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Chapter XIX

—by heavenly favour led,
We meet.—

Crabbe.

Far away from Aloe Hill, in all the weariness of fever, tossed a mortally-stricken man, seeking in change of posture that ease which came not at his call, and which the tender hands of love might not bestow. Night and day the young wife occupied the watcher's chair: she had asserted her authority, and in the dignity of resolve maintained it.

Bitter, indeed, were the feelings of Elice Fenwick as she hung over the couch of her husband; she saw him sinking under a disease brought on by excitement, exposure to the sun, and, perhaps, indulgence in stimulants; but she did not blame him; she pitied his errors, and, as they regarded herself, forgave him freely. She was no longer the pensive child, but the carnest woman; in her loneliness she found energy; feeling that she could comfort and be of use to her husband, self-respect again erected its bowed head, and she stepped into her proper position, distilling a balm even from her sorrow, and clinging to the hope that he would recover, and brighter days begin. Earnestly she prayed over him; he would improve, he would be all she desired.




  ― 116 ―

After some days the wandering intellect regained its sway.

“Elly, draw back the blinds, let me see the light again. The sun sets—it is near the horizon—it will soon be gone. Pray, Elly, for pardon for me—for life.”

The sun set; another light went out, and the head of the new-made widow was bowed on the hands of a corpse.

The Gold Commissioner, with a small party of horsemen, was riding among the diggers; there, was a new arrival, here one who had evaded payment of the license fee. Now his tones were friendly, now severe and commanding. Those who knew the Commissioner and his subordinate remarked two strangers in his cortège; one, though wrapped in a coarse coat, had an air which bespoke refinement, and the easy grace with which he guided his horse called forth more than one remark upon his movements; the other rode behind him, or by his side, often laughing and talking, and never without a broad smile. The attention of the party was presently engaged by a group of miners, who resolutely refused to pay the license; the Commissioner grew peremptory, and fearlessly demanded submission to the law, and the others were equally resolute in their opposition.

“Be sociable and agreeable now,” suggested the smiling stranger, pushing forward; “you had better pay, if you will be so good and so kind.”

A request to mind his own business, was made in terms by no means elegant or select, and the man, still advising them to be sociable and agreeable, drew back; at that moment one of the diggers raised a pistol, and its contents would have been lodged in the Commissioner's head, had not one of the by-standers sprung forward, and, grappling with the man, dragged him to the ground; the confusion momentarily increased, a crowd collected, the war of voices swelled like the surging of the ocean in a storm, stones were cast promiscuously, and men swore with brazen throats.

Panting and dust-stained, the combatants rose to their feet, the intending murderer was seized by the Commissioner's companion in the rough coat, and his antagonist, bleeding from a wound inflicted by a bowie knife, was surrounded by his friends; the police rendered assistance, the gentlemen remounted, and the party rode on.




  ― 117 ―

“I must find who that young man was; he rendered me good service, Mr. Osman.”

“He did, and he was wounded.”

“What became of him?”

“He went into the next tent, Sir,” put in the friend of sociability.

“Then, Ben, we will visit him.” They turned their horses' heads to the claim, and the gentlemen alighted, giving their bridles to their attendants.

“Was the wounded man brought in here?” inquired Mr. ——, approaching the tent.

“He is here, Sir.”

“Have you a medical man?”

“No; it is a mere flesh wound; I have dressed it.” The speaker moved aside and pointed to his comrade, whose pale cheek indicated some suffering.

“I have to thank you for your prompt bravery, my fine fellow; I hope you may never want me to return a like service; but what can I now do for you?”

“Nothing, Sir—I require nothing.”

“You know me, of course? If I can be of any use, do not hesitate to send to my tent; in the meantime, I must have an inquiry into this affair, and you will have to appear as witness. Perhaps some of your mates also saw the affair.”

“We all did.”

“Very good: and what luck are you having? I think you have not been here long; yours is not a countenance to be soon forgotten, and I have only lately met it.”

“We have just come over from the other side; that is, a month or two since.”

“What is your name, young man?” and again the Commissioner turned from the tall dark man he had been interrogating, to his deliverer.

“Gilbert St. Just.”

The other gentleman, Leigh Osman, who had silently listened to the conversation, started, and advancing a step, fixed his expressive eyes upon the speaker.

“Gilbert St. Just,” repeated he and the Commissioner in a breath, and their eyes met.

“Why, this is the gentleman you were seeking,” said the latter. Gilbert looked uneasy, and the dark eyes of Bain fiashed


  ― 118 ―
as if he would protect his friend if requisite; but Leigh's tone dispelled the idea of hostility.

