― 29 ―

Alan M'Lean.

A little over 20 years ago a Western train was about starting from Redfern, when the door of one of the smoking compartments was flung open, and Alan M'Lean, springing in, sat down with an air of contentment, and prepared to light up. He was a man of about 35, well “put together,” fair, and full bearded; he had, besides, the “something or other” that draws the line between the man of breeding and another. He seemed, however, to be taciturn and reserved.

In the seat opposite was a man who looked about M'Lean's age, but in most other ways quite different. M'Lean was fair, he dark. M'Lean was reserved; he seemed to bubble over with a desire to have a chat with anyone. M'Lean looked gloomy at the first glance: he was clearly of the genial order.

Whilst M'Lean was enjoying his pipe, the other eyed him curiously. At last he spoke—almost involuntarily.

“I beg your pardon, but have I not the pleasure of speaking to Mr. M'Lean?”

“Yes; that is my name,” replied M'Lean; “but you have rather the advantage of me.”

“Mr. Alan M'Lean, and of Glasgow.”

“Well, yes; but may I ask who you are?”

The other broke into a laugh that made the other passengers look at him and smile in sympathy. Then he laid his hand on M'Lean's knee, and said, “Come, Alan, don't be so high and mighty. You don't mean to tell me that you have forgotten Bob Sangster?”

Fifteen years were bridged over with their hand-clasp, and the glad greetings of “Bob!” “Alan!” It is good to see one of Sangster's stamp greeting an old friend, but when the heart of a quiet man like M'Lean is suddenly laid bare, and joy makes it forget that the eyes of the curious are on it, it is a revelation that remains with one.

Just here the train drew up to the Burwood platform, and Sangster said, “What shall we do? I get out here.”

“Why, so do I,” replied M'Lean. “That's just as right as it could be.”

And the two old classmates went down the steps into the street, thinking of the good days they had shared at school.

“Do you live here?” asked Sangster, hooking his arm in M'Lean's.

“Yes: I'm boarding in a place up the hill.”

“Oh, my house is up the hill, too,” laughed Sangster. “I hope that you remain here.”

  ― 30 ―

“Well, I expect to be in Sydney for about six months. We can have many a pleasant talk in that time, can't we, Bob? But here we are. Come in for half an hour, and let us have a sort of ‘foreword,’ ” said M'Lean, leading the way to the verandah room.

When Sangster saw books lying all around, and the table covered with workmanlike papers and manuscripts, he said, “You have not been long in making things snug, and your den looks all right. You must have become quite a literary person, Alan.”

“M'—yes; you may put it that way, I suppose,” said his old chum, bringing out a box of cigars. “But you said that your house is up this way. Are you married, then? And how long have you been out in these parts? And what are you doing? Come, let us hear all about you, and then I may throw a little light on my doings.”

“Well,” said Sangster, “since we parted at St. Enoch-square life has proved not a bad thing. You know how I went into my father's business, and how you went to Edinburgh. We wrote to each other several times, as you know, and then you disappeared. For about eight years I jogged along, till it began to dawn on me that I wanted a certain little woman to be my wife. As she seemed quite willing to fall in with my idea, we became man and wife. She has told me since that she had got into the way of wishing that some idea like this would get into my head—blesss her! Guess who she was? No? Well, Maggie Oliver became Mrs. Sangster, and will be delighted to see you to-morrow evening. There are two little Sangsters besides, who will hang about you, no doubt. You were always fond of children. We came out here, and I went into business in Sussex-street. I am doing all right, and am an Australian now. That's all; it's your turn now.”

“And so you married Maggie Oliver? I remember her well. But about myself. I am going, old man, to tell you some of my life that I have told no other man—at least, anyone I cared a rap about. But, between ourselves, you know, Bob?” Sangster nodded.

“My grandfather was, in plain language, a drunkard, and got my father to promise that he would never touch alcohol in any form. My father kept his word, and I followed his example until I was twenty-three. I didn't know my grandfather's story, but I had an instinctive aversion to the stuff. One evening in Edinburgh I went out for a stroll. Passing a public-house, and getting a sniff of the stuff, I began to feel curious as to how it tasted. I turned in, and, although I was unconscious of it, went home a done man. It was not long before I felt that it might be better to leave the old country. I crossed the line, and lived an out-and-in life in several of the colonies. In fact, I was rapidly becoming what a half-educated blackfellow once called me, ‘a nincompoop.’ He had meant ‘nondescript,’ but he struck home all the same. About four years ago, when I had been away from my bane twelve months or so, I had a long talk with myself. I set to writing a ‘yarn,’ and got it published in London. It scored a few pounds, and this encouraged me. I wrote another, within a year, and took it to London myself. Considering it was the work of a new man, it did very well. Since then I have lived in London, but am out here to consult records for a book, which I have been commissioned to

  ― 31 ―
write. Since I had that long talk with myself I have not tasted of this ‘magnificent gift of God.’ And it may be that some of my words shall live a few years, and give a little pleasure to some of our harried race.”

