Chapter I.

A MORE un-English, un-Colonial appearance had never brightened the prosaic interior of Bogg & Co.s' big warehouse in Flinders Lane, Melbourne. Monsieur Caloche, waiting in the outer office, under fire of a row of curious eyes, was a wondrous study of “Frenchiness” to the clerks. His vivacious dark eyes, shining out of his sallow face, scarred and seamed by the marks of small-pox, met their inquisitive gaze with an expression that seemed to plead for leniency. The diabolical disease that had scratched the freshness from his face had apparently twisted some of the youthfulness out of it as well; otherwise, it was only a young soul that could have been made so diffident by the consciousness that its habitation was disfigured! Some pains had been taken to obviate the effects of the disfigurement, and to bring into prominence the smooth

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flesh that had been spared. It was not chance that had left exposed a round white throat, guiltless of the masculine Adam's apple, or that had brushed the fine soft hair, ruddily dark in hue like the eyes, away from a vein-streaked temple. A youth of unmanly susceptibilities perhaps, but inviting sympathy rather than scorn, sitting patiently through the dreary silent three-quarters of an hour, with his back to the wall which separated him from the great head of the firm of Bogg & Co.

The softer-hearted of the clerks commiserated him. They would have liked to show their good will, after their own fashion, by inviting him to have a “drink,” but the possibility of “shouting” for a young Frenchman, waiting for an interview with their chief! … Any one knowing Bogg, of Bogg & Co., must have divined the outrageous absurdity of the notion. It was safer to suppose that the foreigner would have refused the politeness. He did not look as though whisky and water were as familiar to him as a tumbler of eau sucrée. The clerks had heard that it was customary in France to drink absinthe. Possibly the slender youth, in his loose-fitting French paletot reaching to his knees, and sitting easily upon shoulders that would have graced a shawl, had drunk deeply of this fatal spirit. It invested him with something mysterious in the estimation of the juniors, peering for traces of dissipation in his foreign face. But they could find nothing to

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betray it in the soft eyes, undimmed by the enemy's hand, or the smooth lips set closely over the even row of small French teeth. Monsieur Caloche lacked the happy French confidence which has so often turned a joke at the foot of the guillotine. His lips twitched every time the door of the private office creaked. It was a ground-glass door to the left of him, and as he sat, with his turned-up hat in his hand, patiently waiting, the clerks could see a sort of suppression overspreading his disfigured cheeks whenever the noise was repeated. It appeared that he was diffident about the interview. His credentials were already in the hands of the head of the firm, but no summons had come. His letter of recommendation, sent in fully half an hour back, stated that he was capable of undertaking foreign correspondence, that he was favourably known to the house of business in Paris whose principal had given him his letter of presentation; that he had some slight knowledge of the English language; that he had already given promise of distinguishing himself as a homme de lettres. This final clause of the letter was responsible for the length of time Monsieur Caloche was kept waiting. Homme de lettres! It was a stigma that Bogg, of Bogg & Co., could not overlook. As a practical man, a self-made man, a man who had opened up new blocks of country and imported pure stock into Victoria, what could be expected of him in the way of holding out a

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helping hand to a scribbler, a pauper who had spent his days in making rhymes in his foreign jargon? Bogg would have put your needy professionals into irons. He forgave no authors, artists, or actors who were not successful. Homme de lettres! Coupled with his poverty, it was more unpardonable a title than gaol-bird. There was nothing to prove that the latter title would not have fitted Monsieur Caloche as well. He was probably a ruffianly Communist. The French Government could not get hold of all the rebels, and here was one in the outer office of Bogg & Co. coolly waiting for a situation.

Not so coolly, perhaps, as Bogg in his aggrieved state of mind was ready to conclude; for the day was a hot-wind day, and Bogg himself, in a white waistcoat and dust-coat, sitting in the cool depths of his revolving chair in front of the desk in his private office, was hardly aware of the driving dust and smarting grit emptied by shovelfuls upon the unhappy people without. He perspired, it is true, in deference to the state of his big thermometer, which even here stood above 85° in the corner; but having come straight from Brighton in his private brougham, he could wipe his moist bald head without besmearing his silk handkerchief with street grime. And it was something to be sitting here in a lofty office, smelling of yellow soap and beeswax, when outside a north wind was tormenting the world with its puffs of hot air, and twirling relays of baked rubbish and

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dirt. It was something to be surrounded by polished mahogany cool to the touch, and cold iron safes, and maps that conveyed, in their rippling lines of snowy undulations far away, suggestions of chill heights and mountain breezes. It was something to have iced water in the decanter at hand, and a little fountain opposite gurgling a running reminder of babbling brooks dribbling through fern-tree valleys and wattle-studded flats. Contrasting the shaded coolness of the private office with the heat and turmoil without, there was no cause to complain.

