Chapter VII

Perverse mankind! whose wills, created free,
Charge all their woes on absolute decree;
All to the dooming gods their guilt translate,
And follies are miscall'd the crimes of fate.


George Welton had frustrated Blackmore's designs for a time, but it was only for a time. Every evening found the latter ready to lead the youth for a ride into the country, or an omnibus ride to the South Heads, or elsewhere; carefully he

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strengthened the aversion his victim felt towards office life, and dilated on the adventurous existence at the gold-fields; and at length he suggested that he should forsake his post, and go there. The idea startled him, and he drew back coldly; Blackmore was alarmed, and tried to palliate.

“I was only joking,” he said.

Gilbert knew he spoke falsely, and replied coldly, “Indeed!”

“Why, man, how stiff you look!—come, think no more of it—a joke's a joke, you know.”

“Certainly, but I shall not go out this evening: I want to write home.”

Blackmore used persuasion in vain, and finally desisted. Half-an-hour afterwards Gilbert was penning a letter to his sister—which, however, was never completed—and puffing a cigar, when a knock sounded at his door, and George Welton entered.

“You left the office so quickly to-day I could not get time to speak a word,” said he, seating himself.

Gilbert reddened: as his friendship with Blackmore ripened, that with the young man decreased; he shrank, indeed, from renewing his visits to the brother and sister, aware that his pleasures and pursuits were now very different from theirs.

“We have not seen you for some time. Clare is perfect in her part of the duet, and you have decamped. What do you say to accompanying me to-night?”

“Not to-night, George.”

“Well, you are writing;—to-morrow, then?”

“Yes, to-morrow—and how is Miss Clare?”

“Quite well. By-the-byo, Calder, my sister Grace will be in town in a few days—she is our beauty, you know.”

“She can't be more—she can't be better than Clare,” returned Gilbert, warmly.

“They are both dear girls. We shall expect you to-morrow,—I shall tell Clare you will return with me. Good evening.” They shook hands. Gilbert returned to his chair, and sat thinking of the pure, calm Clare Welton, and that happy little cottage; he felt himself sliding down—down, away from God, from friends, from goodness. Once free from the desk—then returned Blackmore's insinuation, and the temptation was dallied with and entertained; he felt that Welton would lead him to right if he followed him, and for a while the nobler qualities

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of his disposition rose up, and asserted their power and affinity with goodness. Oh, had he sought Heaven's help!—but he did not; he resolved, but his impulsive nature laid him open to assault, and a restless indolence revolted from steady employment. It was the dark hour of temptation;—near, all was night; far off was a small portal, watched by a face lighted up by the love of a sister; and behind, like a faint glimmer of reflected moonlight stealing through clouds upon the surface of a lake, was the image of the fair, pale girl, with earnest brown eyes, and a soft loving hand—powerful in its weakness—stretched out towards the wanderer, and pointing to the better world, and inviting him to the holy life of a follower of Christ.

Gilbert was unhappy, and day by day he shrank more from the path of life which, having entered upon, became his duty, however little in conformity with his tastes. “George tells me that a knowledge of business will always be of use to me, and that, when my time here is expired, I may seek something more to my fancy;”—thus he reflected; “but I can't stand another fifteen months—I can't!” and he sprung up under the conviction, and paced his room.

In a fine house, a short distance from town, sat two gentlemen in conversation; the decanters and glasses, and remnants of pine apple and other fruits, with a scarcely perceptible odour of a roast, indicated that they had recently dined.

“Brett,” said one—a tall man, with a long face and reflective brows—“I am at my wits' ends about this youngster, the Captain's grandson; 'pon my honor I am.”

“How so, Sir?” inquired Mr. Brett.

“He has no application, Brett, none whatever. There he sits—write, write, write—with eyes like as if he was dreaming, and the consequence is incessant mistakes. I have a great respect for Arney and Buchan, and the Captain is a fine old man—a true specimen of the British officer, Sir. My uncle on the father's side was a major—Major Ralph—just such another;—fine men. But this youngster is not fit for the desk; no, Brett. I will speak to him very seriously.”

