previous
no next



  ― 125 ―
view facsimile

Part II

He Knew Himself Naked

In yesterday's reach and to-morrow's,
Out of sight though they lie of to-day,
There have been and there yet shall be sorrows
That smite not and bite not in play.
The life and the love thou despisest,
These hurt us indeed and in vain,
O wise among women, and, wisest,
Our Lady of Pain.

—Swinburne




  ― 127 ―
view facsimile

Chapter I

The Slaughter of an Innocent

MRS. HOBBS' baby was dying.

“It had clung to its little life so long, in the close Sydney streets, in the stuffy, stifling rooms which were its home; it had battled so bravely; it was being vanquished at last.

“The flame of its life had flickered from its birth, had shrunk to a bluish wreathing many a time, had never once leapt upward in a strong red blaze. Again and again it had lain at its mother's breast, half-dead; again and again upon its baby face Death had laid the tips of its pinching fingers; again and again it had struggled moaning from the verge of the grave and beaten back the grim Destroyer by the patient filling of its tiny lungs. It wanted so to live, all unconsciously. The instinct to exist bore it up and with more than Spartan courage stood for it time and again in the well-nigh carried breach. Now, it was over, the battling, the struggling. Death loitered by the way but the fight was done.

“The poor little baby! Poor unknown soldier! Poor unaided heroic life that was spent at last! There were none to help it, not one. In all the world, in all the universe, there was none to give it the air it craved, the food it needed, the living that its baby-soul faded for not having. It had fought its fight alone. It lay dying now, unhelped and helpless, forsaken and betrayed.”




  ― 128 ―
view facsimile

So thought Nellie, sitting there beside it, her head thrown back, over her eyes her hands clasped, down her cheeks the tears of passionate pity streaming.

“What had its mother done for it? The best she could, indeed, but what was that? The worst she could when she gave it life, when she bore it to choke and struggle and drown in the fetid stream that sweeps the children of the poor from infancy to age; the life she gave it only a flickering, half-lighted life; the blood she gave it thin with her own weariness and vitiate from its drunken sire; the form she gave it soft-boned and angle-headed, more like overgrown embryo than child of the boasted Australian land. Even the milk it drew from her unwieldy breasts was tainted with city smoke and impure food and unhealthy housing. Its playground was the cramped kitchen floor and the kerb and the gutter. Its food for a year had been the food that feeds alike the old and the young who are poor. All around conspired against it, yet for two years and more it had clung to its life and lived, as if defying Fate, as if the impulse that throbbed in it from the Past laughed at conditions and would have it grow to manhood in spite of all. In the strength of that impulse, do not millions grow so? But millions, like this little one, are crushed and overborne.

“It had no chance but the chance that the feeble spark in it gave it. It had no chance, even with that, to do more than just struggle through. None came to scatter wide the prison walls of the slum it lived in and give it air. None came to lift the burden of woe that pressed on all around it and open to it laughter and joy. None came to stay the robbery of the poor and to give to this brave little baby fresh milk and strengthening food. In darkness and despair it was born; in darkness and despair it lived; in darkness and despair it died. To it Death was more merciful than Life. Yet it was a crime crying for vengeance that we should have let it waste away and die so.”

So thought Nellie, weeping there beside it, all the woman in her aching and yearning for this poor sickly little one.

“It was murdered, murdered as surely as if a rope had been put round its neck and the gallows-trap opened under it; murdered as certainly as though, dying of thirst, it had been denied


  ― 129 ―
view facsimile

a sup of water by one who had to spare; murdered, of sure truth, as though in the dark one who knew had not warned it of a precipice in the path. It had asked so little and had been denied all; only a little air, only a little milk and fruit, only a glimpse of the grass and the trees, even these would have saved it. And oh! If also in its languid veins the love-life had bubbled and boiled, if in its bone and flesh a healthy parentage had commingled, if the blood its mother gave it had been hot and red and the milk she suckled it to white and sweet and clean from the fount of vigorous womanhood! What then? Then, surely it had been sleeping now with chubby limbs flung wide, its breathing so soft that you had to bend your ear to its red lips to hear it, had been lying wearied with dancing and mischief-making and shouting and toddling and falling, resting the night from a happy to-day till the dawn woke it betime for a happy to-morrow. All this it should have had as a birthright, with the years stretching in front of it, on through fiery youth, past earnest manhood, to a loved and loving old age. This is the due, the rightful due, of every child to whom life goes from us. And that child who is born to sorrow and sordid care, pot-bound from its mother's womb by encircling conditions that none single-handed can break, is wronged and sinned against by us all most foully. If it dies we murder it. If it lives to suffer we crucify it. If it steals we instigate, despite our canting hypocrisy. And if it murders we who hang it have beforehand hypnotised its will and armed its hand to slay.”

So Nellie thought, the tears drying on her cheeks, leaning forward to watch the twitching, purpled face of the hard-breathing child.

“Is there not a curse upon us and our people, upon our children and our children's children, for every little one we murder by our social sins? Can it be that Nemesis sleeps for us, he who never slept yet for any, he who never yet saw wrong go unavenged or heard the innocent blood cry unanswered from the ground?

“Can it be that he has closed his ears to the dragging footfalls of the harlot host and to the sobs of strong men hopeless and anguished because work is wanting and to the sighing of wearied women


  ― 130 ―
view facsimile

and to the death-rattle of slaughtered babes? Surely though God is not and Humanity is weak yet Nemesis is strong and sleepless and lingers not! Surely he will tear down the slum and whelm the robbers in their iniquity and visit upon us all punishment for the crime which all alike have shared! Into the pit which we have left digged for the children of others shall not our own children fall? Is happiness safe for any while to any happiness is denied?

“It is a crime that a baby should live so and die so. It is a villainy and we all are villains who let it be. No matter how many are guilty, each one who lives with hands unbound is as guilty as any. It were better to die alone, fighting the whole world single-handed, refusing to share the sin or to tolerate it or to live while it was, than with halting speech to protest and with supple conscience to compromise. He is a coward who lets a baby die or a woman sink to shame or a fellow-man be humbled, alone and unassisted and unrighted. She is false to the divinity of womanhood who does not feel the tigress in her when a little one who might be her little one is tossed, stifled by unholy conditions, into its grave. But where are the men, now, who will strike a blow for the babies? Where are the women who will put their white teeth into the murderous hands of the Society that throttles the little ones and robs the weak and simple and cloaks itself with a ‘law and order’ which outrages the Supreme Law of that Humanity evolving in us?

“Surely we are all tainted and corrupted, even the best of us, by the scrofulous cowardice, the fearsome selfishness, of a decaying civilisation! Surely we are only fit to be less than human, to be slave to conditions that we ourselves might govern if we would, to be criminal accomplices in the sins of social castes, to be sad victims of inhuman laws or still sadder defenders of inhumanity! Oh, for the days when our race was young, when its women slew themselves rather than be shamed and when its men, trampling a rotten empire down, feared neither God nor man and held each other brothers and hated, each one, the tyrant as the common foe of all! Better the days when from the forests and the steppes our forefathers burst, half-naked and free, communists and conquerors, a fierce avalanche of daring men and lusty women who beat and battered Rome down like Odin's hammer that they were! Alas, for the


  ― 131 ―
view facsimile

heathen virtues and the wild pagan fury for freedom and for the passion and purity that Frega taught to the daughters of the barbarian! And alas, for the sword that swung then, unscabbarded, by each man's side and for the knee that never bent to any and for the fearless eyes that watched unblenched while the gods lamed each other with their lightnings in the thunder-shaken storm! Gone forever seemed the days when the land was for all, and the cattle and the fruits of the field, and when, unruled by kings, untrammelled by priests, untyrannised by pretence of ‘law,’ our fathers drank in from Nature's breast the strength and vigour that gave it even to this little babe to fight its hopeless fight for life so bravely and so long. Odin was dead whose sons dared go to hell with their own people and Frega was no more whose magic filled with molten fire the veins of all true lovers and nerved with desperate courage the hand of her who guarded the purity of her body and the happiness of her child. The White Christ had come when wealth and riches and conquests had upheaped wrongs upon the heads of the wrongers; the cross had triumphed over the hammer when the fierce freedom of the North had worn itself out in selfish foray; the shaven-pated priest had come to teach patience as God-given when a robber-caste grew up to whom it seemed wise to uproot the old ideas from the mind of the people whose spent courage it robbed. Alas, for the days when it was not righteous to submit to wrong nor wicked to strike tyranny to the ground, when one met it, no matter where! Alas, for the men of the Past and the women, their faith and their courage and their virtue and their gods, the hearts large to feel and the brains prompt to think and the arms strong to do, the bare feet that followed the plough and trod in the winepress of God and the brown hands that milked cows and tore kings from their thrones by their beard! They were gone and a feebler people spoke their tongue and bore their name, a people that bent its back to the rod and bared its head to the cunning and did not rise as one man when in its midst a baby was murdered while all around a helpless kinsfolk were being robbed and wronged.

“For the past, who would not choose it? Who would not, if they could, drop civilisation from them as one shakes off a horrid nightmare at the dawning of the day? Who would not be again a drover of cattle, a follower of the plough, a milker


  ― 132 ―
view facsimile

of cows, a spinner of wool-yarn by the fireside, to be, as well, strong and fierce and daring, slave to none and fearing none, ignorant alike of all the wisdom and all the woes of this hateful life that is?

“For only one moment of the past if the whole past could not be! Only to be free for a moment if the rest were impossible! Only to lose one's hair and bare one's feet and girdle again the single garment round one's waist and to be filled with the frenzy that may madden still as it maddened our mothers when the Roman legions conquered! Only to stand for a moment, free, on the barricade, outlawed and joyous, with Death, Freedom's impregnable citadel, opening its gates behind—and to pass through, the red flag uplifted in the sight of all men, with flaming slums and smoking wrongs for one's funereal pyre!”

So Nellie thought in her indignation and sorrow, changing the wet cloth on the baby's head, powerless to help it, uncomforted by creeds that moulder in the crimson-cushioned pews. She knew that she was unjust, carried away by her tumultuous emotions, knew also, in her heart, that there was something more to be desired than mere wild outbreaks of the despairing. Only she thought, as we all think, in phases, and as she would certainly have talked had opportunity offered while she was in the mood, and as she would most undoubtedly have written had she just then been writing. The more so as there was a wave of indignation and anger sweeping over Australia, sympathetic with the indignation and anger of the voteless workers in the Queensland bush. The companions of her childhood were to be Gatling-gunned because of the squatters, whose selfish greed and heartless indifference to all others had made them hateful to this selector's daughter. Because the bushmen would not take the squatters' wage and yield his liberty as a workman to the squatter's bidding and agree to this and to that without consultation or discussion, the scum of southern towns and the sifted blacklegs of southern “estates” were to be drafted in hordes to Queensland to break down the unionism that alone protected the bushman and made him more of a man than he had been when the squatter could do as he would and did. From the first days she could remember she had heard how the squatters filched from the bushmen in their stores and herded the bushmen in vile huts and preferred every colour to white when there were workers


  ― 133 ―
view facsimile

wanted; and how the magistrates were all squatters or squatters' friends and how Government was for the squatters and for nobody else on the great Western plains; and she knew from Ned of the homeless, wandering life the bushmen led and how new thoughts were stirring among them and rousing them from their aimless, hopeless living. She knew more, too, knew what the bushman was: frank as a child, keeping no passing thought unspoken, as tender as a woman to those he cared for, responsive always to kindly, earnest words, boiling over with anger one moment and shouting with good humour the next, open-handed with sovereigns after months and years of lonely toiling or sharing his last plug of tobacco with a stranger met on the road. His faults she knew as well: his drunkenness often, his looseness of living, his excitability, all born of unnatural surroundings; but his virtues she knew as well, none better, and all her craving for the scent of the gums and to feel again the swaying saddle and to hear again the fathomless noon-day silence and to see again the stock rushing in jumbling haste for the water-hole, went out in a tempestuous sympathy for those who struggled for the union in the bush. And Ned! She hardly knew what she thought about Ned.

She was unjust in her thoughts, she knew, not altogether unjust but somewhat. There had been heroism in the passive struggle of six months before, when the seamen left the boats at the wharves for the sake of others and when the “lumpers” threw their coats over their shoulders and stood by the seamen and when the miners came up from the mines so that no coal should go to help fight comrades they had never seen. Her heart had thrilled with joy to see so many grip hands and stand together, officers and stewards and gasmen and lightermen and engine-drivers and cooks and draymen, from Adelaide to far-off Cooktown, in every port, great and small, all round the eastern coast. As the strike dragged on she lived herself as she had lived in the starving hand-to-mouth days of her bitter poverty, to help find bread for the hungry families she knew. For Phillips and Macanany were on strike, while Hobbs, who had moved round the corner, had been sacked for refusing to work on the wharves; and many another in the narrow street and the other narrow streets about it were idling and hungering and waiting doggedly to see what might happen, with strike pay falling steadily till there was hardly any strike pay at all. And Nellie's heart, that


  ― 134 ―
view facsimile

had thrilled with joy when New Unionism uprose in its strength and drew the line hard and fast between the Labour that toiled and the Capitalism that reaped Labour's gains, ached with mingled pride and pain to see how hunger itself could not shake the stolid unionism about her. She saw, too, the seed that for years had been sown by unseen, unknown sowers springing up on every hand and heard at every street corner and from every unionist mouth that everything belonged of right to those who worked and that the idle rich were thieves and robbers. She smiled grimly to watch Mrs. Macanany and viragoes like her pouring oil on the flames and drumming the weak-kneed up and screaming against “blacklegging” as a thing accurst. And when she understood that the fight was over, while apparently it was waxing thicker, she had waited to see what the end would be, longing for something she knew not what. She used to go down town, sometimes of an evening, to watch the military patrols, riding up and down with jingling bits and clanking carbines and sabres as if in a conquered city. She heard, in her workroom, the dull roar of the angry thousands through whose midst the insolent squatters drove in triumphal procession, as if inciting to lawlessness, with dragoon-guarded, police-protected drays of blackleg wool. Then the end came and the strike was over, leaving the misery it had caused and the bitter hatreds it had fostered and the stern lesson which all did not read as the daily papers would have had them. And now the same Organised Capitalism which had fought and beaten the maritime men and the miners, refusing to discuss or to confer or to arbitrate or to conciliate, but using its unjust possession of the means of living to starve into utter submission those whose labour made it rich, was at the same work in the Queensland bush, backing the squatters, dominating government, served by obsequious magistrates and a slavish military and aided by all who thought they had to gain by the degradation of their fellows or who had been ground so low that they would cut each other's throats for a crust or who, in their blind ignorance, misunderstood what it all meant. And there were wild reports afloat of resistance brooding in Queensland and of excited meetings in the bush and of troops being sent to disperse the bushmen's camps. Why did they endure these things, Nellie thought, watching and waiting, as impotent to aid them as she was to save the baby dying now beside her. Day by day she expected Ned.




  ― 135 ―
view facsimile

She knew Ned was in the South, somewhere, though she had not seen him. He had come down on some business, in blissful ignorance of the nearness of the coming storm, but would be called back, she knew, now this new trouble had begun. And then he would be arrested, she was sure, because he was outspoken and fearless and would urge the men to stand out till the last, and would be sent to prison by legal trickery under this new law the papers said had been discovered; all so that the unions might break down and the squatters do as they liked. Which, perhaps, was why her thoughts for the time being were particularly tinged with pessimism. If the vague something called “law and order” was determined to be broken so that the bush could be dragooned for the squatter it seemed to her as well to make a substantial breakage while men were about it—and she did not believe they would.

She placed a cool damp cloth on the baby's head, wishing that its mother would come up, Mrs. Hobbs having been persuaded to go downstairs for some tea and a rest while Nellie watched by the sick child and having been entangled in household affairs the moment she appeared in the dingy kitchen where Mrs. Macanany, to the neglect of her own home, was “seeing to things.” The hard breathing was becoming easier. Nellie brought the candle burning in a broken cup. The flushed face was growing paler and more natural. The twitching muscles were stilling. There was a change.

One unused to seeing Death approach would have thought the baby settling down at last to a refreshing, health-reviving sleep. Nellie had lived for years where the children die like rabbits, and knew.

“Mrs. Hobbs!” she called, softly but urgently, running to the stairs.

The poor woman came hastily to the foot. “Quick, Mrs. Hobbs!” said Nellie, beckoning.

“Oh, Mrs. Macanany! The baby's dying!” cried poor Mrs. Hobbs, tripping on her dragging skirts in her frantic haste to get upstairs. Mrs. Macanany followed. The children set up a boohoo that brought Mr. Hobbs from the front doorstep where he had been sitting smoking. He rushed up the stairs also. When he reached the top he saw, by the light of the candle in Nellie's hand, a little form lying still and white; its mother crouched on the floor, wailing over it.




  ― 136 ―
view facsimile

It was a small room, almost bare, the bedstead of blistered iron, the mattress thin, the bedding tattered and worn. A soapbox was the chair on which Nellie had been sitting; there was no other. Against the wall, above a rough shelf, was a piece of mirror-glass without a frame. The window in the sloping roof was uncurtained. On the poor bed, under the tattered sheet, was the dead baby. And on the floor, writhing, was its mother, Mrs. Macanany trying to comfort her between the pauses of her own vehement neighbourly grief.

Nellie closed the dead baby's eyes, set the candle on the shelf and moved to the door where Mr. Hobbs stood bewildered and dumbfoundered, his pipe still in his hand. “Speak to her!” she whispered to him. “It's very hard for her.”

Mr. Hobbs looked hopelessly at his pipe. He did not recollect where to put it. Nellie, understanding, took it from his fingers and pushed him gently by the arm towards his wife. He knelt down by the weeping woman's side and put his hands on the head that was bent to the ground. “Sue,” he said, huskily, not knowing what to say. “Don't take on so! It's better for 'im.”

“It's not better,” she cried in answer, kneeling up and frantically throwing her arms across the bed. “How can it be better? Oh, God! I wish I was dead. Oh, my God! Oh, my God!”

“Don't, Sue!” begged Mr. Hobbs, weeping in a clumsy way, as men usually do.

“It's not right,” cried the mother, rolling her head, half-crazed. “It's not right, Jack. It's not right. It didn't ought to have died. It didn't ought to have died, Jack. It wouldn't if it had a chance, but it hadn't a chance. It didn't have a chance, Jack. It didn't have a chance.”

“Don't, Sue!” begged Mr. Hobbs again. “You did what you could.”

“I didn't,” she moaned. “I didn't. I didn't do what I could. There were lots of things I might have done that I didn't. I wasn't as kind as I might have been. I was cross to it and hasty. Oh, my God, my God! Why couldn't I have died instead? Why couldn't I? Why don't we all die? It's not right. It's not right. Oh, my God, my God!”

And she thought God, whatever that is, did not hear and would not answer, she not knowing that in her own pain and anguish were the seeds of progression and in her cries the whetting of the sickle wherewith all wrongs are cut down when they are ripe for


  ― 137 ―
view facsimile

the reaper. So she wept and lamented, bewailing her dead, rebellious and self-reproachful.

“Take the baby, dear?” quoth Mrs. Macanany, reappearing from a descent to the kitchen with a six months' infant squalling in her arms. “Give it a drink now! It'll make you feel better.”

Poor Mrs. Hobbs clutched the baby-in-arms convulsively and sobbed over it, finding some comfort in the exertion. To Mrs. Macanany's muttered wrath Nellie intervened, however, with warnings of “fits” as likely to follow the nursing of the child while its mother was so excited and feverish. Mr. Hobbs loyally seconded Nellie's amendment and with unexpected shrewdness urged the mother to control her grief for the dead for the sake of the living. Which succeeding, to some extent, they got the poor woman downstairs and comforted her with a cup of tea, Nellie undressing and soothing the crying children, who sobbed because of this vague happening which the eldest child of 11 explained as meaning that “Teddy's going to be put in the deep hole.”

It was after 10 when Nellie went. Mrs. Hobbs cried again as Nellie kissed her “good-night.” Mr. Hobbs shook hands with genuine friendship. “I don't know whatever we'd have done without you, Miss Lawton,” he said, bashfully, following her to the door.

“I don't know what they'll do without you, Mr. Hobbs,” retorted Nellie, whose quick tongue was noted in the neighbourhood.

He did not answer, only fumbled with the door-knob as she stood on the step in the brilliant moonlight.

“Give it up!” urged Nellie. “It makes things worse and they're bad enough at the best. It's not right to your wife and the children.”

“I don't go on the spree often,” pleaded Mr. Hobbs.

“Not as often as some,” admitted Nellie, “but if it's only once in a life-time it's too often. A man who has drink in him isn't a man. He makes himself lower than the beasts and we're low enough as it is without going lower ourselves. He hurts himself and he hurts his family and he hurts his mates. He's worse than a blackleg.”

“I don't see as it's so bad as that,” protested Mr. Hobbs.

“Yes, it is,” insisted Nellie, quickly. “Every bit as bad. It's drink that makes most of the blacklegs, anyway. Most of them are men whose manhood has been drowned out of them with


  ― 138 ―
view facsimile

liquor and the weak men in the unions are the drunkards who have no heart when the whisky's out of them. Everybody knows that. And when men who aren't as bad feel down-hearted and despairing instead of bracing up and finding out what makes it they cheer up at a pub and imagine they're jolly good fellows when they're just cowards dodging their duty. They get so they can't take any pleasure except in going on the spree and if they only go on once in a month or two”—this was a hit at Hobbs—“they're the worse for it. Why, look here, Mr. Hobbs, if I hadn't been here you'd have gone to-night and brought home beer and comforted yourselves getting fuddled. That's so, you know, and it wouldn't be right. It's just that sort of thing”—she added softly—“that stops us seeing how it is the little ones die when they shouldn't. If everybody would knock off drinking for ten years, everybody, we'd have everything straightened out by then and nobody would ever want to go on the spree again.”

She stood with her back to the moonlight, fingering the post of the door. Mr. Hobbs fumbled still with the door-knob and looked every way but at her. She waited for an answer, but he did not speak.

“Come,” she continued, after a pause. “Can't you give it up? I know it's a lot to do when one's used to it. But you'll feel better in the end and your wife will be better right away and the children, and it won't be blacklegging on those who're trying to make things better. No matter how poor he is if a man's sober he's a man, while if he drinks, no matter if he's got millions, he's a brute.”

