no next

Volume 3

  ― 1 ―

Chapter I.

MR. BALLESTIER, however, was not, as I have said, accustomed to making long stays in town, infinitely preferring the solitude and security of his well-beloved bush. Still he would sometimes appear rather unexpectedly and upset the little functions at South Yarra, such as a quiet little dinner with Mr. Keestone, or a jaunt to the races with that young gentleman. Yet in spite of these annoying little drawbacks it must be confessed that the Honourable Thomas was most amenable to reason—his wife's reason, for she had all the sense of the family, as she would tell you—and I have

  ― 2 ―
known him keep to his smoking-room, without once disclosing himself, while she entertained her guests in the drawing-room below. The poor old fellow used to pretend he was tired and say he was going to bed, but hour after hour would he sit smoking and brooding over his wrongs, while from below came the sound of music, the laughter and babel of many voices. Once I rushed up to his room, to look for a book which I had highly recommended to Mr. Keestone, and discovering him pulling gloomily at his old black pipe, I expressed my surprise at his not putting in an appearance downstairs. “Ah, my dear,” he said, “they don't want me, and I don't want them, so why should we clash?” Poor old man. I'm afraid they treated him rather badly.

And yet, in spite of Mrs. Ballestier's absolute authority, I was not slow to perceive that when her husband was in the house there was more method in her madness, and I noted particularly that

  ― 3 ―
Mr. Keestone's presence at the dinner table was not so regular when the husband presided, or rather, I should say, when he put in an appearance—for to talk of Mr. Ballestier presiding was ridiculous—and that in consequence those meals were not half so good as when that young gentleman graced the board. Yet the Honourable Thomas had a steady blue eye which was always open, and Mrs. Ballestier—well, a woman must sometimes humour a millionaire husband.

So in this strange household the days flew pleasantly enough, and by degrees those sorrows which at one time threatened to annihilate my peace of mind, and to escape which I had plunged into the whirlpool of gaiety, grew feebler and feebler, till in the distance they resembled nothing so much as a mysterious haze, behind which I saw things darkly. I had not forgotten, I could never forget, all that I had seen and suffered, but youth was given us for

  ― 4 ―
action, old age for thought; one is ever looking onward, upward; the other, having climbed the hill, sits down to contemplate the way.

During the whole of this time Ella and I kept up a regular correspondence, she writing one week and I the next, and in this manner I was still kept in touch with the old life. Arthur was still in Sydney, so she wrote, and had declared his intention of remaining in that city; and, so the writer went on, she would allow me to draw my own conclusions respecting this determination of his. I believe this little bit of information softened me more towards the poor boy than any of his loving attentions or passionate declarations, and I have a vivid recollection of going to my trunk, after having re-perused the letter, and extracting therefrom the old silver ring which he had given me so long ago, and—But no, I won't say what foolish things I did; yet when I tried to read again that portion of the epistle in which Ella

  ― 5 ―
spoke of his great affection for me, I was conscious of the letters dancing before my eyes in an almost impenetrable haze. There was other news, too, for Ella was a pretty and voluminous correspondent, chief among which was the information that Sergeant Winton always called on the day she received my letter (and as I invariably wrote on a certain day, Ella vowed he knew when it was due), to inquire after me, and to beg her to forward his respects to me, which she religiously did. The other item of news, though more startling, was hardly unexpected, considering I had kept a suspicious eye on the lady for some time. Miss Polly Lane, with whom I had at one time feared poor old Will was becoming dangerously entangled, had at last taken the bit between her teeth, despite the curb of propriety, and bolted with a bagman. I cannot say the information came as a great surprise, but I was extremely sorry for her, poor, pretty, foolish thing. I could sympathize with

  ― 6 ―
her, too, deeply sympathize, and hoped that his love might repay her for what she had lost.

Of poor Will there was no news, which in this instance I should have been glad to look upon as good news, only I dreaded to think of what his silence foreboded. No reply had come to the advertisements which Mr. Wallace had inserted in the papers respecting him, and for all we knew to the contrary he might no longer be in the land of the living. Still, while death is dubious, we mortals are blessed with tenacious hope, and the more I feared, the more I hoped, trusting, in my impotence, to the supreme guiding power of all. And in this state were things when a new experience befell me, the result of which was to lead to still stranger trials.

Not being entirely devoid of that acumen for which my sex is not unjustly renowned, I was not slow to perceive that Mr. Keestone had begun to look upon me with a discriminating eye, for

  ― 7 ―
which honour I felt duly flattered. At the same time his attentions were always respectful and in excellent taste, so that by degrees the strong barrier which I had built about myself grew pliant, and I forgot to think that I was a lone wayfarer through the gloomy forest of life, and that behind every tree and shrub lurked a would-be assailant. It was flattering, too, in spite of the sneer which rose to my lips just now, for though I had always believed myself to be intensely democratic, I could not forget that Mr. Keestone was the Honourable Peter, not as Mr. Ballestier was the Honourable Thomas, but in a vastly different way. I believe we are all snobs at heart, and that deference to rank comes as natural as eating and drinking. I have seen the plutocrat, who wouldn't shake hands with the premier of the colony because the latter was a self-made man—though his position was proof of his more than ordinary intelligence—I have seen him, I say, crawl round some feeble little

  ― 8 ―
lordling, thankful for a nod and delighted with a smile. With us, of course, a lord is a curiosity, but I am inclined to doubt that it is curiosity alone which prompts our deference.

Another thing I was not slow to notice was that whenever Mrs. Ballestier was present Mr. Keestone rarely turned his eyes towards me, but seemed absorbed in his devotions before her shrine. Yet no sooner were we alone than he would glide to my side, and by the tender tones of his voice, and the inexpressible looks of his heavy, not unhandsome eyes, he would seek to make me acquainted with the sad havoc I had worked on his heart. I, however, had profited considerably by experience, and though I did not dislike him, for there was little about him one could dislike—laziness and selfishness being his predominant sins—I did my utmost to let him see that his rank was nothing in my eyes, but that I considered the men of brain and muscle were the gods of the earth. And to give him his

  ― 9 ―
due I don't think the consciousness of his birth impressed him very greatly, or lent him, in his own estimation, a fictitious importance, though I have since heard that these people go about with the mask of candour on their faces, but that beneath it the blue blood bubbles to a red heat on the slightest provocation.

We, however, had many opportunities for private conversation, and the more I saw of him the more he impressed me as being superior to his reputation. I found him exceedingly amiable and less of a fool than I expected. You have to get people alone and talk seriously to them before you can hope to discover their good points. Try the experiment on your friends. You will be surprised at the number that will come well through the ordeal. He also evinced a quite affectionate interest in my family, and by some artful questioning, through which I could see without glasses, learnt from me as much of our history as I thought fit to impart, and I must say that he quite

  ― 10 ―
won my heart by his generous professions of sorrow on my behalf, and his sympathy for the dear dead. And all this time Mrs. Ballestier, unconscious of the growing estrangement of her idol, continued to feed him up regardless of expense. “The savouries alone used to entice me here,” he said to me one night, “but now it is the sweetest of sweets,” and he squeezed my hand in a way which left little doubt that the compliment was intended for me. And I—well, I feel as though I ought to apologize for myself, and I would were I not afraid that even then some would misunderstand me. But be it remembered that I was alone in the world, and that my future on earth was as vague as my future hereafter: with both I had all to do, but with the present I think we are the more concerned. The hereafter is a belief at most, but the present is a grim reality.

With alarming rapidity was the crisis brought about. Having watched him narrowly for the last week, I could see

  ― 11 ―
that he was the victim of a prodigious mental battle, and I could not help wondering how the fight would go. Nay, I would have been more than human could I have looked unconcernedly on, knowing, as I did, the cause of the struggle. The result was fearfully sudden. A hurried whisper in the drawing-room one night, a close pressing of the fingers, a pair of excited eyes looking fervently into mine, and I heard, as through a strange buzzing of the senses, a voice asking me to wed. It was all so sudden that I could not answer, and before I had time to collect my thoughts he dropped my hand somewhat ungallantly and retreated half-a-dozen paces. The next moment Mrs. Ballestier entered, and further opportunity was lost for the night. I thought she eyed us a trifle suspiciously as she advanced, but the Honourable Peter, who, upon occasion, could look as vacant as a Dutch doll, put on his most innocent air and completely succeeded in mystifying her—for the moment, at least.

  ― 12 ―
How he got through the rest of that evening I cannot pretend to relate, but from the upstairs window where I sat cooling my excited brain, I heard the big front door bang much earlier than usual, and, so it seemed to me, much savager too. Then all was still again, and for hour after hour I sat thinking over the proposal he had whispered, and wondering what he would say when he knew I was a convict's daughter. Yet why should he ever know? I had heard him say a dozen times that he was sick of the country, and that he only wished he could find some decent pretext for leaving it. Would not his marriage be pretext enough? And once away from Australia, the chances were that I should never meet a soul who had ever heard of me or mine; and what is more, as his wife, in England, no one would ever dream that I had cause to blush for my birthright, that birthright of which, under happier circumstances, I should have been so proud. I confess the temptation

  ― 13 ―
was one to which the inclinations instinctively leant, for do we not ever strive to avoid a shame of any nature?—but my better sense revolted against this betrayal of confidence, and I determined, should he ever broach the subject again, to spare myself no whit whatever, but to tell him all and then see the sort of man he was.

The next day I did not see him, he having to attend some official function with the governor; but the day following, as I sat with Dora in the drawing-room scanning some photographic views, he was announced, the servant showing him in to us while she went to acquaint Mrs. Ballestier of his arrival—a perfectly superfluous task as I knew well, for from her window the mistress would have seen him come, as nothing that went on in the road escaped her prying eyes.

With a strange beating at the heart I rose to welcome him, but seeing he was not alone, my eyes instinctively wanedred

  ― 14 ―
to the man by his side, in whom I at once recognized Captain Langton.

“How de do, Miss Hastings?” said the Honourable Peter, seizing my hand and pressing it tenderly. “By Jove, what's the matter? You—you look quite ill.” This in a voice of much concern.

“No, no, not in the least.” With an effort I conquered the dizziness which was crushing me to insignificance and smiled back in his face.

“Glad of it, by Jove. Thought you were going to faint, don't you know, I did, by Jove. Let me introduce you to Captain Langton. Langton, old fellow, this is Miss Hastings.”

“I was prepared for much,” said the captain with a strange look, “but scarcely for so much as this. Miss Hastings and I are old friends.”

“Old friends are you, by Jove!” cried the Honourable Peter. “Now who would have thought that?” And Mr. Keestone looked most comically astounded.

“Nothing so very extraordinary,” said

  ― 15 ―
Captain Langton with a smile. “Miss Hastings and I have been neighbours and friends for years.”

The Honourable Peter's lazy eyes opened still wider, and I knew he thought that friendship an odd one which consisted of terror on my part and self-assurance on Captain Langton's. The silence which followed this speech was decidedly embarrassing, when much to my relief it was broken by the entrance of Mrs. Ballestier who, full of profuse apologies for that absence which she had purposely created, soon restored by her glib chatter the harmony of the scene. A few words from Mr. Keestone, the meaning or purport of which I have no recollection, and I quitted the room, leading Dora by the hand. I remember bowing coldly to Captain Langton, and I have a clear recollection of him returning my salutation with an amused smile, unintelligible to all but me, but of aught else I remember nothing. The presence of that man, whom I had never

  ― 16 ―
anticipated meeting again, was a severe shock to me, for I guessed intuitively that it boded me no good. I left Dora out in the hall and rushed pell-mell to my room where, throwing myself on the bed, I indulged in all the misery of conjecture and suspense.

And yet, after all, he may not speak, though this, I must confess, seemed but a faint hope, remembering who and what the man was. And what if he did? I was getting heroic now. True, my father was a convict, but for what crime? Could any just man or woman think the less of him for what he had done? I doubted it. Then let him speak. I had done nothing for which I need blush; then why should I hang down my head?

I arose and dressed for dinner as usual, determining to meet charge with explanation, and doubting not that the justice of my claim to live as other people live would be respected; if not, I too must go forth as my brother had gone, and perhaps somewhere I might find peace.

  ― 17 ―

There was only one guest at dinner that night, one of Mrs. Ballestier's female friends, as glib a woman, upon ordinary occasions, as the mistress of the house herself; but to-night neither of them shone with anything like her accustomed brilliance. They eyed me curiously as I entered the room, they stole surreptitious glances at me from time to time during the progress of the meal, and the way they both pronounced the “Miss Hastings” left no doubt in my mind as to what had occurred. Of course I noted it all—they took good care of that—but like Will I grew obstinate with opposition, and I think my conversational powers never shone so brilliantly as they did that night. Perhaps it was because I had never got such an opportunity. Be that as it may, I sustained the conversation till the end of the meal, when Mrs. Scorcher, the lady above referred to, bore Mrs. Ballestier away in her neat little one-horse brougham.

Left alone, I sauntered into the library,

  ― 18 ―
and picking up a book, tried hard to read, though I'm afraid my thoughts were anywhere but on the pages. Gradually I wandered off into the old familiar groove, and in the midst of a profound reverie was I when a sharp tap at the door startled me. Springing to my feet, I opened it hastily, only to encounter Mr. Keestone on the threshold.

“You!” I cried drawing back.

“Yes,” he said, looking slightly embarrassed. “May I come in?”

“Of course you may. But there is no one at home. Mrs. Ballestier went out shortly after dinner.”

“Yes, I know,” he said with a sigh of satisfaction. “I left her at the Jones's half-an-hour ago. A rum chap, old Jones, isn't he? Came to the colony with the proverbial half-crown, they say. A wonderful half-crown that. Makes a chap think a lot and wish for a few. May I sit down?”

“I beg your pardon.”

“Not at all. I'm afraid I'm very intrusive,

  ― 19 ―
and all that sort of thing, but I—I wanted so much to see you—alone.”

I bowed without speaking.

“You know,” went on the Hon. Peter with a nervous smile, “we're as good as engaged, aren't we?”

“You were serious then?”

“My dear Miss Hastings, I was never more serious in my life. If you will permit me to say so, I love you very dearly, I do upon my word, and when I asked you to marry me, though it was only in a whisper, I meant it if ever a man did in this world.”

“It's very good of you,” I began.

“Yes—that is, No!” he exclaimed, correcting himself emphatically. “Not at all. I—I don't profess to any of the heroic virtues, Miss Hastings. I'm only an ordinary sort of chap, you know, but I always try not to go back on my word.” And he continued to smile in an undecided sort of way.

“I'm afraid,” said I, growing just a trifle weary of his flutterings round the

  ― 20 ―
object of his visit—for that he had something of importance on his mind, which he had not the courage to communicate, was evident to the dullest perception—“I'm afraid I don't quite understand you, Mr. Keestone. If you have any message for Mrs. Ballestier I shall be most happy to give it to her.”

“I have no message for Mrs. Ballestier,” he said. “I came here to see you, Miss Hastings, to ask you a question. Don't think me presumptuous, will you? but it would ease my mind considerably to hear you deny it.”

“And what may this be,” asked I with a forced laugh, the old terrified feeling creeping up round my heart, “the denial of which would prove so acceptable to you?”

He stammered and actually blushed as his eyes met mine. Then looking fixedly at the carpet he said, “By Jove, it seems a jolly caddish sort of thing to do—but, you know, I didn't know you knew Langton.”

“You mean Captain Langton?”

  ― 21 ―


“I have known him since I was a child. His sister and I were playmates. My father was his father's tenant, and friend.”

“Friend was he? By Jove, the cad!” I think I followed the Hon. Peter here closely enough, ambiguous though he seemed. “You know, Miss Hastings, I can't say I ever cared very much for Langton, and I should have taken no notice of what he said if it wasn't that my brother is not likely to enjoy the title long, poor old chap, and that in England they make so much fuss about titles that the bearer of one cannot live in retirement like an ordinary individual. All his past and even his future form subjects for public gossip, so that if his sheet isn't quite clean he comes in for a pretty rough time of it, don't you see?”

“And all this means?” said I, feeling the old defiance rising in me, though I knew well enough what it meant.

“It means that I'm a confounded cad, Miss Hastings, to have ever listened to

  ― 22 ―
Langton's insinuations. But I assure you that I have not considered myself in the matter, and had it not been for my people—”

“What were Captain Langton's insinuations?” I asked, not knowing what such a man might not have said.

“He said your father was a—a government man, but I assure you I didn't believe him.”

“Then you were wrong. My father was a convict.”

“You're joking, you don't mean that?” he cried incredulously.

“I'm afraid I do.”

“A convict—good God!”

There was more pity in that exclamation than suited me, driven to bay, as it were; and so out I flashed into a long diatribe on my father's wrongs, during which I acquainted him with father's early history, and of the troubles which led to his ultimate deportation to Botany Bay.

When I had finished my harangue I

  ― 23 ―
flung myself back in my chair and glared defiantly at the man before me, who, however, instead of taking up the gauntlet, as I vaguely imagined he would, advanced to me with a still more curious look on his face.

“So your father was the son of old Sir William Hastings, was he? What a curious coincidence. Why, we live not ten miles from Whincliffe Priory, the present owner of which, your cousin, by the way, Sir Reginald Hastings, was at Eton and Cambridge with me. Well, well, this is most singular. Do you know, I was very nearly being related to you myself, for if poor old Reggie hadn't been hurried off to the Mediterranean on account of his health, he would have married my sister Fanny as sure as fate. And do you mean to say you have never seen any of your relations?”


“But you write to them?”

“No, I do not think they know of our existence. I knew nothing of theirs till

  ― 24 ―
now. Father never spoke of them. Indeed, until a few years ago I did not know what he had been in England.”

“Well, this is most singular,” repeated the Hon. Peter, astonishment still depicted on his face, “and we must talk it over another time, for I can give you no end of information respecting your family; but in the meantime, Miss Hastings, I hope you will pardon me for causing you this annoyance, though since it has led to such a discovery I can scarcely say I regret it. I am sorry, very sorry, that any trouble should ever have come to darken your life, but it shall be no fault of mine if your future prove no happier than your past. Miss Hastings, I ask you once more, will you be my wife?”

“No, no,” I said, gently withdrawing my hand from his, for during this last appeal he had seized it firmly. “It is impossible that I should ever be your wife. You pity me now, but you would regret it six months hence. As you yourself

  ― 25 ―
have said, you have others to consider.”

“Confound them—what do I care?” he cried hotly.

“Everything, for are we not all ruled by the opinions of those about us? At the same time believe me to be duly grateful for your good opinion of me. It is doubly gratifying to know that you still honour me so highly, and I think we shall be all the better friends for this little burst of confidence.” I held out my hand in token of friendship as I spoke, which he took, pressing warmly.

“And is it to end like this?” he said. “Will nothing induce you to change your mind?”

“Nothing,” I answered with a smile, though it cost me something to keep back the tears which this sudden change in his manner had called up.

“Don't you think you are very unkind?”

“I think, and hope, I am proving myself your friend. You will remember this

  ― 26 ―
night, Mr. Keestone, along with some of those memories which never die, and the more vividly you picture it up, the more kindly will you think of me.'

“I hope so,” he replied, “though you must forgive me if I venture to doubt it. My recollection of you will be an ever-lasting regret, regret because I lost you, for you are the most perfectly splendid girl I ever met in my life, you are, by Jove!”

I'm afraid we must have been foolishly imprudent, and very much interested in what each other had to say, for neither of us had noticed, until we heard a certain well-known cough in the hall outside, that the library door had remained partly open all through this interview.

“Mrs. Ballestier!” said I.

“Yes,” he answered, looking just a little embarrassed. The next moment the lady in question entered the room.

How much of our conversation she had heard, or whether she heard any, I could

  ― 27 ―
not say, neither could I tell from her face, for beneath her perpetual grin she artfully concealed her inner feelings. The only difference noticeable about her at this moment was that she grinned a trifle more than usual.

“What, up so late, my dear?” she cried, addressing me.

“My fault entirely,” said Mr. Keestone. “I'm afraid I've almost kept Miss Hastings up against her will.”

“Oh, it's you is it?” said Mrs. Ballestier with a smile, pretending to see him for the first time. “I thought I heard you tell Mrs. Jones that you were going home to work?”

“So I am,” he said.

At this she laughed somewhat playfully, declaring she knew old Jones's vulgarity bored him, a declaration which tickled him immensely, for he began to laugh loudly, during which ebullition I hastened to take my leave. The door was immediately swung to upon me, but I had not taken three steps before I

  ― 28 ―
heard Mrs. Ballestier's voice rise high and shrill. What took place between the lady and her attaché would not, perhaps, be very difficult to imagine.

  ― 29 ―

Chapter II.

IN the morning I arose as usual and prepared for my daily toil by collecting the lesson books which Miss Dora, as was her wont, had stowed away in divers places; for Miss Dora had a pleasant little way of her own of hiding the books, which would have been vastly entertaining had not the duty of finding them devolved on me. On this occasion she had been particularly playful, so that a good hour was exhausted before I had captured the missing articles. I verily believe the child regarded me as an evil spirit who had been sent upon earth for the express purpose of plaguing her; and use my persuasive powers as I might, I could not convince her that I derived no pleasure from instruction, but that the books were

  ― 30 ―
used solely and entirely for her own benefit. This oft reiterated statement of mine was exceedingly obnoxious to her, and more than once had she puckered up her ugly little mouth at it and told me flatly that she didn't believe a word I said. And that she was sincere I never doubted, for being built on a curious plan—a sort of twist, one might say—she could not, or would not, entertain a thought that was not in perfect harmony with her own perverted convictions. Poor little thing, I wonder what sort of woman she will be.

On this particular morning, then, having found the books which she had taken such pains to conceal, I went in search of her, but failing to discover her whereabouts, sent one of the maids to her mother's room to make inquiries. The servant returned a moment after with the information that Miss Dora would not receive any lessons that morning, but that I was on no account to go out, as Mrs. Ballestier wished particularly to see

  ― 31 ―
me when she came down. Such a curt message had never been brought to me before, for if I was a dependent in the house, I had long since forgotten it. My temper, which was ever hot and ready to blaze out, felt like sending back a hot reply; but scenting danger in the message I schooled myself to prepare for it.

About half-past eleven, looking none too well in spite of her long rest, Mrs. Ballestier descended to the drawingroom, and I, who had been awaiting her arrival, made at once for her presence.

“Good-morning,” she said, rather coldly I thought.

“Good-morning,” I replied, acknowledging the greeting with a somewhat stiff inclination of the head. “You wished to speak to me, I believe?”

“To speak to you! Oh, of course, so I did,” she answered, looking as though she had forgotten all about it. “Sit down, my dear. I'm afraid that what I have to say will sound extremely unpleasant,

  ― 32 ―
but I think you will agree with me that the course I propose adopting is the only one open to me under the circumstances.”

I knew what was coming. The dull throbbing at my heart would have told me had my perception been of the densest. I sat myself stiffly on the chair and looked her straight in the face. “I am sure that whatever course you may think fit to adopt will be the right one.”

