― 77 ―

Monsieur Caloche.

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

  ― 78 ―
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

  ― 79 ―
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

  ― 80 ―
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

  ― 81 ―
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

  ― 82 ―
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

  ― 83 ―
“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

  ― 84 ―
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?

  ― 85 ―
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

  ― 86 ―
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

  ― 87 ―
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

  ― 88 ―
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?

  ― 89 ―
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

  ― 90 ―
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

  ― 91 ―
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

  ― 92 ―
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.

Chapter II.

THE station hands, in their own language, “gave Frenchy best.” No difference of nationality

  ― 93 ―
could account for some of his eccentricities. As an instance, with the setting in of the darkness he regularly disappeared. It was supposed that he camped up a tree with the birds. The wit of the wool-shed surmised that “Froggy” slept with his relatives, and it would be found that he had “croaked” with them one of these odd times. Again, there were shearers ready to swear that he had “blubbered” on finding some sportive ticks on his neck. He was given odd jobs of wool-sorting to do, and was found to have a mania for washing the grease off his hands whenever there was an instant's respite. Another peculiarity was his aversion to blood. By some strange coincidence, he could never be found whenever there was any slaughtering on hand. The most plausible reason was always advanced for necessitating his presence in some far-distant part of the run. Equally he could never be induced to learn how to box—a favourite Sunday morning and summer evening pastime among the men. It seemed almost to hurt him when damage was done to one of the assembled noses. He would have been put down as a “cur,” if it had not been for his pluck in the saddle, and for his gentle winning ways. His pluck, indeed, seemed all concentrated in his horsemanship. Employed as a boundary-rider, there was nothing he would not mount, and the station hands remarked, as a thing “that beat them once for all,” that the “surliest devils” on the place hardly ever played up with him. He

  ― 94 ―
employed no arts. His bridle hand was by no means strong. Yet it remained a matter of fact, that the least amenable of horses generally carried him as if they liked to bear his weight. No one being sufficiently learned to advance the hypothesis of magnetism, it was concluded that he carried a charm.

This power of touch extended to human beings. It was almost worth while spraining a joint, or chopping at a finger, to be bandaged by Monsieur Caloche's deft fingers. His horror of blood never stood in his way when there was a wound to be doctored. His supple hands, browned and strengthened by his outdoor work, had a tenderness and a delicacy in their way of going to work that made the sufferer feel soothed and half-healed by their contact. It was the same with his manipulation of things. There was a refinement in his disposition of the rough surroundings that made them look different after he had been among them.

And not understood, jeered at, petted, pitied alternately—with no confidant of more sympathetic comprehension than the horse he bestrode—was Monsieur Caloche absolutely miserable? Granting that it were so, there was no one to find it out. His brown eyes had such a habitually wistful expression, he might have been born with it. Very trifles brought a fleeting light into them—a reminiscence, perhaps, that, while it crowned him with “sorrow's crown of sorrow,” was yet a

  ― 95 ―
reflection of some past joy. He took refuge in his ignorance of the language directly he was questioned as to his bygone life. An embarrassed little shrug, half apologetic, but powerfully conclusive, was the only answer the most curious examiner could elicit.

It was perceived that he had a strong objection to looking in the glass, and invariably lowered his eyes on passing the cracked and uncompromising fragment of mirror, supported on two nails against the planking that walled the rough, attached kitchen. So decided was this aversion that it was only when Bill, the blacksmith, asked him chaffingly for a lock of his hair, that he perceived with confusion how wantonly his silken curls were rioting round his neck and temples. He cut them off on the spot, displaying the transparent skin beneath. Contrasted with the clear tan that had overspread his scarred cheeks and forehead, it was white as freshly drawn milk.

He was set down on the whole as given to moping; but, taking him all round, the general sentiment was favourable to him. Possibly it was with some pitiful prompting of the sort that the working manager sent him out of the way one still morning, when Sir Matthew's buggy, creaking under the unwelcome preponderance of Sir Matthew himself, was discerned on its slow approach to the homestead. A most peaceful morning for the initiation of Sir Matthew's blustering presence. The sparse gum-leaves

  ― 96 ―
hung as motionless on their branches as if they were waiting to be photographed. Their shadows on the yellowing grass seemed painted into the soil. The sky was as tranquil as the plain below. The smoke from the homestead reared itself aloft in a long thinly drawn column of grey. A morning of heat and repose, when even the sunlight does not frolic, and all nature toasts itself, quietly content. The dogs lay blinking at full length, their tails beating the earth with lazy measured thump. The sheep seemed rooted to the patches of shade, apathetic as though no one wore flannel vests or ate mutton-chops. Only the mingled voices of wild birds and multitudinous insects were upraised in a blended monotony of subdued sounds. Not a morning to be devoted to toil! Rather, perchance, to a glimmering perception of a golden age, when sensation meant bliss more than pain, and to be was to enjoy.

