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Chapter V

How I'm hurried, borne along,—
All is business! All alive!
Heavens! how mighty is the throng,—
Voices humming like a hive!

—Crabbe.

For a brief happy week Gilbert stayed with his relatives, and then, accompanied by the Captain, started for Sydney. Blackmore was not yet come down, and would not be before the latter returned from town.

The legal friends to whom the Captain had referred quickly


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arranged with their clients, the shipping agents, the necessary preliminaries, and Gilbert's place as their clerk was secured.

There was a good deal of congratulating and shaking of hands, and some witticisms respecting the road to fortune; and Mr. Arney begged him to come and take tea with him shortly.

“And you must run over some evening, and see me, Master Gilbert; Mrs. B—— will be delighted to make your acquaintance,” chimed in Mr. Buchan, the junior partner in the legal firm; and the mercantile gentlemen assured the Captain that they should take the greatest interest in the young man, and that he might consider them his friends. So brightly and pleasantly commenced Berty's career as a clerk.

There was yet lodging to be sought, an occupation promising to be lengthy. Half ludicrous, half annoying, was the search. Captain Dell stepped along with his usual firm, haughty carriage, checking the garrulity of the housewives by his stately bearing. Vain were the attractions of beautiful views, when taken from garret-rooms; sea breezes failed to tempt in obscure quarters of the suburbs; and cheap lodgings proved to be in localities too far for a daily walk from the wharves. The long lists of “Apartments,” “Board and Lodging,” and so on, were daily scanned, and at length Gilbert was installed as a member of a family where “a respectable young man might meet with all the comforts of a genteel home.”

A fortnight had passed since the day when Gilbert first met his employers at Messrs. Arney and Buchan's office; it was yet early as he strode along from Surry Hills, solacing the way with a pipe, and recalling many wild scenes of station life, and contrasting it very unfavorably with the confinement of his clerkship; the rapid exchange from a nomadic to a life of precision and rule was little likely to please him, and his ideas of the duties of life were so very undefined that he chafed under the restraint.

“Gilbert!” said a familiar voice. He started. “Why, Blackmore, as I'm alive!”

“The very man. How settled you were looking. I have been watching you coming down the street—what is the matter, man?”

They were shaking hands warmly, but there had never been a true friendship between them. Gilbert was warm, generous, and affectionate; Blackmore in every respect opposite; but he


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was an old friend: the powerful tie of “Do you remember?” bound them, and soon old recollections were evoked; they laughed again at former sources of mirth, and recalled past perils.

“By-the-bye, Gilbert, has that old chap paid your grandfather yet?”

“What—Mr. Kensett?”

“Yes—him that bought the station.”

“No; only the deposit.”

“I wonder the Captain trusts him.”

“Oh, he's safe: he is to pay the end of this month.”

They walked on, Blackmore saying that was all right, and remarking immediately afterwards upon the groups of persons, evidently equipped for the Diggings, who passed them; and the subject appeared forgotten, till he said again, rather suddenly, but in a careless tone, as if actuated by a passing thought—

“Then I suppose the governor will be down shortly.”

“No: Mr. Kensett will bank the money himself, and get a receipt from our solicitors. I wish, Blackmore, I had been in their office: they are regular—”

“Trumps,” suggested the other.

“Yes.”

“But by-and-by you may get a foreign agency, or be sent out supercargo, eh? and see a little of the world, you know. Would you not like a run with some of the out-bound vessels? I should think the sea would just suit you.”

“I can't go: I am bound till I am twenty-one. After that I shall be my own master, and will, perhaps, turn a blue-jacket.”

“I should surely bolt if I was you—I could not stand it.”

“I won't.”

“Very right. You will make a steady fellow after all, I believe—if you won't. But I am sorry the governor won't be down. I cannot get a situation to my mind. I was thinking of asking him to use his influence.”

“Shall I write to him?”

“No, thank you. If he is not coming down, it would be of no use. But I must say good day here. I shall see you again soon—mind and not forget my address.” So with a grasp of the hand they parted.