I could not help it; it seemed as though Satan himself had dragged the sneer from my lips. She felt the sting, too, pretty keenly. A dark flush shot swiftly athwart her sallow features and her ugly mouth gave an uglier twist; but she answered quietly enough, though with no little meaning in her voice, “It is extremely gratifying to know that you have such unbounded confidence in me. I can assure you it will considerably lessen the pain I feel in discharging such a disagreeable duty. You know, my dear, I am not like an ordinary person,

  ― 33 ―
and cannot afford to ignore the convenances. Were it not for that I should turn a deaf ear to the gossip, nor stop to inquire whether it were true or not.”

“Whether what were true?” I asked, though I well knew at what she was driving. It was an offence to see this woman of the bush shanty taking to herself such airs of consequence. Perhaps the knowledge that even the keeper of a bush shanty could claim precedence over the gentleman convict had not a little to do with the asperity of my manner. God help us! It is a dreadful thing to feel that we are not like others; that there is something discreditable in our past which prevents us from asserting the dignity we feel within. How I used to envy other girls—girls like Ella Wallace—who had no past shame to hide, but who could look into your face and frankly praise or blame, nor fear the retort that rose to the lips. I wonder how it would feel to be such a girl.

  ― 34 ―

“This story,” she said, in answer to my query, raising her cold blue eyes to mine, “which Mr. Keestone told me last night.”

“Perfectly true,” I answered. “Mr. Keestone did me the honour to ask me to marry him.”

This wilful misunderstanding of her meaning, prompted by my perfect femininity, was not without its little triumph. She flushed warmly and looked considerably nettled, but in her quiet, meaning way she replied, “Really, is that so? I shouldn't have thought he would have gone as far as that.”

It was now my turn to feel the dagger's point, for though the words she uttered were insignificant enough, the amount of meaning she put into their expression was beyond description.

“I thought he must have told you all that last night.”

“No,” she said with one of her most affable smiles. “The poor fellow seemed so affected by the relation of your

  ― 35 ―
misfortunes that I suppose he must have forgotten it.”

If she had been a man, and I had been old Will, something more than words would have passed between us then, for my naturally impetuous nature was already in high revolt; but being only a woman I could do nothing but let loose my tongue.

“It was very considerate of him,” I said, not knowing what else to say, and feeling that defeat too surely awaited me, no matter what I said or did.

“So I thought,” she answered; “but then he always was that way inclined. Then I am to take it as true that your father was sent to Botany Bay?”


“A convict?”

“A convict.”

“Poor child, how I pity you. I—I really can't tell you how grieved, how shocked, how sorry I am; but I scarcely think you did right in keeping me ignorant of the fact.”

  ― 36 ―

“We all have our skeletons,” I said. “This is mine.”

“But this one is so very dreadful.”

“That is why I kept it locked up.”

“Of course I can't blame you, you poor child,” she said in a tone of deep concern, “and I am sorry that you should have had to descend to any subterfuge, but now that I do know all, I hope you will appreciate the delicacy of my position and not consider that I am treating you with unnecessary harshness. I have none of these petty prejudices myself, but for the sake of those convenances, of which I am the slave, and of my child, who really is most strongly prejudiced against you, I think it would be better if you accepted a month's notice.”

My heart grew heavy as a stone, and I think my face blanched somewhat; I know my lips felt cold. I made some sort of reply—what, I don't recollect—and quitted the room. It was the first time I had ever been “discharged,” and it rather took the pride out of me. But,

  ― 37 ―
in the privacy of my own room, reflection coming to my aid pointed out the probable cause of my dismissal, thereby dissipating much of the gloom which hung before my eyes. With the information respecting my parentage, which Captain Langton had so generously volunteered, had also come the knowledge of Mr. Keestone's sudden affection for me, a knowledge which must have produced in her breast an unpleasant moral fluttering. What had passed between them the night before was not very difficult to imagine, and in consequence she had conceived the idea of hanging my father's sin upon my peg. She was not one to relinquish her hold upon the object it had cost her countless dinners to obtain. His allegiance, apart from any affection she might entertain for him, meant social prosperity to her, unbounded influence in her exalted world; and as such power was as the breath of her body, she clung to it with that tenacity of which it was well worthy.

  ― 38 ―

Thrown thus upon my own resources, my first impulse was to acquaint my dear friends at Wallan with the news of my altered condition, but very little reflection on that head caused me to waver and then incontinently abandon the idea. I had gone forth in spite of their strenuous opposition to such a course, with the avowed intention of pushing my own way in the world; therefore to write admitting failure at the first trial was a proceeding which did not highly commend itself to me, and so I put off the writing of that letter till such time as I should be able to tell them of my new home.

As I expected, Miss Dora professed unbounded delight at the thought of my departure, but, as I did not expect, a couple of hours after she was weeping in my arms, telling me she loved me better than anyone in the world, except her father, and that she would never look at a book again if mamma sent me away. “Papa wouldn't do it,” she said, “for he is very fond of you, Miss Hastings, and

  ― 39 ―
thinks you the nicest girl he ever met. Oh, I've heard him say so lots of times; and he thinks you're pretty, too—oh, doesn't he! And mamma and he almost quarrelled over you once. Wouldn't you just like to know what it was about? Ah, gammon. But I suppose I oughtn't to tell you these things, ought I?”

“I'm afraid not, dear.”

“Well, it's all true,” she said.

“Of course it is. If it were not you would never have said it.”

“Oh, I don't know so much about that,” said the young lady seriously. “I'm afraid I'm shockingly wicked sometimes. I know I have not been very good to you, Miss Hastings, and I'm sorry for it now you're going. You'll forgive me, won't you?”

“Of course I will, and I am only sorry we did not understand each other like this at first.”

“I wish we had,” she said contritely. “You see, papa was right. He told me what you were, and how I was to behave

  ― 40 ―
to you; but I wouldn't, because I was a cross, disagreeable thing. Ah, papa knew. I wish he were here now. I'm sure he wouldn't let mamma send you away.”

“Hush, dear,” I said. “I could not stay if your mamma wished me to go.” Yet I was one with the child, believing that the father would not have parted with me so unceremoniously. He, however, was at that time away on his station, and before he returned I had quitted the house. Yet it was some recompense to feel that I had left one friend behind, and that henceforth Dora would remember me with affection as I should her with pleasure.

The day following my interview with Mrs. Ballestier I noted an advertisement in one of the morning papers which I thought might prove suitable till something more exalted presented itself. It was a notification to all and sundry that Mrs. Swansea's Seminary for Young Ladies was in want of a governess, and

  ― 41 ―
that the yearly stipend was sufficient to keep body and soul together. To this advertisement I answered, setting forth my qualifications, which I'm afraid were extremely meagre—though I understood French and music well, and was not ignorant of the rudiments of drawing—and in due course I received a letter signed Rebecca Swansea, requesting the pleasure of an interview. This I showed Mrs. Ballestier and asked her if, in case of my proving successful, she would omit mentioning aught concerning my father's history, a proposition to which she readily assented.

“You must understand, dear,” she said, and I hated that word “dear” for years after, “that I do not bear you the slightest ill-will—I pity you too much for that—but my position before the world requires me to be particularly careful as to my methods of procedure.” Which, though apparently vague, was easily comprehended by me. I caught the ghost of a smile flickering across her ugly mouth;

  ― 42 ―
the insult tingled in my ears, and I have a distinct recollection of growing very hot and confused; but, suppressing the taunt which almost forced itself across my lips, I thanked her, somewhat curtly I'm afraid, for her consideration, and at once betook myself to Mrs. Swansea's Seminary for Young Ladies.

This most excellent training establishment for the future mothers of Australia was situated in an unpretentious street in St. Kilda, and boasted a beautiful brass plate on the door and a more elaborate intimation of the nature of the premises in the shape of a large gilded fancy sign on the side of the house. With a beating heart I pulled the bell, rather timidly I'm afraid—a great mistake, for the quality of humility does not satisfactorily impress all beholders. Presently the door was opened by a fresh-faced girl in a spotless cap and apron, who showed me into a cosy little room and bade me be seated. Here I sat for quite ten minutes, which seemed like an hour, staring vacantly at

  ― 43 ―
a big steel engraving of the Prodigal Son, when the rustle of a dress was heard outside and a moment after a short, stout, merry-faced woman entered the room. My courage rose wonderfully at the sight of her smiling face. It was a favourable first impression which the subsequent chatter of the little woman, who was Mrs. Swansea herself, did not materially affect. Of course her establishment was second to none in Melbourne, and of course she only took in gentlemen's daughters, and of course she consequently had to be very particular whom she engaged; but she was good enough to say that I appeared eminently satisfactory, and that, after she had written to Mrs. Ballestier, she would be pleased to communicate to me her decision.

And so I took my leave, and two days after a letter came for me with the assuring declaration that my character was an excellent one, and that Mrs. Swansea would esteem it a great favour if I could come to her on that day week. This I

  ― 44 ―
showed Mrs. Ballestier, who was good enough to curtail my month's notice by a fortnight, being delighted to get rid of me; and so when the week was up away I went with a heavy heart to the Seminary for Young Ladies.

Of my life in that abode of learning, which did not last above three months, I have little to say. On the whole I found the children not half so bad as I imagined they would be. Stupid they were, of course, and wilful, as young ladies are inclined to be, while not a few of them were sadly lacking in manners and consideration for other's feelings; yet on the whole they were an average body of girls, and I think I was very fond of them all. The other teachers and I got on well together, while Mrs. Swansea, in whom I had not been mistaken, seemed to take a parental interest in me, and never lost an opportunity of showing me off to her visitors and neighbours; and it was mainly owing to this penchant of hers that my second downfall came about.

  ― 45 ―

One day a message came for me to bring one of my pupils into the drawing-room, and you may imagine my astonishment when, after leading the child to her mother and explaining how well she was getting on with her lessons, I beheld that the room had another occupant, a lady in a light grey costume, which costume robed the figure of Maud Langton.

“How do you do, Flossie?” she said. “Who would have dreamt of seeing you here?” She rose as she spoke, holding out her hand with an amused smile.

“I have been here three months,” was my feeble reply; for I was not a little taken aback at her appearance, and not a little annoyed either at being discovered in such a humble position.

“Three months, really! I had no idea you were in town.”

“You know Miss Hastings?” asked Mrs. Swansea proudly.

“I ought to,” said Miss Langton with a queer smile. “We come from the same part of the country.”

  ― 46 ―

“Look at that now,” said good Mrs. Swansea. “What a lucky meeting.”

“Yes,” said Maud with her cold smile, “is it not?”

Then the two ladies, having duly kissed the little girl, handed her over to me, and off I marched with her, bowing coldly to Maud as I went. I thought Mrs. Swansea looked rather surprised at seeing two old friends part with such little courtesy, but before I had closed the door behind me I heard her expounding the various excellent methods then in vogue in her establishment—an exposition not at all alluring to her visitors, for a few minutes after I heard the front door slam, and from behind the curtain of an upstairs window I saw them drive away.

I felt exceedingly low-spirited as I descended to breakfast the next morning, dreading that Maud, whom I did not trust, might have let fall some hint of my ancestry, though my careful calculation of the time she and her friend remained

  ― 47 ―
after my departure from the room left me some hope. Mrs. Swansea would, I felt sure, monopolize the whole of the conversation once she began descanting on the many merits of her paragon of seminaries, so that Maud, unless she had unceremoniously blurted out my secret, would have had no chance to lead up to an exposé, even if she had the inclination. I thought Mrs. Swansea, as she took her place at table, looked a little more prim and dignified than usual, and it seemed to me, though I tried to dismiss the thought as fancy, that there was a certain gravity in the smile with which she greeted me that I had never seen on her face before. Nevertheless, the breakfast passed off in much the usual manner, and we each went about our daily duties, I with a feeling of oppression about the heart, of which I vainly endeavoured to rid myself.

After tea that evening, and while I sat alone at the pupils' piano in the little room upstairs, playing over one of the old songs poor Harold loved so well, the door

  ― 48 ―
was quietly opened, and Mrs. Swansea, agitated and quite mysterious-looking, entered.

“I have been looking for you everywhere,” she said. “I want to speak to you.”

“Well?” I turned at bay and looked her straight in the face, and her eyes fell before mine. I am afraid she must have thought me almost impudent, but I felt that the old sin was dogging me again, and my spirit revolted at the injustice to which I was forced to submit.

“Read this first,” she said, handing me a letter. One hurried glance at it was sufficient for me to guess its contents.

It ran as follows:—

“DEAR MADAM,—It has just come to my knowledge that the young woman, Hastings I believe is her name, to whom you have intrusted my child's education, is the daughter of a convict. I am perfectly willing to believe that at the time of her engagement you were in ignorance respecting her antecedents, but being now enlightened on the matter, you will understand that I cannot allow my daughter to receive further instruction from her.”

  ― 49 ―

So Maud, like her brother, had struck me in the back. It was a cruel blow, and for the moment deprived me of all strength; but I had of late grown accustomed to reverses, and when I handed back the letter I don't think Mrs. Swansea caught from my manner the slightest inkling of the true state of my feelings.

“Well, child,” she said, apparently more concerned than I, “what have you to say? Is it true?”

“That I am the daughter of a convict?”


“Quite true.”

She looked at me in wonder, evidently much astonished at my coolness. She little knew how heartily sick I was of the whole business, and that I was on the verge of taking a morbid delight in my own unworthiness.

“Then I am sorry for you, my dear.”

“Thank you,” I said, considerably mollified by the tenderness of her tone.

  ― 50 ―

“I received this letter this morning,” went on the little woman, “and it has taken me all day to make up my mind whether I would show it to you or not; but I am only a poor woman, you understand, and though I consider you most worthy in every way, I think you will agree with me that it is only natural that I should first look to myself.”

“Perfectly. I am only sorry that I should have been forced to come to you under false colours, but since you understand the difficulties under which I laboured, you will appreciate the motives which made me act as I did.”

“Heaven knows, I don't blame you, child. You did what you could scarcely help doing under the circumstances. I have none of these silly prejudices myself” (how familiar that phrase was becoming!), “but when we are dependent upon others for our living we are obliged to consider them.”

“Exactly. When would you like me to go?”

  ― 51 ―

“I am afraid there is no other alternative. Not that I am dissatisfied with you, you understand, or that I think you unfit to instruct my pupils—there are none of those petty prejudices about me—but I am in that unfortunate position which obliges me to be always considering others. I shall miss you dreadfully, and I know the children will miss you; but if it will be any satisfaction to you, you may trust me to keep your secret.”

“Thank you.”

I think that was one of the worst nights I ever spent in my life, for whichever way I looked the clouds lowered darkly, and out of each came a low moaning wind, the cheerless harbinger of a stormier darkness yet.

  ― 52 ―

Chapter III.

Two days after my interview with the principal of the Seminary for Young Ladies I left that excellent institution for good, its proprietress agreeing with me that since I was to leave shortly, the shorter I made the interval between then and my departure, the more agreeable it might be for all concerned.

“I have no wish to injure you, my dear,” she said, as I stopped for a moment in the hall to say good-bye, “so do not be afraid to send anyone to me, as I always speak of people as I find them.”

I thanked her, rather coldly I'm afraid, for her unconscious condescension stung me. I felt that my humiliation was come indeed. Like any servant, my “character” was to be tossed from

  ― 53 ―
hand to hand—a marketable commodity. Lucky, perhaps, to have a character which was marketable. Still, it seemed as though I was coming down in the world with a most exasperating velocity. But we shook hands warmly enough, she and I, and then the doors of the old school closed behind me, and Mrs. Swansea and her model Seminary for Young Ladies became things of the past.

From St. Kilda I drove direct to town and took lodgings in a quiet street in Fitzroy, from which abode I sallied forth every morning, after carefully scrutinizing the papers, with the Micawber-like hope that something would turn up. And a wretched time I had of it, too, in those lonely lodgings after fruitless journeyings over the hot pavement in pursuit of the spectre work; but that obstinacy, for my vanity will not allow me to call it by a better name, which had already prevented me from leaning on my friends during the first hour of my weakness, grew more perverse beneath this bitterer

  ― 54 ―
blow, and had I been even in a worse plight, I doubt if it would have sanctioned any appeal for help.

At first I anticipated little trouble in procuring employment of some kind, but as the days flew by, fate treating me with unexampled rigour, I began to grow alarmed, and for economy's sake shifted into less pretentious lodgings where they gave me a back room for a few shillings weekly. Rather too close to the roof to be pleasant in hot weather was this simple apartment, but from its little window I could look across the roofs and chimneys of the adjacent suburb of Collingwood till my eyes rested on the far-off Dandenong Ranges. To be sure it was not the direction in which my old home lay, but it was the bush, free and wild, and I used to sit by the hour watching, and thinking of the days when we children, happy in our ignorance of cities and men, romped and galloped through our lives, troubling of nothing but in what manner we should pass the day.

  ― 55 ―

I had not been long in my new home before I grew rather suspicious of its character, not that I had ever observed anything ill about the place, but the lodgers, and there were at this time about half-a-dozen of them, seemed to me somewhat erratic in their movements. For instance, they would lie abed all day, getting up only towards the evening, when they would eat their meals and then go out, returning at any time between eleven and the small hours of the morning, often, I am sorry to say, much the worse for drink. Not that they were always drunk, or that they wouldn't like to be, but drunk or sober they invariably ate and drank more when they returned from their nocturnal wanderings; and as they stumbled up to their respective rooms, it was “Good-night, old chap,” or “Goodnight, old girl. Gord bless ya.” And so good-night a dozen times over, for not infrequently they would hold a heated discussion on the door-mat, which, though often highly sensational in its tone, was

  ― 56 ―
never what you could call edifying. Then the men were all clean-shaven, and the house was placarded from top to bottom with theatrical playbills and the pictures of actors and actresses of every grade. Though I never spoke to the other lodgers, except to pass the time of the day, I was soon made acquainted with the nature of their calling, and I was beginning to seriously consider the advisability of giving this haunt of the Thespians a wide berth, when a little incident happened which was to open up a still newer and stranger experience to me.

In the room next to mine lodged a girl of about my own age, a black-browed, black-haired girl of no particular beauty—indeed, if I remember rightly, she had a most decided snub nose—but she had fine bold eyes, splendid teeth, and a most wholesome-looking mouth. She and I had often met on the stairs and were consequently on good nodding terms, but beyond “good-morning,” or “good-evening,” no conversation of a more

  ― 57 ―
confidential nature had passed between us. She, like the rest of the lodgers, went out of an evening and always came back late at night. I invariably waited for her, and when I heard her lock her door I used to turn my face to the wall with a sigh of relief. That she was an actress I knew, and not a very dignified one either, I guessed by her manner of joking with the men. Indeed, one night I heard her come out with some expressions which made me pass her on the stairs next day without seeing her. On the following day I was about to repeat the performance when she touched me on the arm.

“I say,” she said, and undoubtedly her voice jarred slightly, “you're not blind, are you?”

“No,” I answered.

“Oh, I thought you were,” she exclaimed with a queer smile.

“What made you think that?”

“Because you didn't see me.”

“I beg your pardon,” I said, feeling

  ― 58 ―
guilty of great rudeness and therefore extremely uncomfortable.

“Don't mention it,” replied the young lady. “Perhaps you won't be quite so blind next time,” she added with a saucy grin.

“I think not,” said I with a smile, for the open expressions and unrestrained style of this young lady affected me curiously.

By this time we reached our landing, and the girl, opening her door, said to me, “Come in and have a chat. Why should we play the fool any longer and pretend we can't speak without being introduced? I have been wanting to know you ever since you came. Of course, if you don't care for the acquaintanceship—”

“No, no, don't think that. I'm very glad to know you, indeed I am,” and speaking thus, I stepped into her room, she following and shutting the door behind me. This apartment was even more dreary-looking than my own, for whereas I had attempted a little adornment with

  ― 59 ―
mine, she had done nothing to beautify hers.

“A nice crib for a Christian, isn't it?” she said. “Just perch on the bed, will you. It's the only comfortable seat. No, no, the foot or the head, if you don't mind. There's a big hole in the middle. Old mother Simpson, the harridan, charges me five bob for it, too—I mean the room, not the bed—the old thief! But there, I suppose you're just as badly off?”

“Equally,” was the reply, “only I pay more for the luxury.”

“More, do you? What an old rogue that woman is. Do you know, you're a fool to stand it.”

“I suppose I am; but two-and-sixpence more is scarcely worth quarrelling over.”

“Isn't it, though?” replied the young lady somewhat hotly. “Don't you run away with such big notions. It's all very well to stand on your dig. when you've got plenty of the ready by you, but wait till you've been on tour with a

  ― 60 ―
governor who don't come up to scratch with the salaries. My troubles, you won't sneeze at half-a-dollar then.” And the young lady wagged her head impressively and looked as though she had undergone the experience.

“You are an actress, then?” I asked.

She flushed and looked embarrassed, then said almost sullenly, “Yes. Are you?”

“I have never been on the stage,” I replied with a touch of dignity.

“Going to try it?”

“I think not.”

“Well, I suppose it's not the grandest profession in the world, but it's better than service any day in the week. What are you going to do?”

“I am in hopes of finding some suitable employment shortly.”

“Well,” she said, looking at me in a serious, interested sort of way. “I'm not going to recommend the boards, you know, although they have saved me from the wash-tub, not that the wash-tub

  ― 61 ―
mightn't be more preferable in the end. But if you have any talent, you know, it's an easy way of knocking out a good living, and if you have a little luck and less dig.—and you're pretty enough to have plenty of luck,” she added in a way I did not like—“you ought to get on by leaps and bounds.”

“I have no fancy for the life,” I said.

“Still, one must live,” answered the girl.

I might have answered with Talleyrand that I scarcely saw the necessity for it, but I only said, “I suppose so.” Then I told her that I was then in communication for a clerkship, which I had some hopes of obtaining, so that I did not suppose it was possible that I should ever go on the stage.

“Well, just let me know if things don't turn out all right,” she said. “Old Sauros would take you on any day for your looks alone.”

“Who is he?”

“The guv'nor—the manager of the

  ― 62 ―
El Dorado. A regular theatrical what-you-call-um—a philanthropist. Takes a fatherly interest in the waifs and strays of the drama, especially when the gender's feminine.”

“I'm afraid I hardly follow you.”

She looked at me in her strange quizzing way.

“What are you giving me?” she said.

My ignorance of slang was not quite so great as it should have been, so I replied, “I merely asked you the question. I do not know the man.”

“What,” she exclaimed, “don't know Jimmy Sauros? Where did you come from?”

“From Wallan in the Wimmera district,” I answered.

“I thought it must have been from somewhere in the back blocks. Not know Jimmy Sauros, good lord!” And the look with which she favoured me was one more of pity than anger.

“I have not that honour,” I replied, not a little annoyed at the familiar tone

  ― 63 ―
this young person had thought fit to adopt.

“My troubles!” she exclaimed, which was her favourite exclamation, “I won't go bail for the honour, but I thought everybody knew him.”

“But you see I am nobody.”

