and high and low succumbed to its power.

High and low! Ay, even down to Old Flick, who, in the back-room of his
All-Sorts Store, in Old Flick's Thoroughfare, gasped, and growled, and
cursed, as he drank his rum-and-water. Old Flick was attired in shirt,
trousers, and slippers. Nothing more. His shirt was open at the bosom,
thereby displaying a sinewy chest, covered with dirty gray hair; and
was tucked up to the shoulders, showing his lean and bony arms. He was
not a pleasant object to look upon, with his straggling hair, and his
blotched face, and his bloodshot bleary eyes. One might have wondered
while looking upon him, Was this man ever a child, and was he ever
blessed with a mother's love? One might have so wondered, and,
doubting, might have been pardoned for the doubt. For indeed he looked
terribly sinful and depraved: a very blot upon humanity. Sitting and
drinking and growling, he became conscious of a shadow before him, and
looking up and seeing the girl Milly, who had just entered the room,
he made a motion as if he would like to spring upon her. She, too, was
not pleasant to look upon; for she also had been drinking, and her
eyes were bloodshot. Her hair was hanging loosely about her face, and
she had a reckless and defiant manner which almost unwomanised her.

"What do you want?" growled Old Flick.

She did not answer him for many moments. She had come there for a
purpose, and she knew she was not fit for it, and that she was no
match for the crafty man who sat before her. Milly's condition was
very pitiable. She depended upon Jim Pizey for support, and she had
not received a line from him since his departure from Melbourne. He
had left her without wishing her good-bye, but he had sent her a
message that Old Flick would give her money when she required it.
Depending upon this, when she wanted funds she had applied to the old
man, but getting a few shillings from him was like squeezing life's
blood from his heart. The process was such a sickening one to Milly,
that she had lately but seldom attempted it. He had so wearied her
with his whining protestations, that she had not applied to him for
assistance for a long time; but now necessity was driving her hard.
There was another reason besides the want of money, which induced
Milly to visit Old Flick at the present time. He had, she knew,
received a letter from Jim, and she wanted to read it. You see, Jim
was the only rock the poor girl had to cling to.

As for Old Flick, the sight of Milly was torture to him. He thought he
had got rid of her for good, and here she was to torment him again. He
knew what she wanted well enough--money, money, always money! But he
would not give her a doit--not a doit! He did not think that part of
Milly's purpose was to get Jim's letter; he was not aware that she
know he had received one. His tribulation would have been sore indeed
had he suspected that; for there was something in the letter about
Milly which would be enough to drive her mad. "I wish she would die!"
he muttered, inly. "What's the use of her? Why don't she die?" If he
could, he would have killed her with a look.

"What do you want?" he growled again.

She seized the bottle from the table, and placed it to her lips. Old
Flick did not attempt to restrain her. Indeed, he was frightened of
her.

"I want money!" Milly exclaimed, with a kind of drunken scream.

"The old cry!" he screamed, in return.

"Yes, the old cry. You thought you weren't going to hear it again, eh!
I want money!"

"I haven't any."

"Lies! You're rolling in it. You've enough to fill your grave. I want
money."

"You're a pretty article to want money," said Old Flick, with a sneer.
"Go and earn it."

"Don't say that again, Flick," said the girl, with a threatening flash
in her eyes, "or I'll tear your liver out! Oh, I don't care for your
looks! What do you think I've got in me to-day?"

"I don't know, and I don't care," he replied.

"I've got the devil in me!" she cried. "Mind how you let it loose. I
feel it here--here!" and she drew her hand, with a nervous twitching
of the fingers, across her forehead. "I try to deaden it to sleep with
drink, but it won't rest. It dances in my brain, and laughs at me
through my eyes! Oh! you're frightened at my talk, are you? What
wonder! I'm frightened at it myself."

"You want rest, Milly," the old man said, with a sort of lame
compassion in his voice.

"Rest!" she echoed, bitterly. "What rest can I expect or do I deserve?
What did I come here for?" she asked herself, in a confused, wandering
manner. "I came here to ask you for something, Flick. Not money alone;
no, no! something else. I have it!" she steadied herself in an
instant. "The letter!"

"The letter!" he repeated, his face turning ashen white.

"The letter!" she reiterated. "The one you received from Jim Pizey
yesterday. You have a lie ready! I see it trembling on your lips. Send
it back, and mind it don't choke you! Where's the letter?"

"I haven't it."

"Where's the letter?"

"I've burnt it."

"You are a liar!" she said, quietly, looking steadily at him.

"You're drunk!" he cried, in a voice thick with passion, "If you don't
go away I'll set the police on you."

"Do!" she replied, laughing scornfully, "and I'll tell them who you
are in league with. Who do you think they will believe? You or me?
You'll set the peelers on me, will you? You worn-out parcel of bones,
it's more than your soul's worth--though that's not worth much. I'll
tell them that you are in league with two of the biggest scoundrels in
the colony. And I'll prove it too. You shall go out of here into quod,
and out of quod into hell, Old Flick! You'll set the peelers on me,
will you? Shall I call 'em in?" and she moved towards the door.

He threw one of his evil looks upon her, and, in his shaking voice,
told her to stay where she was.

"Give me some drink," exclaimed Milly, taking the bottle as she spoke,
and drinking from it again. "Do you know what I am going to do,
Flick?" she asked, her mood suddenly changing. "I'm going to kill
myself with drink."

"All the better," he growled.

"Right you are!" she returned, recklessly. "I'm tired of my life. It's
time I was dead! Look here, Flick; if you don't tell me where Jim is,
I'll set the place about your ears."

"I don't know," he whined; "how should I know? What's the use of
asking me where he is? I know nothing about him. He wrote me a letter,
but you don't think he put his address in it, do you? You ought to
know him better than that, Milly!"

"You miserable gray-head, ain't you afraid that your lies will choke
you? Ain't you afraid of dying? What an old sinner you are! Do you
ever think of the worms creeping over your ugly carcase, and gloating
over you when you are in your grave? Do you ever think of the cold
slimy earth falling on your face through the coffin, and sucking all
the hope out of you, even after you are dead? Ain't you afraid when
you think of it? I am! I am!" she exclaimed, with a shuddering shriek;
"or I should have killed myself long ago!"

The drunken old man's face twitched with terror as she spoke these
dreadful words, and he whined piteously, "Don't, Milly, there's a good
girl. Talk of something pleasant."

"I haven't the courage to do it," she continued, in a musing tone, not
heeding his remonstrance. "I have thought of it often--have dreamt of
it often. I have woke up in the night and seen it looking at me, from
the foot of the bed--my thought that seemed to be all eyes, and no
shape. It speaks to me, and I can never hear it; it clings about me,
and I can never feel it. It takes me through the dark streets to the
water side, and I look down and see the stars bidding me come--I see
the shadows of the trees moving about at the bottom--and then and
then," she said, shudderingly, "I see myself lying in the mud, and
things crawling over me--and I run away, I run away!"

Old Flick moved nearer to the wall, and regarded her with cowardly
fear.

"If I wasn't afraid of that," she continued, "I should have been out
of the world long before now. I bought some poison one day, and was
very near taking it. But I got such a fit of shaking all at once, that
I threw it on the floor, and stamped on it, and ran away, mad with
fright. Did you ever try to take poison, Flick? Pour it in a glass,
and look at it for a moment, and you see a lot of devils glaring at
you and clutching at you, and you feel a lot of creeping things
dancing in your brain, and stirring in your hair, and tingling at your
fingers' ends!"

Old Flick shook with fear now, and not with ague. "Don't talk like
that, Milly," he cried again, looking fearsomely about him; "do talk
of something pleasant."

"Something pleasant!" Milly exclaimed. "What have I got pleasant to
talk about? I wish the sun would burst through the ceiling, and strike
me dead, and so put an end to it!" and she threw her hair from her
face, and looked up wildly. "Do you know, Flick, I think something is
going to happen to me! My head is whirling about strangely. I've an
old father and mother at home, and I've been thinking of them at odd
times, all the day. Father is an old man--a basket-maker--and I can
see him as plainly as I see you, sitting down in our little room,
weaving the canes, and thinking of me. Yes, I can see him thinking of
me. He used to stroke my hair and my face, and call me his pretty
Milly. Pretty Milly! That's what they called me at home. I _was_
pretty--I had the prettiest hands!"--she put them close to her eyes,
with a caressing motion, and hid her face in them. "I can see father
with my eyes shut. He weaves the canes in the back room, sitting by
the window. There is the little garden outside, and the two pots of
mignonette on the window-sill. And there's the speckled hen that used
to eat out of my hand. There is the picture of me on the wall, over
the mantel-shelf, with my hair all in curls. Father is smiling at it.
And now--now it is raining, and what do you think he is doing? He is
looking at me, and crying, and I am lying dead in a basket cradle,
with flowers all about me!" (She stood silent for a little while, with
her face still buried in her hands, as if she could see the picture
she had described.) "He was too fond of me, father was; he was so fond
of me that he didn't look after me properly; he used to let me do as I
liked."

"Why don't you go home to him?" asked Old Flick, in a voice which he
strove to make gentle.

"Home!" she exclaimed. "Home! As I am! What would they say of me, I
wonder? No; thank God, they think me dead. But there! I don't want to
think of them, and they still keep coming up;" and she passed her
hands over her face, confusedly.

"What's the matter, Milly?" Old Flick said, soothingly. "What's made
you like this?"

"Drink!" she cried. "Drink and thought. And the more I think, the more
my head is filled with awful fancies. Why did Jim go away from me?
What right had he to leave me alone by myself?" and here she began to
cry. But, seeing that Flick was about to speak, she said, "Stop a
minute. I haven't done yet. I must work myself out first, and then I
shall be all right. How long is it since you were a boy, Flick?"

"I don't remember," he muttered.

"What happiness! Not to be able to remember! But if you could
remember, you would have to go a long way back, Flick; you're old
enough to be my grandfather. It isn't so long ago since I was a little
girl, and I can't help remembering. Oh, if I could forget! if I could
forget!" And throwing herself upon the ground, she sighed, and
trembled, and sobbed; and then, as if angry with herself, she bit her
white lips, and tried to suppress her passion.

"Now, then, you are more quiet," said Old Flick, after a little while.
"Get up, Milly, like a good girl, and go home."

"I'm not a good girl--I'm a bad woman; and," she said, folding her
arms resolutely, "I'm not going to stir until you give me what I want,
and tell me what I want to know."

"I haven't any money, Milly," whined Old Flick, "and I can't tell you
anything you don't know."

"Didn't Jim say, before he left, that you were to give me money when I
wanted it?"

"Yes, but he hasn't sent me any, and I have no more to give. I'm a
poor man, Milly."

"What was in that letter Jim sent you?"

"That letter?" exclaimed Old Flick, almost instinctively putting his
hand to the pocket in which it was hidden.

"Yes, that letter," repeated Milly, her quick eyes noting the old
man's action.

"There was nothing in it, Milly, upon my--my honour, and I burnt it."

"All right," Milly said, quietly, rising. "I suppose there was nothing
in it, as you say, for you never tell a lie; and I suppose you burnt
it, for you never tell a lie; and I suppose you haven't got any money,
for you never tell a lie. That's right, ain't it?"

"Yes, that's right," he exclaimed, sullenly.

"And you can tell me what's to become of Jim's baby--for it is Jim's,
you know. How am I to keep it?"

"How do I know what's to become of it?"

"I'll kill it," Milly said, composedly.

"Milly!" cried Old Flick, catching her arm.

"Let me go! You don't think I meant it, do you? I haven't come to that
yet. No, I won't kill it. I'll do something better," and without
another word, Milly walked away.

"A good job she's gone," muttered Old Flick. "I must tell Jim about
her. She's getting mischievous. If she had known I had that letter
about me, she would have torn it from me, I believe. The cat! Does she
know there is anything in the letter about her? No, she can't; she
only suspects. I must read it once more, and destroy it. It implicates
the whole gang; I must burn it--burn it. What a turn she gave me when
she talked about killing the baby! I am glad she's gone;" and, in
self-gratulation, Old Flick drank some more rum-and-water, and,
raising his eyes, exclaimed--"The devil take the cat! Here she is
again!"

And there she was again, sure enough, with her baby in her arms.

"Now then, Old Flick," she said, "I've got rid of all my fancies. When
Jim went away, he told me you would give me money as I wanted it, so
long as I didn't ask for too much. I haven't asked for too much, have
I? You precious old flint, you've taken good care of that. You've
screwed me down so tight that I've been obliged to pawn every blessed
thing I could lay hands on; and I haven't a shilling left, and haven't
anything more to pawn."

"You've plenty of money to get drunk with, anyhow."

"The drink was treated to me. People will give me lush, but they won't
give me bread. Can you tell me how I am to keep Jim's baby?"

"How do I know? I suppose you can get your own living."

She gave him another of her threatening looks, and then she asked--

"Are you going to give me some money?"

"I haven't any."

"Very well. I love my baby; let alone that it's mine, it is a pretty
little thing. Of course you can't understand how it is a bad girl like
me can love an innocent pet like this; but then you never loved
anything in your life, and can't be supposed to understand my feeling.
I love it dearly, but as I can't keep Jim's baby, and as you are in
partnership with Jim, you'd better keep it yourself;" and she laid the
baby on the table, where it sprawled contentedly amongst the bottles
and glasses.

"What do you mean?" demanded Old Flick, it considerable alarm.

"What do I mean? Just this--I'm going to leave the baby here. You'll
have to feed it and wash it. It will be a nice companion for you, and
you can bring it up your own way. What a blessed father you'll make!"

"Are you mad?" cried Old Flick, with a rueful look at the baby.

"Not a bit of it. I've often thought what a pity it is you haven't got
a lot of young Flicks of your own. Never mind. Here's one you can try
your hand upon."

"Take the brat away!"

"Will you give me some money?"

"No!" he snarled.

"Then here's your baby!" Milly said; and taking the child from the
table, she placed it dexterously in Old Flick's arms, and moved
towards the door.

"Come back, you jade!" roared Old Flick, looking disgustedly at his
burden. "Come back, and I'll give you what you want."

"How much now?" asked Milly, with a laugh, standing by the half-open
door.

Old Flick fumbled in his pockets, and, with much difficulty, produced
three half-crowns.

"Seven-and-six," he said.

"Baby will cost you more than that the first week," said Milly. "Then,
how am I to live? 'Tain't half enough.

"I haven't another shilling in the world!" cried Old Flick, tearing at
his gray locks in a delirium of drunken despair. "You'll ruin me, you
jade!"

"Say two pounds," suggested Milly, regardless of his appeal; "and out
with it quick, or I'm off. Now, then, before I count three. One--"

"Milly, dear, say a pound," implored Old Flick.

"Two--"

"Thirty bob!" screamed Old Flick, in anguish.

"Three. I'm off."

"Stop, stop!" roared Old Flick; "here's the money, and I wish you'd
kill yourself with it."

"And what did Jim say about me in the letter?" asked Milly, coming
back.

"Not a word," said Flick, pretending to consider, as he counted out a
pound's worth of silver. "Oh, yes, he did; he sent his love to you.
You'll find that right, Milly."

"All right," said Milly, pocketing the money carelessly. "You know,
Flick, if you'd like to keep the baby--"

"Take it away--take it away!" cried Old Flick; "and curse you, the
pair of you," he added, in an undertone.

"You fool!" exclaimed Milly, scornfully, as she took the baby in her
arms, and kissed her. "You gray-headed, cold-hearted, old fool! Did
you think for a moment that I would leave this angel from heaven here,
for you to contaminate with your filthy breath! Did you think it, old
sinner? You might have saved your money, if you weren't a coward as
well as a thief. And so you've burnt the letter, eh, Flick!"

"Yes, yes," said Old Flick, as Milly walked away with the child, "it
is burnt, sure enough. Phew! what with her, and what with the heat,
I'm melting away. How cantankerous she was about the letter! She'd
have gone mad if she'd seen it. I must burn it; it isn't safe to keep;
but I must copy the address first."

His shaking hand sought his pocket, and drew therefrom the letter. He
opened it, and read it again by fits and starts, muttering the while.
But when he tried to copy the address, his fingers trembled so that he
could not trace the letters.

"I'll wait till the evening, when if s cool," he said, returning the
letter to his pocket, "when it's cool. The devil take the sun! It's
enough to scorch one to a cinder!"

As a counteractive, Old Flick applied himself industriously to his
rum-and-water, which he swallowed with a running accompaniment of
oaths and curses. Now, as too much rum-and-water will make a man
drunk, and as Old Flick had drunk a great deal too much rum-and-water,
and still continued drinking it, he soon got very drunk indeed--so
drunk, that he began to cry, and to beat his breast, and to tear his
hair, and to shake so, that the table trembled when he leant upon it.

"To scorch one to a cinder," he mumbled, pursuing his previous remark.
"Supposing it should come, and scorch me to a cinder!"

He held up his hands, as if to ward off a blow, and as he looked about
him, his fevered fancy conjured a thousand crawling things upon the
ceiling and the walls. With sight-terror fixed he gazed at them as
they crept nearer and nearer to him. As fast as he brushed them away,
they came again. In desperation he drank more rum, and strove to rid
himself of the terrible fancies.

"Go away--go away," he cried, menacing them with impotent fingers; "I
know what it is. I've been drinking too much. I must leave it off, or
I shall have the deliriums." To strengthen his good resolution he
applied himself again to the bottle. "I'm better now. What a cat that
Milly is! Beast--beast--beast! Why don't she die? What good is she in
the world? She wished to frighten me by asking me if I had ever tried
to take poison. What did she mean by 'the devils in the glass?' Ugh! I
can see them glaring at me!"--and Old Flick staggered to his feet in
dire terror, and then dropped down in a drunken swoon.


It was late in the afternoon now, and people began to breathe more
freely. A slight but refreshing breeze set in from the sea, and the
cooler air, floating through the streets, brought a sweet relief to
exhausted nature. To no person did the grateful change bring more
satisfaction than to Grif, whose sufferings during the day had caused
him to fret exceedingly. The whole of that day, as he stood blistering
in the sun, he had been propounding questions to himself--questions to
which he could find only one answer, dictated by hunger and misery.
Why was he so unfortunate? All other boys were not so. He was trying
hard to be good, and something would not let him. He felt that his
requirements were modest, that he did not ask for too much. The
constant pressure of misery had caused him to look about him and
compare his condition with that of other boys. There were plenty of
them walking the streets--well-fed, well-dressed boys; not sons of
gentlemen, but working boys--boys occupying the social sphere to which
he aspired. What had he done that his lot should not be as comfortable
as theirs appeared to be? He was sure he was trying hard enough to
deserve it. "I've been bad, I know," he reflected, "but I can't make
out as it was all my fault. I couldn't help it. There's father, he was
bad, and in course I was bad too; I didn't know nothin' else. Then
Ally come, and she made me good--leastways, she tried to. But what's
the good of bein' good? I usen't to be 'arf so hungry when I was bad!"
This was the argument which clenched the matter. When he was bad, his
stomach was better supplied, as a rule, than now that he was good.

Not only was Grif's mind argumentative, but his nature was sensitive.
How this came about was strange, for his father's nature was brutal
enough; he did not remember his mother, and had never given her a
thought. His sensitiveness was a positive misfortune; it intensified
his sufferings just now. What with the awful heat, which made his
heart faint and sick, the hunger which gnawed at his vitals, and the
sorrow he felt at being parted for ever from Little Peter, his
condition was an utterly miserable one. He could not battle against
such influences; they were too powerful for him. He felt an
irresistible conviction that he should never see Little Peter again.
"I wonder if he ever thinks of me?" Grif mused; and in his then
despondent mood he groaned at the thought that all remembrance of him
was wiped out of Little Peter's mind. "No matter, it was all for his
good. He's a precious sight better off where he is, I'll be bound. I
suppose he's got good clothes and good boots, and plenty of grub.
That's jolly for him, poor Little Peter! If he was here to-day, it'd
pretty well settle him, I think." There was some small consolation in
this reflection, and Grif tried to make the most of it.

From this it will be perceived how unfortunate Grif had been in his
new vocation. Honesty and morality had not taken to him kindly. As a
moral shoeblack, his career had been the very reverse of prosperous,
notwithstanding that he had striven to deserve better. He had attended
some meetings of the Moral Bootblacking Boys' Reformatory, and had
heard a great deal about morality; and, albeit he would have been
considerably perplexed if he had been asked to define the meaning of
the word, it could not but be presumed that he had been much edified
by the moral essays and exhortations to which he had listened. And yet
his mental condition, when he came away from those meetings, was one
of perplexity. He could not see the connection between morality and a
bellyful of food. "It's all very well," he would mutter, "for them
coves who's got lots to eat and drink to talk about morality; but what
good does it do me?" Exhortations, moral lessons, pious sermons, would
often be given by well-meaning men at the meetings of the Moral
Bootblacking Boys' Reformatory. At one of these meetings, the speaker
had fixed Grif with his eye during the whole of his discourse, which
occupied nearly an hour. The burden of his exhortation was an
oppressive beseeching to Grif to "look up." By day and by night, awake
or asleep, standing still or walking, always through his life, Grif
was entreated to "look up." Never mind how persistent misfortune might
be in persecuting him, never mind what calamities might overtake him,
everything would come right if he would continue to "look up." "But
how _can_ I do that," Grif asked of himself, "when I'm forced to be
always lookin' down?" whereby he meant, literally, looking down at the
boots of the passers-by to see if they wanted polishing. Which coarse
perversion of the pious speaker's exhortation was another proof of the
baseness of Grif's nature.

Many such sermons did Grif hear; they sounded well, all of them. But
they shrank into very nothingness when he applied them to his own
case. To him they were nothing; they did him no good. Grif wanted
practical arguments. Theory was valueless to him. As for good advice
he had enough of that, goodness knows. He received it by the bushel;
it was literally heaped upon him. But he did not get an ounce of meat
out of it for all its virtue. He was an especial object of attention
to Mr. Zachariah Blemish. That great man and princely merchant had at
various times condescended to be gracious to Grif by word of mouth.
Mr. Blemish would inquire of Grif how he was getting along, and Grif
did not have courage to answer that he was getting along badly, or
rather that he was not getting along at all. It would have sounded
like an impeachment of the conduct of the great man in providing him
with the implements of his occupation. "That is right--that is right,"
Mr. Blemish would remark. "You are moral, are you not?" "Very moral,
Sir," Grif would answer, humbly. "Very good; mind you keep moral," Mr.
Blemish would exhort. And Grif invariably ducked his head and promised
that he would keep very moral. But when the great merchant was gone,
Grif would shrug his shoulders, and ponder and puzzle over the good
advice given him without arriving at any satisfactory conclusion.

Occasionally he visited Alice, and argued matters with her. Alice
truly was his good angel. Many and many a time had they two sat
together, he listening to her gentle voice, she striving to impress
upon him truths which would have seemed to him the bitterest of lies
if he had judged them by the light of his hard experience. But Grif
did not interpret her words by that light. If he did not understand,
he believed; his nature did not rebel against her sweet words and
gentle voice as it did against the sermons preached at the Moral
Reformatory. What Alice said to him was good, was true, and he was
satisfied. It was happiness to hear her, to sit near her, to look up
into her face now and then: it was more than happiness, it was heaven.
With such an influence upon him, Grif could not be otherwise than
good. She kept him from crime. Bad promptings had no chance with him
when he thought of her. Ill as she could afford it, poor girl, she fed
him often, although every day her means grew less and less, and
although Hunger, with its white eyes and despairing face, crept nearer
and nearer at every turn of the hour-glass. All she could do was to
wait for it, and shudder at its near approach. The first few weeks
after her husband left her, she had heard regularly from him, and had
received long letters filled with love, and tenderness, and hope. And
she would read them again and again, and cry for joy over them, and
press them to her lips, to her heart, and place them under her pillow
at night. Many a happy dream did they bring her, and she would rise in
the morning with a light heart, hopeful and smiling. But lately his
letters had become shorter and shorter, and the intervals between them
longer. And now three weeks had passed, and she had received no
letter. Three or four times every day she went to the post-office,
until her face became so familiar to the clerk that, directly he saw
it looking almost beseechingly through the little window, he would
shake his head without waiting for her to speak. How hurriedly she
would throw on her bonnet and shawl, and hasten to the little window,
and how sadly and slowly she would walk back to her poor lodgings,
heartsore and disappointed! That little window! It might have been
likened unto heaven's gate, or the gate of despair. Sometimes, when
she reached it, panting, she lingered before she asked, as if fearful
to have her hope destroyed. That would be mostly when there were no
other applicants; but when there was a crowd round it, drawn thither
by the arrival of an important mail, she would take her stand among
them, and burn with impatience until her turn came. Then she would
think it cruel that others had letters and she had none. Many of them
had three, four, a dozen, and she not one! The pleased expressions
upon the faces of women who opened their letters and read as they
walked, made her feel as she ought not to have felt; and to drive away
envious thoughts she would lower her veil, and soon could see nothing
through her blinding tears. The last letter she had received from
Richard was written in a very despondent mood, and that made her more
anxious to hear from him. There are some men who cannot fight with the
world--who cannot battle with misfortune. The first blow floors them,
and they lie helpless, and make no effort to rise. There are others
who, at every knock-down blow, jump up again, hurt but not killed, and
who, to speak metaphorically, square up at misfortune with courage and
vigour. Richard Handfield was one of the former, and because he did
not find a rich patch of gold at the bottom of the first hole he sank,
he whimpered at Fate, and did not care to try again. All that Alice
could glean from his last letter was, that misfortune pursued him and
mocked at his efforts. That was the way he expressed it; he chose to
believe that the world had a special spite against him, and that he,
of all the hundreds of thousands of soldiers who are fighting life's
battles, was singled out for the victim. The fault, which was in
himself, he laid upon fate; he was partial to the common platitude,
"fate was against him." He was naturally indolent, and if he had known
how to work he would scarcely have cared to do so. There are thousands
of men of this type in the world.

Alice often fed Grif. But Grif was shrewd enough to perceive that
Alice was daily more unable to spare him the food she pressed upon and
forced him to eat. One evening, when he was in the midst of eating a
thick slice of bread and butter which Alice had given him, he stopped
suddenly, and, looking at her, was overcome with remorse at the
thought that he was eating her meal. He could not eat any more; he
placed the bread upon the table, and said, with his eyes filled with
tears, that he was satisfied. From that day, he never tasted food in
her room. Often when he was hungry, often, when he had stood about all
the day patiently, without earning sixpence, he refrained from going
to her, and crept, supperless, to sleep. At other times he waited
until he knew Alice had finished her poor meal, and then, in answer to
her inquiry as to whether he had had his tea, would say that he had
had a jolly good tuck-out, and would make his mouth water by
particularising what he had eaten.

On this afternoon Grif was particularly miserable. He had suffered
much during the day from heat, and although he had plenty of cold
water to drink, it must be admitted that that was but poor
satisfaction to a hungry boy. He would have gone to his pie-shop, but
the old woman had been gathered to her foremothers, and the pie-shop
had passed into other hands. Grif had stood behind his boot-stand all
the day broiling in the sun. No passer-by had been mad enough to stay
blistering for a quarter of an hour in the heat, while his boots were
being blackened. And, when evening came, it found Grif faint, and
weary, and unhappy. The tears actually welled into his eyes as the
sense of his forlorn condition came upon him. He could not stand it
any longer! He looked round, with such a sense of desolation expressed
in his face, that if any humane person had noticed it, it must have
touched his heart with pity. He thought of the exhortations he had
listened to, and of the good advice which had been heaped upon him. He
thought of the promise he had given Mr. Blemish that he would continue
to be moral. To break that promise would not pain Grif much; but there
was the pledge he had given to Alice. He was about to be false to her.
But he could not starve; she wouldn't ask him to do that, he knew.
"No, she wouldn't arks me to do that," he muttered. "I'd die for her
yes, this minute. If I went to her now, she would give me somethin' to
eat--in course she would! But I _won't_ go to her; I'll starve first!
She stinted herself the other night, and didn't have enough to eat,
because I was there. I know what I'll do. I'll go to Old Flick's, and
sell my stand and brushes. He'll give me a bob for 'em, I dessay. Ally
won't like it when she hears it, but I can't help it; I'm hungry."

Then the thought came upon him that, although he might have some right
not to be moral if he pleased, he had no right to sell the stand and
brushes. They were the property of the Reformatory. But he was stung
to desperation, and he drove the thought from his mind.

"I don't care," he said recklessly. "I've been moral long enough. It
ain't a bit of good! I ain't agoin' to starve any more. If they find
it out, they can put me in quod agin, that's all. They'll give me my
grab and a blanket there, at all events, and that's what I can't get
here. I s'pose I am a bad lot, and I shall never be no good. How can I
be good when I haven't got nothin' to eat?"

Asking this question of himself with much sternness, Grif put his
stand and brushes under his arm, and wended his way towards Old
Flick's Thoroughfare.



                             CHAPTER XVI.

                             POOR MILLY.


When Milly walked out of Old Flick's store, she walked out with the
full determination of returning and possessing herself of the letter
he had received from Jim Pizey, and which she was certain the old man
had not destroyed. She had two reasons for her determination. One was
a woman's reason--she had made up her mind to have it, and have it she
would. A woman's logic is not always logical. The other reason was,
that she was convinced there was something in the letter concerning
herself. She did not stop to consider whether it would be good for her
to read it; it was a letter from Jim; and read it she would. She felt
hurt that he had sent her no word since his departure. There was
nothing strange in her affection for him. She had no one else to love
except her baby, and he was its father. He had deserted her, and still
she clung to him. There is no human being in the world who is so
complete an isolation as not to have a love for something; and the
unfortunate class to which Milly belonged is no exception to this
rule, for it is capable of strong, if misguided, affection.

To fortify herself for her task, Milly, after she had lolled her baby
to sleep, adjourned to the bar of a public house, where she told how
she had "done" Old Flick, and where she spent the greater portion of
the two pounds in treating her associates to drink. Having soon made
herself most thoroughly and desperately drunk, she set off staggering,
but very earnest, towards Old Flick's All-sorts Store. Her mind was in
a dangerous state of tension. She was almost blind from the fumes of
the spirits she had taken, and everything swam before her; but she
swung onwards, trolling out snatches of songs, and laughing and
talking to herself incoherently. She did not attract much attention.
A woman drunk was no novelty in that neighbourhood--indeed, her
state was chronic to the locality; and she was allowed to proceed
unmolested--some few people turning to look after her, but most
avoiding her. She had not far to go, and when she arrived at her
destination, she staggered in at the door, and sinking into a seat,
gazed confusedly about her. Brushing her hair from her face, she
looked round in vain for Old Flick.

"Now then, Flick," she said, almost inarticulately, "it's no use
hiding away. Lord! how my head swims! Come out and give me the
letter!"

She waited for an answer, but received none, for Old Flick was deep in
his drunken swoon upon the floor.

"Are you coming out, old sinner?" she asked, looking vaguely about
her. "I will have the letter--I will! I will! I will! You haven't
burnt it. You're not half cunning enough; I saw your hand go to your
pocket when you told me you'd burnt it. I'll tear your hair out of
your head if you don't give it to me!"

She felt dizzy and confused, and seeing a bucket filled with water in
the corner, she staggered instinctively towards it, and, tumbling down
by its side, plunged her face into it. It was deliriously cool; she
kept her face in it, until she almost lost her breath, and then
raising the bucket, she poured the water over her head. It refreshed,
if it did not sober her. A moment afterwards, as she seized her hair
to wring the water from it, she shivered, and turned cold as ice; and
then flashed into a burning heat. Wiping her face with her dress,
Milly, for the first time, observed Old Flick lying upon the floor.
Her eagerness to obtain possession of the letter appeared to desert
her for a time. But presently she crept towards the prostrate man, and
feeling in his pockets, found the letter. The old man murmured some
almost incoherent words, among which she heard her own name. She
laughed as she heard it, and said, "Oh, you old fox! Milly's done you,
this time. Here's Jim's letter. What does he say in it?" She wiped her
face again with her wet dress, and commenced to read the letter
slowly. She read to herself until she came to the last page, when she
cried, "What's this? 'After what you have told me about Milly, I never
want to look at her face again. I didn't think she would turn informer
against Jim Pizey. If ever I come across her, I'll mark her, by G--!'"
She read these lines twice over, and then, letting her hands fall idly
in her lap, looked before her, bewildered. "He never thought I would
turn informer against him!" she exclaimed, a cold shuddering taking
possession of her. "Oh, Lord! What's this feeling coming over me?
Somebody's been telling lies to him about me. Who is it? Me split upon
Jim! Who said so? She quite forgot the letter which she held tightly
clutched in her hand. She threw the damp hair back from her forehead,
and looked shudderingly round the room. Her skin was blazing, and
there was an awful brilliancy in her eyes. She was burning hot, and
she placed her hand upon her throbbing forehead, trying to press out
the pain; in a little while her condition changed, and she sat still,
shivering, and burst into a strange, wild laugh.