“You never drink anything, Miss Lawton, do you?” asked Mr. Hobbs, swinging the door.

“I never touched it in my life,” said Nellie.

“Do you really think you're better for it?”

“I think it has kept me straight,” said Nellie, earnestly. “I wouldn't touch a drop to save my life. Some people call us who don't drink fools just because a few humbugs make temperance a piece of cant. I think those who get drunk are fools or who drink when there's a prospect of themselves or those they drink with getting drunk. Drink makes a man an empty braggart or a contented fool. It makes him heartless not only to others but to himself.”

There was another pause.




  ― 139 ―
view facsimile

“If you won't for the sake of your wife and your children and yourself and everybody, will you do it to please me?” asked Nellie, who knew that Mr. Hobbs regarded her as the one perfect woman in Australia and, woman-like, was prepared to take advantage thereof.

“You know, Miss Lawton, I'm not one of the fellows who swear off Monday mornings and get on the spree the next Saturday night. If I say I'll turn temperance I'll turn.” So quoth the sturdy Hobbs.

“I know that. If you were the other sort do you think I'd be bothering you?” retorted Nellie.

“Well, I'll do it,” said Mr. Hobbs. “So help me —— ”

“Never mind that,” interrupted the girl. “If a man's a man his word's his word, and if he's not all the swearing in the world won't make any difference. Let's shake on it!” She held out her hand.

Mr. Hobbs dropped the door-knob and covered her long, slender hand with his great, broad, horny-palmed one.

“Good night, Mr. Hobbs!” she said, the “shake” being over. “Get her to sleep and don't let her fret!”

“Good night, Miss Nellie!” he answered, using her name for the first time. He wanted to say something more but his voice got choked up and he shut the door in her face, so confused was he.

“Hello, Nellie!” said a voice that made her heart stand still, as she crossed the road, walking sadly homewards. At the same time two hands stretched out of the dense shadow into the lane of moonlight that shone down an alley way she was passing and that cut a dazzling swath in the blackness made still blacker by the surrounding brilliancy. “I've been wondering if you ever would finish that pitch of yours.”

It was Ned.




  ― 140 ―
view facsimile

Chapter II

On the Road to Queensland

WHILE Nellie had been talking temperance to Mr. Hobbs, Ned had been watching her impatiently from the other side of the street. For an hour and more he had been prowling up and down, up and down, between the Phillipses and the Hobbses, having learned from Mrs. Phillips, who looked wearier than ever, where the Hobbses lived now and why Nellie had gone there after hardly stopping to swallow her dinner. At seven he had acquired this information and returned soon after nine to find Nellie still at the house of sickness, now, alas, the house of death. So he had paced up and down, up and down, waiting for her. He had seen the Hobbs' door open at last and had watched impatiently, from the shadow opposite, the conversation on the door step. His heart gave a great leap as she stopped across the road full in the moonlight. He saw again the sad stern face that had lived as an ideal in his memory for two long eventful years. There was none like her in the whole world to him, not one.

The years had come to her in this stifling city, amid her struggling and wrestling of spirit, but the strong soul in her had borne her up through all, she had aged without wearying, grown older and sadder without withering from her intense womanhood. Broader of hip a little, as Ned could see with the keen eyes of love, not quite so slender in the waist, fuller in the uncorsetted bust, more sloping of shoulder as though the pillared neck had fleshed somewhat at the base; the face, too, had gathered form and force, in the freer curve of her will-full jaw, in the sterner compression of fuller lips that told their tale of latent passions strangely bordering on the cruel, in the sweeter blending of Celt and Saxon shown in straight nose, strong cheek-bones and well-marked brows. She trod still with the swinging spring of the hill-people, erect and careless. Only the white gleam of her collar and a dash of colour in her hat broke the sombre hue that clothed her, as before, from head to foot.

Ned devoured her with his eyes as she came rapidly towards him, unconscious of his presence. She was full grown at


  ― 141 ―
view facsimile

last, in woman's virgin prime, her mind, her soul, her body, all full and strong with pure thoughts, natural instincts and human passions. Her very sadness gave her depths of feeling that never come to those who titter and fritter youth away. Her very ignoring of the love-instincts in her, absorbed as her thoughts were in other things, only gave those instincts the untrammelled freedom that alone gives vigorous growth. She was barbarian, as her thoughts had been beside the dying baby: the barbarian cultured, as Shakespeare was, the barbarian wronged, as was Spartacus, the barbarian hating and loving and yearning and throbbing, the creature of her instincts, a rebel against restrictions, her mind subject only to her own strong will. She was a woman of women, in Ned's eyes at least. One kiss from her would be more than all other women could give, be their self-abandonment what it might. To be her lover, her husband, a man might yield up his life with a laugh, might surrender all other happiness and be happy ever after. There was none like her in the whole world to Ned, not one—and he came to say good-bye to her, perhaps for ever.

In the black shadows thrown by the high-rising moon, the crossing alley-way cut a slice of brilliancy as if with a knife. From the shadow into the moonshine two hands stretched towards her as Ned's voice greeted her. She saw his tall form looming before her.

“Ned!” she cried, in answer, grasping both his hands and drawing him forward into the light. “I was expecting you. I've been thinking of you every minute for the last week. How tired you look! You're not ill?”

“No! I'm all right,” he answered, laughing. “It's those confounded trains. I can't sleep on them, and they always give me a headache. But you're looking well, Nellie. I can't make out how you do it in this stuffed-up town.”

“I'm all right,” She replied, noticing a red rose in his coat but saying nothing of it. “Nothing seems to touch me. Did you come straight through?”

“Straight through. We rushed things all we could but I couldn't get away before. Besides, as long as I get Saturday's boat in Brisbane it'll be as soon as it's possible to get on. That gives me time to stay over to-night here. I didn't see you going down and I began to wonder if I'd see you going back. You can do a pitch, Nellie. When a fellow's waiting for you, too.”




  ― 142 ―
view facsimile

Nellie laughed, then sobered down. “The baby's dead,” she said, sadly. “You recollect it was born when you were here before, the day we went to the Strattons.”

“I don't wonder,” he answered, looking round at the closed-in street, with its dull, hopeless, dreary rows of narrow houses and hard roadway between. “But I suppose you're tired, Nellie. Let's go and get some oysters!”

“I don't care to, thanks. I feel like a good long walk,” she went on, taking his arm and turning him round to walk on with her. “I'm thirsting for a breath of fresh air and to stretch myself. I'm a terrible one for walks, you know.”

“Not much riding here, Nellie;” walking on.

“That's why I walk so. I can go from here right down to Lady Macquarie's Chair in under half-an-hour. Over two miles! Not bad, eh, Ned?”

“That's a good enough record. Suppose we go down there now, Nellie, only none of your racing time for me. It's not too late for you?”

“Too late for me! My word! I'm still at the Phillipses and they don't bother. I wouldn't stay anywhere where I couldn't come and go as I liked. I'd like to go if you're not too tired.”

“It'll do me good,” said Ned, gleefully. So they set off, arm in arm. After they had walked a dozen yards he stopped suddenly.

“I've brought you a rose, Nellie,” he exclaimed, handing it to her. “I'm so pleased to see you I forgot it.”

“I knew it was for me,” she said, fondly, pinning it at her throat. “How ever did you recollect my colour?”

“Do you think I forget anything about you, Nellie?” he asked. She did not answer and they walked on silently.

“Where is Geisner?” he enquired, after a pause.

“I don't know. Why?”

“Oh, nothing. Only he'd advise us a little.”

After a pause: “What do you think of things, Ned?”

“What do I think? We couldn't get any wires through that explained anything. There was nothing on but the ordinary strike business when I came down. I suppose some of the chaps have been talking wild and the Government has snapped at the chance to down the union. You know what our fellows are.”

“Yes. But I don't quite see what the Government's got to gain. Proclamations and military only make men worse, I think.”




  ― 143 ―
view facsimile

“Sometimes they do and sometimes they don't,” answered Ned. “A crowd that's doing no harm, only kicking up a bit of a row, will scatter like lambs sometimes if a single policeman collars one of them. Another time the same crowd will jump on a dozen policemen. The Government thinks the crowd'll scatter and I'm afraid the crowd'll jump.”

“Why afraid?” enquired Nellie, biting her lips.

“Because it has no chance,” answered Ned. “These are all newspaper lies about them having arms and such nonsense. There aren't 500 guns in the whole Western country and half of them are old muzzle-loading shot guns. The kangarooers have got good rifles but nineteen men out of twenty no more carry one than they carry a house.”

“But the papers say they're getting them!”

“Where are they to get them from, supposing they want them and naturally the chaps want them when they hear of military coming to ‘shoot 'em down’? You can reckon that the Government isn't letting any be carried on the railways and, even if they did I don't believe you could buy 500 rifles in all Queensland at any one time.”

“Then it's all make-up that's in the papers? It certainly seemed to me that there was something in it.”

“That's just it, there is something in it. Just enough, I'm convinced, to give the Government an excuse for doing what they did during the maritime strike without any excuse and what the squatters have been planning for them to do all along.”

“One of the Queensland men who was here a week or two ago was telling me about the maritime strike business. It was the first I'd heard of that. Griffith didn't seem to be that way years ago,” said Nellie.

“Griffith is a fraud,” declared Ned, hotly. “I'd sooner have one of the Pure Merinoes than Griffith. They do fight us out straight and fair, anyway, and don't cant much about knowing that things aren't right, with Elementary Property Bills and ‘Wealth and Want’ and that sort of wordy tommy-rot. I like to know where to find a man and that trick of Griffith at the maritime strike in Brisbane showed where to find him right enough.”

“Was it Griffith?” asked Nellie.

“Of course it was Griffith. Who else would it be? The fellows in Brisbane feel sore over it, I tell you. When they'd been staying up nights and getting sick and preaching themselves


  ― 144 ―
view facsimile

hoarse, talking law and order to the chaps on strike and rounding on every man who even boo'd as though he were a blackleg, and when the streets were quieter with thousands of rough fellows about than they were ordinary times, those shop-keepers and wool-dealers and commission agents went off their heads and got the Government to swear in ‘specials’ and order out mounted troopers and serve out ball cartridges. And all the time the police said it wasn't necessary, that the men on strike were perfectly orderly. Who'd ever do that but Griffith? And what can we expect from a government that did such a thing?”

“The Brisbane men do seem sore over that,” agreed Nellie. “The man who told me vowed it would be a long time before he'd do policeman's work again. He said that for him Government might keep its own order and see how soon it got tired of it.”

“Well, it's the same thing going on now. I mean the Government and the squatters fixing up this military business between them just to dishearten our fellows. Besides, they've got it into their heads, somehow, that most men are only unionists through fear and that if they're sure of ‘protection’ they'll blackleg in thousands.”

“That's a funny notion,” said Nellie. “But all employers have it or pretend to have it. I fancy it comes through men, afraid of being victimised if they display independence, shifting the responsibility of their sticking up for rules upon the union and letting the boss think they don't approve of the rules but are afraid to break them, when they're really afraid to let him know they approve them.”

“That's about it, Nellie, but most people find it easy to believe what they want to believe. Anyway, I've got it straight from headquarters that the squatters expect to get blacklegs working under enough military protection to make blacklegging feel safe, as they look at it, and then they think our unions will break right down. And, of course, what maddens our crowd is that blacklegs are collected in another part of the world and shipped in under agreements which they can be sent to prison if they break, or think they can, which amounts to the same, and are kept guarded away from us, like convicts, so that we can't get to them to talk to them and win them over as is done in ordinary strikes in towns.”

“That's shameful!” said Nellie. “The squatter governments have a lot to answer for.”




  ― 145 ―
view facsimile

“And what can we do?” continued Ned. “They won't let us have votes. There are 20,000 men in the back country altogether and I don't believe 5000 of them have votes and they're mostly squatters and their managers and ‘lifers’ and the storekeepers and people who own land. I've no vote and can't get one. None of the fellows in my lot can get votes. We can't alter things in Parliament and the law and the government and the military and the police and the magistrates and everything that's got authority are trying to down us and we can't help ourselves. Do you wonder that our chaps get hot and talk wild and act a little wild now and then?”

Nellie pressed his arm answeringly.

“I feel myself a coward sometimes,” went on Ned. “Last drought-time some of us were camped 'way back at a water-hole on a reserve where there was the only grass and water we could get for hundreds of miles. We had our horses and the squatter about wanted the grass for his horses and tried to starve us away by refusing to sell us stores. He wouldn't even sell us meat. He was a fool, for we took his mutton as we wanted it, night-times, and packed our stores from the nearest township, a hundred and eighty miles off. I used to think that the right thing to do was to take what we wanted off his run and from his store, in broad daylight, and pay him fair prices and blow the heads off anybody who went to stop us. For we'd a better right to the grass than he had. Only, you see, Nellie, it was easier to get even with him underhand and we seem to do always what's easiest.”

“They've always acted like that, those squatters, Ned,” said Nellie. “Don't you recollect when they closed the road across Arranvale one drought 'cause the selectors were cutting it up a bit, drawing water from the reserve, and how everybody had to go seven miles further round for every drop of water? I've often wondered why the gates weren't lifted and the road used in spite of them.”

“They'd have sent for the police,” remarked Ned. “Next year Arranvale shed was burned,” he added.

“It's always that way,” declared Nellie, angrily. “For my part I'd sooner see the wildest, most hopeless outbreak, than that sort of thing.”

“So would the squatters, Nellie,” retorted Ned, grimly. “I feel all you do,” he went on. “But human nature is human


  ― 146 ―
view facsimile

nature and the squatters did their level best, ignorantly I admit, to make the men mere brutes, and the life alone has made hundreds mad, so we can't wonder if the result isn't altogether pleasant. They've made us hut in with Chinese and Malays. They've stuck up prices till flour that cost them tuppence a pound I've seen selling us for a shilling. They've cut wages down whenever they got a chance and are cutting them now, and they want to break up our unions with their miserable ‘freedom of contract’ agreement. Before there were unions in the bush the only way to get even with a squatter was by some underhand trick and now we've got our unions and are ready to stand up manly and fight him fair he's coming the same dodge on us that the shipowners came on the seamen, only worse. Going to use contract labour from the South that we can't get near to talk to and that can't legally knock off if we did talk it over, and going to break up the camps and shoot down unarmed men just to stop the strike. How can you wonder if a few fires start or expect the chaps to be indignant if they do? Besides, half the fires that happen at times like this are old shanties of sheds that are insured above their value. It's convenient to be able to put everything down to unionists.”

“It worries me,” said Nellie, after a few minutes' silence.

“Me too,” said Ned. “We've got such a good case if both sides could only be shown up. We've been willing to talk the whole thing over all along and we're willing yet or to arbitrate it either. We're right and lots of these fellows know it who abuse us. And if our chaps do talk a bit rough and get excited and even if they do occasionally carry on a bit, it's not a circumstance to the way the other side talk and get excited and carry on. Only all the law is against us and none against them. Our chaps are so hot that they don't go at it like lawyers but like a bull at a gate, when they talk or write. And so the Government gets a hold on us and can raise a dust and prevent people from seeing how things really are!”

“Ned,” she said, after a pause. “Tell me honestly! Do you think there will be any trouble?”

“Honestly, I don't, Nellie. At least nothing serious. Some of the fellows may start to buck if the Government does try to break up the camps and it might spread a little, but there are no guns and so I don't see how it could. There seems to be a lot of talk everywhere but that's hard fact. Ten thousand bushmen with


  ― 147 ―
view facsimile

rifles wouldn't have much trouble with the Government and the Government wouldn't have much trouble with ten thousand bushmen without rifles. Besides, we're trying to do things peacefully and I don't see why we shouldn't win this round as things stand and get votes soon into the bargain!”

“But if there is trouble, Ned?” she persisted. “Supposing it does start?”

“I shall go with the chaps, of course, if that's what you mean.”

“Knowing it's useless, just to throw your life away?” she asked, quietly, not protestingly, but as one seeking information.

“I've eaten their bread,” answered Ned. “Whatever mad thing is done, however it's done, I'm with them. I should be a coward if I stood out of it because I didn't agree with it. Besides ——”

“Besides what?”

“I believe in Fate somehow. Not as anything outside bossing us, you know, but as the whole heap of causes and conditions, of which we're a part ourselves. But I don't feel that there'll be any real trouble though some of us'll get into trouble just the same.”

“The Government will pick the big thistles, you mean.”

“Those they think the big thistles, I suppose. Of course the Government is only the squatters and the companies in another shape and they only want to break down the strike and are glad of any excuse that'll give them a slant at us. They have a silly idiotic notion that only a few men keep the unions going and that if they can get hold of a dozen or two the others will all go to work like lambs just as the squatter wants. The fellows here have heard that the Government's getting ready to make a lot of arrests up there. I'm one.”

Nellie squeezed his arm again; “I've heard that. I suppose they can do anything they like, Ned, but surely they won't dare to really enforce that old George the Fourth law they've resurrected?”

“Why not? They'll do anything, Nellie. They're frantic and think they must or the movement will flood them out. They'd like nothing better than a chance to shoot a mob of us down like wild turkeys. They have squatter magistrates and squatter judges—you know we've got some daisies up in Queensland—and they'll snap up all the best lawyers and pack the jury with a lot of shopkeepers who're just in a panic at the newspaper yarns.


  ― 148 ―
view facsimile

The worst interpretation'll be put on everything and every foolish word be magnified a thousand times. I know the gentry too well. They'll have us sure as fate and all I hope is that the boys won't be foolish enough to give them an excuse to massacre a few hundred. It'll be two or three years apiece, the Trades Hall people have heard. However, I suppose we can stand it. I don't care so long as the chaps stick to the union.”

“Do you think they will?” asked Nellie, after another pause.

“I'm sure they will. They can rake a hundred of us in for life and knock the union endways and in a year there'll be as much fight in the boys as there is now, and more bitter, too. Why they're raising money in Sydney for us already and I'm told that it was squeezed as dry as a bone over the maritime strike. The New South Wales fellows are all true blue and so they are down Adelaide way, as good as gold yet. The bosses don't know what a job they tackled when they started in to down unionism. They fancy that if they can only smash our fellows they'll have unionism smashed all over Australia. The fun will only just have started then.”

“What makes you so sure the men will stick, Ned?” enquired Nellie.

“Because they all know what the squatter was before the union and what he'll be the minute he gets another chance. The squatters will keep the unions going right enough. Besides everybody's on for a vote now in the bush and, of course, the Government is going to keep it from them as long as possible. Without unionism they'll never get votes and they know it.”

They had reached the path by Wooloomooloo Bay. Ned took off his hat and walked bareheaded. “This is lovely!” he remarked, refreshed.

“What a fool Griffith is!” cried Nellie, suddenly.

“He's not as cunning as he ought to be,” assented Ned. “But why?”

“Do you know what I'd do if I were him?” answered Nellie. “I'd send all the military and all the police home and go up into the bush by myself and have a chat with the committee and the men at the camps and find out just how they looked at the thing and ask them to assist in keeping order and I'd see that they got justice if Parliament had to be called together specially to do it.”

“He's not smart enough to do that,” answered Ned. “Besides, the squatters and the capitalistic set are the Parliament and


  ― 149 ―
view facsimile

wouldn't let him. I suppose he believes every lie they stuff him with and never gives a minute's thought to our having a side.”

“He didn't use to be a bad man, once,” persisted Nellie.

“I suppose he's not a bad man now,” cried Ned, boiling over. “He's not on the make like most of them and he fancies he's very patriotic, I imagine, but what does he know of us or of the squatter? He sees us at our worst and the squatter at his best and we've got different ways of talking and when we get drunk on poisoned rum that the Government lets be sold we aren't as gentlemanly as those who get drunk on Hennessy and champagne. We don't curse in the same gentlemanly way and we splash out what we think and don't wear two faces like his set. And so he thinks we're ruffians and outlaws and he can't feel why the bushmen care for the unions. The squatter has taken up all the land and the squatter law has tied up what hasn't been taken and most of us are a lot of outcasts, without homes or wives or children or anything that a man should have barring our horses. We've got no votes and every law is set against us and we've no rights and the squatter'd like to throw us all out to make room for Chinese. There's nothing in front of the bushman now unless the union gets it for him and they're trying to break up our union, Griffith and his push, and, by God, they shan't do it. They haven't gaols enough to hold every good unionist, not if they hang a thousand of us to start with.”

“What does it matter, after all, Ned?” said Nellie, gently. “The Cause itself gains by everything that makes men think. There'll never be peace until the squatter goes altogether and the banks and the whole system. And the squatter can't help it. I abuse him myself but I know he only does what most of our own class in his place would do.”

“Of course he can't help it, Nellie,” agreed Ned. “They're mostly mortgaged up to the neck like the shopkeepers and squeeze us partly to keep afloat themselves. It's the system, not the squatters personally. A lot of them are decent enough, taking them off their runs and some are decent even on their runs. Even the squatters aren't all bad. I don't wish them any harm individually but just the same we're fighting them and they're fighting us and what I feel sorest about is that it's just because the New Unionism is teaching our chaps to think and to be better and to have ideas that they are trying so hard to down it.”




  ― 150 ―
view facsimile

“They don't know any better,” repeated Nellie.

“That's what Geisner says, I recollect. I mind how he said they'd try sending us to prison here in Australia. They're beginning soon.”

They were right at the point now.

“There's only one thing I'd like to know first, Nellie.”

“What is it, Ned?” she asked, unconsciously, absorbed in her fear for him.




  ― 151 ―
view facsimile

CHAPTER III

A Woman's Whim

note “NELLIE!

It was a husky whisper. His throat was parched, his lips dry, his mouth also. His heart thumped, thumped, thumped, so that it sickened him. He shook nervously. His face twitched. He felt burning hot; then deadly cold. He turned his hat slowly round and round in his trembling fingers.

It was as though he had turned woman. He did not even feel passion. He dared not look at her. He could feel her there. He did not desire as he had desired so often to snatch her to him, to crush her in his arms, to smother her with kisses, to master her. All his strength fled from him in an indescribable longing.

He had dreamed of this moment, often and often. He had rehearsed it in his mind a thousand times, when the reins dropped on his horse's neck, when he lay sleepless on the ground, even as he chatted to his mates. He had planned what to say, how to say it, purposing to break down her stubborn will with the passionate strength of his love for her, with mad strong words, with subtle arguments. He had seen her hesitating in his dreaming, had seen the flush come and go on her cheeks, her bosom heaving beneath the black dress he knew so well. He had made good his wooing with the tender violence that women forgive for love's sake, had caught her and kissed her till her kisses answered and till she yielded him her troth and pledged herself his wife. So he had dreamed in his folly. And now he stood there like a whipped child, pleading huskily:

“Nellie!”