“You don't think yourself somebody, do you?” she asked with a quaint smile, which was too pleasant to give offence. “My troubles! Old Jimmy's a rare canoozer, I can tell you, so if you ever call on him, don't forget to keep your eyes open.”

“Thank you, I will,” and I rose to go.

“Oh, by the way,” she exclaimed with an impudent smile, “that horrid printer has forgotten to send home my visiting cards. I suppose it's the same with you. But my name is Moorna Lestrange.”

“And mine is Hastings. I'm afraid my printer has likewise forgotten to send my cards.”

“We'll discharge them both,” said

  ― 64 ―
Miss Lestrange, a suggestion to which I laughingly acquiesced.

And thus did this chance meeting with Miss Moorna Lestrange—whose real name was Louisa Sprattle—change the tenor of my ways and lead me into other and stranger spheres of thought and action; for when the reply came from the office to which I had written respecting the clerkship, informing me that the vacancy had been filled, I concentrated my whole thoughts on the theatre, and wondered if by any chance I might succeed at such a calling. Truly I had some primitive scruples to surmount before I could think of offering myself for an engagement; but was I not alone in the world? there being no soul to whom my connection with the stage could bring disgrace. Moreover, my little stock of money was getting desperately low, and I had already learned from experience that in the practical worlds of clerkship and education there were many more highly endowed than I, and that my chances of

  ― 65 ―
any but the most meagre livelihood from such sources were extremely shadowy. On the other hand, beauty of face and form is a marketable commodity, and unless my glass most grossly flattered me, I had fair cause to be contented with the gifts of nature. I do not think that I am vainer than other women, but God has given us all eyes to see, and it is not necessary that we should be blind when looking at ourselves. So, taking all things into consideration, I thought my appearance would do—for it would be folly to attempt to deny that good looks are not the chief charm of an actress—and that decision being satisfactorily arrived at, I next began to wonder if I had any latent histrionic ability. This last being a thing which could not be proved by the aid of a mirror, I tried to imagine that the so-called art of acting, as represented by the modern school in our modern plays, was not acting at all, but meant merely going on and talking as a lady or gentleman would talk. To do

  ― 66 ―
this, I knew, for I was always a diligent newspaper reader, was to be supremely artistic; which it might be in an actor who had risen from the gutter, but that it was such an extremely difficult feat for a man or woman who had been well brought up, I could not see, having yet to learn that life in a real drawing-room was not exactly the same thing as life in a theatrical one.

Again and again I broached Miss Lestrange on the subject, trying to extract from her her opinions respecting acting as a fine art, but she, I soon discovered, was only an “extra lady,” and that she troubled herself no whit about art or its ennobling influence. This is the reason why she blushed so furiously when I first asked her if she were an actress, for with all her vulgarity she was not without her pride, and did not like to admit the insignificance of her status. So, moving in the dark, as it were, and yet with my eyes open and each sense alert, I made up my mind to

  ― 67 ―
try for theatrical glory, since that was the only glory within my reach.

The next morning, therefore, having arrayed myself in my most attractive guise, I called on the manager of the El Dorado. At first it was impossible that I could see him, he was so frightfully busy—at least so I was told by an ungracious cub who glared at me through a pigeon-hole labelled “pay here.” But it so happened that while I was talking a lanky youth with a pleasant fair face came along, and stopping to learn my business informed me that the great man was then in his office, to which sanctum he (the youth) would willingly lead me if I would follow him. Thanking him I trudged off in his footsteps, and presently he knocked gently at a door, upon which was posted a bill of the play. We heard a voice inside mutter something, at which my guide softly turned the handle of the door and thrusting his long neck forward said, “A lady to see you, sir,” and smiling re-assuringly at me he nodded

  ― 68 ―
for me to enter, sliding off himself like a long ghost.

With a beating heart I stepped over the threshold of the lion's den and advanced a step into the room. The lion in question, who was sitting writing at a table with his back to me, took no more notice of me than if I had been a cat or dog, but continued to write away in the most energetic manner. Not liking to disturb him, and knowing that he would condescend to notice me when it suited him, I ventured to look about his sanctum in the hopes of better entertainment; but beyond numerous playbills and photographs—mostly of actresses in tights—there was little to make me forget the great man's absence of mind.

At last he flung down his pen with a savage grunt, and exclaiming in a loud, surly voice, “Well, what do you want?” swung round in his chair and faced me. But no sooner was his range of vision brought full upon me than a wonderful change came over his face. His surly

  ― 69 ―
looks fled as if by a stroke of magic, giving place to an extreme affability of feature, and rising from his chair he handed me a seat with many apologies, declaring that he had been so overworked and harassed of late that he scarcely knew what he was doing—all of which seemed to me a quite superfluous statement. Yet as he went on chatting about the worries to which theatrical flesh is heir, I could not help thinking that his cares sat lightly on him, for a sleeker or more prosperous-looking individual than Mr. James Sauros it would be hard to find. He was a man of medium height, dark and thick-set, with a pale, flabby sort of face and a pair of strange black eyes arched with shaggy brows. He wore no hair on his face, except a little whisker on each side, though I could not help thinking it would have been a charity had he hidden his mouth. In his spotless white shirt he wore three large diamond studs, and on his large, white, soft-looking hands,

  ― 70 ―
which he had a habit of caressing affectionately, he had two great diamond rings. A diamond locket also hung as a pendant to his massive gold watch-chain.

These things I noted almost intuitively, for the glances I stole at him were mere flashes of looks, my curiosity in that direction being extinguished by the intensity of the looks with which he honoured me.

“Well, my dear,” he said at last in a perfectly familiar tone—indeed it was so familiar that I would not say its familiarity was not lessened on that account—“my dear” being, so I learnt afterwards, the common form of address among these people, “what can I do for you?”

“I have come to see if you could give me an engagement, Mr. Sauros.”

The great man looked very hard at me. “Have you ever done anything in this line?”

I blushed to tell the truth, but I answered, “No.”

  ― 71 ―

“So you want me to take you on?” he asked with a smile.

“If you would,” I replied.

“Do you know,” he said, still smiling amusedly, “that I am besieged with young ladies like yourself, who know absolutely nothing of the profession, and yet who come to me believing that the El Dorado is a sort of theatrical kindergarten.”

“I'm sorry—” I began.

“So they all are,” he said, “but that doesn't make my lot an easier one, does it?”

“No, and I beg of you to excuse me for taking up so much of your time,” and I rose to go.

“You are in a hurry,” he laughed.

“I must see the other managers.”

“And why must you see them?”

I thought Mr. Sauros was growing facetious, so I smilingly repeated that I was in search of an engagement.

“And how do you know I can't give you one?” he asked.

  ― 72 ―

“I thought the El Dorado was not a theatrical kindergarten.”

“Good,” he laughed, “you had me fairly there. But if the El Dorado is not a kindergarten for the general public, it may be for the favoured few,” and here he shot at me a killing look from beneath his bushy brows.

“You are very kind,” I began, feeling grateful in a moment, “and if success may be gained by application to study, you may trust me to work my hardest.”

“You will not be required to work hard,” said Mr. Sauros kindly. “Be yourself, always yourself, and you will command success.” And then we fell to arranging for my appearance. He offered me a part, not large in interest but still of considerable extent, in the new piece he was then rehearsing, for the performance of which part I was to receive the sum of two pounds ten per week, a scale of remuneration which seemed to me bordering on the colossal. “And if you are not earning ten times

  ― 73 ―
that amount in a month's time,” said Mr. Sauros, “it will be entirely owing to your own fault.”

“But I thought it was not in mortals to command success,” I said.

“It is in you, if you have the inclination,” he replied earnestly.

“Trust me,” I said warmly, “to do all within my power.” At which he laughed a soft, peculiar laugh. Then rising from his seat and telling me to call on him at the same time to-morrow, when he would have the part ready for me to take home and study, he showed me to the door, shaking hands most effusively and beaming on me with all the glory of his face.

At the same hour the following morning I again presented myself at the theatre, and on this occasion the young gentleman, who the day before had so insolently declared that it was impossible for me to see Mr. Sauros, was all smiles and amiability, and when I mentioned the genial manager's name led me to that great man's sanctum with express speed.

  ― 74 ―
Word had evidently been left that I was coming, for my escort, knocking at the door, opened it at the same time saying, “The young lady, sir,” and then stepped back for me to enter.

Mr. Sauros did not sit writing with his back to me this time, but upon my entering bounded to his feet greeting me with an ardour which was decidedly embarrassing.

“My dear Miss Trevor,” he said, for like Miss Louisa Sprattle I had, under this nom de théâtre, which was my mother's maiden name, sought to hide my identity—perhaps not so much out of compliment to my illustrious name as Miss Sprattle had to hers—“I was just wondering if you had repented of your determination to grace the boards of the El Dorado.”

“I am afraid I should not be able to do so even if I had the inclination.”

“Then that's all right,” said Mr. Sauros cheerfully. “We need not be afraid of losing you.”

“I hope you will not want to,” I

  ― 75 ―
replied, meaning that I hoped my first venture might prove successful enough for them to intrust me with another part.

“I shall not want to,” he answered, giving me a meaning look, which I pretended not to see. “I am only sorry I have not a more important part to offer you, Miss Trevor; but as you have had no experience of the footlights, it would scarcely be judicious to give you a big part, would it?”

I confessed it would not, and thanked him again for his kindness in intrusting me with a part of any description, which generosity of his he duly pooh-poohed, saying it was merely a business transaction, and that had he not thought my beauty would be the talk of Melbourne in a week, and thus benefit the exchequer of the El Dorado, he was doubtful whether his philanthropy would have opened a kindergarten for aspiring damsels. But a queer smile played round the corners of his mouth as he spoke, conveying

  ― 76 ―
the impression that Mr. Sauros was in a facetious mood, and that he was not displeased with the evident sincerity of my gratitude. After the compliments, however, the business was introduced, and from a drawer in his desk he brought forth the part, requesting me to read it, which I did in a very nervous manner, though he declared I did it capitally, and that after a couple of rehearsals there would be no fault to find with me. Naturally pleased with his approbation, I was not yet vain enough to imagine that I had succeeded in establishing my reputation as an actress, though if the truth be told I did not look forward to my appearance with any considerable trepidation, believing that the attainments necessary for distinction were not of the most exacting nature. As we are all actors by instinct, so are we all able, more or less, to stand as judges of acting, and I had seen enough of the theatre, whilst living with the lively Mrs. Ballestier, to enable me to distinguish between comedy

  ― 77 ―
and farce, though the line is so thinly drawn in these days that you have to put on your glasses to see it. Besides which, I had witnessed what had been called excellent performances, which performances I never doubted of equalling with a little experience. The first essential to good acting, which is common sense, is born in the individual; all others are tricks of the trade which must be learnt. That I could learn these tricks I did not doubt. Besides, too many novices succeeded in this profession for anyone of confidence to fear it; and though in my heart of hearts I was not afraid of the ordeal, it was not without an inward quaking that I attended my first rehearsal, not that I could not speak the words well enough, but because I was so entirely ignorant of the business behind the scenes. Mr. Sauros was there, however, and his presence lent me confidence, besides which, the stage-manager was so excessively polite, so inexpressibly considerate, explaining my entrances and

  ― 78 ―
exits with so much affability that I found myself wondering if all stage-managers were as courteous as this one, and if so what a sadly maligned race they were. Having heard Miss Lestrange's opinion of him, I was on the look out for a monster in human form. Consequently I was agreeably surprised—failing to find the true cause of his actions. Perhaps it was because the “guv'nor's” eye was on him; perhaps it was something else, of which I had a half idea.

“Nice man you call him,” said Miss Moorna Lestrange, alias Louisa Sprattle, referring to Mr. Sauros, as she and I, after rehearsal, sat in an adjacent coffee-house over a cup of tea and a bath bun, “nice man,” she repeated disdainfully, her big black eyes flashing angry sparks, “nice devil, you mean.”

“I thought him extremely kind,” I said.

“He always is—to your sort.”

“My sort?”

  ― 79 ―

“Look here,” said the girl, favouring me with a strange look, her bold eyes seeming to pierce through me, “don't you know that Jimmy Sauros has the reputation of making himself agreeable to every pretty girl that enters the El Dorado? El Dorado,” she repeated scornfully, “Hell Dorado, more like.”

“I did not know it.”

“And don't you know,” she went on excitedly, “that stage-manager Slosson is the biggest beast in the profession—a foul-mouthed wretch who would have died long ago if dirt could have choked him?”

“I know nothing of him.”

“It's just as well. My troubles! and to think you took it all in. It would be funny if it wasn't so serious. But I don't see why I should put you up to all these wrinkles. No one ever troubled about me. I might have gone to the dogs or the devil. Nobody'd have cared, and I don't suppose it would have mattered

  ― 80 ―
much. I wasn't quite so green as you, that's all. Why, I don't suppose you even know who old Sauros is?”

I confessed that I knew nothing beyond the fact that he was Mr. Sauros and the manager of the theatre.

“He's the manager of the theatre right enough,” she said, “and he'd like to be Mr. Sauros.”

I confessed to the ignorance of her meaning by a puzzled look.

“Sauros ain't his name,” she said. “Don't he wish it was.” And then in a lower voice, as though she were afraid the very cups were listening, “Do you know what he is?”

“How, what he is?”

“He's a convict, that's what he is, and if he had his due he'd be in gaol now.”

I felt my lips quiver and the blood run cold about my heart. “The fact of him being a convict does not necessarily prove him bad.”

“Don't it though,” she said. “You

  ― 81 ―
take my word for it, it's in 'em—in the blood. They're all bad, every one of 'em.”

“I think we had better go,” said I, rising. To prolong the argument would not have proved conducive to the well-being of my emotions.

  ― 82 ―

Chapter IV.

LUCKILY for me my part was of little importance, for though at rehearsal I tried to concentrate my thoughts on the business of the stage, I could not wholly grasp my new surroundings, and for the greater part of the time was utterly confused. People came and went, flitting about the dark wings like so many spectres. To me it was all novelty and wonder. And yet I was most anxious to do well—anxious as only a novice can be—and with that intention I followed every movement of the actors with singular intensity, picturing my own movements accordingly. Yet, somehow, those movements never quite pleased me, which was surprising considering the amount of contempt with which I had regarded such accomplishments.

  ― 83 ―
I'm afraid I also grew dreadfully nervous—on account of those movements—as the time approached, and angry at my own simplicity when I beheld how coolly all the other people took the coming ordeal. There was, however, some consolation in knowing that in a little time I should be like them.

At last the eventful day broke, the day which seemed to me the greatest of my life. I was dressed hours before it was time to go to the theatre, during which dreary and yet exciting interval I made frantic and futile efforts to “study” my part. What there was in it to “study” I don't know, for it was the commonest of common dialogue, but I use the word as it is used behind the scenes—irrespective of meaning. Study, then, being a failure, I stalked up and down my narrow chamber repeating the immortal lines with true dramatic fervour—that is, as many of them as I could remember, for though a week ago I could have repeated the whole rigmarole backwards, my memory began

  ― 84 ―
to cut capers when it should have been most sedate. This proving a further source of great anxiety, I abandoned dramatic literature for the nonce and devoted my energies to the brewing of a cup of tea, for I always carried my own tea pot and spirit lamp with me. This slight refreshment acted like a sedative upon my nerves—for this tannin juice is a wonderful thing—and presently I was not alone enabled to eat a few biscuits, but to read over my part with some idea of its meaning. Then Miss Moorna Lestrange, alias Louisa Sprattle, came in to borrow my curling tongs, and with her glib chatter soon dispelled the grisly phantoms with which I had surrounded myself.

It was a queer sensation, though, when I heard my cue sounded. My heart gave a great jump, and for the space of a second I stood hesitant. Then involuntarily I glided from the obscurity of the wings into the glare of the footlights. I saw nothing in front of me but a great yawning space; I seemed to hear nothing

  ― 85 ―
but the confused murmur of voices near me. Yes, it was decidedly fortunate that I had only a few words to speak. When the drop fell no one but myself had any knowledge of the agony I endured.

In the second act I was rather better—which was not saying much—having somewhat recovered from my first fright; while in the last act the little I had to do was, to my thinking, accomplished with much credit. I had conquered the terrors of imagination. I had swallowed the draught, so to speak, and so far from disliking it was ready for more.

“Capital, Miss Trevor, capital upon my word. I never saw a more promising first appearance. Allow me to congratulate you, heartily congratulate you,” and Mr. James Sauros seized my two hands and beamed upon me with genuine enthusiasm.

Thanking him, I replied depreciating my efforts, but promising him to do better when I grew more accustomed to the surroundings.

  ― 86 ―

“Of course you'll do better,” he said, “and if I'm not mistaken will continue to do better. In three months' time you shall be my leading lady, and if you'll follow my advice I'll make you the greatest actress in Australia.”

I laughed rather nervously at this, knowing he was merely flattering my vanity; and yet I was young and enthusiastic enough to catch faint glimpses of a far-off glory, so that it would be wrong to say my vanity was not pleased.

“One must work hard before one can achieve greatness,” I said.

“It all depends on what you call greatness—a quality which most people confound with celebrity. But greatness will come to you, with your face, if you will only take the trouble to beckon it.”

“Ah, you are thinking of celebrity now.”

“Well, yes, I suppose I was,” he laughed. “Anyway, just give me a look in at the office before you go, will you? I want to see you particularly.” But before I could

  ― 87 ―
gather what the particular business was he had gone.

As I made my way to the dressing-room I encountered on the dimly-lighted stairs a woman who, descending while I was mounting, seemed to purposely block the way. Looking up at her with the intention of asking her to make room, I could see that she had a broad smile on her face, for though the light was at the back of her head I could distinctly trace a row of glistening teeth.

“Would you mind—” I began.

“Certainly not—Florence Hastings.” The way she emphasized my name sounded extremely disagreeable.

I advanced a step up the stairs, and at that moment she turned her head aside so that the light fell upon a part of her face.

“Polly Lane!” I exclaimed, for it was no other than the siren of the “Shearer's Rest.”

“Vere Siddons,” she answered, correcting me with an impudent smile.

  ― 88 ―

“Are you engaged here?” I asked, for that she could be seemed impossible since I had not noticed her.

“I have that honour,” she replied.

“I have never seen you.”

“I suppose not. Actresses never see supers. Strange, though, that we should both have struck the same crib, isn't it? I had no idea you would ever blossom into an actress. Rather a come down, isn't it?”

“I may not think so.”

“Of course. By the way, has Ella Wallace taken to it too?”

“No,” I said abruptly.

“Still grieving for her Will?” said the girl, with a mocking laugh. “Poor old Will, he was worth the whole lot of you. He would have been right enough if he'd only had a chance like other fellows. I always pitied that poor boy, though I must confess it was a triumph to see him prefer the ‘Shearer's Rest’ to the abode of the worthy Wallaces.”

“You did your best to ruin him,” I answered hotly.

  ― 89 ―

“Not I,” she replied with the same mocking laugh, only it sounded harder and bitterer than before. “I only wanted to make him forget that his father was a convict. But I beg your pardon. I am monopolizing the whole of the staircase,” and with a pretentious bow she moved to one side, drawing her skirts tightly round her. Thanking her I flew quickly up the stairs and passed to my dressing-room, feeling none too sanguine of the success of this meeting. That it was a great triumph for her to see me brought down to my present level I did not doubt, for during the whole of our lives a tacit understanding of enmity had existed between us. I had never spoken to her before, and whenever we met in the street I pretended not to see her, while she, to give her her due, would pass me by with a proud sweep of her skirts and an elevated nose. And now, in spite of all, fate had at last thrown us together, and for the first time we had exchanged confidences.

  ― 90 ―

Mr. Sauros was sitting in an easy chair pulling vigorously at a big cigar when I entered the office, but on seeing me rose hastily to his feet, laid aside his half-finished weed and offered me a chair.

“I was afraid you were never coming,” he said; “but it's better late than never, isn't it?”

I said I thought it was, and also ventured to remark that it really was late—an observation which seemed to escape him, for instead of paying any attention to it, he said, “The more I think over your performance of to-night, the more it impresses me, and I wish to offer you a twelvemonths' engagement at five pounds a week—salary to begin with our next piece. What do you say to the offer?”

What could I say? I jumped at it—metaphorically—telling him in my simplicity that I would do my utmost to deserve the confidence he had placed in me.

“I know you will,” he said. “It is

  ― 91 ―
a great pleasure for me to help all who are interested in their work. I think, putting personal considerations aside, that we all have the welfare of the drama at heart, and I know that in introducing you to the stage I have laid dramatic art under a personal obligation to me.”

The admiration of Mr. Sauros, though purely artistic and therefore quite Platonic, was a little too apparent. There was no eluding it, no pretending not to see; and while I answered him that I hoped he did not overrate my poor abilities, I was conscious all the time of a burning on each cheek which must have betrayed my agitation.

He pooh-poohed the idea of overrating my abilities. He had seen too much acting of every description not to know the good from the bad, “And,” said he, “I'll stake my reputation” (though what manner of fearsome thing that might be no man could say), “that at the end of your engagement you'll be the foremost

  ― 92 ―
actress in the country. Yes,” he repeated impressively, “the foremost actress in the country, and so I'll pledge you, my dear.” He rose as he spoke, and going over to a cupboard in one corner, extracted therefrom a bottle of champagne.

“Your future success and greatness,” he said, “and in the hour of your triumph I hope you won't forget who helped you on to the ladder.” He smiled cordially and drained his glass.

“Thank you,” I said, merely sipping the wine, having heard that it was not wise to drink with Platonic strangers.

“Come, come, my dear,” he cried, looking hard at me, “you don't drink up. Do you dislike the wine?”

“I rarely touch it,” I replied. “It invariably makes my head ache.”

“Pooh,” he said, “there's not a headache in a dozen quarts of this.”

“But—indeed I am not accustomed to champagne, and, if you don't mind, I'd rather not. Yet I thank you all the

  ― 93 ―
same for your kindness, and your good wishes, which I hope you may see realized.” I rose, holding out my hand. “Good-night.”

“Good-night,” he said, pressing my hand gently. “But stay! You live in Fitzroy, do you not?”

I informed him that such was the case.

“Then,” said he, “as I live in East Melbourne, and as I am going home, I shall be happy to offer you the half of my cab.”

“Thank you, Mr. Sauros, but I—I couldn't think of putting you to such inconvenience.”

He insisted. He had kept me late and he considered it imperative that he should see me safely home. As for inconveniencing him, he begged to assure me that I should be doing nothing of the kind. “Or if you prefer my room to my company,” he added in an injured tone, “my cab is at your disposal.”

What could I say to him then? What I thought was another matter. One

  ― 94 ―
thing was certain; I could not tell him my thoughts and stay on at the El Dorado. So the upshot of it was that we left the theatre together, I on his arm, for thus he would insist upon escorting me to the cab.

There were several people hanging about the kerbstone as we emerged, a circumstance which Mr. Sauros anticipated, I have no doubt, and as we entered the vehicle and drove off a woman's shrill laugh rang triumphantly out.

“Ha, ha, ha!”