"What's the matter with me?" she murmured. "I never felt like this
before. Get up, Old Flick!" she said, softly, to herself, and with no
idea of addressing the old man. "Get up, Old Flick!"

She repeated the words almost in a whisper, twenty times at least, in
a wondering kind of voice, and sang them over and over again, in a
vacant manner.

"Oh, my head! my head!" she moaned, and then she commenced again
singing softly to herself, her voice breaking occasionally into a kind
of wail. She continued in this state for some time, and made no sign
of recognition of Old Flick when, after a series of growls, he sat up
on the floor. He gazed at her with stupified amazement, and he growled
as he looked down at the pool of water in which he had been lying. As
he raised his eyes, she caught his look, and introduced his name into
the meaningless words she was singing.

"Milly!" he cried, half frightened; but she showed no consciousness of
him. "She's going mad, I believe," he muttered. "Get up, Milly,
there's a dear, and go home."

But she was deaf to all his entreaties, and presently she began to
scream.

"There, Old Flick?" she cried. "Do you see the spiders creeping up the
wall? There they go, creeping, creeping, creeping, and now they're on
the ceiling, looking down upon us. Keep away--keep away!" she
screamed, clutching at the old man, who, almost scared out of his
senses, followed her gaze with fear. "They'll drop down upon us!
That's right Jim. Crush 'm--smash 'em! Ugh! You can't kill 'em half
quick enough. Do you see that big one leering down? That's Old Flick.
Smash him, Jim. Ugh! keep off! They're dropping from the ceiling upon
me!" and she writhed upon the floor, and plucked at her dress with her
hands, and shuddered and moaned distressfully.

At this moment, Grif, with his boot-stand on his shoulder, and his
brushes under his arm, entered the store. Receiving no answer to his
taps upon the counter, he peeped into the back room, and saw Milly
tearing madly at her dress, and Old Flick looking on helplessly, in an
agony of terror.

"What's up?" inquired Grif.

Old Flick rose instantly, and he clung to Grif as though the lad were
an anchor of hope.

"Don't grip so hard, Flick," cried Grif, who, being faint with hunger,
scarcely had strength to shake the old man off.

"Milly's mad, I think," said Old Flick. "Take her home, Grif--take her
home."

"How am I to take her home?" asked Grif, looking at Milly. She had
covered her face with her hands, and was in a terrible fit of
trembling. He went to her, and tried to remove her hands from her
face, but he could not succeed. Then, glancing about him, he caught
sight of a loaf of bread in the cupboard, the door of which was half
open. There it was--the bread for which he was craving! His heart beat
painfully as he saw it. Not even pity for the girl could overcome his
natural sensations of hunger. The gnawing within was more powerful
than pity. "What'll you give me if I take her away?" he inquired,
eyeing the loaf yearningly.

"Anything--anything--that is, anything in reason," quavered Old Flick,
qualifying his answer. "And if she ever darkens my door again," he
muttered, "I'll have her dragged to the lock-up, as sure as my name's
Flick."

Man is a bargaining animal. Despite his hunger, Grif pretended to
consider for a few moments. He knew that if he exhibited too much
eagerness, he would have less chance of obtaining the food.

"I'll take her away," he said slowly, "if you'll give me that loaf of
bread"--and he moved wistfully towards the cupboard,--"and this tin of
sardines--"

"Yes--yes," assented Old Flick, eagerly, taking the food from the
cupboard.

"And five bob for this stand and set of brushes," concluded Grif,
boldly.

"They're not yours," said the old man, all his cunning intellect on
the alert directly the question of barter arose.

"Never you mind that," said Grif; "it's not the first time you bought
what didn't belong to parties you bought 'em of. I won't take her away
for less. I'm hungry now, and I shall be hungry to-morrow. I must have
some tin."

"Take two and six, then, Grif," said Flick. "I'll give you two and
six."

Grif shook his head.

"Say four bob," he said, "and it's a bargain."

Old Flick hastily produced four shillings, and gave them to Grif, who
deposited on the table his vouchers to respectability, feeling, as he
did so, that he had lost his character as a moral shoe-black, and was
once more a vagrant and a thief. The next thing Grif did was to tear a
piece out of the loaf and wolfishly devour it. Theoretical
philanthropists might have learned a useful lesson if they had
witnessed the ravenous eagerness with which Grif swallowed the stale
dry bread. Old Flick was neither a theoretical nor a practical
philanthropist, and he viewed the proceeding with a feeling of
impatience, urging Grif to take Milly away quickly. It was not a
difficult task--indeed, it was so easily accomplished, that Flick was
filled with considerable remorse at the price he had paid for it.
Milly's fit was over for a while, and she rose almost passively as
Grif took her hand. She looked at Old Flick without recognising him;
but she instinctively shrank from him.

"You've been frightenin' of her," Grif said to the old man. "I've a
good mind to pitch into you."

Grif was stronger now, and having relapsed into vagrancy, felt himself
at liberty to indulge his organ of combativeness. But Old Flick, in a
quavering voice, protested that he had not been saying anything to
Milly to frighten her.

"She looks as if she had been scared out of her life," Grif remarked.

"She's been drinking herself mad, Grif," Old Flick said, "that's what
she's been doing. She'll be all right when she's had a good sleep."

Grif nodded his head, and led Milly away. She trembled violently as
they walked to her poor lodgings; and when she got to her room, she
threw herself upon the bed, and moaned and cried deliriously. She had
placed the letter she stole from Old Flick in the bosom of her dress,
and she kept her hand over it as if to guard it.

"She's orfle bad," mused Grif, seating himself on a stool at the foot
of the bed, and employing himself with the bread and sardines. "I
wonder if she knows me. Milly!"

The girl made no reply, and tossed about on the bed, sobbing
piteously. Grif tried the experiment of placing her baby near her; but
although he put the child into her arms, she did not notice it. She
was so restless that he took the baby on his lap, and offered her a
crust of bread, which, much to Grif's astonishment, she grasped with
her little fists and sucked at vigorously, staring contentedly at Grif
the while. But Milly's distress drew his attention from the study of
baby.

"Milly!" he cried again, shaking her, and attempting to raise her.
"Send I may live! if she ain't like a ball of fire! And she's all wet,
too. What did you say, Milly? Say that agin."

"And they've got hold of Dick Handfield," she murmured. "Oh! what a
wicked plot! If Grif knew--but I won't tell, no; though you do suspect
me."

"If I knew!" exclaimed Grif. "If I knew what? She said somethin' about
Dick Handfield! What does it all mean?"

He listened eagerly for her next words, which might give him a clue to
her meaning, but Milly's fancies had changed.

"Go home!" she said. "Why don't I go home, he asked? What would they
think of me? Don't come near me, father! Keep away; I'm not your
Milly--she's dead, long ago--dead! dead! dead! Do you see that sheet
of water?" and she half rose from the bed, and clutched Grif by the
shoulder. "Father's standing on the other side. What an awful way off
he is! He looks like a ghost. Does the water stretch into the next
world, I wonder! There it is--miles, and miles, and miles of it. And
look! just over the hill, where it flows out of the world, there's
father and mother, and they're looking at me, and crying, and I am
sinking down, down! I'm choking--take me out! take me out! Now I'm in
my coffin. They are nailing the cover on me! Don't shut out the light;
everything is black: now it's red. I can't breathe!" and she struggled
madly with Grif, who was holding her down. It was as much as his
strength could accomplish, and presently she grew calmer.

"I can't leave her like this," said Grif. "She's very ill, and she'll
do herself a mischief, if she ain't took care on. She's quiet now.
I'll run and fetch a doctor."

Acting on the impulse, Grif, first taking the baby from the bed, and
placing it upon the floor in a corner of the room, ran quickly to an
apothecary's shop hard-by. It happened fortunately that a doctor was
in the shop at the time, giving some directions for a prescription. He
listened to Grif's story, and, without a moment's hesitation,
accompanied Grif to Milly's lodgings. He looked very grave as lie
placed his hands upon Milly's burning forehead, and felt her pulse.

"How long has she been in this condition?" he asked.

Grif told him.

"Is she married? Umph! What a question! Of course she's not. Poor
creature! So young, too, and pretty. Sad case! Sad case!"

He took his pocket book from his pocket and made a memorandum, and
then observed, "If the poor girl has any friends, they should be here.
She wants care and nursing, although even they will not save her, I
fear. A female friend should be with her all the night. Come with me,
boy, and I will give you medicine."

In silence, Grif followed the doctor to the apothecary's shop, and in
silence he received the medicine which the doctor himself made up.

"You can read?" said the doctor.

"I know some of the letters," replied Grif, "when they're stuck upon
the wall very large."

"Ah!" mused the doctor, looking attentively at Grif. "Give her a
wineglassful of this medicine every hour; but don't wake her to give
it, if she is sleeping quietly. I will call again in the morning to
see how she is getting on."

"Is she very bad?" inquired Grif.

"Very," laconically replied the doctor

"Will she die?"

The doctor placed his hands upon Grif's shoulders, and noticed the
boy's eyes luminous with tears. "Would you be sorry?" he asked.

"Yes, sir; very sorry."

"What are you--brother, cousin, any relation?" was the next question,
carelessly asked.

"No, sir, not as I knows on; but she's been very kind to me."

"Don't stand chattering here!" the doctor exclaimed, abruptly. "Go and
give the girl her medicine."

Grif was on the point of quitting the shop, when the thought occurred
to him that the doctor ought to be paid. Taking from his pocket the
four shillings for which he had sold his boot-stand and brushes, he
placed them on the counter, immediately beneath the doctor's nose.

"What is this for, my lad?" asked the doctor.

Struck with a sense of the insufficiency of the remuneration, Grif
said, apologetically, "I ain't got another mag about me, sir. I'll
bring you some more when I gets it."

"Confound you, you young scamp!" exclaimed the doctor, in a fiery
manner. "Do you think I have no humanity? Take your four shillings
away, and here are ten more to add to them. Run off, and give the girl
her medicine, and mind she has some one with her during the night;"
and he pushed the boy hastily out of the shop.

When Grif returned to Milly, he found her still lying on the bed. He
spoke to her, but she did not reply to him. He was the more alarmed at
this because Milly was not asleep; her eyes were staring round the
room, and her cheeks were burning with an unnatural fire. He moistened
her parched lips with water, and tried to make her take the medicine,
but she pushed him away, fretfully, and turned from him.

"What's to be done?" asked Grif of himself, in serious perplexity.
"The doctor chap says she ought to have some one with her. He's a good
sort, he is! I can't get her to take her physic." Then, struck with a
sudden idea, he said, "I'll go and arks Ally."

Without another thought he hurried to Alice's lodgings. There was no
need to entreat her help. Her bonnet and shawl were on before he had
concluded his story.

"But she ain't a good girl, Ally," said Grif; "mind that!"

"God help her!" said Alice. "She is in the more need of assistance.
And the poor baby, too! Come, Grif."

And very soon our Alice was in the sick girl's room, attending on her,
and nursing her with a good woman's loving zeal. No thought of the
difference in their social positions interfered with the performance
of what Alice deemed to be a duty. She undressed Milly, and placed her
in the bed; and, raising the poor girl's head on her bosom, she gave
her the medicine, which Milly swallowed without resistance. Then Alice
tidied up the room, and hushed the baby to sleep by the mother's side.
She almost forgot her own grief in the sad spectacle before her, and
the tears came to her eyes out of very pity, as she sat beside the
sick girl's bed.

"Will you stop here all night, Ally?" asked Grif, who had retired from
the room, and who now entered at a signal from Alice.

"Yes, until the doctor comes in the morning."

"She's a angel, that what she is," soliloquised Grif, retreating to a
corner, and squatting himself upon the floor, "and I'm her friend. She
said so herself. There never was anybody 'arf so good as her!"

When Alice was undressing Milly, she observed the letter which lay
concealed in the bosom of Milly's dress; but, unconscious of all else,
the sick girl clutched the paper tightly in her hand, and, seeing her
desire to retain it, Alice made no effort to take it from her. Many
hours passed, and still Alice sat patiently by Milly's side. During
this time Milly was delirious, and raved and spoke words which caused
Alice to shudder. But pity for the poor girl's condition overcame
every repugnant feeling, and she nursed Milly tenderly and gently, as
if she were, indeed, a good and virtuous, instead of an erring,
sister. Shortly after midnight, the moon being nearly at its full,
Milly turned her eyes to Alice's face, and asked in a weak wondering
voice,--

"Who are you?"

"I am your friend, Milly," replied Alice. "Do you feel better?"

"Yes, I feel better." The words came from her lips slowly, and with an
effort. "Give me your hand."

Alice placed her hand in Milly's, and the sick girl raised it to her
lips, and to her forehead.

"Who sent you here?"

"No one. Grif told me you were ill, and I came to nurse you."

"I never saw you before. Good God!" Milly exclaimed, feeling Alice's
wedding ring. "You are married!"

"Yes."

"And you come to nurse me! Do you know what I am?" and she raised
herself in the bed, and her eyes dilated with horror as she looked
round the walls of the room.

"Hush, my dear! Lie down."

"What is this?" Milly cried, seizing Alice by the arm, and trembling
violently. "Everything is fading from my sight. Don't let me go! Hold
me--hold me! My heart is fainting--dying!" And a wild shriek issuing
from her lips, as she fell back powerless on the bed, roused Grif from
his slumber, and caused him to start to his feet.

A great change had come over Milly. Her face had grown pinched and
white, her hands were clammy, and a wild despairing look in her eyes
made them awful to look upon. Alice needed all her courage to keep
herself from swooning.

"Has she any friends, Grif?" she asked.

"None as I knows on," replied Grif. "Don't you know who she is?"

He was about to answer his own question, and tell Alice of Jim Pizey,
but just then Milly murmured the man's name.

"Why did you go away, Jim Pizey," she said, "and leave me to starve
and drink myself to death? And then to write, you never want to see my
face again. It is cruel--it is cruel! Look at me--I am dying, and you
have killed me. I don't want to die! Lord help me, I'm not fit to
die!"

"Grif," whispered Alice, "was not Jim Pizey the man who tempted my
husband to crime?"

"Yes," answered Grif, "and before I came for you she was speaking of
him."

"Of my husband, Richard?"

"Yes, but I couldn't make out what she meant."

Milly's wandering speech prevented the continuance of the subject.

"There's mother and father again," she said; "they're always haunting
me. I am glad they have come to wish me good-bye, though. I have been
a bad daughter to them--a bad daughter--a bad daughter. I'm punished
for it now. Forgive me, daddy! I think he does forgive me, his face is
so kind; but it was always kind when he looked at me. I can smell the
mignonette on the window-sill. And see! there's my little sister; she
died yesterday. How sad she looks in her shroud! She was prettier than
me. I slept with her the night before she died, and she told me to be
always good. I say, Jim, don't you think little Cis is prettier than
me?--she's better than me! I should like father to make me a basket
coffin. Where's baby?"

Alice placed the child in her arms, and as Milly pressed it to her
breast, the haggard look in her face quite passed away. She was very
young--scarcely nineteen years of age: but it was better for her to
die, young as she was, than live her life of shame.

"Do you know where there's a clergyman, Grif," asked Alice.

"No; what for?"

"I don't want a clergyman," gasped Milly. "Yes, my dear, I am quite
sensible now. I don't want a clergyman. Your good face is better than
all. Will you kiss me?"

Alice bent down and kissed her.

"Don't cry for me. I wonder why you should be here; for you know
I am a bad girl, and you are a respectable woman. Give me a little
drink--my throat is so dry! Oh, what a wicked life I have led! Will
God forgive me, do you think?"

"Yes, dear Milly," said Alice, weeping. "God will forgive you if you
ask Him."

"I do ask Him," said Milly, earnestly, but very slowly, for her voice
was failing her. "Fold my hands, dear. I do ask Him, humbly. Forgive
me, God!"

There was solemn silence in the room. Alice, kneeling by the bed,
checked her sobs, and watched every movement in the face of the dying
girl. Grif, bare-headed, stood by, in awe; his eyes were not crying,
but his heart was. For Grif was very troubled. He had never prayed to
God, and here in the quiet night, in the dread presence of death, the
thought of his own utter wickedness and unworthiness filled him with
gloom. He crept down on his knees, and lifting his hands, as if to a
visible Presence, he said--"Forgive me, God!" and trembled, and cried
softly to himself.

"Mine has been a wicked life," said Milly; "but I did not know what I
was doing--indeed, indeed I did not! I never stopped to think. You
believe me, don't you, dear?"

"I do believe you, my poor, poor Milly!"

"You break my heart, my dear, when you speak like that," said Milly,
the tears stealing down her face. Alice stooped and kissed her again.
"Thank you! it is more than I deserve. You are like a good angel
standing by my bed. What could I do? I was persuaded to run away from
my home by a young man, three years ago. We came out here, and he left
me. What could I do? Is all the sin mine? I was led away. It was not
all my fault. Oh, my dear! You are a married woman, and respectable;
you don't know the sufferings we poor girls endure!"

Ah! poor Alice! she thought of herself and of her own sad lot, and
laid her cheek close by the side of Milly's.

"How good you are!" said Milly, as thus they lay. "What is your name,
dear?"

"Alice."

A look of horror crept into Milly's eyes, and a change so ghastly came
over her countenance, that Alice caught at her as though she would
arrest the life she thought was passing away.

"Alice?" whispered Milly, slowly and painfully, for her strength was
leaving her. "Alice? Grif's friend?"

"Yes, dear," replied Alice, holding Molly's hand fast.

"And Richard Handfield is your husband?"

"Yes."

"If you knew--bend your head, for my breath is going--if you knew that
the man who is the father of my child had striven to do you a great
wrong, to blast your life--had schemed to sting your husband to
crime--your husband whom you love, do you not--?"

"Whom I love," repeated Alice, softly.

"--For whom, as I have heard Grif say, you would give your life--"

"For whom, if needed, I would give my life."

"--If you knew that Jim Pizey, my baby's father, was his bitterest
enemy, you would leave me to die alone--alone!"

"No, Milly, dear, I would not. I know that Jim Pizey tempted my
husband; but he escaped, thank God!"

"You think so--come closer--take this letter--and by-and-by, not
now"--she could not control her shudders as she said these words, and
gave Alice the letter she had stolen from Old Flick--"by-and-by, read
it. It is from Jim Pizey--he is a bad, wicked man, but I was living
with him. If ever you see him, let him know that I am dead, and that
with my last breath I asked you to forgive him."

"I will, Milly."

"Alice--may I call you Alice?--thank you--Alice, my dear, say you
forgive me, for any unconscious wrong I may have done you."

"I forgive you, Milly."

"God bless you! Ask him to give baby to some respectable people to
keep, and never to come near it--do you hear me?--never to come near
it. He is baby's father, but he must never come near it, or she will
be bad like me. Promise me this. I have no one else to ask."

"I promise, Milly."

"God be kind to you!" She lay quiet for a little while, and then she
whispered, "How dark it is! Is the moon shining, Alice?"

"Yes, Milly; it is at its full."

"Open the window, dear, and let it shine upon me. Thank you. What a
dreadful day this has been, and how quiet the night is! I can see the
moon--there is a ladder of light to it from my bed. There are figures
moving about in the light--I see your shadow in it, Alice, with your
dear eyes. Oh, God bless you! my dear, for being by my side. Kiss me
again. Good-bye! Place my baby's hand to my lips. God bless you, baby,
and make you good! Is that Grif? Good-bye, Grif!"

"Good-bye, Milly," said Grif, in a choking voice.

"And now, my dear, fold my hands once more. Forgive me, God!"

A rippling smile passed over Milly's face, and in that smile she died.
The light from the silver moon might have kissed away her life, she
yielded, it up so peacefully.


For half an hour no sound disturbed the silence. Then Alice, after
covering the face of the dead girl, opened the letter. She read, and
as she read, her eyes dilated, and with a shudder she sank into Grif's
arms. But she recovered herself by a strong effort, and reading a few
more lines, cried, in a voice of such anguish, that Grif's knees
trembled and his face turned ashen white.

"Oh, Grif! Grif! my heart is broken!"

"What is it, Ally? Are you ill?"

"Listen to me, Grif," said Alice, rapidly, and in a voice of strong
emotion. "The crisis of my life has come. You said once that you would
help me if you could--"

"And so I will!" cried the boy. "With my life! So help me G--!"

"This is a letter from Jim Pizey, that poor girl's associate. In it he
details his devilish schemes. He discloses how he and his vile
associates are going to rob Highlay Station--"

"Go on, Ally, go on," said Grif, eagerly, as Alice paused to recover
her breath.

"That is my father's Station, Grif. My father is displeased with
me, and that is the reason I am poor. He is rich--he always keeps
large sums of money in the house; and these men are going to rob
him--perhaps murder him."

"Jim Pizey don't stick at nothin'," put in Grif, rapidly. "I've heerd
him talk of Highlay, but I didn't know it was your father's. Let's go
and tell the peelers."

"I cannot! I dare not!" cried Alice. "For, oh, Grif! Grif! they have
entrapped my husband, who knows where my father keeps his gold. They
have entrapped him in the gang, and they, with my husband in their
company, are on the road to rob and murder my father. If I tell the
police, my husband is lost--lost!"

"What can we do?"

"We must get up there somehow. We must walk, if we cannot ride. We
must beg upon the road, Grif. They intend to wait--thank God! we may
be in time. They intend to wait, the letter says, until my father has
in his house a very large sum, with which he is about to purchase a
new Station. It is the whim of the seller that he should be paid in
gold. We may be in time. Oh! thou beneficent Lord!" exclaimed the
girl, as, falling upon her knees, she raised her streaming eyes to the
bright heavens, which shone upon her through the open window. "Grant
my prayer! Save my husband from this dread crime, and then let me
die!"

A silence, as of death, was in the chamber. The glory of the moon
shone full upon the upturned face of Alice, quivering with a strong
agony, and upon the death-couch of poor Milly, whose life of shame was
ended.

"You will come with me, Grif?" said Alice, presently.

"I am ready, Ally," Grif replied. He had been quietly packing up the
remains of his bread and sardines in a pocket-handkerchief.

She turned to leave the room, but her eyes fell upon Milly's baby, who
was lying asleep, with her hand on her dead mother's breast. She wrote
hastily upon a piece of paper, "To the kind doctor who gave medicine
to the poor girl who is dead: Take care of the baby, for the love of
God!" and pinned it upon the child's frock. Then, with one last
look--a look of blended pity and despair--at the form of the dead
girl, Alice took Grif s hand, and went out with him into the open.



                            CHAPTER XVII.

                              BAD LUCK.


"It is of no use, Tom; luck is dead against us."

"It almost looks like it, Dick; but never mind, old boy. Faint heart
you know."

Although Welsh Tom said this in a tone of cheerfulness, there was a
serious expression on his face. The difference between Welsh Tom and
Richard Handfield was, that one was always trying to make the best of
things, and the other the worst. Just now they were standing by the
side of a muddy creek; along the banks of the creek were two or three
score of gold-diggers, puddling the auriferous soil in wooden tubs, or
washing it in tin dishes, or rocking it in "cradles," as tenderly as
if those strangely-named implements for the extraction of gold
contained their own precious flesh and blood. Black-bearded and
brown-bearded men, these! A gold-digger's occupation is favourable to
the growth of hair. Here were men with beards hanging upon their
breasts, godlike; here were men whose great curling mustachios gave to
their faces a leonine appearance; here were men whose strong whiskers
kissed their shoulders, and gave to their wearers a noble grace,
albeit they were not perfumed or bandolined. The open-air life, the
freedom of action, the absence of that mental contraction which seems
to grow upon one in crowded cities, causing the mind to brood upon
subjects confined in narrow circles, tend to make the gold-digger
handsome, and brave, and strong. Yet his aim and the aim of the city
man are the same; both work for gold. But in the search for it, on new
gold-fields, there is more generosity and less meanness than in the
cities.

Our two mates, Richard Handfield and Welsh Tom, had come upon the gold
strata in the hole they had been sinking for the past three weeks. The
gold-diggers on both sides of them were getting at the rate of an
ounce of gold a-day per man, and they had every reason to justify them
in the hope that they also were in possession of a golden claim. But
when they reached the strata of earth in which the gold, from all
surrounding indications, ought to have been imbedded, they were
dismayed at finding only the merest speck of the metal here and there.
And this morning they had washed a tubful of the soil which should
have been auriferous, and were rewarded by not quite two grains of
fine gold. It was at these two disappointing grains they were looking,
very despondently, when they made the above remarks.

Throwing the tin dish containing the "prospect" to the ground in
disgust, Richard asked, petulantly, "What is to be done now?"

"Look out for some fresh ground," answered the Welshman, applying
himself to the gold-digger's consolation, a pipe.

"And work for three weeks more, and get nothing at the end of it!"

"Perhaps; and perhaps not." Welsh Tom said this laconically. He was
more accustomed than Richard to such-like rebuffs, and was ready to go
to work again with a very perfect faith.

"You take it coolly enough," Richard said, digging at the earth
viciously with the heel of his boot.

"It's of no use growling," replied the Welshman, with a quiet shrug.
"If it was, I'd growl."

Richard looked enviously at the party next to them, who had washed
more than half-an-ounce of gold from a tin dishful of earth.

"Just see that," he said, jerking his head spitefully in the direction
of the lucky gold digger.


Welsh Tom nodded. He saw nothing to envy in the other man's good
fortune.

"Half-an-ounce to a tin dish," grumbled Richard, "and we got two
grains to a tub!"

"Come, come, Dick," said the Welshman, "it can't be helped. Let us go
back to the claim. We may find a bit of gold in it yet."

They returned to their ground, and Richard worked at the windlass,
while his mate burrowed at the bottom of the hole. But though Tom
drove in his pick here, and drove it in there, and although he worked
until the perspiration soaked his shirt through and through, Dame
Fortune did not smile upon his efforts.

"We will abandon the claim, Dick," he said in the evening, as he
stood, hot and tired, at his mate's side, by the windlass. "I don't
think we should get a pennyweight of gold out of it if we worked for a
month. We will start in the morning for Deadman's Flat. They are
getting plenty of gold there, and we may hit upon a good piece of
ground. It is only five miles off."

Richard gave a sullen assent, and commenced to dig np the slabs which
supported their windlass. Early the next morning they started off for
the new locality.

At the very commencement of the gold-rush a hole had been sunk in
Deadman's Flat, and soon afterwards deserted. Most of the adventurers
who came on to the field saw this deserted hole, and inferring that
the ground had been tested for gold-digging purposes and found
worthless, passed on to other spots. But one day, two mates who had
been everywhere unfortunate, descended this hole in search of gold,
and found the body of a dead man. In the side of the hole was a rusted
pick, and as they pulled the pick out of the earth, which was composed
of blue clay and cement, they pulled out also some pieces of the
conglomerate, which to their infinite delight they discovered to be
richly studded with gold. Examining the pick they found upon its point
human hair and stains of blood, and they knew that a murder had been
committed. A. struggle had evidently taken place at the bottom of the
hole, and the man had been murdered with the pick. Then the pick had
been driven into the side of the hole, and the murderer had climbed to
earth's surface and fled. All this was inference, but it was clear as
truth, which spoke at the bottom of the pit, where lay the murdered
man. The two hitherto unfortunate mates were made rich by a murder!
they dug their wealth out of a grave, for the hole had an amazing
quantity of gold in it, which was theirs by right of conquest. The
murderer was never discovered, and in honour to his victim the
gold-miners christened the place Deadman's Flat.

Richard and his mate chanced to light upon a vacant piece of ground,
of which they entertained great anticipations. All around them the
diggers were getting gold--not a mere hand-to-mouth living, but gold
to spend, to squander. They had to sink nearly forty feet to get to
the gold strata, and part of the sinking was through a toughish kind
of rock. The day following that on which they commenced to work, the
men in the claim next but one to theirs found a nugget of gold
weighing ninety ounces, and hey, presto! no sooner was a nugget found
in one claim than nuggets began to be found in many of the others. Not
large ones certainly, but nice pieces of gold to handle and look at.
The miners on Deadman's Flat were jubilant, not to say uproarious. In
the very next claim to theirs the men one day obtained more than a
hundred ounces of gold. "All right, this time, Dick!" said the
Welshman with a knowing wink; and Dick at once began to reckon up how
many thousands of pounds they would make out of the claim. It was
jolly working the sinking of that hole, and they indulged in fond
anticipations of the nuggets of gold waiting for them at the bottom.
They ate their meals with a relish. Better than all, the heavy gold
seemed to be trending in their direction. "We shall find some big bits
in the wash-dirt," said Tom. "The gold gets heavier and heavier as it
comes down to us; it is more water-worn too. What if we should drop
down upon a big nugget!" Ah, what indeed! A big nugget! The dream of a
gold-digger's life. When the Welshman indulged in the speculation, he
half smiled. Yet why should it not occur to them? It had occurred to
scores of other men.

Then Richard began to build all his hopes upon the finding of a nugget
larger than any that had been found before, and asked sly questions of
his mate as to the biggest nuggets he had ever seen or heard of. He
led up to the engrossing subject as if he were putting questions out
of a book of catechisms. As thus:--

"Where was gold first discovered, Tom?"

"In New South Wales." (It will be observed that they both ignored
ancient history, and that to them the story of Solomon's Temple was a
fable.)

"When Tom?"

"In 1851."

"Where was it found next?"

"In Victoria."

"When Tom?"

"In 1852."

(Please to understand that these questions were not asked straight
off, but at intervals, and artfully, as if the questioner did not wish
to be suspected of having any interest in the subject.)

"Were there any large nuggets found in New South Wales, Tom?"

"Yes, lots of 'em. But none came up to the first specimen, which was
got near the surface at Bathurst, and which was sold for heaps of
money."

"Who found it?"

"An aboriginal shepherd."

"How much did it weigh?"

"Over a hundred pounds--nearly a hundred-weight, I think I heard.
There are all sorts of stories told about the first piece of gold,
Dick. They say that the shepherd, an Australian Native, you know, had
been sitting on it or lying on it for years, while he was watching his
sheep, until at last he had worn the earth away from the stone which
peeped up at him, all yellow and brown. Being an uncivilized savage,
he did not know anything about gold, and did not imagine there was
anything strange in the appearance of the stone. But one day he
happened to mention to his master that he was in the habit of resting
upon a large yellow stone. That led to the discovery; the master took
the gold-stone and sold it, and gave the Native ten pounds, who spent
it in rum and tobacco, I dare say. I don't know whether this is the
true account, Dick: I have heard the story told all sorts of ways."

Richard listened somewhat impatiently, for he was burning to hear of
the largest nugget, so that he might estimate the size of the one
waiting for them at the bottom of their claim.

"That was only a hundredweight," he said.

"Yes, only a hundredweight," said Welsh Tom, drily.

"There have been plenty of heavier ones, haven't there, Tom?" Richard
asked, anxiously.

"There was the Sarah Sands nugget," replied the Welshman, plunging
into the subject to please his mate; "found at Ballarat; weighed more
than a hundred and thirty pounds."

Richard calculated rapidly; one hundred and thirty pounds, troy,
fifteen hundred and sixty ounces, at four pounds an ounce, six
thousand two hundred and forty pounds. That was better.

"Then there was the Blanche Barkly nugget, dug up at Kingower,"
proceeded Welsh Tom, "weighed a hundred and forty-five pounds, that
did."

Better and better. Richard was immediately engrossed in his process of
mental calculation, and achieved a result of six thousand nine hundred
and sixty pounds. What a fine sight it would be, all in sovereigns!
But it was a pity it was not an even seven thousand pounds, he
thought.

"Then there was the Welcome nugget--the biggest lump of gold found
yet--found at Ballarat, nearly two hundred feet down. Weighed a
hundred and eighty-four pounds."

A hundred and eighty-four pounds! Something like a nugget that!
Richard quickly multiplied it by twelve; two thousand two hundred and
eight ounces, at four pounds an ounce, eight thousand eight hundred
and thirty-two pounds.

He said this aloud, "Eight thousand eight hundred and thirty-two
pounds."

"They sold the nugget for ten thousand pounds," said the Welshman.

"Did they? That was glorious. And that was the largest nugget?"

"The largest nugget ever found."

He had obtained the information at last. The largest nugget! Ten
thousand sovereigns for one piece of gold, discovered merely by a blow
from a pick. The largest nugget ever found! Why they might find a
larger! Three hundredweight, four hundredweight, a quarter of a ton,
perhaps!

"Do you think that bigger nuggets will be discovered than those you
speak of, Tom?"

"To be sure. There are some places where gold will be found in great
lumps."

This was once a favourite fancy with gold-miners, and some theorists
to this day persist that by-and-by men will be cutting solid gold out
of the rock with a cold chisel. When that time comes we must have our
sovereigns made of iron.

"If we find a big nugget in the claim," said Richard, "and make our
fortunes, I shall bid good-bye to the colony, Tom."

"Where will you go?"

"Home!"

It is a simple word and was spoken without much feeling, but the
strong Welshman's heart beat more swiftly than usual at the sound of
it, and there was a momentary dimness in his eyes.

"I have suffered enough in this colony," Richard continued, "and shall
be glad to turn my back upon it. So will Alice. Perhaps you will come
with us, Tom. We'll all go home together in the same ship."