“My name is Leigh Osman,” he said; “I am, in a remote degree, a family connection.”

“I have heard the name. Did you tell me you were seeking me?”

“Yes; your sister is anxious to hear from you; but you will write. I will not pursue your round with you,” he added, addressing the Commissioner. “Ben, lead my horse away; I shall walk back.”

When the party had moved on, Leigh resumed his position by Gilbert's side, and Bain and Ducie considerately withdrew to their labours.

“I shall be laid up for a week or two, I suppose,” was the young man's first remark, in a tone intended to lead his new friend from any personal allusions, but he failed in his intentions.

“I hope not. Mr. Calder, I have recently left your friends; have you any questions you would wish to put respecting them?”

The many loving interrogations which followed his invitation brought an expression of satisfaction into Osman's eyes.

“But how did you know I was called St. Just? and why did you seek me here?”

“I traced you to Ophir, and from thence to this place.”

“But you have not informed me what was your reason for taking so much trouble—you, who are almost—pardon me—a stranger to our family, and quite so to me;” and the troubled expression returned to Gilbert's brow.

Leigh did not immediately reply, but resting his chin upon his hand, fixed his eyes on his companion.

“Mr. Osman!” The offended tone recalled him, and he sat up and dismissed the keen look of inquiry.

“You have favoured me with some minutes' staring with eyes like hot coals, burning into my very soul. I am not accustomed to stand such scrutiny, when the right to make it is doubtful.”

“I have displeased you, Mr. Calder, and I am sorry for it:” the frank tone disarmed wrath; “but I cannot disclaim that I was searching, even as you say, into your soul, and my explanation will not fail to provoke you afresh. Shall it be made?”

“By all means.”

“You left Messrs. Ralph and Brett very abruptly.”




  ― 119 ―

“Yes—you had better speak plain—I bolted.”

“May I ask why you did so?”

“Easily explained: I hated business, hated the office, my masters, and the whole city life. Mr. Ralph insulted and degraded me; the Captain had bound me as if I were a child; and I rebelled against it. I would not seek a favour from a man who has injured me as Ralph has, and I took French leave.” Gilbert was pacing up and down the limited area of the tent, with flashing eyes, and one arm swinging, the other hung in a sling.

Leigh half-smiled at his warmth, and the declamatory tone which persons advocating a weak or wrong cause always fly to, but he continued—

“And were those your only reasons, Mr. Calder?”

“Only!—were they not enough to provoke anyone? I am not one of those cold persons whom nothing can rouse.”

“So I perceive,” and the smile grew broader.

“You appear to have attached some other reason to my departure, and as you have so freely questioned me, I must request a similar privilege.”

“I told you that my reason would provoke you.”

“Never mind.”

“It may do more—it must do more.”

“Out with it.”

“Had you any intention of sailing for California?—lost your passage, perhaps?”

“I had no thought of such a thing. Ralph and Brett are, of course, highly incensed, and I thought it prudent to suffer their displeasure to cool. As to the Captain, I fear he will be inexorable.”

“You do not know, then, that a forgery was committed on your grandfather, and that the sale-money of his station was with-drawn?”

“No—speak—you do not think—you cannot connect me with such infamy.”

I do not; but others do.”

Gilbert staggered, and would have fallen, but for the extended arms which received him.

“Oh God! is not this too heavy a punishment?” he groaned.

“Do not despair; your innocence may be proved; few know of the circumstances. Rachel—Miss Calder—firmly believes you unjustly accused.”




  ― 120 ―

“The dear good girl! Mr. Osman, does George Welton know? does—his sister?”

“No; nor your late employers. Mr. Arney, of course, suspects, but his legal prudence makes him silent.”

“Still, I shall always feel degraded. I can never be anything now, nor happy.”

“You judge wrongly; conscious innocence will preserve your self-respect, and if by anything you mean a useful and respected man, that depends upon your future conduct. Seek God's aid to enable you to do right, and leave the result with him; your future may be far happier than the past.”

There was a long pause: Gilbert's averted face prevented his companion from ascertaining his exact feelings. After a while he said—

“Shall I return home, Sir? I will be guided by you.” The subdued tone left no idea of the agony of self-reproach, despair, and fear of ignominy, which was racking him.

“I think it would be well; but yet your simple affirmation may not satisfy the Captain. You know they are not at Cowanda now.”

“Where then?”

“At Aloe Hill.”

“Where the ——”

“No need for that form of interrogation: it is a small estate on the Parramatta River. Cowanda is sold.”

Again Gilbert's energies collapsed, and another long, mournful silence ensued, during which Bain entered.

