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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

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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?”

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

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