Yet Bogg clearly had a grievance written in the sour lines of his mouth, never too amiably expanded at the best of times, and his small contracted eyes, full of shrewd, suspicion-darting light. He read the letter sent in by Monsieur Caloche with the plentiful assistance of the tip of his broad forefinger, after a way peculiar to his early days before he had acquired riches, or knighthood, or rotundity.

For Bogg, now Sir Matthew Bogg, of Bogg & Co., was a self-made man in the sense that money makes the man, and that he had made the money before it could by any possibility make him. Made it by dropping it into his till in those good old times when all Victorian storekeepers were so many Midases, who saw their spirits and flour turn into gold under their handling; made it by pocketing something like three thousand per cent. upon every penny invested in divers

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blocks of scrubby soil, hereafter to be covered by those grand and gloomy bluestone buildings which make of Melbourne a city of mourning; made it by reaching out after it, and holding fast to it whenever it was within spirit-call or finger-clutch; from his early grog-shanty days, when he detected it in the dry lips of every grimy digger on the flat, to his latter station-holding days, when he sniffed it in the drought which brought his neighbours low. Add to which, he was lucky—by virtue of a certain inherent faculty he possessed in common with the Vanderbilts, the Stewarts, the Rothschilds of mankind—and far-seeing. He could forestall the news in the Mark Lane Express. He was almost clairvoyant in the matter of rises in wool. His luck, his foresight, were only on a par with his industry; and the end of all his slaving and sagacity was to give him at sixty years of age a liver, a paunch, an income bordering on a hundred thousand pounds, and the title of Sir Matthew Bogg.

It was known that Sir Matthew had worked his way to the colonies, acting indiscriminately as pig-sticker and deck-swabber on board the Sarah Jane. In his liverless, paunchless, and titleless days he had tossed for coppers with the flat-footed sailors on the forecastle. Now he was bank director, railway director, and a number of other things that formed a graceful flourish after Sir Matthew, but that would have sounded less euphonious in the wake of plain “Bogg.” Yet

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“plain Bogg” Nature had turned him out, and “plain Bogg” he would always remain while in the earthly possession of his round, over-heated face, and long irregular teeth. His hair had abandoned its lawful territory on the top of his head, and planted itself in a vagrant fashion in small tufts in his ears and nostrils. His eyebrows had run riot over his eyes, but his eyes asserted themselves through all. They were eyes that, without being stronger, or larger, or bolder than any average pair of eyes to be met with in walking down the street, had such a knack of “taking your measure” that no one could look at them without discomfiture. In the darkened atmosphere of the Flinders Lane office, Sir Matthew knew how to turn these colourless, unwinking orbs to account. To the maliciously inclined among the clerks in the outer office, there was nothing more amusing than the crestfallen appearance of the applicants as they came out by the ground-glass door, compared with the jauntiness of their entrance. Young men who wanted colonial experience, overseers who applied for managerships on his stations, youths fresh from school who had a turn for the bush, had all had specimens of Sir Matthew's mode of dealing with his underlings. But his favourite plan, his special hobby, was to “drop on to them unawares.”

There is nothing in the world that gives such a zest to life as the possession of a hobby, and the power of indulging it. We may be

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pretty certain that the active old lady's white horse at Banbury Cross was nothing more than a hobby-horse, as soon as we find out in the sequel that she “had rings on her fingers and bells on her toes, and that she shall have music wherever she goes.” It is the only horse an old lady could be perpetually engaged in riding without coming to grief, the only horse that ever makes us travel through life to the sound of music wherever we go.

From the days when Bogg had the merest shred of humanity to bully, in the shape of a waif from the Chinese camp, the minutes slipped by with a symphony they had never possessed before. As fulness of time brought him increase of riches and power, he yearned to extend the terror of his sway. It was long before he tasted the full sweetness of making strong men tremble in their boots. Now, at nearly sixty years of age, he knew all the delights of seeing victims, sturdier and poorer than himself, drop their eyelids before his gaze. He was aware that the men in the yard cleared out of his path as he walked through it; that his managers up-country addressed him in tones of husky conciliation; that every eye met his with an air of deprecation, as much as to apologize for the fact of existing in his presence; and in his innermost heart he believed that in the way of mental sensation there could be nothing left to desire. But how convey the impression of rainbow-tints to eyes that have never opened upon aught save universal blackness?