But to the head of the firm of Bogg & Co., taking note of scattered thistles and straggling wire fencing, warmth and sunshine signified only dry weather. Dry weather clearly implied a fault somewhere, for which somebody must be called to account. Sir Matthew had the memory of a strategist. Underlying all considerations of shorthorns and merinos was the recollection of a timid foreign lad to be suspected for his shy, bewildered air; to be suspected again for his slim white hands; to be doubly suspected

  ― 97 ―
and utterly condemned for his graceful bearing, his appealing eyes, that even now Sir Matthew could see with their soft lashes drooping over them as he fronted them in his darkened office in Flinders Lane. A scapegoat for dry weather, for obtrusive thistles, for straggling fencing! A waif of foreign scum to be found out! Bogg had promised himself that he would “drop on to him unawares.” Physically Bogg was carried over the ground by a fast trotter; spiritually he was borne along on his hobby, ambling towards its promised gratification with airy speed.

The working manager, being probably of Bacon's way of thinking, that “dissimulation is but a faint kind of policy,” did not, in his own words, entirely “knuckle down” to Sir Matthew. His name was Blunt,—he was proud to say it,—and he would show you he could make his name good if you “crossed” him. Yet Blunt could bear a good deal of “crossing” when it came to the point. Within certain limits, he concluded that the side on which his bread was buttered was worth keeping uppermost, at the cost of some hard words from his employer.

And he kept it carefully uppermost on this especial morning, when the quietude of the balmy atmosphere was broken by Sir Matthew's growls. The head of the firm, capturing his manager at the door of the homestead, had required him to mount into the double-seated buggy with him. Blunt reckoned that these

  ― 98 ―
tours of inspection in the companionship of Bogg were more conducive to taking off flesh than a week's hard training. He listened with docility, nevertheless, to plaints and ratings—was it not a fact that his yearly salaries had already made a nest-egg of large proportions?—and might have listened to the end, if an evil chance had not filled him with a sudden foreboding. For, pricking his way over the plain, after the manner of Spenser's knight, Monsieur Caloche, on a fleet, newly-broken-in two-year-old, was riding towards them. Blunt could feel that Sir Matthew's eyes were sending out sparks of wrath. For the first time in his life he hazarded an uncalled-for opinion.

“He's a good-working chap that, sir!” indicating by a jerk of the head that the lad now galloping across the turf was the subject of his remark.

“Ah!” said Sir Matthew.

It was all he said, but it was more than enough.

Blunt fidgeted uneasily. What power possessed the boy to make him show off his riding at this juncture? If he could have stopped him, or turned him back, or waved him off!—but his will was impotent.

Monsieur Caloche, well back in the saddle, his brown eyes shining, his disfigured face flushed and glowing, with wide felt hat drawn closely over his smooth small head, with slender knees

  ― 99 ―
close pressed to his horse's flanks, came riding on, jumping small logs, bending with flexible joints under straggling branches, never pausing in his reckless course, until on a sudden he found himself almost in front of the buggy, and, reining up, was confronted in full by the savage gleam of Sir Matthew's eyes. It was with the old scared expression that he pulled off his wideawake, and bared his head, black and silky as a young retriever's. Sir Matthew knew how to respond to the boy's greeting. He stood up in the buggy and shook his fist at him; his voice, hoarse from the work he had given it that morning, coming out with rasping intensity.

“What the devil do you mean by riding my 'orses' tails off, eh?”

Monsieur Caloche, in his confusion, straining to catch the full meaning of the question, looked fearfully round at the hind quarters of the two-year-old, as if some hitherto unknown phenomenon peculiar to Australian horses might, in fact, have suddenly left them tailless.

But the tail was doing good service against the flies at the moment of his observation, so, reassured, he turned his wistful gaze upon Sir Matthew.

“Monsieur,” he began, apologetically, “permit that I explain it to you. I did ga-lopp.”

“You can ga-lopp to hell!” said Sir Matthew, with furious mimicry. “I'll teach you to ruin my 'orses' legs!”

  ― 100 ―

Blunt saw him lift his whip and strike Monsieur Caloche on the chest. The boy turned so unnaturally white that the manager looked to see him reel in his saddle. But he only swayed forward and slipped to the ground on his feet. Sir Matthew, sitting down again in the buggy with an uncomfortable sensation of some undue excess it might have been as well to recall, saw this white face for the flash of an instant's space, saw its desperation, its shame, its trembling lips; then he was aware that the two-year-old stood riderless in front of him, and away in the distance the figure of a lad was speeding through the timber, one hand held against his chest, his hat gone, and he unheeding, palpably sobbing and crying in his loneliness and defencelessness as he stumbled blindly on.