"You forget I am a ticket-of-leave-man," said Tom. "My ticket-of-leave
only extends to Victoria. If I cross the boundary, the police will
soon be on my track."

He spoke a little bitterly. Home! Yes: he would like to see the Welsh
mountains once more. But it was not to be.

"I beg your pardon, Welshman," Richard said, carelessly. "It was
forgetfulness on my part."

They worked cheerfully, day after day, digging out the bowels of their
gold-pit. The miners in the locality would cluster round the hole,
which they prophesied would be the richest on Deadman's Flat. One day,
a smooth-faced man with a scar beneath his eye, as if it had been
burnt, came and looked down the shaft. Richard was working at the
windlass, and as the stranger came up a chill crept over him.

"When do you expect to come on the 'gutter,' mate?" the stranger
asked.

"In two or three days," replied Richard, his uneasy feeling
increasing. But the man was a perfect stranger to him. He had never
seen him before.

"Do you want to sell a share in the claim?" the new-comer asked,
presently.

"No."

"I will give you twenty ounces for a third share."

"Don't want to sell, mate."

Richard spoke very shortly, and showed so evident a disinclination to
talk with the stranger that the man walked away. That night Richard
dreamt that they found a tremendous lump of gold, and that the man
with the burnt scar under his eye stole it.

The following day the stranger came again. This time the Welshman was
at the windlass, and the stranger found him more sociable than
Richard. He lingered for half-an-hour or so, chatting with Welsh Tom.

"He wants to buy into the claim very bad," said the Welshman to
Richard, afterwards. "But we won't sell a share in our big nugget,
Dick." (He spoke this in a sly tone, for he did not share his mate's
dreams of the lump of gold waiting for them at the bottom of the
hole.) "His name is Honest Steve, he says."

As they approached nearer and nearer to the gutter of gold, Richard
became more and more excited. His brain was busy with schemes for
laying out his money to advantage. He had delayed writing to Alice
until he could write to her the good news of their wonderful fortune.
So unfortunate had he been in his gold-digging career, that he had
been unable to send Alice a shilling since he bade her good-bye; and
the last letter he had written to her was full of complaining and
repining. But the next should not be. No; he would be able to tell her
that all their sufferings were ended at last. His heart felt so glad
that he spoke to the Welshman about her; and his mate encouraged him,
and drew him on to talk of Alice. Welsh Tom, in his simple way, was a
true friend to Richard's wife.

At length the indications in their shaft told them that they were very
near the golden gutter. Richard examined every bucketful of earth as
he pulled it np. Then he received the signal that his mate wished to
ascend, and the next time he pulled up the bucket, it had Welsh Tom in
it instead of dull clay.

"Now, Dick," said Tom, with a pale face, "we are on the gutter. All
the stuff that comes out of the hole must be put aside by itself.
Before we commence, let us go and have a nobbler."[5]


--------------------

[Footnote 5: Nobbler--the Australian term for a glass of wine or
spirits.]

--------------------


They went to a shanty where grog was sold on the sly--that is to say,
where grog was sold without a licence--and spent their last two
shillings in two nobblers of whisky, which they drank with the usual
salutation of "Here's luck, mate!" They drank it hurriedly, for they
were dreadfully anxious to get back to their shaft. It had got wind
that Welsh Tom and his mate were on the gutter, and a little knot of
diggers was assembled to see the gold out of the first tubful of
stuff. Half-a-dozen buckets of earth, taken from the gutter, were soon
on the surface, and Welsh Tom ascended the shaft, looking very much
disturbed. The earth was carried to a neighbouring creek, and put into
a tub, and then the process of gold-washing commenced. Richard poured
water into the tub with a ladle, and Tom puddled the stuff with a
short-handled shovel, and let the overflow of muddied water run into
the creek. All heavy metal, of course, sank to the bottom of the tub,
and only the refuse earth which contained no gold, or out of which the
gold had been puddled, floated to the top, and was allowed to escape.
Soon, the contents of the tub were reduced by one-half, and then the
stuff was manipulated more carefully. Every now and then the Welshman
lifted a shovelful of the muddy mixture from the bottom of the tub,
and poured clear water over it, and examined it. Richard noticed with
uneasiness that every time he did this, his face grew paler.

After about an hour's tub-work, the stuff was passed through a riddled
dish, and the large stones thrown aside. By this time, the tub was
only one-fifth full. When the riddling process was completed, what
remained was put into a "cradle," and submitted to a gentle rocking,
Richard continuing to pour water over it. There then remained not
quite a tin-dishful of stuff. Taking the dish in his two hands, the
Welshman bent over the creek, and scooped up a little water with the
dish, which he rotated deftly and delicately. Either the stooping or
some inward excitement brought the blood to his head, but when he
stood upright to rest, his face grew quite white.

The diggers pressed anxiously round as the Welshman continued to work,
and as they followed with watchful eyes the progress of the operation,
a grave expression stole into their countenances. The stuff grew less
and less. The tin dish was only half-full now. Another five minutes,
and half of this was gone; a few minutes more, and nine-tenths of the
contents of the dish had floated off. The on-lookers shook their
heads, and crept slowly away, one by one.

Biting his lips, Richard watched the earth melt in the water, and
grudged every speck of it that floated out of the dish. Now came the
trying moment. The stuff was reduced to about sufficient to fill a
large tablespoon. This lay at the side of the dish, and beneath it all
the gold which the tubful of auriferous soil had contained must of
necessity have been collected. Taking some clear water in the dish,
the Welshman rotated it gently, delicately. Little by little, the
pasty remnant melted off; then, with one skilful swing, the promised
treasures of their golden claim were laid bare, and Richard saw--

Two minute specks of gold mocking him from the bottom of the dish!

The claim was worthless.



                                 CHAPTER XVIII.

                                 HONEST STEVE.


Richard Handfield groaned, and looked with a kind of dismay at the
gold.

There lay the fulfilment of his extravagant hopes--there lay the
promise of his precious nugget, which he would not sell for ten
thousand pounds--there lay his dreams of the future, the happiness of
his life, the compensation for past suffering--two miserable specks of
gold, not worth twopence! He clutched at his hair, and sitting upon
the inverted tub, rested his chin in his palms, and despaired.

What was the use of working? He was marked out by misfortune, and it
was labour thrown away to struggle against it. It pursued him, and
mocked him with false hopes. Of what use was it for him to continue to
struggle?

A pretty thing! That he should so lower himself for such a result
he,--a gentleman! That he should slave, walk till his feet were
blistered, work till his hands were like the hands of a common man,
sweat in the sun till the skin peeled off his face, mix with common
men, herd with common natures, be "hail, fellow" with creatures so far
beneath him--and all for this! The two little specks of gold lay in
the bright tin dish, and seemed to mock him with their yellow light.
He wished he could have hurt them as they hurt him. He would have
liked to dash them to the ground and tread them into the rock with his
iron heel, till he made them groan as they made him groan!

Welsh Tom took the matter much more philosophically. If it had not
been that he saw Richard's distress, and sympathised with him, he
would have been inclined to smile at the two-pennyworth of gold which
lay in the dish. Your true heroes are those who accept the inevitable,
and who, knowing they are defeated, still retain their courage. It is
easy to be brave when fortune is with you--then, the virtue of bravery
is of the milk-and-water kind. But to be brave when fortune is against
you is god-like. Welsh Tom did not blame mankind and all the world
because he was unfortunate. It was a fair fight he was fighting with
nature for her treasures. Well, he was unsuccessful that was all. He
would try again.

All the gold-diggers but one had strolled away when they saw the
result of the washing. The one who remained was Honest Steve, the man
who had offered to give twenty ounces of gold for a third share in the
claim. Looking up, Richard Handfield saw him.

"Would you give twenty ounces for a third share now?" Richard asked,
in a bitter tone.

"Not likely," was the reply.

What was the sudden fear that came upon him as the stranger spoke?
Richard tried to shake it off, not quite successfully. Psha! What was
there in the man to be afraid of?

"Not likely," the stranger repeated. "It was a good job for me you
didn't take my twenty ounces, mate. I laid it out to better advantage,
I think."

Honest Steve spoke this in a tone which invited further inquiry. But
as neither Richard nor the Welshman said anything just then, he
volunteered a piece of gratuitous information.

"I bought a claim on the gutter," he said.

Now, this was interesting; and the Welshman asked, "Are you on the
gold?"

"Not yet. I'm in a bit of a fix. I haven't a mate. I am looking out
for one now."

"Ah," Richard said, querulously, thinking of their last two shillings
which they had spent that morning in whisky. "I suppose you want some
one to give you twenty ounces for a share."

"No," Honest Steve said, carelessly. "I would like a mate or even two
mates, and go fair shares, and stand all the risk myself, for the
claim is sure to turn out well."

"That's magnanimous," Richard said, contemptuously. He hated
ostentatious generosity. The insolence of his tone might have fired
any man with resentment, but it did not appear to make any impression
upon Honest Steve.

"I tell you what it is," he said, quietly and respectfully, addressing
himself especially to Richard, "I like the way you two work together,
and I should be glad if you would let me go mates with you."

Both matter and manner were mollifying to Richard. They were eminently
respectful, as if Honest Steve knew and admitted Richard's
superiority. He took the Welshman aside, and said,

"Well, Tom, what do you think?"

"I don't like him," Tom said.

It is a singular proof of the contrariety of human nature, that no
sooner did the Welshman say he did not like Honest Steve than
Richard's dislike began to melt away.

"I did not know you were prejudiced, Tom," he said.

"I'm not prejudiced, but there is something about him that tells me
not to mate with him."

"What is it?"

"I can't say. It is beyond me. The people round about where I was born
and bred are a little superstitious."

"That's it! Superstition is always unreasonable. Look here, Tom. The
claim we hold is a duffer, isn't it?"

"I think so."

"His claim may be a golden one. Why should we throw a chance away? If
he did not believe it to be good, he wouldn't have given twenty ounces
for it."

The Welshman saw that Richard was in favour of the stranger's
proposition; he was in the habit of practising unselfishness--it was
his nature to do so. It _would_ be a pity, perhaps, to throw away the
chance. Yet Honest Steve's generosity puzzled him. Never mind, he
would do as his mate wished.

"All right, Dick!" he said. "We will join him."

They returned to where Honest Stove was standing. He had been watching
them furtively as they held their conference.

"Well, Steve," said Welsh Tom, "we will go mates with you.'"

"Good!" said Honest Steve. "Let us shake hands upon it."

They shook hands; a cold shiver chilled the Welshman's marrow as
Honest Steve's hand rested in his.

"Dick," he whispered, as they proceeded towards their new claim, "I
feel as if some one was walking over my grave!"



                             CHAPTER XIX.

              THE WELSHMAN READS HIS LAST CHAPTER IN THE
                           OLD WELSH BIBLE.



In a small blind gully, rejoicing in the name of Breakneck, to which
there had once been a slight rush, but which was now almost deserted,
there still remained a solitary tent. It attracted no particular
attention. It was not unusual for diggers to put up their tents in
out-of-the-way places, some distance from the claims they were
working; and no comment was caused by the circumstance that but very
lately this tent had been sold for a trifle to new-comers. Breakneck
Gully had been so named because, to get to it, one had to descend a
range of precipitous hills, with here and there dense clumps of bush
and timber, leading into treacherous hollows. From its peculiar
situation, Breakneck Gully always wore a dismal appearance; it almost
seemed as if the surrounding ranges were striving to hide it from the
sun. In the day-time, when little streaks of light peeped timidly into
its depths, but never lingered there, it was cheerless enough: in the
night its gloom was terrible. The gully was about four miles from the
main rush; and those who had to walk past it in the night were glad
when they left it and its gloomy shades behind them. When it was first
discovered, great hopes were entertained that some rich patches of
gold would be found there; but, although the ground had been pretty
well turned over, none of the claims yielded more than sufficient to
purchase flour and meat, and it was soon deserted for more auriferous
localities.

One evening, a few weeks after Welsh Tom and Richard Handfield had
admitted Honest Steve into partnership, four men were busy within this
solitary tent. They might have been ordinary diggers, preparing for
supper and their night's rest. They were dressed in the regular
digger's costume; and tub, cradle, and tin dishes, huddled into a
corner, would have been considered sufficiently indicative of the
nature of their pursuits. Yet there was about them a manner which did
not favour the hypothesis of their being honest workers of the soil.
They had an evil look upon their faces; they moved about the tent
stealthily and suspiciously; and there was somewhat too ostentatious a
display of firearms. Indeed, they were none other than Jim Pizey and
his gang.

"Keep a good look-out, Ralph," said Jim Pizey to one who was stationed
as a sentinel near the door. "Let us know if you hear anyone coming."

"All right," was the reply.

"How much longer are we going to hang about here?" asked Ned Rutt.
"I'm tired of waiting. It's my opinion we're only wasting our time."

"I don't know," said Jim Pizey. "It will be the first time the
Oysterman ever failed, if he fails now. He seems pretty confident. But
I wish he would finish his job. We shall have to be away from here,
anyhow, in a couple of days."

"Isn't Nuttall to have the money in his place by Christmas?"

"Yes; we shall have lots of time to get to the Station. We have to
hang on there a bit, you know. We've had cursed bad luck as yet; but
we'll make up for it. I'd like to have Dick Handfield with us. He'd
save us a lot of trouble, and it would prevent his peaching
afterwards."

"He knew about the plant in Melbourne, didn't he?" asked the sentinel.

"Yes, but he escaped us somehow. I wish we had cut the skunk's damned
throat for him. Directly the affair is blown, he'll know who did it,
and he'll split upon us to a certainty."

A dark look came into Jim Pizey's face as he said this.

"I'd think no more of squeezing the life out of him who'd split than I
would of--" he finished the sentence by knocking the ashes out of his
pipe in a significant manner. "Out of _him_ especially," he continued,
taking a letter from his pocket, and reading part of it; "I've a score
of my own to settle with him. I couldn't make out at first what made
Milly, turn informer against us; but I know now how it was. Dick
Handfield's white-faced wife got hold of and frightened her. I didn't
think Milly would do it, though, for I liked the girl, and I thought
she liked me. There's the baby, too. It's a pity for _that!_ If the
Oysterman succeeds in what he is trying, I'll write to Old Flick
telling him how we're getting along."

At this moment, the man at the door, who had been addressed as Ralph,
turned his head, and said, "Hush! some one coming."

Not a word was spoken in reply, but each man grasped his weapon, and
assumed an attitude of watchfulness.

"All right," presently said the sentinel. "It's the Tenderhearted
Oysterman."

And in walked, whistling, Honest Steve!

He nodded to his comrades, and, seating himself upon a stretcher, took
out his pipe. Having slowly filled it, and lighted it, he said,

"Well, Jim, how is it getting on?"

"How do I know?" returned Jim Pizey. "We're waiting for you to tell us
that. Here we are, hanging about for you, and, for all I know, wasting
our time to no purpose."

"Strike me cruel!" exclaimed the Oysterman. "Did you ever know the
Oysterman bungle a job?"

"No: but you're a precious long time over this one. I'd strangle the
pair of them before I'd be done by them."

"And so will I, before I'm done by them. I don't want you to tell me
how to do my work."

"How much longer are we to wait here?"

"Mates and gentlemen," said the Oysterman, speaking very slowly, "it
is my pleasing duty to inform you, as we say in Parliament, and
notwithstanding the insinuations thrown out by my honourable friend
and mate, Jim Pizey, Esquire, that I think we may look upon the job as
pretty well done."

"Stop your palaver and tell us all about it," observed Jim Pizey.

"Well, then, mates and gentlemen," said the Oysterman--

"We've had enough of that infernal nonsense," interrupted Jim Pizey,
angrily. "Can't you speak straightforward?"

"Strike me patient!" exclaimed the Oysterman, "Let a cove speak
according to his education, can't you! I'll tell the story my own way,
or I won't tell it at all."

"Go on, then," growled Pizey.

"Well, then, to commence all over again: Mates and gentlemen, you know
that I'm now an honest, hardworking digger, and mates with Dick
Handfield and an infernal fool of a Welshman. When I happened
promiscuously to drop across the pair of them, says I to myself,
Tenderhearted Oysterman, here's a little bit of work for you to do,
and you've got to go in and do it well. There's that plant of
Nuttall's at Highlay Station, says I to myself. What if the old cove
should have some place to put his money in that we don't know of?
Here's Dick Handfield knows every foot of the house and Station. If we
can get him to join us, we can make sure of the tin. We can settle him
afterwards, if we like; but have him we must, if we can get hold of
him. But, says I to myself, Dick Handfield is an honest young thief.
He gave us the slip once before. And, says I to myself, Dick
Handfield'll get a good claim, perhaps, and I can't get no hold of him
if he does, unless I come it very artful. So, mates and gentlemen, I
laid a plot, invented it every bit myself, and when I tell you all
about it, as I'm going to do now, I think you'll say I did come it
artful, and no mistake."

The Oysterman settled himself upon his seat, in an evident state of
enjoyment, and resumed:

"The first thing I thought of, mates and gentlemen, when I came across
the pair of them, was that Dick Handfield mustn't suspect that he knew
me. You know, mates and gentlemen, that I hadn't shaved for ten years,
but I sacrificed everything for my artful plot. I shaved my chin as
smooth as a bagatelle ball, and took care to keep myself pretty clean.
It was such a long time since I saw my own face, that I assure you,
mates and gentlemen, I hardly knew it again. But to prevent any chance
of discovery, I bought some acid, and burned this black mark under my
eye. That was rather artful, wasn't it? And, mates and gentlemen, as
it spoils my good looks, I hope you'll take it into consideration when
we square up, and make me an allowance for it. Then, says I to myself,
what name shall we take, Oysterman? And I hit upon Honest Steve, as
one that would exactly suit me. Then I began to look about me; it
didn't take me long to strike up an acquaintance with the Welshman.
He's a simple kind of fool, and will believe anything. It was
different with Dick Handfield. I do believe he had some kind of
suspicion at first; he looked at me as if he had a sort of an idea
that he knew me, and in his damned proud way wouldn't condescend to be
civil to me. But I didn't rile up at that; it wasn't my game. I was a
bit frightened that my trap wouldn't click, for they had got a claim
which every one of us believed was going to turn out pounds weight of
gold. But it was a duffer." (Here the Tenderhearted Oysterman
chuckled.) "A regular duffer--two grains to the tub--not enough to
keep 'em in salt. I was there when they washed out the first tub, and
wasn't Dick Handfield down on his luck! Before they came on the gutter
I had offered 'em twenty ounces for a third share, but they wouldn't
take it. And when Dick Handfield looked up and saw me, he turned
awfully savage. But I had nothing but soft words for him, mates and
gentlemen. I put up with all his airs, for I knew my day would come,
and it has come, mates and gentlemen, as you will say, presently."

He paused to indulge in the pleasing anticipation of his coming day,
and then resumed--

"I had a claim marked out upon the line of the gutter--of course I did
not know whether it would turn out good or bad--and I offered to take
them in as mates. They jumped at the offer, like a couple of mice
jumping into a trap; and after that I got more artful than ever. The
long fool of a Welshman, he's a soft sort of cove, and he reads his
Bible every night before he goes to bed. Says I to myself, I must turn
religious, I must. So I buys a Testament, and I makes it dirty and
ragged, as if I had used it a good deal, and I writes my name inside
the cover. One day, I leaves this Testament lying on the table--quite
by accident, mates and gentlemen--and the Welshman, he comes in, and I
twigs him take it up and look at my name on the cover. 'Is this yours,
Steve?' he says. 'Yes,' I answers; 'how stupid of me to leave it out;
I've had it for twenty years, and I wouldn't take anything for it.' 'I
like you for that, Honest Steve,' he says, the tears almost coming
into his eyes--a nice soft fool _he_ is!--and he gave me a regular
hand-gripe. 'You're a better sort of fellow than I thought you was.'
He had never shook hands with me before, and I knew that I had got
_him_ all right. I was awful pious with him, I can tell you! Then I
set on to Dick Handfield. Whenever I spoke to him I called him 'Sir,'
and was very respectful. I got him to talk of his being a gentleman,
and what a shame it was that such a swell as him should have to work
like a common digger. 'The Welshman,' says I, 'he's used to it, and
don't mind it; but you ought to be different. It isn't a very
gentlemanly thing,' I says to him, 'for you to have to go mates with
an old lag'--for the Welshman, you know, mates and gentlemen, is a
lag--a lifer, too. Then I got him to drink, and set him and the
Welshman quarrelling; and after that, mates and gentlemen, my artful
job was pretty well done."

"What are you going to make of all this?" asked Jim Pizey. "I don't
see how this will get Dick Handfield to join us. And we must have him,
Oysterman, or we shall all swing for it. He's the only one, besides
Old Flick, who knows what we're up to."

"Wait till I've done," said the Oysterman, "and you'll see quick
enough. I've been mates with the Welshman and Dick Handfield now for
four weeks, and the claim's washed up. It has turned out pretty well
but not so well as the diggers round about think it has, which makes
it all the better for us. They think we've been keeping them in the
dark as to what we've got out of the claim. We haven't divided the
gold yet; the Welshman's got charge of that. We're going to divide
to-morrow. All the diggers know that we're going to divide
to-morrow"--and the Tenderhearted Oysterman laughed and rubbed his
knees. "I've took care that they should all know it. That's coming it
artful, ain't it?"

"How?" asked Jim Pizey.

"How!" repeated the Oysterman, scornfully, but dropping his voice.
"Can't you see through it? The Welshman and Dick Handfield, they've
been quarrelling for the last two weeks, as if they'd like to cut each
other's throats. I've took care of that. I told Dick Handfield that
the Welshman said he was a proud, lazy fool; and I told the Welshman
that I heard Dick Handfield swear, if he could get hold of the Welsh
Bible, he'd pitch it into the fire. Dick Handfield, he's been drinking
like mad; and this afternoon, mates and gentlemen, this afternoon,
they had a regular flare-up; if they hadn't been parted, they'd have
had a stand-up fight. Dick Handfield, he goes away swearing that he'll
be even with the Welshman yet. And that's the end of my story, mates
and gentlemen."

"But what's to come of all this?"

"Can't you see through it yet? What would you say if, before to-morrow
morning, I was to bring you the gold the Welshman's taking care of?
There's nearly a hundred ounces of it. What do you think I've been
working for all this time? You be on the watch to-night, and I'll
bring you the gold safe enough. See here, mates and gentlemen"--and he
looked about him cautiously, and pulled out a knife--"this is Dick
Handfield's knife, this is; I prigged it from him this morning. What
if the poor Welshman was to be found to-morrow morning dead in his
bed? What if Dick Handfield's knife should be found on the ground,
under the bed, with blood on it? The quarrel between Welsh Tom and
Dick Handfield remembered--the gold that was going to be divided to
morrow gone--the Welshman stabbed with Dick Handfield's knife: eh,
mates and gentlemen? Do you see now how artful I've been coming it?
When Dick Handfield knows that they're after him for murdering his
mate when he knows that his knife is found, covered with blood he'll
be too glad to come with us, so as to get out of the way? Oh, you let
the Oysterman alone for doing a job properly! In a dozen hours from
now we'll be on the road to Highlay Station, and Dick Handfield will
be with us."

"And all this will be done to-night?"

"As sure as thunder!"

"By God! Oysterman," exclaimed Jim Pizey, "you've got a heart of
iron!"

"Strike me merciful!" said the Tenderhearted Oysterman. "Me a heart of
iron! I've got a heart as soft as a woman's! If I thought I should
hurt the poor cove to-night, I'd go and give myself in charge
beforehand. There's Ralph, there, if you call hard-hearted, you
wouldn't be far out. But me!" No words can express his villanous
enjoyment of this appeal.

"What do you mean?" growled Ralph.

"Mean, you flinty-hearted parent!" said the Tenderhearted Oysterman.
"What's the use of your being a father? We've never heard you ask once
after your offspring, Grif!"

"How's the young rip getting on?" asked Ralph, surlily. "He's always a
disgracing of me!"

"He's getting on very bad," replied the Oysterman; "very bad, isn't
he, Jim? He's turned honest, and blacks boots in the streets for a
tanner a pair. We gave him a turn, Jim and me, but we didn't pay him;
I wasn't going to encourage him. He'll come to no good, won't Grif;
he's a downright sneak."

"There, that's enough of him," growled Ralph; "talk of something else,
can't you?"

"Here's an unnatural father for you!" exclaimed the Oysterman, looking
round. "Objects to speak about his own offspring! It makes my tender
heart bleed to think of his unnaturalness. Give us something to drink;
I'm dry with talking. I'll stop for a couple of hours before I go
back. Everything'll be quiet then."

Brandy was produced, and the gang of ruffians sat together for some
time in the dark, talking in whispers over their vile projects.


The Welshman was alone in his tent. He was lying upon his bed,
thinking over his quarrel with Richard Handfield; thinking how sorry
he was that there should have been any quarrel at all, and how he
would like to make it up. He could not help reflecting how strange it
was that he had never quarrelled with Richard until Honest Steve had
joined them. He had not been quite imposed upon by Honest Steve; he
had all along entertained a doubt of that worthy's genuineness, and
all his simple predilections were in favour of Richard Handfield. But
he had been taken in by Honest Steve's story of the Bible. There were
two common beds in the tent, one belonging to Handfield, the other to
himself. Honest Steve had a little tent of his own, close by. The
Welshman cast many glances at the unoccupied bed, wishing that
Handfield would come, so that the difference between them might be
healed. The more he thought over the matter, the more he was convinced
that an explanation would set it all right. There were many good
points about Handfield, which had won upon the simple Welshman; and he
did think that his mate's lot was a hard one. He had seen the picture
of Alice, too, which Richard kept about him, and he thought that no
man could be bad who was loved by such a woman; her sweet face seemed
to elevate his mate in his eyes. And so, as he lay upon his bed
thinking over these things, the Welshman yearned for Richard's return,
that a reconciliation might be effected between them.

Richard Handfield was far from a bad man; but he was a weak man and a
coward. He was vacillating, and was easily led for good or evil. Above
all, he could not face misfortune. The change in his circumstances
before he married Alice, his bitter disappointment at the conduct her
father had pursued towards them, and their subsequent misfortunes and
poverty, had completely prostrated him. He really looked upon himself
as most harshly treated: in his heart he did not believe that any
other man in the world had as much to bear as himself; and he writhed
and fretted at his hard lot. The weak points in his character would
scarcely have made their appearance in prosperity; but under the lash
of misfortune they thrust themselves out, pricking him sorely, and
causing him to appear in a very unamiable light. He was intensely
weak, intensely vacillating, intensely selfish; and his utter want of
moral courage was bringing him to the brink of a terrible precipice.

It was past nine o'clock in the evening when Richard, who had been
drinking at some of the sly grog-shanties, came to the tent. It would
have been better for him had he not come home that night. It is awful
to think upon what slight threads of chance a man's destiny hangs! He
had not intended to sleep that night in the Welshman's tent, but a
stray remark had changed his resolution. The quarrel between the two
mates had been incidentally mentioned in conversation at the shanty
where Richard was drinking, and a digger jokingly observed that he
supposed Richard would be afraid to sleep that night in the Welshman's
tent. That remark decided him. He was not going to have the charge of
cowardice brought against him. It also prevented his drinking to
excess, for he determined to go home early.

When he entered, the Welshman sprang from his bed, and Richard started
back, expecting a blow. He was much astonished when the Welshman,
holding out his hand, said,--

"Dick, let's shake hands. If you are sorry for the quarrel we have
had, so am I. Why should we two fall out?"

Richard made no response.

"I have been thinking over things, Dick," the Welshman said, "and the
more I think the more certain I am that it is all a mistake. Come--we
have seen bad luck and good luck together. Let us shake hands."

Richard put out his hand, but not so readily as the Welshman, nor with
a similar heartiness.

"I'll shake hands with you, Tom," he said; "and I'm sorry that we
quarrelled. But you had no right to say of me that I was a proud, lazy
fool."

"I said nothing of the sort," said the Welshman. "Whatever I've said,
I've said to your face. I'm not mean enough to speak against a man
when his back's turned. Who told you I said so?"

"Honest Steve."

It flashed across the Welshman's mind, that they had both been
deceived by Honest Steve.

"You remember my telling you my story, Dick, when we camped out?" he
asked.

"Yes."

"You remember that part about my mother?"

"Yes"

"And the Bible she gave me?"

"Yes."

"All the gold in Victoria could not buy that Bible Dick."

"I don't think it could, Tom."

"And yet I was told that you swore to burn my Bible, when you could
lay hands on it."

"Whoever told you so told a lie. I'm not very sober, but you can
believe me."

"I do. We're both been put upon by Steve. He told me you swore this,
and you may guess my blood was up."

"I should think so. But why didn't you tell me this before?"

"Because Steve made me promise not to say anything about it. I suppose
he made you promise the same."

Richard nodded, and said, half musingly, "What could be his motive?"

"Never mind his motive. To-morrow morning we share the gold, and when
we have squared up, we'll break with Steve, and you and I will stick
together as mates, if you like. I'll tell him my opinion of him, too.
Shake hands again, Dick."

They shook hands once more, and the two were friends again. Softened
by the reconciliation, they fell into confidential conversation.

"I can't fathom his motive, Tom," said Richard, harping upon the
theme. "Steve has done this for a purpose. Did you ever meet with him
before?"

"No."

"You remember how he came and offered to mate with us? There didn't
seem anything strange in it then, but now it seems to bear a different
light. He has been playing upon both of us. He played upon me, knowing
my cursed pride"--the Welshman patted Richard's knee--"he told me it
was a degradation to me to mate with a--a--"

"Say it, Dick," said the Welshman, gently. "It was a degradation to
you to go mates with a ticket-of-leave man."

"Yes, he said that. And I--although I know that you are innocent, Tom,
old fellow,--"

"Thank you, Dick,"

--"And, although I know that you are the best-hearted fellow in the
world--I listened to him, and believed him."

The Welshman sighed, and said, "It was natural, Dick; it was natural."

"It was nothing of the sort; I ought to have known better. But I
didn't think, Tom, that's the truth." Richard spoke in a tone of
self-reproach; he was ashamed of his selfishness, and of the unjust
thoughts he had harboured towards his mate.

"There's enough of him," said the Welshman, heartily. "We'll talk no
more about him, and to-morrow we will wash our hands of him. And now,
Dick,"--he hesitated before he proceeded, for he was about to speak of
a subject which needed delicate handling--"And now, Dick, I want to
speak to you about your wife."

"Well, Tom," said Richard; in his then mood, when all harsh feeling
was banished from his mind, the thought of his wife harmonised with
his gentler humour. But even at that moment a sharp pang quivered
through him, as the image of Alice, alone in Melbourne, without a
friend, rose before him. Then there was the additional sting of his
own misconduct. If Alice knew how he had been drinking lately, after
all his promises and good resolutions! Little thrills of shame tingled
through every nerve of his body.

"When men and women marry," said the Welshman, made bold by Richard's
subdued voice and manner, "they owe a duty to each other, which I
think it is sinful to forget. You have forgotten your duty, Dick. If
your wife is anything like the picture you have of her, she wouldn't
forget hers, I'll stake my life on it."

"She is the best and dearest woman in the world," said Richard; "and
the most unfortunate, for she met me, and--and loved me, who am no
more worthy of her than I am of heaven." (It is often in this way
that weak selfish men atone for their bad conduct. As if gentle
self-accusation can heal cruel acts!) "If she had never seen me, it
would have been better for her."

"But she did see you, and she married you, Dick, so it's not very wise
to speak like that now. How long is it since you have written to her?"

"It must be five or six weeks." The Welshman looked grave. "There is
no excuse for me, I know. But I had not courage."

"There is no excuse for you. I wish I had the good fortune to possess
such a wife."

"You deserve one better than I do, Tom," said Richard, remorsefully.

"That's a good hearing--not for me, but for you. It sounds as if you
were more grateful. Think of her without a friend in Melbourne,
waiting, waiting, waiting! Poor thing! who has she to lean upon but
you? Write to her to-morrow. I tell you what we'll do, Dick? When
we've divided the gold--there are more than ninety ounces--we'll put
our two shares together, and well take your wife in mates with us.
We'll divide our shares into three, and you shall send her her share
with your letter."

Richard pressed his mate's hand.

"You are a good fellow, Welshman," he said. "We'll talk over it in the
morning."

"No; we'll settle it now. I've no one depending upon me. I haven't
much use for my share. For the matter of that, you might have the lot.
Why not go to Melbourne, and bring her here? While you're away, I can
be putting up a tent for you and her. I will line it with green baize,
and make it quite a snuggery. I'll get a good claim, too, before you
return; you see if I don't."

"She will never be able to rough it, up here."

"Dick," said the Welshman, "what do you think she is doing now, in
Melbourne? She must be dreadfully unhappy, away from you, although you
do not deserve her. Come, now, make up your mind. This may be a
turning-point for you. We may find a big nugget yet, you know, and
then you'd be all right again."

