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Luke Mivers' Harvest




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Chapter I.

Doings at Narrgummie

NONE of the travellers who passed that way being persons of ordinary observation, could satisfactorily explain the reason of Narrgummie. Narrgummie was a villagenote that straggled beside a waterhole which had never been known to run dry. Old hands called the hole Bullybig, and sometimes walked a mile or two from their route to look at its waters, of which they had memories and stories, and mysterious recollections, not to be related even when the truth of wine was in them. Narrgummie was near no highway that was to be remembered. There was a loopline of ruts from the Sydney main road to it, which the grass hid yearly, as it hides graves and bones on the plains, with its green, furrowed and surfed by the wind, giving it the motion of waters eternally stirred. Narrgummie had a hotel built by convict labour from a tarn quarry. This some of the old hardfaced men, it was said, eyed scowlingly as though, like the pyramids, each of the big rough stones had cost a life, and if so fierce a crediting was not correct, then indeed the walls were reared, so the story ran, by desperate hands and many maledictions. It might have been this strong house, with its moss-grown roof, that attracted the settlement, which in turn attracted an adventurous publican to erect another hostelry. The latter for a time boasted a straggling business, and finally dozed-off into desertion and wreck. Disjointed houses here and there strayed about the plot, seemingly tortured with rheumatic twists, sheltering families whose "heads" were nominally bullock drivers, and who supplemented their trade by horse-dealing, and various other transactions open to enterprise. The


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Bullybig waterhole was a periodical haunt for the aboriginals, who held their corroborriesnote on the banks, and obtained square ginnote in exchange for opossum rugsnote and other products of the chase. A couple or three lives were generally waddied into the happy hunting groundsnote at each of these reunions, and as the inquiries into the cause of death invariably ended in free fights, such episodes were regarded as eminently favouring trade, and rather to be encouraged as a national characteristic which the sons of the soil should be allowed to preserve as one of their most sacred rites. A black protector was once sent upnote to report on these matters, but, unfortunately for the early history of our country, he got drunk, and therewith was seized with such an access of literary ardour, that he wrote his paper, on the spur of a moment, on a butcher's block. This, it need scarcely be said, was so entangled that it was at once pigeon-holed for future reference.

If any one possessed authority at Narrgummie, it was Mr. Mivers. Mr. Mivers was a squatter and a bruiser; he shore 50,000 sheep, and did all his own boxing. If a shearer had a complaint to make against the cook, he heard both sides impartially, and polished-off the delinquent; the delinquent being still required for service, and refusing to return, Mivers had a habit of polishing him into submission, and sending him back (painted) to his duties, when, as might be expected, he rigorously pursued them in a swollen and shining state for many days afterwards. One malcontent, known as John Slater,note and described as a broken-down gentleman, having been duly operated upon by the Narrgummie artist, refused to be comforted, and resorted to reprisals. But the vigorous and athletic Mivers having had his suspicions, caught Mr. Slater kindling a fire beneath his wool-shed,note when he launched a crowbar at him with such force, so true an aim, that both the man's legs were broken. An ex-doctor, who employed himself on the station in getting drunknote and "foot-rotting" sheep, set the bones so peculiarly that Slater was a cripple for life.

"I could have hanged you, you know," Mivers said, when, after some months, Slater hobbled in for more than a year's wages, "broken bones is better than a rope; you want your money, do you? Not a cent, sir. Take yourself off, or I'll give you in charge. You'll see if I don't."

Slater hobbled out again without speaking a word; his thin pale face spoke a sermon; Mr. Mivers did not see it, and most probably he could not have understood it if he had.

But all this was long ago;note so distant a time do a few years push back in the history of a young country, that the circumstance, for the matter of that, might be regarded as having occurred in the "dim past." Not so


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dim, however, but that men whose hair is now growing grey remember it; not so distant but that many a shrivelled face grows hard at the memory, and many a heavy-jawed man has yet energy enough, and fire enough, to grate his teeth at it, and bring his great broad fist down upon the table with a clash and a ground-out curse. If much is changed, the characteristics of the village I write of still remain; houses have sprung up between houses, and united them into something like streets; there are the decrepid huts still to be seen, and the lichened fences yet creep across the ground, enclosing sorrelled paddocks. Besides these, other enclosures have been railed in, cultivation has stretched out far into the rolling grass land, and the wave of settlement has surged up to the very confines of Mr. Mivers's freehold. The country here and there bears the fruit of human homes, and when the sun strikes down, casting long shadows through groups of wattles, the loneliness of the desert seems to have blossomed into industry, contentment, and peace around those finger-marks of the past. The rough stone hotel was there not so long ago, and the sullen hostelry, when last seen, was rougher and dryer, and more lonely than ever. The feet of men and the tramp of horses pass it, breaking the peace of the still days, and starting abrupt echoes through its miserable bar and its silent rooms, where were only the landlord and his daughter.

The landlord of the Unicornnote is a white-haired man, with as many wrinkles in his queer face as there are years in a people's history; he smiles toothlessly against such of the residents as choose to visit him for refreshments, and noiselessly rubs his palms in obsequious attention to the conversation and wishes of his patrons. They have their cares, but he has nothing to mumble over, and when he shuts his face into something like repose, shortening it by an inch, and pulls at his beard in thought; when at such times the sun comes in over his reverent hair and shambling self, it seems as though the unlaid ghost of a mysterious past was afloat in to-day's world, and curiously contemplating the all-living present, buoying up some unholy resolve with such strength as more than three score years can spare and a single purpose hope to attain. If the truth must be spoken, the heavy-footed men who visited Shorter were not impelled thither, either by charity or reverence; those lean fingers of his had loaned money at interest, and were as tight upon some of them as though they were iron talons. There is always a writhe from a tight grip, and speculation was ceaseless as to how long the old fellow would last. Many of the sought-for drinks were but subterfuges to cover curiosity on this vital point. But there was another and, let us hope, a more laudable purpose actuating the few. In Shorter's daughter


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there seemed to dwell much magic in her lustreful eyes and bronze hair; there was such unconscious dignity in her bearing, and so much of grace sat upon her and lived with her, that she drew admirers, and swayed them by never so much as an effort from her calm eyes, or a word from her scornful lips. The dresses which the old man gave her improved the fine proportions of her figure, and that supple buoyancy which the pride of life lent to her. Narrgummie wondered at her, open-mouthed, and storekeepers and their assistants smouldered with jealousy against each other because of her. Her sisters of every degree shrugged their suspicions at one another, and charitably hoped, for the sake of others, mind you, she would be early found out. As to her character—shrugs and sorrowful head-shaking finished the sentence far more completely than words. Indeed, it is but just to these persons to say that the trade at the Unicorn improved immensely when Miss Shorter came home, whence she had been sojourning in parts unknown. The dull deserted place had been looked on as a reproach to the thriving and vigour which settlement bestowed generally, but now what house was becoming so frequented, not by selectors alone, but by young bloods of squatters, who came, in irresistible dandyism to drink, and talk, and watch for her flitting figure and patrician face. Old Shorter was proud to see his patrons, he mouthed welcomes, and swore through the palsy of his years that he felt quite young again, and elated to have the honour of mixing with gentlemen and obeying their behests.

"My daughter, gentlemen, would be here now, but she is visiting a poor selector's family, where there is poverty and sickness, but for that you would hear her express her gratitude at the condescension of your presence in the old man's house, and join her thanks with mine," so saying, would old Shorter bow low and flutter humility, and his thanks to the aristocrats of the Narrgummie district.

Some years before this, time had begun to tell Mr. Mivers that his old force of muscle was leaving him. Shearers and servitors came who were quite capable, not only of resisting his polishings off, but of taking the role of the artist into their own fists, and after Mr. Mivers had, on one occasion, thrown up the sponge and returned to his homestead, he found he was painted and decorated in the highest style of art. Having brooded upon the matter, he resolved to betake himself and his bank balance to Mindorf.note

At Mindorf he could enjoy at ease the results of his industry, and the spoil of his cunning. Mr. Mivers, junior, was the successor, with carte blanche as to bullyism, and subtle instructions as to law. "The hands" did not think Mr. Mivers, junior, was an improvement; he used to polish-off


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boys and old men with great valour, until one day Charley Wallace, the fencer, interfered and shook him savagely. Since that time the young squatter contented himself with suing servants for breaches of contracts (or absenting themselves from hired service, and for every other fault) of every degree which the statute could be stretched to cover. His judgment on such points as these was never doubted, and so young Mr. Mivers saved a large portion of the working expenses.

When Shorter's daughter began to attract attention Mivers rode over and lounged into the dark bar. The old man started, and looked hurriedly towards his shelves to hide the look that was in his eyes, and when he turned his face, threaded with wrinkles, it wore a flush of pleasure and satisfaction that flattered this young gentleman. To none was Shorter more humble, to none more ready to do a service. "Would he step inside; he had often heard of young Mr. Mivers, but never expected to have such a pleasure. True, other gentlemen were beginning to honour him with their custom, but he, of all others, was honoured by the speaker. His hotel was but a poor one—very poor—for the accommodation of such a gentleman as Mr. Luke Mivers, but now that Mr. Mivers had found his way it was probable, was it not, he would come again. If Mr. Mivers was agreeable he should ask his daughter to thank him in her own and her father's behalf for his courtesy and condescension." The relic having flurried away with his oppressive civility, shut his face into repose, and when, after a short absence, he returned, it was to state that Margaret would be presently down, and in the meantime would Mr. Mivers take something after his ride.

"By jove, that's good brandy," coughed the visitor, who emptied his tumbler in a manly way; "it's better than I have at the station."

"It's some, Mr. Mivers, which I got especially for certain customers. I don't think it can be equalled in the district."

" 'Pon my soul, this is a rummy kind of hotel, and you are just as rummy a landlord. I suppose you know I could get your license taken from you if I chose," the customer remarked, with confiding candour.

"Of course I do sir; your word is law here. I haven't been a year at Narrgummie, without knowing that. But let me venture the hope that there will be no reason for your taking such a step."

Mr. Mivers hoped there would not, but that was the old man's lookout; he merely said it, that they might understand each other.

"My daughter, sir. Margaret, this is Mr. Mivers."

"By jove," muttered Mivers, with an embarrassed shrinking. He shuffled towards her with his best bow, and looked at her with wonder, and blushed, and spluttered the pleasure it gave him to see her, she


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calmly embarrassing him with her face.

"I little expected to have such a pleasure. They told me, you—you were devilish pretty, but, 'pon my soul, who'd a thought to see one like you in such a place as this. Another glass of that brandy, Mr. Shorter, will—will you have anything, Miss Shorter?"

Miss Shorter declined.

"It's not the cost, you know. I'll stand anything you choose to have," the gentleman said elegantly. "I'll pay for it. Have you any champagne, Shorter?"

"Sir, my daughter does not drink of anything."

"Oh, come I say"; turning to the girl, "have a glass of champagne."

Miss Margaret Shorter smiled with a look that flashed all over the young squatter; there was a certain dignity in it that made him dissatisfied and uneasy.

"I hope I have not been unintentionally rude. I did not mean any offence."

"No one could take offence at good nature," she laughed, letting her eyes catch his.

He fidgetted and heated like a school-boy, and to relieve the pause (Mr. Mivers for the life of him could not think of what to say), he drank some more brandy and water, and assured the lady it was the best he ever tasted.

"I am very glad indeed you find it to your liking; but you must take care, old brandy is strong."

This warning, given with her outstretched finger, and her face bowed slightly towards him.

Mr. Mivers grew red with pleasure, while the old man brought his gums together.

"I should thank you for your kindness in coming to this humble place. It is not often we have gentlemen for visitors. There is but little to amuse one in Narrgummie."

"If you will but let me, Miss Shorter, I'll come to see you as often as you like. I mean as often as you'll permit. I will, by jove; come, is it a bargain."

"We shall always be happy to see you."

The visitor poured out another glass of brandy to keep up the conversation, as Miss Shorter rose, and giving a rich smile, which did not disturb the calm of her face, left the room. If while passing out the gentleman of so much condescension could have seen her expression of bearing and features he might have gained a warning, but he was in exuberant good humour with himself, which speedily became apparent


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in the delicate way in which he set about suborning the parent by the guile of affable intercourse.