He had not known himself. He had not known her. Even now he hardly understood that her glorious womanliness appealed to all that was highest in him, that in her presence he desired to be a Man and so seemed to himself weak and wicked. It was not her body only, it was her soul also that he craved, that pure, clear soul of hers which shone in every tone and every word and every look and every gesture. Beautiful she was, strong and lithe and bearing her head up always as if in stern defiance;


  ― 152 ―
view facsimile

beautiful in her cold virginity; beautiful in the latent passion that slumbered lightly underneath the pale, proud face. But most beautiful of all to him, most priceless, most longed for, was the personality in her, the individuality which would have brought him to her were she the opposite, physically, of all she was. He had wondered in reading sometimes of the Buddhist thoughts if it were indeed that she was his mate, that in re-incarnation after re-incarnation they had come together and found in each other the completed self. And then he had wondered if there were indeed in him such power and forcefulness as were in her and if he were to her anything more than a rough, simple, ignorant bush fellow, in whom she was interested a little for old acquaintance sake and because of the common Cause they served. For to himself, he had been still the same as before he ate from her hands the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. Absorbed in his work, a zealot, a fanatic, conscious of all she had and of all he lacked, he had not noticed how his own mind had expanded, how broader ideas had come to him, how the confidence born of persistent thought gave force to his words and how the sincerity and passion that rang in his voice reached if but for a moment the hearts of men. When he thought of her mentality he doubted that she would be his, she seemed so high above him. It was when he thought of her solely as a Woman, when he remembered the smile of her parting, the hand-clinging that was almost a caress, the tender “Come back to me again, Ned!” that he felt himself her equal in his Manhood and dreamed his dream of how he would woo and win her.

And now! Ah, now, he knew himself and knew her. He realised all that he was, all that he might have been. He would have wooed her and Nemesis struck him on the mouth, struck him dumb.

There come moments in our lives when we see ourselves. For years, for a generation, till dying often, we live our lives and do not know except by name the Ego that dwells within. We face death unflinchingly, as most men do, and it never speaks. We love and we hate, with a lightness that is held civilised, and it never stirs. We suffer and mourn and laugh and sneer and it lies hidden. Then something stirs us to the very base of our being and self-consciousness comes. And happy, thrice happy, in spite of all sorrow and pain, no matter what has been or what awaits him, is he to whom self-consciousness does not bring the self


  ― 153 ―
view facsimile

reproach that dieth not, the remorse that never is quite quenched. He would have wooed and he was dumb. For with a flash his life uprose before him. He saw himself naked and he was ashamed.

Tremblingly, shaken with anguish, he saw himself—unfit to look into the eyes of a woman such as this. Like loathsome images of a drunkard's nightmare scenes that were past came to him. Upon his lips were kisses that stung and festered, around his neck were the impress of arms that dragged him down, into his eyes stared other eyes taunting him with the evil glances that once seemed so dear. What had he of manhood to offer to this pure woman. It seemed to him a blasphemy even to stand there by her. His passion fled. He only felt a pitiful, gnawing, hopeless, indescribable longing.

What he had been! How he had drunk and drunk and drunk again of the filthy pools wherewith we civilised peoples still our yearnings for the crystal spring of Love, that the dragon of Social Injustice guards from us so well! His sins rose in front of him. They were sins now as they had never been before. The monogamy of his race triumphed in him. For men and for women alike he knew there was the same right and the same wrong.

His soul abhorred itself because of his unfitness to match with this ideal woman of his people. He could feel her purity, as he stood there by her. He could feel that her lips still waited for the lover of her life, that round her waist the virgin zone still lay untied, that she could still give herself with all the strength of unsullied purity and unweakened passion. And he, who had thought in his miserable folly that at least he was as much Man as she was Woman? He could only give her the fragments of a life, the battered fragments of what once had been well worth the having.

He knew that now. He saw himself naked and he knew what he was and what he had been. He had feared comparison with her intellectually and he towered above her, even now; he knew it. He knew now that to him it had been given to sway the thoughts of men, to feel the pulse of the great world beat, to weld discontent into action, to have an idea and to dare and to give to others faith and hope. That came to him also, without conceit, without egotism—with a rush of still more bitter


  ― 154 ―
view facsimile

infinitely more unbearable, pain. For this, too, he had wasted, flung away, so it seemed to him in his agony of degradation: because he had not been true to his higher self, because he had not done as a true Man would. And so, he had been blind. He saw it plainly, now, the path he should have trod, trampling his weaknesses down, bending his whole life in one strong effort, living only for the work at hand. And to him it came that, perchance, on him was this great punishment that because of his unworthiness the Cause must wait longer and struggle more; that because he had not been strong little children would sob who might have laughed and men would long for death who might have joyed in living. And he knew, too, that had he but been what he might have been he would have stood fearlessly by her side at last and won her to cast in her lot with his. For there was a way out, indeed, a way out from the house of bondage, and none had been so near to it in all time as he had all his life, none had had their feet pointed so towards it, none had failed so strangely to pick up the track and follow it to the end. Years ago, as he thought, sleepless, under the stars, he had touched on it, Geisner had brought him near to it. And still he had not seen it, had not seen as he saw now that those who seek to change the world must first of all show the world that change is possible, must gather themselves together and go out into the desert to live their life in their own way as an example to all men. Who could do this as the bushmen could, as he and his houseless, homeless, wandering mates could? If he only could lead them to it, Geisner helping him! If another chance might be his as the chance had been! Now, life seemed over. He had a prescience of misfortune. A Queensland gaol would swallow him up. That would be the end of it all.

He did not think that he was much the same as others, more forceful perhaps for evil as for good but still much the same. He did not think that social conditions had been against him, that Society had refused him the natural life which gives morality and forced upon him the unnatural life which fosters sin. What did that matter? The Puritan blood that flowed in his veins made him stern jury and harsh judge. He tried himself by his own ideal and he condemned himself. He was unworthy. He had condemned those who drank; he had condemned those who cursed and swore meaninglessly; he had looked upon smoking as a weakness, almost a fault. Now, he condemned himself, without


  ― 155 ―
view facsimile

reservation. He had sinned and his punishment had begun. He had lived in vain and he had lost his love. It never occurred to him that he might play a part before her—he was too manly. Yet his great longing grew greater as he realised everything. All the loneliness of his longing spoke in that hoarse whisper:

“Nellie?”

And Nellie? Nellie loved him.

She had held him as a brother for so long that this love for him had crept upon her, little by little, inch by inch, insidiously, unperceived. She remembered always with pleasure their school days together and their meetings since, that meeting here in Sydney two years before most of all. She had felt proud of him, of his strength and his fiery temper, of his determined will, of the strong mind which she could feel growing and broadening in the letters he had sent her of late. She could not but know that to him she was very much, that to her he owed largely the bent of his thinking, that to her he still looked as a monitress. But she lulled herself with the delusion that all this was brotherliness and that all her feelings were sisterliness. His coming that night, his gift of the rose, had filled her with a happiness that mingled strangely with the pain of her fears.

Coming along, arm in arm with him, she had been thinking of him, even while she spoke earnestly of other things. Would she ever see him again, she wondered with a sinking of the heart, would she ever see him again. Never had he thought or care for himself, never would he shrink from fear of consequences if it seemed to him that a certain course was “straight.” She would not have him shrink, of course. He was dear to her because he was what he was, and yet, and yet, it pained her so to think that she nevermore might see him. Seldom she saw him it was true, only now and then, years between, but she always hoped to see him. What if the hope left her! What should she do if she should see him again nevermore?

The kaleidoscope of her memories showed to her one scene, one of the episodes that had gone to make up her character, to strengthen her devotion: the whirring of a sewing machine in a lamp-lit room and a life-romance told to the whirring, the fate of a woman as Geisner's was the fate of a man. A romance of magnificent fidelity, of heroic sacrifice illumined by a passionate love, of a husband followed to the land of his doom from that sad isle of the Atlantic seas, of prison bars worn away by the ceaseless


  ― 156 ―
view facsimile

labour of a devoted woman and of the cruel storm that beat the breath from her loved one as freed and unfettered he fled to liberty and her! She heard again the whirr of the machine, saw again the lamplight shine on the whitening head majestic still. For Ned, while he lived, no matter where, she would toil so. Though all the world should forget him she would not. But supposing, after all, she never saw him more. What should she do? What should she do? And yet, she did not know yet that she loved him.

noteThey walked along, side by side, close together, through the dull weary streets, by barrack-rows of houses wrapped in slumber or showing an occasional light; through thoroughfares which the windows of the shops that thrive, owl-like, at night still made brilliant; down the long avenue of trim-clipped trees whereunder time-defying lovers still sat whispering; past the long garden wall, startling as they crossed the road a troop of horses browsing for fallen figs; along the path that winds, water-lapped, under the hollowed rocks that shelter nightly forlorn outcasts of Sydney. She saw it all as they passed along and she did not see it. Afterwards she could recall every step they took, every figure they passed, every tree and seat and window and lamp-post on the way.

At one corner a group of men wrangled drunkenly outside a public-house. Down one deserted street another drunkard staggered, cursing with awful curses a slipshod woman who kept pace with him on the pavement and answered him with nerveless jeers. Just beyond a man overtook them, walking swiftly, his tread echoing as he went; he turned and looked at her as he passed; he had a short board and wore a “hard hitter.” Then there was a girl plying her sorry trade, talking in the shadow with a young man, spruce and white-shirted. They had to wait at one street for a tram to rush past screeching and rattling. At one crossing Ned had seized her arm because a cab was coming carelessly. One of the lovers in the avenue was tracing lines on the ground with a stick, while her sweetheart leaned over her. Down under the rocks she saw the forms of sleepers here and there; from one clump of bushes came a sound of heavy snoring. She saw all this, everything, a thousand incidents, but she did not heed them. She was as one in a daze; or as one who moves and thinks and sees, sleep-walking.

So they reached the point by Lady Macquarie's Chair, paused for a moment at the turn, hesitated, then together, as of one


  ― 157 ―
view facsimile

accord, went down the grassy slope by the landing stairs and out upon the rough wave-eaten fringe of rock to the water's edge. They were alone together, alone in Paradise. There were none others in the whole world.

Above them, almost overhead, in the starry sky, the full round moon was sailing, her white glare falling upon a matchless scene of mingling land and water, sea and shore and sky. Like a lake the glorious harbour stretched before them and on either hand. In its bosom the moon sailed as in a mirror; on it great ships floated at anchor and islets nestled down; all round the sheltering hills verily clapped their hands. In the great dome of the universe there was not a cloud. Through the starless windows of that glorious dome they could see into the fathomless depths of Eternity. Under the magic of the moon not even the sordid work of man struck a discordant note. At their feet the faint ripplings of this crystal lake whispered their ceaseless lullaby and close behind them the trees rustled softly in the languid breathings of the sleeping sea. Of a truth it was Paradise, fit above all fitness to gladden the hearts of men, worthy to fill the soul to overflowing with the ecstasy of living, deserving to be enshrined as a temple of the Beautiful wherein all might worship together, each his own God.

The keen sense of its loveliness, its perfect beauty, its sublime simplicity, stole over Nellie as she stood silently by Ned's side in the full moonlight and gazed. Over her angry soul, tortured by the love she hardly knew, its pure languor crept, soothing, softening. She looked up at the silvery disc and involuntarily held out her hands to it, its radiance overpowering her. She wrenched her eyes away from it suddenly, a strange fearfulness leaping in her who knew no fear; the light at the South Heads flashed before her, the convent stood out in the far distance, a ferry-house shone white, the towers and roofs of Sydney showed against the sky, the lights on the shipping and on the further shore were as reflections of the stars above. And there in the water, as in a mirror, was that glowing moon. Startled, she found herself thinking that it would be heavenly to take Ned's hand and plunge underneath this crystal sheet that alone separated them from peace and happiness. She looked up again. There was the moon itself, swimming amid the twinkling stars, full and round and white and radiant. As its rays enwrapped her eyes, she heard the leaves rustling in melody and the wavelets rippling in tune.




  ― 158 ―
view facsimile

All Nature lived to her then. There was life in the very rocks under her feet, language in the very shimmer of the waters, a music, as the ancients dreamed in the glittering spheres that circled there in space. The moon had something to say to her, something to tell her, something she longed to hear and shrank from hearing. She knew she was not herself somehow, not her old self, that it was as though she were being bewitched, mesmerised, drawn out of herself by some strange influence, sweet though fearful. Suddenly a distant clock struck and recalled her wandering thoughts.

“Half-past! Half-past eleven I suppose! I thought it was later, ever so much later. It has seemed like hours, it is so beautiful here, but we haven't been here many minutes,” she said. Adding incongruously: “Let's go. It's getting very late.” She spoke decidedly. She felt that she dare not stay; why, she had not the least idea.

Then she heard Ned, who was standing there, rigid, except that he was twirling his soft straw hat round and round in his fingers, say in a low tremulous husky whisper:

“Nellie!”

Then she knew.

She was loved and she loved. That was what the stars sang and the little ripples and the leaves. That was what the hard rock knew and what the shimmer of the water laughed to think of and what the glowing moon had to tell her as it swam high in heaven, looking down into her heart and swelling its tumultuous tide. The moon knew, the full moon that ever made her pulse beat strong and her young life throb till its throbbing was a pain, the full white moon that, dethroned on earth, still governs from the skies the lives of women. She was loved. She was loved. And she, who had vowed herself to die unmarried, she loved, loved, loved.

She knew that those only laugh at Love to whom the fullness of living has been denied, in whose cold veins, adulterate with inherited disease, a stagnant liquid mocks the purpose of the rich red blood of a healthy race; that in that laugh of theirs is the, knell of them and of their people; that the nation which has ceased to love has almost ceased to live.

She knew that every breath she had ever drawn had been drawn that she might live for this moment; that every inch of her stature and every ounce of her muscle and every thought of


  ― 159 ―
view facsimile

her brain had built up slowly, surely, ultimately, this all-absorbing passion; that upon her was the hand of the Infinite driving her of her own nature to form a link in the great Life-chain that stretches from the Whence into the Whither, to lose herself in the appointed lot as the coral insect does whose tiny body makes a continent possible.

She knew that Love is from the beginning and to all time, knew that it comes to each as each is, to the strong in strength and to the weak in weakness. She knew that to her it had come with all the force of her grand physique and vigorous brain and dominant emotionality, that in her heart one man, one hero, one lover, was enshrined and that to him she would be loyal and true for ever and ever, choosing death rather than to fail him.

She knew that they do rightly and for themselves well who in Love's strength brush aside all worldly barriers and insensate prejudice. She knew that it is the one great Democrat strong as Death—when it comes, though sad to say in decaying states it comes too seldom; that its imperious mandate makes the king no higher than the beggar-girl and binds in sweet equality the child of fortune and the man of toil. She knew that the mysterious Power which orders all things has not trusted to a frail support in resting the conservation of the race upon the strength of loving.

All this she knew and more, knew as by instinct as her love flamed conscious in her.

She knew that there was one thing to which love like hers could not link itself and that was to dishonour, not the false dishonour of conventionalism but the real dishonour of proving untrue to herself. She knew that when she ceased to respect herself, when she shrank from herself, then she would shrink before him whom she loved and who loved her. She knew that she could better bear to lose him, to go lonely and solitary along the future years, than shame that self-consciousness which ever she had held sacred but which was doubly sacred now he loved her.

How she loved him! For his soul, for his body, for his brain, for his rough tenderness, for his fiery tongue! She loved his broad shoulders and his broad mind. She loved his hearty laugh and his hearty hand-grip and his homely speech and his red-hot enthusiasm. She loved him because she felt that he dared and because she felt that he loved her. She loved him because she


  ― 160 ―
view facsimile

had learned to see in him her ideal. She loved him because he was in danger for the Cause and because he was going from her and because she had loved him for years had she but known. She loved him for a thousand things. And yet! Something held her back. It only needed a word but the word did not come. It was on her lips a dozen times, that one word “Ned!” which meant all words, and she did not say it.

They stood there side by side, motionless, silent, waiting, Ned suffering anguish unspeakable, Nellie plunged in that great joy which comes so seldom that some say it only comes to herald deeper sadness. To him the glorious scene around spoke nothing, he hardly saw it; to her it was enchanted with a strange enchantment, never had it seemed so, all the times she had seen it. How beautiful life was! How sweet to exist! How glad the world!

“Nellie!” said Ned, at last, humbly, penitently, hopelessly. “I'm not a good man. I haven't been just what you think I've been.” He stopped, then added, slowly and desperately as if on an afterthought: “If—your own heart—won't plead—for—me—it's not a bit of use my saying anything.”

When one speaks as one feels one generally speaks to the point and this sudden despairing cry of Ned's was a better plea than any he could by long thinking have constructed. Wonderful are the intricacies of a man's mind, but still more intricate the mind of woman. Nellie at the moment did not care whether he had been saint or sinner. She felt that her love was vast enough to wash him clean of all offending and make amend in him for all shortcoming. She could not bear to see him in pain thus when she was so happy; in uncertainty, in despair, when the measure of her love was not to be taken, so huge was it and all for him. If he had sinned, and how men sin there is little hid from the working girl, it was not from evil heart. lf he had not been good he would be good. He would promise her.

“But you will be good now, will you not, Ned?” she asked, softly, not looking at him, dropping her hand against his, stealing her slender fingers into the fingers that nervously twirled the hat.

From bitter despondency Ned's thoughts changed to ecstatic hope. He swung round, his hand in Nellie's, his brain in a whirl. Was it a dream or was she really standing there in the strong moonshine, her lovelit eyes looking into his for a moment before the down-cast lids veiled them, her face flushed, her bosom heaving, her hand tenderly pressing his? He dropped his hat, careless


  ― 161 ―
view facsimile

of the watery risk, and seizing her by both arms above the elbows, held her for a moment in front of him, striving to collect himself, vainly trying to subdue the excitement that made him think he was going to faint.

“Nellie!” he whispered, passionately, his craving finding utterance. “Kiss me!” She lifted up the flushed face, with the veiled downcast eyes and soft quivering lips. He passed his hands under her arms and bent down. Then a white mist came over his eyes as he crushed her to him and felt on his parched lips the burning kiss of the woman he loved. For a moment she rested there, in his arms, her mouth pressed to his. The rose, shattered, threw its petals as an offering upon the altar of their joy.

The Future, what did it matter to him? The scaffold or the gaol might come or go, what did it matter to him? It flashed through his mind that Nellie could be his wife before he went and then all the governments in the world and all the military and all the gatling guns might do their worst. They could not take from him a happiness he had not deserved, but which had come to him as a free gift in despite of his unworthiness. And as he thought this, Nellie shook herself out of his arms, pushing him so violently that he staggered and almost fell on the uneven rocks.

“I cannot,” she cried, holding up her arms as if to ward him off. “I cannot, Ned. You mustn't touch me. I cannot.”

“Nellie!” he replied, bewildered. “What on earth is the matter?”

“I cannot,” she cried again. “Ned, you know I can't.”

“Can't what?” he asked, gradually understanding.

“I can't marry. I shall never marry. It's cruel to you, contemptible of me, to be here. I forgot myself, Ned. Come along! It's madness to stay here.”

She turned on her heel and walked off sharply, taking the upper path. He picked up his hat and hastily followed. There was nothing else to be done. Overtaking her, he strode along by her side in a fury of mingled rage, sorrow, anger and disappointment.

She paused at the corner of her street. As she did so bells far and near began to strike midnight, the clock at the City Hall leading off with its quarters. They had been gone an hour and a quarter. To both of them it seemed like a year.




  ― 162 ―

CHAPTER IV

The Why of the Whim

noteNELLIE stopped at the corner of her street, under the lamp-post. Ned stopped by her side, fuming by now, biting his moustache, hardly able to hold his tongue. Nellie looked at him a moment, sadly and sorrowfully. The look of determination that made her mouth appear somewhat cruel was on her whole face; but with it all she looked heart-broken.

“Ned,” she begged. “Don't be angry with me. I can't. Indeed, I can't.”

“Why not?” he demanded, boiling over. “If you wouldn't have had me at first I wouldn't have blamed you. But you say you love me, or as good as say, and then you fly off. Nellie! Nellie, darling! If you only knew how for years I've dreamed of you. When I rode the horse's hoofs kept saying ‘Nellie.’ I used to watch the stars and think them like your eyes, and the tall blue gum and think it wasn't as full of grace as you. Down by the water just now I thought you wouldn't have me because I wasn't fit, and I'm not, Nellie, I'm not, but when I thought it I felt like a lost soul. And then, when I thought you loved me in spite of all, everything seemed changed. I seemed to feel that I was a man again, a good man, fit to live, and all that squatter government of ours could do, the worst they could do, seemed a bit of a joke while you loved me. And —— ”

“Ned! Ned!” begged Nellie, who had put her hands over her face while he was speaking. “Have pity on me! Can't you see? I'm not iron and I'm not ice but I can't do as others do. I cannot. I will not.”

“Why not?” he answered. “I will speak, Nellie. Do you —— ”

“Ned!” she interrupted, evidently forcing herself to speak. “It's no use. I'll tell you why it's not.”

“There can be no reason.”

“There is a reason. Nobody knows but me. When I have said I would never marry people think it is a whim. Perhaps it is, but I have a reason that I thought never to tell anyone. I only tell


  ― 163 ―
view facsimile

you so that you may understand and we may still be friends, true friends.”

“Go on! I'll convince you that it doesn't mean what you think it does, this reason, whatever it is.”

“Ned! Be reasonable!” She hesitated. She looked up and down the street. Nothing moved. The moon was directly overhead. There were no shadows. It was like day. An engine whistle sounded like a long wail in the distance. In the silence that followed they could hear the rushing of a train. Ned waited, watching her pain-drawn face. A passionate fear assailed him, blotting out his wrath.

“You recollect my sister?” she asked, looking away from him.

He nodded.

“You heard she died? You spoke of her two years ago.”

He nodded again.

“I did not tell you the whole truth then. … I did not tell anybody. … I came down here so as not to tell. … I could not bear to go home, to chance any of them coming down to Brisbane and seeing me. … You know.” She stopped. He could see her hands wringing, a hunted look in the eyes that would not meet his.