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Sir Matthew had never seen an eye brighten, a small foot dance, at his approach. A glance of impotent defiance was the only equivalent he knew for a gleam of humid affection. He was accustomed to encounter a shifting gaze. The lowest form of self-interest was the tie which bound his people to him. He paid them as butts, in addition to paying them as servants. Where would have been his daily appetizer in the middle of the day, if there had been no yard full of regulations impossible to obey; no warehouse to echo his harsh words of fault-finding; no servile men, and slouching fast-expanding boys, to scuttle behind the big cases, or come forth as if they were being dragged by hooks to stand with sheepish expression before him? And when he had talked himself hoarse in town, where would have been the zest of wandering over his stations, of surveying his fat bullocks and woolly merinos, if there had been no accommodating managers to listen reverentially to his loudly given orders, and take with dejected, apologetic air his continued rating? The savour of life would have departed,—not with the bodily comfort and the consequence that riches bring, but with the power they confer of asserting yourself before your fellow-men after any fashion you please. Bogg's fashion was to bully them, and he bullied them accordingly.

But, you see, Monsieur Caloche is still waiting; in the position, as the junior clerks are well aware, of the confiding calf awaiting butchery in

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a frolicsome mood outside the butcher's shop. Not that I would imply that Monsieur Caloche frolicked, even metaphorically speaking. He sat patiently on with a sort of sad abstracted air; unconsciously pleating and unpleating the brim of his soft Paris hat, with long lissom fingers that might have broidered the finest silk on other than male hands. The flush of colour, the slight trembling of lips, whenever there was a noise from within, were the only signs that betrayed how acutely he was listening for a summons. Despite the indentations that had marred for ever the smoothness of the face, and pitted the forehead and cheeks, as if white gravel had been shot into them, the colour that came and went so suddenly was pink as rose-coloured lake. It stained even the smooth white neck, and the chin, upon which the faintest traces of down were not yet visible to the scrutinizing eyes of the juniors.

Outside, the north wind ran riot along the pavement, upsetting all orderly arrangements for the day, with dreadful noise and fussiness, battering trimly dressed people into red-eyed wretches, heaped up with dust; wrenching umbrellas from their handles, and blinding their possessors trying to run after them; filling open mouths with grit, making havoc with people's hats and tempers, and proving itself as great a blusterer in its character of a peppery emigrant as in its original rôle of the chilly Boreas of antiquity.

Monsieur Caloche had carefully wiped away

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from his white wristband the dust that it had driven into his sleeve, and now the dust on his boots—palpably large for the mere slips of feet they inclosed—seemed to give him uneasiness; but it would seem that he lacked the hardihood to stoop and flick it away. When finally he extended surreptitiously a timid hand, it might have been observed of his uncovered wrist that it was singularly frail and slender. This delicacy of formation was noticeable in every exterior point. His small white ear, setting close to his head, might have been wrapped up over and over again in one of the fleshy lobes that stretched from Sir Matthew's skull. Decidedly the two men were of a different order of species: one was a heavy mastiff of lupine tendencies; the other a delicate Italian greyhound, silky, timorous, quivering with sensibility.

And there had been time for the greyhound to shiver long with expectancy before the mastiff prepared to swallow him up.

It was a quarter to twelve by the gloomy-faced clock in the outer office, a quarter to twelve by all the clerks' watches, adjusted every morning to the patriarch clock with unquestioning faith, when Monsieur Caloche had diffidently seated himself on the chair in the vicinity of the ground-glass door. It was half-past twelve by the gloomy-faced clock, half-past twelve by all the little watches that toadied to it, when Sir Matthew's bell rang. It was a bell that must

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have inherited the spirit of a fire-bell, or a doctor's night-bell. It had never been shaken by Sir Matthew's fingers without causing a fluttering in the outer office. No one knew what hair-suspended sword might be about to fall on his head before the messenger returned. Monsieur Caloche heard it ring, sharply and clamorously, and raised his head. The white-faced messenger, returning from his answer to the summons, and speaking with the suspension of breath that usually afflicted him after an interview with Sir Matthew, announced that “Mister Caloosh” was wanted, and, diving into the gloomy recess in the outer office, relapsed into his normal occupation of breathing on his penknife and rubbing it on his sleeve.

Monsieur Caloche meanwhile stood erect, more like the startled greyhound than ever. To the watchful eyes of the clerks, staring their full at his retreating figure, he seemed to glide rather than step through the doorway. The ground-glass door, attached by a spring from the inside, shut swiftly upon him, as if it were catching him in a trap, and so hid him in full from their curious scrutiny. For the rest they could only surmise that the lamb had given itself up to the butcher's knife. The diminutive greyhound was in the mastiff's grip.

Would the knife descend on the instant? Would the mastiff fall at once upon the trembling foreigner, advancing with sleek uncovered head, and hat held in front by two quivering hands?