I recognized the voice in an instant. It was Polly Lane's. Knowing I had gone into the manager's private office, she had hung about the doors to see me emerge, and her horrible laugh of triumph told too plainly the enjoyment she derived from seeing me ride away with the notorious Sauros.

“Ha, ha, ha!”

Again the shrill laugh came rushing up the street, heard above the crunching

  ― 95 ―
of the wheels and the clatter of hoofs.

“What a laugh,” said Sauros. “The poor creature must be mad.”

“Yes,” I said, nestling still closer into my corner of the hansom, “mad with joy.”

Sauros laughed. “Poor devil.”

I laughed too—almost as madly as the woman.

  ― 96 ―

Chapter V.

THE rest of our drive was a very silent one, void of all incident worthy of record, and broken only now and again by short questions and shorter answers. At last the vehicle drew up at the kerb before my lodgings, and bidding good-night to the amiable manager, whose restraint had so belied his reputation, I hurried in and upstairs, glad to have escaped without injury, and vowing never to risk such an adventure again.

In the morning, as soon as I heard Miss Moorna Lestrange, alias Miss Louisa Sprattle, stirring, I knocked at the thin partition which divided our apartments, and receiving an encouraging reply, got up, slipped on a gown and forthwith paid that young lady a visit. She was reading

  ― 97 ―
the morning paper as I entered, or rather that portion of it which gave an account of the première at the El Dorado. She greeted me with a smile of pleasure.

“Well?” I said, beginning to feel very shaky.

“I hope you'll think so,” she answered. Then seeing the awful look of anxiety on my face she burst out laughing. “Don't look so scared, old girl. It's all right. They haven't killed you this time. Look at this.” And she handed me the paper, pointing out by the aid of a not overcleanly thumb-nail a paragraph which recorded my appearance in most satisfactory terms. Of course I was a beginner, anyone could see that, and I was nervous, and I would do better when I grew accustomed to my surroundings; but my voice, face, and figure left nothing to be desired—indeed, I might be looked upon as a decided acquisition to the stage.

“That's all right, isn't it?” said Miss Lestrange, looking up at me in her perky

  ― 98 ―
way; for though arrayed in a shabby old ulster in lieu of a dressing-gown, she yet reclined on her bed of down: very much down, as she used to say, in the middle—alluding to a hole in the bed through which her mattress had an evil habit of falling.

“It's very kind of them,” I said, grateful for the small crumbs of comfort the notice contained. “I really was dreadfully nervous, and was afraid I had made a fearful exhibition of myself.”

“Well,” replied Miss Lestrange frankly, “it would be nonsense to pretend that you're an actress yet, but I believe you'll make one right enough if you stick at it. Everyone was surprised to see you go through so well—that is, everyone but that cat, Vere Siddons. A spiteful little hussy, mark my words.”

“I never heard much to her credit,” I answered wearily. These ever-recurring reminiscences of the past, a past which I so wished to forget, were exhausting my patience.

  ― 99 ―

“Then she does come from your part of the world?”

“Yes; her name is Polly Lane. I suppose she told you who I was?”

“Well, yes, she did pitch some long yarn which went in at one ear and out the other. I never did like her myself,” Miss Sprattle went on reassuringly, “but you know in our profession we have to rub shoulders with all classes of people.”

“Of course.” And yet I could scarcely help laughing at the idea of that gaunt girl in the threadbare ulster taking to herself the airs of a person of consequence.

“What did old Sauros say?” she asked next.

“He professed himself highly pleased with my appearance.”

“So, the rascal's at the same old game?”

“I mean,” I exclaimed, feeling very uncomfortable, “that he was pleased with my first appearance as an actress, and

  ― 100 ―
that he has offered me a twelve months' engagement.”

“Oh, oh,” cried Miss Lestrange, opening wide her flashing black eyes, “that's the way the wind blows, is it? My troubles! And what did you say?”

“What would I say? I thanked him for the offer and accepted it at once.”

“Of course you did,” she exclaimed witheringly. “I'd have known you'd come from the back blocks if you hadn't told me.”

“I don't understand you,” I said, feeling a little indignant. “I know more than one who would like to have such a chance.”

“Yes,” she said, “but you're a cut above our class, and I don't want to see you make a mess of it like the rest of us.”

“Why, what do you mean?”

“I mean this; if you haven't anyone else to advise you, take my advice and don't bind yourself to Jimmy Sauros for

  ― 101 ―
twelve months. If you do, you'll regret it. It's a fair put-up job.”

“I don't see it,” I replied. “Considering that I am a nobody in the profession, and that I am to get five pounds a week—”

“For being a nobody?”

“I think the offer is an extremely handsome one.”

“So it would be if it was honest,” said Miss Lestrange. “Jimmy Sauros is one of the smartest and most unscrupulous men in the profession, and if he offers you five pounds a week now, he knows perfectly well that you'll be worth twice the money in three months' time.”

“You think he regards me as a sound investment?”

“I do. But if I am not mistaken in the man, that is not the only reason he has for offering you the engagement. But it's nothing to do with me. My troubles! Why should I bother?”

“What other reason can he have, Moorna?” I asked, though already I had

  ― 102 ―
begun to suspect that there was something more than mere generosity and love of art at the bottom of the manager's munificence.

“Look here,” she said suddenly. “How do I know you're not poking fun at me? Though I'm not very clever, I half-suspect you know as much as I can tell you.”

I assured her I had no intention of shamming the innocent. Truly, I was learning rapidly, but I wanted my ideas confirmed.

“Well, then,” she said, “take my advice; make any excuse you like, but don't sign for twelve months. I told you what sort of a man he was. He has honoured you with his consideration, and he'd engage you for twelve years to gain his own ends. I daresay you'll make a very good actress—you shaped well enough at it last night—but you are not yet actress enough for any disinterested person to engage for a year at five pounds a week.”

  ― 103 ―

All of which appeared most reasonable to me when I came to think it out, though I could not help deploring the misfortune which seemed to eternally dog my steps. Was I never to be left in peace; to go about my work like other mortals, knowing only such cares as others suffer? It seemed not. Wherever I went, whatever I did, the old past, like a persecuting fate, followed close upon my heels ready to bite whenever I stopped to look around. What there was about me different from other women I could not tell, but those very gifts of nature, of which I was so vainly proud, instead of elevating me as I had dreamed, brought me nothing but shame and regret. True my perverseness had cost me much, for there was one who looked upon me as something of a diviner mould, but, like the “base Indian,” I threw the pearl away. Perhaps I did not think so: perhaps I thought that I had yet the power to look and conquer. Man's love is not always a thing apart from man's life.

  ― 104 ―

Then there was this meeting with Polly Lane, this double misfortune, so to speak. The tacit enmity of old would at last find excellent scope for vengeance. Already she had begun to tell my secret. In a week every man and boy about the theatre would have my history in his keeping, embellished, I doubted not, with such insinuations as would naturally spring from an envious mind. Yet it was some consolation to know that professional people are singularly broad-minded. Having a full knowledge of certain sides of human nature, they duly appreciate its weaknesses, and are rarely surprised at anything that happens in this strange world. Had I been Margaret Catchpole herself it would have raised but little commotion in their ranks, swarming as they are with every sort of nondescript. It was strange, though, that she and I, both so far from home, should meet thus; and I felt more convinced than ever that fate had decided to run me down in earnest. I almost

  ― 105 ―
laughed as I thought how doggedly illfortune had followed my steps; but I'm afraid the inclination was prompted by a feeling of utter recklessness.

During the performance that night, Mr. Sauros came behind and spoke to me, asking when I would find it convenient to sign the contract, which he had had just drawn up. “For,” added he with one of his pleasant, oleaginous smiles, “having found a treasure I intend to keep it.”

“I'm afraid you flatter me, Mr. Sauros.”

“Flatter you, my dear, not at all.” And he duly pooh-poohed the preposterous idea.

“And yet you have almost turned my head with vanity. Luckily, however, I am not so vain or selfish as to take advantage of your unexampled generosity.”

“What do you mean by that?” he asked, looking sharply into my face, not knowing whether I was laughing at him or not.

“In a moment of weakness,” I replied,

  ― 106 ―
now fully alive to the sense of the proceedings, and nowise objecting to the fun, “taking compassion on my peculiar position, you were kind enough to make me an offer which I would not have you regret for the world.”

“But I shall not regret it,” he exclaimed.

“Pardon me, but you may. In that case I should be more wretched than you. And so, to avoid all possible chance of a mistake or misunderstanding, I think it would be wiser for me to play as I am till I find out if I be really suitable for the stage.”

“What nonsense,” cried Mr. Sauros gruffly. “Of course you're suitable. No one more so, I should say. And if you're not, what's it to do with anyone else so long as it suits me to have you?”

“I'm afraid that is hardly the same thing,” I said with a smile.

“Look 'ere,” he said, he usually forgot his aspirates when excited, “don't you be so foolish as to throw up a good

  ― 107 ―
thing on insufficient grounds. If you know when you're well off, you'll jump at the offer.”

“I know I should do so, and I believe nine out of ten in my position would; but I am scrupulous, I suppose, and could not think of receiving a salary which I did not conscientiously earn.”

Mr. Sauros looked very cross at this, thinking me inexpressibly idiotic, I suppose, and, had it not been for fear of giving offence, he would undoubtedly have indulged in a little of that choice language for which he was so justly renowned.

“If I, who pay the salary, am satisfied with the work, I don't see that you will have cause to complain,” he argued. “I understand your scruples and admire them immensely, but, between ourselves, don't you think that you are just a bit too honest?”

“Oh, Mr. Sauros,” I exclaimed, looking very shocked. “As though one could be too honest.”

  ― 108 ―

“Well, well,” he said, looking anything but pleased, “I shall keep the offer open. When you have surmounted those scruples of yours you might let me know.”

“I will,” was the reply, and as my cue came at that moment our conversation was brought to a sudden termination.

For the next three days, except to chat for a moment or two whenever he saw me, Mr. Sauros forbore to pester me with his attentions, for which I was devoutly thankful. But on the fourth day, or rather, night, during the performance, a note was brought me from him, requesting a short interview after the play on a matter of urgent importance. What this business of such importance could be I wondered, and it was not without a feeling of alarm that I knocked at the great man's door, first telling Miss Moorna Lestrange to wait for me.

“Ah, my dear,” said the great man tenderly, approaching and going through

  ― 109 ―
a quite superfluous handshake, “I am glad you've come. I'm off to Sydney tomorrow and shan't be back, I'm afraid, for a month or six weeks, and I want you to decide now about that engagement. I have also here our new piece with a splendid part for you—a part I can see you in, a part that will fit you like a glove.”

“It is very good of you,” I began.

“Not at all, my child. I am interested in you—I may say deeply interested, and would like to see you succeed in your profession. In fact,” went on this magnanimous patron of the drama, “I want you to succeed. The only difficulty about the matter is this. Three months hence we appear in Sydney, where we play for two months certain, and longer if the business prove profitable. From there we go north to Brisbane, the entire company, don't you understand, so that unless you will make one of us I'm afraid we shall have to leave you behind. I needn't say,” he added tenderly, “that such a

  ― 110 ―
misfortune as that is a thing I shrink to contemplate.”

It seemed as though he had forced my hand at last. I saw the smile playing round the corners of his mouth as he watched me with an intensity which was almost terrifying. But cornered I was not as yet. I told him I would think it over and let him know my decision in the morning. The fact was, I wanted to lay the case before Louisa Sprattle, and hear what her practical sense had to say to it.

“Very well,” he said, “the morning will do splendidly. I shall be here till one. By the way,” he added, “I'd better make a note of it. You don't know what a poor head I've got for remembering things.” So diving into his breast pocket for his note-book, he brought it forth in company with a flat morocco case. “Oh,” he exclaimed, opening the latter article, “this is something I picked up to-day. What do you think of it?” He handed me the case, which contained a beautiful

  ― 111 ―
diamond and pearl bracelet, and then began to scribble unconcernedly in his note-book.

“It's a lovely thing,” I said.

“You like it, do you?” he asked off-handedly.

“I think it very beautiful.”

“Not bad is it? You can have it if you like.”

“Oh, no, no.”

“Why not?”

“Thank you, no, no.” And I held it out for him to take. But instead of taking it he caught my hand, and almost before I was aware of it he had clasped the jewel on my wrist.

“There,” he exclaimed, “the thing is yours. Keep it.”

Though flushed and terribly excited I yet had my wits about me. Quickly undoing the bracelet, I deposited it on the table.

“Why have you done that?” he asked with an ugly look. “Isn't the present good enough?”

  ― 112 ―

Once more I wished that for a moment only I was old Will, but I answered quietly, “On the contrary. It is too good.”

At this he laughed unpleasantly, saying, “Well, well, I am sorry. I shall know better next time.”

I did not like the tone of his voice, and my blood being up I answered hotly, “You evidently forget yourself, Mr. Sauros.”

“Is that to be wondered at, Miss Hastings?” he replied with a meaning look, and a strong emphasis on the name.

I knew in a moment that my story had reached his ears, and that he intended to profit by it, so, turning towards the door, I said, “This is the sort of thing I might have expected from you.”

There was a taunting ring in my voice which could not be mistaken. His face grew suddenly black as a thunder-cloud. “What do you mean by that?” he cried. “Who the devil are you, I should like to know? Fancy a currency girl giving herself such airs.”

  ― 113 ―

“Yes,” I said, “it's almost as incongruous as a convict's taunt.”

The hot blood rushed in a torrent to his pale, evil face, and for a moment I thought that he would choke in the impotence of his rage. But the paroxysm of anger passing, he advanced to where I stood, shaking his jewelled fist in my face and making use of the most awful language. Terrified almost to death, for I thought he would strike me, I backed involuntarily towards the door which, opening quickly, I slammed behind me.

Outside I found the faithful Moorna cuddling against a lamp-post. Seizing her arm without speaking, I hurried her away through the darkness.

  ― 114 ―

Chapter VI.

I AM afraid I cannot honestly say my sleep was soothed with pleasant dreams that night, for Mr. Sauros, in the form of a malignant fury, with outstretched arms and a most diabolical smile on his face, pursued me through long miles of gloomy theatrical forests, and though I ever eluded him, to be sure, or woke up just in the nick of time, he yet contrived to get so close to me that I found the prospect anything but encouraging.

In the morning I arose feeling but little refreshed, and knocking at the partition which divided me from Miss Lestrange, to prepare her for my coming, I entered the apartment of that young lady, and for a couple of hours at least we descanted on our own personal

  ― 115 ―
wrongs, and on the wrongs of forlorn maidens such as we.

“My troubles!” exclaimed Miss Lestrange, making use of her favourite expression, “it's nothing. It makes you get on your dig. a bit at first, but, lord, it soon wears off. And as for there being any insult in the business—why, such a thing won't enter his head. Most likely he'll think you the biggest fool he ever met.”

“Is he as bad as that?”

“Bad! He don't think it bad. It's life, fun, anything you like to call it—except badness. Nobody blames him. It's us that pays.”

“It's horrible.”

“It is—till you get used to it. Makes your dig. rise, doesn't it? I was never a lady, worse luck, but I was brought up respectably, and I felt it at first.”

“And don't you feel it now?”

“I burn a bit sometimes,” said the girl, “but I always try to give them as good as they bring. I know you will

  ― 116 ―
never look at it in my way, but it would be better for you if you could laugh more. Why should you think the less of yourself because now and again a blackguard dares to presume? It's all very well to get on your dig., but dignity don't count. You'll find this a pretty rough road to travel, I can tell you; for girls without husbands, fathers or brothers are not dangerous to attack. Take my advice, forget all about the matter; go down to the theatre to-night and do your duty as usual.”

At first I demurred at this, vowing I would never enter the El Dorado again while that rascal Sauros was its evil deity; but not being without a certain amount of reason, I soon saw the excellence of Miss Moorna's advice, and that same night we trudged off to the theatre together. Luckily the manager did not show up on this occasion, though I learnt that he had not yet gone to Sydney. I therefore breathed with greater freedom, and when the performance

  ― 117 ―
was over quitted the theatre with more assurance than I had entered it. The next day, however, the estimable Sauros did indeed take his departure for the New South Wales capital, an occurrence which occasioned me no little tranquility of spirit.

In the meantime the run of the Bushranger's Bride, which was the romantic title of our drama, drew near its close, and as I had not been reengaged for the new piece I knew I should soon have to take my departure from the sacred portals of the El Dorado —a proceeding which I contemplated with little agitation of mind, though my pride might have felt itself considerably humbled.

And here I must confess that for some time now I had not written to the Wallaces, my fortune being of such a nature as to make me ashamed of it. That they could now have little sympathy for me or my affairs I doubted not, and feeling that to all intents and purposes I

  ― 118 ―
was an outcast, I determined to go my own way and fight my own battle. Foolish thing! Could I only have known how their hearts ached for me, I would have flown to them with all my shame in my face and besought them to let me live and die in their service. Of Will, poor old Will, I knew absolutely nothing, and, being in no enviable mood at this period, what I imagined of him was not likely to be of a cheerful nature. How I longed for a sight of his dear old face. Poverty would have seemed nothing with him, and misfortune but a thing to laugh at. Poor old Will.

At length the run of our piece came to an end, and I left the El Dorado with my salary in my pocket and my prospects hopeful if vague. I had kept my eyes open during my brief novitiate, and each sense alert, and as I think women take to acting naturally, I quite believed myself capable of essaying successfully any ordinary rôle. And there is nothing in this world like confidence, say what

  ― 119 ―
you will, or call it as many disagreeable names as you please. Not that I was so far gone as to credit myself with genius, which poor word is never so badly used as when applied to the stage, for genius is supposed to be original, whereas the worst enemies of the theatre cannot accuse it of that crime. No, I didn't think, and I hoped I wasn't, a genius, knowing how fatal the gift is, but all the same I did not think the work called for anything but a modest talent. And in this I am well aware my views must be peculiar, because I could not get anyone else to look at them, or me, with my eyes. I hung about the doors of the Royal Bunyip Theatre for quite a week in my vain endeavours to interview the august manager thereof, and when I was eventually ushered into the presence of that great man he had nothing to tell me but that he was “full—full-up.” I felt that he might easily have told me this a week before, but I was fast losing courage and had not the heart to tell him so.

  ― 120 ―
With a feeble “Good-morning” I departed.

From there I went to the Koh-i-Nor—the stage entrance of which is situated in one of the most fragrant portions of Little Bourke Street—and while I was civilly trying to get a little information from the savage who zealously guarded the sacred precincts of that Temple of Thespis, who should come up to me and touch his hat but Captain Langton's old groom, Flaskett. He was the same grim-looking fellow, a little grimmer if anything, I thought, but as his eyes met mine they positively sparkled with pleasure.

“Good-day, miss,” he said. “Have you forgotten me?”

“No,” I answered coldly, believing the man's appearance was not unconnected with his master, whose name had grown very notorious of late, “you are Captain Langton's servant.”

“Was, miss,” said the man.

“You have left him, then?”

  ― 121 ―

“Long ago. I'm afraid the Captain wasn't my sort. I haven't seen him since he came back from England, though I've heard a good deal of him. In the hands of the Jews, they say—Langton Station mortgaged up to the hilt. A fine place too. A great pity. But beg pardon, miss, I suppose this is all stale news to you?”

“No, I was not aware of it.”

It now struck me that I was scarcely doing a dignified thing in thus familiarly conversing with one whom I had hitherto known only in a menial capacity; but as I looked into the little man's face I thought, ugly as it was, that I had never seen it look so open, so full of dignity and pride, while his voice, beyond being respectful, had none of the humility of the serving-man. Indeed, the change was so marked that I must be blind not to notice it. Moreover, the man had always been extremely civil to me, and one in my position had no right to despise the lowliest.

“And what are you doing now?” I asked.

  ― 122 ―

Flaskett burst out laughing all over his little eyes. “I'm acting, miss.”

“I think you told me you were an actor.”

“I'm afraid I was scarcely that, but I am now; besides, miss, I've took—taken lots of lessons in elocution since then. I had a pretty tidy sum saved up when I left the captain, so I says to myself, ‘Bob, my boy, you've got to raise yourself. No more flunkeying for you, my son.’ So off I went to Professor Dobbs, the great elocutionist, who put me up to no end of wrinkles. And now I'm playing here at the Koh-i-Nor. Only a couple of lines,” said Mr. Flaskett depreciatingly, “but it's a beginning, miss. And one feels a man.” He drew himself up as he spoke and looked, if not exactly what he imagined himself, a very fair imitation of that article.

“Perhaps it will surprise you to know,” I said, “that I too have lately taken to the stage.”

“You?” he cried incredulously.

  ― 123 ―

“Yes,” I laughed. “I played Polly Kettlestone in the Bushranger's Bride.”

“Then you are the Miss Trevor they—” he stopped and looked at me.

“They what?” I asked.

“Raved so much about,” he replied. “Pardon me, miss, but I don't wonder at it.”

The man was evidently so sincere that I could not take offence at the compliment.

“Thank you,” I said. “But I'm afraid I'm but a poor actress yet.”

He gave me such a merry look that I knew it was not of my histrionic attainments he was speaking.

“Perhaps,” he said. “Anyway, miss, you must never own that you can't act. Modesty is a fine thing in its way, but most people would give it a less charitable name.”

“Incompetence?” I suggested.

“That's more like it,” he replied. “But you have left the El Dorado, I suppose?”

  ― 124 ―

“Yes. Mr. Sauros and I quarrelled. Do you think there is any chance here?”

“Goodness only knows,” he answered. “But here comes a gentleman who has a lot to do with arranging tours and companies. I'll introduce you if you like. It might mean something.”

By this time the gentleman in question had danced up to our position, and was then duly introduced. Mr. Smythe Robins was his name, and one look at his sallow, ill-shaven face was quite enough for the sophisticated to fix his occupation.

“Miss Trevor,” he said, shaking hands effusively, and even through my glove I felt his cold hand, “I am delighted to make your acquaintance. I dropped in to look at the Bushranger's Bride the other night, and I must congratulate you heartily on your reading of such an intricate part. There was not another woman in the house could have played it, or looked it, as you did, and I only wish to heaven you were free of old Sauros. Six months touring with me as my leading

  ― 125 ―
lady would be sufficient to place you in the foremost ranks of the profession.”

Flaskett gave me a sharp look.

“Miss Trevor has left the El Dorado,” he said.

“What!” Mr. Smythe Robins nearly bounded out of his great-coat. Mr. Flaskett repeated the statement.

“Then things couldn't have fallen out more opportunely. My dear Miss Trevor, I am just arranging a four months' tour, to be prolonged ad lib.”

“Which means while there is any money in it?” said Flaskett.

“Precisely. Most of my company are already engaged. My dear Miss Trevor, will you be my leading lady?”

I was on the point of declaring my disbelief in myself for such an exalted office, when I once more encountered Flaskett's meaning glance.

“I suppose,” said he, “you don't expect Miss Trevor to give you a definite answer at once?”

“No, dear boy, no,” said Mr. Smythe

  ― 126 ―
Robins airily. “I would not harass the lady for the world. I shall be satisfied if she will give the idea her consideration.”