The warehouse and office of Ralph and Brett were not situated


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at the termination of a main street. Gilbert, pursuing his way, entered a lane sloping down to the water; the dusty windows of warehouses looked down upon it, or blank walls cast a shadow across it; over or between these were visible the masts of shipping, and sailors' voices singing in chorus sounded and mingled with the rattling of dray wheels and the whistle of draymen. Then he paused before a door, above which was painted “Ralph and Brett, Shipping Agents,” and, pushing it open, entered a large room, divided by desks, behind which were already assembling the numerous clerks employed there, pen in hand, or turning over the day's paper and chatting, for the principals were not there yet.

“Good morning, Calder,” said a fair young man, with a smiling brown eye, and a countenance which made friends everywhere. Gilbert shook hands, and nodded to the others. A sort of friendship had sprung up between George Welton and the new clerk; the former had assisted him in acquiring the routine of the office, and by a thousand trifling acts either covered or performed his omissions, and by an occasional kind word cheered him, when the wandering eye and gloomy brow informed him that the country lad was ill at ease. Welton was an Englishman, some three-and-twenty years of age, who had left a good situation in a mercantile house at home, to rescue two fading sisters from a climate pronounced fatal to them, for hereditary consumption threatened the fair girls. He had promised to introduce Gilbert to them, or rather to one, for the other was a governess in a family resident some two hundred miles from Sydney; and the younger lived with him, in a very small cottage across the water, and assisted in maintaining herself by giving lessons in music. With these particulars Gilbert was acquainted, George Welton having communicated them to him.

An hour later, and all pens were busy and the office had many visitors—stout, ruddy-faced men, who looked like sea captains and first mates; and others who appeared to be merchants, or clerks, from other commercial houses; and there were consignments, and sailing, and lading, and clearing talked of, and passing the customs, and many other significant terms in that locality. If anyone there interested Gilbert, it was the bluff sea captains, around whom hung an air of freedom and change, and almost a smell of sea-weeds and shells. Blackmore's


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suggestion passed through his mind and lingered there, gaining strength with encouragement—like the German fabled Red Mantle, who sank into a dwarf before the voice of prayer, and grew into a giant in the presence of covetous thoughts. It was the old story of temptation. Gilbert had no idea of doing wrong, only he suffered his mind to dwell upon it till he became familiar with it, and the impression it had first made faded: the Red Mantle was growing, and threatening to shut out the light of Heaven.

It was the following afternoon; the business hours were over, and Gilbert rose weary and warm from the desk, and closed the book, and took the spare pen from behind his ear as he placed his hat on his head, and stepped into the lane. There was the same rattling of dray wheels, the same whistling of carmen, the voices of sailors beyond, and, toiling up the lane, sea-faring men, who nodded to him as they passed; if they did business with Ralph and Brett; and there was the supercargo from a large vessel just in from Manila, lighting a cigar from one held between Mr. Brett's forefinger and thumb. Gilbert just paused to view these things, and to glance up at the dusty dead walls and tall warehouses, with creaking chains hanging from posts set in the walls high overhead; he paused to consider whither he should direct his steps; the heat had taken away his appetite, and he had no inclination to return to dinner in that house where the respectable young gentleman was accommodated.—Where then?

“Come along with me, Mate.”—He started as a voice sounded in his ear, and a hand was laid decisively upon his shoulder.

“Where to, Blackmore?”

“To get a breath of air and take a little diversion. Shall we get horses—I know a capital stable—and have a ride out of town? Come.”

Gilbert turned to go.

“With me.” It was a very different voice which spoke this time: nothing of forced candour or good-fellowship in it; it was low and kindly; the young man looked back, and George Welton stepped to his side. His good and bad angels stood on either side of him; he was disposed to yield to Blackmore from long habit, yet the frank, cheerful face of his young friend fascinated him. Blackmore's obliquity of features gained an accession, but he said immediately, “Will not this gentleman


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join us? We were planning a ride into the country, Sir,” turning to Welton to politely explain.

“I have been unintentionally playing the part of eaves-dropper, for you filled the door, and I paused in consequence;—no, thank you, I must go home; but I fully thought, Calder, you would have accompanied me. I promised to pull Clare up the harbour—come.” He linked his arm in that of his vacillating companion.

We talk of guardian angels, and the idea is at least beautiful. Who can tell how far human beings are employed as agents by spiritual powers?