"By jove, Shorter, I say old fellow, what a prize you've got. Never you mind, I was only joking about the license. Look here, I'd get you half-a-dozen if you wanted them."

To which the host made reply, not allured from his humility, "I thank you for the friendship you have expressed. May I venture to hope, sir, that we shall understand each other, and that we may often have the honour of seeing you in our lowly little place?"

"By gad you may, old man," slapping Shorter on the shoulder to seal the intimacy of the equality between them as thenceforth to be of the most friendly description. Helping himself to more brandy, and inviting his host to drink with him, he waited and talked, and again drank, but the daughter did not return.

When Mr. Mivers sought to remount his horse, the difficulty of getting at the stirrups presented a grave obstacle, which was finally overcome by perseverance and liberal maledictions.

(to be continued)


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Chapter II.

At Her Mercy

THERE is some kind of affection, or liking, or regard, whichever is the proper term in the coming connection I do not know, that grows up amongst the human kind of our advanced civilization. It is not to be understood by analysis, or interpreted by motive. Of such a kind was the attachment of an old servant who dwelt at Narrgummie station for Mivers senior and Mivers junior. Mr. Mivers senior in his cruellest fits of bullying, or meanest efforts to overreach and cheat, neither ill-used nor insulted old Blane. He had been with him at the time he took up the run,note and he alone of all his men had the courage to expostulate and advise; and when the father gave the son full charge, he left Blane to him as a legacy. The man was aged and rugged, but every thought and action that moved his withered body, or inspired his bedraggled life, had direct reference to the welfare of the Mivers family.

Mr. Luke galloped bravely up to the house, walked suddenly in, and sat down, with a curse at his reeling head. Blane watched him shoulder past, and stood looking at him beneath his heavy brows in silence.

"What the devil are you spying at," asked Mr. Mivers, swaying his head round, and trying to look steadily at the servant.

"This, Mr. Luke, you are drunk. You swore to me when I got you out of yer last scrape ye'd never drink brandy or touch a card again."

"Shut up."

"If this is to last, I leaves, an goes to yer father; I won't be a party to it an get his blame."

"Shut up, do ye hear."




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"You ought to be ashamed of yerself; you took to brandy once, an the devil himself couldn't stop you."

"What do you mean," asked Mr. Luke, suddenly rising and fronting the speaker, "talk like that again, and I'll knock you down, you miserable loafer."

The poor old face of the man reddened.

"A loafer, I never were. Many a pound I helped your father to earn, and many a hunder I saved him:note that an't loafing."

"Take yourself out or—— What do you mean interfering with me?"

"Where did you get the drink, sir? Have you been at Shorter's?"

"Suppose I have."

"Have you been at Shorter's, master Luke?"

"Yes, and what of that?" defiantly.

"Look here, sir. I'v nursed you, I taught you to ride and swim, I carried ye on my back over them plains there through the summer evenins when you wouldn't hev no other but Blane. When your poor mother was dyin she told me to look after you, and five minnits afore it happened too. Master Luke, she had the beautifullest face that ever I see, with hair as black as yours, and on me in this old face here she turned her eyes, an on that hand then," he was holding it out trembling, and thinking only of the memories of the bedside away amongst the gone years, "she laid her hand white as snow. ‘Look arter the boy Blane,’ says she, ‘an don't leave my husband, he knows you're faithful,’ them's her words, so help me God. The master was away at the time, and she died in the empty house, with only me an Mrs. Defter—true as heaven." The speaker shut his eyes tremulously, and tears fell from them. "You won't go to Shorter's, master Luke?"

"Who made you my keeper?"note asked Mivers, still swaying.

"Your mother sir." Blane fluttered over to the door, turned the key, and stood with his back against the lock. "You don't leave this till you promise; my word's passed to the dead."

"Open the door."

The servant put his trembling arm across his breast without thought of flinch, although he saw the ugly look in the son's face that his father often wore.

"Open the door."

"Promise me, master Luke, if only for"—— The young man's fist smote the old man's temple, amongst the few white hairs that time had left him, and he fell over, striking the corner of a strong cedar chair. His hair and breast were soon red, and the blood reached the floor, and crept upon his white apron, the stain growing slowly larger. He lay, with his body across the threshold.




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Mr. Luke Mivers turned for a candle wherewith to light himself to bed, but seeing reddening hair, and a growing stain; seeing also the fixed face below him, he changed his mind, and stepping over the prostrated figure, went to the kitchen, and told them to run to the dining room and see to old Blane, who had fallen against a chair in a fit; also, to start a stockman for a doctor. Master Luke returned to the dining-room after a time, and having partaken of more brandy, retired to sleep the sleep of the just. Blane lay silently in his bed for weeks thereafter, and then faded out of life.

If the blow struck in anger and in drunkenness did not bring remorse to Luke Mivers, it brought that young gentleman to brandy. He took it, he told himself, to drown his sorrow for the fate of Blane, who brought it upon himself, and as he could not bear to look at the old man who had been so faithful, he left him to die in the little close room by the pantry. Such unpleasant thoughts he kept industriously from him with boisterous hilarity, when free from pain and the sullen lethargy of a past debauch. In the mornings, when he pulled himself together and looked after station matters, he galloped over to Shorter's to see her for whom he thought he had hazarded so much. Her beauty grew upon him with the strength of a fetter, he welded it, and farther, misted himself by gifts that looked slight and fragile and beautiful, but were stronger than cables to bind and to hold. For a smile from her, such as she sometimes favoured him with, he would have journeyed for days together, and what with his black hair, his muscular figure, and large well-shaped features, his friends and peers, in Bedford cords and shining boots and spurs, beat a simultaneous retreat, and "lucky Mivers," was with great heart-sinking, regarded as master of the situation.

The apartment in which he sat and drank of the fine old brandy had been comfortably furnished, and when Margaret Shorter came in of an evening to sew and talk, he vowed to himself he never knew what happiness was before. It was a dark low room with distorted walls, and there was an unhealthy smell of mustiness allied to its dimensions, but all fled before the brightness of the evening candles and the far brighter presence that came with them. The young man knew her step and hungrily listened for it; her voice startled him like the thought of a coming joy. By the fire, when the candles and the glow caught her hair, and spread and flickered on her brilliant face, he watched the expressions that came and went with a kind of adoration that was madder and fiercer than either of them knew. One evening she enriched him with her best smile, and leant from her chair towards him with all the grace that was her dower.




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"Mr. Mivers, I am going to scold you."

"That's right, Miss Shorter, then I can look at your face and hear your voice."

"You have not been attending to your business of late."

"You know," he answered, with something like pain in his voice; "I have been looking after station affairs closely, you wished me to do so and your wishes are my law."

"Hush, you must not speak in this way: the days of gallant compliments are past."

"Are they?" he answered simply, "I don't know the days you mean; I feel what I say, and you know it. Why will you treat me like a boy," he asked, in a voice that trembled out from his heart. "I would go through fire and water to serve you; I'd perjure my soul for you—you whom six months ago I did not even know." His earnestness was pathetic, and the passion which he never thought of restraining swept him like a torrent.

"You are too often in this place, Mr. Mivers, and the life you have entered upon during the last few months has unfitted you for your duties. You are compromising me. If my present place is an humble one, my character is as dear to me as though my father was in his right position, and amongst his equals, in England. Keeping an hotel, and such an hotel, is not the most creditable way of making a livelihood I admit; but so much the more need is there that my reputation should in no way suffer. There is scandal enough already, and brought about by you. I am free to say I have given you no encouragement. I have requested you, time after time, to cease the drinking, which is gaining a hold on you. I have warned you that your affairs must suffer, and I find that the interest I have taken in you is repaid by the circulation of reports which are cruel, concerning one whose only dependence and protection is her broken-down father."

The manner in which this was spoken had a power of expression, and a pathos that gave an unusual charm to her. All the wealth of her face united with the fullness of her voice to effect a dangerous fascination, and, while bending towards him with her indescribable look, that lived far behind her eyes, there was just enough of appeal in her tones to lead to the thought that she was moved more than her calm eyes cared to show.

"Who are they who scandalize you, Miss Shorter?" the young man broke in with rough impetuosity. "Just tell me, and if they don't rue it I'll never enter the place again. Tell me who they are, and I'll make an example of them, if it costs me all I am worth. It's not fair of you to say you have no protector but your father. I'd walk barefooted to Melbourne


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to please you or save you from an unpleasant thought. Whose fault is it that you have no protector? Have I not asked you to let me be one to you; tell me now that you will have me as such. You see I am in earnest. You know I could never care for any one but you, and that no matter how I try. I do try indeed to come here less. I cannot keep away. I cannot remain parted from you."

The tears had fairly started into Mivers's eyes. Miss Shorter relapsed into the impregnable quiet of her bearing that there was no forcing.

"I have clearly expressed myself on all these points before," but her eyes were shearing him of his strength, and binding him tighter than the wythes of Philistines.note

"I know you are better than I am, for all you are in this miserable hole. I don't know how you got your education and your lady manners, but you have them, and you are before me there. But I'll work and plan to give you the finest house in Victoria, to give you any thing that money can buy, and what can't money do? If you will but say yes, you'll be better and more beautiful than the best of them."

She put her hand upon his arm, and it thrilled him, but there was as little tremor in her strong white fingers as in her voice, "I believe you"—her shapely arm was partly bared, and she looked at his eyes from the inscrutable depths of hers—"there is no probability of my changing my resolution."

He replied, with unthinking excitement, "You will change, if I lose my soul for it. Why do I find myself so tied to you, and why have you made yourself the one thought that fills my life, yet from it coming only the one unchanging answer? Your eyes look through me, and follow me, and live in my sleep. You have struck me down, and refuse to stoop to me with one encouraging word. You shall never have another protector, not having me." He rose while speaking, bearing upon him that manfulness which earnestness gives. His fresh face was flushed, and the evidences of fierce excitement were in it. Thus, to her, he never looked better or more worthy, but the eyes he saw looked placid and changeless as stars.

"You forget, Mr. Mivers, you are threatening."

"Forgive me, Miss Shorter, I think I am mad."

"If you are not mad you have been drinking." The lady rose quietly to leave the room.

"Stop one moment. You say I have threatened, what did I threaten?" A change, so marked, had come to him that Miss Shorter gave him a rapid glance of inquiry.

"You should remember your own words."




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His face had grown sullen, and his brows gathered closer, till he wore the look the station hands well knew. The expression of the one pure and disinterested feeling that had found a place in his life seemed changing before the dominant temperament and coarse strategy that had been bequeathed to him. His was a nature only to be purified by trial; it was earnest and coarse, but not mean. The tarnish was plain when again he repeated the question, but she made no answer.

"I know what I said, mind you, and, what is more, I mean it. You have caught me—I don't deny it. I am in your power, for good or bad—I don't deny that either. See, I put it to you as openly as I can. It pleased you to make a slave of me, and you have done it, and yet you care no more for me than for that tumbler; even slaves don't care to see themselves supplanted. I don't, for one. Would you remember this for your own sake, if not for mine, and for his, whoever he may be."

In a very gracious and concerned way she came close to the bullying face of Mivers, and again placed her hand upon his arm.

"This childish excitement is very unlike you. I know your kindness, and I prophesy you will be sorry to-morrow for what you said this evening; good night."

Mivers looked after her, as she left the room, with a brightened face; then, with a sigh sequelled by a curse, he measured out a wine glass of brandy, and, having emptied it, shivered it on the hearth.

(to be continued)


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Chapter III.

Mr. Mivers' Mentor.