"You put new life into me, Welshman. I think I will go to Melbourne,
and ask her if she'll come."

"Bravo, Dick! You shall start the day after to-morrow. She'll come,
depend upon it. I'll be your friend, Dick, yours and hers. You will
see what sort of a tent I'll have ready for you by the time you come
back. Now then, write her a letter."

"What is the use, if I am going to Melbourne to-morrow?"

"The post will travel faster than you. Write just two or three lines,
and give her a glimpse of sunshine. Her face will be all the brighter
for it when she sees you."

Welsh Tom placed writing materials on the table, and Richard sat
down to write. Before he commenced, he took from his pocket a small
pocket-book, containing the letters Alice had sent him, her picture,
and Little Peter's stone heart, which he had picked up on the stairs
when he parted from his wife. He opened Alice's last letter, and read
it; his heart grew very tender to her as he read. The letter was full
of hope, full of encouraging counsel; it bade him not to be cast down,
not to despair, not to let any thought of her disturb his mind. She
yearned to be with him, but she could wait without repining if he
would persevere in his good resolutions. "As I know you will, dear,"
she wrote, "for my sake, to whom you are all the world. I am not dull,
for I think of you always, and of the brighter days to come. Never
mind if you are not fortunate at first; fortune will smile upon
you--I know, I feel it will. God will never desert us, if we are true
to ourselves and to each other. And oh, Richard darling! since you
have gone I have witnessed such suffering in others--such misery,
endured with patience by poor unfortunate persons--that I feel our lot
to be a happy one in comparison with theirs. I think the experience
was sent to me as a lesson." Richard read to the end with moistened
eyes.

"God bless her!" he said, and he took her portrait from his
pocket-book, and kissed it.

Then he wrote a short letter--a few lines merely--telling Alice that
he would be with her almost directly, and mentioning incidentally that
he had got rid of a bad man, who was his mate, and that he would bring
some gold to Melbourne. He had a postage-stamp in his pocket-book, and
to get it he turned out the contents of the book upon the table. As he
did so, Little Peter's stone heart rolled away, and would have fallen
if the Welshman had not caught it. Richard sealed his letter, affixed
the postage-stamp, and looking towards his mate, started to his feet
in surprise.

Welsh Tom was all of a tremble, and his eyes were fixed with a
terrified expression upon the stone heart, which lay in his hand.

"Tom!" Richard cried, in alarm.

The Welshman grasped Richard's wrist, and asked, in a husky voice--

"Where did you get this from?"

"That heart! I picked it up on the stairs when I bade Alice good-bye
in Melbourne. I thought it was a good omen. What makes you look upon
it so?"

As the Welshman gazed upon that little piece of stone, he saw the
woodland, lake, and mountain, which lay around his old Welsh home,
where love and peace had reigned until the false friend came to wreck
their happiness. The heart-shocks, the stern resolves born of
desolation, the flight of his sister, the agony of his mother, his
pursuit of the villain who had so ruthlessly violated the sacred ties
of friendship and hospitality, the promise of reparation, the false
charge, the trial, the condemnation: all this he saw in that little
stone heart.

"It is like a sign from the grave." he said. "And you don't know to
whom it belongs?"

"No."

"It was my sister's--my poor, lost sister's. I gave it to her in
Wales, when she was good. I told you I fancied once I saw her in
Melbourne. If she should be alive, Dick--if she should be there! Oh,
Dick! Dick!"

"When I get to Melbourne, Tom," Richard said, "I will try and find out
all about it. Perhaps Alice knows." And then he thought pityingly of
the bad character of the house in which he had found the heart. "Take
courage, Tom, we will find her if she be alive."

"Yes, we will find her," Welsh Tom said, as if speaking to himself;
"her and hers, perhaps. It is my duty. If anything happens to me,
Dick, promise me that you will take care of her, and be a brother to
her."

"What should happen to you, Tom?"

"I cannot tell. I have a foreboding of evil upon me. Promise."

"I do promise."

"Thank you. We will talk to-morrow morning about this"--he placed the
stone heart to his lips, and taking from his pocket a chamois-leather
bag, nearly filled with gold, he dropped the heart in it, and placed
the bag beneath his pillow. "I shall turn in now. I am tired, and I
want to go to bed and think."

"All right, Tom, I shall turn in too. I heard to-day of a good bit of
ground, and I shall be up early in the morning to have a look at it
before I go to Melbourne. Good-night, old fellow."

"Good-night, Dick."

Richard was soon asleep, but the Welshman lay awake for a longer time
than usual, reading his mother's Bible. He had a strange sort of
feeling about him. His mind was thronged with old associations.
Impelled by some heaven-directed influence, he crept out of bed, and
knelt down and prayed. Then he got into bed again, and thought of his
sister, and of their once happy home in the old Welsh mountains. He
kissed the Bible before he fell asleep; and, as consciousness was
fading from him, the last thing he saw, with his inner sense of sight,
was the face of his old mother, as he remembered it in his boyish
days.


Everything in and around the tent was wrapped in deepest shade. The
moon had not yet risen. The stars glimmered dimly in the heavens, and
the wind floated by with soft sighs. Scarce the barking of a dog
disturbed the stillness. Nothing but the deep breathing of strong men
was heard. A solemn hush was over all. Yet there was wakeful life
within the tent--wakeful life in the person of the Tenderhearted
Oysterman, who, with but little trouble, had succeeded in unfastening
the calico door from without. When he was inside, he softly closed the
door, and crouched upon the ground, listening to the regular breathing
of the sleepers. Satisfied that his entrance had not disturbed them,
he took a piece of phosphorus from his pocket, and rubbed it on the
sleeve of his serge shirt. As he held his arm up to his face, a dim,
ghastly glare was reflected in his cruel eyes, and upon his cruel
lips. He then took out Richard's clasp-knife, and opened it slowly, so
as to avoid the click of the spring. His plans were well matured. In
the event of any struggle, and of Richard's awaking, he would call out
for assistance, and accuse Richard of the murder. He could easily
account for his appearance in the tent, and, for the rest, Richard's
knife, and the quarrel between the mates, would be sufficient
evidence. He thought over all this as he crouched upon the ground,
with the open knife in his hand. He slowly drew the bright blade
across the phosphoric glare on his sleeve, and then suddenly rose, and
bent over the sleeping form of the Welshman. The doomed man was lying
upon his back; and his arm, carelessly thrown over his pillow, rested
upon the old Welsh Bible. The coverings on the bed were disarranged,
and the Welshman's strong, muscular chest was partially bared. If, at
that awful moment, he had awakened, it would not have saved him: for
the hand of the murderer was raised, and, with one strong, cruel flash
the knife was buried to the hilt in the heart of the sleeping man! A
sudden start an agonised quiver of every nerve--a choking, gasping
sigh and moan--and the murdered man lay still in death. Not more still
was his form than was the form of his murderer. Motionless as a
statue, the Tenderhearted Oysterman stood, as if petrified. For a
brief space only he so stood; for presently his muscles relaxed, and
he groped under the dead man's pillow for the gold. He uttered a
stifled scream as his hand came in contact with the dead man's face;
but directly afterwards, he cursed himself in silence for his folly.
When he had found the gold, he turned his phosphorus-lighted sleeve
towards the murdered man. He felt sick and faint as the ghastly blue
glare fell upon the Welshman's bleeding breast, and with a shudder
which he could not repress, the Tenderhearted Oysterman crept
stealthily from the tent.


Pale and trembling, he halted for a few moments outside, as if for
rest. He could hear nothing but the beating of his heart against his
ribs; he could see nothing but the phosphorescent glare upon his arm.
As though he had looked into some weirdly-illuminated mirror, in which
he saw a fadeless picture of his crime, he hurriedly turned up the
sleeve, and so shut out the glare. Then he walked towards Breakneck
Gully. The loneliness was awful to him. As he crept slowly along--for
he had to thread his way for the first mile between deserted claims,
and over white hillocks of pipeclay soil--he listened eagerly for the
barking of a dog, for any sound that would break the dreadful silence,
and divert his thoughts from the deed he had committed. But no sound
fell upon his ears; for him the air was full of silent horrors. Strive
as he would, he could not rid himself of the fancy that the shadow of
the murdered man was gliding after him as he walked alone. He dared
not look behind him. He almost tumbled into a hole as he quickened his
steps, the sooner to reach his comrades' tent; but, recovering
himself, he started back with an oath upon his coward lips, for he saw
the Welshman's face rise suddenly from the claim. It disappeared as
suddenly at his fancy had conjured it up, and he went on his way. As
he came to the end of the diggings, a faint light was spreading over
the verge of the horizon. The moon was rising. He was thankful for
this; the thought that he should have to walk, surrounded by black
night, through the wooded range which led to Breakneck Gully, somewhat
daunted him; but he would have the moon now to light him through the
bush. He cursed his weakness; he cursed his folly in not having
provided himself with brandy to keep up his courage. He needed it; for
he could not shake off the idea of the appalling shadow gliding after
him. His thoughts travelled back to the tent, and fascinated by the
horror of the last hour, he lived it over again. Once more he enters
the tent, vividly recalling each minute circumstance; once more he
crouches upon the ground, intent and watchful! He takes the piece of
phosphorus from his pocket, and rubs it upon his sleeve--there is a
blue glare across his eyes as he thinks this part of the tragedy over
again--he opens the knife softly, cautiously--he bends over the
sleeping man, raises his arm, and strikes! Horror! what is this?
Standing directly in his path is a tall, dark form, with gaunt arms
stretched towards him. He can see its hair stir, he can hear a sobbing
wail issue from its mouth. His craven heart leaps with terror; then a
sickly smile of relief passes over his face, for he sees that he has
been startled by a tree, its branches trembling in a gust of wind
which has just swept by. All nature seemed to cry against him for the
coward deed he had committed. The moon rose slowly behind a veil of
mournful clouds; the stars paled; the wind gasped and sobbed; and
every leaf and branch quivered as he crept along. Once he closed his
eyes as if shut out the terror which encompassed him; but more thickly
thronged his ghastly fancies, making themselves visible. And when he
looked before him once more, a shadow seemed to glide swiftly by him,
and to hide itself behind a clump of timber at his right. So strong
was this fancy upon him, that he took a knife from his pocket, and
held it ready to strike. A sigh of relief escaped him when he had left
the clump of timber at his back; but still he dared not look behind,
for the awful shadow was following on his steps. Louder grew the
moaning of the wind; more strongly trembled every leaf and branch; and
a flash of pale lightning glancing suddenly upon his sight, almost
blinded him. But not so suddenly that he did not see within it a
picture of the Welshman lying upon his stretcher, with a stream of
blood flowing from his breast. Then the clouds began to weep; thick
clots of rain fell, like clots of blood, in his path; and he trod in
them, shuddering. He was near the end of his journey now. Within fifty
yards of his comrades' tent stood a solitary tree. As he passed it the
heavens opened, and he saw again the vision of the Welshman's bleeding
heart, while the now fast-pouring rain seemed to coil a host of bloody
symbols round about his feet.



                             CHAPTER XX.

             THE TENDER-HEARTED OYSTERMAN TRAPS HIS GAME.


Before the rising of the son, Richard Handfield was on his way to
inspect the new ground, of which he had spoken to his mate on the
previous night. When he rose, he did not strike a light, and he trod
softly out of the tent, so as not to wake the Welshman. A tender
feeling of regard for his mate had sprung up within him; and as he
hastened along, with pick and shovel slung over his shoulder, a new
happiness took possession of his heart. The reward of right doing is
very sweet, and Richard was tasting this, in anticipation, for the
first time in his life. To-morrow he would start for Melbourne to join
his wife. He knew that no persuasion would be required to induce her
to live with him on the gold-fields. He felt very remorseful at his
neglect of her: never, since he had known her, had he so truly
appreciated her goodness. He thought of her patience, of her
sufferings; and the memory of her sad, sweet face came upon him as he
walked along. "She's a dear, good girl," he said to himself. "The
Welshman is right; I don't deserve her. Never mind, I'll make it up to
her, now; she shall not suffer for me any more." And, with heart and
step rivalling each other in lightness, he wended his way to the new
ground.

The sun was up when he retraced his steps. He had marked off a claim,
and intended returning with his mate, after the gold was divided, and
they had broken with Honest Steve. When within a quarter of a mile of
his tent, just as he was revolving in his mind what could have been
Honest Steve's intention in setting him and the Welshman against each
other, he heard the word "Murder," spoken by one of two diggers who
were coming out of a tent, a few yards before him. Murder! His heart
almost ceased to beat, and a sense of impending evil fell upon him. At
the rear of the tent, there was a little straggling bush, through
which Richard was walking when he heard the word. It arrested him for
a moment or two. "Murdered in his bed," the man said; "the knife
sticking in him, too! Let's run and see." And they ran off at full
speed in the direction of the Welshman's tent. A feeling of dread came
upon Richard, and he was preparing to hasten after the two diggers,
when a hand was laid upon his shoulder, and a warning voice cried,
"Hist!" in his ear. Turning, he saw the face of Honest Steve.

"Turn back," said Steve: "all's discovered."

"What's discovered?" asked Richard, looking round, bewildered.

"If they catch you," continued Steve, not heeding the question,
"they'll lynch you; I heard them swear they'd do it, and I came away,
fearful they might set on to me."

"What are you talking about?" asked Richard, a vague terror stealing
over him.

"They have read the letter in which you said you had got rid of a bad
mate, and was going to Melbourne with the gold. What a mistake it was
for you to leave that letter about! I thought you were more fly than
that, Dick."

"I don't understand," muttered Richard, putting his hand to his head,
confusedly.

"But it wasn't so much that," pursued Honest Steve, "as it was the
knife. It was the knife that settled it. It wouldn't have looked so
bad, if the knife hadn't been found sticking in him. What made you
leave that behind you?"

Instinctively, Richard felt in his pockets; his knife was gone!

"Then they know you've been quarrelling together--"

"Good God!" cried Richard, the full horror of his situation breaking
upon him. "The Welshman--"

"Murdered, as you know."

"Murdered!"

"It was an infernal cowardly thing for you to do," said Honest Steve,
with simulated indignation.

"Do you believe?--" Richard gasped out.

"Look here! What's the use of asking me if I believe? Who wouldn't
believe, I should like to know? Here he is, found murdered in the tent
this morning, your knife sticking in him, the gold gone, your letter
upon the table, and you cut away--"

"But I'm going back," cried Richard, in despair.

"Say your prayers first, then. They'll hang you on the nearest
tree--they've got the rope already slung. I heard one of them say that
he told you last night you was afraid to go home, and that you started
off in a rage directly afterwards. The men were speaking of it just
now. When you quarrelled with him yesterday afternoon, you know you
said you'd be even with him."

"But we made friends last night."

"Who knows it?"

Richard staggered and almost fell. The question struck him like a
blow. Who knew it? No one. None but the Welshman and himself knew of
the reconciliation that had taken place between them. In the eyes of
the world they were still enemies. Of what use would be his simple
word? He felt that the chain of evidence was too strong for him to
attempt to struggle against. What a change had come over his prospects
within the last hour! The new life of happiness that had dawned upon
him had faded away, and now his future was full of horror. "Fate is
against me," he groaned; "what is the use of my struggling?"

But in the midst of his great peril came the thought of the disgrace
that would attach to his name. Alice, too; it would be her death.
Weak, vacillating, he was, but she must not think him infamous. He was
unworthy of her, but he would not bring that disgrace upon her. "I
must save her from this misery," he thought; "I must save myself from
this shame, if only for her sake. This is some foul plot against me. I
may unravel it, if I have time. Where can I hide?" And then with that
marvellous rapidity of thought which conquers time, he reviewed, in a
few brief moments, the whole of the circumstances. He felt that there
was no chance of escape if he gave himself up--the net of
circumstantial evidence was too strong for him, unaided, to break
through. In this most dread extremity, strong points in his character
came out, and he determined, if possible, to clear himself from the
imputation of the infamous crime. But to accomplish that, he must be
free. Where could he hide? As if in answer to his thought, Honest
Steve said--

"See here, Dick. We're mates together, and I ain't going to desert
you. You may have killed the Welshman, or you may not, I'm not going
to be squeamish about that. One thing's certain--it couldn't look
blacker against you. But then it looks a little black against me, too;
because you know I'm not a prime favourite. If you like to come with
me, I'll show you where you can hide away for a time."

"If you believe I did this deed, why do you wish to save me?"

"I'm coming to that. I don't do it out of love for you, don't deceive
yourself. You will find out soon enough. I've got a purpose to serve.
I fell in with some old mates yesterday, and I'm going to join 'em
again. You can make one, if you like."

"Explain yourself."

"Let's get away from here, first. The diggers'll about directly."

Even as they spoke they saw strangers, talking excitedly, coming
towards them. They crouched down in the bush, and hid themselves from
the men. "The damned villain!" Richard heard one say. "The mean,
cowardly villain, to kill poor old Tom! And he put himself up for a
gentleman, too, and didn't think us good enough for him!" Honest Steve
nudged his companion as if to direct his attention to the speaker. But
Richard needed no reminding; he heard the words, and they burnt into
him and made him writhe. "If we catch him, we'll lynch him, by God!"
exclaimed another. Richard caught sight of their faces, and felt that
there would be no mercy for him at their hands. Guiltless as he was,
he breathed more freely when they had passed out of hearing.

"Come now," said Honest Steve, "we can't afford to lose time. It is
too precious."

In silence, Richard rose and followed him.

They set off stealthily, looking warily about them, and walked for
nearly an hour, Honest Steve leading the way. So well did he know the
locality, that they did not encounter a single person. When they came
to Breakneck Gully, and were within sight of Jim Pizey's tent--

"Do you know whose tent that is?" he asked.

"No."

"That's Jim Pizey's tent."

A light broke upon Richard, but he checked the expression of the
thoughts which rushed upon his mind.

"Is Jim Pizey there?" he asked, almost calmly.

"Yes, he's there, waiting for us."

"Waiting for us!"

"Yes. That's lucky, isn't it?"

"Your voice suddenly sounds familiar to me," said Richard, turning his
eyes upon Steve's face. "Who are you?" Honest Steve passed his hand
over his face, and on the instant, Richard, looking at him, recognised
him. "Great Heavens!" he exclaimed. "You are the Tenderhearted
Oysterman."

The Oysterman nodded and smiled.

"You have shaved the hair off your face to deceive me," Richard cried.
"You made that black mark under your eye for the same purpose. And you
came to us, and lied to us, and played your pious part--"

The Oysterman with a self-satisfied leer, took his Bible from his
pocket, and, tearing out a leaf, lit it from the light of a match, and
applied it to his pipe.

"That's the use I make of it now, Dick," he said. "Pity to waste it!"

"You villain! We found out last night, Tom and I"--at the mention of
his mate's name, Richard trembled so that he could scarcely stand; he
had to steady himself before he could proceed--"we found out last
night that you had been lying to both of us, and raising ill blood
between us. We found it out last night, and we shook hands and made
friends. Thank God, at least, for that!"

"That's a consolation for you at all events," said the Tenderhearted
Oysterman, in a mocking voice.

"You devil!" Richard cried. "_You_ killed poor Tom, and with my
knife!"

He struck wildly at the Oysterman, but the Oysterman caught his hand
and forced him to the ground. He had not tasted food that morning, and
hunger and excitement made him very weak.

"Listen to me," the Oysterman said, "or I will tie your arms behind
you, and give you up to the diggers. That would set me clear with them
if nothing else would. With you, they would make short work. Everybody
loved Welsh Tom"--(Richard groaned)--"he was so good, and kind, and
considerate. Why, I was fond of him in my way--ay, I was," he
repeated, chuckling, as Richard looked at him with a kind of wondering
horror. It was one of the most revolting features in this man's
character that he was continually vaunting himself as being full of
tender feeling. "You know what we wanted you to do in Melbourne: we
laid all our plans open to you, and thought you were going to join us.
But, somehow or other, you gave us the slip. We thought we had you all
right, too, but you was too clever for us that time. Now, you will
find we are too clever for you. Do you remember the five-pound note
Flick changed into gold--the five-pound which Pizey gave you for your
wife's watch? Well, that note was a forged one. So it is a good job
you are not going back to Melbourne, for the detectives are after you
there, my lad. I was pretty mad when I found you had cut away; but I
determined to have you. And when the Tenderhearted Oysterman makes up
his mind, blood can't stop him."

He spoke vindictively, almost savagely, and Richard shuddered as he
listened.

"I hated you in Melbourne for your infernal airs of superiority. You
were too good for the likes of us. Are you too good now? I hated you
then, and you were mixed up with some I hated worse than you. There
was Grif--that friend and lickspittle of your wife's--if ever I set
eyes on him again, I'll strangle him, by God! I hated you and all your
lot. I made up my mind to snare you, and I have. I came to these
diggings because I heard you were here; I laid my plans well, you will
confess, I won you over by playing upon the meanness in you which
makes you think yourself superior to everybody else. I humbled myself
enough to you, I hope. Though I did think, at first, that you
suspected me."

"I did suspect you."

"I thought so; but I was too clever for you. Well, now my part is
played out. What are you going to do? Give yourself up?"

"No."

"What then?"

"What do you want me to do?"

"To join us. There is only one of two things for you to do. Choose."

"What are your plans?"

"We are going to rob Old Nuttall's station. That's what we want you
for. You know the lay of the house, and where the old man would be
likely to hide his gold. You owe the old fellow a grudge; you can pay
it off. He has treated you badly enough. As he would not give you any
of his gold, you can help yourself to some of it. Now for your
decision. I have spoken pretty plainly, haven't I?"

"Yes. Give me two minutes to reflect. Nay; you can put up your pistol.
I shall not run away, with that charge of murder hanging over my
head."

He turned his back to the Oysterman, and thought. He saw it all now;
the whole plot was bare before him. He remembered the anxiety of Jim
Pizey, when they were in Melbourne, that he should join the gang, for
the purpose of sticking up Highlay Station; he remembered the threats
they used in their attempt to coerce him. The story of the forged
five-pound note he heard now for the first time. Well, that was a
portion of their scheme. The part of "Honest Steve" had been played to
trap him. The Oysterman had sown dissension between him and the
Welshman, had committed the murder, and had stolen his knife for the
purpose of implicating him. If he made his escape from the gang, and
was taken, he could not establish his innocence: the chain of evidence
against him was complete. But if he consented to join the gang, he
might gain information which would clear him from the charge. He had
been the dupe; now he would play the fox. He would blind them; he
would go with them to his father-in-law's station; in the next few
days he would be able to get evidence of the Oysterman's guilt, and
then-- But he could not think out the rest. Chance might aid him. If
the worst befell, when they got to the station, and he had no means of
establishing his innocence, he would save Alice's father; that would
be one good thing done. It might be the means of reconciling father
and daughter; that would be sweet, though he himself were lost. It
would be sweet to be able to do some little good for Alice, even
though she would not know he had done it. He knew the desperate
character of the men he had to deal with, and that it behoved him to
be wary. All this was thought out in less than the two minutes he had
asked for.

"I will join you," he said to the Oysterman; "not because it is my
inclination to do so, but because I must, as you say. It is better
than being strung up by the diggers; I'll keep my life as long as I
can."

"That's well said," returned the Oysterman; "but look here, mate. You
go in heart and soul with us. No treachery, mind. We know who we've
got to deal with. You'll be looked after, I can tell you."

"I suppose I shall," said Richard; "but I must take my chance. It's
bad enough being compelled to turn thief and bushranger, but it would
be worse if I was caught. I speak as plainly as you, don't I?"

"Bravo, Dick," said the Tenderhearted Oysterman, clapping him on the
shoulder; "you're more sensible than I took you for. We shall make a
good haul with this job, and when it's done you can get off to
America, and turn honest again, if you like. There's Jim Pizey at the
door. Let's join him. We'll start directly."



                             CHAPTER XXI.

            THE MORAL MERCHANT CALLS A MEETING OF HIS
                              CREDITORS.


The office of Mr. Zachariah Blemish was situated in one of the busiest
and most respectable portions of the City. There was an air of
business about it which unmistakeably stamped its character; its
polished mahogany panels seemed absolutely to twinkle with riches. The
spirit of pounds, shillings, and pence peeped out of its every corner,
and appeared to be cunningly busy over the sum of multiplication--a
sum which may be said to comprise the whole duty of mercantile man.
The swing-door of the office had a hard time of it--from morn till
night it creaked upon its hinges, complainingly. If ever door had
occasion to growl that door had. If ever door bemoaned its hard fate,
or protested against being worked to death, that door did. Sometimes
it sent forth a piteous wail; sometimes a long-sustained groan;
sometimes an agonised little squeak, as much as to say, "Now it is all
over with me!" But it wailed, and groaned, and squeaked in vain. There
was no rest for it. For weeks, and months, and years, it had been
flung open with ferocity, and slammed to with vindictiveness; for
weeks, and months, and years, it had been pushed and banged with
venomous cruelty. But a day came when it rested from its labours, and
when its wails, and groans, and squeaks, ceased to be heard.

It is surprising what consternation the simple closing of a door can
produce. If the swing-door of the office of Mr. Zachariah Blemish had
been aware of the dreadful tremor that thrilled through commercial
circles on the day that it hung quiescent on its hinges, it would have
squeaked of its own accord with fiendish satisfaction. If it could
have seen the dismal faces of those ruthless men who had for years so
cruelly pushed, and slammed, and banged it, it would have laughed in
its baized sleeve, vindictively. But it had no means of satisfying its
vindictive feelings, for it was shut out from the busy world, and a
gloomy shade encompassed it.

There was great dismay in the City. The office of Mr. Blemish shut up!
What could it mean? Was it a temporary suspension, or a total smash?
Why, everybody thought he was rolling in wealth. Everybody asked
questions of everybody else. Quite a crowd was congregated outside the
office during the whole day; and the outer door was stared at with
feelings somewhat akin to awe, as if, like the Sphinx, it contained
within its breast the knowledge of an awful mystery. Among the crowd
were many members of the Moral Boys' Bootblacking Reformatory, who
stood and stared with the rest, wondering what heroic deed their Moral
President had performed. In the midst of the general wonderment came
whispers of disastrous speculations; losses in sugar, losses in flour,
losses in saltpetre, losses in quicksilver, losses by underwriting,
and losses by guarantying. Ships had been wrecked, cattle stations had
fallen in value, large firms in India had failed, debtors had
absconded. But still, these were trifles to a man of such immense
wealth as Blemish was reputed to be. And such a moral man, too.

Later in the day, it was reported that a meeting of creditors had been
called, and a dark rumour was circulated that the estate would not pay
a shilling in the pound. What were his liabilities? Some said fifty
thousand pounds, some said a hundred thousand, some said half a
million. The smaller sums were soon indignantly rejected, and the
liabilities were fixed, to the satisfaction of everybody, at half a
million. No--not to the satisfaction of everybody; not at all to the
satisfaction of his creditors, who were furious. They were a numerous
class, but they were small in number compared to those who were not
his creditors. With the public, Mr. Zachariah Blemish had never been
so popular as he was now. If he had made his appearance in the
streets, he would have been stared at and adulated more than ever. For
had he not failed for half a million of money? What a rich, unctuous
sound the words had, as they were pronounced! They rolled deliciously
round the tongue. Half-a-million of money!

Certainly, he was a public benefactor. If he had poisoned his wife,
and murdered every one of his ancient clerks--if he had enticed a
dozen inoffensive (and of course lovely) females into his office, and
killed them then and there with a deadly vapour--if he had been for
years quietly strangling unsuspicious strangers, and hiding their
remains in his cellar until it was so full that it could not hold
another limb--if he had been the author of any or all of these
highly-spiced sensations, he could not have been more popular than he
was in the present circumstances of his position. He had provided the
public with something to talk about, something that it could take home
to its wife, and moralise over, and dilate upon virtuously. It was not
every day that a man failed for half-a-million of money, and
especially so good a man as Mr. Blemish.

Great was the marvel how he had managed to keep his state unknown and
unsuspected for so long a time. For the rumoured losses had not come
upon him at once. People had heard him speak, upon various occasions,
of losses upon shipments here, of losses upon consignments there, of
debtors absconding heavily in his debt, &c., &c.; but he had spoken
upon those subjects so pleasantly, that it rather enhanced his credit
than otherwise. The impression conveyed was, that those losses had
been sustained, but that, large as they were, they were too trifling
to a affect the position of such a merchant as Blemish. How had he
managed to sustain his credit through all those losses, which now, it
was seen, must have been enormous? Why at the time the great banquet
was given to him, he must have been hopelessly insolvent! He was
certainly a marvellously clever man. He was undoubtedly a very great
genius; for he had failed for half-a-million of money!

And Mr. Blemish himself--how did he bear the publication of his
downfall? Was he pale, anxious, nervous, humbled, crestfallen? Was he
crying and fretting inwardly at his displacement from the pedestal
upon which public opinion had seated him? Not at all. He was
comfortably located in one of the cosiest rooms of his mansion, in
handsome dressing-gown and slippers. He was smoking a fragrant Havanah
cigar, and drinking iced claret, which he poured from a costly jug, a
portion of one of the numerous testimonials presented to him in the
course of his moral career. From where he was sitting, he commanded a
view of his garden, wherein were blossoming the choicest exotics. His
face was as ruddy and as fat as ever--he looked like a man at peace
with himself and with all the world. And yet to-morrow he was to meet
a host of furious creditors, men whom he had deceived, robbed,
swindled, perhaps ruined. He had given instructions that he was at
home to nobody except a legal friend, and he was passing the afternoon
luxuriously, and enjoying his leisure as such a moral man as himself
deserved to enjoy it.

In the evening he had a long consultation with his lawyer, the most
eminent man in the profession. Long statements of accounts were
examined and discussed; as to what might be said of this item, and of
that. The conversation sometimes assumed an anxious turn, but leisure
was found for a little pleasantry. "Do you think it is all right?"
asked the honest merchant, the slightest dash of nervousness in his
voice. "Quite right," replied the honest lawyer, cheerfully. Then a
few documents were burnt, Mr. Blemish devoting an unusual amount of
care to so trivial an operation. After which the honest merchant and
the honest lawyer shook hands, without any apparent reason, and smiled
approvingly at each other. The lawyer being gone, Mr. Blemish retired
to rest, and slept as men sleep whose consciences are at ease. When he
rose in the morning, he indulged, as usual, in his shower bath, and,
strengthened for the battle, issued forth to meet his foes.

Such foes! Such fierce, malignant foes! The meeting had been called in
the commercial room of a great hotel; and the atmosphere of the room
was surcharged with scowls. The creditors were broken into knots of
three and four each, all of whom were recounting their special
grievances with glib volubility. Black looks and savage growls
fraternised in the cause against the common enemy. Although each
sufferer put forward his case as the worst and blackest, there were no
particular distinguishing features in them. All the creditors had
believed Blemish to be a man of vast means; all had been eager to
swell the amount of his indebtedness to them; and all discovered that
they had been diddled. That was the word--Diddled. They had no pity
for each other. A dreadful selfishness was rampant among them. It was
all ME. He deceived ME: he told ME this: he led ME to believe that. It
was more than human nature could stand. They lashed themselves into a
fury. They ground their teeth, they clenched their fists, they
anathematised the name of Blemish. That is, when Blemish was not
present; when he made his appearance amongst them, the storm, if it
had not passed over, was lulled. The great merchant had contrived to
make himself look a shade paler than usual. When he entered the room
he bowed gravely to the assembled throng, and said that it would
perhaps be as well that they should at once proceed to business. The
common sense of the proposal striking every one present, they seated
themselves immediately round the long table, and waited in anxious
expectation; Mr. Zachariah Blemish being at the head, supported on his
right by his legal adviser, who had before him a formidable pile of
papers. After a short pause the great merchant said, that no one
regretted more than himself the occasion which had called them
together. A sarcastic creditor begged Mr. Blemish's pardon: he (the
sarcastic creditor) regretted it a great deal more than Mr. Blemish
did or could. The interruption was received with approval by the few,
with disapproval by the many--by the latter not out of sympathy for
Mr. Blemish, but in consequence of their anxiety to hear what he had
to say. That gentleman cast a reproachful glance at the sarcastic
creditor, a glance which said, "_I_ am the sufferer in this affair, if
you please; be good enough to understand that;" and, having thus
asserted himself, a victim, whose calamity deserved the respect of
every right-minded man, Mr. Blemish proceeded to say that he hoped
they would hear him and his legal adviser with patience. He felt how
important it was that, at this serious crisis in his career, a proper
humility should be exercised towards each other by all parties
interested. And, taking into consideration this and the past teaching
of his life--which he hoped had been strictly moral--he felt himself
called upon, before laying the state of his affairs before the
meeting, to pray (and here he raised his eyes devoutly to the ceiling)
that their proceedings might be conducted with Christian toleration,
and that wisdom would descend upon and guide their deliberations.
After giving utterance to this pious expression of his wishes, he
closed his eyes, and, slightly raising his hands, appeared to pray
for a few moments; and having (like a clergyman bestowing a
benediction upon his flock) invoked the blessing of Providence upon
his creditors, he motioned to his lawyer, who, shuffling his papers in
a business-like manner, opened the ball in a dry matter-of-fact voice.