Runaway boys, I fear, call forth very little solicitude in any heart but a mother's. A cat may be nine-lived, but a boy's life is centuple. He seems only to think it worth keeping after the best part of it is gone. Boys run away from schools, from offices, from stations, without exciting more than an ominous prognostication that they will go to the bad. According to Sir Matthew's inference, Monsieur Caloche had “gone to the bad” long ago—ergo, it was well to be rid of him. This being so, what utterly inconsistent crank had laid hold of the head of the great firm of Bogg & Co., and tortured him

  ― 101 ―
through a lengthy afternoon and everlasting night with the vision of two despairing eyes and a scared white face? Even his hobby cried out against him complainingly. It was not for this that it had borne him prancing along. Not to confront him night and day with eyes so distressful that he could see nothing else. Would it be always so? Would they shine mournfully out of the dim recesses of his gloomy office in Flinders Lane, as they shone here in the wild bush on all sides of him—so relentlessly sad that it would have been a relief to see them change into the vindictive eyes of the Furies who gave chase to Orestes? There was clearly only one remedy against such a fate, and that was to change the nature of the expression which haunted him by calling up another in its place. But how, and when?

Sir Matthew prowled around the homestead the second morning after Monsieur Caloche's flight in a manner unaccountable to himself. That he should return “possessed” to his elaborate warehouse, where he would be alone all day, and his house of magnificent desolation, where he would be alone all night, was fast becoming a matter of impossibility. What sums out of all proportion would he not have forfeited to have seen the white-faced foreign lad, and to be able to pay him out for the discomfort he was causing him, instead of being bothered by the sight of his “cursed belongings” at every turn! He

  ― 102 ―
could not go into the stable without seeing some of his gimcracks; when he went into the kitchen, it was to stumble over a pair of miniature boots, and a short curl of hair, in silken rings, fell from the ledge at his feet. There was only one thing to be done! Consulting with Blunt, clumsily enough,—for nothing short of desperation would have induced Sir Matthew to approach the topic of Monsieur Caloche,—he learned that nothing had been seen or heard of the lad since the moment of his running away.

“And 'twasn't in the direction of the township, neither,” added Blunt, gravely. “I doubt the sun'll have made him stupid, and he'll have camped down some place on the run.”

Blunt's insinuations anent the sun were sheer artifice, for Blunt, in his private heart, did not endorse his own suggestions in the least degree. It was his belief that the lad had struck a shepherd's hut, and was keeping (with a show of common sense he had not credited him with) out of the way of his savage employer. But it was worth while making use of the artifice to see Sir Matthew's ill-concealed uneasiness. Hardly the same Sir Matthew, in any sense, as the bullying growler who had driven by his side not two days ago. For this morning the double-seated buggy was the scene of neither plaints nor abuse. Quietly over the bush track—where last Monsieur Caloche, with his hand to his breast, had run sobbing along—the two men drove, their wheels

  ― 103 ―
passing over a wideawake hat, lying neglected and dusty in the road. For more than an hour and a half they followed the track, the dusty soil that had been witness to the boy's flight still indicating at intervals traces of a small foot-print. The oppressive calm of the atmosphere seemed to have left even the ridges of dust undisturbed. Blunt reflected that it must have been “rough on a fellow” to run all that way in the burning sun. It perplexed him, however, to remember that the shepherd's hut would be now far in their rear. Perhaps it was with a newly born sense of uneasiness on his own account that he flicked his whip, and made the trotter “go,” for no comment could be expected from Sir Matthew, sitting in complete silence by his side.

To Blunt's discerning eyes the last of the foot-prints seemed to occur right in the middle of the track. On either side was the plain. Ostensibly Sir Matthew had come that way to look at the sheep. There was, accordingly, every reason for turning to the right, and driving towards a belt of timber some hundred yards away, and there were apparently more forcible reasons still for making for a particular tree, a straggling tree, with some pretensions to a meagre shade, the sight of which called forth an ejaculation, not entirely coherent, from Blunt.

Sir Matthew saw the cause of Blunt's ejaculation,—a recumbent figure that had probably reached “the quiet haven of us all,” it lay so still. But

  ― 104 ―
whether quiet or no, it would seem that to disturb its peace was a matter of life or death to Sir Matthew Bogg. Yet surely here was satiety of the fullest for his hobby! Had he not “dropped on to the ‘foreign adventurer’ unawares”? So unawares, in fact, that Monsieur Caloche never heeded his presence, or the presence of his working manager, but lay with a glaze on his half-closed eyes in stiff unconcern at their feet.