NEITHER the young man who was frowning at the fire before the thoughts that dropped down from his past counting his errors and follies, as beads count prayers, nor the young lady who was trying the effect of a steel clasp on black velvet against her throat, knew how dangerous he was. She had borne him down and goaded or joyed him as pleased her caprice, but did not guess what possibilities might be born of some mad moment when his passion for her would be swept by another yet more irresistible and wild. It was six months from the time he first entered her father's doorway, when she startled him with the sudden embarrassment that beauty commands and laughs at. For his part he thought years had passed since he stammered his offer of champagne, and first became aware of the grace that adorned her, as music adorns a poem. How could he, the comely, raw, sullen youth, who had never denied himself a pleasure, whether purchased by cruelty or money, tell that the more ravishingly the siren sung, the more dangerous were the rocks.note Here was a miserable public-house, kept by an old man stumbling beside his grave, wearing ceaseless humility and patience towards him, and he her father. Where were the principles drifting which his own father had inculcated to guide him in his struggle with the world? The virtue of hitting it below the belt, and drawing money, as lovers draw blood. The charm of money-power, the bullyism it sustains and protects, and the indescribable inferiority and vagabond scoundrelism of those who have none, and their general fitness to be trampled on. All this seemed likely to be swept away by the wave of a


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woman's hand, who was trolling to herself in the next room, and twisting her legacy of hair into lustrous and curious folds, with rapid fingers. He who had so vigorously commenced to work and bully, to enlarge his purse, and march hereafter in the imperial purple of mammon,note who looked on every pound made as added strength to his purpose, and added surety to his power, felt vaguely like standing before a broken god, and flaunted by one whom the idol could not compel to reverence.

When Shorter entered, Mivers spoke. "You know the reason of my coming here week after week, and month after month. I've spent hundreds in this house just to please her, and to please you—being her father. To-night she has thrown me from her, as she did once before, as if I was a worn-out shepherd. Her character is dragged through the mud by people in the township," he urged brutally, "and I have offered her my name and my home to protect her."

"Your sincerity and earnestness do you honour, whatever the Mivers' may have been. You undoubtedly are a gentleman—an honourable and straight-forward gentleman." There was irony in the voice and face that had bridged the passage of so many years, and a furtive shine in the speaker's eyes as cold as the moonstruck waters to be seen beyond the crooked doorway, but his hand kept possession of his mumbling face, like a curtain, and passed down his beard, leaving behind the humble look and the threaded features with an expression of waiting.

"I hope I am a gentleman. I have acted as such to you both, but don't think, because I owe you a few hundred pounds, I'm in your power. If it is arranged that I am to be deceived and cast aside, it would be better to let me know at once."

"Sir," Mr. Shorter interrupted, holding his hands tightly upon his knees, "I have not insulted you by alluding to your debt to me. That is a secret to be kept between ourselves, and one that I regard as sacred from my daughter. Permit me to say, sir, that you are too young to know the ways of women. They who take a refusal after your fashion, can but know little of the pleasure it is to them to keep up a pursuit that calls forth all the tenderness, and developes all the warmth of feeling, and the sincerity of purpose, of the man who avows himself the lover."

"That is true, Shorter."

"Stay, sir. I wish you to understand that I know nothing of my daughter's feelings towards you, and I wish you to know that I never will compel my daughter into any step that might be distasteful to her, even if I had the power, which I most undoubtedly have not. An affair of the kind such as you hint at shall be wholly free from any interference on my part."




  ― 22 ―

"But—"

"Only a few more words. I do not intend to allude to this subject again. My daughter's position in society, if she were in the enjoyment of that which is her due, is quite equal to yours, though your father's estate were double the size, and your prospects, good as they are, infinitely better. In reference to the money transaction you now mentioned, your remarks compel me to repeat, what I told you at first, the advance is not mine, it is a loan I have borrowed from a friend in Melbourne to oblige you, and in duty to myself I must remind you that I have advised you to call less at this place, and to attend to the duties of your station more closely than you have done during the past few months." The old man, having spoken deliberately, unloosed the clasp of his hands upon his knees, and rose, with a show of authority upon his face, but never forgetting the humility of his bearing.

"I say, Shorter, don't mind what I have said; don't say anything about it, there's a good fellow. She'd never forgive me: and, look here, I wouldn't lose her for all the old man's worth and himself to boot. We're friends: shake hands, there." He thrust his hand, full of strength and youth, forward, till it touched the blue nails and loose skinned fingers of the landlord, but the latter drew suddenly back.

"No, sir. I hope I know my position; whatever I ought to be, I am now but the keeper of this tumble-down place, and you are Mr. Mivers. I shall never forget that," emphasising, himself, with a laugh, "believe me I shall not forget that. Come, sir, it's late and I am getting old." Mr. Shorter's laugh was the ghostliest part of the ghost his life carried; his educated voice and bearing offered no such contrast to the twilight that lived like an eternally closing day in his twisted bar, as did his laugh, dragged forth to serve his purpose—that purpose the one live thing of his dead and buried past.

"You're right, Mr. Shorter, it is time to go, and you have given me good advice, and shown that you are a friend."

"Am I?" murmured Shorter, with his hand repeating the passage of his beard slowly, while listening to the plashing canter of the impatient horse. "Like father, like son. Am I? Are you, Shorter, a friend of the Miverses?"

Mr. Shorter laughed again, and rubbed his gums together.

(to be continued)


  ― 23 ―

Chapter IV.

Mr. Shorter Obliges Mr. Mivers.

AS Mr. Shorter had before intimated, the room which Mivers had irreverently termed a "snuggery"note was fitted up in a style that, for Narrgummie, was midway between comfort and elegance. There had been care taken to repair the walls with a sporting patterned paper, which was the latest novelty. A sepia man on a sepia horse were represented as clearing a gate, in a soaring way, that had a dash of airiness rather than danger, and the sepia fox had a start as far as the middle distance from the pack. It was John, the generally useful man, who hung the paper, and it not unfrequently happened that the hind quarters of the hunters were attached to their necks, thus running nightmarish and riderless races, and flying over single posts in all the abandon note of unpremeditated pastime. Pictures by Miss Shorter, chalks, ornamented the walls. There was a young lady stepping from a lordly mansion, showing a stoutness of calf and thinness of ankle that would have driven a danseuse to despair. There were landscapes with hectic flushes upon them, besides several other triumphs of the landlord's daughter, which gave an air to the room that made it without a rival in the township. Hair-cushioned chairs, and a stout table, with a chess-board cloth, and a piece of druggeting converted the apartment into an elegant retreat. When the fire was lighted, and the candles burning, and when Miss Shorter was reclining, then the room might have been mistaken for a salon and she for a marchioness. All else retreated from her, apparently, but a sense of elegance and beauty not to be dispelled by the criticism of details. A few months after the conversation with


  ― 24 ―
Shorter Mivers was seated at the table playing a game of cards with Mr. Pelan. His face seemed to have fined down to a keen straining look; whatever of repose it had known had quitted it, and whatever of light and hope flashed to it now was when he turned to look at the lady who was sewing and watching the players. If Miss Shorter's unfathomable eyes caught him, they startled him, and when, thereupon, her lashes drooped in thought, hope flickered upon his face like a quick glow of sun. She had watched the players thus for consecutive nights with a serenity and patience not to be disturbed. Mr. Pelan was a well-built man, whose face was relieved from languor by hard blue eyes. He gambled at cards, and lost or won with perfect imperturbability. He played rollicking airs on the old station piano, that had not been opened since Mrs. Mivers' death. He rode to perfection, and drank as steadily as though his head had been of bronze, when Falerniannote filled the goblet, coming to the scratch as smiling and rosy the next morning as though impervious to debauch. Pelan had visited the station on a travelling tour, and at the request of Mr. Mivers, had indefinitely prolonged his visit. Mivers' new friend was an antidote for a time, but the hands soon began to show their strength. The voice of her below, and the glamour of her face, followed him like a nemesis. The little things she did—the nameless things he remembered—the smiles she gave him—and the royal way she stooped to pleasure him the last evening he was there—rang their changes with remorseless vividness. He had bound himself, with never a thought of restraint in his worship, and he had returned day by day to catch some fresh strand from her incomparable self. The charm of happiness her presence gave him made the ties silken and precious, but they were grimly existent.

After a long week of self-imposed absence, when Miss Shorter shook his hand with a warm pressure, and was glad to find he had so far forgotten her as to attend more closely to the duties of the station, his resolution was gone. It was with hurried earnestness he said, "How could you think I had forgotten you; no matter what I had to do, your face has been with me night and day. It was because I thought you wished it I stopped away," so he brightened with pleasure before her. By and by Pelan, the man of the world, came and talked to her, making her laugh more in an hour than poor Mivers could in a week. He described new styles of wear by taking her sacred sleeve, and flourishing over it with his forefinger. He clasped her shapely arm with his cool hands to show the new style of sleeves, and finally was as unencumbered as though he made nothing of her beauty, on which Mr. Mivers grew sulky, and determined, in his own mind, to propose cards the next


  ― 25 ―
evening, and seat himself by her chair. And on evenings, after heavy play, in shaking hands with Pelan, her fingers were watched with savage suspicion, but it pleased Mivers beyond belief when, after repeating the salutation in his own room, by striking his left hand with his right several times, that a critical comparison decided him in favour of the fact that her hand had rested longer in his own than in that of his companion.

The spring came, with wonderful verdure and gladness, and offerings of flowers. The early sun fell away upon pools and patches of water, turning them to silver and brass, and lustering the dew. It clothed the earth with these fancies that inspired the barbaric splendour of summer lands, and prompted imitations of the magnificent pomp the day called forth to herald its going and its coming in the impressionable east. On one such morning the township of Narrgummie sat like a foul thing upon the matchless carpet, the heavens were telling and gapping, patchlike, the tracery wearing thinnote as the sun rode up to span the day. The yellow burnish of the light was everywhere abroad when Mr. Mivers opened the door of his house, and walked out in the wet grass. Probably during the five and twenty years of his life his eyes had never looked on anything more beautiful, or any scene more gladdening. The air, like the choral of the birds, was fresh and pure, and the hills around were swathed in a white curtain, lifting slowly skyward off the stage of life and the doings of humankind. But no joy of sympathy, or thankfulness for life, came to his dull eyes. There was only one face that could light his. He nervously pulled his hat down to shield his sight from the low sun, with a curse at the brilliance that struck him, and walked hastily towards the village.

Shorter's bar was open, and dark as a spider's parlour, and the old man stood looking grimly out, blinking at the sun, and generally getting himself in working order after the rust of a night's sleep. When he caught sight of Luke Mivers, he retreated inside, and became busy, to quicken his penetration, by chaffing his palms and stroking his beard. From his silent movements in the dimness he might have been weaving some fresh strands for his crooked web.

"Good morning, Shorter."

"What, Mr. Mivers, is this you; how is it that I have the pleasure of finding you so early afoot. I trust there is nothing wrong at the station, and that the other gentleman, your engaging and talented friend, is well. Nothing wrong sir, eh?"

"Give me a glass of brandy, Shorter. I want to speak to you."

"Certainly, Mr. Mivers; but it's early for brandy," warned the host, placing a bottle on the counter.




  ― 26 ―

"Margaret—I mean Miss Shorter—she won't be up for some time yet?"

"No, she will not; my daughter is not an early riser."

"So much the better, come inside. I want a few words with you at once."

The landlord led the way, without further speaking, while burying his finger nails in his beard, and slowly combing out its matting into respectable smoothness. The room inside was dark, the eternal hunters on the wall-paper were invisible, though of bold design, as already remarked, and night seemed to have settled finally over the hectic landscape and the blushing maiden with the large calf. Shorter slowly pulled up the window-blind, restoring all these things to the state their creators had designed, and while pursuing his toilet,note sat with his back to the window, where the sun fell upon his hair with a gleam like fire.

"Take her seat, Mr. Mivers. You'll not object; that's her chair just opposite. This is quite an unlooked for tete-a-tete. The first that chair was a party to, except with you, I'll be bound. The room does not look right without her, somehow. I must say she sets it off, and seems to light it, though I am her father. Strange people these women, Mr. Mivers."

"No it does not," the early visitor observed, looking round and unconsciously criticising the apartment, with its bare furniture and tawdry finishes, and wondering how he could have spent so many memorable hours, and gathered so many feelings of fondness there that were not to be curbed. The irritating embodiment of patience and humility, not to be surprised or angered, sat before him, busy at the intricacies of the crop that had whitened on his chin.