It was wondrous pathetic, the way in which M'Lean watched his friend's face, to see if there was any contempt creeping up to his eyes, and it would have made an onlooker's heart go out to Sangster to notice the loyal fellow—perceiving as he did his old chum's wistful look—endeavouring to appear as little different as possible. His struggle, however, was to hide his pity—he feared to hurt what self-esteem M'Lean had won for himself during the last five years; as for contempt, he had none to hide.

“Well done; let Glasgow flourish,” burst in Sangster, with a smile on his face and tears in his voice. “But it is getting late, and I must be off. Half-past 6 to-morrow evening, remember. I'll just tell the presiding genius to expect someone—say, a stranger from London.” And Robert Sangster got out into the night, when he might have been heard to say, “Poor old Alan!”

Next evening, when Alan stepped into the cosy sitting-room of his friend, he was introduced to Mrs. Sangster as M'Lean from London. She didn't seem to remember him. Turning to another lady in the room, Sangster said, “Mary, let me introduce you to Mr. Alan M'Lean, from Glasgow. My sister, Mary, Alan.”

To M'Lean and Mary Sangster came back with a rush their sweet days of hope and love in Glasgow. They forgot their surroundings. The surging waters of their affection, dammed up for fifteen years, burst through the sluice-gates, too suddenly opened; the touch of their hands sent the blood throbbing through their every vein; man and woman, though they were, they reddened like boy and girl, and as they looked upon one another, like Miranda and her royal lover, they “changed eyes.”

As for Sangster, he was a little absurd. “Ho, ho, old chap; you thought that you were to have a surprise party all to yourself, did you? If I weren't a sober, married man, and a town-councillor in the making, I would give you a real Scoto-Australian breakdown.”

It was a good time to them all, but to Alan an ever-memorable one. He was enswathed in the glamour of simple sensuousness—thought was nearly in complete abeyance. As he walked home in the starlight, the past was gone, the present a glory. He had been long among the choking mists of the valley; he was now revelling on the mountain-top.

He could do no work next day. He must away where he could be alone with Nature, and feel the tameless winds from the ocean playing upon his face. He went into town, thence out to the South Head. There, by himself, he spent hours. Thought was busy now, but the past had no share in it. The blessed present seemed to widen out into a more blessed future. As the sea-birds wheeled and screamed around him he scarcely noticed them, but saw his, home with his love as its light, and his children as its glory. Amidst the booming of the waters dashing against the cliff that braved them, although they had behind them the impulse of an ocean, there arose his cry, “O, God, Thy world is a wondrous world, and a good world to live in. Make me worthy to live in it.”

  ― 32 ―

During the next few weeks he lived in a state of wonderment. He had never thought that he could feel like that, love like that, be loved like that. His love, now and again, meant absolute pain—a pain he rejoiced in. Who was he that the love of a woman such as she should be his?

But there came a change. Mary saw it. One evening he would turn towards her, as some flowers do to the light; on another, he would be moody and unresponsive. In one short hour he would show several moods. She was perplexed, and felt somewhat piqued. But with it all she was assured that his heart was hers and no other's.

One evening little Davie hailed him with, “Hallo, uncle, where have you been this long time?”

“I'm not your uncle, laddie,” he managed to get out.

“Well, then,” piped Davie, “mother says that if you're not, you ought to be.”

For the life of him, Alan could not keep from looking towards Mary, who, of course, was studying very closely some work she was doing. It was all very uncomfortable. And soon he went home to his “work.”

To his work. But his work was not the book he was writing. He had something to do that would reach down to the very roots of his being.

When he had yielded without terms to the influence of his love for Mary Sangster, he had entered an arena where a struggle was to test his endurance to the utmost. There had flashed across his mind a terrifying thought. Dare he marry this woman? Might he not fall again? And even should he not fall, dare he risk making the woman he loved the mother of drunkards? Horrible thought! He shut his eyes to the vision, but it would not away. Their love pleaded with him against it. His hungry heart appealed to him. It urged: “What right had you to let her know you love her if this is to be the issue? You dare not draw back.” But he did. He decided to leave for London by next boat.

He went to bid the Sangsters good-bye, and gave them business reasons for leaving. He saw the wonder away back in Mary's beautiful eyes. Was he a man to withstand the impulse of his throbbing and wildly-rebellious heart? He hurried away, and Sangster walked home with him.

“Alan,” he said, “what's the meaning of all this? You love Mary, and her heart is yours. What's wrong? Do you think I would object on account of the past? Speak out, man!”

And the tempest-tossed man told his friend of his great temptation, and of his decision never to marry. Sangster said it was quixotic, but in vain. He was as a rock.

Seven years ago M'Lean got a letter telling him of Mary Sangster's death. Mrs. Sangster had told her of Alan's struggle and victory, and she thanked God that she loved such a man. Her last words were, “Tell Alan that we will be comrades yet.”

And Alan, once as he watched some children at play, muttered, “I am but a barren stock.” But it is not so. The offsprings of his brain have been a joy to many. And perhaps his chief inspiration comes from the woman whom his higher manhood made him forego on earth.