“Oh, of course I will,” I said. “I am at present in search of an engagement, and perhaps a few months in the country would be—” I stopped short, having once more caught Flaskett's eye.

“Extremely beneficial,” said Mr. Robins. “You're quite right, it would. And what splendid opportunities. Only think of it. We propose playing, among other things, Pygmalion and Galatea, the Hunchback—I'm a splendid Master Walter—and the Colleen Bawn for Saturday nights. Then there are half-a-dozen of my own plays which I will lend to the company at a reasonable figure. Such a répertoire as that should fill all our pockets before we've been a month out; for of course you understand that I intend taking the road on the commonwealth plan—share and share alike—to my idea the only just and equitable form of government.”

  ― 127 ―

“But who finds the money to begin the undertaking?” asked Mr. Flaskett.

“We each subscribe a trifle — just enough to start us. Once started, of course, and we are all right.”

“And the figure?” inquired Flaskett.

“A fiver, and no liability. I'll look you up to-morrow, Bobbie. Think over it, old son—and you, Miss Trevor. I hope to have the pleasure of touring with you both.” And waving his hand in an affected manner, he left us.

“Well,” queried Mr. Flaskett, “what do you think of it?”

“It seems an excellent opportunity for gaining experience,” I replied, “and I am not certain that I shall not think seriously of accepting it. Where shall I find this man again?”

“He's generally knocking about the pubs,” was the reply.

“I'm afraid I can scarcely search them for him.”

“Of course not, miss, but I can. You come to me if you want him. I'm living

  ― 128 ―
out West Melbourne way, and I know the missis would be glad to make your acquaintance, if you wouldn't mind calling.”

“So, you are married?”

“Yes,” he said, and at the recollection all the laughter went out of his eyes.

“Shall you see Mr. Robins again today?”

“Most probably—if I look in at the private bar of the ‘Drop Scene.’ A theatrical house, miss, and one of his favourite haunts.”

“If you do see him, Flaskett, you would greatly oblige me by getting all possible information, as you understand I am naturally anxious to get an engagement.”

“I understand and I'll not forget, miss—thanks for your confidence—and if you wouldn't mind calling on us to-morrow afternoon and taking a little tea, we should both be delighted.”

“I will come with pleasure, and then you can tell me all about Mr. Robins's arrangements.”

  ― 129 ―

So on the following day I duly set out to explore the wilds of Hotham in search of Flaskett's address, which I at length stumbled upon in an unpretentious street. It was one of a row of small houses which went by the attractive title of Belle-vue Cottages, though where the beautiful view came in, considering the street was a narrow, stuffy one, would be difficult to say. Yes, Mr. Flaskett was at home, indeed he opened the door to me when I knocked, and with many expressions of gratitude for the honour I was conferring upon him in visiting his humble habitation, or words to that effect, he showed me into his drawing-room—for by that dignified appellation did he introduce the little chamber with its bit of threadbare carpet, its six horse-hair chairs, two of which, with broken backs, were only for ornament, and its rude colonial sofa.

“Yes, I saw Mr. Robins yesterday,” he said, as soon as I was seated in the cosiest corner of the aforementioned uncomfortable sofa, “and he promised to

  ― 130 ―
call this afternoon and have a chat with you. I also met a couple of the fellows who are going with him. I really think we might do worse.”

“We,” I echoed. “Are you going?”

“Oh, I think so, miss,” he stammered. “I don't know that a little provincial experience would come amiss.”

“But is it a wise thing to give up a town engagement for a country one?”

“Well, you see,” he said, “I shall get a better chance with Robins. I might have to play two-line parts for years at the Koh, and never get a look in. With Robins I shall have a chance of testing my powers, and that's something in these days of prejudice and jealousy. Besides,” added the little fellow confidentially, “not being used to the profession, you don't know the sort of people you'll have to mix with, and unless you have somebody with you who knows the ropes, there's no knowing what tricks they may not play you.”

“I am much obliged to you, Flaskett,” I said, for I doubly appreciated the little

  ― 131 ―
fellow's kind thoughts, not of late being accustomed to such consideration, “though I feel sure you must exaggerate the dangers out of respect for me. Let me tell you then that but recently I have had a lot of queer experiences, and that I think I may be trusted to undertake this venture.”

“I am sure of it,” was his reply. “But even if you wasn't going, I should,” and though I might have had my doubts about this, for I saw that my civility to him at Langton had not been forgotten, I could yet see that he had determined to go, and knowing that a man with his sort of face was not to be easily turned from his purpose, I resolved to say no more about it. Changing the conversation, I asked him if his wife were in, to which he replied in the negative, but in a manner so curious that I instinctively guessed that all was not well in this abode of art.

“She went out this morning to see her mother,” he explained.

“Shall I see her before I go?”

  ― 132 ―

“I hope not—that is, I don't think so. When she goes to see her mother they generally make a day of it. That's the worst of the profession. Her mother was on the stage before her, and she was brought up on sticks of grease paint. When you marry, miss, marry outside the profession. There may be a little friction and jealousy at times, but you won't both go to the dogs together. Not that I mean you would, miss, but you know what I mean, don't you?” he added appealingly.

“I think so.”

At this moment a boisterous knock on the front door, a succession of sledge-hammer blows which fairly shook the sofa on which I was sitting, announced the arrival of some impatient soul. Flaskett sprang to his feet with an anxious look on his face. “It's her,” he whispered in a hushed tone, disappearing with alacrity. Then the door was opened and a shrill female voice was heard expostulating in the passage.

“Shan't, I tell you,” it was saying.

  ― 133 ―
“Go and lie down yourself. Who the — is she I'd like to know?”

“Go and lie down like a good girl,” I heard Flaskett say in a low voice.

“Shan't,” replied the woman crossly. “One would think you was ashamed of me.”

“And so I am, damn you,” he growled between his teeth. The woman laughed, but the next minute turned the handle of the door and entered. She was a buxom young woman of twenty-eight or thirty, very freckled, with ginger hair and brown eyes. A fiery creature I could see, and one in whom Mr. Flaskett found little of the lamb.

“This is my wife,” he said, brusquely introducing us. I bowed and said I was pleased to make her acquaintance. Mr. Flaskett favoured me with a look which, without being rude, plainly said he doubted it; then turning to the window he proceeded to catch flies.

I found Mrs. Flaskett possessed a shrill tongue and a steam-power way of using

  ― 134 ―
it: the sort of woman who would drive a peaceful man mad in a year. Having plenty to say for herself, and having had plenty of beer that day, which, mayhap, accounted for her husband's unwillingness to let her enter the room, she soon made me acquainted with her own personal history and that of her dear mamma; told me how Bobbie first saw her as the butterfly goddess in the pantomime and at once fell in love with her beautiful legs, though, she added with a sigh, they had gone off dreadfully since her marriage—as things will. All of which might have been extremely interesting to Mr. Flaskett, but which concerned me nothing.

At last that worthy man turned from the shambles he had created round the window sill and mildly suggested a little tea, a suggestion to which his better half, whom I had put in a good humour by my polite attention to her cackle, immediately showed herself agreeable. She bounded to her feet, asking me if I would stay to tea, and upon my replying in

  ― 135 ―
the affirmative, hastily quitted the room.

“Well,” said Mr. Flaskett, looking after her with open-mouthed surprise, “I never saw her in such a good humour—since I've been married. If you hadn't been here she'd have seen me farther, I can tell you. Ah, miss, I thought I was badly off as a flunkey, but I made a greater mistake when I took Elizabeth on.”

“You shouldn't say that, Flaskett. Don't you think that when husband and wife disagree the fault is to be found on both sides?”

“Perhaps; yet it's wonderful how well we agree when we're apart.”

Poor old Flaskett. When he “took Elizabeth on” he did indeed make a bad bargain, the thought of which preyed relentlessly on his brain. That freedom, manhood, dignity, which were the guiding stars of his life's journey, were sadly dimmed, I'm afraid, by the unlovely presence of his wife; and I shrewdly suspected that his wishing to go with me

  ― 136 ―
had not a little to do with his wish to escape from her. I, however, had no further opportunity of hearing his sorrows, of which, in truth, I was not interested, for at that moment a rattling fusilade was delivered upon the door, a discharge, so to speak, sufficiently loud and long to bring the whole street to their windows.

“Who can that be?” cried Flaskett, starting nervously to his feet.

“Bobbie,” shouted his better half from the kitchen, “there's somebody at the door.”

“Oh, is there?” replied her spouse facetiously. “I shouldn't have thought it.” But to the door he went, and opening it admitted the corporeal presence of Mr. Smythe Robins.

“Thought I was never coming, I'll swear,” exclaimed that gentleman after effusively shaking hands as usual. “Dooce of a queer place you live in, Bobbie, old son. Hardest work in the world to find you. Belle-vue Cottages, by jingo.

  ― 137 ―
Where does the belle-vue hang out?”

“On the top of the chimleys,” said Mr. Flaskett quietly, not taking kindly to Mr. Robins's humour. Mr. Robins laughed heartily. That was the beauty of Mr. Robins. He could laugh at his own jokes or at anyone else's, though for obvious reasons he preferred his own.

“Not bad, Bobbie, old son. We'll make you our low comedian yet. Fine face for a comedian, ain't it?” Mr. Robins appealed to me, a knowing twinkle in his strange eyes.

“When they laugh at me for my face,” said Mr. Flaskett rather sourly, “they won't be dying about your beauty.”

At this pretty piece of wit Mr. Smythe Robins laughed till he nearly choked, declaring that Flaskett was a gem of the purest water, and that if he was only half as funny on as he was off the stage, he should be our first comedian in less than a month. Then we grew serious and next discussed the business which had brought

  ― 138 ―
us three together, the preliminaries of which we soon arranged, Mr. Robins in the meantime borrowing 5l. from each of us, that being our donation towards the funds of the commonweal.

“It's the capital necessary to enable us to start that takes the getting,” said Mr. Robins as he solemnly pocketed our money. “Once we start, you know, the rest is child's play. The dollars 'll simply roll in. Why, a theatre's as good as a mint any day in the year, and a dooced sight better than a gold mine. I'll tell you what it is, my friends; when the Melbourne Comedy Company takes the road it'll simply coin money.”

We said we hoped it might, for I felt rather anxious about my five pounds once I had parted with it, and that Flaskett was anxious, too, I knew well, for he would sooner have committed suicide than let his better half know what he had done. It was next decided that we could not begin our tour too early, and the end of the ensuing week

  ― 139 ―
was seized upon, so as to enable us to open on a Saturday night. We would therefore begin rehearsals on the coming Monday. Where those rehearsals were to take place Mr. Robins knew not, but it was at length decided, with Mrs. Flaskett's permission, and for the payment thereof of a trifling sum, that we should make use of that good lady's drawing-room. Then, all things being satisfactorily arranged, Mr. Robins and I took our departure, that worthy man descanting, as we walked along, on the glorious triumphs that should be ours in the near future, and of the gold with which we were to fill our pockets.

As we were to open with Pygmalion and Galatea, I bought the book of that diverting piece and applied myself assiduously to learning the text, or that part of it for which I should be held responsible. Luckily I had seen the piece on more than one occasion, so that its scenes were to a certain extent familiar, and as Galatea is a part that “plays itself,” as

  ― 140 ―
they say in the profession, I had not much difficulty in mastering the little it contained.

Then the great day of the first rehearsal duly came, and with a decided fluttering of the nerves I set out for Belle-vue Cottages. I was, of course, the first to arrive, having loitered a little at the bottom of the street to make up the exact time, and as an adjacent clock was striking twelve I rattled Mr. Flaskett's knocker. I was shown into the drawing-room by the worthy Mrs. Flaskett, who, remembering me agreeably from our last interview, declared herself as pleased to see me, a piece of condescension for which I was extremely thankful. Then her husband entered, his face shining with a recent washing, and we three sat talking for more than half an hour before Mr. Smythe Robins put in an appearance. But when he did come he was profuse with his apologies, being under the impression, so he declared, that the call was for half-past twelve. And

  ― 141 ―
as he spoke he drew from one of the pockets of his great-coat a printed bill whereon, in no small capitals, I was described as the “beautiful and accomplished young English actress.”

“But I am not an English actress,” I said, “and as for accomplished—don't you think you might let them find that out?”

Mr. Robins regarded me with a look of blank amazement, but, perceiving my earnestness, transferred his gaze to Flaskett, at whom he began to wink in a most comical manner. Flaskett, however, looked grave.

“Miss Trevor don't understand,” he said. “She ain't used to our ways yet.”

“Then I hope Miss Trevor will pardon me,” said Mr. Robins blandly. “She may take it from me that the announcement that she is an English actress will not prove detrimental to her already great reputation. In this country we are accustomed to take all things secondhand, even our opinions. Indeed one

  ― 142 ―
may say Australia is the greatest secondhand mart in the world. The draught is usually prepared in England, and when so we swallow without a murmur. Other countries have not such a good name in the trade. 'Tis true, 'tis pity. The same may be said of our actors. Do you follow me?”

“I think so.”

“I don't,” said Flaskett.

“Never mind, Bobbie. Cheer up, old son. Take a night off and think it out. Then let it be granted,” he continued, turning to me, “that you are an English actress. You'll find the fiction do you no harm. That you are beautiful, I am perfectly willing to admit, will seem a superfluous statement to all who see you, but when I penned that word I was thinking of the unfortunate few who may not be able to do so. That you are accomplished being an undisputed fact, there is no earthly reason why you should hide your light behind a bushel. Nobody

  ― 143 ―
does such foolish things in these days. Tell the public what you are and they'll immediately see it. They're like a flock of sheep. Off one goes with a rush and the others blindly follow. Of course there are always some who won't follow, but they'll be in the minority, and minorities don't count.” And having delivered himself of this elaborate piece of argument, he sidled over to the window and began to kill flies to the tune of “Little Sister's gone to Sleep,” which pathetic ballad he hummed with no little precision as he engaged in his deadly work.

I looked at Flaskett and Flaskett looked at me, elevating his ragged eyebrows as he did so. What to make of Mr. Smythe Robins I hardly knew, and it is quite certain Flaskett was as much at sea as I. I began to wish I had not parted with my bank-notes, foreseeing no little trouble in the near future with such a voluminous chatterbox at the helm. A sort of human balloon he was to which

  ― 144 ―
his builder had forgotten to affix the car, thereby necessitating the absence of all ballast. Besides which I did not care for the cut of his face, once I came to study it closely, and he had a black-brown Mongolian eye which reflected little confidence. Add to this a sharp, sallow face with a high narrow brow, projecting teeth and lips, and you have a fair idea of what Mr. Smythe Robins was like.

“Ah,” he exclaimed as he dispatched a big blow-fly, “they have come at last. Bobbie, would you mind opening the door? Mr. Drysman and Mrs. Robins are come.”

Flaskett did as he was bidden, and in walked a lady and a gentleman. The lady was considerably over her twenty-eighth year and somewhat inclined to corpulency, though by judicious lacing she had contrived to give her figure some semblance of its youthful grace. She also, I saw by a glance, was addicted to the use of hair dye and some liquid face-beautifier,

  ― 145 ―
for the latter, coming in contact with the wind, had turned to a beautiful puce. Her companion, who was introduced as Mr. Drysman, was a lugubrious, elongated specimen of humanity, with a sallow face and a dull black eye. Yet he was the chief comedian of our company, and Mr. Robins told me in an “aside” that when Drysman made up his mind to be funny, though the beggar would rarely do it, he'd make you die of laughing, and our worthy manager spoke like one who had often experienced the sensation. One thing was certain: if Mr. Drysman was half as funny as he looked, our fortunes were made.

The next to arrive was Mr. Gerald Chester, our leading man, a gentleman with a bald head, a decided tendency to stoutness, and an odour of beer and tobacco. Yet he was a jovial-looking fellow, with a pair of merry eyes, which, though almost hidden by the innumerable ridges of fat which surrounded them, had

  ― 146 ―
a pleasant twinkle whenever you were fortunate enough to see them. His cheeks, too, were somewhat unduly aggressive, and his neck, red and beautifully sunburnt as it was, reminded me of a few inches of a miniature chimney. It had seen some weather, that neck, for in his time Mr. Gerald Chester had played many parts; some queer ones, too. I cannot say that I was impressed with his appearance. He did not seem to me an ideal Pygmalion, though, if the truth must be told, my idea of the sort of man the sculptor ought to be was a very hazy one. His wife accompanied him, a pale-faced little body, who had eyes only for her burly lord. Indeed her devotion to that man was something pitiful, and they had not been with us ten minutes before I saw that it was also the cause of endless annoyance to him.

Then, when all the principal members had arrived, we attempted our first rehearsal; but when we called on Pygmalion for the second act, we found

  ― 147 ―
that he and Chrysos had adjourned to the nearest public-house.

“Well, then,” said Mr. Robins, who evidently knew his men, “that will do for to-day. To-morrow, ladies and gentlemen, at the same time.”

  ― 148 ―

Chapter VII.

AT last the eventful day on which we were to begin our tour came round. We had rehearsed steadily for the last three days, thanks to the universal poverty which prevailed in our ranks, so that it may be said we had a fair, if somewhat hazy, notion of the parts we were to play. To the Hunchback, the second piece on our list, we did absolutely nothing in the way of a rehearsal, but Mr. Robins assured me that all the people knew the play backwards, and again he modestly made it known that his own performance of Master Walter was an undisputed triumph. This was encouraging, for I had grown possessed with the idea that we were as poor and ignorant a crowd as ever banded themselves together to

  ― 149 ―
deceive an unsuspecting public, and that our temerity would eventually lead to disastrous results. However, like a true novice, I was determined to give a satisfactory account of myself, so I learnt my parts thoroughly, and I'm not sure that I couldn't have prompted the others as well.

Mr. Robins, who hoped a great deal from me, and received much, was extremely gracious to me during our meetings at Flaskett's house, and though there was nothing in my manner, or his, which might warrant Mrs. Robins indulging in a fit of wifely jealousy, there was yet a nicety about our manager's manners which contrasted pleasantly with brusque Mr. Gerald Chester or the sepulchral Drysman. He was as affable and plausible a gentleman as ever lived, was Mr. Smythe Robins, in spite of his Mongolian eyes, and when he pointed out to me, as only he could point, that my interest in the commonwealth would be in proportion to the capital I invested, and the

  ― 150 ―
duties I performed, he had little difficulty in persuading me to part with another 5l. I felt that I was an idiot, but as he assured me that the money was absolutely necessary to enable us to start, I saw no other alternative than to yield. Had his borrowing propensities ended here, all might have been well, but the very next day he came to me in a terrible state of agitation. The printing was all ready, but the printer would not part with it without the money, and though he had scraped all his spare cash together he was still 30s. behind the required sum.

“If you have it,” he said, “don't hesitate for a moment. It's only the start that's the trouble. Once we get fairly under way the dollars 'll simply roll in. Of course I shall pay you ten per cent for your money. Not bad as times go, I can tell you.”

“It is very good interest,” I said, “and will suit me admirably. But I was under the impression that you had all the printing?”

  ― 151 ―

Mr. Robins smiled rather sadly. “No doubt. I meant you should receive such an impression, and rather than undeceive you I would have made any sacrifice—for you understand, Miss Trevor, that though I am only a struggling actor, a journeyman artist, as it were, I have still a little dignity.” Here his voice grew broken and pathetic, while his little Mongolian eyes twitched nervously.

Mr. Robins had an ambiguous way of appealing to you which was very effective. He never explained things fully—he would not insult your intellect by so doing—but with a few suggestive words, some rapid flourishes of the hands, and some wonderfully suggestive looks from out the corners of his wonderful eyes, he would lay his meaning before you as plainly as though he had described his thoughts in twelve-inch capitals. I understood and appreciated his delicacy in this instance, and without more ado, for I was not one to harp upon a sensitive chord, I handed him over the 30s. with a heavy

  ― 152 ―
heart, for it represented all, or nearly all, of my savings. But this, of course, our genial manager did not know. Evidently thinking that I was a bank, or a gold mine out of which he might extract the precious ore with a magnetic glance of his Mongolian orbs, he came to me the evening previous to our setting out and spun some doleful story of not having sufficient money to pay a deposit for the hall in which we were to open.

“But I was under the impression that the hall was engaged,” I said.

“And so it is,” he replied. “I sent them 5l., the usual deposit, but they now demand another fiver before they will let us open.”

“That is a strange way of doing business, is it not?”

“It's an infamous outrage,” was the indignant reply.

“And what reason do they give for such an unusual proceeding?”

“They say they do not know the Melbourne Comedy Company, and likewise

  ― 153 ―
profess entire ignorance of me. They tell me that a crowd calling themselves the Sydney Comedy Company once played in the place, who not alone forgot to pay their rent when leaving, but went off with everything they could lay their hands on. They seem to think, by the similarity of our titles, that we may be no very distant connections.”

At this I expressed my sorrow, but as I had no more money to lay out I told him so. He received the information with an incredulous stare; but being eventually convinced that I was speaking the truth, he took a very gloomy view of the situation, though he expressed the hope that the fabric which had cost him so much to build might not, for the sake of a few pounds, totter headlong to the earth. That it did not, the following pages will show, though if it had, Mr. Robins would have been a considerable loser.

It was a bleak, damp morning when, after bidding an affectionate farewell to

  ― 154 ―
Miss Louisa Sprattle, alias Moorna Lestrange, I betook myself to the Spencer Street Station. It had rained heavily all night, and though the rain had ceased somewhat with the approach of day, it still fell at odd intervals in a tantalizing drizzle. There was no sun in the sky, and the bitter wind which came shrieking through the crazy old station pierced me through and through. Of course I was there nearly an hour before my time, and being too restless and excited to sit before the waiting-room fire, I must needs wander up and down the cheerless platform, staring dismally at the long rows of ghostly-looking carriages.

At last the Sandhurst train was backed into position, and one of the porters, who long had eyed me suspiciously, advanced and wanted to know my destination.

“Swyneton,” I said, for upon that rural spot we were to swoop with our histrionic talons outstretched.

“Train's just in—this way,” and he

  ― 155 ―
attempted to seize my box. But in this design I thwarted him.

“I am waiting for some friends,” I explained. “When they come I will call you.”

“All right,” he said, and, favouring me with a stupid look, slouched off.

The fact is, a horrible suspicion had suddenly taken lodgment in my mind. Suppose—I almost gasped for breath at the thought—suppose Mr. Robins were not to turn up? I knew nothing of the man, and Flaskett knew little more. Nay, what did I know of Flaskett either? Might not he be a confederate of this man, and might not they have concocted this pretty little swindle? It was not a pleasant thought for a cold and sunless day, and walk as swiftly as I might up and down the dreary platform, I could not generate much heat about the region of my heart.

And now by ones, twos and threes, the passengers began to arrive, while the porters hurrying hither and thither added

  ― 156 ―
a little variety to the cheerless scene. But still no sign of the members of the Melbourne Comedy Company. I grew more uneasy every moment.

“Ah, Miss Trevor, here we are at last. Dooced unpleasant morning, ain't it?”