"Look here, Shorter, I know you're a friend of mine. I want you to do me another favour; add to what you have done by doing this, and there will not be a man in the colony better paid for his trouble. You can pay your friend the interest he wants for the loans, whatever it is, but to you I'll return the favour twice told." It was a strange thing, to see the young face, so haggard and pleading, against the old humble winter figure that sat barring out the passage of the sun, moveless and silent, as some dead year amongst the mockeries of the present. Shorter continued the same arrangement of his beard, with his head bent upon his breast. The earnest face, and the promises, affected him so little that he might have been deaf. "I tell you what it is, I have sworn never to touch another card. It will take another £800 to clear me, and you can do it, if you choose, or get your friend to do it, but done it must be. I tried to win my own back again off that fellow Pelan; luck was against me, and he holds my I.O.U. this morning for £500. The money is as sure as that table, and


  ― 27 ―
there's no risk, but a deuced good thing in interest, and a far better thing for you."

"Mr. Mivers, I told you I could get you no more, and I warned you not to play for money."

"What are warnings to a fellow that's mad to get his money back, and would give his right hand to get the best of a confounded cold-blooded gambler like Pelan; but we play no more, Shorter. I'll take my oath here on a bible before you, if you like. As there's a heaven above me, there's no risk."

"I should like some better security than that," Shorter murmured, as saying, "though it's not to be known, the security is the difficulty." He commenced a change of toilet by picking one nail with another, and announced himself again—"But I warned you, and it can't be done, Mr. Mivers."

"Shorter, between you and me, the old governor can't live much longer; he's breaking up fast, and it's not so very long since I saw the will. All the property comes to me—every farthing."note He struck his closed hand heavily on the table, and leaned over to look into Shorter's face.

"Ah! you have seen the will?"

"I read every line of the parchment from end to end."

"And it's all for you?"

"Every cent."

"No allowance for any old servant now, or for anyone that he turned off without paying? He did this you know. Supposing for a moment one of these poor devils had a wife and family starving, and that, by cheating the husband of his wages, he drove them to beggary, or worse—let us assume it was worse than beggary, you know—worse than drink. This being made known to him in his old age, he would make some kind of recompense or allowance to them, if alive? Oh, come!"

"By jove," laughed Mivers, "I never thought an old man like you would remain so green. He leave them anything! You don't know him. There was old Blane with him for twenty-four years, and he worked for him jolly well, too, but his name is not mentioned: though it would be all the same now."

A finer ear might have detected a hurry of eagerness in the quickened voice of Shorter, as he put the above case, and there certainly was an unusual something, rendering the tones slightly hesitating as he again answered—"I warned you, Mr. Mivers, and it can't be done." He was now looking at the young man's feet, after his usual humble manner.

"If you do this for me, you'll save me no end of trouble. If the governor hears of it, he'll never let me touch a shilling. You're a friend of mine;


  ― 28 ―
you've advised and helped me before now. I look upon you as a father, and I hope to marry your daughter. You shall have any bond you choose, and make it twice the sum. I'll sign it now, on the spot. If you don't, I am ruined; you must see you are my only hope." He had risen, and was trying to grasp Shorter's hands. "Say you'll help me; if I don't pay Pelan, he'll let my father know, and I'll be ruined. I know him, and I can't stand poverty. I'd rather be dead than poor."

"You forget both your position and mine."

"Well, it was only to show you how much of a favour I would take it, if you helped me; that was all, Mr. Shorter. I hope I didn't offend you. If I did I apologise."

"You have not offended me," the old man said, relapsing into thought; "but I warned you, and it can't be done."

Mivers pushed his hair tremulously off his forehead, and thought a moment; Mr. Shorter resumed his seat, with his head still bent, having again varied the monotony of his toilet by slowly rubbing his gums with his finger.

"You only want to frighten me, and by jove, if you knew my father, you'd know you were frightening me. You want to make it a warning to me. I can see your friendship. There; you'll be my best friend, won't you, Mr. Shorter."

"Sit down, Mr. Mivers, and listen quietly to what I have to say. I told you that my friend for whom I am agent would advance no more money on your own name. I mean by that on your own name alone. You have plenty of rich friends about here. Plenty of rich friends you know, who would put their names to a bill for you and think no more about it. They would forget it the moment it was done. I could get money advanced on that security." He drew his chair so close to Mivers that he almost touched him, and he looked up in his face with eyes that seemed to have caught the redness of the sun behind him. "The bill will never be seen by any eyes but those of the man who advances the money and mine. You understand me. It shall never be heard of, it shall never see the light, till it is redeemed. I can promise you that. I can take upon myself to make that a most solemn part of the stipulation for your sake. Then, sir, you see in this way the thing becomes quite simple. I don't know who your friends are. Their signatures are all unknown to me, but I've found you to be honourable, Mr. Mivers, and if you bring a bill to me backed by yourself, and accepted by a good name, I will take it on your assurance, and try once again. In this way I can relieve you of your difficulty: you understand me."




  ― 29 ―

While Shorter was speaking two red spots came upon his face beneath his eyes, and there was a meaning in his words which was conveyed without, in the least, showing that he thought of any. He rubbed his hands nervously, with the gleams in his eyes, and the spots on his face quite changed, by reason of a smothered earnestness in his look and voice, and an engrossing bearing in himself, that seemed to have galvanised him with a new life rifting up through the calm of his white years.

"Yes," replied Mivers, starting out of a thought, "I understand; when will you want the bill?"

Shorter cast a rapid look at him. "When? A few days before you require the money."

"I see. I'll ride over to Cherry Mount, and give you the paper to-night, with a good name on it. This will be the last time, and it won't be for long either. The governor is worse than he thinks."

(to be continued)


  ― 30 ―

Chapter V.

Mindorf and Mivers, Sen.

THE town of Mindorf was celebrated for its sea views,note and its general scenery, and was a frequent resort of visitors in search of health. There lived some doctors in Melbourne who, having heard that, beside the above advantage, mineral springs existed in the neighbourhood, paid the place a visit, and bought eligible sites for building purposes at a time when competition was slack. On these they and other friends built cottages, in ornate and aristocratic styles. They laid out tasteful gardens, and before the shavings of the carpenter were removed, or the paint quite dry, a lively discussion was commenced in the metropolitan papers upon the virtues of the Mindorf springs. They were thermal; they were muriated; they were chalybeate; they were sulphurous.note In short, they embraced every virtue, and every component necessary for the cure of every disease under heaven. Major Rugg tried them for exfoliation of the shin bone, and pronounced his leg a great deal better than it had been since the bone was splintered "in that duel at Carlsbad,note you know, when I shot my man dead; dead, sir; dead as a nit." Miss Mickerkin, who had what she termed "moiders"note in the head, came away, after drinking a tumblerful every three hours in the day, for three months, with "my dear, madam, a clear brain, a serene brow, an improved complexion, and feeling for the first time in all the trying years now passed, thank heaven, in sympathy with all nature." Old Fosselclum, the successful merchant, left his gout there. So many complaints had been left at Mindorf that, but for the sea breezes that swept past the bluff, and rollicked through the streets,


  ― 31 ―
the place might have been rather dangerous than otherwise. Rheumatism, scrofula, prurigo, psoriasis, typhoid, hysteria, marasmus, &c., were quitted in great quantities, and only the merest dregs were brought back to Melbourne by the renovated visitors. The place became fashionable, and the doctors, and their friends who owned the terraces, sent every one there who had money to spare, for the treatment of every ailment, from scarlatina to chilblains. As a universal medicament nothing could compare to Mindorf but Holloway's pills.note Like most other towns in Victoria it had its mining traditions. There were worked-out leads and miners' tunnels not so very far distant, and, of course, untold riches waiting for enterprise and capital, when the water had rushed in over golden clay, and swamped the men out, obstinately refusing to be pumped or whimmednote from the locality. The ground had been registered, and numerous prospectuses issued by the printer, who was never paid. There had been public meetings called, and speeches made in the Town Hall concerning the matter. Parliament had been agitated anent a prospecting grant, but, notwithstanding all such efforts, the water remained calmly at its dead-level in the falling-in shafts. The mineral springs proved a godsend, allied with the attractions of the bay. Commodious dwellings were built on the strength of them, and invalid chairs recklessly imported by enterprising speculators. Scepticism might be tolerated in Mindorf on religious matters, but infidelity as to the health of its sea beach, and the virtue of its waters, was an offence against which the anathema marinathanote of the community was in constant suspension. When parsons deemed it prudent, at intervals, to publicly return thanks for the gifts of nature, and in so doing mention the health-giving chalybeates of Mindorf, the probability was that boiled turkey and oyster sauce at the tables would be amongst the possibilities of the week. Drapers eyed the terrace as sheltering the soul of their trade. Bakers' boys were instructed to desist from whistling, and curb all other normal outcomes of animal vigour while supplying hot rolls and fancy loaves for the aristocratic stomachs gathering health from the local resources. Butchers' boys who bore the choice joints there, warned against flirting with the terrace cooks, naturally stipulated that the liberty of the subject should be allowed them elsewhere, and that, in other directions, they were at liberty to be universally erratic, as became the legends of their calling. The place was small, considering its pretension, but in the season it was full of beauty and fashion. Gallant gentlemen inside the latest novelties promenaded with elegantly bent females, bearing tangles of millinery puzzles where porters customarily support flour bags. It was


  ― 32 ―
quite a retreat, this town of Mindorf, and on pleasant afternoons the tall hats perched on back combs and fair foreheads were a sight to see. Some persons reported that bank clerks and Government officials, who spend £1000 a-year out of a salary of £200, and by no means embarrassed at that, had become gay, so to speak, because of the fascinations of the place, but this was scouted as a libel by all right-thinking persons, Mindorf being rigidly virtuous, and much addicted to church-going. When the sea smells travelled freshly past the bluff, and fraternised with the country atmosphere into a health-giving combination, better than all prescriptions, and when sun and clouds kept the wooded hills smiling and frowning all day long, showing patches of richest green, braided with rivulets, it was easy to know whence came the health that cured disease and stirred the blood to vigour. The Mindorfers were proud of their main street, which was formed of brick houses, showing architectural flourishes that altogether beggared classic taste and puzzled the most versatile comprehension. Of evenings the sun shot the mountain trees with red, and lay across the nestled town till it flushed in a deluge of light. There away were plains dim in haze, and silent; and yonder the broken ridges and gulched hills scissured,note yawning into the cold distance, when the blue that wrapped them changed softly to the gloaming of the night.

Mr. Mivers came to Mindorf in pursuit of the sturdiness that had left him, and in hopes of keeping that which was still leaving him faster than the years came. The cruel hands that had so often shaken age and beaten servitude were showing signs of feebleness. The big frame that showed power of endurance was wrecked, and the bold, unquailing eyes, had become anxious. He had tried the waters, and had spat them away with an oath. Mindorf bowed to and smiled at him with all its might. The health of Mivers was, to some extent, the health of Mindorf. He had not strength enough for church, but the church had strength for him, and the Rev. Mr. Bappie paid him the most considerate attention till he refused to contribute to the roofing of the new vestry. Mr. Mivers kept the best house and finest equipage. The panels of his barouche carried a boar's head inside of a garter, on which were latin words. His cellar and his plate were unexceptionable, and when he met two or three of the old sort, who had risen to wealth on wool bales, "then sir," he was wont to say, "that Mivers' table was the jolliest in the district." Then he and his peers wandered back into the past, and cast-off the respectable varnish of their position to enjoy the language of gone times, when they won their money, and bought and sold, and ground and slaved. Mivers liked


  ― 33 ―
Mindorf. It truckled to his loud arrogance, and bowed to his insolent bullying. But when, at relentless intervals, the scare of the future crept upon him, and his growing feebleness, the blanch that came to his mottled face showed that the time was closing when the unfoldment of the past would come, the deeds of the years be counted out, and the measure meted would be measured to him again. There was coming to him a vague fear of night, and the dread of some sudden change in sleep and silence. But he tried to rob it of its hours and its ghosts, till the solemn morning came above the hills, and the sounds of stir and movement companioned him to sleep. When the wind and rain flurried up against the strong walls, and blustered at the windows of his room, they carried cries and voices he had heard before, and sometimes faces, hardened with toil and bruised with blows, rose before his closed eyes to startle him from coming rest, and sail shudderingly past on the darkness. One patient look, from dark eyes he remembered well, was constantly near him, bearing the only affection and faith he had known or trusted. It was the look he had last seen, from a gloomily curtained bed, when his wife had bidden him her last good-bye, and entreated him, with longing eyes, to return soon and be near to her when the summons came. When he returned, the face was still, and passionless, and the welcoming eyes were closed. Mr. Mivers would have no attendant near him. The necessity for night companionship looked too like failing health, so that the servant who waited at table, and performed many other services, was regarded as off-duty early in the night.