Blackmore grinned defiantly; he was not going to lose his prey so easily, and a deep, bitter oath was muttered between his teeth as the young men walked away. Half-an-hour afterwards they were springing on to the North Shore landing-place. Gilbert had pictured Clare Welton as a sickly girl, with a hollow cough and a deplorable tone of voice, and, with all his friendship for her brother, anticipated little pleasure from the evening's excursion.

A brilliant-flowered creeper had been trained across the verandah, throwing a grateful shade; and the pure white blinds, which were drawn, cast a softened light within the very small drawing-room, where already a simple china tea-service was arranged upon a round table, near the French window. Welton had pushed it open, and then stepped back to secure the garden wicket, and Gilbert found himself thus unceremoniously ushered into the presence of Miss Welton. She rose to receive him with an easy composure, which at once calmed his trepidation; she might have been his own age; rather tall and well-formed, with a graceful carriage; her complexion was spotlessly fair, and her mild brown eye had nothing of the restlessness of fever in its glances; she appeared to have forgotten herself, and to think only of those about her; you knew that the white dress was fitted with such precision from a good taste rather than vanity, and the brown hair, smoothly parted across the fair brow, might have been fastidiously simple on anyone else. It was a happy evening: Gilbert was not treated as a stranger, and he did not feel one, as he offered Clare his arm, and took the fish basket from her hand, or when he guided her to her seat in the boat. She was not so handsome as Rachel, nor so clever or deep-feeling, perhaps; but she looked


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so calm and happy, and made everyone else feel so happy near her. He found, too, by a few remarks which passed between the brother and sister, that they were Christians, and instinctively began to talk to them of his sister, warming as he spoke of her, and recalled her generous loving nature. The rich sunset tinting the waves, the rocky shores of the harbour—how she would have admired them!—the sight would have thrilled the warm pulses of that sensitive heart. His companions listened, and smiled kindly; and from that time he was elevated far beyond his previous standard in their estimation.

The moon rose before the fish basket was filled, and they turned the bow homewards. Lighted up by the soft lunar beams, the scene was inexpressibly lovely: the waves dancing in the light, and rippling round the boat;—the rocky shores, casting a deep shadow at their feet, and the glistening white walls and metal roofs of houses among the wooded summits;—the lamps in the distant city, and the masts of shipping rising up round the wharves, combined to form a pleasing scene, and under the impression of the moment Gilbert exclaimed, “After all, Sydney is not so bad. I do believe I shall get used to it in time.”

“And like it,” Welton added.

“I don't say that. What do you think, Miss Clare?”

“That it is possible to become attached to any place, if we seek the good, not evil of it, and are at peace with ourselves.”

“That latter clause puts contentment beyond the reach of many.”

“Why should it? No one is forced to do evil. We have a promise from the highest source that a ‘way of escape’ is before us, and surely nothing but a sense of unworthiness can make us at enmity with ourselves.”

“But suppose we cannot see the ‘way of escape’?”

“I can only reply to that by a quotation—‘Do the Duty which lies nearest thee, which thou knowest to be a Duty; thy second Duty will already become clearer.’ I believe that that is the safe way to find the road, if we seek light on our duties from Christ.”

Gilbert looked gravely into the calm, pale face; he had rested on his oar, and bent forward, for her voice was low, and perhaps then more than usually so. For a moment the serious impression lasted, and then he threw it off, and began an attack


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upon city life. Welton had always lived in a town, and had little idea of life beyond it; to exist remote from the morning's paper at the breakfast table, and the cries of the vendors of luxuries or necessaries, appeared problematical, and a question he was not disposed to solve; but though their tastes were thus opposed, the evening had strengthened their friendship, and this was the first of a series of visits which were a source of mutual pleasure; but they were viewed with bitter jealousy by Blackmore, and he used every effort to prevent them, and often successfully. He had once accompanied Gilbert on a visit to his friends, but the ex-superintendent was uneasy in the presence of the calm, quiet girl; her very silence reproved him, and with many an inaudible expletive he vowed never to “catch himself there again,” under penalties which are readily evoked by the profane and thoughtless. Gilbert, on the contrary, mixing for the first time in his life with a refined and pretty girl in his own station of life, and with the unrestraint of a relative, insensibly attached much importance to Clare's words and movements, and a smile was dwelt on with considerable pleasure.

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