It was not his business, the lawyer said, to make remarks which would
not be considered pertinent to the subject. He believed that the
position in which Mr. Zachariah Blemish found himself, commanded the
sympathy of every section of the community. (Most of the creditors
looked extremely dubious.) Mr. Blemish, a gentleman, a merchant, and a
Christian, by his conduct, earned the esteem of all whom he had come
in contact, and he trusted to be always able to retain that esteem.
His connection with various movements which had for their object the
improvement of his fellow man generally--he might mention, among
others, the Moral Boys' Bootblacking Reformatory and the Murray Cod
Association (Pooh! pooh! from the sarcastic creditor, of which the
lawyer took not the slightest notice)--his connection with such
associations was enough to prove the kind of man he was. But the
profession of which he (the speaker) was a member, could not
unfortunately, while in the performance of its duties, take into
consideration anything which touched the sympathies. At the present
moment he felt this most keenly--for he deeply sympathised with Mr.
Blemish's position. But confining himself to hard matter-of-fact, he
could not but see that his client had done everything for the best,
and that it was only the force of circumstances that had brought him
to this pass. Mr. Blemish had struggled for a long time against
reverses--against falling markets, against losses by defaulting
debtors--but he was unable to hold out any longer. It might be asked,
why he had not placed himself in the hands of his creditors before his
position had become so desperate as it was now. For it was desperate;
there was no denying it. The answer was simple, and easily to be
understood. There were in the room many creditors who were merchants.
Those men knew how the slightest rumour affected credit, and it was
for their sake, as much as for his own, that he had exercised a wise
and judicious reticence as to his affairs. Mr. Blemish was always in
hopes of being able to redeem his position. There was no chance of
effecting this object if his credit were impaired; and so Mr. Blemish
carried on business until he was compelled to succumb. He would not
detain them any longer with remarks and explanations, but would at
once proceed to figures.

Which he did; disclosing in the process a very disastrous state of
affairs indeed. Mr. Blemish owed over a hundred thousand pounds, and
his assets, in round numbers, showed a total of some thirty odd
thousand. But in those assets there were debts that were bad; some
very doubtful; many which it would take considerable trouble and
expense to collect. Having fully explained everything, the lawyer sat
down with the concluding remark, that Mr. Blemish placed himself
unreservedly in the hands of his creditors.

First, a long pause ensued. Then, as if set in motion by a
suddenly-loosed spring, everybody spoke at once. One asked the meaning
of this: another the meaning of that. Indeed, they asked so many
questions at once, that the unfortunate Mr. Blemish raised hands
deprecatingly. When the meeting, in obedience to this deprecating
motion, became a little less noisy, Mr. Blemish suggested that,
perhaps, it would be as well that he should retire. They would be able
to discuss more freely in his absence. One of the creditors, a man
with pimples covering his face, said it was a very sensible
suggestion, and that as many unpleasant things might possibly be said
which Mr. Blemish would not like to hear, the moral merchant would act
wisely by retiring. When he had closed the door behind him, Babel was
let loose. The creditors stormed, and fumed, and threatened all manner
of things. Some suggested that he should be arrested; others that he
should be forced into the Insolvency Court, where vengeance could be
wreaked upon him. There were many shades of opinion represented. All
the creditors were not violent and unreasonable. There was the meek
creditor, who put in mild suggestions, and who was quite ready to vote
with the majority, and retire into private life afterwards,--a sort of
man who could be induced to sign any document, one way or another,
with less than half an ounce of persuasion. There was the sarcastic
creditor, with whom everything was absurd, ridiculous, nonsensical; he
was so persistent in "pooh-poohing" every suggestion, that he soon
made himself the most unpopular creditor in the room. There was the
creditor who swore frightful oaths, who banged the table, who got red
in the face; and who suggested that the insolvent should first have
his nose pulled, and then be kicked down stairs. There was the foreign
creditor, who fumed in imperfect English, declaring that the insolvent
was "von dam rascal," and vowing in incomprehensible lingo, that
Blemish had swindled him, "picked my pocket, sare," of fourteen
hundred pounds not more than a month ago. There was the silent
creditor, who did not speak, but was ready to accept any cash
composition, however small; he sat quite still, did the silent
creditor, for he intended to call a meeting of _his_ creditors the
very next week, and he was taking mental notes of the behaviour of
those present to whom he was indebted. There was the turbulent
creditor, who would not be quiet, but who was starting up every other
minute with some red-hot impracticable suggestion. And there was the
friendly creditor (who had been quietly assured by Blemish's lawyer
that he should be paid in full), pouring oil upon the troubled waters,
and using all his powers of persuasion to allay the torrent of angry
feeling.

When the storm subsided, the pimply-faced man was voted to the chair,
and the conversation became more reasonable. A great many present,
while regretting the state of affairs, thought it would be a pity to
put the estate into the Insolvency Court, where it would be eaten up
with expenses. It might serve the purpose of unpleasantly exposing Mr.
Blemish; but the dividend would be much decreased. Half a loaf was
better than no bread. The meek creditor agreed that it would be unwise
to put the estate into the Insolvency Court. Mr. Blemish owed him two
thousand pounds, and he would like to get as much as he could for it.
The friendly creditor judiciously favoured this current of opinion;
and he said, that it would perhaps be as well to ask Mr. Blemish if he
had any proposition to make. Of course, why had they not thought of
that before? Mr. Blemish was at once called in, and in reply to their
questions, he said that there were three courses open to the
creditors. The first was, that the estate should be wound up in the
Insolvency Court; he knew, and they all knew, what would be the result
of that proceeding--a long delay, and a loss of fifty per cent, on the
realisation of the estate. But, if they resolved upon this, he would
at once file his schedule; he was entirely in their hands. The second
course was, that the creditors should accept an assignment in
satisfaction of their claims; the estate, judiciously administered,
might turn out better than he expected. The third course was, their
acceptance of a proposal which he was happy to say he was in a
position to make--for he was not without friends. He had not passed
his long career in vain. There were many gentlemen who were ready to
assist him in his hour of need; and it was their kindness and faith in
his integrity which enabled him to offer to his creditors four
shillings and ninepence in the pound, payable half in cash, one-fourth
at six months, and one-fourth at twelve months, by guaranteed bills.
If this were accepted, he could still carry on business, and if
prosperity crowned his efforts, he would make it his special aim to
pay all his creditors twenty shillings in the pound. When Mr. Blemish
had made his statement, he was requested again to retire, and the
debate was resumed. But most of the creditors, as prudent businessmen,
felt that to accept the four and ninepence in the pound was the best
they could do; and it was ultimately proposed that Mr. Blemish should
be asked if he would increase his offer to five shillings. No, Mr.
Blemish said, sadly; he could not do it; threepence in the pound extra
would amount to more than his friends were willing to advance. A great
deal of discussion and temporising ensued; until at last Mr. Blemish,
on his own responsibility, increased the offer to four shillings and
tenpence halfpenny. The meeting was adjourned till the following day,
when the composition was accepted. The deeds of release were drawn up
in a singularly short space of time (in truth they had been prepared
before the meeting, a blank being left for the composition sum), the
money was paid, the bills were accepted and endorsed; and Mr.
Zachariah Blemish was a free man, purged of every worldly debt.

Purged of every worldly debt. Happy man! Mr. Zachariah Blemish held
his head very high indeed that afternoon, for he did not owe a
shilling in the world. Positively, not a shilling, if we except his
butcher and baker, and other domestic purveyors. There is not the
slightest doubt that he did not even owe a shilling to those worthy
gentlemen to whom he had referred as being willing to assist him in
his hour of need, and who had such faith in his integrity. Strange,
inexplicable mystery!

It was, doubtless, the high exultation produced by his being
free from the thraldom of debt that induced him to stroll into a
jeweller's shop, and to purchase a diamond bracelet for a hundred
guineas--purchase it, and pay for it, too! This he intended as a
present to his wife, to mark the commencement of his new career. It
was a white day for him, and he celebrated it accordingly. What a
sacrifice for a beggared man to make! A diamond bracelet for his wife
on the day of his ruin! A model of a husband!

Sitting that evening in his arm-chair, near the window overlooking his
garden of roses, Mr. Zachariah Blemish said to his wife--

"Mrs. Blemish, I think of building another wing to the house. The
architect has told me that it will not cost more than a couple
of thousand pounds. It will include a billiard-room, and a new
dining-room, which will be a great convenience. We are a little bit
cramped in our old one."

Marvel of marvels! What a man of faith was here! No sooner down than
he was up again, challenging the world to come on!

The next day his office was opened, and his clerks returned their
stools at their desks, and went on with their journalising and their
posting. The swing-door recommenced its life of toil, and wailed, and
squeaked as before. And Mr. Zachariah Blemish moved amongst his
fellow-men, with his usual affability. His linen was as spotless and
as snowy as ever; his face was still smooth, and fat, and ruddy. And
his reputation--let the truth be told--his reputation, in the eyes of
the world, was as spotless as his linen. If there was any difference
in the behaviour of his fellow-citizens towards him, it was that they
cringed and bowed to him a shade more sycophantishly than before.

Great was Blemish, the Moral Merchant!



                            CHAPTER XXII.

              ALICE AND GRIF MEET FRIENDS UPON THE ROAD.


With a dreadful fear at her heart, and her whole frame quivering under
the pressure of a terrible excitement, Alice, with Grif by her side,
walked swiftly on towards North Melbourne. There lay the road to the
open country, away from the sea. The fatigue Alice had undergone the
previous day seemed to have had no effect upon her. Poor Milly's
death, and the letter which she still unconsciously held crushed in
her hand, had strung her nerves to the highest pitch of tension. Poor
Milly's death! As she thought of it, her eyes filled with pitiful
tears. Her husband's danger! She shuddered at that; and she hurried on
the faster. She heard a voice crying, "On! on! and save him! Delay
not; you may be in time!" There are periods in life when the mind is
so enthralled by one all-engrossing idea, that the body is
unconsciously strengthened to bear strains, that, if thought of, would
appear impossible. Delicate as Alice was, she had within her now the
strength of twenty women. Her first great fear had destroyed all sense
of fatigue. Alice could not think of physical possibilities in
presence of her devoted determination to save her husband. She _must_
save him. "On, on!" the voice cried to her. "Delay not a moment. Your
husband's and your father's safety are in your keeping." Oh, pitiful
heaven! if she should be too late. Despair almost seized her at the
thought. She possessed but a few shillings, the remains of the money
Richard had left her. She yearned for means to take her to her
father's Station; and she looked round imploringly, as if she fancied
that some good Samaritan knowing her anxious misery, might come
forward, purse in hand, to aid her.

"Have you any money, Grif?" she asked.

"Yes," replied Grif.

"How much?"

"Fourteen bob."

She had about the same amount. It would be sufficient to pay for
riding a quarter of the distance, perhaps, and then--why, then she
would be worse off than now. Her money gone, where could she obtain
the means of completing her journey? No: they must walk, and their
little money must be kept for food. The letter mentioned the date when
her father was to complete his purchase of the Station. She rapidly
ran over in her mind the intervening days, and she knew that she could
accomplish the journey in time, if no accident happened to her, and if
her strength held out.

"Are you tired, Grif?"

"No," he answered, stoutly.

"How many miles can we walk in a day?"

"Twenty, perhaps, Ally; but, lord! it'll kill you."

"I can bear anything now. I don't feel the least bit weak. You don't
mind coming with me, Grif?"

"Mind! I'll walk my feet off, and not stop then, Ally, if you tell me
to go on."

Their road lay past the burial-ground where Grif had buried his dog
Rough. He cast a wistful glance in the direction of the grave, and
vindictive feelings towards the Tenderhearted Oysterman burned
powerfully within him. All through the piece the Oysterman had been
his enemy. "But I'll be even with him yet," Grif muttered, "I'll
cry quits with him one day." Grif was possessed with the firm
conviction that the time would come when he would be revenged--fully
revenged--upon the Tenderhearted Oysterman, and the thought brought
much satisfaction with it.

They walked on for many hours, stopping only once for rest and
refreshment. Alice had impressed upon Grif the necessity of economy,
and their purchases during the day comprised but a small loaf, some
tea and sugar, and a tin can. There were many people on the road, but
each traveller appeared so wrapped up in his own concerns as not to
have even a glance of wonder for so strange a couple as Alice and
Grif. They chose tracks some little distance from the main road, so as
to escape observation as much as possible. About mid-day they came to
a refreshment-tent, where many a thirsty wayfarer was solacing himself
with long drinks of cider and lemonade. They were crossing at the back
of this tent, while a woman was drawing water from a well. Coming
close to her, Alice saw that she was a Negress--an old woman, whose
hair was turning white. When Alice asked her for a draught of water,
the old woman said, "Certainly my dear;" and, regarding Alice's
slender form with compassion, she invited her into the tent. Alice
thankfully accepted the invitation, and seated herself upon a stool in
the back division of the tent. This portion was used as a bedroom. It
contained a very clean-looking bed, made upon canvas, which was tacked
to posts of strong "quartering," driven into the ground; a snow-white
quilt was spread over the bed. The walls of the room which were simply
of calico, lined with green baize, were embellished with two or three
religious pictures, pinned or pasted on to the baize.

"You look tired, my dear," said the old woman.

"I am not very tired," said Alice. "I must not be tired; for we have a
long distance to walk."

"You are very young, to be walking in the hot sun such a day as this,"
said the woman.

Alice answered, "Yes; but I have no choice." She spoke hesitatingly,
for she had a dread of being questioned. In the secret she had to
keep, in the task she had to perform, lay her father's safety and her
husband's honour. If others knew what she knew, the peril of both of
those who were dear to her would be greater. She almost fainted with
terror when the Negress raised the calico door in the centre of the
tent, and gently called "Moses!" At her call there entered a Negro,
whose hair, also, was almost white.

"Don't be alarmed, my dear," said the old woman; "it is only my
husband."

Alice looked up, and saw a face of singular kindness. The eyes of the
Negro beamed with benevolence. No one who saw him could doubt that,
black as he was, he was a man in whose breast resided humanity's best
virtues. The old woman said a few words to him in an undertone, and
Moses returned to the store, and brought in lemonade and other
refreshments, and laid them before Alice. He handed her a glass of
lemonade; it looked deliciously cool, but Alice was compelled to
refuse it. The instinctive delicacy of the Negro served him here. He
did not ask Alice the reason of her refusal: he knew that she would
not drink it because she could not afford to pay for it.

"This is not for payment, young lady," he said. "You are my wife's
guest, and you will hurt her if you do not drink."

She did not answer; the Negro's kind action and gentle voice
overpowered her, and she could not speak. She raised the lemonade to
her hot lips, and felt as if she were drinking in fresh life.

"You, also," said Moses to Grif, who had been attentively watchful;
and he handed the lad the jug of lemonade. Grif, without demur, took a
long draught, and wiped his lips upon the cuff of his ragged jacket.
Then he smiled gravely at Moses, who smiled gravely at him in return.
Moses the Negro lived in Grif's remembrance for ever afterwards, and,
indeed, he deserves to be kindly remembered by many whose skins are
fairer than his own.

Alice would have departed immediately after this, but the old woman
would not allow them to leave without having eaten something. She
insisted, too, on bathing Alice's feet. Alice almost wept at the
kind treatment of the good old Negress; but she needed all her
fortitude for her task, and she repressed her tears. She rested for
half-an-hour, and then rose, refreshed and inexpressibly grateful, and
kissed and blessed the old woman as she bade her good-bye. Many a
thankful look did both Alice and Grif cast back at the woman, who
stood at the door of her refreshment-tent and watched them until they
were out of sight. They did not walk many miles further that day.
Grif, with a peculiar instinct, discovered a sheltered nook where they
could camp for the night. He had been thoughtful enough to fill his
tin can with water from the old woman's well, and he soon kindled a
fire and made tea. After drinking some, Alice, thoroughly wearied,
fell asleep, while Grif, stretched upon the ground a short distance
off, watched and slumbered by turns. It was a beautifully clear
night--such a night as is only seen during the Australian summer. The
soft wind swept gently over the sleeping girl, and the heavens seemed
to look down upon her with kindliness.

She rose with the first flush of morning, and, strong in her purpose,
set out again upon her journey. She struggled on bravely, but she was
a weak, delicate girl, and the fatigue she had already undergone was
telling sadly upon her. Her limbs were weary, and her feet were very
sore; and towards the afternoon a deathly feeling overpowered her. Her
strength was giving way. The hot glare of the sun was too much for her
to bear, and she sank at the foot of a tree in an almost fainting
state. Grif, with a swelling heart, could scarcely keep from crying as
he looked at her white face.

"I must rest a little, Grif," Alice said, faintly. "Can you get some
water?"

Grif raced down a hollow, where he expected to find a creek; a creek
there was, sure enough, but not a drop of moisture in it. Its bed was
choked with stones, and dead leaves and branches, and hard mud. He
clambered up again, and set off in another direction, and met the same
bad fortune. He ran back to Alice, and looked round despairingly as he
saw the expression of suffering in her face. There was not a tent near
them for miles, and every water hole was dried up. But a hundred yards
or so before him was a bullock-dray, toiling painfully along--so
painfully, that its wheels squeaked and groaned, as if for pity.

"Stop here half a minute, Ally," Grif said. "I'll get some from the
bullock-driver."

And, running off, he soon overtook the dray, and, almost breathless,
begged for water.

"A nice thing to ask for!" grumbled the driver. "Look at my bullocks.
Water! why, it's worth more than champagne, such a day as this."

"I don't want it for myself," pleaded Grif; "but she'll die if you
don't give me a little."

"Who will die if I don't give her a little?"

"My sister," said Grif, boldly. "She's been walkin' all day, and she's
dead beat."

The man cast a queer look at Grif, and, stopping his bullocks,
accompanied the lad to where Alice was lying. She had fainted.

"Poor lass!" said the bullock-driver, and, stooping, he raised her
head upon his knee, and sprinkled her face with the water he had
brought with him. Presently she opened her eyes, and gratefully drank
from the tin cup he held to her lips.

"Thank you," she said. "I feel much better. I think I can walk on
now."

But, when she rose to her feet, she staggered against the tree.

"You're not strong enough to walk," said the bullock-driver, who had
been regarding her with compassionate curiosity. "Which way are you
going?"

Learning that their road lay for some distance in the same direction,
he offered her a ride upon his dray. The offer was thankfully
accepted, and the bullock-driver arranged a comfortable place for
Alice to lie in, and assisted her to the top of the dray. Then he
cracked his whip, and the bullocks strained at their harness, and the
dray creaked slowly onwards. Alice closed her eyes, and yielded
herself to the peaceful influences that surrounded her. The awning
over the dray protected her from the sun; the grateful shade, the buzz
of insect life, even the gentle jolting of the dray and the faint
crack of the driver's whip, all invited repose. And the sweet sense of
rest that fell upon her brought with it a balm to her bruised spirit.
There was good in the world for her still. She had experienced it even
in the short time she had been upon her journey. Yesterday, that kind
Negro couple--to-day, this bullock-driver, who ministered unselfishly
to her wants. These kind friends were surely sent to help her in the
accomplishment of her task--they were omens for good. She lay, with
hands clasped, prayerfully, and the weary look faded from her face,
and hope rested there instead. And thus she fell asleep, peacefully.

Meantime, Grif and the bullock-driver walked side by side. They did
not exchange many words at first. They were studying each other.
Grif's face and dress and general manner were evidently puzzles to his
new friend.

"You're a rum one," the bullock-driver said to Grif.

Grif acquiesced so readily and quietly, that the puzzle became still
more puzzling.

"You told me she was your sister," the driver said, nodding his head
towards the dray, where Alice lay sleeping. Grif looked a little
dubiously into the face of his companion.

"Is she your sister?"

"Yes," answered Grif, unhesitatingly.

"Are you in the habit of telling fibs, young man?"

Grif did not reply. He was very grateful for the kindness the man had
shown to Alice, and, for her sake, he did not wish to anger him. The
driver did not pursue his inquiries, but contented himself with
drawing Grif out upon other matters. Grif, glad of any diversion in
the conversation, made himself so amusing, that they soon became good
friends. When evening came, Grif helped to unyoke the oxen, which,
with bells round their necks, were allowed to wander in the bush in
search of food. Then they collected some brushwood, and kindled a
fire. Tea being made, Alice was roused to partake of it. Rest and
soothing thought had brought back somewhat of freshness to her fair
young face; and when she stood before the bullock-driver and thanked
him, he lifted his cap with the air of a gentleman, and bowed. Tea
being over, he said,--

"You thanked me just now. I do not know why. It is I who should be
thankful, for it is a long time since I sat down to tea in a lady's
company. You will excuse me saying that I look upon this adventure as
one of the strangest I have ever met with. It is not from any
impertinent curiosity, but from a sincere desire to serve you, that I
am emboldened to ask why so young a lady as yourself should be
compelled (for I suppose you do not do it from choice) to undergo such
a fatigue?"

He paused as if expecting Alice to speak, but she did not reply.

"You may trust me," he continued; "for, although I am a
bullock-driver, I am a gentleman."

"I am sure of that, sir," said Alice; "your kindness is a sufficient
proof."

"That may or may not be. I have lived long enough to have learnt to
distrust most things; especially smooth professions. But as
bullock-driving is scarcely a gentlemanly occupation, I could have
forgiven you for doubting that I am a gentleman. You are a lady; I can
see that. You are not this lad's sister!"

"Poor Grif!" said Alice, laying her hand upon his head. "He is not my
brother, but he is my very dear friend."

Grif nodded, and that peculiar brightness came into his eyes
which dwelt there whenever Alice spoke of him as her friend. The
circumstance of his being detected in telling a lie was of the most
trifling matter.

"It is really so strange for a gentleman to be a bullock-driver, and I
have seen altogether so many queer things in these colonies, that I
can easily imagine a set of circumstances (although, of course, I
should most probably not guess the truth) which might place a lady in
your position. You will excuse me for speaking thus, will you not?"

"Yes."

"I should like to win your confidence. If my family were to learn that
I am a bullock-driver, I think they would go insane, some of them, at
the degradation. My parents are at home; they mourned me as dead some
years since; and I am dead--to them. Are your parents living? Forgive
me," he said, quickly, as her face flushed with pain; "I did not mean
to hurt you. I will ask you nothing further. But I _should_ like to
serve you, for your face reminds me of a sister whom I loved, and who
died young."

"I think I could trust you, sir," said Alice; "but it would serve no
good purpose, for you could not assist me. I will tell you, in return
for your generous speech, that both my father and my husband are
living; that it is in connection with them that I am travelling with
this poor lad for a companion; and that my poverty compels me to walk.
Let this suffice you, I pray."

"It shall suffice me. I will not attempt to trespass upon your
confidence."

"Do not think any wrong of me, sir. I am unfortunate and unhappy, but
it is through no fault of mine."

"I can readily believe it. And now we will change the subject."

They sat talking in the quiet night for an hour or two. Then the
shafts of the dray were roofed and hung round with the tarpaulin, and
a bed of dried leaves was made for Alice. Before retiring she beckoned
Grif, and they strolled a short distance from the bullock-driver, as
he lay smoking his pipe. The cool air was delicious after the dreadful
heat of the day. Notwithstanding her one great grief, there was a
feeling of devout thankfulness at Alice's heart.

"God is very good, Grif," she said, looking up at the solemn splendour
of the stars.

Grif, who always listened to Alice with a feeling almost of
veneration, could not find words to reply. He also looked up at
heaven's bright beauty, and pondered. If God was so good, why was
Alice so unfortunate? Why was she not happy? _She_ was good, he knew
that. If God was so good, why had Rough been poisoned, why was Little
Peter torn from him, why had Milly died, why were they enduring such
misery to prevent the doing of a dreadful deed? Of himself, he was
doubtful. He might be really bad, and there was a doubt in his mind
whether he deserved any better lot. But there was no doubt in his mind
as regarded Alice. She had never done any wrong--never, never! If God
was so good, why was Alice so unhappy? He would have liked to run away
from her and hide himself in the wood, for he was afraid that she
would read his thoughts, which he knew would be displeasing to her.
She did read his thoughts; she saw the conflict in his mind; and she
took his hand and held it fast in hers.

"God _is_ very good, my dear," she said, earnestly.

"Yes," the boy replied, slowly; "I s'pose He is if you say so, Ally."

"You must not suppose it, Grif; you must believe it."

"I will believe anythin' you tell me, Ally." Blind yet noble faith!
Blind, from the very circumstances of his birth and education; noble,
because it was founded upon the rock of a good woman's goodness.

"I want you to believe it, not to please me, Grif," Alice said, "but
because it is so. If we suffer in this world, we shall be recompensed
for it by-and-by."

"That's good. It's what the preacher chap said when I was in quod;
only he told me it different like. I didn't believe him. But I do you.
And yet he wouldn't give me nothin' when I was starvin'!"

"See, now, how good God is," said Alice; "how He has sent us friends
when we most needed them. Those good people yesterday--"

"That was a queer move, that was, for niggers," mused Grif. "They're
the right sort, though. They oughtn't to be black; 'taint right. I've
heerd of Black Moses often, but I never sor him before yesterday."

"May God bless and prosper them! And our last friend, too. I think I
should have died if this kind man had not assisted us."

"He's a good sort of a cove, for a bullock-driver, and no mistake,"
said Grif.

"Do you ever pray, Grif?"

"No; never knowed how to."

"Kneel down with me, dear Grif, and thank the Lord for the good He has
sent to us. When I think that, but for the simple act of kindness of
that good man, I might be lying helpless, unable to pursue my journey,
my heart is full of gratitude."

They knelt down together, and Alice said a simple prayer, Grif
repeating it after her. When they rose, Alice said,--

"If I am in time to save my husband, I shall bless you all my life,
Grif."

"You've got no call to, Ally," said Grif, half crying. "I'm not a bit
of good, I ain't, and never shall be!"

"You are a dear true-hearted lad, and Heaven will reward you." And
stooping hurriedly, she kissed Grif's cheek, and went to her bed of
dry leaves.

Never before had Grif experienced such a delicious sensation as stole
over him at that moment. He trembled with an exquisite pang of
wondering happiness, and wrapping himself in a blanket which the
bullock-driver had lent him, he lay awake for an hour, nursing the
cheek which Alice had kissed, and which was wet with happy tears!



                            CHAPTER XXIII.

                   THE STORY OF SILVER-HEADED JACK.


It was the fourth day of their journey. Grif was trudging along by the
side of the weary bullocks, and Alice was sitting upon the dray, under
the friendly shade of the tarpaulin. The road seemed very long to
Alice, who was pining for the end of her journey; she was sick almost
to death. She had dreamed the previous night that she saw her husband
with a knife in his hand, standing over her father: rushing forward,
with a cry of terror, to arrest his arm, she awoke in an agony of fear
and trembling. Thank God! it was but a dream. But if she should be too
late! The thought brought such horror with it that she moaned, and
pressed her nails into her tender palms, and felt no pain but that of
her mental misery. How she envied the travellers on the coach, as
it dashed along, with its six horses, at the rate of ten miles an
hour--dashed along over the rough roads, winding its way through the
forest of trees, until it disappeared from her sight, taking with it,
as it seemed, all she had of hope, and leaving her helpless in her
despair! The bullock-driver saw her distress; but he could not help
her with money to enable her to travel more swiftly, for, indeed, he
was poorer than herself. He was expressing his regret to her that they
would have to part on the following morning, as their roads would then
diverge.

"I cannot tell you," he said, "how grieved I am that I have not been
overtaken by a friend who is travelling your road, and who could have
taken you to within twenty miles of your journey's end. He ought to
have been up with me this morning; and now it is nearly time to camp,
and I don't hear any signs of him. He doesn't travel at this snail's
pace, which I see is making you unhappy. He goes along bravely, does
Old Jamie."

"I am very grateful to you," said Alice; "indeed, I cannot say how
grateful, for you have been a friend to me when I most needed it. I am
quite strong now, and shall be able to walk well in the morning. If I
can ever repay you--"

"Tut! tut!" interrupted the bullock-driver. "Repay me! It is I who am
debtor, not you. I was growing into a brute, and you have made me
human again. I have almost made up my mind to go home, and confess
what a bad boy I have been. They did love me, although I was a scamp!
Thank you for that look. It is like wine to a man's tired spirit. Many
of my old friends will jeer when they find I have come home worse off
than when I left. No matter; I can't expect it all sweet. But that's
not to the point, now. I wish there were fairies in the Australian
woods, and that some gentle sprites would harness themselves to my
friend's waggon, and drag it here with a whisk! But there are no
fairies in these Antipodean wilds--nothing but dried-up creeks and
leafless trees and ugly rocks; the fairies are too wise to make their
haunts here. Queen Mab might do something with her team of little
atomies. I would like to know of what use her whip of cricket's bone
would be to me or old Jamie, and what kind of spring she had to her
waggon! Hark!" he exclaimed, as a sound of tinkling bells fell on the
ear. "By Jove! Queen Mab has done the trick! If that isn't Old Jamie,
I'm a Dutchman!"

And, almost as he spoke, there came into sight a magnificent team of
six dark bays, harnessed to an American waggon. They were splendid
animals, and were dressed in handsome substantial harness. The waggon
was piled with cases and barrels, and the driver, an elderly man whose
face might have been carved out of leather--it was so brown, and
looked so tough--was sitting in front, cracking a long whip, and
shouting to his horses.

"Hi! there! hi! Get along, Truelove! Now, then, Silver! Pull it up!"

Whereupon the bullock-driver sent the cracker on _his_ whip flying in
the air, till it tickled the noses of the leading bullocks, and he
cried,--

"Hi! there! hi! Get along Strawberry! Now, then, Lazybones! Pull it
up!"

"Pull it up!" echoed the teamster, scornfully. "You may well say, pull
it up. I'll pull you up, if you block the road in that way. Make room
for a gentleman, if you please. Why, I should be ashamed of myself for
a lumbering lazy rascal, if I was you. Here am I, started two days
after you, tripping up your heels in less time than it takes to say
Jack Robinson! Well, if ever I take to bullock-driving, may I be--"

But here he made a full stop, and turned as red as a peony, for he
caught sight of Alice in the bullock dray.

"Almost committed myself," he whispered to the bullock-driver, as they
shook hands. "I didn't know you had a woman with you."

"She is a lady, Jamie," said the bullock-driver. "I am so glad you
have come up, you can't tell. She is going your road, and you'll have
to take her on, to-morrow morning."

"All right. If you say so, so it is. It's time we camped. I hurried on
to catch you up, so that we might camp together. And who is this?" he
asked, pointing to Grif, whose hitherto forlorn appearance was not
improved by the dusty road. Not that it gave Grif any concern; his
torn clothes, his dirty skin, his almost shoeless feet, mattered not
to him. He had no thought of himself.

"This," said the bullock-driver, putting his hand on Grif's head, and
looking kindly into Grif's face. "This is one of the anomalies of
human nature. I don't know if the family to which he belongs is a
numerous one, but if it is"--he paused, and his look changed to one of
pity--"if it is, and if the other members of the family are made of
the same stuff, they deserve better than this," and he touched Grif's
rags, thoughtfully and tenderly.

There must have been a sort of freemasonry between Old Jamie and his
friend; for, ambiguous as was the bullock-driver's speech, the old
waggoner understood it. He patted Grif kindly on the shoulder, and
they then made preparations for camping.

They had a pleasant party that evening. Old Jamie and Alice were
friends at once, and Alice's sorrow was lessened thereby.

"Would you believe, miss," said Jamie, when tea was over; "that this
obstinate acquaintance of mine--"

"Friend, Jamie, friend," said the bullock-driver.

"Well, friend, then, as the honourable member for Bullock-dray allows
me to call him--that he obstinately refuses, from a feeling of pride,
to go home to his family, who would kill the fatted calf the moment
they caught sight of his old phiz; and persists in remaining here in
these antipodes, wasting his miserable existence as a bullock-driver?"

"Don't call names, Jamie," said the bullock-driver, "or I'll have your
words taken down. Besides, how could you spare me? You know you have
told me I'm the only scamp on the road you care to smoke a pipe with."

"I can spare you well enough," said Old Jamie, stoutly. "You are as
vain as my black cockatoo, who gives himself airs because he belongs
to the upper ten thousand of his tribe. I'll tell you what keeps him
in the colony, miss, when he has no business to be here. It is pride.
He wouldn't mind going home if he had twenty thousand pounds in the
bank; he wouldn't make so many bones about it. I know lots of people
who are pining to go home, but whose pride won't let them go; they
came out here to grow rich, and because they haven't grown rich they
think it a reproach on them."

"There, there, Jamie," interrupted the bullock-driver; "I will almost
promise to go home if you will do one thing."

"What's that?"

"Tell us a story. You have been in the colony long enough to write a
book."

"I have that; but writing's not much in my line. I can talk, though,
any amount, as you have just heard. But what does the lady say?"

"I should much like to hear you," said Alice.

"And my shock-headed friend?"

Grif grinned, and said he was agreeable to listen; he was very fond of
stories, he was.