Mr. Mivers took the unusual thought once of amusing himself through his late hours by reading some old papers in his possession. He placed the bundle on the table beside his bed, and having adjusted the pillows, stole away back amongst their old dates. Some were receipts for money paid, some begged assistance in memory of services performed, and there were others, carrying faded black ink, in a woman's writing, that made his hand shake. They had once touched him, and won from him the only gentleness and fondness he had known. They had called him on many a long ride, when the writer was as much to him as his flocks, or his gold, and when her merry face and black eyes were the dearest things he knew. He had won her, and took her home to his lonely house, which she brightened for a few years. After them he opened a strong large sheet, written on in a strong large hand. It was dated a score years back from that night, and Mivers' face grew heavy and gathered as he read.




  ― 34 ―

"L. Mivers, Esq. Sir,—I tried to burn your shed in a moment of passion, at the treatment I received from you a short time previously. For that offence I was fully punished. You crippled me for life. You knew I had a wife and children dependent upon my earnings, but you turned me off your station without giving me one farthing of the wages I had earned. In my broken down state, and, at the age of 45, you sent me adrift penniless. I could obtain no conveyance for a long time after, and, being unable to walk, it was two months before I reached Melbourne. I found my wife starving on the pittance she earned by sewing, and the children wasted with hunger. Both are lying ill while I write. The rent of the house where we are trying to keep body and soul together, has not been paid for a month. I ask you, as a favour, if not as a right, to send me down my year's wages to your agents. For the sake of the innocent do this.

I am, sir, &c. J. Slater."

The next paper had a later date—

"Sir,—My wife is dead. Send me something to your agents for God's sake.

J. Slater."

The third paper, which he crackled open slowly, was dated two years later. He read:

"Sir,—You have not sent me the wages I begged from you. My wages. I scarcely expected you would, although I called at your agents. The time will come when I shall render my account for the last time,note and ask for compound interest.

J. Slater."

"Pooh," said Mr. Mivers, lying back, "that was near 20 years ago—the fellow's dead long since, or else he's in gaol. Compound interest! If ever I see the vagabond, I'll prosecute him as an incendiary. I'll show him; forty-five and twenty—sixty-five. He's dead as mutton."

There was no sound near him but the sudden rustlings of the papers, and the noise of the fire-blaze bubbling low things to the wind that rolled above the chimney outside. The pale steady lamp burned on, while the fire flicker moved shadows on the walls.

"I dreamt Eliza showed me them confounded papers last night, and pointed to the writing."

The fire logs fell together with a rustle, sending up an eruption of sparks, and a flame that cast the form of a chair against the curtained


  ― 35 ―
window, and the pictures around it, like some huge judgment seatnote seeming to waver and swing, as though mysteriously suspended from on high. The shape of a bust was cast beside it, taking the proportions of a gnome bowing and ogling at the occupant of the bed.

"That was a good shot with the crowbar. I was strong then. How the fellow fell doubled and white!"

(to be continued)


  ― 36 ―

Chapter VI.

Mr. Mivers Experiences An Intrusions From The Past.

THE wind was swelling, and its hollow whistling came down upon the hearth like a warning. Mr. Mivers lay thinking, then raised himself to listen. He had detected sounds other than those which the fire gave or the storm that filled the night. There was a dull moving on the stairs; the faint opening of doors: and lastly, a "s-s-sh" penetrated the close room. Mivers, always resolute, softly left his bed, and partly dressed himself; he opened a drawer, took out a revolver, and carrying the lamp, noiselessly opened the door. He could see down the stairs for a short distance, but there was nothing visible, except the obscure colourings of the carpeting on the steps. Then came another sound, with a sort of muffled caution in it, that rendered it suspicious, as a door on the landing below slowly opened, and a strong face, with a flat profile, was thrust out. The light at the bedroom door caught the man's attention, and both looked steadily at each other for a few seconds; the face below saw Mivers' brow gathered, and signs of purpose there, but nothing of fear. Mr. Mivers, on his part, saw resolute unflinching features steadily contemplating his, and he feared that, if he missed his aim, to be taken the instant he exposed his pistol, the next shot would be doubled by another. The head, moreover, was too small a mark in the uncertain light.

"Get to bed, John, what are you doing there. I'll want the carriage early in the morning," called Mivers, hoping the man would take advantage of the simulated mistake, and lower his face from the light while replying; if so, then the chance for a surer aim. But the eyes did not quit his.




  ― 37 ―

"I ain't John," growled the voice, "nor the coachman neither; and look here—let's hev no noise."

Mivers' hand was up, and the barrel coming to a level, but the speaker did not now move.

The squatter had paused an instant to make certain, when he felt his wrist grasped, and his arm twisted, till the weapon fell. A grip that bore him back helpless was on his neck.

"Werry nicely done,"note he heard the first voice say, "but scarce as quick as might ha' bin, still nice an steady, an sure. I'm comin up. Not enough noise to waken a hinfant."

The hands that were laid on Mivers thrust him into a chair. "If you make any noise," spoke a strong but refined voice, "I shall be compelled to put my hand upon your mouth. You need not look at the bell, the wires are cut. Just make yourself as easy and comfortable as circumstances will permit; we had no intention of disturbing you." He who first appeared at the bottom of the stairs came in and placed the lamp on the table. When he saw the old man's face he shook his head impatiently, and looked again. Having surveyed the room, he motioned his companion into the shade, and then spoke slowly.

"Blow me if this ain't unexpected. Jest you stay where ye are, over there an listen. D'ye kno who this is? This is Mivers—Mivers wot jugged me for stealin what I never stole; Mivers wot got poor Powers sent to gaol; him wot was like a father t'yer boy. Stan behind his chair." The man bidden came from the shade and took the position indicated. "Now, keep quiet you, if ye turn to see the face behind ye I'll crush yer throats together."

The speaker came so close to Mivers that he almost touched him; he paused, looking down at him with a kind of pleased wonder, and thrust his hands to the bottom of his pockets.

Mr. Mivers looked up at the speaker briefly, and then let his head fall on his breast. Not the sudden attack of disease, or the pounce of death from the ambush of his sleep, that he had feared, had come, but a lawless man whom he had wronged was before him, as relentless and as thoughtless of the future as a beast of prey.

"Wot hev ye got to say concernin the charge against me, and concernin the charge against Powers. As for the last, I'm speakin on behalf of another; him behind ye. Did ye get yer man to swear he found stolen things in my swag?note Did ye? An look ye here, guvner, wot did Powers do to ye? Only knew too much, eh? Com, answer; the court's waitin. How would it be if his bein sent to quodnote were the reason of us comin to-night; rummy isn't it?"




  ― 38 ―

"We should never have come," spoke the voice from the shade, "if it had not been—"

"Tsh-s-st. I don't want yer voice or yer face at this unexpected meetin, only yer ears." Then to Mivers—"I'm a waitin to know wots to pertect yer carcase."

Mr. Mivers wetted his dry lips with his tongue, but said nothing. While the men stood waiting round the master of the mansion, the room was as quiet as though he slept.

"Then there's the wages wot was due me, an money can't pay for Powers; wot did I swear to ye when last I saw ye?"

Again the silence spread over the room. Mivers could not support the agony of waiting. With solemn, desperate, men beside him thus, he felt he was growing afraid.

"I'll give you half a dozen years wages, Brown."

"Twenty years wages," spoke the voice behind him again "would not cover the injustice done to Powers, and, through him, to my"—

"I tell ye, I only want your ears," interrupted the square-faced man, remaining steadily in the one position. His face was not fierce, but solemn, and because of that the more dangerous. "Your'n is the heaviest account, that I will say, but we can settle that after; an a settlement wots easy come to. I was goin to say this, let Mivers write out a cheque for two hundred pound, an a letter with it to the manager of the bank to pay it, an if him wot gives it to the bank is grabbed, the other will swear to kill Mivers where-ever he sees him, in the town or in the country, to wait for that chance if for years, an still to wait, with knife or pistol, but live to do it. Is it a bargain? Ye know who's dependen on ye lad."

Still, without turning his face from Mivers, he held his hand over his head, on the back of his high chair, and the sitter heard a strong grasp above him. Without speaking, Mivers pointed to the drawer whence he had taken the pistol. Brown then found what was requisite, and after obtaining a drink of brandy, the squatter wrote to the dictation of the voice behind him:—

"The Manager of the Bank of New South Wales,note Mindorf.

"Sir,—the enclosed cheque will be tendered for payment by the bearer. I have presented him with the sum of £200 in consideration of valuable services rendered by him to me some years ago, and to make amends for a wrong he suffered at my hands. As the money which I give the bearer is simply in fulfilment of a duty, although in some sense a gift, you will oblige me by not mentioning the circumstance, and paying over the money without questioning.

"I am, sir, yours, &c.,

"LUKE MIVERS."




  ― 39 ―

"So far, Mivers, ye hev held to your bargain," muttered Brown grimly, "an in all partikelers we'll stick to ours. The swag of Brummagemnote can stay where it is."

In ten minutes the house was still. The old man sat thinking, in a bewildered way, while the wind rattled at the windows, and rolled with long moanings across the roof. The fear of death that had taken up its abode with him did not quit with his visitors: it lay chillily over him still. From the present into that dark shut future there seemed no distance. The fire had died out, and the shadows faded. There was nothing real to him there, but his past, when he had wrung out gold, minted with respectable crime; even the dim room looked as it were closing in, and he frightened at it. He sat, afraid to move, till the pure light touched the windows and struggled through them softly upon the darkness. When the morning was on the horizon, and the night sky paled before the coming sun; when the stars had blended with it, and the song of another day began heralding gladness upon sea, and plain, and touching the softly moving tree-tops, Mr. Mivers held a clattering glass of brandy to his teeth, and staggered to his bed.

The stars were out, and the night calming down, as the two men flitted away from the aristocratic terrace which stood in genteel paleness and august silence, looking down upon the town with ghastly superciliousness. There was no light to be seen on the black windows, the fashionables having enfolded themselves behind their fa ades of stucco to await the proper and reputable hour for the imbibing of the health-giving waters, with those other requirements of custom which select, and refined society demands as a duty to itself and an emphasis upon its transcendent station. Just behind rose the hills, having gathered upon them a heavy quiet in grand and solemn rest, and into this the walkers strode silently, as seeking a share of the repose nature had spread over rugged slopes and rocks. They walked side by side upon a track that took them into the bosom of the hills, being softly touched by fingering leaves, as they journeyed to the blacker shadows, being talked to by the soothing whisperings of the foliage and the yielding grass, as they brushed onwards from the town. Their interview with Mivers brought to them no sense of exultation. It seemed to Brown the work had been but half finished, and the wrongs but half righted. What were a thousand pounds to him, much less two hundred? How much did it weigh against the fate of Powers—the eternal degradation and tyranny of convictism?note What did a thousand pounds matter to that big arrogant face, that had laughed at his own sentence, and ground-in the bitter injustice with its malicious sneer? But Brown's ruminations were


  ― 40 ―
unspoken, and when they stopped before a kind of shelter that was more like a breakwind than a habitation, and entered, the younger of the men came listlessly forward and blew perseveringly upon the embers of a fire. When the glare became brighter and broader it shone on a strong face with dark eyes, a grand firm sweep of jaw, and a neck and throat like a pillar. An adroit placing of some half-burned logs effected a ruddy blaze, as he rolled a piece of granite opposite the fire and sat down. Brown was already seated, showing dimly at intervals with the play of the fire.

"I don't think," the latter said, "we have done such a devil of a stroke after all, Bryan; an if so be we'd ha' done more we'd ha' felt wuss—doin of more meanin polishin off like."

Bryan Fitzgerald leaned back on a pile of wood, showing a strength and symmetry of which he was unconscious.

"So far as the work of to-night is concerned (and I sincerely wish it was undone) I am glad I did not strike the old man; when he looked helpless there was great temptation, all things considered; what a miserable satisfaction it would have been, and what a miserable balancing this is?"