“Never mind telling me, Nellie,” he said, a great pity moving him. “I'm a brute. I didn't mean to be selfish but I love you so. It shall be as you say. I don't want to know anything that pains you to tell.”

“That is your own self again, Ned,” she answered, looking at him, smiling sadly, a love in her face that struck him with a bitter joy. “But you have a right. I must tell you for my own sake. Only, I can't begin.” Her mouth trembled. Great tears gathered in her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. A lump rose in his throat. He seized her hands and lifted them reverently to his lips. He could not think of a word to say to comfort her.

“Ned!” she said, in a tone almost inaudible, looking at him through her tears. “She died in the hospital but I didn't tell you how.… She died, oh, a terrible death … She had gone … down, Ned. Right down. Down to the streets, Ned.”

He pressed her hands, speechless. They stood thus facing one another, till down his face, too, the sad tears rained in sympathy, sad tears that mourned without reproach the poor dead sister whom the hard world had crushed and scorned, sad tears that fell


  ― 164 ―
view facsimile

on his passion like rain on fire and left in him only a yearning desire to be a comforter. Nellie, snatching her hands away, pressed them to her mouth to stifle the frantic sobs that began to shake her, long awful sobs that drew breath whistling through clenched fingers. And Ned, drawing her to him, laid her head on his shoulder, stroking her hair as a mother does, kissing her temple with loving, passionless kisses, striving to comfort her with tender brotherly words, to still her wild cries and frantic sobs in all unselfishness. There were none to see them in all this moonlit city. The wearied toilers, packed around them, slumbered or tossed unconsciously. Above them, serene and radiant, the full moon swam on amid the stars.

“She was so good, Ned,” cried Nellie, choking, with sobs, almost inarticulate, pouring out to him the pent-up thinking of long years. “She was so good. And so kind. Don't you remember her, Ned? Such a sweet girl, she was. It killed her, Ned. This cruel, cruel life killed her. But before it killed her—oh!—oh!—oh!—oh! Why are we ever born? Why are we ever born?”

It was heart-rending, her terrible grief, her abandonment of anguish which she vainly endeavoured to thrust back into her throat. With all her capacity for passionate love she bewailed her sister's fate. Ned, striving to soothe her, all the while mingled his tears with hers. A profound sadness overshadowed him. He felt all his hopes numbed and palsied in the face of this omnipotent despair. This girl who was dead seemed for the time the symbol of what Life is. He had hated Society, hated it, but as its blackest abyss opened at his very feet his hate passed from him. He only felt an utter pity for all things, a desire to weep over the helpless hopelessness of the world.

Nellie quieted at last. Her sobs ceased to shake her, her tears dried on her pale face, but still she rested her head on Ned as if finding strength and comfort in him. Her eyelids were closed except for an occasional belated lingering sob she might have been asleep. Her grief had exhausted her. At last a coming footfall roused her. She raised her head, putting her hands instinctively to her hat and hair, pulling herself together with a strong breath.

“You are very kind to me, Ned,” she said, softly. “I've been so silly but I'm better now. I don't often carry on like that.” She smiled faintly. “Let's walk a bit! I shall feel better and I have such a lot to tell you. Don't interrupt! I want you to


  ― 165 ―
view facsimile

know all about it, Ned.” And so, walking backwards and forwards in the moonlit streets, deserted and empty, passing an occasional night prowler, watched with suspicious eyes by energetic members of the “foorce” whose beats they invaded, stopping at corners or by dead-walls, then moving slowly on again, she told him.

“You know how things were at home on the Darling Downs, Ned. Father a ‘cocky,’ going shearing to make both ends meet, and things always going wrong, what with the drought and the wet and having no money to do things right and the mortgage never being cleared off. It wasn't particularly good land, either, you know. The squatters had taken all that and left only stony ridges for folks like ours. And we were all girls, six of us. Your father was sold up, and he had you boys to help him. Well, my father wasn't sold up but he might as well have been. He worked like a horse and so did mother, what with the cows and the fowls and looking after things when father was away, and we girls did what we could from the time we were little chits. Father used to get up at daybreak and work away after dark always when he was at home. On Sunday mornings after he'd seen to the things he used to lie on his back under that tree in front if it was fine or about the house if it was wet, just dead beat. He used to put a handkerchief over his face but he didn't sleep much. He just rested. In the afternoon he used to have a smoke and a read. Poor father! He was always thought queer, you recollect, because he didn't care for newspapers except to see about farming in and took his reading out of books of poetry that nobody else cared about. On Monday he'd start to work again, with only a few hours for sleep and meals, till Saturday night. Yet we had only just a living. Everything else went in interest on the mortgage. Twelve per cent. Mother used to cry about it sometimes but it had to be paid somehow.

“When Mary was fifteen and I was thirteen, you remember, she went to Toowoomba, to an uncle of ours, mother's brother, who had four boys and no girls and didn't know what to put the boys to. Father and mother thought this a splendid chance for Mary to learn a trade, there were so many of us at home, you know, and so they took one of my cousins and uncle took Mary and she started to learn dressmaking. Uncle was a small contractor, who had a hard time of it, and his wife was a woman


  ― 166 ―
view facsimile

who'd got frozen about the heart, although she was as good as gold when it melted a little. She was always preaching about the need for working and saving and the folly of wasting money in drink and ribbons and everything but what was ugly. She said that there was little pleasure in the world for those who had to work, so the sooner we made up our minds to do without pleasure the better we'd get on. Mary lived with them a couple of years, coming home once in a while. Then she got the chance of a place where she'd get her board and half-a-crown a week. She couldn't bear aunt and so she took it and I went to live at uncle's and to learn dressmaking, too. That was six months after you went off, Ned. I wasn't quite fifteen and you were eighteen, past. Seven years ago. I was so sorry when you went away, Ned.

“Aunt wasn't pleasant to live with. I used to try to get on with her and I think she liked me in her way but she made me miserable with her perpetual lecturing about the sin of liking to look nice and the wickedness of laughing and the virtue of scraping every ha'penny. I used to help in the house, of course, when I came from work and I was always getting into trouble for reading books, that I borrowed, at odd minutes when aunt thought I ought to be knitting or darning or slaving away somehow at keeping uncomfortable. I used to tell Mary and Mary used to wish that I could come to work where she did. We used to see each other every dinner hour and in the evening she'd come round and on Sundays we used to go to church together. She was so kind to me, and loving, looking after me like a little mother. She used to buy little things for me out of her half-crown and say that when she was older aunt shouldn't make me miserable. Besides aunt, I didn't like working in a close shop, shut up. I didn't seem to be able to take a good breath. I used to think as I sat, tacking stuff together or unpicking threads that seemed to be endless, how it was out in the bush and who was riding old Bluey to get the cows in now I was gone and whether the hens laid in the same places and if it was as still and fresh as it used to be when we washed our faces and hands under the old lean-to before breakfast. And Toowoomba is fresher than Sydney. I don't know what I'd have thought of Sydney then. I used to tell Mary everything and she used to cheer me up. Poor Mary!

“For a long while she had the idea of going to Brisbane to work. She said there were chances to make big wages there, because forewomen and draping hands were wanted more and


  ― 167 ―
view facsimile

girls who had anything in them had a better show than in a little place. I used to remind her that it was said there were lots too many girls in Brisbane and that unless you had friends there you couldn't earn your bread. But she used to say that one must live everywhere and that things couldn't be worse than they were in Toowoomba. You see she was anxious to be able to earn enough to help with the mortgage. Father had been taken sick shearing: and had to knock off and so didn't earn what he expected and that year they'd got deeper into debt and things looked worse than ever. One day he came into Toowoomba with his cart, looking ten years older. Next day, Mary told me she didn't care what happened, she was going to Brisbane to see if she couldn't earn some money or else they'd lose the selection and that she'd spoken for her place for me and I was to have it. She'd been saving up for a good while what she could by shillings and sixpences and pennies, doing sewing work for anybody who'd pay her anything in her own time. She said that when she'd got a five-pound-a-week place she'd come back for a visit and bring me a new dress, and mother and father and the others all sorts of things and pay the interest all herself and that I should have the next best place in the shop and come to live with her. We talked about going into business together and whether it wouldn't be better for father to throw up the selection after a while and live with us in Brisbane. Ah! What simple fools we were! If we had but known!

“So Mary went to Brisbane, with just a few shillings beside her ticket and hardly knowing a soul in the big town. I went to the station with her in the middle of the night. She was going by the night train because then she'd get to Brisbane in the morning and have the day in front of her and she had nowhere to go if she got in at night. I recollect thinking how sweetly pretty she looked as she sat in the carriage all alone.

“You remember her, Ned? Well, she got prettier and prettier as she grew older, not tall and big and strong-looking like me but smaller than I was even then and with a fresh round face that always smiled at you. She had small feet and hands and hair that curled naturally and her skin was dark, not fair like mine. People in Toowoomba used to turn and look at her when she went out and everybody liked her. She was so kind to everybody. And she was full of courage though she did cry a little when she kissed me good-bye, because I cried so. I could never have stopped crying had I but known how I should see her again.




  ― 168 ―
view facsimile

“She wrote in two or three days to say that she had got a place, just enough to pay her board, and expected to get a better one soon. She was always expecting something better when she wrote and my aunt when I saw her wagged her head and said that rolling stones gathered no moss. The interest-day came round and father just managed to scrape the money together. They'd got so poor and downhearted that I used to cry at night thinking of them and I used to tell Mary when I wrote. I used to blame myself for it once but I don't now. We all get to believe at last in what must be will be, Ned. And then I had a letter from Mary telling me she had a much better place and in two or three weeks mother wrote such a proud pleased letter to say that Mary had sent them a five-pound note. And for about a year Mary sent them two or three pounds every month and at Christmas five pounds again. Then her letters stopped altogether, both to them and to me. To me she had kept writing always the same, kind and chatty and about herself. She told me she had to save and scrape a little but that she had hope some day to be able to get me down. I never dreamed it was not so, not even when the letters stopped, though afterwards, when I went through them, I saw that the handwriting, in the later ones, was shaky a little.

“We waited and waited to hear from her but no letter came to anybody. There was a girl I knew whose father had been working in Toowoomba and who was in the same shop for a little while and her father was going to Brisbane to a job and they were all going. He was a carpenter. She and I had got to be friendly after Mary went away and she promised to find her but couldn't. You see we were bush folks still and didn't think anything of streets and addresses and thought the post office enough. And when two months passed and no letter came mother wrote half crazy, and I didn't know what to do, and I wrote to the girl I knew to ask her to get me work so that I could go to look for Mary. It just happened that they wanted a body hand in her shop and they promised me the place and I went the next day I heard. They wanted a week's notice where I was working and didn't want to give up my things without but aunt went and got them and gave me the money for my fare and told me if I wanted to come back to write to her and she'd find the money again. Poor old aunt! I shall never forget her. Her heart was all right if she had got hard and unhappy. That's how I got to Brisbane to look for Mary.




  ― 169 ―
view facsimile

“I went to board with the girl I knew. I was earning ten shillings a week and paid that for my board and helped with the ironing for my washing. Her father had got out of work again for times were bad and they were glad to get my money. Lizzie got ten shillings a week and she had a brother about fourteen who earned five shillings. That was about all they had to live on often, nine in the family with me and the rent seven shillings for a shell of a place that was standing close up against other humpies in a sort of yard. There were four little rooms unceiled and Lizzie and I slept together in a sort of shelf bedstead, with two little sisters sleeping on the floor beside us. When it was cold we used to take them in with us and heap their bedclothes on top of us. The wind came through the walls everywhere. Out in the bush one doesn't mind that but in town, where you're cooped up all day, it doesn't seem the same thing. We had plenty of bread and meat and tea generally but the children didn't seem to thrive and got so thin and pale-looking that I thought they were going to be ill. Lizzie's father used to come home, after tramping about for work, looking as tired as my father did after his long day in the fields and her mother fretted and worried and you could see things getting shabbier and shabbier every week. I don't know what I should have done only Lizzie and I now and then got a dress to make for a neighbour or some sewing to do, night-times. Lizzie's mother had a machine and we used that and they always made me keep my half of what we got that way, no matter how hard up they were. They never thought of asking for interest for the use of the machine. And all the while I was looking for Mary.

“I used to stand watching as the troops of girls went by to work and from work, morning and evening, going to a new place every day so that I shouldn't miss her and in the dinner hours I used to go round the work rooms to see if she worked in one of them or if anybody knew her. At first, when I had a shilling to spare, I put an advertisement that she would understand in the paper, but I gave that up soon. I never dreamed of going to the police station, any more than we had dreamed of it in Toowoomba. I just looked and looked but I couldn't find her.

“I shall never forget the first time I got out of work. One Saturday, without a minute's warning, a lot of us were told that we wouldn't be wanted for a week or two. Lizzie and I were both told. She could hardly keep herself from crying but I couldn't


  ― 170 ―
view facsimile

cry. I was too wretched. I thought of everything and there seemed nothing to do anywhere. At home they couldn't help me. I shrank from asking aunt, for she'd only offered to help me to come back and what could I do in Toowoomba if I got there? And how could I find Mary? I had only ten shillings in the world and I owed it all for my board. I got to imagining where I should sleep and how long I could go without dying of hunger and I hated so to go into the house with Lizzie to tell them. Lizzie's mother cried when she heard it and Lizzie cried, but I went into the bedroom when I'd put my money on the table and began to put my things in my box. They called me to dinner and when I didn't come and they found out that I meant to go because I couldn't pay any more they were so angry. Lizzie's mother wanted to know if they looked altogether like heathens and then we three cried like babies and I felt better. I used to cry a good deal in those days, I think.

“Lizzie's father got a job next week a few miles out of Brisbane and went away to it and on the Monday I answered an advertisement for a woman to do sewing in the house and was the first and got it. She was quite young, the woman I worked for, and very nice. She got talking to me and I told her how I'd got out of work and about Mary. I suppose she was Socialist for she talked of what I didn't understand much then, of how we ought to have a union to get wages enough to keep us when work fell off and of the absurdity of men and women having to depend for work upon a few employers who only worked them when they could get profit. She thought I should go to the police-station about Mary but I said Mary wouldn't like that. What was more to me at the time, she paid me four shillings a day and found me work for two weeks, though I don't think she wanted it. There are kind people in the world, Ned.

“I got back to regular work again, not in the same shop but in another, and then Lizzie's folks moved out to where her father was working. I and another girl got a room that we paid five shillings a week for, furnished, with the use of the kitchen. It cost us about ten shillings a week between us for food, and I got raised to twelve-and-six a week because they wanted me back where I'd worked before. So we weren't so badly off, and we kept a week ahead. Of course we lived anyhow, on dry bread and tea very often, with cakes now and then as a treat, boiled eggs sometimes and a chop. There was this about


  ― 171 ―
view facsimile

it, we felt free. Sometimes we got sewing to do at night from people we got to hear of. So we managed to get stuff for our dresses and we kept altering our hats and we used to fix our boots up with waxed threads. And all the time I kept looking for Mary and couldn't see her or hear of her.

“I had got to understand how Mary might live for years in a place like Brisbane without being known by more than a very few, but I puzzled more and more as to how she'd got the money she'd sent home. The places where she might have earned enough seemed so few that everybody knew of them. In all dressmaking places the general run of girls didn't earn enough to keep themselves decently unless they lived at home as most did. Even then they had a struggle to dress neatly and looked ill-fed, for, you see, it isn't only not getting enough it's not getting enough of the right food and getting it regularly. Most of the girls brought their lunch with them in a little paper parcel, bread and butter, and in some places they made tea. Some had lots of things to eat and lots to wear and plenty of pocket money and didn't seem to have to work but they weren't my sort or Mary's.

“What made me think first how things might be was seeing a girl in the second place I worked at. She looked so like Mary, young and fresh and pretty and lively, always joking and laughing. She was very shabby and made-over when I saw her first, with darned gloves and stitched-up boots down at heel and bits of ribbon that she kept changing to bring the best side up. Then she got a new dress all at once and new boots and gloves and hat and seemed to have money to spend and the girls began to pass remarks about her when she wasn't hearing and sometimes to her face when they had words with her. I didn't believe anything bad at first but I knew she wasn't getting any more pay and then, all at once, I recollected being behind her one night when we came out of the shop and seeing a young fellow waiting in a door-way near. He was a good-looking young fellow, well-dressed and well to do, and as she passed with some other girls he dropped his stick out in front of her and spoke to her. She laughed and ran back to the shop when we'd gone on a little further and spoke to him for a second or two as she passed him. It was after that she was well dressed and I saw her out with him once or twice and—and—I began to think of Mary. You see, I knew how hard the life was and how wearying it is to have to slave and half-starve all the time, and then Mary wanted money so to send home to help


  ― 172 ―
view facsimile

them. And when the girls talked at work they spoke of lots of things we never heard of in the bush and gradually I got to know what made me sick at heart.

“I was nearly mad when I thought of that about Mary, my sister Mary who was so good and so kind. I hated myself for dreaming of such a thing but it grew and grew on me and at last I couldn't rest till I found out. I didn't think it was so but it began to seem just possible, a wild possibility that I must satisfy to myself, the more I couldn't find her. I somehow felt she was in Brisbane somewhere and I learnt how easily one slips down to the bottom when one starts slipping and has no friends. So I used to go on Queen Street at night and look for her there. But I never saw her. I wanted to ask about her but I couldn't bear to. I thought of asking the Salvation Army people but when I went one night I couldn't.

“At last one night when we'd been working late at the shop, till eleven, as we did very often in busy times without getting any overtime pay though they turned us off as they pleased when work got slack, I saw a girl coming that I thought I'd ask. She was painted up and powdered and had flaring clothes but she looked kind. It was a quiet street where I met her and before I had time to change my mind she got to me and I stopped and asked her. I told her I'd lost my sister and did she know anything of her. She didn't laugh at me or say anything rude but talked nice and said she didn't think so and I mustn't think about that but if I liked she'd find out. I told her the name but she said that wasn't any good because girls always changed their name and she looked like crying when she said this. I had a photograph of Mary's that I always carried with me to show anybody who might have seen her without knowing her and the girl said if I'd trust her with it for a week she'd find Mary if she was in Brisbane and meet me.note So I lent it to her. And we were just talking a bit and she was telling me that she was from London and that when she was a little girl a great book-writer used to pat her on the head and call her a pretty little thing and give her pennies and how she'd run away from home with a young officer, who got into trouble afterwards and came out to Australia without her and how she came out to find him and would some day, when a policeman came along and asked us what we were doing. She said we weren't doing anything and that he'd better mind his business and he said he knew her and she'd better keep a civil


  ― 173 ―
view facsimile

tongue in her head. Then he wanted to know what my name was and where I lived and the girl told me not to tell him or he'd play a trick on me and I didn't. But I told him I worked at dressmaking and roomed with another girl and he gave a kind of laugh and said he thought so and that if I didn't give him my name and address I'd have to come along with him. I began to cry and the girl told him he ought to be ashamed of himself ruining a poor hard-working girl who was looking for her sister and he only laughed again and said he knew all about that. I don't know what would have happened only just then an oldish man came along, wearing spectacles and with a kind sharp face, who stopped and asked what was the matter. The policeman was very civil to him and seemed to know him and told him that I wouldn't give him my address and that I was no good and that he was only doing his duty. The girl called the policeman names and told how it really was, only not my name, and the man looked at me and told the policeman I was shabby enough to be honest and that he'd answer for me and the policeman touched his hat and said ‘good-night, sir,’ and went on.note Then the man told me I'd had a narrow escape and that it should be a lesson to me to keep out of bad company and I told him the girl had told the truth and he laughed, but not like the policeman, and said that was all the more reason to be careful because policemen could do what they liked with dressmakers who had no friends. Then be pulled out some money and told me to be a good girl and offered it to me, so kindly, but of course I didn't take it. Then he shook hands and walked off. There are kind people in the world, Ned, but we don't always meet them when we need them. I didn't know then how much he did for me or what cruel, wicked laws there are.

“Next week I met the girl again. I wanted so to find Mary I didn't care for all the policemen. I knew when I saw her coming that she'd found her. I didn't seem to care much, only as though something had snapped. It was only afterwards, when Mary was dead, that I used to get nearly crazy. I never told anybody, not even my room-mate, that I'd found her.

note “She was in the hospital, dying, Mary was. I've heard since how that awful life kills the tender-hearted ones soon and Mary wasn't 21. She was in a bleak, bare ward, with a screen round her, and near by you could hear other girls laughing and shouting. You wouldn't have known her. Only her eyes were the same, such loving, tender eyes, when she opened them and saw me.


  ― 174 ―
view facsimile

She looked up and saw me standing there by the bedside and before she could shrink away I put my arms round her neck and kissed her forehead, where I used to kiss her, because I was the tallest, just where the hair grew. And I told her that she mustn't mind me and that she was my dear, dear sister and that she should have let me known because it had taken me so long to find her. And she didn't say anything but clung tight to me as though she would never let me go and then all at once her arms dropped and when I lifted my head she had fainted and her eyelids were wet.

“She died three days after. I made some excuse to get away and saw her every day. She hardly spoke she was so weak but she liked to lie with my hand in hers and me fanning her. She said that first day, when she came to, that she thought I would come. But she wouldn't have written or spoken a word, Mary wouldn't. She didn't even ask after the folks at home or how I was getting on. She said once she was so tired waiting and I knew she meant waiting to die. She didn't want to live. The last day she lay with her eyes half-closed, looking at me, and all at once her lips moved. I bent down to her and heard her murmur: ‘I did try, Nellie, I did try,’ and I saw she was crying. I put my arms round her and kissed her on the forehead and told her that I knew she had, and then she smiled at me, such a sweet pitiful smile, and then she stopped breathing. That was the only change.

“I couldn't stay in Brisbane. I was afraid every minute of meeting somebody who'd known Mary and who might ask me about her, or of father or uncle or somebody coming down. I wrote home and said I'd found out that Mary had died in the hospital of fever and they never thought of wanting to know any more, they were so full of grief. And then I got wondering how I should get away, somewhere, where nobody would be likely to come to ask me about her, and I couldn't go because I had no money and I was just wishing one day that I could see you when who should I meet but that Long Jack. He gave me your address and I wrote to ask you to lend me thirty shillings, the fare to Sydney, and you sent me five pounds, Ned. That's how I came here. Mary wouldn't have anybody know if she could help it and I couldn't have stayed there to meet people who knew her and would have talked of her.”