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Sir Matthew's usual glare of reception was more ardent than of custom as Monsieur Caloche approached. If every “foreign adventurer” supposed he might come and loaf upon Bogg, of Bogg & Co., because he was backed up by a letter from a respectable firm, Sir Matthew would soon let him find out he was mistaken! His glare intensified as the adventurous stripling glided with softest footfall to the very table where he was sitting and stood exactly opposite to him. Not so adventurous, however, but that his lips were white, and his bloodless face a pitiful set-off to the cruelly prominent marks that disfigured it. There was a terror in Monsieur Caloche's expression, apart from the awe inspired by Sir Matthew's glare, which might have disarmed a butcher, or even a mastiff. His large soft eyes seemed to ache with repressed tears. They pleaded for him in a language more convincing than words. “I am friendless—I am a stranger—I am——” but no matter; they cried out for sympathy and protection mutely and unconsciously.

But to Sir Matthew's perceptions, visible terror had only one interpretation. It remained for him to “find out” Monsieur Caloche. He would “drop on to him unawares” one of these days. He patted his hobby on the back, seeing a gratification for it in perspective; and entering shortly upon his customary stock of searching questions, incited his victim to reply cheerfully

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and promptly by looking him up and down with a frown of suspicion.

“What brought you 'ere?”

“Please?” said Monsieur Caloche, anxiously.

He had studied a vocabulary opening with “Good-day, sir. What can I have the pleasure of doing for you this morning?” The rejoinder to which did not seem to fit in with Sir Matthew's special form of inquiry.

“What brought you 'ere, I say?” reiterated Sir Matthew in a roar, as if deafness were the only impediment on the part of foreigners in general to a clear comprehension of our language.

“De sheep, Monsieur! La Reine Doree,” replied Monsieur Caloche, in low-toned, guttural, musical French.

“That ain't it!” said Sir Matthew, scornfully. “What did you come 'ere for? What are you fit for? What can you do?”

Monsieur Caloche raised his plaintive eyes. His sad desolation was welling out of their inmost depths. He had surmounted the first emotion that had driven the blood to his heart at the outset, and the returning colour, softening the seams and scars in his cheeks, gave him a boyish bloom. It deepened as he answered with humility, “I will do what Monsieur will! I will do my possible!”

“I'll soon see how you shape,” said Sir Matthew, irritated with himself for the apparent difficulty of thoroughly bullying the defenceless

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stranger. “I don't want any of your parleyvooing in my office—do you hear? I'll find you work—jolly quick, I can tell you! Can you mind sheep? Can you drive bullocks, eh? Can you put up a post and rail? You ain't worth your salt if you can't use your 'ands!”

He cast such a glance of withering contempt on the tapering white fingers with olive-shaped nails in front of him, that Monsieur Caloche instinctively sheltered them in his hat. “Go and get your traps together! I'll find you a billet, never fear!”

Mais, Monsieur——”

“Go and get your traps together, I say! You can come 'ere again in an hour. I'll find you a job up country!” His peremptory gesture made any protest on the part of Monsieur Caloche utterly unavailing. There was nothing for him to do but to bow and to back in a bewildered way from the room. If the more sharp-eared of the clerks had not been in opportune contiguity to the ground-glass door during Sir Matthew's closing sentences, Monsieur Caloche would have gone away with the predominant impression that “Sir Bang” was an enragé, who disapproved of salt with mutton and beef, and was clamorous in his demands for “traps,” which Monsieur Caloche, with a gleam of enlightenment in the midst of his heart-sickness and perplexity, was proud to remember meant “an instrument for ensnaring animals.” It was with a doubt he was too polite to express that he accepted the explanation

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tendered him by the clerks, and learned that if he “would strike while the iron is hot” he must come back in an hour's time with his portmanteau packed up. He was a lucky fellow, the juniors told him, to jump into a billet without any bother; they wished to the Lord they were in his shoes, and could be drafted off to the bush at a moment's notice.

Perhaps it seemed to Monsieur Caloche that these congratulations were based on the Satanic philosophy of “making evil his good.” But they brought with them a flavour of the human sympathy for which he was hungering. He bowed to the clerks all round before leaving, after the manner of a court-page in an opera. The hardest of the juniors ran to the door after he was gone. Monsieur Caloche was trying to make head against the wind. The warm blast was bespattering his injured face. It seemed to revel in the pastime of filling it with grit. One small hand was spread in front of the eyes, the other was resolutely holding together the front of his long, tight paletot, which the rude wind had sportively thrown open. The junior was cheated of his fun. Somehow the sight did not strike him as being quite so funny as it ought to have been.