I could have shrieked with joy Turning round suddenly I beheld Mr. Smythe Robins, the same imperturbable smile on his sleek face, his little Mongolian eyes positively beaming with gladness, while beside him, encased in a voluminous waterproof, stood his better-half—decidedly his better-half, for she would have made two of him. Her face looked positively blue in the raw morning air, for that liquid preparation she used, of which I have spoken before, has this peculiar quality, that while in the hot weather it gives to the cheeks a roseate tinge, it turns them puce or peacock-green when it comes in contact with the cold. She shook hands very warmly and declared the weather was “downright

  ― 157 ―
'orrid,” a fact I could not gainsay, though I might have denied the accuracy of her mode of stating it. But all the members of our company were like that. They took far too much liberty with their native tongue, and cared as little for their moods, tenses and aspirates as they did for their prayers.

The next to arrive were Mr. and Mrs. Drysman, the elongated comedian, muffled up to his nose, looking, in his long black overcoat, like an undertaker's mute or an animated coffin. His wife, on the contrary, with imitation diamonds in her ears, an imitation sealskin on her back, and her face encased in a red veil, which showed to advantage her pretty, brazen features, looked exactly what she was.

“Morning, Miss Trevor,” moaned the comedian, his sepulchral voice seeming to come from some unfathomable depths beneath his feet.

“Good morning, Mr. Drysman.”

“A cheerful day, ain't it?” said the

  ― 158 ―
funny man pathetically. “Makes a feller feel glad that he's alive.”

“I don't call it a good omen,” chipped in Mrs. Robins, who was full of theatrical superstitions.

“Nor me,” said the funny man, seriously, so seriously, indeed, that his wife began to giggle, at which I, under fear of laughing in his face, turned aside, when I beheld Mr. and Mrs. Chester sailing towards us, our leading man looking bigger than ever in the prodigious poncho he wore. Then Flaskett and the smaller fry of the company put in a hurried appearance: Mr. Robins, who in the meantime had purchased the tickets, bundled us into the train, the whistle gave a short, sharp shriek, and away we went.

And thus did we start out on our tour, and in the witty and intellectual company which now surrounded me, the railway journey was, in spite of the dismal aspect of the outside world, satisfactorily accomplished.

  ― 159 ―

As we drew near our destination the weather grew more deplorable, and when we alighted at the station, which unfortunately is not exactly in the town, the heavens opened and another deluge descended; and as we were forced to hang about the station for close on two hours, no vehicles being procurable, it may not be necessary to more than hint at the hot spirits which bubbled on the refreshment counter. And when at last the rain ceased, or only fell a gentle drizzle, away we went, singly and in pairs, to hunt up our humble lodgings.

It had previously been decided that we should rehearse that afternoon, but our enforced stay at the station had rendered such a proceeding impossible. Flaskett got me a quiet lodging at one end of the town, and took a room opposite, in case I should want him, as he said. Indeed he was so good to me all through this troublous tour that I have not even yet forgiven myself for thinking ill of him, if only for a moment.

  ― 160 ―

At last the night drew in, and a cold, wet, cheerless one it was; yet not-withstanding these natural extinguishers of enthusiasm, there were grouped about the hall in which we were to perform, sundry noisy loafers, who either stared us insolently out of countenance or descended to actual jeering. Truly, we had fallen among the Philistines. Flaskett, being my true chevalier, walked by with nostrils haughtily erect; but I felt my veins grow suddenly hot, in spite of the apparent rascality of the mob, for what was I or my profession if such people could only regard me as a sort of tame curiosity? Of course, I was only a novice.

I think my knight and I must have been the first to arrive at the theatre, for when we entered that gloomy edifice there was not a soul to be seen, not even a gas-jet lighted. My companion, however, who had brought a candle in his pocket, lit it, and stuck it in an empty gin-bottle which he discovered in one corner of the dressing-room. He then

  ― 161 ―
unlocked my box, and was about to take his leave when we were both startled by a sudden sound, half grunt, half whistle, which seemed to come from the room on the other side of the partition. A moment we listened, looking curiously at each other, and then it came again, this time like a mighty sigh.

“What's that?” I asked. “What place is that in there?”

“The men's dressing-room,” he replied—they all had to dress in one room — “but what the noise means I'd better go and find out.”

A moment after I heard him striking a light, but upon his return he declared he could not account for the noise, unless it was caused by the wind rushing through a broken window—a most probable cause, and one which satisfied me entirely.

A few minutes after this Mr. and Mrs. Robins arrived, quickly followed by the long comedian and his smart-looking spouse. Then, all of a hurry-skurry, came poor Mrs. Chester, her wee white

  ― 162 ―
face absolutely palpitating with excitement. Her beloved Gerald was missing, and she had not the remotest idea what had become of him. All this we learned between the intervals of her sobs, the poor little creature being most painfully agitated.

“Not know where he is?” cried Mr. Robins, scornfully. “What the dooce do you mean by saying a thing like that?”

“He went out,” she sobbed, “shortly after tea—to see that everything was ready—and I've not seen him since.”

“Drunk again, I suppose,” exclaimed the manager sharply. “Why the dooce don't you look after him better?”

“I thought he had enough at the station,” began the poor woman. “I never imagined that he—”

“Oh no, of course not,” said Mr. Robins, sarcastically—that was the worst of Mr. Robins; he was so terribly cutting upon occasions—“you thought he was an angel, didn't you? A nice one you are to have a husband, I don't think.

  ― 163 ―
Well, we can't go on without him, so you had better go and find him.”

“But I have been to every public house in the place,” pleaded the poor woman.

“Faugh, the brute!” cried Mr. Robins, angrily. “I'll tell you what it is, my good woman; if it wasn't that I should have to double his parts, I should like to hear of nothing better than that sot's complete extinction.” Saying which he took himself off in a terrible huff and we proceeded with our dressing.

It was now getting unpleasantly near starting time; the gallery and back seats had pretty well filled and by the noise they were making were in a desperate hurry for us to begin the performance. But behind the scenes there was still more confusion, for Mr. Gerald Chester, the Pygmalion of the evening, had not yet put in an appearance. Mr. Robins, his Greek dress only partly hidden by his long Newmarket ulster, stamped up and down the stage foaming and vowing vengeance on the leading man's fat head,

  ― 164 ―
while the leading man's pale-faced wife slunk off to the darkest corner of the stage to weep in secret.

A quarter of an hour after the time for starting, Mr. Robins hit upon the happy device of gaining a few minutes' respite by ordering our orchestra—which consisted of a woman and a piano—to strike up, which it did with much perturbation, for the noise in front was growing distinctly ominous. Then all at once it suddenly struck me that the noise Flaskett and I had heard, which had cost us a moment or two's conjecture, was as like a human snore as anything so uncanny could be, and that it might possibly have emanated from the nasal appendage of our leading man. This idea I at once communicated to Flaskett, who, with a supercilious smile on his classic face, rendered doubly classic in his classic dress, was leaning against a bit of old scenery, evidently enjoying the hubbub. At first he received my suggestion with a frown, but that frown passing as quickly

  ― 165 ―
away left his face wreathed with smiles.

“By jingo!” he cried, “I believe he is there,” and away he darted, I following in his tracks.

When I reached the door of the men's dressing-room a curious sight presented itself. In the middle of the floor was a large cane travelling-basket, such as ladies use for their dresses, and this, after no little exertion, Flaskett and Mr. Drysman succeeded in turning over on its side, when to my astonishment I beheld, very snugly cuddled up—how he had packed himself away in such a manner was nothing short of miraculous —the rotund figure of our leading man. He was sound asleep, his hands crossed tenderly over his capacious lower chest, which rose and fell with a distinct though gentle motion.

“ 'Ere,” cried Flaskett, trying to sever those brawny arms which, like the Village Blacksmith's, seemed strong as iron bands, “wake up, can't you!”

  ― 166 ―
And he pressed his fist rudely into Mr. Chester's lower chest, at which that gentleman sighed sadly.

“Confound it, Chester,” exclaimed the comedian in his far-off voice, and yet a voice of sorrow, too, “why don't you wake up, man? Think we want to keep the bloomin' show open all night? Drunk,” he whispered in an “aside,” which sounded like a far-off moan, “drunk as a lord.”

Flaskett began to grin furiously, thinking the joke an excellent one, but no sign of merriment appeared on the gloomy features of our funny man. Indeed, I never saw him look more solemn, and I quite expected to see him take out his handkerchief and begin to cry.

At that moment Mr. Robins, white and furious, appeared, but uttering an exclamation of joy upon beholding the slumbering artist, he motioned to Flaskett and the comedian, and between them they turned the basket completely over. Then lifting it up, they deposited Mr. Chester, in the

  ― 167 ―
midst of a heap of his wife's clothes, in the middle of the floor. How they brought him round I don't know, for doubled up with laughing, in spite of my previous agitation, I was forced to beat a retreat. Flaskett spoke of them dousing him with cold water, a liquid to which he always had an insuperable aversion— but brought round he eventually was, and his classic robes thrown on him. Then when thoroughly awake there was little more to be feared, for he was one of those invaluable actors who play as well drunk as sober.

Yet it was a cruel ordeal for me, a novice, the trouble beginning from the time I mounted my white-washed candle box—for on such an unclassical pedestal had the statue Galatea to stand. My burly Pygmalion, when he went to pull the curtains aside to show me in all my beauty, clutched them so fiercely—really for support—that he tore them down, and he would likewise have knocked Galatea off her candle box had she not

  ― 168 ―
suddenly come to life and held him up. This caused the audience to titter, but suppressing their inclination to laugh outright, which was a most astonishing piece of self-restraint, they allowed us to go on with our disgraceful mumming. Over the rest of that shocking performance I ought to draw a charitable veil, and I would were it not that the principal item in our evening's amusement had yet to come.

In this particular piece a dead fawn performs a prominent part, and, as not unusual with prominent characters, was the life and soul of the play—paradoxical as it may seem. This silly fawn, I am told, is invariably a source of annoyance and ridicule, and ours was no exception to the rule. At the last minute we discovered that this necessary “prop” was missing, though Mr. Robins declared that he packed it with his own hands—which, however, nobody believed. But what was still worse, we had nothing that would in any way resemble the missing quadruped,

  ― 169 ―
and as I had to weep over it in the play I was naturally much concerned. I suggested Mrs. Drysman's imitation sealskin jacket; but Flaskett, who fulfilled the double duties of actor and property man, approached me consolingly.

“Leave it to me, miss,” he said; “you leave it to me. I'll see that everything's all right, never fear.” And so much belief had I in the rascal's ingenuity, that I banished the trouble from my mind.

Fatal confidence.

The scene came, and when the soldier-lover held out the fawn which he had slain in “arrant wantonness,” he almost slew me—with terror. For, lo and behold! the fawn was no fawn at all, only a piece of drab scene-cloth with a strip of green ribbon tied round its middle. And for this I had to express concern; over this I had to utter no end of nonsense. The audience stood it very patiently for a time—it's wonderful what a theatrical audience will stand—then they began to titter, and then the

  ― 170 ―
titter burst into a hearty roar. We spoke, but could scarcely hear ourselves, and in the midst of the din Mr. Smythe Robins, Newmarket coat and all, bounded on to the stage. He made several ineffectual attempts to speak, but at last getting a hearing he told them pretty plainly that he did not put ladies on the stage to be insulted, and that unless we actors were given a fair hearing he would ring down the curtain. This threat sobered them a little, for having paid their money they wanted their fill of the fun. Then he complained bitterly of the railway authorities, who, it seems, had not delivered our baggage—hence our miserable equivalent for a fawn. And he wound up with a graceful, but embarrassing, tribute to myself, whom he described as one of England's most popular, accomplished, and beautiful actresses, and declared that as he had been at a tremendous expense to secure me for this tour, he hoped they would extend to me that courtesy for which they were so justly famous.

  ― 171 ―

This speech, which was a clever piece of audacity, produced a soothing and favourable impression on the audience, and amid cries of “Go on with the play,” and “Good old fawn,” we buckled once more to our task. How it all ended I have but a hazy recollection, for all through the latter part of the play my brain was in a whirl. That it did end, however, and that we escaped the just wrath of an outraged public were matters for congratulation. Of my perplexities during this most heinous representation I will not speak, for my command of language could do but little justice to my thoughts or feelings. How I passed through such an ordeal I would not attempt to tell, but my behaviour during that most trying period was the source of unbounded wonder to my confrères, who, little realizing what I really suffered, were unanimous in their laudation of my unexampled presence of mind.

Yet if we fondly hoped that with the close of our stormy day a fairer dawn

  ― 172 ―
would rise, we were grievously disappointed, for during our rehearsal of the Hunchback on the following Monday morning, the piece we were to perform that night, Mr. Robins informed us that the railway authorities had not yet delivered the missing baggage, and that in consequence our costumes for the piece were not forthcoming. At this there was a great ado, especially among the men, who could not “fake” their modern dress with any degree of verisimilitude. Mr. Drysman, our funny man, and a more melancholy wag I never saw, complained loudly and bitterly in his sepulchral voice; while Mr. Gerald Chester, who had no little of the bull in his composition, performed prodigies with his tongue. He could not understand how things were so mismanaged. It was not the fault of the railway authorities, but of an individual nearer home, and if things were to be conducted in this manner, the sooner they decapitated the present head from the body commonwealth, the better it would

  ― 173 ―
be. To this Mr. Smythe Robins replied by suggesting that to Mr. Gerald Chester should be handed the management of the company, but the suggestion was couched in such scathing terms that Mr. Chester threatened to pull his nose, a feat he would most certainly have accomplished had Mr. Robins given him further provocation, for though a boisterous braggart by nature, our leading man was big enough to eat the manager. The latter worthy, however, knowing his man, and likewise what would best suit his own ends, took unto himself an injured tone.; deplored the slur which had been cast upon his managerial ability, and bewailed such dissensions in the company—that company to propitiate whose welfare was the one aim and object of his life. I thought I saw Mr. Chester's lip curl at this, and he told Flaskett afterwards that he did not believe our manager ever had the costumes of the play—a piece of scepticism as ungenerous as it was uncalled for, for I never saw a man more

  ― 174 ―
thoroughly put out about anything than was Mr. Robins over this particular incident. At any rate no more words ensued between them, so we finished our rehearsal and went home, all fondly hoping that the things would arrive by the next train.

Vain hope. The train came in, but in spite of Mr. Robins's numerous journeyings to and from the station, and notwithstanding the feverish telegrams he had dispatched to Melbourne, that unhappy box, or boxes—I never quite knew which it was—hid itself with exasperating obstinacy. Unfortunately we had been billed to produce this comedy of the Hunchback—a rather lugubrious affair, too, when one comes to think of it, but the provincials all the world over like their pudding solid—and as no conscientious manager likes to disappoint his dear public, Mr. Robins's state of agitation may easily be conceived, though I doubt if it would have been quite so alarming had our repertory been a more extensive one.

  ― 175 ―

“I'll tell you what it is,” he cried as he paced excitedly up and down before us—a mute and helpless crew—“we'll have to play it in modern dress.” At this there was no little sneering, with not a few contemptuous epithets. “It's that or nothing,” he continued. “If they'll have it we'll give it to 'em.” And before anyone could make answer he had darted from us, pulled back the curtain and stepped before the footlights. And here I may mention that never had a popular actor a more decided penchant for speaking before the curtain than our worthy manager. He never let the slightest opportunity slip, and I do not recollect a single performance in which he did not contrive to appeal to the audience in his own person. It seemed as though he longed to throw off his mimic personality and appear before them as a real being.

On this occasion his assurance stood us in good stead. He appealed to the suffrages of his kind friends in front. A dilatory and unequal government had by

  ― 176 ―
its gross mismanagement defrauded us of our property and them of their pleasure —though I thought the last an open question. He then informed them that the Hunchback was a dress piece, not, as he wittily put it, that other plays could be presented undressed, but this one had a particular sort of dress which considerably enhanced its beauty. He next made them acquainted with the fact that it was in blank verse, and at once proceeded to enlighten them as to the kind of thing blank verse was; which undertaking being duly accomplished, he put it to them: Would they have the Hunchback in modern dress, or should we repeat our performance of Pygmalion and Galatea? At this last suggestion there was a decided “No!” long and loud and deep. They had seen us once in that piece and were satisfied: by the time we had got through with the Hunchback I think they were also satisfied with that.

  ― 177 ―

Chapter VIII.

ON the third night we put up two ancient farces of the horse-play pattern, interspersed with a few comic songs, but as I did not appear in either of them I had not the temerity to venture near the hall; therefore I cannot describe their effect on the audience, though Flaskett afterwards informed me that the songs went A1. Of the plays he said nothing, and out of consideration for his feelings I suppressed my curiosity.

On the following morning we were up early and away, and glad enough was I to turn my back on the scene of our humiliation. Mr. Robins gave me enough to pay my board, with a half-crown over for incidental expenses. This, he informed me, was exceedingly handsome behaviour

  ― 178 ―
on his part, as our expenditure had considerably exceeded our receipts, so that to meet all demands he was forced to draw upon his private exchequer. But he was good enough to tell me that he liked me, and that I could always rely on him in my hour of adversity, and that he was sure I would yet build up a fame and fortune of my own. Reassuring words, no doubt, but with the memory of my first experience still so dreadfully green, I shared but mildly in his enthusiasm.

At our next stopping place we fared little better, from a monetary point of view, but our artistic success was more pronounced, and to the artistic soul that, like virtue, is its own reward. The various members of our motley crew, owing to the scarcity of corn in Egypt, entered the town sober and left it so, and in consequence we were the recipients of some laudatory notices from the local press, Mr. Drysman in particular coming in for a perfect eulogy; for thanks to a severe bilious attack, which tinged with acidity

  ― 179 ―
that gentleman's melancholy humour, he was really so overwhelmingly comical that to look at him was enough to launch you into hysterics. Each jaundiced eye was a wistful monologue in mourning. Round the corners of his long mouth were traced great lines of sorrow and suffering, so that the comic things he delivered in his dolefullest voice seemed so exceedingly absurd that the people laughed themselves sore. That was the greatest triumph Mr. Drysman ever achieved, though sad to say the poor fellow was really too ill to enjoy it. Here again we performed the Hunchback in modern dress—those unfortunate costumes not having yet arrived. The people, however, were good enough to tolerate this little drawback, and as our leading men had the distinct advantage of being sober, we acquitted ourselves with no little credit, though I myself was once more vastly disappointed in Mr. Robins's Master Walter, and wondered if I could be lacking in sense or judgment. Of appreciation I had

  ― 180 ―
none, in spite of that great reputation of which he spoke so much.

Money again being scarce, our receipts, according to Mr. Robins, just covering our expenditure, we arrived in the next town of Shalbot in a thoroughly sedate manner; but here once more, according to the same authority, our monetary success was as nothing compared to our artistic, and though the latter should have pleased us most, I regret to say it did not. Mr. Gerald Chester began to growl, and Mr. Drysman, who at the time was suffering from a severe cold which he had taken on the top of his bilious attack, moaned in unison. They would take good care that they saw into things for the future; and if they did not openly accuse our manager of appropriating more than his just share, they hinted pretty plainly at it. Then of course Mr. Robins grew mightily indignant and said some very sarcastic things; but his indignation quickly cooling down, indifference took its place. “Very well,”

  ― 181 ―
said he with a most mischievous twinkle in his little Mongolian eyes, “you may take the management out of my hands with pleasure. The fact of the matter is, I've worked too d—d hard for you and been too d—d honest.” At this Mr. Chester laughed in an irritating way, while Mr. Drysman joined in with a cough which was more suggestive of a cemetery than an insult.

At first Mr. Robins looked like a hot retort, but scorning abuse and low insinuation, he mildly said, “You're an ungrateful lot of beggars, and may do as you jolly well please. I've kept you all out of gaol so far, now you'd better see if you can keep yourselves out.” And throwing his head back disdainfully, he stalked from our presence. Of course nothing came from the grumblings—nothing ever does. The free-born man asserts his liberty by grumbling, and if you let him have his growl in peace you'll find him afterwards a most obedient and docile animal. We could no more have

  ― 182 ―
done without Mr. Robins than a baby without its nurse—a fact of which that wily individual was well aware. He put in an appearance at the hall that night as usual—the same affable soul who had early wormed his way into my little nest-egg—and you would not have guessed from his looks that his glossy feathers had of late undergone such a severe ruffling.

The same ill-fortune dogged us to the next town; but our arrival at Munes was evidently looked forward to with no little curiosity, our reputation having somewhat agreeably preceded us, mainly owing to a very glowing account of our doings which appeared in one of the Melbourne weeklies, which Mr. Robins had penned and then dispatched with a present to a friendly scribe—a gentleman who, unless his reputation belied him, was never known to refuse a drink or a tip. The consequence was that as we opened on the Saturday night we had a splendid house, and loud and long were the congratulations

  ― 183 ―
showered upon each other. Some were sure there was not less than seventy pounds in the house, while the more sanguine, whose wish was father to the thought, added another twenty and then declared themselves below the mark. But be its value what it might, it had a most stimulating effect on our spirits, and we played that evening better than we had ever played before, which, though saying a great deal, was not saying much. Golden visions lulled us all to sleep that night, and I have no doubt that each member of the Melbourne Comedy Company saw himself staggering home, his tour ended, beneath a bag of gold.


Early the next morning, which was a Sunday, and melancholy in consequence, Flaskett walked round to my lodgings, looking more melancholy than the day.

“What's the matter, Flaskett?” I asked, immediately perceiving his ill looks. “Are you unwell?”

“Yes and no,” he answered mysteriously.

  ― 184 ―
“That is I'm well enough physically but downright ill mentally.”

“Explain yourself,” I demanded, having no knowledge of him in this mysterious mood.

“It's easily done, miss. He's gone!”

“What do you mean? Who's gone?”

“Mr. Smythe Robins.”


“Bolted, and took our big house with him.”

“Do you mean to say that he has stolen the money—robbed us?” He nodded. “Are you sure?”

“I wish I wasn't. He left last night by the late train.”

“And took the money with him?”

“Yes, miss, and something else not quite so val'able—in my opinion.”

“What do you mean, Flaskett?” I asked, curious as to this further mystery.

“Mrs. Drysman has disappeared, too. Went by the late train, they said up at the station. A nice lot, miss. Enough to make a man chuck the perfession.”

  ― 185 ―

“But what will become of poor Mrs. Robins?”

Here an amused look passed over Flaskett's melancholy face.

“I don't know,” he said, “poor thing.” But as I thought he did know I refrained from pressing the question.

To attempt to describe the fury, the despair, of the Melbourne Comedy Company over this affair would be a futile task, as it beggared all description. Mr. Gerald Chester was like a raging bull, and could he at that moment have laid his huge hands on the culprit, he would have eaten him—at least so he declared. And I heard Mr. Drysman, who, poor fellow, suffered in a double sense, take a solemn and awful oath to be revenged on the man who had so grievously wronged him, if he waited a thousand years for the opportunity;—which was a long time. Among the smaller fry, who had not yet received a penny for their services, the lamentations were no less long and loud, and had the whole scene not been so intensely

  ― 186 ―
grotesque it would have been most pitiful. We thought of communicating with the police; we thought of a thousand things, not one of which we put into execution. Besides, the very fates were against us. The day being Sunday everything was at a standstill. I did not see poor Mrs. Robins that day, but when I asked Mr. Chester how she was he grinned curiously and told me that she was bearing her trouble with Christian fortitude, and that Mr. Drysman, forgetting his own affliction in hers, was devoting all his energies to lightening her sorrow. I did not ask for further information.