The clerks and juniors in the outer office of the great firm of Bogg & Co. would have been at some loss to recognize their chief in the livid man who knelt by the dead lad's side. He wanted to feel his heart, it appeared; but his trembling fingers failed him. Blunt comprehended the gesture. Whatever of tenderness Monsieur Caloche had expended in his short lifetime was repaid by the gentleness with which the working manager passed his hand under the boy's rigid neck. It was with a shake of the head that seemed to Sir Matthew like the fiat of his doom, that Blunt unbuttoned Monsieur Caloche's vest and discovered the fair white throat beneath. Unbuttoning still—with tremulous fingers, and a strange apprehension creeping chillily over him—the manager saw the open vest fall loosely asunder, and then——Yes; then it was proven that Sir Matthew's hobby had gone its extreme length. Though it could hardly have been rapture at its great triumph that filled his eyes with such a strange

  ― 105 ―
expression of horror as he stood looking fearfully down on the corpse at his feet. For he had, in point of fact, “dropped on to it unawares;” but it was no longer Monsieur Caloche he had “dropped on to,” but a girl, with breast of marble, bared in its cold whiteness to the open daylight, and to his ardent gaze. Bared, without any protest from the half-closed eyes, unconcerned behind the filmy veil which glazed them. A virgin breast spotless in hue, save for a narrow purple streak marking it in a dark line from the collar-bone downwards. Sir Matthew knew, and the working manager knew, and the child they called Monsieur Caloche had known, by whose hand the mark had been imprinted. It seemed to Sir Matthew that a similar mark, red-hot like a brand, must now burn on his own forehead for ever. For what if the hungry Australian sun, and emotion, and exhaustion had been the actual cause of the girl's death? he acknowledged in the bitterness of his heart that the “cause of the cause” was his own bloodstained hand.

It must have been poor satisfaction to his hobby after this, to note that Blunt had found a tiny pocket-book on the person of the corpse, filled with minute foreign handwriting, of which nothing could be made! For, with one exception, it was filled with French quotations all of the same tenor—all pointing to the one conclusion—and clearly proving (if it has not been proved already) that a woman who loses her

  ― 106 ―
beauty, loses her all. The English quotation will be known to some readers of Shakespeare: “So beauty blemished once for ever's lost!” Affixed to it was the faintly traced signature of Henriette Caloche.

So here was a sort of insight into the mystery. The “foreign adventurer” might be exonerated after all. No baser designs need be laid at the door of dead “Monsieur Caloche” than the design of hiding the loss which had deprived her of all glory in her sex. If, indeed, the loss were a real one! For beauty is more than skin deep, although Monsieur Caloche had not known it. It is of the bone, and the fibre, and the nerves that thrill through the brain. It is of the form and the texture too, as any one would have allowed who scrutinized the body prone in the dust. Even the cruel scars seemed merciful now, and relaxed their hold on the chiselled features, as though “eloquent, just, and mightie death” would suffer no hand but his own to dally with his possession.

It is only in Christmas stories, I am afraid, where, in deference to so rollicking a season, everything is bound to come right in the end, that people's natures are revolutionized in a night, and from narrow-minded villains they become open-hearted seraphs of charity. Still it is on record of the first Henry that from the time of the sinking of the White Ship, “he never smiled again.” I cannot say that Sir Matthew was never known to smile, in his old sour way, or that

  ― 107 ―
he never growled or scolded, in his old bullying fashion, after the discovery of Monsieur Caloche's body. But he was none the less a changed man. The outside world might rightly conjecture that henceforth a slender, mournful-eyed shadow would walk by his side through life. But what can the outside world know of the refinement of mental anguish that may be endured by a mind awakened too late? In Sir Matthew's case—relatively as well as positively; for constant contemplation of a woman's pleading eyes and a dead statuesque form might give rise to imaginings that it would be maddening to dwell upon. What a wealth of caresses those stiff little hands had it in their power to bestow! What a power of lighting up the solemnest office, and—be sure—the greatest, dreariest house, was latent in those dejected eyes.

Brooding is proverbially bad for the liver. Sir Matthew died of the liver complaint, and his will was cited as an instance of the eccentricity of a wealthy Australian, who, never having been in France, left the bulk of his money for the purpose of constructing and maintaining a magnificent wing to a small-pox hospital in the south of France. It was stipulated that it should be called the “Henriette” wing, and is, I believe, greatly admired by visitors from all parts of the world.