  ― 175 ―
view facsimile

Chapter V

As the Moon Waned

THE shadows were beginning to throw again as Nellie finished telling her story. The quarters had sounded as they walked backwards and forwards. It was past one when they stopped again under the lamp-post at the corner.note

“You see, Ned,” she went on. “Mary couldn't help it. It's easy enough to talk when one has everything one wants or pretty well everything but when one has nothing or pretty well nothing, it's different. I've been through it and know. The insults, the temptations, the constant steady pressure all the time. If you are poor you are thought by swagger people fair game. And even workingmen, the young ones, who don't think themselves able to marry generally, help hunt down their working sisters. Women can't always earn enough to live decently and men can't always earn enough to marry on; and when well-to-do men get married they seem to get worse instead of better, generally. So upon the hungry, the weary, the hopeless, girls who have to patch their own boots and go threadbare and shabby while others have pretty things, and who are despised for their shabbiness by the very hypocrites who cant about love of dress, and who have folks at home whom they love, and who are penniless as well and in that abject misery which comes when there isn't any money to buy the little things, upon these is forced the opportunity to change all this if only for a little while. Besides, you know, women have the same instincts as men—why do we disguise these things and pretend they haven't and shouldn't when we know that it is right and healthy that they should?—and though it is natural for a woman to hate what is called vice, because she is better than man—she is the mother-sex, you know—yet the very instincts which if things were right would be for good and happiness seem to make things worse when everything is wrong. Women who work, growing girls as many are, have little pleasure in their lives, less even than men. And wiseacres say we are light and frivolous and chattering, because most women can only


  ― 176 ―
view facsimile

find relief in that and know of nothing else, though all the time in the bottom of their hearts there are deep wells of human passion and human love. If you heard sewing-room talk you would call us parrots or worse. If you knew the sewing-room lives you would feel as I do.”

He did not know what to say.

“For myself,” straightening herself with unconscious pride, “it has not been so much. I have been hungry and almost ragged, here in Sydney, wearing another girl's dress when I went to get slop-work, so as to look decent, living on rye bread for days at a time, working for thirty-eight hours at a stretch once so as to get the work done in time to get the money. That's sweating, isn't it? Of course I'm all right now. I get thirty shillings a week for draping and the wife of the boss wants to keep on friendly terms with Mrs. Stratton and I'm a good hand, so I can organise without being victimised for it. But even when I was hardest up it wasn't the same to me as to most girls. As a last resort I used to think always of killing myself. That would have been ever so much easier to me than the other thing. But I am hard and strong. I've heard my mother say that her father was the first of his people to wear boots. They went barefooted before then and I'm barefooted in some things yet. Mary wasn't like me, but better, not so hard or so selfish. And so, she couldn't help it, any more than I can.”

“Nellie,” he said, speaking the thought he had been thinking for an hour. “What difference does all this make between you and me?”

“Don't you understand?” she cried. “When people marry they have children. And when my sister Mary ended so, who is safe? Nothing we can do, no care we can take, can secure a child against misery while the world is what it is. I try to alter things for that. I would do anything, everything, no matter what, to make things so that little children would have a chance to be good and happy. Because the unions go that way I am unionist and because Socialism means that I am Socialist and I love whatever strikes at things that are and I hate everything that helps maintain them. And that is how we all really feel who feel at all, it is the mother in us, the source of everything that is good, and mothers do not mind much how their children are bettered so long as they are bettered. No matter what the bushmen do up there in Queensland, my heart is with them, so long as they


  ― 177 ―
view facsimile

shake this hateful state of things. I can't remember when everybody round weren't slaving away and no good coming of it. My father has only a mortgaged farm to show for a life of toil. My sister, my own sister, who grew up like a flower in the Queensland bush and worked her fingers to the bone and should have been to-day a happy woman with happy children on her knee, they picked her up when she lay dying in the gutter like a dog and in their charity gave her a bed to die on when they wouldn't give her decent wages to live on. Everywhere I've been it's the same story, men out of work, women out of work, children who should be at school the only ones who can always get work. Everywhere men crawling for a job, sinking their manhood for the chance of work, cringing and sneaking and throat-cutting, even in their unionism. In every town an army of women like my Mary, women like ourselves, going down, down, down. Honesty and virtue and courage getting uncommon. We're all getting to steal and plunder when we get a chance, the work people do it, the employers do it, the politicians do it. I know. We all do it. Women actually don't understand that they're selling themselves often even when a priest does patter a few clap-trap phrases over them. Oppression on every hand and we dare not destroy it. We haven't courage enough. And things will never be any better while Society is as it is. So I hate what Society is. Oh! I hate it so. If word or will of mind could sweep it away to leave us free to do what our inner hearts, crushed by this industrialism that we have, tell us to do it should go. For we've good in our hearts, most of us. We like to do what's kind, when we've a chance. I've found it so, anyway. Only we're caught in this whirl that crushes us all, the poor in body and the rich in soul. But till it goes, if it ever goes, I'll not be guilty of bringing a child into such a hell as this is now. That to me would be a cruelty that no weakness of mine, no human longing, could excuse ever. For no fault of her own Mary's life was a curse to her in the end. And so it may be with any of us. I'll not have the sin of giving life on me.”

They stood face to face looking into each other's eyes. Unflinchingly she offered up her own heart and his on the altar of her ideal.

He read on her set lips the unalterability of her determination. It was on his tongue to suggest that it was easy to compromise, but there was that about her which checked him. Above all


  ― 178 ―
view facsimile

things there was a naturalness about her, an absence of artificiality, the emanation of a strong and vigorous womanliness. The very freedom of her speech was purity itself. The dark places of life had been bared to her and she did not conceal the fact or minimise it but she spoke of it as something outside of herself, as not affecting her excepting that it roused in her an intense sympathy. She was indeed the barefooted woman in her conception of morality, in her frankness and in her strong emotions untainted by the gangrene of a rotting civilisation. To suggest to her that fruitless love, that barren marriage, which destroys the soul of France and is spreading through Australia, would be to speak a strange language to her. He could say nothing. He was seized with a desire to get away from her.

“Good-bye!” he said, holding out his hand. She took it in both her own.

“Ned!” she cried. “We part friends, don't we? If there is a man in the world who could make me change my mind, it's you. Wherever you go I shall be thinking of you and all life through I shall be the same. You have only to let me know and there's nothing possible I wouldn't do for you gladly. We are friends, are we not? Mates? Brother and sister?”

Brother and sister! The spirit moved in Ned's hot heart at the words. Geisner's words came to him, nerving him.

“No!” he answered. “Friends? Yes. Mates? Yes. Brother and sister? No, never. I don't feel able to talk now. You're like a thorn bush in front of me that it's no use rushing at. But I'm not satisfied. You're wrong somewhere and I'm right and the right thing is to love when Love comes even if we're to die next minute. I'm going away and I may come back and I mayn't but if I do you'll see my way. I shall think it out and show you. Why, Nellie, I'm a different man already since you kissed me. You and I together, why, we'd straighten things out if they were a thousand times as crooked. What couldn't we do, you and me? And we'll do it yet, Nellie. When I come back you'll have me and we two will give things such a shaking that they'll never be the same again after we've got through with them. Now, goodbye! I'll come back if it's years and years, and you'll wait for me, I know. Good-bye, till then.”

She felt her feet leave the ground as he lifted her to him in a hug that made her ribs ache for a week, felt his willing lips on her passive ones, felt his long moustache, his warm breath, his


  ― 179 ―
view facsimile

reviving passion. Then she found herself standing alone, quivering and pulsating, watching him as he walked away with the waddling walk of the horseman.

In her heart, madly beating, two intense feelings fought and struggled. The dominant thought of years, to end with herself the life that seems a curse and not a blessing, to be always maid, to die in the forlorn hope and to leave none to sorrow through having lived by her, was shaken to its base by a new-born furious desire to yield herself utterly. It came to her to run after Ned, to go with him, to Queensland, to the bush, to prison, to the gallows if need be. An insane craving for him raged within her as her memory renewed his kisses on her lips, his crushing arm-clasp, the strength that wooed with delicious bruisings, the strong personality that smote against her own until she longed to stay the smiting. It flashed through her mind that crowning joy of all joys would be to have his child in her arms, to rear a little agitator to carry on his father's fight when Ned himself was gone for ever.

Then—she stamped her foot in self-contempt and walked resolutely to her door. When she got up to her room she went to the open window and, kneeling down there, watched with tearless eyes the full white moon that began to descend towards the roofs amid the gleaming stars of the cloudless sky.

The hours passed and she still knelt watching, tearless and sleepless, mind and body numbed and enwrapped by dull gnawing pain.

Pain is to fight one's self and to subdue one's self. Nellie fought with herself and conquered.

A paradox this seems but is not, for in truth each individual is more than one, far more. Every living human is a bundle of faggot faculties, in which bundle every faculty is not an inert faggot but a living, breathing, conscious serpent. The weakling is he in whose forceless nature one serpent after another writhes its head up, dominant for a moment only, doomed to be thrust down by another fancy as fickle. The strong man is he whose forceful nature casts itself to subdue its own shifting desires by raising one supreme above the others and holding it there by identifying the dearest aspirations with its supremacy. And we call that man god-like whose heart yearns towards one little ideal, struggling for existence amid the tumultuous passions that clash


  ― 180 ―
view facsimile

in him around it, threatening to stifle it, and whose personality drives him to pick this ideal out and to lift it up and to hold it supreme lifelong. He himself is its bitterest enemy, its most hateful foe, its would-be murderer. He himself shrinks from and cowers at and abhors the choking for its sake of faculties that draw titanic strength from the innermost fibres of his own being. Yet he himself shelters and defends and battles for this intruder on his peace, this source of endless pain and brain-rending sorrow. A strength arises within him that tramples the other strength underfoot; he celebrates his victory with sighs and tears. So the New rises and rules until the Old is shattered and broken and fights the New no more; so Brutality goes and so Humanity comes.

Nellie fought with herself kneeling there at her window, watching the declining moon, staring at it with set eyes, grimly willing herself not to think because to think was to surrender. Into heart and ear and brain the serpents hissed words of love and thoughts of unspeakable joy. Upon her lips they pressed again Ned's hot kisses. Around her waist they threw again the clasping of his straining arms. “Why not? Why not?” they asked her. “Why not? Why not?” they cried and shouted. “Why not? Oh, why not?” they moaned to her. And she stared at the radiant moon and clenched her fingers on the window sill and would not answer. Only to her lips rose a prayer for death that she disowned unuttered. Had she fallen so low as to seek refuge in superstition, she thought, and from that moment she bore her agony in her own way.

It did pass through her mind that the ideal she had installed in her passionate heart did not aid her, that it had shrunk back out of sight and left her alone to fight for it against herself, left her alone to keep her life for it free from the dominance of these mad passions that had lifted their heads within her and that every nerve in her fought and bled for. She crushed this back also. She would not think. Only she would be loyal to her conception of Right even though the agony of her loyalty drove her mad.

She knew what Pain meant, now. She drank to the very dregs the cup of human misery. To have one's desires within one's reach, to have one's whole being driving one to stretch out one's hand and satisfy the eternal instincts within, and to force one's self to an abnegation that one's heart revolts from, that indeed was Pain


  ― 181 ―
view facsimile

to her. She learnt the weakness of all the philosophies as in a flash of lightning one sees clearly. She could have laughed at the sophism that one chooses always that which pleases one most. She knew that there are unfathomed depths in being which open beneath us in great crises and swallow up the foundations on which we builded and thought sure. She paralysed her passion intuitively, waiting, as one holds breath in the water when a broken wave surges over.

Gradually she forgot, an aching pain in her body lulling the aching pain of her mind. Gradually the white disc of the moon expanded before her and blotted out all active consciousness. Slowly the fierce serpents withdrew their hissing heads again. Slowly the ideal she had fought for lifted itself again within her. She began to feel more like her old self, only strangely exhausted and sorrowful. She was old, so old; weary, so weary. Hours went by. She passed into abstraction.

The falling of the moon behind the roofs roused her. She gazed at its disappearing rim in bewilderment, for the moment not realising. Then the sense of bodily pain dawned on her and assured her of the Reality.

She stood up, feeling stiff and bruised, her back aching, her head swimming, all her desiring ebbing as the moon waned. Already the glimmer of dawn paled the moonshine. She could hear the crowing of the cocks, the occasional rumble of a cart, the indescribable murmur that betokens an awakening city. The night had gone at last and the daylight had come and she had worn herself out and conquered. She thought this without joy; it was her fate not her heart. Nature itself had come to her rescue, the very Nature she had resisted and denied.

She struck a light and looked into the glass, curious to know if she were the same still. Dark circles surrounded her eyes, her nose was pinched, her cheeks wan, on her forehead between the brows were distinct wrinkles, from the corners of the mouth were chiselled deeply the lines of pain. She was years older. Could it be possible that only five hours ago she had flung herself into a lover's arm by the moonlit water, a passionate girl, in womanhood's first bloom? She had cast those days behind her for ever, she thought; she would serve the Cause alone, henceforth, while she lived. Rest, eternal rest, must come at last; she could only hope that it would come soon. At least, if she lived without joy, she would die without self-reproach.




  ― 182 ―
view facsimile

Exhausted, she sank to sleep almost as her head touched the pillow. And in her sleep she lived again that night at the Strattons with Ned and heard Geisner profess God and condemn her hatred of maternity. “You close the gates of Life,” he said. Taking her hand he led her to where a great gate stood, of iron, brass bound, and there behind it a great flood of little children pressed and struggled, dashing and crashing till the great gates shook and tottered.

“They will break the gates open,” she cried to him in anguish.

“Did you deem to alter the unalterable?” he asked. And his voice was Ned's voice and turning round she saw it was Ned who held her hand. They stood by the harbour side again and she loved him. Again her whole being melted into his as he kissed her. Again they were alone in the Universe, conscious only of an ineffable joy.

“Time to get up, Nellie!” called Mrs. Phillips, who was knocking at the door. Nellie's working day began again.




  ― 183 ―
view facsimile

Chapter VI

Unemployed

AFTER ten minutes' walking Ned reached a broad thoroughfare. Hesitating for a moment, to get his bearings, he saw across the way one of the cheap restaurants of which “all meals sixpence” is the symbol and which one sees open until all sorts of hours. The window was still lighted, so Ned, parched with thirst, entered to get a cup of coffee. It was a clean-looking place, enough. He saw on the wall the legend “Clean beds” as he gulped down his coffee thirstily from the saucer.

“Can you put me up to-night?” he asked, overpowered with a drowsiness that dulled even his thoughts about Nellie and unwilling to walk on to his hotel.

“Yes, sir,” answered the waiter, a young man who was making preparations to close for the night. “In half a minute.”

Soon a cabman had finished his late midnight meal and departed. But another passer-by dropped in, who was left over a plate of stew while the waiter led Ned to a narrow stair at the end of the room, passing round a screen behind which a stout, gray-haired man slumbered in an arm chair with all the appearance of being the proprietor. The waiter showed Ned the way with a lighted match, renewed when burnt out. Ned noticed that the papered walls and partitions of the stairway and upper floor were dirty, torn and giving way in patches. From the first landing a dark narrow passage led towards the front street while three or four ricketty, cracked doors were crowded at the stairhead. Snoring sounds came from all quarters. The waiter turned up a still narrower twisting stairway. As they neared the top Ned could see a dim light coming through an open doorway.

The room to which he was thus introduced was some fifteen feet long and as many broad, on the floor. Two gabled windows, back and front, made with the centre line of the low-sloping ceiling a Greek cross effect. A single candle, burning on a backless chair by one of the windows, threw its flickering light on the choked room-full of old-fashioned iron bedsteads, bedded in


  ― 184 ―
view facsimile

make-shift manner, six in all, four packed against the wall opposite the door at which the stairs ended and one on each side of the window whereby was the light. On one of these latter beds a bearded man lay stretched, only partly undressed; on its edge sat a youth in his shirt. Although it was so late they were talking.

“Not gone to bed yet?” asked the waiter.

“Hullo, Jack!” replied the youth. “Aren't you coming to bed yet?”

note “A gentleman of Jack's profession,” said the bearded man, whose liquorous voice proclaimed how he had put in his evening, “doesn't require to go to bed at all. 'Gad, that's very good. You understand me?” He referred his wit to the youth. He spoke with the drawling hesitation of the English “swell.”

“I understand you,” replied the youth, in a respectful voice that had acquired its tone in the English shires.

“I don't get much chance whether I require it or not,” remarked Jack, with an American accentuation, proceeding to make up the other bed by the light. There was nothing on the grimy mattress but a grimy blanket, so he brought a couple of fairly clean sheets from a bed in the opposite corner and spread them dexterously.

“Have we the pleasure of more company, Jack?” enquired the broken-down swell. “You understand me?”

“I understand you,” said the English lad.

“This gentleman's going to stay,” replied Jack, putting the sheet over the caseless pillow.

“Glad to make your acquaintance, sir,” said the swell to Ned, upon this introduction. “We can't offer you a chair but you're welcome to a seat on the bed. If you can't offer a man wine give him whisky, and if you haven't got whisky offer him the best you've got.” This last to the youth. “You understand me?”

“I understand you,” said the youth. “I understand you perfectly.”

“Thanks,” replied Ned. “But it won't hurt to stand for a minute. There ain't much room to stand though, is there?”

His head nearly touched the ceiling in the highest part; on either side it sloped sharply, the slope only broken by the window gables, the stair casement being carried into the very centre of the room to get height for the door. The plaster on the ceiling had come off in patches, as if cannon-balled by unwary heads, showing the lath, and was also splashed by the smoke-wreaths of


  ― 185 ―
view facsimile

carelessly held candles; the papering was half torn from the shaky plastering of the wall; the flooring was time-eaten. A general impression of uncleanness was everywhere. On a ricketty little table behind the candle was a tin basin and a cracked earthenware pitcher. Excepting a limited supply of bedroom ware, which was very strongly in evidence, there was no other furniture. Looking round, Ned saw that on the bed opposite the door, hidden in the shadows, a man lay groaning and moaning. Through the windows could be seen the glorious moonlight.

“No. A man wants to be careful here,” said the waiter, throwing the blanket over the sheets and straightening it in a whisk. “There,” he went on, “will that suit you?”

“Anything'll suit me,” said Ned, pulling off his coat and hanging it over the head of the postless bed. “I'm much obliged.”

“That's all right,” replied Jack, cheerfully. “I'll be up to bed soon,” he informed the others and ran down stairs again.

“Will you have a cigarette?” asked the English lad, holding out a box.

“Thanks, but I don't smoke,” answered Ned, who had pulled off his boots and was wrestling with his shirt. Finally it came over his head. He lay down in his underclothing, having first gingerly turned back the blanket to the foot.

“I don't desire to be personal,” said the broken-down swell. “You'll excuse me, but I must say you're a finely built man. You understand me? No offence!”

“He is big,” chipped in the youth.

“You don't offend a man much by telling him he's well built,” retorted Ned, with an attempt at mirth.

“Certainly. You understand me. It's not the size, my boy”—to the youth. “Size is nothing. It's the proportion, the capacity for putting out strength. I've been an athlete myself and I'm no chicken yet. But our friend here ought to be a Hercules. Will you take a drink? You'll excuse the glass.” He offered Ned a flask half full of whisky.

“Thanks just the same but I never drink,” answered Ned, stretching himself carelessly. The lad refused also.

“You're wise, both of you,” commented the other, swallowing down a couple of mouthfuls of the undiluted liquor. “If I'd never touched it I should have been a wealthy man to-day. But I shall be a wealthy man yet. You understand me?”




  ― 186 ―
view facsimile

“Yes,” answered Ned, mechanically. He was looking at the frank, open, intelligent face and well-made limbs of the half-naked lad opposite and wondering what he was doing here with this grizzled drunkard. The said grizzled drunkard being the broken-down swell, whose highly-coloured face, swollen nose and slobbery eyes told a tale that his slop-made clothes would have concealed. “How old are you?” he asked the lad, the drunkard having fallen asleep in the middle of a discourse concerning a great invention which would bring him millions.

“I'm nineteen.”

“You look older,” remarked Ned.

“Most people think I'm older,” replied the lad proudly.

“You're not a native.”

“No. I'm from the west of England.”

“Which county?”

“Devon.”

“My father's Devon,” said Ned, at which the poor lad looked up eagerly, as though in Ned he recognised an old friend.

“That's strange, isn't it? How you meet people!” he remarked.

“I've never been there, you know,” explained Ned. “Fact is I don't think it would be well for me to go. If all my old dad used to say is true I'd soon get shipped out.”

“How's that?”

“Why, they transport a man for shooting a rabbit or a hare, don't they? My dad told me a friend of his was sent out for catching salmon and that his mother was frightened nearly to death when she knew he'd been off fishing one night. Of course, they don't transport to here any more. We wouldn't have it. But they do it to somewhere still, I suppose.”

“I don't know, I'm sure,” answered the lad. “I never heard much about that. I came out when I was fourteen.”

“How was that?”

“Well, there was nothing to do in England that had anything in it and everybody was saying what a grand country Australia was and how everybody could get on and so I came out.”

“Your folks come?”

“My father was dead. I only had a stepfather.”

“And he wanted to get rid of you, eh?” enquired Ned, getting interested.

“I suppose he did, a little,” said the lad, colouring.

“You came out to Sydney?”




  ― 187 ―
view facsimile

“No. To Brisbane. That didn't cost anything.”

“You hadn't any friends?”

“No. I got into a billet near Stanthorpe, but when I wanted a raise they sacked me and got another boy. Then I came across to New South Wales. It wasn't any use staying in Queensland. I wish I'd stayed in England,” he added.

“How's that?”

“I can't get work. I wouldn't mind if I could get a job but it's pretty hard when you can't.”

“Can't you get work?”

“I haven't done a stroke for ten weeks.”

“Well, are you hard up?” enquired Ned, to whose bush experience ten weeks out-of-work meant nothing.

“Look here,” returned the lad, touching the front of his white shirt and the cuffs. Ned saw that what he had taken for white flannel in the dim candle-light was white linen, guileless of starch, evidently washed in a hand-basin at night and left to dry over a chair till morning. “A man's pretty hard up—ain't he?—when he can't get his shirt laundried.”