Still, hope is ever with the brave. We were to play on the Monday and fondly believed that we might be able to do without Mr. Robins, and that sufficient coppers would roll into the treasury, of which Mr. Gerald Chester was now custodian, to enable us to pay our way. Vain hope; fond, delusive dream. We played that night, but to countless rows

  ― 187 ―
of empty benches. Like spectres we glided hither and thither, going through our task in a mechanical way, a fixed look of hopeless resignation upon each melancholy face.

And now I was to learn the reason of the mysterious summons I had received that evening prior to setting out for the theatre. It was a short note from Mr. Chester begging me to bring everything of use or value to the theatre with me that night, as I might require them later on, and it might not be convenient for me to revisit my lodgings in search of them. So guessing there was something odd in the air, though what I could not comprehend, I did as I was bidden. After the play was over, however, Flaskett approached and asked if he should help me to pack, “As,” added he, with a curious smile, “we are setting out for Hawkstone presently.” Hawkstone was the next town on our list.

“But,” said I, “how can we be going

  ― 188 ―
to set out for Hawkstone? We are to play here to-morrow night.”

“Oh, are we?” he said, beginning to grin. Immediately seeing that something unusual was on the tapis, and being by this time not much surprised thereat, I requested a clearer answer.

“This army's on the march,” says he with an odd smile. “A New Hexodus, as Mr. Drysman calls it.” Now I doubted if Mr. Drysman had called it any such thing, that worthy man's chief vice being a tendency to dropping his aspirates instead of putting them on. But I knew Flaskett. Many a tough tussle had he, in spite of his lessons in elocution, with that abominable letter.

“A New Exodus, Flaskett? What do you mean?”

“There's no money in the treasury,” he began.


“Consequently we are unable to discharge our obligations in the town.”


  ― 189 ―

“Consequently we're going to take French leave.”


“What else can we do?”

“But it's so degrading, so—”

“So it is,” broke in Mr. Flaskett, “but it would be much more degrading to stay and risk being run in as vagabonds. It's only twenty mile to Hawkstone. Chester's managed to borrow a trap. Who knows but what we may be able to pick up a bit there. Then you can pay your bills—if you like.” With that he locked and strapped my big trunk, and, lifting it on his shoulders, marched off, telling me to follow with my handbag. I did so, and in a stealthy manner he led me round to the back of the hall, and there I saw Mr. Drysman and another lifting the boxes over the fence, on the other side of which stood a horse and trap. In this trap stood Mr. Chester and one of the other men stacking the boxes as they were handed over.

“That you, Miss Trevor?” asked the

  ― 190 ―
comedian in a sepulchral whisper. I replied in the affirmative, but rather too loudly, I suppose, for he checked me with a deprecating gesture.

“Gently, gently,” he cried in his hollow whisper. “You don't want the bloomin' town down on us, do you?”

“I'm not particular.”

“I am,” he said with his cemetery laugh.

“ 'Ere,” growled Mr. Chester from the other side of the fence, “what the blazes are you making that row for?”

“Come,” said Flaskett. “Give me your hand, Miss Trevor.” So like the rogues that we were, we stole quietly down the yard, opened the side gate softly and made our way back to the waggon. Here we found the company assembled, and as the last box was at that moment handed over, Mr. Drysman, who followed it, made known in his sepulchral whisper that we women were to mount the boxes and ride, while the men would walk. At this I hesitated, though hesitation now was of

  ― 191 ―
no avail. Flaskett, whose eye seemed to be ever on me, noticed my reluctance.

“Don't be afraid,” he whispered. “Nothing shall harm you.”

Truly there is a wonderful sense of security in the protection a man affords. I mounted the trap without further hesitation, and Flaskett, by removing a box, made me a most comfortable seat at the back of the vehicle. He placed cushions for my back and head, he would insist upon spreading his own rug over me as well as my own, and not till I had declared some score of times that I was splendidly comfortable did he appear satisfied. Then the other women were hoisted into their positions, and after much fussing we moved away. The men, poor fellows, slunk on ahead like shadows, and soon we were all out in the open country, the few lights of the town twinkling behind us like great fire-flies. The men joked about it after, but I think they all felt the degradation. It was no wish of theirs that they should steal away like

  ― 192 ―
rogues and vagabonds, but there was no other way out of the dilemma. As for me, I burn with shame even now when I think of that awful business.

To make matters worse, it was a bitterly cold night, and, moreover, as the country roads in winter are generally in a most deplorable condition, that journey was not one of my most pleasant experiences. The men, once the town was left far enough behind, plodded along through the slippery quagmire, singing snatches of rowdy songs, and laughing boisterously at the misfortunes which were incessantly befalling them. I could not help admiring them, lighthearted, merry rascals that they were. People who have the spirit to laugh at such reverses, are worthy of a better fate. It would have been no easy task to tread that slippery and uneven path by daylight, but to have done so with never a star in the sky, rendered it one of the most distressing conceivable. Yet on they trudged manfully, slosh, slosh through the heavy mud,

  ― 193 ―
splash, splash in countless water-holes. By degrees their laughter died away, and save for an oath now and again, when some unfortunate floundered into a deeper hole than usual, they pursued their melancholy way in silence. Poor fellows, the jest was played out. There was no longer any fun in the performance. Still, on they tramped doggedly through the slush, through the dark night and the desolate bush, the gaunt, white gums ever and anon looming up through the thick, damp air, like so many silent ghosts.

I must have fallen asleep in spite of the jolting and the cold, for when I opened my eyes the day was slowly breaking, a dull, sober light spreading itself across the tops of the dripping trees. A more ghostly and depressing look-out I had never witnessed, and I began to shiver horribly, alas, not only at the desolate view. We were still moving, though at a snail's pace, and I wondered if the horse had been kept going all night. Everything

  ― 194 ―
was so extraordinarily quiet, too, that I began to grow alarmed; yet on attempting to move to look about me, I found myself so stiff with the cold that for a long time all my attempts were futile. Then the object near me, which I at first took for a bundle of rugs, turned out to be my trusty chevalier, Flaskett. He was curled up between two boxes in a most singular fashion, and apparently sound asleep. I watched him for a long time without perceiving any signs of life. His face was ghastly in its pallor, his lips livid, and round his sunken eyes there were great blue-black circles. Being afraid that he was frozen, or might freeze, to death—for he was without a covering, having given me his rug at the beginning of the journey—I called him. Once, twice, three times I spoke without receiving a reply, but at the fourth summons he awoke. It was also some time before he could straighten a limb or move.

“I thought it was time to waken you,” I said. “You looked frozen.”

  ― 195 ―

“I believe I was,” he answered. “But you—how do you feel?”

I was forced to confess that I did not feel well, and that, moreover, I did not believe my blood would ever thaw again.

“Are you too ill to walk?” he asked. “That will restore the circulation.”

I thought I was not, so first of all, after much rubbing of his nether limbs, Flaskett swung himself over the back of the cart, and then helped me to alight, the vehicle moving all the while. It was then I discovered that all the male members of our company were missing, and I asked what it meant.

“We pulled up at a wayside pub about three this morning,” Flaskett explained between his chattering teeth, “and left them there. Poor chaps, they were completely done up. Couldn't have covered another mile if you had paid them for it. And what a state they were in, good lord! Wringing wet and splashed from head to foot with mud. The landlord's

  ― 196 ―
going to bring them on in the morning.”

“And why didn't you stay with them?” for I could see that he, too, was in a pitiable condition. “You really ought to have done so, Flaskett.”

“I daresay I ought,” he replied, looking straight ahead of him, “but I preferred to come.” I knew why, and thanked him with a look. “Mr. Drysman undertook the office of coachman,” he explained, “and I came as conductor.”

“Is Mr. Drysman driving?” As we were walking behind the waggon I could not tell who held the reins.

“He's supposed to be, miss, but just now he's either dead, or fast asleep.”

We walked on a little quicker and there saw our comedian leaning forward in his seat, his head on his breast, the reins held listlessly in his frozen hands.

“He looks as though he were dead,” I exclaimed.

“I never saw him look anything else,” was the sympathetic reply.

  ― 197 ―

And now the morning mists were gradually dying away before the uprising of the sun, who, although we could not see him, yet made his presence felt. For the first time we were able to look about us, and though the sight was not a very exhilarating one, we were rendered more cheerful by the knowledge that day was breaking.

And now the driver and his other passengers began to awake, but finding that they were all stiff and unable to move, they set up a great noise; all but poor little Mrs. Chester. But then she never made a noise unless it was over her burly Gerald. Though pale and fragile as a ghost, and more like a dead than a living woman, she never uttered a complaint. When I asked her how she felt, she smiled faintly and answered, “very well,” and then launched off into surmises and conjectures concerning the welfare of her selfish husband. “A decent little woman” was Mrs. Chester—such at least was the encomium she received from every

  ― 198 ―
member of the company, which means a great deal in its way.

At length, about mid-day, we reached the hill which overlooks the town of Hawkstone, and here we rested awhile to smarten ourselves up before courting the gaze of its inhabitants. Then we let the waggon go on ahead, Flaskett, Mrs. Chester and I preferring to make our entrance on foot. We were not particularly impressed with the appearance of this flourishing township, for it looked about the last place on earth in which a band of benighted Thespians could expect to pick up their bread and cheese. Flaskett, as we walked along, drew our attention to the fact that not one of our bills was to be seen—a circumstance which caused us no little uneasiness. But more uneasiness yet awaited us, for when we arrived at the town hall, where stood our baggage not yet unloaded, we were informed by Mr. Drysman, who, with some reason, had got an extra fit of the dolefuls, that not alone had the

  ― 199 ―
hall not been engaged, but that the advance agent had not even been near the place. Here then was nice news; a pretty predicament. What we were to do no one seemed to have the slightest idea, and I began to conjure up dreadful visions of arrest for fraud, vagabondage, and a hundred different things. Then a friendly policeman, taking pity on our lot, suggested that we should go in a body to the mayor and lay our case before him, and when, later on, Mr. Chester and the rest of the company arrived on the scene, we followed the sympathetic constable's advice.

We found the chief magistrate in his shop, behind the counter, with his sleeves tucked up, he being a distinguished draper. He listened very gravely to the recital of our misfortunes, declared that we had indeed been badly used, and that he would see what he could do for us.

“But, sir,” said Mr. Chester, “you will pardon my seeming presumption”—it

  ― 200 ―
was wonderful how civil and nice-spoken our leading man could be on occasions— “but what are we to understand by that? We have no money, and they will not let us the hall without a substantial deposit.”

The mayor, looking extremely perplexed, declared the situation was an awkward one, a fact of which we were only too well aware. Then after another moment's thought he exclaimed suddenly, “You shall have the hall rent free. There, there, no thanks. I was a pro. myself once. I can sympathize with you. I'm afraid, though, you won't do much in this town. Still, we'll try our best.”

And that mayor was as good as his word. Not alone did he give us the hall, but he printed some handbills for us and had them distributed, and an hour before the show started got the town band to turn out for our benefit. But still misfortune dogged our steps. Half an hour within starting time the rain came on again, a steady drizzle, so that many who

  ― 201 ―
might have ventured forth to inspect our wares were kept at home by the hostility of the elements. The mayor, however, took a guinea's worth of seats, and brought his wife and family with him; but even the knowledge of his august patronage did not fill the theatre to overflowing, and when we came to reckon up our receipts we found that we were still five pounds short of the sum that would be required to take us all to Melbourne. This being made known to the mayor, he forthwith promised to supply that sum, a piece of generosity which was voted by one and all to be extremely handsome.

In the morning we were up betimes, and, paying our way like honest folks, betook ourselves to the railway station. There in due time the mayor and the local police force, which consisted of three constables, arrived to see us safely off, and I should think those excellent officials must have heaved a sigh of relief as the train steamed off with the members of the Melbourne Comedy Company.

  ― 202 ―

Chapter IX.

THUS came to a melancholy end all our fond dreams of gold and glory. The train rattled on through the gloomy day, but the journey was void of that merry chatter which so enlivened our setting out. Indeed, I do not think I ever saw such a spiritless assembly. Poor things, we had not a quip or a smile among us. Even Mr. Chester forgot his greatness, and curled up in the far corner of the carriage mute as his little wife; while Mr. Drysman, looking more forlorn than words can well express, stared gloomily our through the window, now sighing and now almost sobbing, yet rarely uttering a word. Had it not been for the consolation he seemed to gain from Mrs. Robins's hand, which he, unconsciously, held all the time, I think

  ― 203 ―
the poor man would have broken down entirely.

At last we arrived at the station from which we had departed with such high hopes so short a time ago. A hurried good-bye, and we parted, some of us never to meet again. I was to go with Flaskett till such time as I could get another engagement, when I was to repay him for the shelter he so kindly offered. He called a cab and away we went, I feeling so deadly ill that he had to lead me to, and help me in, the vehicle. The fact is, I had caught a severe chill during our frozen journey to Hawkstone, and though I tried to shake off the deadly sickness, I felt it taking a firmer hold of me hour on hour. Flaskett, too, saw that I was far from well—though I doubt if he had any suspicion of my real state— and his kindness and attention were so admirable that I took many a secret vow to befriend him in the time to come if it should ever lay in my power.

Our reception at Belle-vue Cottages was

  ― 204 ―
not of the most encouraging nature. Mrs. Flaskett opened the door to her husband's impatient summons, but, upon seeing who were the arrivals, burst out laughing idiotically. Then turning to her mother, who stood a few paces back, she said, “They've come, ma. What did I tell you?”

Ma, who was a stout person with a pale, flabby face, began to grin even more idiotically than her daughter, so that I at once perceived that all was not well with her. Indeed, I thought she clung to the wall suspiciously, and as Flaskett pushed by both his wife and mother-in-law, my olfactory senses became aware of the presence of intoxicating liquors.

He led me into the sitting-room, arranging the uncomfortable sofa's uncomfortable cushions to the best of his ability.

“There,” he said kindly, “sit down. You look quite ill. I will get some tea for you in a few minutes.”

  ― 205 ―

“I'm afraid I'm a great nuisance. Pray don't bother about me. I shall be well presently.”

“I hope so, miss; but that journey to Hawkstone was a dreadful business. It's given me the rheumatics pretty bad, I can tell you.”

Here there was a shuffling at the door, and Mrs. Flaskett, followed by her ma, entered the room.

“Well, Bob,” said Mrs. Flaskett, smiling wickedly, while her ma clung tenderly to the doorway, blinking at us with watery eyes, “you've come 'ome at last, my boy?”

“It looks like it,” said her husband.

“I hope you've brought that fortune with you.”

“What fortune?” was the sour query.

“Why, the one you were going to make, to be sure,” replied the woman tauntingly. “I've been waiting all this time for that silk dress you promised, Bob, while poor ma hasn't a boot to

  ― 206 ―
her foot.” Here the individual referred to favoured us with a most doleful look.

“Pawned 'em, I suppose,” said Mr. Flaskett rudely.

“You wretch,” screamed ma, “how dare you insult your wife's mother!”

“Look'ere,” cried Flaskett stamping his foot fiercely, “this lady is ill, and I won't have her annoyed. Liz, you must behave yourself, while you, Mrs. Mackenzie, or Madame Deleval, or whatever the devil you call yourself, had better make yourself scarce.”

Mrs. Mackenzie, for that was her real name, turned very pale about the lips, but instead of retorting she began to sob, while Liz, clasping her ma in her arms, exclaimed, “How dare you speak to my mother like that, Bob Flaskett? And who is that woman, I should like to know? and what right have you to bring her here in an honest woman's house?”

Flaskett's ugly face grew perfectly demoniacal with rage. With a suppressed but passionate cry he bounded across to

  ― 207 ―
his wife, seized her and her mother by the shoulders and unceremoniously bundled them from the room.

“You must excuse them,” he said as he returned. “They don't know any better.”

“I'm afraid,” said I, “that I shall prove a most unwelcome visitor, Flaskett.”

“Not at all,” he answered emphatically. “What's it to do with them—if you don't mind staying?”

“But that's just it, Flaskett, I do mind staying. Not that I blame you—don't think that for a moment—but I have no wish to cause discord between you and your wife. Therefore I should feel greatly obliged if you would try and find out if Miss Lestrange is still at the El Dorado.”

“Yes, yes,” he said, “I will find out this very afternoon; but I do hope you won't allow the wife and her mother to upset you. One I can and will turn out, the other I must bear. You'll find her right enough if I can only keep the mother

  ― 208 ―
off. But when they get together they drink, and you can do nothing with a drunken woman. She's the worst and obstinatest beast under the sun. But you want some tea, don't you? You—you're not going to faint, miss?”

“Only a little giddiness. It's past now. Thank you, I should like some tea.”

So after beseeching me to lie still, away he went and prepared the tea things, though first I heard him shuffle Mrs. Mackenzie along the passage, then open the front door and afterwards slam it to with no little vigour. That he had somewhat rudely ejected that worthy lady there could be no doubt, for through the partly open window I heard her expatiate rather freely on my virtues and his vices. Even when the tea, smoking hot, was brought in, she might still be heard, a few yards down the street, haranguing an audience of dirty boys and girls, and had not a policeman come along at that moment, who graciously moved her on, there is no knowing how much of Mr. Flaskett's

  ― 209 ―
domestic history she might not have divulged.

Flaskett walked over to the window and looked out. Returning a moment after he said with a sigh of satisfaction, “Thank goodness she's gone. I only wish the peeler had run her in and they'd given her twelve years hard. I thought the journey to Hawkstone terrible, but it's heaven beside a home-coming like this.”

Poor old Flaskett! I made no reply, but I pitied him all the same.

After the tea, which refreshed me considerably, he insisted upon my lying down till he returned from his inquiries at the El Dorado and elsewhere, which, seeming to me a sensible proposal, I agreed to. Inside two hours he returned, finding me much better after my sound nap. He, however, had not succeeded in discovering Miss Moorna Lestrange, for that young lady had gone on tour with Mr. James Sauros's company, but he had been lucky enough to secure an engagement for himself.

  ― 210 ―
Miss Vere Siddons, who had made a rise in the world, was taking a company, under a six weeks' engagement, through the principal towns of the North-East, ending up at Parramatta, or most probably Sydney, and Flaskett had just called at the agent's office in time to walk into the engagement, for though no actor he was a useful man to have, and this the agent knew.

“And when do you start?” I asked.

“It's rather sudden,” he replied, as though afraid to tell me.


“To-morrow morning. But don't let that worry you, miss. I've just had a long talk with Liz. She's promised to turn over a new leaf; promised to look after you like a sister, and never let her mother enter the house till I come back. And I think she'll keep her word, too, for if she don't, she knows it's the last I'll have to do with her.”

What could I say to him? I did not speak much, because my heart was full,

  ― 211 ―
but I told him, and the tears which came into my eyes must have accentuated my words, that I would never forget his goodness as long as I lived.

“Pooh,” he said, though his own little eyes quivered queerly as he looked back at me, “it's nothing. I'm lending you a bit of friendship now for which you are going to repay me with interest when the brighter days come. I'm going to get two ten a week, and it's safe this time, for Miss Siddons has lots of money, so the agent said. So you see, you and Liz 'll be able to jog along like one o'clock till you pick up something for yourself. Though if I was you, miss, I should sling the boards. Why don't you? Why not write to your friends? Anything's better than this dorg's life.”

I was not long in agreeing with him, my ill-health taking all the obstinacy out of me. Calling for pen and paper, I wrote off to Ella, to whom I confided my present unenviable position. This being finished, much to Flaskett's joy, he ran off and

  ― 212 ―
posted it with every outward sign of satisfaction.

“Now,” he said, “I know you will be all right, and I can go away with a light heart.” And early the following morning the good fellow took his leave.

Mrs. Flaskett, who in her calmer moments was not an unamiable, if somewhat slovenly, woman, was consideration itself that day, and I began to think that I had done her an injustice with my unfavourable imaginings. It is true she was not the sort of woman one would care to cultivate outside her kitchen, but to find her in the least degree tractable was a surprise of vast dimensions. How to account for this sudden change nonplussed me utterly. At first I thought it was the fear that Flaskett would carry his threat into execution and leave her unless she conducted herself with seeming decorum, but I soon saw that she cared as little for him as he for her. The one subject, however, which seemed to fascinate her was my relations, or the friends to whom I had

  ― 213 ―
written. Every time she saw me she spoke about that letter, and I soon perceived that her worthy husband, probably to keep her in check, had spun some wonderful story of my people and their great wealth. Nor did it suit me to set her right on this point, even had I the inclination, which I had not; for at that time I should have been in bed and under the doctor's orders instead of worrying over my present and my future.

For five whole days Mrs. Flaskett sustained this exceptional amiability, nor during that entire period had her mother put in an appearance at Belle-vue Cottages, at least to my knowledge: but on the sixth day, to my unspeakable despair, my letter was returned from Wallan stamped “Not known,” and “Gone away” written across it in blue pencil. At first I could not believe my eyes, but sat staring at it like one in a dream. If I had felt alone before, how much greater was my loneliness now? I could not realize it; my brain refused its

  ― 214 ―
functions, and in the very impotence of my despair the tears rushed streaming down my face.

“Why, what is this?” exclaimed Mrs. Flaskett, entering the room at that moment. “What are you crying for?”

I told her that the letter was returned, that my friends had gone, and that now I was more alone in the world than ever. At first she looked at me in blank amazement, then, as soon as she comprehended the meaning of my words, burst out into a coarse laugh.

“I thought as much. Rich relations— swell friends! A pretty pack of lies. Oh, dear, oh, dear, what a fool I've been!” And she tramped up and down the room uttering a perfect torrent of abuse. I tried to explain, but no explanation would she have. I was an impostor and worse, and she did not see why she should any longer keep one who was so utterly worthless. I had robbed her of her husband's love, and I was now robbing her of her daily bread, or words

  ― 215 ―
to that effect. At all this I can smile now, but it was very terrible then. I know my anger got command of my physical weakness and for a moment or two I terrified her with the appearance of my passion; but only for that brief space. The next moment I was gasping on the sofa, utterly exhausted and dazed, and I seemed to hear, as through a clanging of bells, the horrible voice of that horrible woman as she uttered taunt and insult.

At last she left me, and for a long time I lay back on the sofa trying to think, think, but, oh, the pain of it! Yet by degrees my mind grew calmer, if calm its excited state might be called, and I seemed to have but one idea—to get away from this horrible woman without delay. Where I should go, or what do, I thought but little. I only wanted to get away, away. Yet I have a vague recollection that through my mind the word “hospital” was running. I arose to my feet quivering in every limb,

  ― 216 ―
almost as helpless as a child. Mechanically I put on my hat and coat, and staggering along the passage opened the front door and passed out.