“I am less in the counting-house than you, Sir, but I have marked Calder as a lazy, useless young dog,” returned Mr. Brett, who attended to the shipping interests, and, from the effects of the sea air, or other causes, had a rather glossy, red face, and wore large, nautical-looking whiskers, and a naval cap.

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On the following day Mr. Ralph put his expressed intention into effect, and delivered a severe lecture to his careless clerk, in the presence of the others, and several business callers. Gilbert turned very red, and buried his chagrin in nonchalance; but he felt it deeply: conscience told him the truth of his employer's strictures, and added a point to the sting; and his pride was outraged to be publicly consured, rather than in the privacy of Mr. Ralph's office; and when that gentleman retired to his sanctum, he bent over his writing with dilated nostrils and flashing eyes. The merchant considered his offence a public one, as far as the publicity of the counting-house world was concerned, and to be held up, therefore, as a terror to his other clerks. A just, upright, but coarse-minded man, the mortification and wound to self-respect were lost sight of in the justice of the cause, and Mr. Ralph took up his pen to address some of his correspondents with a keen relish, arising from the remembrance of sundry sharp and strong expressions he had made use of, which certainly would not be easily forgotten by any who heard them; and all present must have done so, for his slow, sonorous voice was raised to a key sufficient to penetrate the whole counting-house. Mr. Ralph was a benevolent man, and very readily that morning headed a charitable list which had been sent him, with a ten-pound note; he was a regular subscriber to public institutions for the amelioration of the condition of the poor or suffering, and ready to assist struggling industry at all times; but the Scriptural injunction to first admonish an erring brother “between him and thee alone,” was not observed, or remembered.

A few hours later Gilbert was pacing the lane with rapid steps; he had shaken off George Welton's friendly hand with an impatient “Not to-night,” and rushed past him; he looked up at the dusty walls, and the chains and pulleys, and down to the stone steps where watermen's boats lay, and the waves were rippling against the green slimy stones, with a determination to see them no more; he passed Mr. Brett without a bow; barely acknowledged a florid captain who had been present during a part of the morning's lecture, but beat a hasty retreat after catching the exordium, and who, with honest benevolence, stepped up to offer a great red hand now; and only paused before a small building, in the window of which were suspended cards, with a notice commencing “Wanted” written in large

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letters on them; he hurriedly read them—a carpenter, a blacksmith, shepherds for Darling Downs, splitters to proceed to the Hawkesbury, and, last, a bullock-driver to take a team to the Lachlan district. The last place mentioned was within accessible distance of the Turon diggings.

Gilbert had resolved to seek the smiles of fortune at the gold-fields,—where, he had not determined; this decided his resolution. He had not means to travel so far by any more desirable conveyance, and an impulse had inclined him once more to handle the whip, and, after leaving the dray at the station indicated, proceed on foot to the Turon.

Before long a young man, in a new suit of bullock-driver's clothes, entered the agency office, and engaged to drive the team—one of two returning with stores to the sheep station of a city merchant. Again at his lodgings he found Blackmore, who cordially congratulated him, undertook the charge of such clothing and books as he should not take with him, and energetically assisted him in his humble preparations. Then Gilbert penned a brief, hasty note to inform Messrs. Ralph and Brett that he should never enter their office again; and another to his sister; and started on his long and fatiguing journey. The encouraged temptation had been yielded to, and the young, ardent feet pressed eagerly forward in the path which led from duty and happiness. Oh! for a hand to snatch him from destruction—to remind him of a Saviour's love and help in every time of need!