“That's bad,” said Ned, sympathetically, determining to sympathise a pound-note. Starched shirts did not count to him personally but he understood that the town and the bush were very different.

“I've offered three times to-day to work for my board,” said the lad, not tremulously but in the matter-of-fact voice of one who had looked after himself for years.

“Where was that?” asked Ned, wide-awake at last, alarmed for the bushmen, rapidly turning over in his mind the effect of strong young men being ready to work for their board.

“One place was down near the foot of Market Street, a produce merchant. He told me he couldn't, that it was as much as he could do to provide for his own family. Another place was at a wood and coal yard and the boss said I'd leave in a week at that price so it wasn't any good talking. The other was a drayman who has a couple of drays and he said he'd never pay under the going wage to anybody and gave me sixpence. He said it was all he could afford because times were so bad.”

“Are you stumped then?” asked Ned.

“I haven't a copper.”

Just then the broken-down swell woke up from his doze and demanded his flask. After some search it was found underneath


  ― 188 ―
view facsimile

him. Then, heedless of his interruptions, Ned continued the conversation.note

“Do they take you here on tick?” he enquired.

“Tick! There's no tick here. That old man downstairs is as hard as nails. Why, if it hadn't been for this gentleman I'd have had to walk about all night or sleep in the Domain.”

“Fair dues, my boy, fair dues?” put in the broken-down swell—“Never refer to private matters like that. You make me feel ashamed, my boy. I should never have mentioned that little accommodation. You understand me?”

“I understand you,” replied the lad. “I understand you perfectly.”

“That's all right,” said Ned, suddenly feeling a respect for this grizzled drunkard. “We must all help one another. How was it?”

“Well,” said the lad. “I met a friend of mine and he gave me sixpence and this box of cigarettes. It was all he had. I've often slept here and so I came and asked the old man to trust me the other half. He wouldn't listen to it. I was going away when this gentleman came along. He only had threepence more than his own bed-money but he persuaded the old man to knock off threepence and he'd pay threepence. I thought I'd have had to go to the Domain.” note

“But thats nothing,” said Ned. “I'd just as soon sleep out as sleep in.”

“I've never come down to sleeping out yet,” returned the lad, simply. “Perhaps your being a native makes a difference.” Ned was confronted again with the fact that the bushman and the townsman view the same thing from opposite sides. To this lad, struggling to keep his head up, to lie down nightly in the Domain meant the surrender of all self-respecting decency.

“I shouldn't have brought up the subject. You understand me?” said the drunkard. “But now it's mentioned I'll ask if you noticed how I talked over that old scoundrel downstairs. You understand me? Where's that flask? My God! I am feeling bad,” he continued, sitting up on the bed.

“You're drinking too much,” remarked Ned.

The man did not reply, but, with a groan, pushed the lad aside, sprang from the bed, and began to retch prodigiously into the wash basin, after which he announced himself better, lay down and took another drink. Meanwhile the man in the far corner tossed and groaned as if he were dying.




  ― 189 ―
view facsimile

“You're friend's still worse,” said the lad.

“He's just out of the hospital. I told him he shouldn't mix his drinks so soon but he would have his own way. He'll be all right when he's slept it off. A man's a fool who gets drunk. You understand me?”

“I understand you,” said the lad. “I never want to get drunk. All I want is work.”

“Why don't you go up to Queensland?” asked the man, to Ned's hardly suppressed indignation. “The pastoralists would be glad to get a smart-looking lad like you. Good pay, all expenses paid, and a six months' agreement! I believe that's the terms. You understand me?” note

“I understand you,” said the English lad. “I understand you perfectly. But that's blacklegging and I'd sooner starve than blackleg. I ain't so hard up yet that I'll do either.”

“Put it there, mate,” cried Ned, stretching his hand out. “You're a square little chap.” His heart rose again at this proof that the union spirit was spreading.

“You're a good boy,” said the drunkard, slapping his shoulder. “I'm not a unionist and I'm against the unions. You understand me? I am a gentleman—poor drunken broken-down swell- and a gentleman must stick to his own Order just as you stick to your Order. I'd like to see the working classes kept in their places, but I despise a traitor, my boy. You understand me?”

“I understand you perfectly,” said the lad.

“Yet you'd work for your board?” said Ned, enquiringly.

“I suppose I shouldn't,” said the lad. “But one must live. I wouldn't cut a man out of a job by going under him when he was sticking up for what's right but where nobody's sticking up what's the use of one kicking. That's how I look at it. Of course, a lot don't.”

“They'll get a lot to go then?”

“I think they'll get a lot. Some fellows are so low down they'll do anything and a lot more don't understand. I didn't use to understand.”

“Would you go up with them for the union?” asked Ned, after a pause.

“You mean to come out again?”

“Yes, and to get as many to come out as you can by explaining things. It may mean three months' gaol so you want to make up your mind well.”




  ― 190 ―
view facsimile

“I wouldn't mind going to gaol for a thing like that. It's not being in gaol but what you're in for that counts, isn't it?”

So they talked while the two drunkards groaned and tossed, the stench of this travellers' bedroom growing every moment more unbearable. Finally the waiter returned.

“Not gone to bed yet,” he exclaimed. “Phew! This is a beauty to-night, a pair of beauties. Ain't it a wonder their insides don't poison 'em?”

“I thought I'd never get to bed,” he went on, coming to light his pipe at the candle and then returning to the bed he had taken Ned's sheets from. “First one joker in, then another, and the old man 'ud stay open all night for a tanner. Past two! Jolly nice hour for a chap that's to be up at six, ain't it?” note

He pulled off his boots and vest and threw himself down on the bare mattress in his trousers. “Ain't you fellows going to bed to-night?” he enquired.

“It's about a fair thing,” said Ned, feeling nervous and exhausted with lack of sleep. So the young fellow blew the candle out and went over to the bed adjoining Jack's. As he lay down Jack picked up a boot and tapped the wall alongside him gently. “I think I hear her,” he remarked. In a few moments there was an answering tap.

“Who's that?” asked Ned.

“The slavey next door,” answered Jack, upon which an interchange of experience took place between Jack and the young fellow in which gable windows and park seats and various other stage-settings had prominent parts.

At last they all slept but Ned. Drowsy as he was he could not sleep. It was not that he thought much of Nellie, at least he did not feel that he was thinking of her. He only wanted to sleep and forget and he could not sleep. The moonshine came through the curtainless window and lit up the room with a strange mysterious light. The snoring breathing that filled the room mingled with other snoring sounds that seemed to come up the stairway and through the walls. The stench of the room stifled him. The drunkards who tossed there, groaning; this unemployed lad who lay with his white limbs kicked free and bathed in the moonlight; the tired waiter who lay motionless, still dressed; were there with him. The clock-bells struck the quarters, then the hour.

Three o'clock.




  ― 191 ―
view facsimile

He had never felt so uncomfortable, he thought, so uneasy. He twisted and squirmed and rubbed himself. Suddenly a thought struck him. He leaned up on his elbow for a moment, peering with his eyes in the scanty light, feeling about with his hand, then leaped clean out of the bed. It swarmed with vermin.

Like most bushmen, Ned, who was sublimely tolerant of ants, lizards and the pests of the wilds generally, shivered at the very thought of the parasites of the towns. To strip himself was the work of an instant, to carefully re-dress by the candle-end he lighted took longer; then he stepped to the English lad's side and woke him.note

“Hello?” said the lad, rubbing his eyes in sleepy astonishment.

“What's the matter?”

“I can't sleep with bugs crawling over me,” said Ned. “I'm going to camp out in the park. Here's a ‘note’ to help you along and here's the address to go to if you conclude to go up to Queensland for the union. I'll see about it first thing in the morning so he'll expect you. The ‘note's’ yours whether you go or not.”

“I'm ever so much obliged,” said the lad, taking the money and the slip of paper. “I'll go and I'll be square. You needn't be afraid of me and I'll pay it back, too, some day. Do you know the way out?”

“I'll find it all right,” replied Ned.

“Oh! I'll go down with you or you'd never find it. It's through the back at night.” So the good-hearted young fellow pulled on his trousers and conducted Ned down the creaking, stairway, through the kitchen and the narrow back yard to the bolted door that led to the alley behind.

“Shall I see you again?” asked the lad. Somehow everybody who met Ned wanted to see more of him.

“My name's Hawkins,” replied Ned. “Ned Hawkins. Ask anybody in the Queensland bush about me, if you get there.”

“I suppose you're one of the bushmen,” remarked the lad, pausing. “If they're all as big as you it ought to be bad for the blacklegs.” note

“Why, I'm a small man up on the Diamantina,” said Ned laughing. “Which is the way to the park?”

“Turn to your right at the end of the alley, then turn to the left. It's only five minutes' walk.”

“Thanks. Good-bye!” said Ned.

“It's thank you. Good-bye!” said the lad.




  ― 192 ―
view facsimile

noteThey shook hands and parted. In a few minutes Ned was in the park. He stepped over a low railing, found a branching tree and decided to camp under it. He pulled his boots off and his coat, loosened his belt, put boots and coat under big head for a pillow, stretched out full length on the earth and in ten seconds was in a deep slumber.

He was roused a moment after, it seemed to him; in reality it was nearly six hours after—by kicks on the ribs. He turned over and opened his eyes. As he did so another kick made him stagger to his feet gasping with pain. A gorilla-faced constable greeted him with a savage grin.

“Phwat d'ye mane, ye blayguard, indaycently exposing yersilf in this parrt av th' doomane? Oi've as good a moind as iver a man had in the wurrld to run yez in. Can't ye find anither place to unthdress yersilf in, ye low vaygrant?”

Ned did not answer. He buttoned up the neck of his shirt, which had opened in the night, tightened his belt again, drew on his boots and thrust his arms into his coat. While he did so the constable continued his abuse, proud to show his authority in the presence of the crowd that passed in a continuous stream along the pathway that cut through the carefully tended flower-bedded lawn-like park. It was one of Ned's strong points that he could control his passionate temper. Much as he longed to thrash this insolent brute he restrained himself. He desired most of all to get back to Queensland and knew that as no magistrate would take his word against a “constable's” as to provocation received, to retaliate now would keep him in Sydney for a month at least, perhaps six. But his patience almost gave way when the constable followed as he walked away, still abusing him.

“You'd better not go too far,” warned Ned, turning round.

It suddenly dawned upon the constable that this was not the ordinary “drunk” and that it was as well to be satisfied with the exhibition of authority already made. Ned walked off unmolested, chewing the cud of his thoughts.

This sentence of Geisner's rang in his cars:

“The slaves who ‘move on’ at the bidding of a policeman.”




  ― 193 ―
view facsimile

Chapter VII

“The World Wants Masters”

note “IT can't do any good. We have made up our minds that the matter might just as well be fought out now, no matter what it costs. We've made all our arrangements. There is nothing to discuss. We are simply going to do business in our own way.”

“It can't do any harm. There is always something to be said on the other side and I always find workingmen fairly reasonable if they're met fairly. At any rate, you might as well see how they look at it. The labour agitation itself can't be stifled. The great point, as I regard it, is to make the immediate relations of Capital and Labour as peaceable as possible. The two parties don't see enough of each other.”

“I think we see a great deal too much of them. It's a pretty condition of things when we can't go on with our businesses without being interfered with by mobs of ignorant fools incited by loud-tongued agitators. The fools have got to be taught a lesson some day and we might as well teach it to them now.”

“You know I'm no advocate of Communism or Socialism or any such nonsense. I look at the matter solely from a business standpoint. I am a loser by disturbances in trade, so I try to prevent disturbances. I've always been able to prevent them in my own business and I think they can always be prevented.”

“Well, Melsom, you may be right when it's a question of wages, but this is a question of principle. We're willing to confer if they'll admit ‘freedom of contract.’ That's all there is to say about it.”

“But what is ‘freedom of contract?’ Besides, if it is questioned, there can't be much harm in understanding why. For my part, I find it an interminable point of discussion when it is raised and one of the questions that settles itself easily when it isn't.”

“It is the key of the whole position. If we haven't a right to employ whoever we like at any terms we may make with any individual we employ what rights have we?”




  ― 194 ―
view facsimile

“Hear what they think of it, Strong! It can surely do no harm to find out what makes them fight so.”

And so on for half an hour.

“Well, I don't mind having a chat with one of them,” conceded Strong at last. “It's only because you persist so, Melsom. I suppose this man you've been told is in town is an oily, ignorant fellow, who'll split words and wrangle up a cloud of dust until nobody can tell what we're talking about. I've heard these fellows.”

Thus it was that Ned, calling at the Trades Hall, after having washed and breakfasted at his hotel and seen to various items of union business about town, was greeted with the information that Mr. Melsom was looking for him.

“Who's Melsom?”

“Oh! A sort of four-leaved clover, a reasonable employer,” answered his genial informant. “He's in a large way of business, interested in a good many concerns, and whenever he's got a finger in anything we can always get on with it. He's a great man for arbitration and conciliation and has managed to settle two or three disputes that I never thought would be arranged peaceably. He's a thoroughly decent fellow, I can assure you.”

“What does he want with me, I wonder?”

“He wants you to see Strong, just to talk matters over and let Strong know how you Queenslanders look at things.”

“Who's Strong?”

“Don't you know? He's managing director of the Great Southern Mortgage Agency. He's the man who's running the whole show on the other side and a clever man, too, don't you forget it.”

Ned recollected the man he had seen at the restaurant and what Nellie had said of him, two years ago.

“But I can't see him without instructions. I must wire up to know what they say about it,” said Ned.

“That's just what you mustn't do, old man. Strong won't consent to any formal interview, but told Melsom, that he'd be glad to see anybody who knew how the other side saw things, to chat the matter over as between one man and another. I told Melsom yesterday that you were in town till to-night and he came this morning to get you to see Strong at eleven. He'll be back before then. I told him I thought it would be all right.”




  ― 195 ―
view facsimile

“I don't see how I can do that without instructions,” repeated Ned.

“If it were formal there could be only one possible instruction, surely,” urged the other. “As it is absolutely informal and as all that Melsom hopes is that it may lead to a formal conference, I think you should go. You'd talk to anybody, wouldn't you? Besides, Melsom has his heart set on this. I don't believe it will lead to anything, mind you, but it will oblige him and he often does a good turn for us.”

“That settles it,” said Ned. “Only I'll have to say I'm only giving my own opinion and I'll have to talk straight whether he likes it or not.”

“Of course. By the way, here are some wires that'll interest you, and I want to arrange about sending money up in case they proclaim the unions illegal. Heaven knows what they can't do now-a-days! Have you heard what they did here during the maritime strike?”

Shortly before eleven, Strong was closeted in his private office with a burly man of unmistakably bush appearance, modified both in voice and dress by considerable contact with the towns. Of sandy complexion, broad features and light-coloured eyes that did not look one full in the face, the man was of the type that attracts upon casual acquaintance but about which there is an indefinable something which, without actually repelling, effectually prevents any implicit confidence.

“You have been an officer of the shearers' union, you say?” enquired Strong, coldly.

“I've been an honorary officer, never a paid one,” answered the man, who held his hat on his knee.

“There's a man in Sydney now, named Hawkins. Do you know him?”

“Yes. I've shorn with him out at the—”

“What sort of a man is he?” interrupted Strong.

“He's a young fellow. There's not much in him. He talks wild.”

“Has he got much influence?”

“Only with his own set. Most of the men only want a start to break away from fellows like Hawkins. I'm confident the new union I was talking of, admitting ‘freedom of contract,’ would break the other up and that Hawkins and the rest of them couldn't stop it.”




  ― 196 ―
view facsimile

“It seems feasible,” said Strong, sharply. “At any rate, there's nothing lost by trying it. This is what we will do. We will pay you all expenses and six pounds a week from to-day to go up to Queensland, publicly denounce the union, support ‘freedom of contract’ and try to start another union against the present one; generally to act as an agent of ours. Payment will be made after you come out. Until then you must pay your own expenses.”

“I think I should have expenses advanced,” said the man.

“We know nothing of you. You represent yourself as so-and-so and if you are genuine there is no injustice done by our offer. You must take or leave it.”

“I'll take it,” said the man, after a slight hesitation.

“There's another matter. Do you know the union officials in Brisbane?”

“I know all of them, intimately.”

note “Then you may be able to do something with them. We are informed that they are implicated in all that's going on, the instigators of it. Bring us evidence criminally implicating them and we will pay well.”

“This is business,” said the man, a little shamefacedly. “What will you pay?”

Strong jotted some figures on a slip of paper. “If you are a friend of these men,” he said, passing the slip over, “you will know their value apiece to you.” A sneer he could not quite conceal peeped from under his business tone.

“That concludes our business, I think,” he continued, tearing the slip up, having received it back. “I will instruct our secretary and you can call on him this afternoon.”

He touched an electric bell-button on his desk. A clerk appeared at the door instantly.

“Show this man out by the back way,” ordered Strong, glancing at the clock. “Good-day!”

The summarily dismissed visitor had hardly gone when another clerk announced Mr. Melsom.

“Anybody with him?”

“Yes, sir. A tall, bush-looking man.”

“Show them both in.”

“What sneaking brutes these fellows are!” Strong thought, contemptuously, jotting instructions on some letters he was


  ― 197 ―
view facsimile

glancing through, working away as one accustomed to making the most of spare minutes.

noteMr. Melsom had left Ned and Strong together, having to attend to his own business which had already been sufficiently interfered with by his exertions on behalf of his pet theory of “getting things talked over.” Ned had felt inwardly agitated as he walked under the great archway and up the broad iron stairway that led to the inner offices of this great fortress-like building, the centre of the southern money-power. He had noted the massive walls of hewn stone, the massive gates and the enormous bolts, chains and bars. In the outer office he had glanced a little nervously around the lofty, stuccoed, hall-like room, of which the wood-work was as massive in its way as were the stone walls without and of which the very glass of the partitions looked put in to stay, while the counters and desks, with their polished brass-work and great leathern-bound ledgers, seemed as solid as the floor itself; he wondered curiously what all these clerks did who leaned engrossed over their desks or flitted noiselessly here and there on the matting-covered flagstones of the flooring. Why he should be nervous he could not have explained. But he was cool enough when, after a minute's delay, a clerk led Melsom and himself through a smaller archway opening from this great office hall and up a carpetted stone stairway leading between two great bare walls and along a long lofty passage, wherein footfalls echoed softly on the carpetted stone floor. Finally they reached a polished, pannelled door which being opened showed Strong writing busily at a cabinet desk placed in the centre of the handsomely furnished office-room. The great financier greeted Melsom cordially, nodded civilly enough to Ned and agreed with the latter's immediate statement that he came, as a private individual solely, to see a private individual, at the request of Mr. Melsom.

“Now, where do we differ?” Strong asked, when Melsom had gone.

“We are you and me, of course,” said Ned, putting his hat on the floor.

Strong nodded.

“Well, you have sat down at your desk here and drawn up a statement as to how I shall work without asking me. I object. I say that, as I'm concerned, you and I together should sit down and arrange how I shall work for you since I must work for you.”




  ― 198 ―
view facsimile

“In our agreement, that you refer to, we have tried to do what is fair,” replied Strong, looking sharply at Ned.

“Do you want me to talk straight?” asked Ned. “Because, if you object to that, it's better for me to go now than waste words talking round the subject.”

“Certainly,” answered Strong. “Straight talk never offends me.”

“Then how do I know you have tried to do fairly?” enquired Ned. “Our experience with the pastoralists leads us to think the opposite.”

“There have been rabid pastoralists,” admitted Strong, after a moment's thought, “just as there have been rabid men on the other side. I'll tell you this, that we have had great difficulty in getting some of the pastoralists to accept this agreement. We had to put considerable pressure on them before they would moderate their position to what we consider fair.”

Ned did not reply. He stowed Strong's statement away for future use.

“Besides,” remarked Strong, after a pause, during which he arranged the letters before him. “There is no compulsion to accept the agreement. If you don't like it don't work under it, but let those who want to accept it.”

“I fancy that's more how it stands than by being fair,” commented Ned, bitterly.

“Well! Isn't that fair?” asked Strong, leaning back in his office chair.

“Is it fair?” returned Ned.

“Well! Why not?”

“How can it be fair? We have nothing and you have everything. All the leases and all the sheep and all the cattle and all the improvements belong to you. We've got to work to live and we can't work except for you. What's the sense of your saying that if we don't like the agreement we needn't take it? We must either break the agreement or take it. That's how we stand.”

“Well, what do you object to in it?”

“I don't know what the others object to in it. I know what I object to.”

“That's what I want to know.”

“Well, for one thing, when I've earned money it's mine. The minute I've shorn a sheep the price of shearing it belongs to me


  ― 199 ―
view facsimile

and not to the squatter. It's convenient to agree only to draw pay at certain times, but it's barefaced to deliberately withhold my money weeks after I've earned it, and it's thieving to forfeit wages in case a squatter and I differ as to whether the agreement's been broken or not.”

“There ought to be some security that a pastoralist won't be put to loss by his men leaving him at a moment's notice,” asserted Strong.

“You've got the law on your side,” answered Ned. “You can send a man to prison, like a thief, if he has a row with a squatter after signing an agreement, but we can't send the squatter to prison if he's in fault. The Masters and Servants Act is all wrong and we'll alter it when we get a chance, I can assure you, but you're not content with the Masters and Servants Act. You want a private law all in your own hand.”

“We've had a very serious difficulty to meet,” said the other. “Men go on strike on frivolous pretext and we must protect our interests. We've not cut down wages and we don't intend to.”

“You have cut down wages, labourers' wages,” retorted Ned.

“That has been charged,” replied Strong, lifting his eyebrows. “But I can show you the list of wages paid on our stations during the last five years and you will see that the wages we now offer are fully up to the average.”

“That may be,” said Ned. “But they are less than they were last year. I'm speaking now of what I know.”

“Oh! There may be a few instances in which the unions forced up wages unduly which have been rectified,” said Mr. Strong. “But the general rate has not been touched.”

“The pastoralists wouldn't dare arbitrate on that,” answered Ned. “In January, 1890, they tried to force down wages and we levelled them up. Now, they are forcing them down again. At least it seems that way to me.”

“That matter might be settled, I think,” said Strong, dismissing it. “What other objections have you to the agreement?”

“As an agreement I object to the whole thing, the way it's being worked. If it were a proposal I should want to know how about the Eight Hours and the Chinese.”

“We don't wish to alter existing hours,” answered Strong.

“Then why not put it down?”