“Bain,” exclaimed Gilbert, “I am the most unfortunate fellow alive! this gentleman, Mr. Osman, will explain.”

Leigh did so, and Bain sat down and went quietly and gravely into the minutiæ. Ducie, whose open, heedless disposition unfitted him for a confidant, was excluded from that character. It was decided that Gilbert should not at once return, as his presence might only exasperate the Captain, but that every exertion should be made to discover the person who had sailed in his name.

Meanwhile, Leigh removed from his friend the Commissioner's to their claim, bringing with him his faithful follower Ben Owen, and for a time both were engaged in gold-digging.

If Leigh Osman sought to establish an influence over Gilbert, he did not obtrude such a desire, but, on the contrary, treated him with a confidence which won his warmest affections. “He


  ― 121 ―
trusts me,” thought the young man, and gratitude rose high. Bain looked on gravely, keenly; too embittered against the world to readily admit a new friend, he sought rather for the failings than merits of the new miner; while Osman toiled cheerfully, lived steadily, and preserved the bearing of a Christian. Hitherto they had kept aloof from the population on the gold-field, because, with the exception of the Bunyip, neither desired to form acquaintances: Gilbert was not naturally disposed to an evil course of life, and Bain had a contempt for low, coarse, and sensual pleasures; therefore they had stood apart from the pleasures and sins of the gold-field. But now a new life was infused into the encampment; the light of a higher and nobler principle shone upon them—the fear and love of God. If those suggestions stirred remorseful feelings in the breast of Bain, they also presented a purer medium through which to view himself—at least, what he might be—and others; and the clear bold intellect found subjects for reflection, which it eagerly seized upon.

Gilbert appeared rather to have thrown off a burden than added one. Leigh, through Mr. Arney, was making private though zealous efforts to vindicate his character from the odium cast upon it; and the recent news of his friends appeared to lessen the distance between them, particularly as he now wrote to Rachel.

In such a mood the Sabbath morning found him strolling along by Osman's side; they left the broad valley, in which were assembled the incongruous materials of a gold-digging population—canvas tents, bark huts, hovels of every description, crowded together. The young men proceeded till they reached a hill overlooking the strange scene; here, apart from the stir, a few logs had been rudely thrown together, and roofed with sheets of bark, for a place of Divine worship; within, blocks, cut from the trunks of trees, supported heavy slabs; these were the seats; and at the further end, a rude table had been erected for a pulpit. The chapel stood alone, the solid rock around repelling the digger, and its distance from the creek rendering the operation of washing, had any dug, laborious; for the present, therefore, the claim and camp stood back, and the lonely temple, founded on a rock, was, to the reflecting, not inaptly placed:—above that mass of toiling and pollution, pointing upwards, the blue vault overspreading it, the sun traversing its benign course above.




  ― 122 ―

“You will cuter with me, this morning, Gilbert,” said Mr. Osman.

“Where?”

“The chapel.”

“What, the Methodists' Chapel?”

“Yes.”

“I am not a Methodist.”

“Nor am I; but do you not understand that true religion is the worshipping of God in spirit, and not in forms; that, therefore, if those forms be not in opposition or perversion of his Revealed Law, they are nothing, only servants to assist and prevent confusion in our devotions.”

“You hold peculiar notions.” But Gilbert had already felt the power of character, and the matured mind of his companion held his in cheek; and, although unwilling, he accompanied him.

A few, alas! how few, of the thousands on the field were seated within those wooden walls! Osman turned his eyes upon the speaker, and instantly recognized him. The short massive arm, on which, during the week, when the shirt-sleeve was rolled back, the powerful muscles stood out prominent—the broad shoulders, the clenched hand, even now black and ingrained, and the bronzed cheek—they were the evidences of toil; he was a local preacher—the blacksmith from the creek. To Gilbert, this knowledge lessened his authority—to Osman, increased it. The man who was combatting with toil, and might have pleaded fatigue, was here devoting his day of rest to instruct his fellow-toilers: he was one of them, and he spoke to them as one who knew their peculiar temptations and trials. “I know what you have been doing all last week,” he said, “and I know what you will do all this,” and with truth. He had a loud harsh voice, and he thundered forth mighty truths with uncompromising sternness: he recognized no gilding of stubborn facts, or poetry of language; his actions were vehement, and the drops of dew burst out on his tanned brow and cheek, and damped his short grey hair; yet there was a certain rude eloquence in the address, and many of his sentences were so short and pithy, they must needs be remembered. Thus, to Gilbert these words were ever to find an echo in memory—

“A thousand circumstances surround us to blow out the lamp of life.”

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