He pulled the envelope from his pocket, holding it to the light. "But you have done me a great service Brown: not meaning this," twisting the envelope, "but by the words you spoke in reference to my mother. This is my first and last venture. I can work for her," he held out an arm seemingly as hard and muscular as the limb of a racer. "If she knew it, it would kill her; we must have been insane."

"So best lad: I feel desperate like when I see things goin to the bad, an I was to blame. Aye its only square worknote wot gives satisfaction. If the down as hev followed me all my life were off."note

His flattened ugly face was scarred with the marks of fight; the dents of healed wounds: the induratives of a life of reckless struggle. To these came a strange softening as the man looked down at the cheerful blaze and shivered. "Look here," he added with a curse that was meant to be a blessing, "it must all go for her, an if the old warrigalnote must shift for hisself he ken do it. She must be kept in comfort—it won't be for long. The sooner ye get that paper smashed the better. Old shiver-the-mizennote may change his mind, and wot's more, he will, when he gets out in his coach an sees the swells about him. Go to the bank, ye ain't known in Mindorf by no one, and if anything happens, I'll carry out the bargain; depend on Jim Brown settlin of the account."

His mate took up a twig, thoughtfully, and nipped it through with his strong teeth.




  ― 41 ―

"You'll wait till I come back?"

"I'll wait till ye come back: but there's no use startin afore sunrise."

The comforting noises of the burning wood whispered out voices, as the fire danced grotesque images of the men upon the bark sheets; against the face of the granite gable it caught the crystals, and sparkled them like tears, and upon the ridge pole, beyond which the stars were seen, were mystic lights. The darklings that broadened and drifted across the two faces gave them changing expressions of thought, while the blaze purred comfort and the embers crackled out companionship. There was not a sound outside, but that made by the leaves rustling on the bark, and nothing to be seen but the pure foliage that curtained the mia-mia.note

So the night lay over them, and the two faces settled down to calm and sleep. When the sun crept towards the mist upon the mountain ridge, and splashed it with red and yellow and rich fancies, the honest fire was still purring its lullaby to the sleepers. And when the day beams streamed on the leaves, and strained through them in a shower, they fell on the rigid face of Brown at rest beneath its scars of fight, and rested tenderly on the white brow and powerful features of the younger. The grand psalm the morning sang, with its glories of newborn joy, and the melodies of the mighty chorus that had risen, stirred Brown to wakefulness. He looked over, with a start, at his companion, and rose silently from his position. It was but a couple of steps to where the young fellow reclined, and they were taken with acquired caution. Whether it was some dream that had visited him from a past of very long ago, or whether the youth, and the lustre upon the figure lying peacefully in the sun crept upon him with an unusual warning, he paused dejectedly, and hesitated. If the fire was true his face showed signs of feeling that was a queer burlesque on pity. And how could the wavering glowings of such a light depict emotion on the hardened outcast who had fought the world, as Esau did,note and struck back savagely for every buffet. How could it come about that the convict and burglar, who had shut his teeth sullenly behind prison walls, and girded them beneath the lash, should know emotion? It was a libel to say his eyes were moist, or that his broad hand shook in the least, as he laid it slowly on Fitzgerald's shoulder. Therein the mendacious fire must have lied. The voice that accompanied his hand was low and infirm nevertheless—"Bryan the sun's up."

Bryan opened his eyes and shook himself. He turned his eyes to the frondage that was stooping in towards him from the entrance. "We've overslept our time."




  ― 42 ―

"No we ain't; there's good four hours yet. Look here, I've been thinking I'd better take the paper. Mivers ain't to be trusted."

"We are doing this for her sake, not for ours. I'm not known."

"So we are," thought Brown aloud, sitting suddenly down, and resting his face between his palms to stare doggedly at the fire; "never thought o' that. Well lad, ye'd better go."

The young man lifted his hat from the floor, slashed dust and chips out of it against his thigh, and stepped out among the leaves. "Wait till I come back."

Brown did not turn his head, but replied to the fire, now blackening in the flood of sun, "I'll wait till I know. If you don't ever come back—" He gripped his jaws more firmly, and thought, "If yer don't come back? Well then sum'un must hev a interview along of Mr. James Brown, an Mr. James Brown's me." He turned to see Fitzgerald walking down the hill-side, and his long shadow travelling beside him, rippling over bushes and tree trunks, and bearing him company across pools of shining water.

(to be continued)


  ― 43 ―

Chapter VII.

Cashing A Cheque.

MINDORF was bright and stirring. Not the fashionable part of Mindorf, the latter was toiling at its breakfast, languidly cracking its eggs, yawning over its muffins and coffee, and wondering whether its life would be more beneficially stirred up by a drive or a promenade. It was wondering who it should call upon, and who would call upon it, in the prosecution of its daily conventionalities of pasteboardnote and gossip. The tradesmen looked to have got washed and combed and to have imbibed crispness from sleep and chilblains from early hours. Bakers and butchers were dashing along as though custom in crusts and commerce in joints were the chief end of man.note Graceful drapers in black coats were spreading shawls and unrolling ribbons in their windows with tender care. They were puzzling over tickets designed to inform the public as to style and price. The "latest novelty" of yesterday was "unique" to-day. The "Paget" of last week was "Geelong tweed," so they turned "Cashmere" into "Paisley," "lustres" into "mohairs," and effected many other wonderful transformations, showing the while bold ink shillings printed with the above classical euphuisms, and weak 11 1/2 d.'s in pencil as appetising incitements to bargain-hunters.note Trade was good at Mindorf. Other towns might send down commercial Assyrians to the insolvent's Jordan to be washed and made clean.note Not so Mindorf. "Commercials"note were here treated with off-handed independence, and subjected to a rigid catechism of figures. Mindorf "lines" were honoured "lines" when other "lines" were shrugged at as primordial parents of nightmare. If its hotels were few


  ― 44 ―
they were select; and it may easily be imagined how rigidly the rougher frequenters of the bar, whose liquors were slashed into apex-bottomed glasses, were divided from those who were honoured by broad-based crystal, a prudential command of the bottle, and a waiter in list slippersnote and a shoulder towel. I am sorry to say, however, that, even in church-going Mindorf, gentlemen in one-patterned suits came out at hours when, we are told, "the sun is over the yardarm,"note with after-dinner flushes on their faces, and after-dinner rolls in the quality of their pronunciation. But there was nothing whatever in Mindorf to equal the rival druggists. They were gentlemen, sirs, born of parents who, but for the desire for travel of these druggists, would have given them positions with which would be accompanied entrées to all the aristocratic families of England, and other similarly high and ennobling privileges. These gentlemen were doctors not by virtue of the imbecile system of examination and diploma, but from having graduated in that best of all schools—practice and prescriptions. They sold patent medicines with sneers, and undertook privately anything from measles to megrims.note Mindorf, from its greengrocer to its wine and spirit merchant, was perfectly solvent, and if such were doubted look at the jeweller's collection, where were the latest Parisian sets, under prices which precluded the investment of barmaids, and conserved the monopoly with proper and patrician equity to "ladies" only. With all this, and far more than is now to be thought of, what wonder that Mindorf should be stirring and brisk every day of its favoured life? What wonder, too, if the appearance of Mr. Bryan Fitzgerald, in his short monkey-jacket,note dingy muffler, and patched trousers, should excite any other feeling than that of contempt, and that elaborate superciliousness of contemplation with which Mindorf business-men regarded any but the order in which they lived and moved and had their being.note

Fitzgerald walked through the main street with the carriage of a man who was lamentably unconscious of the facts and features narrated above. There was that spring and firmness in his tread one sees in a deer, his wide shoulders and erect bearing being by no means in keeping with his dress. So far as outward indices went he might have been a deserter from the Guards.note Altogether he was uncommon-looking, and attracted some notice, not, perhaps, because of the features I have pointed out as much as from a fresh natural wildness and grace that especially belonged to him—he suggested freedom and a life amongst the hills beyond.

The bank was situated in the busiest part of the thoroughfare. It had been opened by a fashionable clerk, with tight trousers, about an hour


  ― 45 ―
before, and this official, having carved his finger-nails, and contemplated a handkerchief belonging to a partner whom he had supported through a dance the night before, was elaborating his toilet by feeling his tie as Fitzgerald entered.

"Is the manager in?"

The clerk looked over the railings with well-bred indifference, and felt his left moustache lightly with one finger.

"The manager's at breakfast," saying by that, solemnly, that the Great Mogulnote was refreshing himself inside, and the outside world must wait.

"How long?"

The clerk raised his eyebrows also, saying by that, solemnly, that an answer to such a question would interfere with the privacy of domestic life, and vulgarly measure the capacity of his senior's appetite.

"How long must I wait?"

The clerk perused his nails, and shook his head, and, as a delicate hint that the interview was terminated, commenced to write with a noisy quill.

Fitzgerald walked to the office door, and saw standing there three men in bush costume, one of whom bade him good day, whereupon the others turned, in a kind of rough salutation, with their eyes resting upon him for a moment, and then angled themselves against the wall in a reclining position. Fitzgerald heard a door open and shut, and, turning, saw the manager engaged in removing a drop of egg that had congealed upon his beard. "Are you the manager, sir?" he asked, coming close to the counter.

The manager looked at him, and resumed his efforts to eject the yolk. "Yes," he replied cautiously, as working out an intricate problem that was not to be dealt with lightly. "I believe I am."

"This is for you."

The high and cautious official took the envelope, and turned it rapidly to read the address. "Just one moment, my friend," as he carelessly put the letter down, and walked towards the door. "I'll attend to your business in a moment."

The person who confessed to a belief in his managership looked vacantly up the street, and then down it. The three bushmen outside moved closer to the entrance as the gentleman returned to his position behind the counter. "Oh, ah, of course, your letter." He read it carefully, gave Fitzgerald a quick glance, and asked him how he would take it.

"The fewer notes the better."

Ten £20 notes were counted out and placed upon the counter.

"You should be careful with these large notes. Are you alone?"




  ― 46 ―

"Yes, quite alone, but able to take care of them."

The paper was jerked over, and the recipient carefully rolled it up and placed it in his breast-pocket, to the disgust of the clerk, who regarded the treasure of the corporation as being put to base uses, when it might have paid all his gambling debts. Fitzgerald buttoned his rough coat across his chest, and walked leisurely down the street. When he had passed the houses the elasticity of his pace became more marked, and when he struck off from the shades into the greenness, he covered the ground with the easy lightness of an Indian. He walked on, catching a joyous feeling of elasticity from the day. Every part of his splendid frame was vibrating with health and vigour; he crunched across the shale, and beside the waters he had passed; he strode by crags and over their silent shadows; he vaulted great girths of timber, and passed through their white spreading arms, looking at the wild birds shooting past in sun and colour, while plucking, with the pleasure of a boy, those delicate wild flowers that seem so little and mean so much, till the narrow track was gained, showing but a deeper green, and a softer thread of velvet woven with the embroidery of the hill-side, and stretching softly through the shades and the sun-lit pasture.

Gentlemen and ladies, I am aware that in thus presenting to you the character of a burglar, and one who, in the eyes of the law, is an outcast and a criminal, I render for the contemplation a character which may not be considered natural. Permit me to state that Fitzgerald has been a real actor amongst us,note and has held a high position, notwithstanding his unfortunate mistake. I doubt not all this may seem very romantic in view of our grand civilization, but he has lived, such as I describe him, with his love of nature and in perfect sympathy with it, developed simultaneously, with circumstances that drove to the crime while conflicting with the circumstances that won him back. Mesdames, consider him once a bush boy, with indefinable aspirations and a wild chivalry—on behalf of what regard more holy—a chivalry for his mother. She fainting into the grave through society's injustice; he strong and fierce for an avengement.