“And we don't wish to encourage aliens.”




  ― 200 ―
view facsimile

note “A good many pastoralists do and we are determined to try to stop them. It looks queer to us that nothing is said about it.”

“Some certainly did urge that Chinese should be allowed in tropical Queensland but our influence is against that and we hope to restrain the more impetuous and thus prevent friction.”

Ned shrugged his shoulders without answering.

“We hope—” began Strong. Then he broke off, saying instead: “I do not see why the men should regard the pastoralists as necessarily inimical and as not desirous of doing what is fair.”

“Look here, Mr. Strong,” said Ned leaning forward, as was his habit when in earnest. “We are beginning to understand things. We know that you people are after profits and nothing else, that to you we are like so many horses or sheep, only not so valuable because we're harder to break in and our carcasses aren't worth anything. We know that you don't care a curse whether we live or die and that you'd fill the bush with Chinese to-morrow if you could see your way to making an extra one per cent. by it.”

“You haven't much confidence in us, at any rate,” returned Strong, coolly. “But if we look carefully after profits you must recollect that a great deal of capital is trust funds. The widow and the orphan invest their little fortunes in our hands. Surely you wouldn't injure them?”

“I thought we were talking straight to one another,” said Ned. “You will excuse me, Mr. Strong, for thinking that to talk ‘widow and orphan’ isn't worthy of a man like you unless you've got a very small opinion of me. When you think about our widows and orphans we'll think about your widows and orphans. That's only clap-trap. It doesn't alter the hard fact that you're only after profit and don't care what happens to us so long as you get it.”

The financier bit his lips, flushing. He took up a letter and glanced over it before replying.

“Do you care what happens to us?”

“As things are, no. How can we? The worst that could happen to. one of you would leave you as well off as the most fortunate of us. There is war between us, only I think it possible to be a little civilised and not to fight each other like savages as we are doing.”

“I am glad you admit that some of your methods are savage.”

“Of course I admit it,” answered Ned. “That is my opinion of the way both sides fight now. Instead of conferring and arbitrating


  ― 201 ―
view facsimile

on immediate questions and leaving future questions to be talked over and understood and thoroughly threshed out in free discussion, we strike, you lockout, you victimise wholesale and, naturally, we retaliate in our own ways.”

“You prefer to be left uninterrupted to preach this new socialistic nonsense?”

“Why not, if it is sound? And if it isn't sound, why not? Surely your side isn't afraid of discussion if it knows it's right.”

“Do you really think that we should leave our individual rights to be decided upon by an ignorant mob?”

“My individual rights are at the mercy of ignorant individuals at present,” said Ned. “I am not allowed to work if I happen to have given offence to a handful of squatters.”

“I think you exaggerate,” answered Strong. “I know that some pastoralists are very vindictive but I regard most of them as honorable men incapable of a contemptible action.”

“Of course they are,” said Ned. “The only thing is what do they call contemptible? You and I are very friendly, just now, Mr. Strong. You're not small enough to feel any hatred just because I talk a bit straight but you know very well that you'd regard it as quite square to freeze me out because I do talk straight.”

The two men looked into each other's eyes. Strong began to respect this outspoken bushman.

“I think that one of the most fundamental of all rights in any civilised society is the right of a man to employ whom he likes at any terms and under any conditions that he can get men to enter his employment. It seems to me that without this right the very right to private property itself is disputed for in civilisation private property does not mean only a hoard, stored up for future use, but savings accumulated to carry on the industrial operations of civilisation. These savings have been prompted by the assurance that society will protect the man who saves in making, with the man who has not saved, the contracts necessary to carry on industry, unhampered by the interference of outsiders. That seems to me, I repeat, a fundamental right essential to the very existence of society. The man who disputes it seems to me an enemy of society. Whether he is right or wrong, or whether society itself is right or wrong, is another question with which, as it is a mere theory, practical men have nothing to do.” Strong had only been fencing in his talk before. Now that he was ready


  ― 202 ―
view facsimile

he stated his position, quite coolly, with a quiet emphasis that made his line of argument clear as day.

“Then why confer at all, under any conditions, even if unionists admitted all this?” asked Ned.

“Simply for convenience. Some of our members object to any conference but the general opinion is that it does not involve a sacrifice of principle to discuss details provided principles are admitted. In the same way, some favoured the employment of men at any wage arranged between the individual man and his employer, but the general opinion was that it is advisable and convenient for pastoralists in the same district to pay the same wages.”

“Then the pastoralists may combine but the bushmen mayn't.”

“We don't object to the bushmen forming unions. We claim the right to employ men without asking whether they are unionist or non-unionist.”

“Which means,” said Ned, “the right to victimise unionists.”

“How is that?” asked Strong.

“We know how. Do you suppose for a moment, Mr. Strong, that ideas spring up with nothing behind them? All those who are acquainted with the history of unionism know that ‘close unionism,’ the refusal to work with non-unionists, arose from the persistent preference given by employers to non-unionists, which was a victimising of unionists.”

“That may have been once, but things are different now,” answered Strong.

“They are not different now. Wherever employers have an opportunity they have a tendency to weed out unionists. I could give you scores of instances of it being done. The black list is bad enough now. It would be a regular terrorism if there was nothing to restrain the employer. Then down would come wages, up would go hours and in would come the Chinese. If it is a principle with you, it is existence itself with us.”

“I think the pastoralists would agree not to victimise, as you call it,” said Strong, after thinking a minute.

“Who is to say? How are we to know?” answered Ned. “Supposing, Mr. Strong, you and I had a dispute in which we both believed ourselves right would you regard it as a fair settlement to submit the whole thing, without any exception, to an arbiter whom we both chose and both believed to be fair?”

“Certainly I should,” said Strong.




  ― 203 ―
view facsimile

“The whole dispute, no matter what it was? You'd think it fair to leave it all to the arbiter?”

“Certainly.”

“Then why not leave ‘freedom of contract’ to arbitration?” demanded Ned. “You say you are right. We say we are right. We have offered to go to arbitration on the whole dispute, keeping nothing back. We have pledged ourselves to stand by the arbitration. Isn't that honest and fair? What could be fairer? It may be that we have taken a wrong method against victimising in close unionism. But it cannot be that we should not have some defence against victimising, and close unionism is the only defence we have as yet, that any union has had, anywhere, except in Sheffield and I don't suppose you want rattening to start here. Why not arbitrate?”

“It is a question of principle,” answered Strong, looking Ned in the face.

“That means you'll fight it out,” commented Ned, rising and picking up his hat. Then he put his foot on his chair and, leaning on his knee, thus expressed his inward thoughts: “You can fight if you like but when it's all over you'll remember what I say and know it's the straight wire. You've been swallowing the fairy tales about ours being a union of pressed men but you will see your mistake, believe me. You may whip us; you've got the Government and the police and the P.M.'s and the money and the military but how much nearer the end will you be when you have whipped us? You'll know by then that the chaps up North, like men everywhere else, will go down fighting and will come up smiling to fight again when you begin to take it out of them because they're down. And in the end you'll arbitrate. You'll have no way out of it. Its fair and because it's fair and because we all know it's fair we'll win that or—” Ned paused.

“Im sorry you look at the matter so,” said Strong, arranging his papers.

“How else should we look at it? If we pretend to give in as you want us to do, it'll only be as a trick to gain time, as a ruse to put you off until we're readier. We won't do that. For my part, and for the part of the men I know, the union is a thing which mustn't get a bad name. We may lie individually but the union's word must be as good as gold no matter what it says. If the union says the sheep are wet, they're wet, and if it says they're dry, they are dry—if the water's dripping off 'em,” added Ned, note


  ― 204 ―
view facsimile

with a twinkle in his eye. “I mean, Mr. Strong, that we're trying to be better men in our rough way and the union is what's making us better and some of us would die for it. But we'd sooner see it die than see it do what's cowardly.” note

“I am sorry that men like you are so deceived as to what is right,” said Strong.

“Perhaps we're all deceived. Perhaps you're deceived. Perhaps the whole of life is a humbug.” So Ned said, with careless fatalism. “Only, if your mates were in trouble you'd be a cur if you didn't stand by them, wouldn't you? That's the difference between you and me, Mr. Strong. You don't believe that we're all mates or that the crowd has any particular troubles and I do. And as long as one believes it, well, it doesn't matter to him whether he's deceived or not, I think. I won't detain you any longer. Its no use our talking, I can see.”

Strong got up and walked towards the door.

“I think not,” he said. “But I am glad to have met you, Mr. Hawkins, and I can't help feeling that you're throwing great abilities away. You'll get no thanks and do no good and you'll live to regret it. It's all very well to talk lightly of the outlook in Queensland but when you have become implicated in lawlessness and are suffering for it the whole affair will look different. Don't misunderstand me! You are a young man, capable, earnest. There is no position you might not aspire to. Be warned in time. Let me help you. I shall be only too glad. You will never repent it for I ask nothing dishonourable.” note

“I don't quite understand,” said Ned, sternly, his brow knitting.

“I'm not offering a bribe,” continued Strong, meeting Ned's gaze unflinchingly. “That's not necessary. You know very well that you will hang yourself with very little more rope. I am talking as between one man and another. I meet only too few manly men to let one go to destruction without trying to save him. The world doesn't need saviours; it needs masters. You can be one of them. Think well of it: Not one in a million has the chance.”

“You mean that you'll help me to get rich?”

“Rich!” sneered Strong. “What is rich? It is Power that is worth having and to have power one must control capital. In your wildest ranting of the power of the capitalist you have hardly touched the fringe of the power he has. Only there are very few


  ― 205 ―
view facsimile

who are able to use it. I offer you the opportunity to become one of the few. I never make a mistake in men. If you try you can be. There is the offer, take it or leave it.”

noteFor an instant Ned dreamed of accepting it, of throwing over everything to become a great capitalist, as Strong said so confidently he could be, and then, after long years, to pour his wealth into the treasuries of the movement, now often checked for lack of funds. Then he thought of Nellie and of Geisner, what they would say, still hesitating. Then he thought of his mates expecting him, waiting for him, and he decided.

“I was thinking,” he said, straightforwardly, “whether I wouldn't like to make a pile so as to give it to the movement. But, you see, Mr. Strong, the chaps are expecting me and that settles it. I am much obliged but it would be dishonourable in me.”

“You know what is in front?” asked Strong, calmly, making a last effort.

“I think so. I'm told I'm one of those to be locked up. What does that matter? That won't lose me any friends.”

“A stubborn man will have his way,” remarked Strong. Adding, at a venture: “Particularly when there is a woman in it.”

“There is a woman in it,” answered Ned, flushing a little; “a woman who won't have me.”

Strong opened the door. “I've done my best for you,” he said. “Don't blame me whatever happens. You, at least, had your choice of peace or war, of more than peace.”

“I understand. Personally, I shan't blame you,” said Ned. “I choose war, more than war,” and he set his mouth doggedly.

“War, at any rate,” answered Strong, holding out his hand, his face as grave as Ned's. The two men gripped hands tightly, like duellists crossing swords. Without another word they shook hands heartily and separated.

Strong closed the door and walked up and down his room, hurriedly, deep in thought, pulling his lip. He sat down at his desk, took up his pen, got up and paced the room again. He went to the window and looked out into the well that admitted light to the centre of the great fortress-building. Then walked back to his desk and wrote.

“He is a dangerous man,” he murmured, as if excusing himself. “He is a most dangerous man.”




  ― 206 ―
view facsimile

A youth answered a touch of the button. Strong sent for his confidential clerk.

“Send this at once to Queensland in cipher,” he instructed, in a business tone, when the man appeared; “this” being:

Prominent bush unionist named Hawkins leaves Sydney to-night by train for Central Queensland via Brisbane. Have him arrested immediately. Most important. note


  ― 207 ―
view facsimile

Chapter VIII

The Republican Kiss

note “I'VE never felt so before,” said Ned. “For about ten minutes I wanted to go back and kill him.”

“Why?”

“Because he is like a wall of iron in front of one. If he were a fat hulking brute, as some of them are, I wouldn't have minded. I could have pitied him and felt that he wasn't a fair specimen of Humanity. But this man is a fair specimen in a way. He looks like a man and he talks like a man and you feel him a man, only he's absolutely unable to understand that the crowd are the same flesh and blood as he is and you know that he'd wipe us down like ninepins if he could see he'd gain by it. He's all brains and any heart he's got is only for his own friends. He is Capitalism personified. He made me feel sick at heart at the hopelessness of fighting such men in the old ways. I felt for a little while that the only thing to do was to clear them out of the way as they'd clear us if they were in our shoes.”

“You've got over it soon.”

“Of course,” admitted Ned, with a laugh. “He can live for ever, for me, now. It was a fool's thought. It's the system we're fighting, not the products of it, and he's only a product just like the fat beasts we abuse and the ignorant drunken bushmen he despises. I was worrying, as you call it, or I shouldn't have even thought of it.”

Ned was talking to Connie. After having had dinner at a restaurant with his Trades Hall friend, to whom he related part of his morning's interview, he had found himself with two or three hours on his hands. So he had turned his steps towards the Strattons, longing for sympathy and comfort, being strangely depressed and miserable without being able to think out just how he felt.

He found Mrs. Stratton writing in her snug parlour. The rooms had the same general appearance that they had two years before. The house, seen by daylight for the first time, was embowered in


  ― 208 ―
view facsimile

trees and fringed back and front with pretty flower beds and miniature lawns. Connie herself was fair and fresh as ever and wore a loose robe of daintily flowered stuff; the years had passed lightly over her, adding to rather than detracting from the charms of her presence. She welcomed him warmly and with her inimitable tact, seeing his trouble, told him how they all were, including that Josie had married and had a beautiful baby, adding with a flush that she herself had set Josie a bad example and bringing in the example for Ned to admire. The other children were boating with George and Josie, she explained, George not having yet escaped from that horrible night-work. Harry was well and would be home after a while. He was painting a series of scenes from city life, the sketches of which she showed him. Arty was married to a very nice girl, who knew all his poetry, every line, by heart. Ford was well, only more bitter than ever. When Ned asked after Geisner, she said he had not been back since and she had only heard once, indirectly, that he was well. Thus she led him to talk and he told her partly what took place between Strong and himself. Strong's offer he could not tell to anyone.

“You didn't get on with Nellie last night?” she asked, alluding to his “worrying.” Having taken the baby out she had sat down on the stool by the open piano.

Ned looked up. “How do you know? Has she been here?”

“No. She hasn't been here, but I can tell. You men always carry your hearts on your sleeve, when you think you aren't. You asked her to marry you, I suppose, and she said ‘No.’ Isn't that it?”

“I can't tell you all about it, Mrs. Stratton,” answered Ned, frankly. “That's about it. But she did quite right. She thought she shouldn't and when Nellie thinks anything she tries to do it. That's what should be.”

Mrs. Stratton strummed a few notes. “I'll show you something,” she said, finally, getting up. “It passes the time to show old curiosities.”

She left the room, returning in a few minutes with a quaint box of dark wood, bound with chased iron work and inlaid with some semi-transparent substance in the pattern of a coat-of-arms. She opened it with a little key that hung on her watch chain. Inside were a number of compartments, covered with little lids.


  ― 209 ―
view facsimile

She lifted them all, together, exposing under the tray a deeper recess. From this she took a miniature case.note

“Look at it!” she said, smiling. “I ought to charge you sixpence but I won't.”

Ned pressed the spring, the lid of the case flew up, and there, in water-colour, was the head and bust of a girl. The face was a delicate oval, the mouth soft and sweet, the eyes bright with youth and health, the whole appearance telling of winning grace and cultured beauty. The fullness of the brows betrayed the artist instinct. The hair was drawn to the top of the head in a strange foreign fashion. The softly curving lines of face and figure showed womanhood begun.

“She is very beautiful,” commented Ned. Then, looking at it more closely: “Do you know that somehow, although it's not like her, this reminds me of Nellie?”

“I knew you'd say that,” remarked Connie, swinging round on the music stool so as to reach the keys again and striking a note or two softly. “It has got Nellie's presentment, whatever you call it. I noticed it the first time I saw Nellie. That was how we happened to speak first. Harry noticed it, too, without my having said a word to him. They might be sisters, only Nellie's naturally more self-reliant and determined and has had a hard life of it, while she”—nodding at the miniature—“had been nursed in rose-leaves up to the time it was taken.”

“I don't see just where the likeness comes in,” said Ned, trying to analyse the portrait.

“It's about the eyes and the mouth particularly, as well as a general similitude,” explained Connie.

“As I tell Nellie, she's got a vicious way of setting her lips, so,” and Mrs. Stratton, mimicking, drew the corners of her mouth down in Nellie's style. “Then she draws her brows down till altogether she looks as though the burden of the whole world was on her. But underneath she has the same gentle mouth and open eyes and artist forehead as the picture and one feels it. It's very strange, don't you know, that Geisner never seemed to notice it and yet he generally notices everything. After all, I don't know that it is so strange. It's human nature.”

“Geisner?” said Ned, clumsily, having nothing particular to say. “Has he seen it?”

“Once or twice,” observed Connie. “It belongs to him. He leaves it with me. That's how Harry's seen it and you. It's the


  ― 210 ―
view facsimile

only thing he values so he takes care of it by never having it about him, you know,” she added, in the flippant way that hid her feelings.note

“I suppose it is—that it's—it's the girl he—” stumbled Ned, beginning to understand suddenly.

“That's her,” said Connie, strumming some louder notes. “She died. They had been married a few days. She was taken ill, very ill. He left her, when her life was despaired of. She would have him go, too. She got better a little but losing him killed her.”

Ned gazed at the portrait, speechless. What were his troubles, his grief, his sorrows, beside those of the man who had loved and lost so! Nellie at least lived. At least he had still the hope that in the years to come he and she might mate together. His thoughts flew back to Geisner's talk on Love on the garden terrace, in the bright afternoon sunshine. Truly Geisner's had been the Love that elevated not the Lust that pulled down. The example nerved him like fresh air. The pain that had dumbed his thoughts of Nellie passed from him.

“He is a man!” cried Ned.

“That wasn't all,” went on Connie, taking the case from his hands and officiously dusting it with her handkerchief. “When she was pining for him, dying of grief, because she had lost her strength in her illness, they offered him his liberty if he would deny the Cause, if he would recant, if he would say he had been fooled and misled and desired to redeem his position. They let him hear all about her and then they tempted him. They wanted to disgust the people with their leaders. But it wasn't right to do that. It was shameful. It makes me wild to think of it yet. The way it was done! To torture a man so through his love! Oh, the wretches! The miserable dogs! I'd —— ” Connie broke off suddenly to put the handkerchief to her indignant eyes. The thunderstorm of her anger burst in rain. She was a thorough woman. “I suppose they didn't know any better, as he always says of everybody that's mean. It's some consolation to think that they overshot the mark, though,” she concluded, tearfully.

“How?”

“How! Why if they had let Geisner go and everybody else, there'd be no martyrs to keep the Cause going. Even Geisner, if his wife had lived, poor girl, and if children had grown up, could hardly be quite the same, don't you know. As it is he only lives


  ― 211 ―
view facsimile

for the Cause. He has nothing else to live for. They crushed his weakness out of him and fitted him to turn round and crush them.”

“It's time he began,” remarked Ned, thoughtfully.

“He has begun.”

“Where?”

“Everywhere. In you, in me, in Nellie, in men like Ford and George and Harry, in places you never dream of, in ways nobody knows but himself. He is moulding the world as a potter moulds clay. It frightens me, sometimes. I open a new book and there are Geisner's very ideas. I see a picture, an illustrated paper, and there is Geisner's hand passed to another. I was at a new opera the other night and I could hardly believe my ears; it seemed as though Geisner was playing. From some out of the way corner of the earth comes news of a great strike; then, on top of it, from another corner, the bubbling of a gathering rising; and I can feel that Geisner is guiding countless millions to some unseen goal, safe in his work because none know him. He is a man! He seeks no reward, despises fame, instils no evil, claims no leadership. Only he burns his thoughts into men's hearts, the god-like thoughts that in his misery have come to him, and every true man who hears him from that moment has no way but Geisner's way. A word from him and the whole world would rock with Revolution. Only he does not say it. He thinks of the to-morrow. We all suffer, and he has passed through such suffering that he is branded with it, body and soul. But he has faced it and conquered it and he understands that we all must face it and conquer it before those who follow after us can be freed from it. ‘We must first show that Socialism is possible,’ he said to me two years ago. And I think he hoped, Ned, that some day you would show it.”

“You talk like Geisner,” said Ned, watching her animated face. He had come to her for comfort and upon his sad heart her words were like balm. Afterwards, they strengthened the life purpose that came to him.

“Of course. So do you when you think of him. So does everybody. His wonderful power all lies in his impressing his ideas on everybody he meets. Strong is a baby beside him when you consider the difference in their means.”

“I wish Strong was on our side, just the same.”




  ― 212 ―
view facsimile

“Why? The Strongs find the flint on which the Geisners strike the steel. Do you think for a single moment that the average rich man has courage enough or brains enough to drive the people to despair as this Strong will do?”

“Yes, monopoly will either kill or cure.”

“It will cure. This Strong is annihilating the squatters as fast as he's trying to annihilate the unions. I hear them talking sometimes, or their wives, which is the same thing. They fairly hate him. He's doing more than any man to kill the old employer and to turn the owners of capital into mere idle butterflies, or, if you like it better, into swine wallowing in luxury, living on dividends. Not that they hate that,” went on Connie, contemptuously. “They're an idle, vicious set, taken all round, at the best. But he's ruining a lot of the old landocrats and naturally they don't like it. Of course, very few of them like his style or his wife's.”

“Too quiet? Nellie was telling me something of him once.”

“Yes. He's very quiet at home. So is his wife. He reads considerably. She is musical. They have their own set, quite a pleasant one. And fashionable society can rave and splutter but is kept carefully outside their door. They don't razzle-dazzle, at any rate.”

“Don't what?” asked Ned, puzzled.

“Don't razzle-dazzle!” repeated Connie, laughing. “Don't dance on champagne, like many of the society gems?”

“The men, you mean.”

“The men! My dear Ned, you ought to know a little more about high life and then you'd appreciate the Strongs. I've seen a dozen fashionable women, young and old, perfectly intoxicated at a single fashionable ball. As for the men, most of them haven't any higher idea of happiness than a drunken debauch. While as for fashionable morality the less you say about it the better. And the worst of the lot are among the canting ones. The Strongs and their set at least are decent people. Wealth and poverty both seem to degrade most of us.”