After Blackmore had parted with Gilbert, and seen him, in a round blue woollen frock and cabbage-tree hat, guiding a bullock-team up Parramatta-street, and through the toll-bar, and so on along the road, and knew that he was really out of Sydney, and well content not to return, he retraced his steps—not to the tavern where he boarded, but to one of the streets near the wharves; a boat-builder's yard and some sailors at a public-house door were indications of its proximity to the water. Blackmore walked slowly, scanning the names above the doors, as if in search of some person's appellation which he was uncertain where to seek, and presently stopped before a mean building, in the lower windows of which were exposed sundry small commodities of the eatable sort, such as fruit, biscuits, and sweets, intermingled with gaudy little pictures of ships, eastern scenes—probably representing Joseph before Pharaoh, or the

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Children of Israel, and birds of fabulous plumage. An inquiry in the shop directed Blackmore to an upper room; the door stood partly open, and he entered a little room, a dusty untidy place, scattered over with envelopes and torn-up papers, with a few old green-painted boxes in one corner of the room, ranged among the dust and spiders' webs, and lettered A. B. C.; the table in the centre of the room was very old, and one leg was attached to the top by a piece of a tea-chest nailed across; behind this sat a thin, small man, with a bloated face, marked by red spots and blotches, which made the other parts of his countenance look the paler; he was dressed in rusty black, and a hat bent excessively crooked stood beside him.

“Mr. Kilby—good day, Sir.”

“Mr. Blackmore, my dear Sir, what can I do for you?—a little service I hope, eh?”


“Sit down, Sir,” and he handed the second chair, which completed the furniture of his office, and drew from behind the green boxes a spirit bottle and a couple of wine-glasses, one with the foot off; and they leaned close together and consulted in whispers, and examined a parcel of Captain Dell's letters, which Blackmore took from his pocket.

Kilby had been an attorney—a man of no inconsiderable talent; keen, clear, and rapid in his mental deductions and decisions. Some years back his prospects had been good, if not brilliant, and there had loomed upon the distant horizon a future good name and practice; but the man wanted in the fear of God, hence in steady principle; he became a rogue, for he hastened to be rich, and the wealth acquired by industry is usually of slow growth; so his name was struck off the Roll, and the man stood among the ruins of his reputation and prospects; he had a mother, an old woman, with a trembling hand and a grey head, whose widowed heart was set upon this only son; and when he sailed for Australia, she was left to taste the

“Cold charities of man to man,”

and to cling with the cagerness of despair to the hope that “her dear boy” would do well, and send for his poor old mother to see him again before she died. His course in the country of his adoption had been erratic; for a while he had been employed

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as clerk, but the same want of principle cast him out from the higher to the lower offices, and finally he sank down into his present position;—employed occasionally as a copyist, for he was an expert penman; and the general adviser of a certain class in their emergencies; he it was who directed them in how far they might go without being amenable to the law; who discovered flaws in leases and wills; who proved promissory notes to be “waste paper,” and helped others to run the downward course with himself;—a great man, and leader among such, drowning the whispers of conscience in gin, and glorying in the power his education and legal lore gave him. Poor old mother! in thy loving heart thy dear Dick was still the acme of wisdom and goodness, and thou wert mourning him as dead, and watering thy parish allowance with tears;—for surely he would have sent for his mother, his poor old mother, if he were alive. Look upwards, mother, for thy comfort, for there is none for thee on carth!—Seek it in that future, for the earthly future is blotted over by crime and degradation.

The fees which Kilby received for his legal assistance were peculiar;—sometimes trifling; sometimes a horse was hung up at the post before the door, and the client inquired where he should stable Mr. Kilby's horse.

What had brought Blackmore to consult him was sufficiently explained by the presence of a blank cheque-book, and the careful imitations of the Captain's bold, decided signature, which the latter made repeatedly upon a sheet of paper; and the agreement which Blackmore signed, promising a certain share of “the proceeds thereof.”

“The way of transgressors is hard.” Gilbert's flight had opened the door which admitted the foe to destroy the friends he really loved devotedly. Evil stops not with the individual act, but leads on to a train of others.