"Fire away, now," said the bullock-driver. "Something that occurred to
yourself; no fibs, mind."

"Very well. Did you remark," he said, addressing Alice, "that when I
spoke to my horses, I called one of them Truelove, and one of them
Silver? I did not christen them by those names without a reason; and,
to prove this, I will, if you please, tell you a real, right-down,
veritable, true story, about a mate of mine, called


                         SILVER-HEADED JACK."


"I have seen so many strange things since I have been in the Colony,
and have seen the Colony itself pass through so many wonderful phases,
that I sometimes grow bewildered when I think of them, and am apt to
confuse one thing with another. When I am walking through Melbourne
streets, my memory often carries me back to the time, and that not
very long ago, when what are now magnificent, broad thoroughfares,
lined with substantial buildings, were but tangled bush, in which one
might lose oneself without much trouble. No fairy story can excel, in
its imaginative details, the rapid and wondrous changes that have
passed over Victoria since the gold discovery. Where banks transact
that business which enables them to pay twenty per cent.; where
merchants trade and negotiate for shipments from all parts of the
world; where copies of London and Paris swells promenade; and where
fashion parades from morning to night--the Aboriginal stalked but
yesterday in all his dirty savagery. You might have seen plenty of
them, a dozen years ago, with their boomerangs and their dirty
blankets (a luxury which all did not possess), and their black eyes
glittering from beneath their dark hair; you may live in Melbourne now
for years, and not see a single memento of the original possessor of
the soil. They are fast dying out, and by-and-by they will live only
in the traditions of the country. I could tell you some stories about
them that would make you whistle--I beg your pardon; I forgot that I
was speaking to a lady. What I am going to tell you now is the story
of Silver-headed Jack.

"He was a mate of mine on the Echuca gold-diggings. Not
silver-headed at that time, for he had the glossiest curls I ever saw.
There were three of us together: myself, Silver-headed Jack, and
Serious Muggins. Serious Muggins was not his proper name, you know,
but the diggers have a knack of christening each other anew when they
come together, and a name once bestowed sticks to a fellow all over
the Colony. Serious Muggins had come out with Silver-headed Jack, and
had got the title because he never smiled. He and Jack had been
friends and companions at home, as you will find out presently. They
were both about the same age, and of the same build; but you could not
well imagine a greater contrast between any two men, than the contrast
between Serious Muggins and Silver-headed Jack.

"Silver-headed Jack was always smiling; Serious Muggins was always
frowning. If you could have transferred the smile from the face of
Silver-headed Jack to that of Serious Muggins, I believe that Muggins
would have been by far the handsomer man of the two; as it was, he was
by far the uglier. For face is nothing; what tells, is the expression
that lights it up. If you'll excuse my being poetical, I should say
that the face of Silver-headed Jack was like a bright day, and the
face of Serious Muggins like a dark night.

"Well, we worked together on the Echuca for nearly six months; and if
bad luck ever haunted one and stuck to one, and worried one, and
wouldn't go away from one, bad luck did all that to us. I said there
were three of us in a party--myself, Silver-headed Jack, and Serious
Muggins; it was a mistake of mine, for there were four of us--myself,
Silver-headed Jack, Serious Muggins, and Bad Luck. We never sat down
to a meal, but Bad Luck sat down with us, and didn't leave us enough
to eat. We never marked out a claim, but Bad Luck got to the bottom
before us, and took away the gold. We were among the first at a rush
to a new flat, and we had marked out our claim, and had stuck our
picks in it, when Bad Luck whispered to us that we were out of the
line of the gold-lead. So we shifted our pegs, and another party took
possession of our claim. We were only a few yards away from each
other, and we came upon the gold gutter at the same time. The other
party got an ounce of gold to the dish--we got a speck; and when I
washed out the 'prospect,' I looked up and saw Bad Luck grinning at
us. If it had been a man, we would have stood up and took our revenge.
As it was a spirit, we could only swear at it. Which we did--with a
will!

"'Floored again,' said Silver-headed Jack, as we sat down at night to
our mutton and tea and damper, and not much of those; 'I wonder if we
_shall_ ever get a rise? Lizzie will die an old maid, and I shall die
an old bachelor, if luck doesn't change.'

"'Or she will be tired of waiting,' said Serious Muggins, 'and marry
some one else.'

"'She will never do that, as you know very well,' returned Jack; 'when
I write home, I will tell her what you say.'

"Serious Muggins did not reply; but a darker shade stole over his
countenance.

"You may guess from this that Silver-headed Jack was in love. He had
come away from home, betrothed to a young girl, whose face, judging
from the picture he had of her, was just the face that any one might
fall in love with, and be proud of. Now, let me tell you what I
learned at that time, from my own observation. Serious Muggins and
Silver-headed Jack had come out from the same village, had been
schoolmates and companions all their lives, and were both in love with
the same girl. Jack made no secret of his attachment; his friend tried
to keep _his_ locked up in his breast.

"Yet I believe that if ever there was a man madly in love, and if ever
there was a man madly jealous of the love he coveted, and which was
given to another, that man was Serious Muggins. He had so possessed
himself of the love he bore to her, that his lips would quiver, and
every feature in his face would twitch, when he saw (as he saw daily)
Silver-headed Jack take her letters from his pocket, and read them;
and often, when Jack read aloud little scraps from them, he would go
out of the tent abruptly, and make himself mad with drink at some
grog-shanty. Silver-headed Jack could not help seeing this and taking
notice of it, but he did not put the same construction upon it as I
did.

"'Poor fellow!' he would say upon such occasions. 'You see, Jamie, he
was in love with her too, but she wouldn't have anything to say to
him. I don't wonder it preys upon him; I know it would drive me mad,
if I was to lose her. It is her love for me, and the thought of our
being together by-and-by, that keeps me good. God bless her!'

"I couldn't help admiring the young fellow, and wishing him success.
At the time that this took place I was between forty and fifty years
of age. Twenty years before that, I was in love, too, and with a woman
that I thought then, and think now, the best, the purest in the world.
I came out to the colony to make a home for her--that was before the
gold was discovered. I was unfortunate; it is now a generation since I
have heard of her. I was not fit for her--I know that now; she was too
good for me. But if heart-photographs could be taken, she would be
seen on mine; and the memory of her dwells within me like a star that
will light my soul to heaven!

"I never liked Serious Muggins. I always believed that if he could do
Silver-headed Jack an ill turn, he would not scruple to do it; and I
had observed that the effects of our ill-luck were different upon the
two. Serious Muggins actually seemed pleased that we were not
successful. You see, he might have argued within himself, that a rich
claim would bring Silver-headed Jack nearer to the woman he himself
loved. He was like the dog in the manger, I had reason to suspect him;
for just before the time came for us to part company, this occurred
that I am going to tell you.

"We were working a claim that was just turning out 'tucker.' There
were three 'drives' in it, and the last day I worked in them I noticed
that the pillars of earth which were left to support the roof were
firm and secure. The following morning Serious Muggins had a spell
below, and when he came up, Silver-headed Jack took his turn at the
bottom. He had not been down a quarter of an hour, when I heard a
great thud beneath me, and then a scream. I was working at the
windlass, and Serious Muggins was chopping down a tree, a little
distance off, for firewood. I coo[=e][=e]d[6] to him, and he came
running to me with a face so scared, that I couldn't help noticing
it."


--------------------

[Footnote 6: A peculiar cry which men in Australia use as a signal.]

--------------------


"'What's the matter?' he asked, trembling all over.

"'God knows,' I replied, preparing to go down; 'but I expect some part
of the claim has fallen in. Lower me gently, and be careful to do
exactly what I tell you, when I am at the bottom.'

"'Is Jack below?' he asked, eagerly.

"'You know he is,' I replied, shortly. 'Lower away.'

"By this time two or three other diggers had strolled to the spot, and
they lent a hand. When my head was even with the top of the claim, I
looked up, and the only thing that struck my notice, was the white
face of Serious Muggins, with a wild, triumphant, yet half-frightened
look in his eyes. I took a step in the drive in which Silver-headed
Jack had been working, and called out to him. I was dreadfully
frightened at receiving no answer, and creeping along slowly and
cautiously, I found that one of the pillars had given way, and that
Silver-headed Jack had been knocked down senseless by the falling
earth. Only a part of his body was buried--his head was free. We dug
him out after a little trouble, and got him safely up. Five minutes
afterwards, the whole claim tumbled in. Jack was not much hurt. Beyond
the shaking, and a few bruises, he had nothing the matter with him. We
took away the windlass and our tools, and knocked off work for the
day.

"'It is strange,' said Silver-headed Jack, as he lay resting on his
back, on the bed; 'I never touched the pillars. I was picking away at
the bottom, when, without the slightest warning, the earth tumbled in.
Did you notice anything, when you were down this morning?' he asked of
Serious Muggins, who was busy making an Irish stew for tea.

"'No,' was the reply.

"'Did you touch any of the pillars?' I asked.

"'No.'

"'I can't make it out,' I said; 'there has been no rain, and I will
take my oath that when I was down yesterday, the claim was safe.'

"'I thought so, too, when I was last down,' said Serious Muggins, 'but
we were both mistaken, it appears.'

"'I was not mistaken,' I said, in a pointed manner, 'and as I don't
quite like the look of things, I believe it will be best for us to
part. We have had nothing but bad luck since we have been together. We
can't have much worse when we are away from each other, and we may
have better. So to-morrow morning, my lads, we'll dissolve
partnership.'

"A curious thing happened that night. We all slept in one tent. It was
a pretty large one. Well, I woke up in the middle of the night, and,
opening my eyes, I saw Serious Muggins sitting up in his bed, and
kissing a picture. I thought I saw him crying, too. I must have turned
in my bed; for Muggins threw a quick look at me, and hurriedly put out
the light. I thought a good deal of this before I fell asleep again. I
did not know that he had a picture he set so much store on, and I
settled in my mind that it was the picture of Jack's Lizzie that
Muggins was kissing, and which he must have taken from under Jack's
pillow. Although I suspected Muggins, I couldn't help pitying him.

"In the morning, we dissolved partnership. I would have liked
Silver-headed Jack for a mate, but he thought it a point of honour not
to part from Serious Muggins. Jack did not entertain any suspicions of
foul play, and I did not think I was justified in telling him my
suspicions, for, after all, I might have been wrong. It was a pretty
common thing for claims to tumble in for all manner of causes. So we
parted, and I went to another diggings.

"It was eighteen months before I saw either of them again. I heard of
them at odd times as being now at one place and now at another, but I
did not fall in with them. For my own part, during this time, I was
always able to make wages, and was always in hopes of making a rich
'find.' I should think a gold digger's life is very much like a
gambler's. There is the same feverish excitement about it, and
although you may go on losing and losing, and wasting your time, there
is always the chance of a run of luck setting in with the very next
deal of the cards. At a new rush, for instance, while you are sinking
your claim, you are always speculating as to what it will turn out;
and when you go to sleep, you will dream, perhaps, that you have found
a nugget as big as your head. Such nuggets have been found, you know.
Men at starvation point one day, may be tolerably rich the next. I
once gave up a claim in disgust, after working at it for two months.
Three miners took it up a few days afterwards, and went home with
twelve hundred pounds a piece for a month's work. If I had driven my
pick two inches further, I should have come upon as rich a patch of
gold as was ever found. During those eighteen months that I did not
see Silver-headed Jack or Serious Muggins, I had only two mates. You
will stare when I tell you that one of them was a woman! and a jolly
digger she was! She did as much work at the windlass as a man. Her
husband was my mate, first; but he was seized with a paralytic stroke,
and was in bed for a twelve-month. So his wife, like a noble-minded
woman as she was, worked for him by day, and nursed him by night. But
he got worse instead of better, and she was advised to take him down
to the Melbourne Hospital, if she wanted to save his life. When this
occurred, I shifted my quarters, and fell in with my old mates. They
were still working together; but they hadn't been much more fortunate
than they were when we were all mates. They had a quartz claim, now,
though, which they thought was going to turn out splendidly. But a
great change had come over Silver-headed Jack. He had not heard of his
Lizzie for six months, and he was fretting for means to take him home,
to find out the cause of her not writing. In those six months he had
grown a dozen years older. I don't think Serious Muggins was very
pleased to see me, but Silver-headed Jack was, and he offered me a
share in the claim--a sixth it was--if I would join them. It was a
pretty fair offer, for the claim was nearly down to the reef, so I
accepted it. Serious Muggins would have objected, I dare say, if he
could have done so without being suspected of animosity; but the claim
wanted a second man at the windlass, and he knew I was a good miner,
so he was forced to put up with me. Well, one day, about three weeks
after I joined them, we put in a blast and fired it; and when the
smoke cleared away, and Jack got to the bottom of the claim, he sent
up a bucket of quartz, in which we could see a good many specks of
gold. We had struck the reef, and it promised to turn out well. It
turned out a good deal better than we expected. The quartz was about
three feet thick, and we calculated that it would run at least six
ounces to the ton. We came upon a very rich patch, too--so rich, that
I almost danced with delight when I handled the golden-veined lumps of
stone. We raised about forty tons of quartz, and made arrangements for
having it crushed at a machine that stood hard by. We took some of it
to the machine in sacks, and put it, with our own hands, under the
iron stampers. We didn't leave the machine until the whole of it was
crushed. The first night we were all together watching the heavy iron
stampers, beating down with their one-two-three-four time, and
wondering what sort of a cake of gold the forty tons would turn out. I
said that I thought there would be at least four hundred ounces.

"'That will give me five hundred pounds for my share,' said
Silver-headed Jack. 'I shall put a good wages-man in the claim, and go
home to find out why Lizzie has not written to me. I can't help
thinking there is some underhand work going on.'

"'Psha!' said Serious Muggins. 'She's tired of waiting, and has
married some one else. You don't think a girl will wait for a man
until she grows to be an old woman, do you?'

"'I don't know what girls will or will not do,' said Silver-headed
Jack; 'but I know that my Lizzie would wait for me all her life. I am
almost frightened to go home, for fear of hearing that something has
happened to her. The world wouldn't be worth living in without her.'

"'Have you written to her?' I asked.

"'Regularly. Only think of my working all these years, and never till
now having the means to send for her, and after all not to know if she
is dead or alive! Jamie,' he said to me, 'if I was to hear that she
was dead, I'm sure I should go mad, or something dreadful would happen
to me. You can't think how I've set my heart on my Lizzie!'

"The crushing of that forty tons of quartz took nearly four days and
four nights. They couldn't crush them as fast as they do now. Quartz
crushing used to cost six pounds a ton, at that time; now you can get
it done for a pound. Well, it was all passed through the machine, and
Jack and I were watching the washing out of the quicksilver. Serious
Muggins had gone to the post, to see if there were any letters (for
the mail was expected) and he was to get us some supper ready by the
time we came home with the gold. You may guess we kept a pretty sharp
look-out upon the machine men, as they did their work; for it would
have been the easiest thing in the world for them to have slipped a
few pounds weight of the gold and quicksilver on one side, without our
being a bit the wiser for it. There was nearly half a bucketful of the
mixture. This was poured, about half a pint at a time, into a large
chamois leather skin. The skin is porous, and, upon being tightly
squeezed, allows a large portion of the pure quicksilver to ooze out,
retaining the gold, coated, of course, with quicksilver. It was not
until the men came near the bottom of the bucket that we found how
rich was the quartz that had been crushed. The first few skinfuls of
quicksilver escaped through the chamois leather like silver-water, and
there was but little gold left; but, when we came near the bottom of
the bucket, we jumped for joy at finding it was nearly all gold. After
all the quicksilver was passed through the leather, the amalgam was
put into a large retort, and screwed down. The retort was then put
into the furnace. When it was red-hot, the quicksilver began to rise
in the iron tube, which is joined to the top of the retort, and came
showering down into the pail of water beneath, like a rain of silver
stars. I was glad when the shower lessened; for I was half frightened
that the gold was being spirited away. Then the retort was taken out
of the furnace, and opened, and there lay the beautiful gold,
changing, in the process of cooling, into all the colours of the
rainbow. I wonder if a miser, in counting his hoardings, experiences
the same kind of pleasure that I experienced, when I saw that splendid
cake of gold! If he does, his rusty old heart must be lighted up by a
very delightful feeling. The cake weighed six hundred and twenty
ounces, so that the quartz had averaged nearly sixteen ounces of gold
to the ton. Not so bad that, eh? Silver-headed Jack wrapped up the
precious golden saucer in his pocket-handkerchief--it was a pretty
good weight, nearly half-a-hundredweight--and we made our way to the
tent. I had my revolver cocked, in case of any accident, I can tell
you. When we got to the tent, Serious Muggins was waiting for us. Jack
opened his handkerchief, and looked at the gold triumphantly. As for
me, I was running over with delight.

"'Got you at last, you beauty!' I exclaimed. 'Oh, you sly coquette!
What coaxing you want before you give yourself up! Jacob didn't work
harder or more patiently for Laban's daughter than we have worked for
you. Only think, Jack, of this bright beauty hiding herself in the
caverns of the earth, and refusing to show herself until we plucked
her out of her miserable home! Can you imagine a bright-eyed damsel,
Jack, sinking into the earth, and we diving after her, until we catch
her in the rock which prevents her escape? Oh, you beauty; I could
kiss you!'

"You see, I _am_ a bit of a poet.

"'I will kiss you,' said Jack, lifting the cake of gold to his lips,
'for you bring me nearer to my Lizzie. Hallo! Muggins! what's the
matter?'

"'I've got bad news for you, Jack,' said Muggins, who had been
shifting uneasily about.

"'What news?' asked Jack, dropping the gold, and turning quite pale.

"'About Lizzie.'

"'Well, man, go on.'

"'She's dead, Jack,' said Muggins, looking as white as Jack himself.
'The mail's in.'

"'How do you know she is dead?' I asked.

"'I have received letters from home.'

"Jack didn't say a word, but dropped into his seat, trembling, and
covered his face. I beckoned to Serious Muggins, and we stole out of
the tent; I thought it was best to let Jack fight with his grief
alone. I knew what a blow this was to him. He had not been working for
himself, but for his Lizzie; and just at the moment of success, to
hear that she was dead--it was terrible! He was in a dreadful bad way
about it. As I sat outside the tent, smoking, I heard him talking to
himself, strangely. We had left the cake of gold upon the table.

"'You glittering devil,' I heard him say, 'why did you lure me away
from my Lizzie? If it hadn't been for you, I should never have left
home, and we should have been together now. What would it have
mattered if we had been poor? Why did I fly from happiness to you, you
false, cruel devil?'

"I wouldn't have him disturbed the whole of that night. I knew that
all the talking in the world wouldn't ease him. But when I saw him in
the morning, I rubbed my eyes, and thought that I could not be awake.
He was sitting upon the bench, with his face resting in his hands,
staring fixedly at the cake of gold. He had evidently not moved
from his seat during the whole night, and during the night his hair
had turned as white as silver! That was how he got to be called
Silver-headed Jack. I tried to rouse him, but the answers he gave me
were so vague and wandering, that I was afraid he had gone mad. I saw
at once that he was very ill, so I ran for a doctor, who told me that
my mate had gone in strong for the brain fever. Sure enough, he had,
too. We thought he would never have come out of it, and it's my belief
to this day, that he never would, if one of the strangest things
hadn't happened! I should say it was six weeks after Jack had been
struck down. I had nursed him all the time (he wouldn't let Serious
Muggins come near him), and the doctor said he couldn't last another
week. How poor Jack raved while in that fever! I wonder that my hair
didn't turn white through the frights he gave me! He used to fancy
Lizzie was in the tent with him, and he talked to her so naturally,
sometimes waiting for her answers, that often during his pauses, I
turned my head, half expecting to see Lizzie's white shade at my
shoulder. I was sitting at the door of the tent one evening, listening
to Jack's mutterings, for his tongue never seemed to stop. I was very
troubled; you see I liked Jack amazingly, and I pitied him, and could
sympathise with him, for, as I told you, I had been in love myself. Of
course, my pipe was in my mouth. What should we do without tobacco, I
wonder! Do you know, I think tobacco prevents a good deal of mischief.
What used we to say at school?--'And Satan finds some mischief still,
for idle hands to do.' But a man isn't idle when he has a pipe in his
mouth; it is occupation for him. And you may laugh at me, if you
please; it is elevating too. Men don't plan murder when they have
pipes in their mouths. They've got something else to do; they've got
to smoke and think--and thinking, when you're smoking, is generally
good thinking. I could philosophize on this for an hour, but it's time
I finished my story. I will say, however, that I look upon tobacco as
a real good friend.

"Well, on this evening, I was sitting at the door of the tent, when
who should I see coming along the gully where our tent was pitched,
but a woman. Our tent was nearly at the foot of the gully, and, of
course, there was a hill shelving into it. I saw the woman at the
first point of sight on that hill, and it almost seemed as if she came
out of the sunlight. There were half-a-dozen tents scattered about,
and she stopped at one of them and asked something. Imagine my
surprise when I saw the digger to whom she had spoken point to our
tent, and when I saw her walking quickly towards me! She was a pretty,
modest-looking lassie, and had a quiet, self-possessed air about her,
which took me mightily. I was thinking over in my mind all sorts of
things as to her, when she came up. My hair stood on end, and my knees
began to shake, for I had seen the picture Silver-headed Jack set such
great store on, and this lassie's face so resembled it, that I thought
I was looking at a ghost. I believe, if I hadn't been so completely
dumbfoundered, I should have run away.

"'Does John Staveley live here?' asked my ghost.

"John Staveley was Silver-headed Jack's proper name.

"'He's living here, miss,' said I, 'and he's dying here.'

"'My God!' she exclaimed, and as she staggered, I caught her in my
arms. 'Don't tell me that!'

"'Who are you?' I asked.

"'My name is Elizabeth Truelove,' she answered.

"'Jack's Lizzie?' I cried.

"'Yes,' she said. 'Don't tell me that he's dying.'

"'He's dying because he heard that you were dead,' I said. 'You aren't
dead, are you?'

"'No,' she said, holding out her hand. A true woman's lovable little
hand--real pleasant flesh and blood.

"'I think I can see through it,' I said, when I was convinced she
wasn't a ghost. 'Jack's very ill. If anybody can save him, you can.
But don't be frightened when you see him. He is much changed. His hair
turned snow-white the night he heard you were dead. I've been his
nurse till now. You may as well go in and take my place.'

"She glided past me, and I walked away. I went straight to where I
knew I should find Serious Muggins. He was in a concert-room, drinking
with a lot of diggers. I went up to him quite coolly and slapped his
face. He started to his feet, and asked me what I meant by it?

"'You're a lying scoundrel,' I said; 'and if you don't understand what
I meant by the first tap, I'll give you another.' And I gave him
another--a pretty smart one, this time.

"He was bound to fight, you see. We went outside, and the diggers made
a ring.

"'Now, mates,' I said, as I was tucking up my sleeves: he had stripped
off his shirt. 'You all know me pretty well. I have never done a dirty
action in my life, and I never mean to do one. This fellow has done
the meanest thing I ever heard of. When I have polished him off, I'll
tell you what it is; and then, if you don't think I've done right, you
can throw me in the creek, if you like.'

"Serious Muggins fought like a devil. I must do him the justice to say
that he was, physically, a brave man. But he had been drinking for a
good many weeks, and that told on him. I don't think I should have
licked him but for that. As it was, after an hour's hard fighting,
when I was pretty well done myself, he threw up his arms. Then, I told
the diggers the trick he had played Silver-headed Jack, and how the
woman he had said was dead was nursing my mate at the moment I was
speaking. If Muggins hadn't been lying nearly lifeless on the ground,
they'd have tarred and feathered him. As it was, they declared they
would do so the next day. But the next day he was gone, and I never
heard anything more of him. He left a rich claim behind him, and it
was out of his share of that claim I bought my first team.

"When I got back to the tent, there was Lizzie Truelove nursing poor
Jack as tenderly--as a woman, I was going to say. That would have been
a nice bull, wouldn't it? Do you know, that although she hadn't been
in the tent two hours, it had got quite a different look in that short
time. What a little treasure that woman is! It did me good to look at
her! It appears that Muggins had intercepted all the letters; and
Lizzie, uneasy at not hearing from Jack, and being sure of his
constancy, had come out by herself, to learn what had become of him.
That was faithful love, wasn't it? I don't think I've any occasion to
tell you that Jack got well. He did get well, and he married his
Lizzie after all. He gave up his own name, and took hers when they
were married. But although he calls himself John Truelove, everybody
else calls him Silver-headed Jack."



                            CHAPTER XXIV.

               MRS. NICHOLAS NUTTALL TAKES POSSESSION.


Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall was in a high state of glorification. It wanted
but a few days to Christmas, and she and her family were on a visit to
their rich squatter relative. The promise that Alice's father had
extracted from his brother Nicholas had been strictly kept. Nicholas
had not told his wife that his brother had been a married man. He had
entered into the compact with a considerable degree of satisfaction,
for apart from the sympathy he felt for his brother's unhappiness, he
derived a malicious pleasure in the knowledge that he had a secret
which he was bound not to reveal to Mrs. Nuttall, and which she would
take pleasure in hearing. It was shortly after he had taken upon
himself the charge of Little Peter, that Matthew Nuttall told his
brother the story of his life. They were riding over the vast tract of
land of which he was the possessor, and Nicholas was admiring the
noble expanse of table-land before them. The world was prospering with
Matthew; wealth was absolutely growing for him; his flocks were
increasing, his rights and freeholds were daily rising in value. With
an eager desire for possession, he had bought property all around him,
until he had land enough for a kingdom. Some such thought as this
stirred him to remark to his brother, that it was a noble estate.

"Grand," Nicholas acquiesced; "they have no thought of such wealth on
the other side of the world."

"No," Matthew said, "your plodders in time-worn cities are but
slightly acquainted with the wealth of our new world. When I complete
my last purchase--I have the money ready in the house, and the deeds
will be signed in a few days--Highlay Station will be the most
valuable in the colonies. I always had an ambition to become the
largest squatter in Australia."

"And you have gained it?"

"And I have gained it." The pride died out of his voice as he uttered
the words. He had gained his ambition, but it brought no sweetness
with it.

"It is a great thing to say that one has gained his ambition," mused
Nicholas. "Not one man in a hundred thousand can say as much."

They rode on in silence for a little while, and presently they entered
a wood, where the land was more broken.

"What singular trees!" Nicholas said, pointing to a group of dwarf
trees, whose trunks appeared to be suffering from gout.

"That is the Monkey-Bread tree," Matthew replied. "In the proper
season--three or four months from now--you would be glad to meet with
a group of them, if you were lost in the bush. The fruit of the tree
grows to a large size, and is very refreshing to a hungry man."

"And these?" asked Nicholas, pointing to a group, about twenty feet in
height, whose green laurel-shaped leaves and delicate red blossoms
were an agreeable relief to the sombre growth around them.

Matthew stopped, and dismounting, fastened his horse's bridle to a
branch of a small oak; then he threw himself upon the ground, and
looked up at the blue clouds through the delicately-coloured blossoms.

"This is our Christmas-tree," he said to Nicholas, who had followed
his example. "The last time I saw it in flower was in company with my
daughter."

He spoke with bitter effort, and Nicholas held his breath.

"It will relieve me to speak of her, Nicholas," he continued. "She is
my only child, and I may never see her again. Do not interrupt me. I
may never see her again; and I doubt, even if I saw her before me now,
whether I would speak to her and forgive her. It is the curse of my
hard nature, and I cannot control it."

"What is her name, Mat?"

"Alice."

Since he saw her last, her name, until now, had never passed his lips.
The sound of it brought tender memories to him. Since the night on
which he had spoken with Alice upon the sea shore, he had not seen or
heard of her. All that there was of human love in his nature he had
once delighted to lavish upon her; and now that his resentment at her
marriage with Richard Handfield had had time to cool, he half repented
of his harshness. It might have been, as he said, that, had she
written to him, or directly asked his help, he would still have shut
his heart against her. But her very silence pleaded for her. Like a
smouldering fire, with no breeze to fan it into flame, his anger was
dying out. It was but one Christmas since that his home was lighted by
his daughter's smiles, and made happy by her presence. She was a
light-hearted girl then; and he remembered his neighbours' looks of
hearty admiration as she played the hostess at the Christmas
gathering. He remembered the pride which had filled his heart at the
thought that that fair and graceful girl was his daughter; he
remembered that Christmas--but one year back--as the pleasantest time
in his life. Now, what was he? A lonely, miserable man. He knew that
one word from him would alter all this--would bring happiness to his
heart, love to his home. He had but to say to his daughter "Come," and
she would have flown to his arms, and be once more what she had
hitherto been, the light of his life. But he could not bring himself
to speak that word. It was true what he had said--his hard nature was
his curse. If a reconciliation could be brought about without any
prompting from him, he might accept it; but after saying that he
would not forgive her, to hold out the hand of forgiveness,
voluntarily!--no, he would not so humiliate himself. And yet it seemed
that the more she humbled herself to him, the harder he grew. She had
pleaded eloquently enough, Heaven knows! on the sad night that they
two stood together for the last time. The sound of the soft lapping of
the sea upon the sands came often to his ears, and often in the night
there would come upon his inner sense of sight a vision of white
crested waves, with blue depths beyond, and stars shining in them. And
never did this memory assert itself without bringing with it the image
of his daughter, wrestling with her misery as she wrestled with it
that night, with clasped hands, and drooping head, and pleading voice.

With these memories stirring within him, he told his story, pausing
often in the narration, and when he had concluded, Nicholas, who had
listened in pitying silence, said,--

"Can I do nothing, Mat?"

"Nothing."

"Yet you love her so--and would be so happy if things were once more
as they used to be--as they ought to be. Think! let me go to her, and
bring her to you."

"No! I forbid it, distinctly. If that were done as from me--and it
could not be done otherwise now--I believe it would quite harden me.
Let matters rest."

He spoke decidedly, and mounting his horse, led the way back to the
house at a sharp trot.


Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall was in her glory. Her arrival at the Station had
filled her with lofty aspirations. Immediately she set her foot upon
it, she, as it were, mentally took possession. The sight of the
broad-stretching pasture-land, dotted with sheep and cattle, afforded
her ineffable satisfaction. At length, she could see realised the
dream of her life. But two nights previously, she had lulled herself
to sleep by chattering of her ambition.

"Nicholas, my dear," she said; "I like the look of this place so much,
that I think I shall make up my mind to stop."

Accustomed as Nicholas was to the vagaries of his better half, he
could not refrain from saying, "But we are only here on a visit,
Maria."

"Precisely so, Mr. Nuttall. I do not need you to tell me that. But do
you think that life has not its duties?"

"What on earth do you mean?" asked Nicholas.

"Ah! You may well ask, Nicholas, for you have not been troubled much.
But I am thankful to think that I have borne with patience and
resignation the trials you have put upon me. I have borne them," said
the little woman, heroically, "as a wife should. Have I not,
Nicholas?"

Although he was aware that acquiescence would amount to a tacit
admission that he was a domestic tyrant, and although he was aware
that such an admission on his part was neither more nor less than an
act of dastardly cowardice--yet for the sake of peace, Nicholas said,
"Yes, you have been a very good wife, Maria." He would dearly like to
have added, "or would have been, if you hadn't nagged so!" But he
dared not utter such words.

"Yes, life has its duties," pursued Mrs. Nuttall; "none should know
that better than a wife and a mother."

For the life of him, Nicholas could not help adding: "Except a husband
and a father, my dear." And then he shrank within himself, as though
he felt (the candle being out, he could not see) the look which Mrs.
Nuttall threw upon his end of the bolster.

"Your coarse jokes are more fitted for a tap-room, than for this
chamber," Mrs. Nuttall uttered disdainfully, and was silent for so
long a time that Nicholas thought she had abandoned the conversation;
but presently she said aloud, so suddenly as to make Nicholas jump:
"And one of the first duties of life is money."

Nicholas pricked up his ears.

"Money is, undoubtedly, one of the first," she continued. "Position is
important, but I think Money is before it. Besides, Money gives
Position. Therefore, I think I shall stop here."

"At Position, my dear?"

Mrs. Nuttall did not condescend to reply, and Nicholas waited
patiently, knowing that his wife would soon explain herself.

"I am thankful--truly thankful--that I see my child provided for. She
will be spared such trials as her mother has gone through; and, as a
mother who knows what she has suffered, I rejoice. How much is your
brother to give for his new Station, Nicholas?"

"Twenty-two thousand pounds, Maria."

"Very good. Although, if my advice was asked, I should say, 'Put your
money out at interest where there is no risk, and where you can always
clap your hands upon it.' But, of course, my advice is not asked. And
he is to pay down in cash--how much, my dear?"

"Ten thousand pounds."

"Very respectable! There is nothing that looks so respectable as being
able to pay down, say, ten thousand pounds, when you are called upon.
It is but justice to say, that it reflects distinction upon the name
of Nuttall, to pay down ten thousand pounds in cash; and (putting out
the question that I might express myself differently if my advice was
asked) I really have not much objection to the money being laid out
this way."