“Ah, well, it can't last so very much longer,” remarked Ned.

“It could if it weren't for the way both sides are being driven,” answered Connie. “These fat wine-soaked capitalists would give in whenever the workmen showed a bold front if cast-iron capitalists like Strong didn't force them into the fight and keep them fighting. And you know yourself that while workmen get


  ― 213 ―
view facsimile

a little what they want they never dream of objecting to greater injustices. And if it weren't for the new ideas workmen would go on soaking themselves with drink and vice and become as unable to make a change as the depraved wealthy are to resist a change. Everything helps to make up the movement.”

“I know I'm inconsistent,” she went on. “I talk angrily myself often but it's not right to feel hard against anybody. These other people can't help it, any more than a thief can help it or a poor girl on the streets. They're not happy as they might be, either. And if they were, I think it's better to suffer for the Cause than to have an easy time by opposing it. I'd sooner be Geisner than Strong.”

“What a comparison!” cried Ned.

“Of one thing I'm sure,” continued Connie, “that it is noble to go to prison in resisting injustice, that suffering itself becomes a glory if one bears it bravely for others. For I have heard Geisner say, often, that when penalties cease to intimidate and when men generally rise superior to unjust laws those special injustices are as good as overthrown. We must all do our best to prevent anything being done which is unmanly in itself. If we try to do that prison is no disgrace and death itself isn't very terrible.”

“I know you mean this for me,” said Ned, smiling. “I didn't mind much, you know, before. I was ready for the medicine. But, somehow, since I've been here, I've got to feel quite eager to be locked up. I shall be disappointed if it doesn't come off.” He laughed cheerfully.

“Well, you might as well take it that way,” laughed Connie. “I can't bear people who take everything seriously.”

“There was one thing I wanted you to do,” said Ned, after a while. “Nellie promised me years ago to tell me if ever she was hard up. I've got a few pounds ahead and what my horses are worth. If anything happens can I have it sent down to you so that you can give it to her if she needs it?”

Connie thought for a moment, “You'd better not,” she answered. “We'll see that Nellie's all right. I think she'd starve rather than touch what you'll need afterwards.”

“Perhaps so,” said Ned. “You know best about that. I must go now,” rising.




  ― 214 ―
view facsimile

“Can't you wait for dinner?” asked Counie. “Harry will be here then and you'd have time to catch the train.”

“I've a little business to do before,” said Ned. “I promised one of our fellows to see his brother, who lives near the station.”

“Oh! You must have something to eat first,” insisted Connie. “You'll miss your dinner probably. That won't do.” So he waited.

They had finished the hurriedly prepared meal, which she ate with him so that he might feel at home, when Stratton came in.

“He's always just in time,” explained Connie, when the greetings were over. “He gives me the cold shivers whenever we're going to catch a train. Say ‘good-bye’ to Ned now, and don't delay him! I'll tell you all he said, all but the secrets. He's going to Queensland to-night and hasn't a minute to spare.”

“I'm sorry you can't stay overnight,” said Harry, heartily. “I'd like to have a long talk but I suppose my fine society lady here hasn't wasted time.”

“I've talked enough for two, you may depend upon it,” announced Connie, as they went to the front door together, chatting.

“Well, good-bye, if you must go,” said Harry, holding Ned by both hands. “And remember, whatever happens, you've got good friends here, not fair-weather friends either.”

“He must go, Harry,” cried Connie. “I've kept him just to see you. You'll make him miss the next boat. Come, Ned! Good-bye!”

Ned turned to her, holding out his hand.

“Bend down!” she said, suddenly, her lips smiling, her eyes filling. “You're so tall.”

He bent to her mechanically, not understanding. She took his head between her hands and kissed him on both cheeks.

“The republican kiss!” she cried, trying to laugh, offering her own cheek to him as he stood flushed and confused. Something choked him as he stooped to her again, touching the fair face with his lips, reverentially.

“Good-bye!” she exclaimed, her mouth working, grasping his hands. “Our hearts are with you all up there, but, oh, don't let your good heart destroy you for no use!” Then she burst into


  ― 215 ―
view facsimile

tears and, turning to her husband, flung herself into the loving arms that opened for her. “It's beginning again, Harry. It's beginning again. Will it never end, I wonder? And it's always the best it takes from us, Harry, the bravest and the best.” And she sobbed in his arms, quietly, resignedly, as she had sobbed, Ned recollected, when Geisner thundered forth that triumphant Marseillaise.

Her vivid imagination showed her friends and husband and sons going to prison and to death as friends and father and brother had gone to prison and to death in the days gone by. She knew the Cause so well—had it not suckled her and reared her?—with all the depth of the nature that her lightness of manner only veiled as the frothy spray of the flooded Barron veils the swell of the cataract beneath, with all the capacity for understanding that made her easily the equal of brilliant men. It was a Moloch, a Juggernaut, a Kronos that devoured its own children, a madness driving men to fill with their hopes and lives the chasm that lies between what is and what should be. It had lulled a little around her of late years, the fight that can only end one way because generation after generation carries it on, civilisation after civilisation, age after age. Now its bugle notes were swelling again and those she cared for would be called, sooner or later, one by one. Husband and children and friends, all must go as this bushman was going, going with his noble thoughts and pure instincts and generous manhood and eager brain. At least, it seemed to her that they must. And so she bewailed them, as women will even when their hearts are brave and when their devotion is untarnished and undimmed. She yearned for the dawning of the Day of Peace, of the Reign of Love, but her courage did not falter. Still amid her tears she clung to the idea that those whom the Cause calls must obey.

“Ned'll be late, Harry,” she whispered. “He must go.” So Ned went, having grasped Harry's hand again, silently, a great lump in his throat and a dimness in his eyes but, nevertheless, strangely comforted.

He was just stepping on board the ferry steamer when Harry raced down, a little roll of paper in his hand. “Connie forgot to give you this,” was all he had time to say. “It's the only one she has.”

Ned opened the little roll to find it a pot-shot photograph of Nellie, taken in profile as she stood, with her hands clasped,


  ― 216 ―
view facsimile

gazing intently before her, her face sad and stern and beautiful, her figure full of womanly strength and grace. He lovered it, overjoyed, until the boat reached the Circular Quay. He kept taking it out and stealing sly peeps at it as the bus rolled up George-street, Redfern way.




  ― 217 ―
view facsimile

Chapter IX

Ned Goes to His Fate

noteAT the station some of the Sydney unionists were waiting to see Ned off. As they loaded him with friendly counsel and encouraged him with fraternal promises of assistance and compared the threats made in Sydney during the maritime strike with the expected action of the Government in Queensland, a newspaper boy came up to them, crowded at the carriage door.

note “Hello, sonny! Whose rose is that?” asked one of the group, for the little lad carried a rose, red and blowing.

“It's Mr. Hawkinses rose,” answered the boy.

“For me!” exclaimed Ned, holding out his hand. “Who is it from?”

“I'm not to say,” answered the urchin, slipping away.

The other men laughed. “There must be a young lady interested in you, Hawkins,” said one jocularly; “our Sydney girls always have good eyes for the right sort of a man.” “I wondered why you stayed over last night, Hawkins,” remarked another. “Trust a Queenslander to make himself at home everywhere,” contributed a third. Ned did not answer. He did not hear them. He knew who sent it.

Then the guard's whistle blew; another moment and the train started, slowly at first, gradually faster, amid a pattering of good-byes.

“Give him a cheer, lads!” cried one of his friends. “Hip-hip-hurrah!”

“And one for his red rose!” shouted another. “Hip-hip-hurrah!”

“And another for the Queensland bush men! Hip-hip-hurrah!”

Ned leaned over the door as the train drew away, laughing genially at the cheering and waving his hand to his friends. His eyes, meanwhile, eagerly searched the platform for a tall, black-clad figure.

He saw her as he was about to abandon hope; she was half concealed by a pillar, watching him intently. As his eyes drank


  ― 218 ―
view facsimile

her in, with a last fond look that absorbed every line of her face and figure, every shade of her, even to the flush that told she had heard the cheer for “his red rose,” she waved her handkerchief to him. With eager hands he tore the fastening of a fantastically-shaped little nugget that hung on his watch-chain and flung it towards her. He saw her stoop to pick it up. Then the train swept on past a switch-house and he saw her no more, save in the picture gallery of his memory stored with priceless paintings of the face he loved; and in the little photo that he conned till his fellow-passengers nudged each other.

At Newcastle he left the train to stretch himself and get a cup of tea. As he stepped from the carriage a man came along who peered inquisitively at the travellers. He was a medium-sized man, with a trimmed beard, wearing a peaked cap pulled over his forehead. This inquisitive man looked at Ned closely, then followed him past the throng to the end of the platform. There, finding the bushman alone, he stepped up and, clapping his hand on Ned's shoulder, said quietly in his ear:

“In the Queen's name!”

Ned swung round on his heel, his heart palpitating, his nerves shaken, but his face as serene as ever. It had come, then. After all, what did it matter? He would have preferred to have reached his comrades but at least they would know he had tried. And no man should have reason to say that he had not taken whatever happened like a man. At the time he did not think it strange that he was not allowed to reach the border. The squatters could do what they liked he thought. If they wanted to hang men what was to stop them? So he swung round on his heel, convinced of the worst, calm outwardly, feverish inwardly, to enquire in a voice that did not shake:

“What little game are you up to, mister?”

The inquisitive man looked at him keenly.

“Is your name Hawkins?” he asked.

“Suppose it is! What does that matter to you?” demanded Ned, mechanically guarding his speech for future contingencies.

“It's all right, my friend,” replied the other, with a chuckle. “I'm no policeman. If you're Hawkins, I've a message for you. Show me your credentials and I'll give it.”

“Who're you, anyway?” asked Ned. “How do I know who you are?”




  ― 219 ―
view facsimile

The inquisitive man stopped a uniformed porter who was passing. “Here, Tom,” he said, “this gentleman wants to know if I'm a union man. Am I?”

“Go along with your larks!” retorted the man in uniform. “Why don't you ask me if you're alive?” and he passed on with a laugh as though he had heard an excellent joke.

“Hang it!” said the inquisitive man. “That's what it is to be too well known. Let's see the engine-driver. He'll answer for me.”

“The other's good enough,” answered Ned, making up his mind, as was his habit, from the little things. “Here's my credentials!” He pulled out his pocket-book and taking out a paper unfolded it for the inquisitive man to read.

“That's good enough, too,” was the stranger's comment. “You answer the description but it's best to be sure. Now”—lowering his voice and moving still further from the peopled part of the platform—“here's the message. ‘Dangerous to try going through Brisbane. Police expecting him that way. Must go overland from Downs.’ Do you understand it?” note

“I understand,” said Ned, arranging his plans quickly. “It means they're after me and I'm to dodge them. I suppose I can leave my portmanteau with you?”

“I'm here to help you,” answered the man.

“Well, I'll take my blankets and leave everything else. I'm a Darling Downs boy and can easily get a horse there. And when I'm across a horse in the bush they'll find it tough work to stop me going through.”

“You'd better take some money,” remarked the man, after Ned had handed out his portmanteau. “You may have to buy horses.”

“Not when I'm once among the camps,” said Ned. “I can get relays there every few miles. I've got plenty to do me till then. How do you fellows here feel about things?”

“Our fellows are as sound as a bell. If everybody does as much as the miners will you'll have plenty of help. We don't believe everything the papers say. You seem a cool one and if the others will only keep cool you'll give the squatters a big wrestle yet.”

So they talked on till the train was about to start again.

“Take my advice,” said the man, drawing back further out of hearing and putting the portmanteau down between them, “and


  ― 220 ―
view facsimile

get a cipher for messages. We had to arrange one with Sydney during the end of the maritime strike and that's what they've used to-night to get the tip to you. If it wasn't for that the other side would know what was said just as well as we do. Now, good-bye! Take care of yourself! And good luck to you!”

“Good-bye, and thanks!” said Ned, shaking hands as he jumped into his carriage. “You've done us a good turn. We won't forget the South up in Queensland. You didn't tell me your name,” he added, as the train moved.

The man answered something that was lost in the jarring. Ned saw him wave his hand and walk away with the portmanteau. The train sped on, past sheds and side-tracked carriages, past steaming engines and switch-houses and great banked stacks of coal, out over the bridge into the open country beyond, speeding ever Queenslandwards.

Ned, leaning over the window, watched the sheen of the electric lights on the wharves, watched the shimmering of the river, watched the glower that hung over the city as if over a great bush fire, watched the glorious cloudless star-strewn sky and the splendid moon that lit the opening country as it had lit the water front of Sydney last night, as it would light for him the back-tracks of the mazy bush when he forced his horses on, from camp to camp, six score miles and more a day. It was a traveller's moon, he thought with joy; let him once get into the saddle with relays ahead and let the rain hold off for four or five days more, then they could arrest him if they liked; at least he would have got back to his mates.

Newcastle faded away. He took his precious photo out again and held it in his hand after studying its outlines for the hundredth time; unobserved he pressed the red rose to his lips.

His heart filled with joy as he listened to the rumbling of the wheels, to the puffing of the engine, to the rubble-double-double of the train. Every mile it covered was a mile northward; every hour was a good day's journeying; every post it flew by was a post the less to pass of the hundred-thousand that lay between him and his goal. He would get back somehow. Where “the chaps” were he would be, whatever happened. And when he got back he could tell them, at least, that the South would pour its willing levies to help them fight in Queensland the common enemy of all. It never struck him that he was getting further


  ― 221 ―
view facsimile

and further from Nellie. In his innermost soul he knew that he was travelling to her.

What good fellows they were down South here, he thought, with a gush of feeling. Wherever he went there were friends, cheering him, watching over him, caring for him, their purses open to him, because he was a Queensland bushman and because his union was in sore trouble and because they would not see brother unionists fall into a trap and perish there unaided. From the Barrier to Newcastle the brave miners, veterans of the Labour war, were standing by. In Adelaide and Sydney alike the town unions were voting aid and sympathy. The southern bushmen, threatened themselves, were sending to Queensland the hard cash that turns doubtful battles. If Melbourne was cool yet, it was only because she did not understand; she would swing in before it was over, he knew it. The consciousness of a continent throbbing in sympathy, despite the frowns and lies and evil speakings of governments and press and capitalistic organisations and of those whom these influence, dawned upon him. All the world over it was the same, two great ideas were crystallising, two great parties were forming, the lists were being cleared by combats such as this for the ultimate death-struggle between two great principles which could not always exist side by side. The robbed were beginning to understand the robbery; the workers were beginning to turn upon the drones; the dominance of the squatter, the mine-owner, the ship-owner, the land-owner, the shareholder, was being challenged; this was not the end, but surely it was the beginning of the end.

“Curse them!” muttered Ned, grinding his teeth, as he gazed out upon the moonlit country-side. “What's the good of that?” he thought. “As Geisner says, they don't know any better. A man ought to pity them, for they're no worse than the rest of us. They're no better and no worse than we'd be in their places. They can't help it any more than we can.”

A great love for all mankind stole over him, a yearning to be at fellowship with all. What fools men are to waste Life in making each other miserable, he thought! Why should not men like Strong and Geisner join hands? Why should not the republican kiss pass from one to another till loving kindness reigned all the world round? Men were rough and hasty and rash of tongue and apt to think ill too readily. But they were good at heart, the men he knew, and surely the men he did not know were the


  ― 222 ―
view facsimile

same. Perhaps some day—— He built divine castles in the air as he twisted Nellie's rose between his fingers. Suddenly a great wonder seized him—he realised that he felt happy.

Happy! When he should be most miserable. Nellie would not be his wife and his union was in danger and prison gates yawned in front and already he was being hunted like an outlaw. Yet he was happy. He had never been so happy before. He was so happy that he desired no change for himself. He would not have changed of his free will one step of his allotted path. He hated nobody. He loved everybody. He understood Life somewhat as he had never understood before. A great calm was upon him, a lulling between the tempest that had passed and the tempests that were coming, a forecast of the serenity to which Humanity is reaching by Pain.note

“What does it matter, after all?” he murmured to himself. “There is nothing worth worrying over so long as one does one's best. Things are coming along all right. We may be only stumbling towards the light but we're getting there just the same. So long as we know that what does the rest matter?”

“What am I?” he thought, looking up at the stars, which shone the brighter because the moon was now hidden behind the train. “I am what I am, as the old Jew God was, as we all are. We think we can change everything and we can change nothing. Our very thoughts and motives and ideals are only bits of the Eternal Force that holds the stars balanced in the skies and keeps the earth for a moment solid to our feet. I cannot move it. I cannot affect it. I cannot shake it. It alone is.”

“No more,” he thought on, “can Eternal Force outside of me move me, affect me, shake me. The force in me is as eternal, as indestructible, as infinite, as the whole universal force. What it is I am too. The unknown Law that gives trend to Force is manifest in me as much as it is in the whole universe beside, yet no more than it is in the smallest atom that floats in the air, in the smallest living thing that swims in a drop of water. I am a part of that which is infinite and eternal and which working through Man has made him conscious and given him a sense of things and filled him with grand ideals sublime as the universe itself. None of us can escape the Law even if we would because we are part of the Law and because every act and every thought and every desire follows along in us to that which has gone before and to the influences around, just as the flight of a bullet is


  ― 223 ―
view facsimile

according to the weight of the bullet, and its shape, and the pressure, and the direction it was fired, and the wind.”

“It is as easy,” he dreamed on, “for the stars to rebel and start playing nine-pins with one another, as it is for any man to swerve one hair's breadth from that which is natural for him to do, he being what he is and influences at any given time being what they are. None of us can help anything. We are all poor devils, within whom the human desire to love one another struggles with the brute desire to survive one another. And the brute desire is being beaten down by the very Pain we cry out against and the human desire is being fostered in us all by the very hatreds that seem to oppose it. And some day we shall all love one another and till then, I suppose, we must suffer for the Cause a little so that men may see by our suffering that, however unworthy we are, the Cause can give us courage to endure.”

“I must think that out when I have time,” he concluded, as the train slowed down at a stopping-place where his last fellow-passenger got out. “I'll probably have plenty of time soon,” be added, mentally, chuckling good-humouredly at his grim joke. “It's a pity, though, one doesn't feel good always. When a fellow gets into the thick of it, he gets hot and says things that he shouldn't and does things, too, I reckon.”

He had not heeded the other passengers but now that he found himself alone in the carriage he got down his blankets and made his bed. He took off his boots and coat as he had done in the park, stretched himself out on the seat, and slept at once the sleep of contentment. For the first time in his life the jarring of the train did not make his head ache nor its perpetual rubble-double irritate and unnerve him. He slept like a child as the train bore him onward, passing into sleep like a child, full of tenderness and love, slept dreamlessly and heavily, undisturbed, with the photo against his heart and the rose in his fingers and about his hands the hand-clasp of friends and on his cheeks the republican kiss as though his long-dead mother had pressed her lips there.

In Queensland the chain was prepared already whereto he was to be fastened like a dog, wherewith he was to be driven in gang like a bullock because his comrades trusted him. Yet he smiled


  ― 224 ―
view facsimile

in his sleep as the train sped on and as the moon stole round and shone in on him.

Over the wide continent the moon shone, the ever-renewing moon that had seen Life dawn in the distant Past and had seen Humanity falter up and had witnessed strange things and would witness stranger. It shone on towns restless in their slumbering; and on the countryside that dreamed of what was in the womb of Time; and on the gathering camps of the North; and on the Old Order bracing itself to stamp out the new thoughts; and on the New Order uplifting men and women to suffer and be strong. Did it laugh to think that in Australia men had forgotten how social injustice broods social wrongs and how social wrongs breed social conflicts, here as in all other lands? Did it weep to think that in Australia men are being crushed and women made weary and little children born to sorrow and shame because the lesson of the ages is not yet learned, because Humanity has not yet suffered enough, because we dare not yet to trust each other and be free? Or did it joy to know that there is no peace and no contentment so long as the fetters of tyranny and injustice gall our limbs, that whether we will or not the lash of ill-conditions drives us ever to struggle up to better things? Or did it simply not know and not care, but move ever to its unknown destiny as All does, shedding its glorious light, attracting and repelling, ceaseless obeying the Law that needs no policeman to maintain it?

The moon shone down, knowing nothing, and the moon sank down and the sun rose and still Ned slept. But over him and over the world, in moonlight and in darkness and in sunlight, sleeping or waking, in town and country, by land and sea, wherever men suffer and hope, wherever women weep, wherever little children wonder in dumb anguish, a great Thought stretched its sheltering folds, brooding godlike, pregnant, inspiring, a Thought mightier than the Universe, a Thought so sublime that we can trust like children in the Purpose of the forces that give it birth.

To you and to me this Thought speaks and pleads, wherever we are, whoever we are, weakening our will when we do wrong, strengthening our weakness when we would do right. And while we hear it and listen to it we are indeed as gods are, knowing good from evil.

It is ours, this Thought, because sinful men as we all are have shed their blood for it in their sinfulness, have lived for it in


  ― 225 ―
view facsimile

their earnest weakness, have felt their hearts grow tender despite themselves and have done unwittingly deeds that have met them in the path, deeds that shine as brightly to our mental eyes as do the seen and unseen stars that strew the firmament of heaven.

The brute-mother who would not be comforted because her young was taken gave birth in the end to the Christs who have surrendered all because the world sorrows. And we, in our yearnings and our aspirations, in our longings and our strugglings and our miseries, may engender even in these later days a Christ whom the world will not crucify, a Hero Leader whose genius will humanise the grown strength of this supreme and sublime Thought.

Let us not be deceived! It is in ourselves that the weakness is. It is in ourselves that the real fight must take place between the Old and the New. It is because we ourselves value our miserable lives, because we ourselves cling to the old fears and kneel still before the old idols, that the Thought still remains a thought only, that it does not create the New Order which will make of this weary world a Paradise indeed.

Neither ballots nor bullets will avail us unless we strive of ourselves to be men, to be worthier to be the dwelling houses of this Thought of which even the dream is filling the world with madness divine. To curb our own tongues, to soften our own hearts, to be sober ourselves, to be virtuous ourselves, to trust each other—at least to try—this we must do before we can justly expect of others that they should do it. Without hypocrisy, knowing how we all fall far short of the ideal, we must ourselves first cease to be utterly slaves of our own weaknesses.

JOHN MILLER.
previous
no next