What streets I traversed, or in what manner I walked them, I could not say, but I have a hazy recollection of repeating the word “hospital—hospital,” and of plodding determinedly on. And then I crossed the road by the library: I saw the walls of the gaol loom up black and horrible through the mist which swam before my eyes. A sudden dizziness seized me. Then I remembered no more.…

  ― 217 ―

Chapter X.

WHEN I opened my eyes to consciousness once more, though for a long time previous to this I had had a vague idea of being surrounded with comfort, they encountered a bright shaft of sunlight which, streaming through the white curtains of a window, fell full on a choice array of beautiful blooms, which not alone gladdened the eye, but gave to the heart an instant and infinite repose. On the table at the foot of my bed there were also more bright flowers; but I had barely passed beyond the first stage of wondering when the door was opened softly and a woman, attired as a nurse, entered the room.

“Ah, you are awake at last,” she said,

  ― 218 ―
looking as pleased thereat as if I were her own child. “How do you feel?”

“Not very strong, I'm afraid,” I answered, and my voice sounded quite strange in my ears. “But where am I, please, and how did I come here?”

“You shall learn all presently,” she said kindly. “The doctor has given strict orders that you are not to talk. But this much I can tell you. You are in the hospital, and you have been very ill with fever.”

“I understand,” I said, the past coming back to me with a rush. “I was trying to reach the hospital when I felt giddy and stumbled.”

“You fainted,” said the nurse, “and the police brought you here.”

“Have I been here long?”

“Two weeks, nearly. You have been unconscious most of the time. But Doctor Wallace is very clever, and while there was any danger he never left your side.”

“Is it,” I said, and for the moment my

  ― 219 ―
eyesight failed me and I saw the nurse through a mist, “is it Doctor Arthur Wallace of whom you are speaking?”

“The same, and his mother and sister have not been less attentive than he.”

I closed my eyes, a feeling of indescribable happiness stealing through my weary frame.

“Why do you cry?” asked the nurse, wiping the tears which I unconsciously had shed. “You are better now; you will soon be well again.”

And I said, “I cry because I am so happy,” and she answered, “Poor dear,” and stooped and kissed me. And then I fell asleep again, nor did I waken till the sun was going down. Then I thought I heard someone breathing beside me, and on looking round my eyes encountered the dear face that had been with me all through my dreams—which were not all dreams either.


“Flossie, dear Flossie.” And then he knelt by my bed and covered my hand

  ― 220 ―
with kisses and great scalding drops, every one of which found its way into my heart.

“Look,” he said presently, “see whom we have here,” and he beckoned to someone who was standing away back against the window, but whom I could not distinguish, my eyes being too full of tears.

“It is mother and Ella,” he said. “Don't you recognize them?”

Recognize them! Ah, didn't I! But how can I paint that happy meeting? I saw their dear faces, I heard their sweet words, and like one in some delicious dream I lay back gasping with joy.

And now, living as it were in the midst of so much happiness, I rapidly grew strong again, and then they told me all that had befallen them since, as they put it, I had so selfishly quitted Wallan. Mr. Wallace had died somewhat suddenly, necessitating Arthur's return from Sydney; then having no strong ties to bind them to the old place, and Arthur wishing

  ― 221 ―
to push his fortunes in a wider sphere, they disposed of the property and came to Melbourne with him, where he was now practising as junior to the celebrated Doctor Slaughter, whose extensive practice it was decided he should take over in due time. Not that an extensive practice was at all necessary, as Mr. Wallace had left a large fortune behind, but Arthur was what plain people call an enthusiast, and loved his work for its own sake. It was during one of his visits to the hospital, in company with the aforementioned Slaughter, that the police brought me in half dead from the streets. Slaughter pronounced my case an extreme one, as the fever had been allowed to get too firm a hold of me. “But,” added Arthur, “thanks to his skill and your own grand constitution—not forgetting God's mercy —we have been enabled to pull you through, and now, dear Flossie, with proper care you will soon be yourself again.”

“The nurse told me how good you were,

  ― 222 ―
Arthur. How can I thank you? What can I do, what say?”

But he only pressed my hand tenderly by way of reply.

Of poor old Will they knew nothing. The only piece of news they had to disclose was that a man had once been making inquiries in the neighbourhood of Wallan respecting my family, but who the man was, whence came he, or what were his reasons, no one could say. That it could be Will himself I doubted, though I could not help thinking that perhaps the poor old fellow had trudged back at last, tired out with the struggle, but upon learning that we were all dead or gone he had once more passed away into the eternal bush.

When I was well enough to be removed from the hospital my good friends took me to their home, where I remained till I was perfectly restored to health, surrounded by every loving care and attention. Then when the hot days warned us of the approach of summer, Arthur

  ― 223 ―
took for us a charming little villa at Queenscliffe, and here my convalescence was completed.

One day as Mrs. Wallace and I were on the pier enjoying the soft breeze which blew across the bay, our attention was attracted to a large yacht which, with all her canvas flying, came scudding over the little waves like a great white bird. Most boats would have taken in some sail before approaching so close the anchorage, but this one came on with a rush, as though unconscious of the fact that she was entering shallow water.

“She ain't going to anchor,” said a fisherman who was standing near us, addressing anyone whom it might concern. “Just whipping in to show herself off a bit, and then away again.”

This too was my idea, at which I felt sorry, I could not say why. But no sooner had the fisherman expressed his thought than a shrill whistle rang out from the yacht; she luffed like a fish, her sails disappeared like magic, and a

  ― 224 ―
few minutes after she was swinging quietly at anchor. And still we stood watching her with singular interest till we saw three men enter her dingy, one of whom seized the oars and with a few powerful strokes brought the little vessel to the landing stage. Thinking I recognized one of the three, which thought Mrs. Wallace presently verified, we hurried to the place of landing, and there beheld Mr. Ballestier come up the steps. A big man with a golden beard was his companion, but of him I took little heed. Going up to the Hon. Thomas, I held out my hand.

“Have you forgotten me, Mr. Ballestier?” Mr. Ballestier's big friend, who was some half dozen paces ahead of him, just gave us one quick glance, and then turning his back looked out across the sea.

“What,” cried the Hon. Thomas, his honest face lighting up with pleasure, “you don't mean to say it's you?”

“It's I and no one else,” I replied with a smile.

  ― 225 ―

“Well, I never!” exclaimed the Hon. Thomas. “I thought you was dead. Soo said she'd heard somethin' about it.”

“I told Mrs. Ballestier that Miss Hastings was very ill,” said Mrs. Wallace, here interposing, “but not that she was dead.”

“Well, ma'am,” said the Hon. Thomas, “I guess Soo made a mistake. Anyway, Miss Hastings, I'm delighted to see you again, and shall be pleased to see you South Yarra way when you return to town. So will Dora, I'll wager, though you was a very naughty girl to go off in such a huff.”

I smiled, being unable to explain things, and asked him how Mrs. Ballestier was.

“So, so,” said the Hon. Thomas, “though I must say she don't intertain as much as she used to. The last big affair we had was just before Mr. Keestone went 'ome. I suppose you know he's gone to England?”

  ― 226 ―

“I saw something about it in the papers.”

“Yes, his brother died rather suddenly, so of course he's the earl now. A change he ought to appreciate, for he'll be able to give a dinner occasionally instead of always loafing one. But, bless me, here am I chatterin' like an old woman while my friend's there waiting for me. You must let me introduce him. A splendid fellow. Just dropped in for a title, too. The queerest story you ever heard. Sir William,” he called to the individual to whom he referred, who approached in answer to the summons, “let me introduce you to a namesake of yours. This is Mrs. Wallace and this is Miss Hast——Good God, man, are you mad?”

The person addressed as Sir William looked hard at me for a moment, then uttering a strange shout sprang forward and clasped me in his arms crying, “Flossie, Flossie! Great God, it's Flossie!”

“Will, dear Will!”

  ― 227 ―

The recognition, in spite of his beard and altered looks, was instantaneous and mutual. Pass him I might with a quick glance, but one look into the eyes I knew so well left no doubt.

“I say,” said Mr. Ballestier looking a trifle alarmed, “what does all this mean?”

“What does it mean?” cried Will, laughing and crying at the same time. “It means that this is my sister, my Flos, my—oh, heaven, it's my sister!” And he hugged me again and again as though he would squeeze the life out of me.

“Well, I never!” exclaimed the Hon. Thomas. “What a rum go.” And he forthwith relapsed into a state of silent wonder

“See, Will,” I said, as soon as I had regained sufficient breath to speak, “here is another old friend.”

“Mrs. Wallace, as I live,” and before that good woman was aware of it she found herself close-pressed in a pair of masculine arms.

  ― 228 ―

“Good friend,” said old Will, “in all our trouble you never forgot us. God bless you. And Arthur and Ella—how are they?”

“Well and happy,” was the reply, “but they will be happier now. Ah, Will, if your mother could only have seen this day.”

“Poor mother,” he said softly, and turning his head aside looked out across the sea, and I who clung to his hand felt each of its strong fingers quiver.

“Let us go back to the house,” I said. “Ella must know the good news.” So away we went two and two, and as we walked Will told me in low hurried sentences much of the sights he had seen and the privations he had endured since the day he parted from Ella and me on the old Boorta Road.

“I saw much, suffered much,” he said, “but I was prepared to rough it and did not mind a bit of hardship here and there. And yet, though I had left the old home, Flos, and the old life far

  ― 229 ―
behind, I could not leave myself: I was still Will Hastings, the son of a convict. How they knew this I cannot imagine, but know it they invariably did. ‘Hastings,’ they would say, ‘is your name?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Where do you come from?’ ‘Wallan.’ ‘Any relation of Frank Hastings?’ ‘His son.’ ‘Oh!’ And though they said no more, I knew they were acquainted with enough of my history to damn me.”

“Poor old Will.”

“Well,” he continued, “as soon as I was well out of the district I changed my name and gave out that I had come from across the South Australian border. I suppose it was cowardly of me, Flos, but I couldn't stand their infernal stares and the knowledge that they knew my history. So over into New South Wales I crossed and worked my way up the Darling till I reached the Queensland border. What I passed through during this period no one but myself can ever know, but when I arrived at Moolamunda

  ― 230 ―
Station, a place some fifteen miles on the Queensland side of the border, I was half-famished, half-clothed, and in a half-dying condition. Indeed I should have died that time, Flos, had it not been for this frame of mine, which can stand a lot of rapping. Well, they gave me a billet there on one of the outlying parts of the station, where, looking after my sheep, I led one of the most solitary and terrible lives that ever fell to the lot of a young man.”

“Poor Will.”

“And yet,” said he with one of his strange smiles, “I shall ever look back upon those days with the utmost pleasure, for it was there I struck the silver mine of Moolamunda.”

“You found the great silver mine of Moolamunda?” I exclaimed incredulously, for I had read countless articles in the newspapers concerning this wonderful mine with its fabulous riches.

“Who's talking about Moolamunda?” asked Mr. Ballestier. “Six months ago

  ― 231 ―
I could have got shares in it for a mere song.”

“And now?” said Will with a laugh.

“It's like buying money,” was the reply. “You were fortunate, Sir William. Nothen like being in the know.”

“Considering it was I who discovered it,” said Will with an amused smile.

“You discovered it, did you?” exclaimed the Hon. Thomas with a puzzled, incredulous look. “Why, I always thought it was a chap called Tom Higgins.”

“And so it was,” said Will. “I am Tom Higgins.”

“Well, I'm blowed,” ejaculated the Hon. Thomas.

“You, Will?” I repeated, for I remembered both hearing and reading of this Mr. Higgins who was now a millionaire.

“Yes, Flos, I. But you shall hear all about it, dear, another time. I am rich now, how rich I don't know, but my riches came too late to help our dear ones. When they were dying I was roaming the

  ― 232 ―
Barrier Ranges with scarcely a shoe to my foot. I sent a man from Queensland with letters and money, saying I would follow as soon as my business would permit; but he came back with such a well-authenticated tale of death and separation that I never believed I should see you again. And yet here, of all places in the world where I least expected it, I meet you.”

“Strange things happen, dear Will,” I said. “Thank God for this.”

“I do,” he said, “I do.” And thus on we walked for several moments in silence, he tightly holding my hand. But being full of curiosity, I suddenly asked him how he came to know Mr. Ballestier.

“He and I had a little business together, and as I rather liked the old chap I asked him to come for a sail with me.”

“Then that yacht is yours?”

“Yes, I bought her over in Sydney. What do you think of her?”

“I thought she looked like a beautiful

  ― 233 ―
bird as she came rushing up to her anchorage. What do you call her?”

Will did not answer for a moment; then he said, as though half-ashamed of himself, “The Ella.”

“So, so,” thought I, “he has not forgotten yet.” But, having no wish to embarrass him, I said aloud, “Mr. Ballestier addressed you as Sir William just now?”

“Yes, and by the way the old chap keeps on repeating it I think he likes the sound.”

“What does it mean, Will?”

“It means that two of our cousins— those cousins whom we have never seen— were drowned while on a voyage to the Canary Islands, and that I, being the next in descent, am the heir. I first saw about it in an old advertisement away up at Moolamunda; and a greasy advertisement it was, too, for old Grogan, our storekeeper, had wrapped my pound of bacon up in the bit of newspaper in which it was printed. It set forth how Frank

  ― 234 ―
Hastings, alias Frank Lawrence, who had been forwarded to New South Wales by a parental government, would hear of something to his advantage if he were to communicate with Messrs. Todd and Easeman, solicitors, Old Broad Street in the City of London. Well, I communicated with them, and the result is that I am an English baronet. Queer, isn't it?”

I pressed closer to him and his arm tightened about my shoulders. Stooping down, he kissed me, oblivious of all who might be near.

“They won't sneer at the currency boy now, Flos.”

“No, dear.”

At this moment, and just as we were within a hundred yards of our house, Mr. Ballestier stopped and said, in a rather uneasy manner, I thought, that he had two or three important telegrams to dispatch, and that if we would kindly excuse him he would pay his respects to us later on.

  ― 235 ―

“We dine at seven,” said Mrs. Wallace, “and shall expect you at dinner.”

“Very pleased indeed, ma'am,” replied the Hon. Thomas. “You'll excuse me rushin' away like this, but I'm sure you must have a lot to tell each other.” And ere we could remonstrate he was gone.

“Ella,” whispered Will, as he and I followed Mrs. Wallace up the pathway, “is she—is she married?”

“No. But you, Will? I forgot to ask.”

“No, I am not married. I have had no time yet. But where is she?”

“I will go and find her.” So up the steps of the verandah I darted and flew to Ella's room.

“Why,” she said, “I thought you were lost. I was just going out to look for you.”

“Instead of which I have come to look for you. You are wanted.”

“I—by whom?”

“Come and see,” I answered mysteriously.

  ― 236 ―

“Flossie,” she cried nervously, seizing me by the arm, “who is it?”

“Come and see,” I repeated with an aggravating smile. Seizing her by the hand, I led her out on the verandah, in the far corner of which stood Will, his back to us, speaking to Mrs. Wallace. “There is the gentleman yonder,” I said, and at the sound of my voice he turned round. With a strange, excited smile on his handsome face he stepped towards us.

“Ella,” he said; but whatever else he might have spoken was lost in the shriek that Ella gave. He had only time to rush forward and catch her as she fell fainting in his arms.

  ― 237 ―

Chapter XI.

WHEN Arthur returned from town that night his surprise and joy may easily be imagined. “My dear old Will,” he must have said quite a hundred times, and each time he accompanied it by either shaking hands or patting Will on the shoulder, to which that worthy always responded with a glad smile and some warm word of friendship. Oh, it was beautiful to see them, and Ella and I, our faces flushed with gladness, sat listening to the talk of the friends, two of the happiest girls in the world that night.

Over dinner we related scraps of our adventures, and it was wonderful what things old Will had seen and done. I suggested that he should write his autobiography, but this he emphatically

  ― 238 ―
declined to do, declaring that it was enough for a man to have gone through without having to go over it again. In this Mr. Ballestier supported him.

“Sir William and me has gone through the business,” he said, “and we're not so precious fond of dwellin' on it. I know it's a creditable thing for a man to raise himself, but there are some things in my past that I see nothing to boast of.”

“The same with me, Mr. Ballestier,” said Will. I knew what he meant.

“I thought you'd agree with me, Sir William. Sir William and me agrees on many points, ladies, and though we're naturally proud of what we've done for ourselves, we can't forget that it's been a rough journey.”

“That's so,” said Will. “Here's to the road that led us to fortune, but may we never have to tramp it again.”

“Pre-cisely,” chipped in the Hon. Thomas, “my sentiments pre-cisely.”

After the meal we adjourned to the verandah when the gentlemen began to

  ― 239 ―
smoke, the Hon. Thomas drawing forth from his capacious waistcoat pockets his short black clay with its accompanying plug of coarse tobacco. But it was not possible that we or they should rest content with tobacco smoke that night, so that when Will proposed a stroll along the beach we three young ones jumped at the proposal. Leaving the Hon. Thomas pulling placidly at his strong pipe, the fumes of which filled the air with anything but a delicate odour, and chatting away pleasantly with Mrs. Wallace— whose admirable tact had set that worthy man at ease in a few moments—we four, that is Will and Ella, Arthur and I sauntered away down to the sea, discreetly moving in pairs. And I take it we must have been very much interested in the night—or each other—for when I looked around, lo, and behold! the other pair had vanished.

“I think we had better go back,” I said. “I don't see Will and Ella.

Arthur laughed quietly, saying, “I

  ― 240 ―
suppose not. But do you feel chilly? We must take no risks yet.”


He did not reply, nor could I go on. He walked by my side apparently deep in thought. Above, in the misty blue, the white moon sailed, full and beautiful, all her glittering canvas spread, and the sea, partaking of her beauty, shone like a sheet of silver. It seemed almost like a sacrilege to call the time night. It was a stranger, lovelier day.

“Florence,” he said at last, “I have waited patiently for this hour. May I speak again?”

“What have you to say, Arthur?” Although I thought he must have heard my heart beat, I yet managed to put this superfluous question.

“Only this, dear, that I love you. You know my heart. It has been like an open book to you ever since I was a boy. All my hopes lie in you, all my joy must come through you.”

“Arthur,” I said, and to make amends

  ― 241 ―
for my past folly I took his hand in mine, “I have been very foolish, dear: forgive me.”

All the pain and anguish of years, all the sorrows and all the heart-burnings passed away with those words. Taking advantage of my momentary weakness, his arms went round me; and the moon, as she sailed on her airy way, looked placidly down on one more episode in the old, old story.

“And to think, dearest,” he said, “that we have loved each other all these years, and yet have had to wait so long. I can scarcely believe that you are mine even now. The old silver ring I gave you so long ago was our true wedding ring after all. Look, this is how I have loved you. I have never parted with it since that day.” And he drew from his neck, round which it had been fastened by a piece of ribbon, his half of the old ring.

That I was gratified by this proof of his constancy needs scarcely be said; but in spite of my seeming perversity, I too

  ― 242 ―
could give some pleasant proof of my regard. When he had finished speaking I drew from my breast my half of the ring and held it up to the light.

“Dearest,” he whispered, “my dear one.”

But the moon tells no tales, so why should I?

When we returned to the house, Will and Ella had not yet put in an appearance, but we had not been seated long before in they came. Old Will looked himself again, the great, careless, happy boy of our young days, while Ella's great eyes were almost dancing out of her head.

Will looked at Arthur, then Arthur looked at Will, and they both laughed.

“Would you girls mind going away and having a talk?” says old Will, smiling roguishly. “I want to speak to Arthur.”

“And I want to speak to Will,” says Arthur, looking at me.

So away we went, but we had no sooner entered my room than Ella threw herself sobbing on my neck.

  ― 243 ―

“Oh, I am so happy, Flossie dear,” she sobbed, “so happy, so happy.”

I think I guessed the cause.

Shortly after this there was a double wedding in Queenscliffe, and the local paper said, waxing eloquent as even prosaic newspapers will at times, that Old Sol, during his reign of something like six thousand years, had never looked down upon two fairer brides—which we all thought was an extremely handsome compliment.

Will has not yet decided when he will go to England to look up the paternal acres, which, if his lawyers' letters are to be credited, are sadly in need of some of the silver their new owner picked up at Moolamunda; but when he does go Arthur and I intend to accompany him. Flaskett, too, we have decided to take with us, for lately that worthy fellow has made himself so invaluable that he is the most trusted member of our household. Neither Arthur nor Will can do enough for him, and when I think of his goodness

  ― 244 ―
to me in the days when there was no hope of reward, I too feel that whatever we may do for this good fellow will be little enough. Unfortunately he is still afflicted with a wife, but the allowance he makes her is a very liberal one, and he tells me that he entertains great hopes of her speedy dissolution.

And now, perhaps, a few words as to some of the characters who have flitted across our stage may not be deemed amiss.

Captain Langton, I regret to say, pursued his course along the road to ruin at a desperate pace. The great estate of Langton at length slipped through his fingers, and the last I heard of him was that he was boundary-riding on a station in Northern Queensland. His sister, Maud, had married well, at least so we all thought at the time, for her husband was one of the wealthiest brokers on the Exchange; but speculation wove her fascinating web about him with disastrous results. The fabulous fortune with which the tongue of rumour had endowed him

  ― 245 ―
proved but the swollen shadow of the real thing. His speculations failed, his companies collapsed, and he in turn was convicted of fraud and sentenced to a long term of penal servitude. Maud, when last I heard of her, supported herself and her young children by taking in lodgers at a pound a week. Time plays strange pranks with us, doesn't it?

Mr. James Sauros, the highly respected manager of the El Dorado, still very worthily fills that exalted position, and they tell me that the outside world regards him as a most exemplary citizen. I know he gave 500l. a short time back to the Christian Social Purity League, of which he was at once elected a life member.

Vere Siddons is getting on in the profession—at least she is very much talked about, which is the same thing. Miss Moorna Lestrange, on the other hand, is one of those humble workers of whom we hear but little, though she too must be steadily rising in her profession, for I saw a notice of her in the paper a short time

  ― 246 ―
back which must have made her honest heart beat with joy. Good luck to thee, Moorna, or Louisa, or whatever thy name may be.

And now having approached the end, once viewed with pleasurable anticipations but now with fear, nothing more remains for me to do but to thank all those who have borne with my many faults—which I most heartily do—wipe my pen and fold work. Nor is it, perhaps, incumbent upon me to add that Arthur is now a famous physician—that being precisely what everyone expected. Still, in my eyes, he is a great benefactor of mankind, and I could tell you of some wonderful things he has done, only he will not permit me, being too modest. “No,” he says, “not a syllable.” And as I write these last words he leans over me and presses his lips into my hair, and calls me his dear Currency Girl. And the way he says it, coupled with the memories it awakens, goes to my heart and brings the tears to my eyes, so that I can scarcely

  ― 247 ―
decipher the words I am writing. But I love it better than all his other pet names.

Strange, isn't it?

no next