"It wouldn't much matter if you had, Maria. Mat knows whether an
investment is good or not, and generally takes his own advice."

"Precisely so. Things are not far advanced enough for me to go to your
brother, and to say, 'Brother-in-law, I do not think this is a
judicious investment; let the money remain out at interest, until
something better offers.' Things are not far advanced enough for that
yet. When the proper time comes, I shall, of course, do so if I think
it necessary."

"You don't mean to say, seriously, Maria, that you believe Mat would
care a farthing rushlight for your advice on any of his speculations?"

"Setting aside the vulgar expression of a farthing rushlight--although
you might remember, Nicholas, that we are in a country where such
things are not known--I do mean to say that, when the proper time
comes for me to interfere, I have no doubt that my brother-in-law will
pay me more respect than you have ever done, and that he will place a
proper value upon my judgment. For, I say to myself, To whom does my
brother-in-law's money belong? Clearly, not to himself. If he had a
family of his own, it would belong to them. But he has no family of
his own, and, therefore, it belongs to us, as the next of kin. Is not
that the proper phrase, Nicholas? Marian shall not be in a hurry to
marry. With her prospects, she may pick and choose from the highest in
the land. Ah! If I had had such prospects when I was a girl--You have
no occasion to kick me, Nicholas; I will not submit to such conduct,
sir!"

"I didn't kick you," said Nicholas: "I only turned round."

"Another sign of good manners! Turn round, indeed! But you shall not
put me out of temper to-night, Nicholas. I shall go to sleep with the
happy consciousness that I have done my duty to my family, and that,
by my efforts, they are at length provided for."



                             CHAPTER XXV.

               MRS. NICHOLAS NUTTALL RECEIVES VISITORS.


Having completely made up her mind as to her right of possession, Mrs.
Nicholas Nuttall conducted herself in a manner befitting her high
position. Not only did it behove her to assert her superiority by
means of silks and satins and grand airs, but it behoved her also to
be practical. For she had settled it with herself that the property
must be improved and looked after. Nicholas was certainly not fit to
manage the Station: therefore she must manage it herself. There was no
telling how soon she might be called upon to undertake the
responsibility: her brother-in-law's constitution was evidently
broken; already he was beginning to stoop, and he seemed to have grown
a dozen years older in the few months she had known him. Then, he was
so reckless--galloping about, here, there, and everywhere on wild
horses; an accident so easily occurs! "I should never forgive myself,"
thought the estimable lady, "if anything were to happen--if his horse
were to tumble over a fence, for instance, or into a ditch, or the
dear man were to be gored by a bull--I should never forgive myself if
I were not in a position to manage the estate properly. To do this, I
must obtain information." In pursuance of this resolution, she set
about, with praiseworthy assiduity, obtaining information: as to when
was the lambing season; as to the rate of increase; as to supposing
you had twenty-thousand sheep this year how many would you be likely
to have next; as to how much wool you could get off a sheep's back,
and whether the poor things were not cold when they were sheared; as
to the increase of oxen; as to the value of hides and tallow; as to
the wild horses; and so on. Armed with little bits of information, she
would lock herself in her bed-room, and make calculations, the usual
result of which was that the property had been dreadfully mismanaged,
and that when her brother-in-law broke his collar-bone, poor fellow!
or was found gored to death by mad bulls, or "went off" in some other
way--there were so many dreadful chances to contemplate!--Nicholas,
under her management, should become a millionaire in a very short
time. Thus it came about that Nicholas found in the drawers scraps of
paper covered with figures and strange remarks in his wife's
handwriting, as thus: "Calculated at 100 per cent, increase,
first year, 100,000 sheep; second year, 200,000; third year, 400,000;
fourth year, 800,000; fifth year, 1,600,000; sixth year, 3,200,000;
seventh year, 6,400,000; eighth year, 12,800,000--that will do--stop
there--no, say another year--ninth year, 25,600,000--one year more,
positively the last, because we shall be growing old--tenth year,
51,200,000--_that_ will do! 51,200,000 sheep at £1 each, fifty one
millions, two hundred thousand pounds: ask Nicholas how much a year
that would be in the funds." And in the night, Mrs. Nuttall would keep
poor Nicholas awake with questions about interest, and puzzling sums
in multiplication and division. She was satisfied that she understood
everything, and was mastering everything, but the land question. That
bothered her dreadfully. She drove Nicholas almost crazy about it; the
land question, she read in the newspapers, vitally affected the
squatters. Therefore, as a future squatter-ess, it was of vital
interest to her. At length, one night, she settled the question.

"And who is it that is kicking up all this bother?" she asked.
"There's somebody at the bottom of it, of course. Tell me immediately
who it is." She made this demand in a tone which implied that she was
prepared to wither them, directly they were made known to her.

"It's the people," said Nicholas.

"Oh! The people!" she exclaimed, sarcastically. "And pray what do they
want?"

"They want to unlock the lands," murmured Nicholas.

"Unlock the lands!" she exclaimed. "Never! While we have the key--we
_have_ got it, I suppose, somewhere--and while I have a voice in the
matter, they shall never be unlocked. A nice thing, indeed!"

Then she dismissed the matter from her mind, and fell-to calculating
again.

One day the worthy lady was taking her afternoon walk, with a green
silk bonnet upon her head, and a white silk parasol in her hand--which
articles of feminine vanity, be it observed, were the objects of much
admiration and envy on the part of a Native, known as Old Man Tommy,
who, basking in the sun, was feasting his eyes upon them. Old Man
Tommy was an institution on Highlay Station. He was tolerated because
he was harmless and old, and because when he was drunk he told stories
of distant places, where he could find gold in "big bits;" indeed, he
often brought to a neighbouring store small nuggets of gold, averaging
a few penny-weights, which he exchanged for rum. When he was in his
drunken humours the men about the Station would try to extract from
the old man some information as to the exact locality of his gold
region; but the Native was too cunning for them. All they could obtain
from him was a comprehensive waving of his arms northwards, and the
words: "There! Plenty gold! Big lumps! Me King Tommy! All mine!" On
this afternoon he lay, sober for a wonder, looking admiringly at Mrs.
Nuttall's bonnet and parasol. She was not at all offended at his
admiration. It is surprising how lenient we can be to the defects or
failings of those who minister to our vanity! In Mrs. Nuttall's eyes,
the savage was a very shrewd and estimable person, and she strolled by
him two or three times, as if unconscious of him, but really to reward
him for his good taste. While she was thus occupied, Marian ran up to
her, almost breathless, and cried,--

"Oh, mamma! such a dreadful thing has happened! A stockman's wife has
lost three children--such dear children! We noticed them yesterday,
you know. The men have been out all night looking for them, but have
not found them. The poor woman is in such a dreadful way! She says
they have lost themselves in the bush, and will starve to death. And I
have got a message for you, and one for Old Man Tommy--"

"Me, Old Man Tommy," said the Native, rising, and throwing his dirty
blanket over his shoulders.

The girl started back, half frightened.

"You no frightened Old Man Tommy!" he said. "What you want?"

"You go--find children--lost in bush; you go--join them." And Marian
pointed to a little knot of men in the distance.

"Ah!" grunted Old Man Tommy. "Piccaninny lost in bush. Me go find
him." And he was walking away, when artful cupidity caused him to turn
back.

"You give Old Man Tommy white money, him find piccaninny!"

"Oh, mamma!" exclaimed Marian, "give him some money. He will be sure
to track them! Uncle said so."

"I'm sure I shall do nothing of the sort," said Mrs. Nuttall,
indignantly. "Give money to a savage, indeed!"

"Me take hat," said Old Man Tommy, looking covetously at Mrs.
Nuttall's green silk bonnet. Mrs. Nuttall started back.

"There, mamma!" cried Marian. "If you don't give him money, he will
take your new bonnet."

Old Man Tommy's eyes twinkled, for he understood every word that was
said. Mrs. Nuttall, to preserve her bonnet, took out her purse, and
extracted a shilling.

"There, bad man!" she said, dropping the coin into his skinny palm.
"Now, you go."

Old Man Tommy grinned, and with a leap, he raced off at full speed.

"He is a disgrace to the station," said Mrs. Nuttall, her opinion
of the savage being entirely altered, "and when we come into
possession--"

"_We_ come into possession, mamma!"

"Yes, my dear. We are your uncle's only relatives, and of course,
shall come into the property. When we come into possession, that
savage, whose personal appearance is positively indecent, shall not be
allowed to remain here a day."

"I am glad he is gone with them," said Marian. "All the men on the
Station have joined in the search, and I heard one of them say that
Old Man Tommy could smell footsteps--"

"All he is fit for!" exclaimed Mrs. Nuttall.

"And would be certain to discover the tracks of the poor children. And
they think Little Peter is lost as well, for they cannot find him
anywhere. Uncle's gone, and papa, too."

"Mercy on me! Your papa gone! What does he know about the bush!"

"I don't know, mamma. He and uncle kissed me, and told me to tell you
not to be frightened--"

"Frightened! at what, I should like to know?"

"As, perhaps, they would not come home until to-morrow."

"Good gracious, Marian! You don't mean to say that we shall be left
alone all the night?"

"Yes, mamma, uncle said it was very likely; and we are to see that the
windows and doors are locked. I hope we shall _not_ be left alone,
mamma; for if they come back, they will have found the dear children,
and I shall be so pleased."

"Well," said Mrs. Nuttall, as they walked to the house, "how your
papa, at his time of life, can go poking about in the bush all the
night, after a pack of children, is beyond my comprehension! But he
always was a mystery to me, Marian. When you marry, I hope you will
get a husband you can understand. Your father will come back with
rheumatics, as sure as his name's Nicholas!"

There was, however, nothing for it but resignation, and Mrs. Nuttall
made herself as comfortable as she could, under the circumstances.
Excepting herself and Marian, there was nobody in the house but the
cook, whose husband had also joined the search party.

"The natural anxiety of a wife," said Mrs. Nuttall, when the candles
had been lighted, "entirely destroys any idea of sleep. Suppose we
have a game of cribbage, Marian."

Now, it must be confessed that cribbage was a game of which Mrs.
Nuttall was profoundly ignorant. She knew that there were so many
cards to be dealt to each; that two cards were to be thrown out by
each for crib; and that there was a board with holes in it, and pegs
to stick into the holes. She had also (without knowing exactly how
they were to be applied) certain vague notions of "fifteen two," and
"one for his nob." Her knowledge of the mysteries of cribbage extended
no further. And it was a proof of the wonderful confidence the little
woman had in herself, that, in an off-hand way, she should suggest
cribbage as a means of passing the time, just as though she were
mistress of the game.

They played for about an hour. It was nearly ten o'clock, and Mrs.
Nuttall was growing fidgety.

"There!" she said, throwing up her cards; "I'll not play any more.
You're so stupid, Marian, that you can't win a game. How _could_ your
papa be so foolish as to leave us alone! Oh, dear me! Don't you hear
some one moving in the house?"

"No, mamma," said Marian. "You are getting quite nervous."

"Nervous, miss!" exclaimed Mrs. Nuttall, packing the cards. "I am
surprised at you! Why, you are as bad as your papa! Me nervous,
indeed! I should like--"

The sentence was not completed. The cards dropped from her hands, and
she fell back, trembling, in her chair. For at the door stood the
apparition of a man, his face covered with black crape. Marian
screamed and rushed into her mother's arms, where she lay almost
senseless from terror.

"Don't be frightened, ladies," said the apparition; "don't be
frightened. Strike me petrified! but I'm as gentle as a dove, and
wouldn't hurt a chicken! Only don't you scream again, or we'll have to
gag your pretty mouths. Come in, Jim; the garrison's deserted."

At this invitation, another apparition, his face also covered with
black crape, entered the room. Mrs. Nuttall's heart beat fast with
fear, but she had courage enough to say,--

"Oh, please, good gentlemen--" when the second apparition interrupted
her.

"None of that gammon. We're not good gentlemen--we're bushrangers. Is
there anyone in the house besides yourselves?"

"No, sir," said the trembling woman, contradictorily; "only the cook."

"Where are all the men? Come--answer quickly."

As well as she was able, Mrs. Nuttall explained the cause of the men's
absence.

"That's lucky for them," said Jim Pizey, "and lucky for us, too.
Children lost, eh! Whose children?"

"A stockman's, sir, and Little Peter."

"Little Peter! What! a pale little sickly kid, with a white face and
no flesh. Grif's Little Peter! How did he come here?"

"I don't know, sir."

"You do know!" exclaimed the Tenderhearted Oysterman, fiercely. "And
if you don't tell--"

How Mrs. Nuttall kept herself from swooning dead away was a mystery to
her for ever afterwards. The Oysterman had laid his hand savagely upon
her shoulder, when Marian interposed, and in a trembling voice told
the story of Grif and Little Peter, and of how Grif had begged her
uncle to take care of Little Peter, and would not come to Highlay
Station himself because he had made a promise to a lady who had been
kind to him.

"And didn't say who the lady was, eh?" asked the Tenderhearted
Oysterman.

"No, sir."

"I wonder what the old bloke would have said if he had known that lady
was his own daughter!" exclaimed the Oysterman.

As Mrs. Nicholas Nuttall heard this, and learnt for the first time
that her brother-in-law had a daughter, all her dreams of future
greatness faded away, and the fifty-one millions of sheep vanished
into thin air. Notwithstanding her terror, she felt indignant that
Mathew should dare to have a daughter (who would naturally come into
the property), and not mention the fact to her.

"That's enough of that, Oysterman," said Jim Pizey; "we can't stop
listening to women's yarns. We're safe enough for the next hour or
two. We'll turn the place upside down in that time. Let there be a
good watch kept outside. The first thing we'll do will be to have
something to eat. Now, just you look here," he said, addressing Mrs.
Nuttall, who betrayed symptoms of becoming hysterical; "we ain't going
to have any of your nonsense--none of your screaming, or anything of
that sort. We won't hurt you, if you're quiet. Do you hear? Get us
something to eat--the best in the house--and some brandy. Make us a
cup of tea, too. I should like to drink a cup of tea made by a lady."

That Mrs. Nuttall should come to this! But she made the tea, and
placed meat and bread upon the table, and waited upon the bushrangers,
too, while they ate and drank.

The fancy entered their heads that they would have music with their
meal, and they ordered Marian to play to them. When they had finished
eating and drinking, the Tenderhearted Oysterman said,

"You shan't say you played for us for nothing. Here, put this round
your neck." And he flung to her Little Peter's stone heart, which he
had found in the bag of gold he had taken from the Welshman after the
murder. "Put it round your neck, I say," he cried, as the girl shrank
into a corner, "or I'll do it for you!"

The trembling girl put the heart round her neck; and then Jim Pizey,
jumping up, said,--

"Now, boys, no idling! To work--to work! Come, old woman, just show us
over the house. Where's the old bloke's private room?"

But before Mrs. Nuttall could reply, a whistle was heard.

"Strike me dead!" cried the Oysterman. "That's Ralph's signal. The men
are coming back." At that moment a shot was fired outside, and was
followed by a scream of pain. "Look here!" he said, rapidly to the
women; "if you stir from this spot, by the living Lord, I'll shoot
you! Stay you here, and don't move, for your lives!"

More shots were heard; and, cursing fiercely, the bushrangers hurried
from the room, locking the door upon the terrified women.



                            CHAPTER XXVI.

                        A NIGHT OF ADVENTURES.


Alice and Grif were within a few miles of Highlay Station. That
morning, Old Jamie, having brought them to the road that led to their
journey's end, had bidden them good-bye and God speed! They had walked
during the day, and they were now resting in a clump of bush. Alice
was very pale and thin, while poor Grif was absolutely clothed with
rags. He looked dusty and tired; as indeed he was, for he had
consistently declined to avail himself of the waggoner's invitation to
ride, and had walked the whole of the way. His feet were bare, and he
was suffering from the first symptoms of an attack of slow Australian
fever; his skin was hot and blazing, and his white tongue clung to the
roof of his mouth, and almost choked him. But he did not complain. He
had sworn to Alice that he would be faithful and true to her, and he
would keep his word. As they trudged along, side by side, that day,
the devoted faithfulness of the lad sank deeper than it had ever yet
done into Alice's mind. Much as she knew of his devotion and his
suffering, much reason as she had to thank and bless him for the help
he had given her, for the fealty he had shown to her, she did not know
all. She did not know that the soles of his feet were one mass of
blisters; she did not know that every time he put his feet to the
ground and raised them again, burning pains quivered through him. But
not a groan escaped him--he returned Alice's looks cheerfully and
smilingly, and bore his agony without a murmur.

He had made a great impression upon the goodhearted waggoner. Old
Jamie had received a hint from his friend the bullock-driver that
Alice desired to keep her story to herself; he respected her wish, and
did not distress her with questions. But he talked a great deal with
Grif, and learned to his surprise that Grif and Alice were not in any
way related, and that they had known each other for only a few months.
He failed to detect any selfish motive for Grif's service to her, and
he was a witness to the boy's heroic suffering. Ignorant as he was of
their story, the strange companionship was a puzzle beyond his
comprehension. "You love her?" he once asked of Grif, receiving in
reply an affirmative nod. "Why?" "Because she's good," Grif replied.
"There never was nobody 'arf as good as Ally." That was the substance
of all he was able to extract from Grif, and with that he was fain to
be satisfied.

The night before they parted from Old Jamie, Alice could not sleep.
The near approach of the end of her task rendered her restless, and
she lay until past midnight on her soft bed of leaves, kept awake by
anxious thought. Unable to bear the torture any longer, she rose and
walked softly about the woods. The influence of the quiet night did
her good, and she rested against a tree, with a more composed mind.
She had not so rested for more than two or three minutes before a
voice broke upon her ear. Nervous and worn as she was, she trembled
with alarm, but only for a moment, for she recognised the voice as
Grif's, and remembered that he was sleeping near the spot. She
inclined her head, and listened. "You'll take care on him, sir," she
heard him say. "I can't go--I can't leave _her_. I shan't like to part
with Little Peter, but it'll be for his good. I ain't got any grub to
give him, sir. Don't say no, sir! Take Little Peter, and not me, and
I'll do any thin'--anythin' but go away from where _she_ is!" She
knew, as she heard these words, muttered at intervals, that he
referred to her when he said that he could not go away from where
_she_ was. "Good-bye, Little Peter; you'll never be hungry no more!"
he sighed, and then Alice heard a sudden movement, as if he were
sitting up. "I remember every word," he continued. "If ever you want
me to do anythin'--never mind what it is, so long as I know I'm a
doing of it for you--I'll do it, true and faithful, I will, so 'elp me
G--! And I _will_; I'm her friend--that's what I am--I'm her friend,
till I die!' She said so herself." Alarmed at the earnestness of his
voice, Alice stole towards Grif's sleeping-place. As her eyes rested
upon him, he sank down, and buried his face in the earth. His arms
were stretched over his head; she laid her soft fingers upon his hard
hand, and felt that it was burning. Presently he spoke again, but did
not move his face. "He swore he'd kill Rough, and he's done it. But
I'll be even with him one of these days! Little Peter! Rough's dead.
Ain't you sorry?" He waited as if for an answer. "The Tenderhearted
Oysterman's pizened him. Say, Damn him!" He waited again for an
answer, and then he said, "That's right. Now, come, and bury him." A
long pause ensued--a pause occupied, in the boy's fancy, by a
walk on a dismal, rainy night, through miserable streets, towards a
burial-ground. "Ashes to ashes!" he murmured. "Good-bye, Rough. Dear
old Rough! Poor old Rough!" And with the last remembrance of his
faithful dumb companion lingering in his mind, Grif's sleep became
more peaceful, and he did not speak again. Alice sat by his side for
an hour and more, and then retired to her bed, filled with a tender
compassion.

The next morning Old Jamie bade them goodbye, and shook Grif's hand
heartily. During the day Alice had been much occupied thinking over
Grif's feverish mutterings the previous night, and now, as they sat
together near to her father's homestead, near, perhaps, to lasting
misery or lasting happiness, she noticed Grif's burning skin and the
brilliancy of his eyes.

"I have overtaxed you, my poor Grif," she said. "How tired you must
be!"

"I'm all right, Ally," said the boy. "Never you mind me. So long as
you are in time to do what you want, and can see your father, I don't
care a bit."

"We are not far off. And now that we are so near, I am full of fears.
Yet I should not be so, for Heaven has surely watched over us. What
good friends we have met upon the way! How thankful I am! God bless
the good men who helped us on the road!"

"Yes," said Grif, reflectively; "they was very good coves, they was.
I'm thinkin', Ally, that a good deal of what the preacher chap said to
me was right. Not all of it, you know, but some. He told me, when I
was in quod, that men was charitable and good; and they must be, a
good many on 'em. Look at them two coves, the bullock-driver and the
wagginer. They'd got no call to help us. It didn't do 'em a bit of
good, as I sees, for they didn't get nothin' out of us. Then there's
this blanket the wagginer give us. I never got no one to give me a
blanket before."

And Grif rested his aching head in the palm of his hand, and mused
over this exceptional circumstance in his career. Alice noticed the
action, and noticed also that it was prompted partly by physical
suffering.

"You are in pain!" Alice cried, anxiously, as Grif, with difficulty,
repressed a groan.

"Don't you bother about me," Grif said, stoutly. "I've got a little
bit of a headache, that's all. I'll be all right in a minute."

"I am afraid you have a touch of fever," Alice said, "and I cannot
help you now. By-and-by, when my task is done, I may be able to nurse
you. If all goes well--"

"It _shall_ go well, Ally," Grif said, dreamily. "It shall go
well--you'll be all right, Ally, you will--you see if you won't!"

"If all goes well, Grif, I shall be able to nurse you; for to-morrow,
please God! we shall be at rest."

"Yes--to-morrow, please God! we shall be at rest," Grif repeated
softly.

"I knew last night that you were ill," she said.

"How?" he asked. "I didn't say anythin', did I?"

"Not when you were awake."

He looked at her, not comprehending her meaning.

"I was sitting by you when you were asleep, Grif."

A sudden moisture came into his eyes, and he repeated her words in a
broken voice. "You sat by me when I was asleep! For how long, Ally?"

"For an hour, nearly, Grif."

He touched the skirt of her dress with his hand, without her observing
him, and placed his fingers to his lips.

"And you were talking of a great many things I did not understand. I
knew you were not well by the way you were talking in your sleep. Is
Little Peter one of your friends? I heard you speak of him."

"I spoke of Little Peter, did I, Ally? Perhaps I shall see him
to-morrow. I wonder if he'll remember me, and be glad to see me!"

Alice thought he was wandering in his mind, and she took his hand in
hers.

"I ought to have told you before, Ally," Grif continued. "I know your
father; I've seed him three times. Once, that night you gave me the
letter, by the sea, you know; twice, when Mr. Blemish set me up as a
moral shoe-black" (a sharp pang darted through him as he remembered
that he had broken the pledge of honesty he had given to Alice);
"three times, when he came upon me and Little Peter when we was
sittin' under a hedge. He was very kind that time to me, Ally. He
wanted me and Little Peter to go on to his Station, but I said I
couldn't go, and asked him to take Little Peter alone. And he did--as
much to please the lady as anythin' else."

"The lady!" Alice echoed.

"There was a lady with him, a young lady. She called him uncle. And
they took Little Peter away with them, and I've never seen him since."

So, little by little, he told the whole story; how he had always felt
as if Little Peter were his brother; how he used to steal for him when
he was hungry: how, when he turned honest, Little Peter often had
nothing to eat; and how sorry he was to part with Little Peter, and
how glad to know that the lad would never be hungry any more. Grif
cried as he spoke, and the pain in his heart was greater than the pain
in his body.

"You did not speak to my father about me, Grif--you did not mention me
in any way?"

"'Tain't likely, Ally. If he'd a' known that you and a poor beggar
like me was friends, it wouldn't have done you much good. He knows
pretty well what sort of life I've led."

"There are good and bad in the world, dear Grif. It is not your fault
that your life has not been cast in pleasant places, nor amongst good
people."

"They're a bad lot I've been amongst. That's the reason I'm so bad, I
s'pose."

"Ah, dear Grif," said Alice tenderly; "if all were like you--"

"They'd be precious queer, Ally, if they was all like me. It's a good
job for them that isn't! I oughtn't to have been born, that's where it
is! I wish I never had been. I wouldn't if I could have helped it."

"Hush! you must not speak like that."

"I can't help it, Ally," said the boy fretfully. "If they'd come to me
and said, 'Now, will you be born or not?' I should have said, 'No, I
won't!'"

"It is by God's will that we are here," said Alice, with tearful eyes.
"There is a better world than this."

"Is there, Ally?" asked Grif, eagerly. "Is there? The preacher cove
said there was, but I didn't believe him, he spoke so hard-like. It
didn't sound good the way he said it. It set me agin it."

"Yes, dear Grif, another world where sin and sorrow are not known."

"I wouldn't mind goin' there," said Grif, musingly, "if it's all
right. I'd rather be out of it, though, if it's like this one--that
is, unless I was a swell. I wonder if my dawg Rough's there! I should
like to see old Rough agin. But lord! I don't expect they'd have me
among 'em. I'm a regular bad 'un, I am!"

"There is One above us, my dear," said Alice, resting her hand lightly
on the boy's shoulder, "who knows your heart, and will reward you for
your goodness. If you have erred, it is through no fault of yours."

"Not as I knows on. I never bothered about nothin' else but my grub.
I'm not so bad as Jim Pizey or the Tenderhearted Oysterman. He's a
orfle bad 'un, is the Oysterman--ten times worse nor me! He'd steal a
sixpence out of a blind man's tray!"

"I pray that our journey may end happily," said Alice, "for your sake
as well as mine. You are my brother, now and always. I am so tired,
Grif, that I must rest for a couple of hours; then we will go on to my
father's house."

"All right, Ally. I'll watch, and call you."

And spreading the blanket over Alice, Grif retired a short distance,
and lay down. He meant to keep awake, but he was overpowered by
fatigue, and presently he dozed off, and then slept soundly.


What was this creeping stealthily through the bush? The form of a man,
with haggard, almost despairing face; with beating heart, with hands
that trembled with a convulsive agony. The form of Richard Handfield!

He had escaped from his vile associates. Strict as was the watch they
had kept upon him, he had eluded them; he had made no idle efforts to
escape; he had bided his time, and he was free. But of what use was
his freedom to him? He had joined them for the settled purpose of
obtaining some information, some evidence, that would render clear his
innocence of the horrible charge which he knew men and the law were
bringing against him. If he could have done that, he would have been
contented. But he had not been able to obtain the slightest evidence
to assist him; and hope, for a time, entirely deserted him, when he
discovered that they all knew that the Oysterman himself had done the
deed, and had laid the trap to catch him. Richard, for the sake of his
own personal safety, was compelled to join in admiration of the
devilish cunning which had thrown the suspicion of guilt upon himself.
He had unconsciously strengthened the spring of the trap in which he
had been caught; for, say the entire gang were taken, would not their
vindictiveness lead them to bear false evidence against him? What else
could he expect from such as they? They all hated him, they all
suspected him; and he knew that they only admitted him as a comrade
because of his intimate knowledge of Highlay Station, and of the house
in which was concealed the purchase-money of the property which Mathew
Nuttall coveted. That obtained, they would not care what became of
him; nor did he, either, but for one consideration, care what became
of himself. But for that one consideration, he would have bidden
good-bye to life--he would have had courage for that, coward as he
was--and would have allowed the waters of pitiless circumstance to
have engulfed him for ever. That consideration was Alice. That she,
knowing his weak, vacillating nature, should be led to believe from
his silence that he was guilty, was the worst torture of all to him.
He wanted to see her, to assure her of his innocence; then, let come
what might, he would meet it with some sort of weak fortitude at all
events. And he would save Alice's father if he could; he would do that
one right deed for Alice's sake. So, matching his cunning with theirs,
he had escaped from the villains that day; and now he was making his
way to a hut, where he knew two stockmen dwelt, to give the alarm. He
had not eaten food since the morning; he had a few shillings in his
pocket, but he had not dared to diverge from his course to purchase
bread. He halted for a moment, faint and weary, his heart racked with
a terrible despair. He had brought it all on himself, he knew, by his
unmanliness. Who was he that he should pass his time in repining as he
had done? What better man was he than other men, that he should expect
life to be made especially smooth for him? But he had expected this,
and had wrecked his happiness by murmuring at the fancied hardships
by which he had been afflicted. He thought of Alice waiting in
Melbourne--waiting and hoping in vain--but still loving him, still
believing in him. "I am unworthy of her," he groaned; "and have been
from the first, utterly unworthy. No man ever had such a blessing as
she would have been to me, if I had not been mad. Oh, bright Heaven!"
he cried; "place it in my power to see her, and tell her of my
innocence before I die!" He crept on in the direction of the
stockmen's hut. At every step he took he halted, his heart in his
ears; for he knew well that if he were caught by the gang, life was
over with him. He was thoroughly acquainted with the locality. "They
may lose some time hunting for me," he thought; "and I may gain a few
minutes by that means." The moments were too precious to waste in
repining. He had a purpose to accomplish--to fail in its
accomplishment would be worse than death. And a moment might win it or
mar it. Life had never before been so bitter and so sweet to him as it
was at this time: bitter in the irrevocable past, with its load of
shame and humiliation; sweet in the possible future in the thought
that he might save the woman who had sacrificed all for him from the
agony of believing him guilty. He dashed the bitter tears from his
eyes, and crept along. But a few yards--for he saw a human form upon
the ground. Who could it be? He crept onwards, and bending over
it--Great Heavens! Was he dreaming, or was it a phantasm of Death? The
earth and sky, blended together, swam in his fading sight. Then, he
saw nothing but the white face of his wife, and he sank down beside
it. He lost consciousness for a few moments, and when he recovered, he
rose and looked about him with the air of one waking from a
bewildering dream. Hush! she was speaking in her sleep. He knelt by
her side, and listened. He heard his name and her father's mingled
strangely together. He heard her entreat him not to--Horror!--was it
Murder of which she spoke? He seized her by the arm, and cried,
"Alice! Alice! awake!" With a scream of terror she awoke, and seeing
her husband before her, she called him by the dearest of names, and
blessing God for bringing him to her, she fell upon his breast
weeping. For a brief space only did she allow herself such happiness.
The full memory of her mission rushed upon her, and she extricated
herself from his arms, and asked, "Oh, Richard, answer me quickly--am
I too late?"

Too late for what? He did not speak the words, but she saw them
expressed in his face. She saw, accompanying them, a look of such
terrible despair, that her senses would have left her if her strong
purpose had not upheld her.

"Tell me,--quickly, or I shall die," she said in a voice which,
although it was no louder than a whisper, sounded on his ears like a
knell; "am I too late?"

"Too late for what?" he was constrained to ask.

"To save my father!"

A sigh of exquisite relief escaped him. He thought it was of another
danger she was about to speak. The change of expression in his
countenance was a sufficient answer, and for a few brief moments she
was silent, almost overcome with grateful thought.

"I am bewildered," Richard said, pressing his hands across his face.
"What brought you here?"

"I came to save my father--to save you."

"Then you know--"

"All."

"All!" echoed Richard, shrinking from her. "Do not shrink from me,
dear," she said. "Yes, I know all about my father's danger and yours.
Do not look upon me so strangely, Richard. Is it not happiness that we
have met before any evil is done? Be thankful for his sake, for yours,
for mine."

He did not reply, but he came closer to her, and then she told him
rapidly what had occurred to her since he left Melbourne. In as few
words as she could relate the story, she told him of Milly's death, of
the letter the poor girl had given her, and of the horror which
possessed her when she read of the plot Jim Pizey and his comrades had
laid to trap her husband--

Richard stopped her there. "Anything about a murder?" he asked. "No,"
she answered; "only mention of the circumstance that they had set a
trap for him and had caught him."

That gleam of hope vanished as soon as it had shone upon his troubled
soul. He pressed his hand to his heart, and motioned her to proceed.

She told him how she and Grif had started to walk from Melbourne
half-an-hour after poor Milly died--every word she uttered of this
part of her story struck him as if it were a dagger's point; she told
him of Grif's goodness to her--(the lad had awoke, and was standing by
them, listening to Alice with rapt attention, and when she mentioned
his name she took his hand and kissed it); of the kind friends they
had met upon the road; of their walking a long distance that day, and
of their stopping providentially to rest for a while before proceeding
to her father's house; all this she told him almost breathlessly. But
he saw what she made no mention of; he saw in her care-worn face the
anxiety and grief she had suffered for him--he saw in her patient,
uncomplaining eyes, the perfect purity of her love--he saw in
her soiled and ragged clothes the wondrous evidence of a holy
self-sacrifice--and he fell upon his knees, and, burying his face in
her dress, he sobbed like a little child.

"Oh, my dear! my dear!" he cried. "How unworthy I am of your love!"

"Not unworthy, Richard," she said happy in the thought that his nature
was not hardened; "unfortunate, not unworthy. We have gone through
terrible storms, dear, but they will pass away presently. Surely we
have suffered enough!" But there was no sound of complaining in her
voice as she raised her streaming eyes to heaven.