Fitzgerald's faculties were as perfect and keen as those of a savage. The accuracy of natural perception that full health gives was eminently his, and with an undefined intuition not to be explained, he started more than once at dull noises that were of the voices of the day, though alien to the reposing calm, yet knitted with the myriad sounds that mingled in the harmony of nature's hymn. They were like the distant throbs of a hurried pulse, beating in and following back irregularly; and when he paused, with his eyes slowly travelling the width of tree


  ― 47 ―
growth, and crossing the darker ravines of shade, and the streaks and lines that ruled and patterned range and plain, the sounds came to bear the batter of horses' feet. When he saw passing flecks of brown or bay upon the green turf and between the crowding foliage, with the occasional pistol crack of a stockwhip, he leisurely resumed his walk towards the mia-mia by the rock and the screen of leaves that trembled before it. The sounds of the rapid feet of horses came nearer, as circling in some herd, then the detonations of whips died away, and the calm of the day flowed back. The feather leaves of the mimosa stirred in mysterious silence, as though caressed and motioned by invisible hands. In a few moments, the dark velvet thread that stretched up towards the retreat would have been followed by the traveller, had not his quick sight discerned a glistening that was not from the shimmer of leaves, or the wet facets of rocks. It was not the glitter of water, but a steady half-dull shine, jarring with inartistic discord upon the shades and blendings that were deepening as evening crept above. Fitzgerald stared, wonderingly, at the gleam of an empty saddle, and retreated with elastic lightness to where a heavy shadow lay. From this he looked out again, his now concentrated attention interpreting catchings of horses' breathings, the faint jang and clang of iron, and the accompaniment of an impatient hoof-blow on the turf. He stood for a moment, warned of danger, with his head raised like a stag without the movement of a muscle, or of breath, hearing the low cautions that were travelling towards him. The horsemen might have seen the hidden shelter of bark, and stopped for inquiry; but, if they were in pursuit, there was no noise of conflict to betoken that Brown had been seized, or that an interception was meant. There were but the shine off the saddle and the sounds connected with it. Fitzgerald watched and waited, but did not move for a time. He had just placed his hand on a trunk, to spring upon it for a better vantage, when a rustle and a voice together struck him. The first warned haste, and the latter "stop"—with the word a pistol barrel was thrust before him.

(to be continued)


  ― 48 ―

Chapter VIII.

Fitgerald Runs A Race.

"STOP!" cried one of the bushmen he had seen at the bank. "You are our prisoner; now, boys, close in, and shoot him if he tries to dodge; that's our instructions: come, give in quietly. Old Mivers ain't easy fooled. Could a-stopped you on the cheque at Mindorf, but he wanted both the gents that paid him a visit last night; them's the facts as at present known, and according to instructions received. Where's the other 'un, an it'll be better fur you to tell, eh mate?"

The three men held cocked pistols, which a glance showed were capped.note While the speaker was expressing himself, Fitzgerald looked away beyond them rapidly, and stood with a quiet watchfulness that meant readiness. The disguised officer made a step forward; a couple more would have placed him in a position to seize the burglar, while his companions were looking on at the progress of the arrest. The constable was a heavy-faced man, bearing the sturdy strength of a bull-dog in his broad figure, and Fitzgerald was near the edge of a shelf of rock, with a straight descent of a dozen feet; but before the speaker, intent upon the convincing nature of his exordium, had attempted another pace, a quick strong blow from Fitzgerald seemed to alight upon him with miraculous rapidity, and both disappeared together below the bank of crag upon which they had been standing. The man who had been upset fired off his pistol in his descent, with a dazed idea that he was thereby discharging his duty, and his companions, catching an epidemic from the sound, in some wild thought that they were serving the cause of justice, and making a valiant capture that would live in history, and


  ― 49 ―
considerably lessen the police reward fund, fired too. The bullets cut the leaves away from a couple of low-growing trees, and the men stood in open-mouthed astonishment at the fellow's audacity, when, at length, the ingenious and wholly original device of following in pursuit presented itself to their minds. This inspiration they followed by running to their horses. Their companion had fallen, gashing the sod with head and heels. The pistol was taken from his relaxed grasp by Fitzgerald, and before the reins were thrown on the horses' withers again, he was covering the earth, a couple of hundred yards away, with all the suppleness that his strength and endurance could sustain. The horses of Victorian troopers, however, are as unfitted for a bush chase as the red-coated soldiers of Burgoynenote were for forest warfare with Red Indians. Notwithstanding chain reins, elaborate bridles, and imposing breast-plates, they propped down the steep at a pace a stockrider would have laughed at. The pursuers, feeling now the spirit of the chase upon them, would have given a month's pay for one of the active station horses that could traverse a stony siding, or clear a fallen trunk, with the surety of a kangaroo. Before the regulation steeds were down to the level running, the figure of Fitzgerald was to be seen making for the more inaccessible cliffs of the range, and the riders stuck their spurs in cruelly, and bent forward eager for the capture. The horses spread out now, battering the turf with strength and fleetness, and eating up the distance behind the form of the fugitive, who was barely to be seen, striking slight contrasts of colour here and there amongst rocks and boughs. It was a trial of speed, whether he could be cut off from the gaps of frowning boulders that meant safety for him and failure for those behind. The horses swept past the trees as well as their training permitted, and were hurried, by judicious riding, over rugged spans that tried them sorely. They were strong and willing, but rough stones and entangled tree-boughs checked their pace, and madly though they tried to obey the shaking of the impatient reins, and the constant strainings of their riders, they were harassed ruthlessly by the wild country that opened before them with hurtled rocks and writhed arms of timber. When the rolling horses at last felt the smooth uproll of a valley that cut the human quarry from a broad base of hills, guarded fast and sure by defiles and rocks, the fugitive seemed but standing to the speed they made. And, though he ran now till his heart beat burstingly, and till he felt that all his blood throbbed with pulses, he feared for the distance to be accomplished. Yet Fitzgerald was not at full speed, he was trying to husband his strength for the effort before him, although there were strange beatings in his brain, and his sight was hazing. Gradually he saw the monoliths bearing silently down as he ran towards them for refuge.


  ― 50 ―
The horses' feet rolled out their tattoo behind with such growing clearness that, had he taken time to look, he could have seen their snortings steam-out in mist on the air now clear and vapourless. Through it all he held the cool instinct that lives with men like him. He knew that a minute in the race, as it now was, meant salvation or defeat, and his hot face never turned. He trusted to his hearing to learn the distance they were behind, and struggled irregularly on. With a sob almost as loud as that of the horses he gained the last eminence, whence his path lay down among stones crowded like scattered barricades of rubble. Clearly the run was to the horses, but for a big trunk that had fallen across the narrowing gulch.note The runner turned his eyes, shrouded in the dull mist that lay upon them, to the peaks. The look had the sad longing the wounded forest animal shows when it stammers on bearing its wounds wonderingly, and unwitting that the track behind is stained by the blood that gave it vigour. As the shrine to the pilgrim, as the shadow of the dead Christ to the dying, was, to this young athlete of the hills, a straight-growing gum that swayed upward like a pinnacle. He was at its base, his breathing deadening to him the sounds of the coming horses, and it was with an effort impossible to any less fine physique that he held back the bursting coursings of his blood, and slowly clambered up the tapering trunk, as smooth as a ship's mast, and unyielding as iron. His brain was swelling when the first arm of the tree came to his reach, and he had caught it with a shivering breath as the horses came up in a tottering gallop. A pistol ball whistled past him, but he scarcely heard it; he gained another branch, and yet another, before a second report struck out on the hills, and filled the silence with echoes. Just above him was the bough that brushed the table of the sheer rock, and he found a place on it at last. There was not a word spoken below, and no sound but from the horses. The men were trying to get an aim amongst the foliage, and another report came from one of the revolvers that seemed to sting him. With all the strength that remained, with the whole of his resolution in one spring, and not without a childish prayer, half uttered, he sprang 13 feet of space from his slippery footing, and reached the shelf of stone. He swayed on the brink a moment, and would have fallen back but that he caught a rough tussock of flag, and pulled himself beyond the parapet, amongst fragrant mosses and pitying shrubs, which closed their welcoming leaves behind him. He sank slowly there, and darkness came suddenly down, as though the skies had passed away like a scroll. When the tired horses walked slowly home, Fitzgerald was lying as motionless as though the revolver bullet had found a place in his heart.




  ― 51 ―

Brown's shelter was not seen by the troopers, when the man who was so still on the rocky table had turned to pursue the faint thread towards the refuge. They closed round as though reining in upon a mob of cattle, and they waited at the path, before the sheets of bark. The pistol crack struck Brown as it had been freighted with a bullet, and he was out while the sound was yet ringing, coiling among undergrowth but showing his passage only by the swaying of leaves and the startled screech of green-winged birds. He reached the position he sought as the troopers had unfastened their horses and galloped down the hill after the receding figure. The spectator watched the chase critically for a while, and then hurriedly sought a second elevation, where all the panorama of country lay spread out. If a man ten paces away had been shown whence Brown was peering, he would have noticed nothing, and yet between delicate ferns the eyes of the watcher saw everything, while his breathings shook the leaves before him with a force that did not belong to the evening air. The man strained and quivered to the efforts of the runner; beads of sweat dotted his forehead like dew, and his battered face took a resolute fixedness, as hard as the granite upon which he lay, while looking from off his spread palms as he had looked that morning at the falling fire. He saw it all from start to finish. When the sun was low, throwing its desert yellow on the tree up which his mate was climbing, he shook to the pistol sound again as though the ball had found him. "Well done, boy," he crushed out between his teeth, "the 'count's openin', debter an' credit—ah, wot I'll rule with red.note D'ye hear, Mivers? Rule with red!" The man's heart had caught a dogged love for the young fugitive such as he did not himself realize. He doubled his ponderous twisted fist, and held it beyond the blossoms and the leaves with a slow malediction, that was echoed back in a broken dreary way by the opposing rocks. When the last shot spat fire in the shadows of the narrow rift, he sprang to his feet, and trembled with the hot greed that came to him for some revenge, and he was plunging on in the sunset as the worn horses stumbled slowly home. In the calm that had fallen there was the quiet of a death chamber sunk down to perfect stillness round the red trunks and the purple hills. He blundered on, doubly alone in the crimson light, as he had been a trespasser on the sacredness of a temple, and he grew big and threatening against the flood of light, like an invading Apollyon.note His heavy brows met with sinister meaning, and his gappednote face quivered as he neared the top of the tree, caressingly brushing the dyke of stone behind which the runner lay with closed eyes.




  ― 52 ―

He walked straight to Fitzgerald, and knelt above him, as pushed down by an unseen hand. Wolf Brownnote was known to many. In the ranks of convictism he had few friends; his hard nature was the same, whether his struggle was against the hand of the criminal or the grip of the law. Neither strength nor danger had broken him; all had lashed and beaten at him, and he had returned blow for blow. The spirit of the man might snap, but it could not quail. He knew the scourge and the crush of gaol. He knew and had fought against the reckless injustice of his own kind, snatching an eye for an eye. When he knelt down this evening in the last of the sunlight, and sobbed sobs, they did not alter his fierce face. He would have lost his reputation had he been then seen. Brown passed his hand round Fitzgerald with a haste and force that would have shaken him from out any ordinary slumber, and when he drew it from beneath his body, and held it up red, he felt hurriedly for the bare breast, and put his other hand there; that which was stained being still upraised, with a kind of priestly gesture. It was, doubtless, a wild formula of prison life he was uttering, but as sacred to him as a Masonic vow.note A movement below; the pressure of the hard, kind, guilty hand cut the sentence; and the burglar, the convict, the lashed and savage criminal, Wolf Brown, screwed up his face into a caricature of grief, and wept.

(to be continued)


  ― 53 ―

Chapter IX.

Mr. Luke Mivers, Junior, Tries Diamonds.

ON the evening of the day when young Mivers promised the endorsed bill, he galloped up to Shorter's bar door, and, after a determined fashion of his, pulled his horse so abruptly that he reared and struck out with his shapely legs. The rider dismounted, and entered hurriedly in beyond the bent counter; and past the dark shelving, there were bright lights, and a room cheerful and warm. Beyond the partly open door was to be seen the graceful fall of a skirt, adding a furbishing to the brightness, and suggestive of an expected visit. Shorter hobbled to and fro in the gloom, monotonously passing one hand over the back of the other, with that tireless patience that is a heritage of age. His hair and face, and the noiseless movements of his hands, were all that was defined in the darkness. When the young man stood before him he spoke in his usual humble manner, taking care to remind his visitor, by every intonation of his voice, of the distance which separated their respective positions, and without in any way alluding to the conversation of the morning.