He kept his face buried in her dress, and the memory of their last
parting, when he knelt before her as he was kneeling before her now,
and when she blessed him with her hands upon his head, came to his
mind. How low had he fallen since that time!

"There is a more terrible storm for you to bear than any you have yet
borne," he said. "There is a greater peril before us than any we have
yet encountered."

Her face was hidden from him, but he held her hand in his, and it
suddenly turned cold. Her fingers tightened upon his, and she asked,
"What is it? What storm? What peril?"

"I had a mate, a Welshman, a man with a soul as innocent as a
child's--with a heart as tender as a woman's. I was growing to love
him. I had another mate, a villain, who stepped between us and told to
each of us such lying stories of the other, that we quarrelled, and
almost fought. All the gold-diggers knew that we were at enmity with
each other. They all knew that if there were any true cause for our
quarrel, poor Tom would be found to be in the right, I in the wrong.
They knew him to be good and gentle-hearted. They knew me to be proud
and selfish. They loved him. They despised me. We lived in a tent
together, and slept beneath the same roof. One night I came home,
filled with bitter feelings, which I had been expressing in company. I
was stung almost to madness by what my villain-mate told me Tom had
said of me. I never stopped to think, I never stopped to ask, but I
let my passion have full sway. When I came home, determined to
quarrel, pledged to do so, proud fool as I am! because I had said as
much out-of-doors--Tom met my passion with sweetness, and forced me to
talk of the cause of our falling-out. Then we discovered that our
false mate had been lying to both of us, to make us enemies for some
purpose of his own, which I did not know then, but know now. We shook
hands, and were friends again; we laid out plans for the future--for
your happiness and mine chiefly, for Tom taught me my duty that night.
We went to bed, and in the morning Tom was found dead, murdered with
my knife! That and the other awful evidence of my own ungovernable
passion were against me, and I was obliged, or thought I was obliged,
to fly for my life; the gold-diggers swore they would lynch me if they
caught me. So I fled in the company of the villains from whom I have
but this day escaped. The false mate who set Tom and me quarrelling
was the Tenderhearted Oysterman, disguised so that I could not
recognise him--and the murder of the Welshman with my knife was the
means they took of compelling me to join them. I escaped from them
to-day--to warn your father and save him, if possible. That is why I
am here. After that I do not know what will become of me. As I hope
for mercy, I have told you the truth!"

When he had spoken the words: "Tom was found dead, murdered with my
knife," Richard, whose face was still half-hidden in his wife's dress,
felt her limbs tremble, although no sound escaped her. At that sign,
he rose abruptly, and he spoke the last words of his confession, "As I
hope for mercy, I have told you the truth!" with his back turned to
her. The moment's pause that ensued seemed to him an hour; the stars
paled out of the skies, and a thick darkness fell upon him and shut
out the sight of everything but his own deep misery; then a great
tremor of happiness came upon him, for he felt his wife's arms about
his neck and heard her voice whispering in his ear: "I know you have,
my love. Did you think I could believe you otherwise than unfortunate?
More now than ever must we be brave, must we be firm; not only life
and happiness, but honour is at stake. Courage, love! courage! Think!
Is there no way to prove your innocence of this dreadful charge? The
letter I have is something."

"It is something," he said; "but oh Alice, my dear, in the harsh
judgments of men, with all-cruel circumstance against me, it will be
but poor testimony in my favour. All the gang know he committed the
crime. If I had a witness, one who had heard the villain confess, as
he confessed to me, laughing the while, that he stole my knife, and
with it did the deed, for the purpose of trapping me--if I had such a
witness, my innocence would be established. Oh, Alice, if I had such a
witness--for your sake, my love! my darling! whom I have surrounded
with shame and misery--"

"Hush! my dear! Heaven will send such a witness! I know it! I feel
it!"

"I scarcely dare hope it," he said; "it is known to none but to the
four men in the gang. And they will not tell, for their own sakes."

"I will appeal to them--implore them. I have a message to the man
Pizey from poor Milly. I will see him, and beg of him, for her sake,
to clear you from the charge."

"You do not know them; pity never enters their hearts. There are
four of them: Jim Pizey, the Tenderhearted Oysterman, Ned Rutt, as
cold-blooded a villain as ever stepped, and Grif's father."

Richard said this last in a whisper, so that Grif should not hear. He
looked at the lad, who was still standing by them in an attentive
attitude.

"Is he with them?" asked Alice, with a pitying glance to Grif, who was
now turning slowly away.

"Yes, and as bad as the rest. But Alice, we have tarried too long
already. We must not waste another minute."

"Yes, we must go," Alice said, preparing to move. "You know the way,
Richard. Take comfort, dear! All will turn out well--I feel it will.
Where's Grif?"

Grif was gone. They called him, and searched for him in vain. They
could find no trace of him.

"He was here but a moment ago!" Alice said, in deep distress. "Perhaps
he thinks you are not pleased to find me with him. He is keenly
sensitive."

"And I have spoken unkindly to him, and he remembers it," said
Richard, to whom every memory of the past brought with it a sting of
self-reproach. "If I can make it up to him, I will. He will find us, I
have no doubt. We dare not linger now, Alice. The stockmen's hut is in
the hollow. We must go there at once, and give the alarm. Come--there
may be death to your father in every moment's delay!"

Keenly anxious as Alice was because of Grif's unaccountable
disappearance, she felt how precious was time for the safety of her
father: his life might depend upon their speed. They moved carefully
away from the track, and walked through the bush as quickly as
possible.

"There are few except myself who would be able to find their way
here," said Richard. "But you remember, Alice, I was always fond of
roaming about the Station. You would scarcely believe how near to this
spot is your father's house. It is only two miles, as the crow
flies--I could walk straight to it, in less than half-an-hour. Hark!
We are disturbing the crows! I used to call this Crow's Hollow. See,
we are in a hollow, completely hidden by the ranges and the thick
timber. It is a melancholy-looking place."

It was in truth a dismal spot, and Alice shuddered as she heard the
harsh cawing of the birds. Suddenly she stopped.

"Richard," she said, "do you hear nothing?"

He listened, and shook his head.

"Nothing but the crows," he said.

"It's not a crow, Richard. Listen again. Can I be mistaken? A child's
voice, singing!"

And hurrying swiftly in the direction of the sound, they came upon a
strange sight. Two boy-children were lying, as if dead, upon the
ground, clasped in each other's arms, and one, a little girl, was
covering them with her frock, which she had taken off for that
purpose. She was the eldest of the three, and yet could scarcely be
eight years of age. She was singing softly a child's ditty. A few
yards from her was a pale-faced boy, looking vacantly before him. It
was Little Peter, who with the other three children had been wandering
in the bush for two days. They had set out for a long walk on the
first day, taking two or three slices of bread and butter with them,
and had lost their way. When the night came, they were near a cavern,
the mouth of which was nearly choked up with stones and rotten
underwood. They peeped through the crevices, and as it looked like a
house inside, they crept in, and tried to go to sleep. But they had
not been long in the cave before they heard a great flapping, and
something rushed by, sending a cold wind to their faces. They were
nearly frightened out of their lives, but they did not dare to move;
every other minute came the flapping and cold wind. They thought the
place was haunted, and they shut their eyes tight, and pressed their
fingers in their ears, and lay trembling with their faces touching
each other; they found much comfort in that! The bravest of the party
was the little girl, sister to Johnny and Billy. These three were the
Stockman's children. The girl, although she was mortally afraid, kept
her fears to herself, and sang little songs to her companions during
the whole night. And so they lay, with their faces touching each
other, until the morning came. For a good many minutes they were
frightened to look around, but when they did muster up courage, they
found that there were a great number of bats inside the cavern, and
that it was the flapping of their wings that had frightened them so.
The floor of the cavern was strewn with the bones and dried-up skins
of bats. The children were glad to get out into the bright light, and
they washed their faces and dried them on the little girl's frock.
Then they began to feel hungry, but all their bread and butter was
eaten. They did not know where they were, and they wandered about the
whole of the day, crying, and growing more and more faint, until night
came again; they would not go into the cavern to sleep, so the girl
had made her two brothers a bed of leaves, and was trying to sing them
to sleep, when Alice and Richard discovered them. The child stopped in
the middle of her song, and running to Alice, with a cry of joy,
said,--

"If you please we have been lost in the bush, and Johnny and Billy,
and Little Peter, and me, we've had nothing to eat, and we're so
hungry! Please take us home?" The children clustered around her, and
she was stooping to kiss them, when a groan from Richard caused her to
look up.

"Alice!" he cried, seizing her arm with such force as to cause her
pain. "See! We are discovered!"

Lights were moving in the bush, and the voices of men, calling to each
other, were heard.

"It is Jim Pizey and the rest, looking for me," he whispered,
hoarsely, and trembling with fear--for her, not for himself. "If they
find us, it is all over with us. They swore to kill me, if I attempted
to escape; and you--Oh, Alice! say that you forgive me for the peril
to which I have exposed you!"

"I do forgive you, Richard!" Alice said, kissing him. "Have you any
weapon?"

He produced a revolver, loaded.

"Is it useless trying to escape?" she asked.

"Quite. See--they are spreading themselves out. We are lost. They have
no pity, those men. Oh my God!" he cried, in an anguish. "This is
worse than all!"

"If those men be the men you fear, Richard," said Alice, rapidly, her
limbs trembling, and a nameless horror resting in her eyes, "swear
that you will kill me! Swear it, as you hope for mercy--as you hope to
meet me in heaven, when all our misery is ended!"

"I swear it, Alice!"

"My poor husband!--my dear love!" and she pressed him to her breast.
"Forgive us, O Lord, for what we are about to do!"

They stood hand in hand, their faces as the faces of the dead; while
the children, clinging to Alice's dress, looked up at her in wondering
fear.

Nearer and nearer came the lights, and louder grew the voices of the
men.

"Here is a shoe!" one called out. "The children are somewhere near.
We're on their track."

"It is my father's voice!" cried Alice, as the sound reached her ears.
"Richard, we are saved! They are searching for the children we have
found! Do you hear? We are saved! Father! this way! this way!"

But the last words died in her throat, and staggering forward, she
fell into the arms of her father, who had hurried to the spot as she
cried. He recognised his daughter, and a fear smote him, as she lay
motionless in his arms, that she was dead. The remorse which fell upon
him overcame his surprise at her appearance, and even made him look
upon Richard without astonishment.

"She has fainted from fatigue, sir," said Richard; "she has been
sorely tried."

"Why is she here?" asked Matthew Nuttall.

"She came from Melbourne, sir, to warn you of danger which threatens
you, and to save me from disgrace; but for this latter, I fear she is
too late. Your house, at this moment, is surrounded by bushrangers."

"Bushrangers!" cried Matthew Nuttall; "and there are only two women in
the house!"

"We are stronger than the bushrangers," said Richard. "There are but
four in their party. We have no time to lose. We must make for the
place without delay. See, sir! Your daughter is recovering."

She opened her eyes, and looked wildly round. Seeing her father, her
memory returned; and she slid from his arms, and falling upon her
knees at his feet, she said, imploringly,--

"Forgive me, father!"

The sound of the soft lapping of the sea upon the sands fell upon his
ears, but now there was a sweet music in the sound; and in the vision
of white crested waves which came upon him again, the stars were
shining in the blue depths with a glad light. Chastened and subdued,
he raised his daughter to his breast and kissed her. The tears that
welled into his eyes were tears of purification. His hard nature was
softened by the perfect goodness of the pure and faithful woman! He
held out his hand to Richard, who took it, and said--

"We dare not linger, sir. The bushrangers may be there before us."

"True!" replied Matthew Nuttall. "Keep a good look-out, men, and
follow me. We'll take these villains, dead or alive! See to your
pistols. Alice, keep behind with the children. Now then, On!"



                            CHAPTER XXVII.

                      GRIF BEARS FALSE WITNESS.


When Grif had fallen asleep an hour ago, overcome by fatigue, the
fever which had made him shiver to his marrow seemed to have left him.
Alice's words: "You are my brother, now and always," were like balm to
his aching body, and caused him to forget his pain. "Her brother now
and always!" he murmured to himself again and again, and sleep
overtook him with a smile upon his lips. When he awoke he was not
surprised to see Richard standing by Alice's side. It was a fitting
continuation of the fancies that had been busy in his brain while he
was dozing--fancies which took no defined mental shape, but pointed to
a happy termination of Alice's troubles. So, he had stood quietly by
the side of Alice and her husband, listening attentively to Richard's
story, and taking no credit to himself for the part he had played in
bringing husband and wife to each other's arms. As Richard spoke of
Poor Welsh Tom, Grif thought, "I should like to know him; he's the
right sort, he is," and when the despairing man came to the Welshman's
murder, Grif felt as if he had lost a friend. It would be difficult to
analyse the sensations that crowded upon Grif's mind as Richard
proceeded with his story. All his pain came back to him intensified by
the misery he felt was in store for Alice, unless her husband's
innocence were established. Misery, not happiness, would be her
portion if this were not accomplished. It must be done. But how! There
were two reasons why it must be done--one infinitely less strong than
the other, but having its weight nevertheless in the light of Grif's
untrained intellect. The stronger reason was Alice's welfare; all
considerations, but one, sank into utter insignificance, when her
happiness was in question. The weaker reason sprang from his
implacable hatred to the Tenderhearted Oysterman. And now the two
dominant feelings which possessed him--the earnest desire to benefit
Alice, and the intense desire to revenge himself upon the
Tenderhearted Oysterman--seemed in some dim way to be connected. The
very accomplishment of his desire to serve Alice must spring from the
accomplishment of his desire to be revenged upon his enemy. That end
he saw; but how about the means?

All this passed through Grif's mind while Richard was telling his
story. The story being told, a despairing conviction stole upon Grif
that Richard was lost, and with him, Alice. There was no way to prove
Richard's innocence. As he thought this, he heard Richard's next
words, "If I had a witness, one who heard the villain confess, as he
confessed to me, laughing the while, that he stole my knife, and with
it did the deed, for the purpose of trapping me--if I had such a
witness, my innocence would be established." Then he heard Alice
console her husband and say, "Heaven will send such a witness. I know
it! I feel it!" As these words fell upon his ears, light dawned upon
him, and a suddenly-formed, but fixed purpose, entered his mind.
Watching his opportunity, he stole softly away--so softly that neither
Alice nor Richard observed him. He heard Alice call to him, but he did
not reply. He lingered for a little while, and was grateful to them
for the trouble they took to find him. Alice was so close to him once
that he was enabled to touch her; and for the second time that night
he touched her dress with his hand, and then raised his hand to his
lips. He kept it there for a few moments, thinking the while. "She
wouldn't call me if she knew what I was goin' to do," he said.
"Besides, she's got her husband now; she don't want me. What a artful
trap they set to catch Dick Handfield! What oneners they are! But
Grif'll show 'em!" And he walked off towards Matthew Nuttall's house,
talking and communing with himself as he went.

"She wants a witness," he said. "She's got her husband, and she'd be
all right if she had a witness. It's not a bit of good her comin' all
the way up here, if she don't get a witness. What did Dick Handfield
say? If he had a witness who could swear that he heard the Oysterman
confess to stealin' his knife and murderin' the poor cove with it, his
innocence would be proved! Yes, that was what he said. If he don't get
that witness, he'll be took up for murder, and somethin' dreadful 'll
happen to Ally. And if his innocence is proved, Ally will be happy all
her life. That'd be very good, that would. 'Eaven will send the
witness, Ally said. No, it won't. For I'll be the witness! And 'Eaven
don't send me! Not a bit of it! Only think of the Oysterman laughin'
all the while he told how he murdered poor Tom!" (Grif lingered
lovingly over the memory of Welsh Tom, as if they had been friends.)
"He's a rasper, is the Oysterman! But I'll be even with him. If I can
get in with the gang--but they'd suspect me. I was moral when the
Oysterman and Jim sor me in Melbourne--they won't believe I ain't
moral now. How shall I manage it? I've got to be very careful with
'em. They're up to pretty nearly every move. I've got it!" he cried,
after pondering for a few moments. "I'll say I've been sent up by Old
Flick, to tell 'em that Dick Handfield's going to peach upon 'em.
They'll b'lieve that! Dick Handfield's runnin' away to-day 'll make
'em believe it. They won't be up to that dodge. And I'll tell Jim
Pizey that Milly's dead, and that she made me promise to come and see
him at once, and arks him to take care of the baby. That's a artful
move, that is, and no mistake! He liked Milly, did Jim, and he'll be
sorry to hear she's dead." (Grif laughed and hugged himself as he
thought of his scheme.) "And father's in the gang, too. I heard Dick
tell Ally that; though he said it in a whisper, and didn't want me to
hear. I ain't seen father since he shied that bottle at my head for
stealin' pies. He said I'd disgraced him, and that he never was in
quod for stealin' pies. He wouldn't mind if I'd been in quod for
somethin' worse. I know what I'll do. I'll tell him I'm a regular
plucky 'un, a regular bad 'un, up to anythin', and I'll get him to
tell me all about the Oysterman's plot. Then I'll go and be a witness.
Lord!" he mused, "what a queer move it is! They'll kill me when they
find it out, but I don't care. It'll make Ally happy, and she'll like
me all the better. Then there's the Oysterman! I'll cry quits with
him, now, for pizenin' Rough! Won't he be savage!"

But any pleasure he might have derived from this last reflection was
soon lost in the contemplation of his fixed purpose to serve Alice.
Grif's love for her amounted almost to worship. When he told her that
he would die for her, he meant, actually, that he would be glad to
die, if, by his death, he could serve her. Born and reared in the
midst of thieves and ruffians, no softening influence had fallen upon
him until he had met Alice. She had been kind and gentle to him, who
had never before received kind or gentle treatment. Accustomed from
his birth to the association of men in whom brutality and selfishness
were predominant, the picture of Alice's unselfish devotion caused him
to reflect. It awoke the good principle within him, and she became at
once his standard of perfection. "When she gave him her friendship, he
felt that he was unworthy of it. Could he make himself worthy of it?
No, he was sure he could not; he was so different to her, or, rather,
she was so different to every one else. He was surrounded with evil
associations, and he could not disentangle himself from them. Only
once had he made an attempt to free himself, and that he did rather to
please Alice than in the belief that he would be successful. Well, he
had tried to be honest, and he had almost starved; he would have
starved if he had persevered in his moral career--that he had settled
satisfactorily with himself. It was clearly evident that honesty was
not for such as he. It was not his fault that he had been born; it was
not his fault that he was what he was; yet the world punished him for
it. But Alice had pitied him because of his unfortunate position, and
her sympathy fell upon his heart, like rain upon parched land. To the
world, for its harshness, he returned defiance; to Alice, for her
tenderness, he gave all he had to give of love.

"I wonder if they're at the house," Grif said, as he walked along. "If
they are, I hope they won't hurt no one. He's a wicked devil, is Jim
Pizey, though, and he'll be mad at Dick's runnin' away from 'em."

Soon he came to a fence, and, three or four hundred yards before him,
he saw the Home Station. A fine house, built of stone, with a broad
verandah in front, and surrounded with garden-grounds in beautiful
order. Grif crept slowly along by the side of the fence, in the
direction of the house.

"I can see lights movin' about," he muttered. "There's a man outside,
walkin' up and down. He's got a gun in his hand, too. Yes, they're
there, and he's keepin' watch. Everything very quiet."

By this time, Grif was within twenty yards of the house. He halted for
a minute or two; he had crept very cautiously and carefully along in
the shade of the fence, and had not been observed.

"I can't make it out," he said, conscious that he must not lose time,
and puzzled at the almost deathlike stillness that prevailed; "Where
are all the Station men? They can't have killed 'em. How awful quiet
it is! Who's that keepin' watch?" he muttered, looking eagerly
forward. "It ain't Jim Pizey, and it ain't the Oysterman. Why, it's
father! I'll go right up to him."

And he walked away from the fence, towards the house. As he did so, he
was seen by the sentinel, who gave a shrill whistle, and cried,--

"Stand!"

"It's all right," exclaimed Grif, recognising his father's voice;
"Don't you know me?"

But the man did not distinguish what Grif said.

"Stand!" he cried again; "or I'll fire!"

"It's me, father!" cried Grif, running swiftly towards him. "Don't
fire! It's me--Grif!"

He had scarcely uttered the words, when he was struck down by a
bullet. Confused and dizzy, he struggled to his feet, pressing his
hand to his side. In the midst of his confusion he became conscious of
a terrible change in the aspect of the scene. A wild fury appeared to
take possession of the place. As he looked round, dazed, he saw men
running towards the house, and heard the sound of shots following each
other rapidly.

"Who are you?" asked one of the men, seizing him roughly by the
shoulder.

"Who am I?" the boy replied, looking about him in a bewilderment of
deathly pain. The blood was flowing from his wound, staining the grass
and flowers, and everything was fading from his sight, when he
suddenly saw Alice. "Who am I?" he repeated. "Arks Ally! She knows.
I'm Grif!"

And, with a wild shudder, he staggered forward and fell senseless at
Alice's feet!

She threw herself beside him, and, tearing off a portion of her dress,
she endeavoured to staunch his wound. By this time, the bushrangers
were in full retreat, pursued by most of the men who had been engaged
in the search for the children. Amongst those who stayed behind were
Matthew Nuttall and his brother, and Richard Handfield. Nicholas had
hurried into the house, to ascertain if his wife and daughter were
safe; and he now returned with some brandy, which he put to Grif's
lips. Richard, who had some little knowledge of surgery, examined the
wound, and said,--

"He must not be moved, Alice. He cannot live many minutes."

"Do not say that!" cried Alice, weeping bitterly. "Oh, my poor Grif!
He has died for me! My poor, dear Grif!"

The brandy which Grif tasted partially restored him. Opening his eyes,
and looking with a loving tenderness upon Alice's face, he pressed her
hand which held his, and said faintly,--

"All right, Ally. Don't you cry for me. I'm her friend," he muttered,
"and her brother, too! She said so herself, she did."

"Are you in pain, dear Grif?" she asked.

"Not much. 'Tain't worth botherin' about. Where's father?" Turning, he
saw Matthew Nuttall, and a look of recognition came into his eyes.
Seeing that Grif wished to speak to him, he came closer to the dying
lad. "Do you remember me, sir?" Grif asked wistfully.

"Yes."

"I want to tell you, sir, about them brushes and the boot-stand. You
remember when Mr. Blemish set me up as a moral shoeblack? You was in
the office, sir, at the time. I ain't ungrateful to Mr. Blemish;
'tain't likely I should be. But I couldn't get a livin', sir;
everybody seemed to say to me, You got no business to be moral, you
ain't! You ought to be ashamed of yourself for being moral, you ought!
They was right, sir; it was out of my line, that's a fact. And one
day, when I was very hungry, I sold them brushes and the stand to Old
Flick for four bob. It was wrong of me, sir, but I couldn't help it--I
was so hungry! Will you arks Mr. Blemish to forgive me, sir, and tell
him he can get the brushes and stand back from Old Flick? Only he'll
have to pay more nor four bob for 'em. Will you tell Mr. Blemish?"
Matthew nodded in pitying silence. "Thank you, sir. Then I sor you the
night you took care of Little Peter. You was very kind to me then,
sir. I've often thought of it, and thanked you, when you didn't know
nothin' about it." Grif had to stop many times from weakness. He
looked at Alice, then at Matthew, and motioning him to lean forward,
said in a whisper, "I had it in my mind, sir, to speak to you about
her when you sor me and Little Peter under the hedge, but I didn't
dare. I'm such a poor common beggar! But I know what good is, sir, I
do. She's good;--ah! that she is! And she tried to make me good; but
it was no go. You don't know what she's suffered, sir. I told you I'd
made a promise, and couldn't break it. It was her I made the promise
to, sir. And I've tried to be true and faithful to her, and I
will--till I die!"

A gleam of satisfaction lit up Grif's face as Matthew Nuttall placed
his hand on his daughter's arm, in sympathy with her grief.

"That's good, at all events," Grif said, softly to himself; "he ain't
such a bad sort, after all." Then aloud, "I'd like to see Little
Peter."

Little Peter was soon brought to Grif's side; he was tired and worn
out with his day's wanderings, and he evinced no emotion at seeing
Grif. But Grif did not look for any exhibition of gladness from the
lad whom he had nursed and fed.

"How are you, Little Peter?" Grif asked, patting the boy's hand. "He
looks well, sir. You're never hungry now, are you?"

"I was hungry to-day," Little Peter said.

"He was lost in the bush, Grif, with other children," Alice whispered,
in explanation. "We found him very tired, and very hungry. He will be
well to-morrow."

"You found him, Ally!" Grif said. "After I went away?"

"Yes. Why did you go away?"

"Never you mind. I didn't go away for no harm. The young lady who was
with you that night, sir!" he said to Matthew Nuttall. "I think it was
a good deal through her that you took care of Little Peter. Thank her
for me, sir, please, when you see her."

"Thank her yourself, my lad," Matthew said, beckoning to Marian, who
came forward, and stooped towards Grif. As she did so, Grif caught the
stone heart which the Tenderhearted Oysterman had compelled her to
place round her neck.

"It's like a dream," he said, holding the emblem in his hand;
"everythin' seems to be comin' all at once. This heart--"

"One of the bad men who were here to-night made me place it round my
neck," Marian said.

"This is Little Peter's heart," said Grif; "how did one of them get
hold of it, I wonder?"

"Have you seen it before?" asked Richard.

"Yes, sir; it's Little Peter's heart, that is--I remember losin' it
one night, but I don't know where. It belonged to Little Peter's
mother. When she died in the horspital, she put it round his neck."

"His mother, then, must have been poor Tom's sister," Richard
whispered to Alice. "I picked up the heart on the stairs when I wished
you good-bye in Melbourne. The night before Tom died he saw it and
recognised it. The Oysterman must have stolen it from Welsh Tom that
dreadful night. It may be a clue to the proof of my innocence."

Alice pressed her husband's hand, and motioned him to look at Grif,
over whose countenance a change was passing. Richard knelt and felt
his pulse, and Alice took Grif's other hand in hers.

"Grif, my dear," she said, placing her lips close to his face, "you
see that my father has forgiven me."

He nodded. Her lips to his ear, her hand clasping his, were heaven to
him.

"It is you I thank for it, my dear," she continued. "I am in hopes
that all will be well with us for the future, and that my trouble is
nearly over."

"That's good!" he murmured.

"I tell you this, knowing you will be glad to hear it. I tell you this
gratefully, thankfully, oh, my dear! because I owe it all to you!"

A smile of much sweetness rested on his lips. "I'm her brother, now,
and always, that's what I am," he murmured.

"He is sinking fast, Alice," Richard whispered; "he cannot live much
longer."

"What's that?" Grif exclaimed, in a loud voice, trying to raise
himself; he had heard Richard's words. "I mustn't die yet. Don't let
me die till I've said what I've got to say! Will anybody fetch a
magistrate for a poor cove? I want a magistrate, that's what I want!"

"I am a magistrate," Matthew Nuttall said.

"That's the sort," Grif gasped out. "You hear what I've got to say,
and put it down in writin'! I'm dyin', you know. Take her away first,"
and he relinquished Alice's hand. "Stand off a bit for a minute or
two, Ally, and take him away with you." He pointed to Richard
Handfield. The husband and wife fell back, in wonder; but, although
she could not hear what he said, Alice followed, with her eyes, every
movement of the dying lad.

"Now, then," said Grif, when Alice and her husband were out of
hearing. "I've got something to say with my dyin' breath. Will what I
say be evidence? I arks you as a magistrate, will what I say when I'm
dyin' be evidence?"

"If you swear to it, my poor boy," replied Matthew Nuttall, gently.

"I'll swear to it! All right! I'll kiss the Bible on it. That's
swearin', ain't it?"

"Yes," said Matthew, whispering to Nicholas, who ran into the house,
and returned with a Bible and a writing-desk. While he was away, Grif
turned his eyes to where Alice was standing, weeping, and he continued
to gaze on her lovingly as he spoke.

"All right, Ally!" he muttered to himself. "I'll make you happy. You
shall owe it every bit to me. You want a witness, that's what you
want. I heerd you say so; everythin' might go wrong if you don't have
a witness. And I'm a-goin' to be that witness, though 'Eaven didn't
send me!"

"Now, my lad," said Matthew Nuttall. "What is it you want to say? Do
not speak too fast, for you are very weak."

"Yes, I'm very weak. I'm a dyin', you know, and when I've said what I
got to say, I shan't trouble nobody no more. Fust and foremost, then,
them coves as stuck up your house was bushrangers. Put that down."

"That is down. I can write as you speak."

"Jim Pizey and the Tenderhearted Oysterman was two on 'em. I kiss the
Bible, and I ses, I heerd the Tenderhearted Oysterman say as how he
murdered a man--a Welshman--on the diggins', and as how he stole Dick
Handfield's knife to kill him with, so that it'd look as if Dick had
done it instead of him; and I kisses the Bible agin, and I ses as how
all the gang knows it was the Tenderhearted Oysterman who done the
murder, and not Dick Handfield."

"You heard the man you call the Tenderhearted Oysterman confess to the
murder?"

"I heerd him say he done it himself, with Dick Handfield's knife. I
kisses the Bible on it. You've got all that down?"

"It is all written, my lad!" said Matthew Nuttall, gravely.

"And I furthermore ses as how Jim Pizey and the Oysterman wanted Dick
Handfield, when they was in Melbourne, to join them in robbin' Highlay
Station--Everthin's goin' away! hold me up! Don't let me die till I'm
done! The sky's a-comin' down upon me!"

The brandy was put to his lips, and he revived again; but the words
now came very slowly from him.

"Where was I?" he asked.

"They wanted Dick Handfield to join them in robbing Highlay Station."

"Yes, that's it," said Grif, his voice falling to a whisper. "And as
how Dick Handfield wouldn't. And as how they wanted to throw the
murder on him, out of revenge."

"Have you finished?" asked Matthew Nuttall, as the boy paused.

"Yes--I forget all the rest," muttered Grif. "Where's Ally?"

"One moment! You swear to this?"

"I kisses the Bible on it."

"Can you sign your name?"

"I can't write. I can only read large letters on the walls."

"What is your name?"

"Grif."

"But your other name?"

"I never had no other. I'm Grif, that's what I am!

"Raise him, Nicholas, and let him put a cross here."

The boy was raised, and the pen being held in his almost nerveless
fingers, he scrawled a cross.

"Tell Ally to come," he said, as they laid him down. Alice came, and
knelt by him. He was happy now. The false evidence he had given seemed
to him the only good thing he had ever done.

"It's all right, Ally," he gasped. She had to place her ear to his
lips to catch his words. "You won't have no more trouble. I've never
been no good all my life till now. I want to kiss Little Peter."

Little Peter was brought to him. "Poor Little Peter!" he said. "I'm
goin' away, and before I go I want you to promise to be moral. You
won't be no good unless you're moral. Say you'll be moral, Little
Peter."

"I'll be moral," said Little Peter, mechanically.

Grif gazed at the lad lovingly, kissed him, and turned again to Alice.

"Ally, dear, you said there was another world. There is, isn't there?"

"Yes, Grif. You are going there, now."

"Shall I see you there, by-and-by?"

"We shall meet there, dear Grif," she answered, keeping back her
tears.

"We shall meet there, we shall meet there!" he murmured, in a glad
voice, and then was silent for a while. Presently he whispered,--

"You kissed me once; will you kiss me again?"

She placed her arms about him, and kissed his lips.

"It wasn't my fault that I wasn't no good. I only wanted my grub and a
blanket. If any swell 'ad a-given 'em to me, it'd been all right. I
tried to be moral, but I couldn't be. I wasn't cut out for it. Why,
there's Milly!" and he suddenly raised himself, and a bright
expression came over his face. Alice held him in her arms, and watched
the fading light in his eyes.

"And there's Rough. Rough! Rough! And the old pie-woman, too!" he
cried, as his arm stole round Alice's neck. "What was it Milly said
the other night? Oh, I know! Forgive me, God!"

And with that supplication upon his lips, and with his head on Alice's
breast, Grif closed his eyes upon the world!


Richard Handfield's innocence was proved without Grif s dying
statement. The bushrangers were pursued; the Oysterman was shot dead,
and the others were captured. When Jim Pizey was lying in prison,
Alice visited him, and gave him Milly's message. In that poor girl's
name, Alice implored him to confess who had killed the Welshman. His
hard nature was softened by the thought of Alice's kindness to Milly,
and by her promise to take care of Milly's baby; and, knowing that his
career was over, he admitted that it was the Oysterman who had
committed the murder with Richard Handfield's knife.


Here the story ends. If misfortune and poverty should come again to
Richard, he would battle with them bravely, if only for the sake of
the true woman who called him husband. But it is not likely he will be
so tried, for Matthew Nuttall has been reconciled to him, and Richard
and Alice live happily at Highlay.

Grif was buried near the Home Station. The husband and wife often
visit his grave, and often speak of him, tenderly and lovingly, as of
a dear and cherished friend!



                               THE END.





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