"You seem to have travelled hard, Mr. Mivers; that splendid beast of yours shows signs of distress. There is a shed behind to which I can take him, where he will not be chilled; that is to say, sir, if you think of remaining for any length of time."

"Think of remaining? Light a candle till we finish that business. The horse can stand very well where he is; it's not the first time he has waited here."




  ― 54 ―

"Better go inside to the light, sir, and I will join you presently; my daughter will know nothing of our business."

The old man seemed suddenly to become as impatient as Mivers, allowing himself to fall, without curb, into haste to conclude the negotiation.

"You know the way, sir." Shorter pointed to the door, and closed it when his guest had entered. There was plenty of light and cheerfulness. The lady with the large calf smiled with more meaning from her frame, and made as she would lift her skirts higher. There was life in the room bestowed by the presence of the host's daughter, and, of course, Mivers thought she lent to the place all of its fascination, while the metallic folds of her brown hair moved in soft brightness here and there before the shadow and shine that fell upon it. Miss Shorter looked up with an eloquent greeting, as she gave one of those bewildering smiles of welcome he knew so well.

"Sit down, Mr. Mivers, I scarcely expected you to-night. You make quite a pleasant feature in this old bright room; take your chair."

She gave him her strong fair hand, softened and rounded by that singular charm which lives with some so long, and keeps life young and warm through so many years.

"I've been promising myself this visit all the day, Miss Shorter."

"And you have been thinking of me?" She raised the lashes from her eyes slowly, and let them fall, giving her face that air of sadness that so well became her beauty. The chair in which she sat was plain, but she lent to it an air of soft luxurious rest, and, to Mivers' thinking, a charm that made it sacred.

"If I could but believe you were thinking of me in my absence, I should take heart of grace; that is the surest test. Don't you think it is? I judge by myself, you know; I never think of anyone else. Your face is the only one that never quits me."

"Is that a test?" She looked sunnily and airily, changed her position, showing some fresh grace, and catching his eye for an instant with hers that were so far beyond his sounding. His look had the sincerity of anxiety; hers had behind it the possible indifference that was goading him to recklessness.

They spoke softly as the old man came in, still patiently stroking his hand, and wearing the marked smile stereo-typednote by memories that had trailed across his scores of years.

"I have just a word to say to your father, Mar—Miss Shorter, and then the business part of my call will be over."




  ― 55 ―

The speaker turned, and his face fell from the pleasure it wore into some unpleasant thought that pushed itself before him like a ghost. Mivers put his hand into his breast-pocket, and took out an envelope shiftily. He looked at Shorter's long nails combatting the puzzle of his beard, but not at his eyes, that were gleaming with a new expression, showing an unyielding hardness below the rheum that covered them like tears. His hand shook more than usual as he took the paper. It crackled and curled upon his wrist more than once before spreading it out, and looking at the signatures; he did this slowly, while trembling with more than the grip of age, and, folding it up, his hand closed on the slip with the sudden clenching of a talon. Then Mr. Shorter turned away, and let his smile deepen and the veil leave his face.

"Will that do, Shorter?"

"Do?" like a man who had taken drink—"do, Mr. Mivers? Sir, you are what I always took you to be, a real honourable gentleman. It gives me pleasure to serve you, and to meet your wishes. It is a privilege to mix with gentlemen, and it is a pleasure to please them. 'Do?' Of course it will—do well."

When Shorter left, one of the few flashes of thought that came to Mr. Luke Mivers seemed to strike him inwardly, with a desolate sense that had no real meaning, though it slowly moved across a possible field with lurid lights before dying out.

"Look, Margaret, I had this purchased a month ago, but determined it should only precede the request I have to make. What do you think of it?" He took out a dainty case, showing glitters of blue and red fire lying on the silken cushions. These shot out little spears of flaming colour from dead yellow gold, cunningly flowered and twisted to conceal the metal fangs holding the jewels.

"Let me fasten this on your breast, and these in your ears; that is my privilege."

He did so with trembling fingers, she saying never a word. "I declare," he said, intoxicated with the simple touch and sense and sight, "you are beautiful."

She turned to the small mirror above the fireplace, and saw the gleaming things lighting her face like stars, and her eyes blazed out with an untamed pride, giving her, for an instant, the look of a barbaric queen. The young Faust, unknowing how near Mephistopheles was, as the gauds shook and shot out their coloured fires, worshipped her then, if eyes and soul ever worship the radiant; yet thus, to him, more securely entrenched beyond him, and more impregnable.




  ― 56 ―

"You will give me the answer to-night, Margaret. The answer I have waited for so long. The answer I have sought to learn, you know how earnestly. You know I will be rich, and who so fitted for the enjoyment of wealth as you? Such things, wreathed in your hair and on your arms, would make you matchless. Come, Margaret, but one word, let us settle it all now."

His eyes had lost their weariness, but wistfulness was in them, and the excited flush upon his face spoke the fever. "But the one word, say it at last, and fill this night with happiness."

Mr. Mivers had never been an eloquent speaker, but the words found utterance rapidly, and they came from him conveying a contagion that could not but move the girl. She turned up her face bearing its brilliance, and for all the pride that seemed to dwell with her, there was a trouble in the mysterious eyes he had not seen before. Whatever the answer might have been, it was not spoken. Her lips parted, and the first sound of her voice reached him when she glanced at the mirror again. The yielding and the trouble died out like passing lights. Just the shadow of a contraction on her wide low brow; just the shadow of a quiver on her lips; just a thought that ruffled her like a gust, and she sank back into her unmoved self.

"An answer such as you ask for, Mr. Mivers, requires thought. I dare not reply to you yet."

Her voice was so caressing, her hand was placed tenderly upon his, and the look that had shrivelled his strength was so full upon him, that he bore it well, thinking assent was certain. "I'll never press you beyond your wish in this or any other thing. Wait and think, if you choose. I can only offer you myself and all I have; they are yours always. They are yours beyond my power to keep."

She smiled graciously over at the feeling that was moving him to pathos.

Mr. Shorter came softly in, stroking his hands, and smiled at the couple with fatherly benignity.

" 'Pon my word, Mr. Mivers, it may seem presumptuous in me to say so, but I never saw you young people look so well; Maggie there seems quite brilliant. What? Ornaments, my girl, and diamonds?" His old eyes looked to be reflecting their blazings. "Indeed, Mr. Mivers, you are too good, too generous, to poor people like us; they are not suited to our station—that's where it is."

"My station shall be her station, Mr. Shorter, and people of my station wear diamonds; and now, sir, you know as well as I do that I am of age"—he went on with impulsive haste—"and I ask of you, sir, your consent to your daughter's marriage with me."




  ― 57 ―

"What?" shot in the old voice, with a shrill note of astonishment, "you don't mean to say—"

"Father, Mr. Mivers did me the honour to ask me to be his wife to-night, and I begged for time to consider the offer."

Mr. Shorter bent his face quickly, but did not hide the flush on his forehead and amongst the straggling hairs on his temple; neither did he hide the tight clench with which his hands were closed.

"Ah," he muttered slowly, with a curious movement of his mouth that had no connection with what he was saying, or with what his knit brows were saying, or with his double fingers.

"Yes, child, it is an important question, and one, Mr. Mivers, that has flattered me beyond what I can express; my daughter, sir, is her own mistress. I never interfere with her in anything." He straightened his hand and held it towards her, with a cold straight look such as she might read. "She is her own mistress, and she knows what is best: but whatever she does, Mr. Mivers, we feel the honour, and we feel, beyond all things, flattered by the offered connection."

He left the room, bowing himself out. Mivers walked to where Margaret Shorter sat and knelt gently at her feet.

"It rests with you, Margaret; you will tell me yes."

Out of some thought that seemed to harden her—with the outward seeming of favour not in her eyes, but mingling with her smiles and grace, she told him he had promised not to press her. Again he thought, somehow, that the glitter round her face was a new barrier, and the trembling fire-spears that lit it a cheveaux de frise note against him. By the present he had given her he had pushed her, somehow, away from him, beyond, below, or above him—but away.

(to be continued)


  ― 58 ―

Chapter X.

Steel Versus Strength.

THAT night the rain fell in hurried plashings, or slow sobbings, over the stretches of moorland and against the shrouded hills; it beat everywhere monotonously: but Mivers did not heed it. He walked his trembling horse through the blackness, sitting drenched like a fortuneless thing, knowing of no shelter and condemned to the darkness. Thus he went home in the wilderment that followed the late excitement, and feeling vaguely of some failure, with a fear rather than an acknowledgment, that the one hope he had cherished was losing its rose-colour and fading into greyness. Slowly he went to his empty room and silent bed, to seek rest through incoherent thoughts, and wonder at the pain that trailed itself near him and sat by his pillow. Absent-eyed and moveless he thought of her tenderly into sleep. She sat joyous and animated before her little mirror, twisting her hair round the diamonds, and trying contrasts with her throat and arms. Slumbering expressions in her face awoke to give their charm to beauties that lay waiting in every attitude, and while coiling the strands of hair, and flashing the gems within them, she laughed with herself joyfully, and forgot that Mivers lived.

Her father sat, with a contented crouch, bearing the weight of his body on his frail knees, and moving noiselessly to his thoughts. The fire threw out a red light, that gave him an unnatural glow in the dark room, but his eyes sparkled at the hearts of the embers, and he nodded his head pleasantly at their communion. He muttered odd sayings that sounded broken, like himself, and rose with the hot breath all round him. Then pottered away with ricketty satisfaction to the room where he slept.




  ― 59 ―

It has been told to most of us, I think, that those who loved and linked the chain of passion that has stretched through the years of the world's history to these later times, fought uselessly against the power. It has been quite an accepted necessity of such a feeling, that the lover should rise from what has been called, with peculiar diction, his uneasy pillow, to wander restlessly towards the chosen one. We have heard of serenades concerning which, if analysed critically, it would be found they owed more to wine than to women, or more likely, with a large balance in favour of the former. Of these latter times I do not often believe descriptions, which tell me of lovelornness finding peace and comfort from a shadow on a blind, or a light within a room, except in cases where the feelings vortex the sufferer into a whirl that is nigh madness,—this latter state being comfortably described as devotion. But though uncommon, there is this mad unthinkingness of passion that is blind to all but one hope and one dementing desire. Mr. Mivers did not induce his slumber with the aid of brandy, and when the moonlight strained past the curtain of his room, lying in rules upon his floor, and barring the walls, the doings of the past came back to him in as cold a light as that trembling quiet, quivering and ghost-like about the hangings of his bed. The bright hues in which he had seen many things faded, and the recklessness of the lost half-year, stood up for examination, showing such shapes, and suggesting such possibilities, that he rose and dressed himself, and crept from his own door like a thief, to walk silently across the stretch of plain and the shadows flung by trees. He might have been a somnambulist, for his march was as silent and regular as an Indian's. Pelan had left the station, being paid in full for the I.O.U.'s given at cards, with mockery on his face and with biting words, and the young man was left alone with his usurping thoughts. The village lay straggling over the plains; the roofs were silvery above shadowed walls, and the windows shining weirdly back with plashings caught from the tide of moon. It might have been a deserted world thereabouts for any sign of life there was; only the black and gleam of wall and window, the reflecting pools, and the faint movings of voiceless leaves were the features of the night. Farm houses nestled round the rest within them, and the bald dismal township slept. I do not think Mivers could have told the reason of his walk. He could scarcely have told where he was going, having merely followed the instinct grown within him to wander towards the one spot where his hopes had been so changed; where the craving to win the purples of wealth and wear them died before the craving for a face; where the goal had been lost in the glamour of dark eyes, and the purpose strangled by silken


  ― 60 ―
folds of hair. One of those mysterious instincts that sometimes strike the sense with the potency of a warning stopped him to the cognizance of another presence. He was nearly within the black square of shadow the walls of Shorter's house spread down before he started peeringly at the dead stillness and darkness before which he stood. Within was the faint reflected light which the gloom permitted, and moving upon it a dark figure as silent as the gloom itself. It seemed to Mivers that the shade upon the shadow came from the old man's premises, and he sprang into the obscurity nervously strung for action by a possibility that rose to him. The figure faded away like a vapour—the sleeping of the silence only remaining. His faculties were all roused, while his heart beat out a drumming as wild as his passions. The dull sound had but caught him before a sharper noise grated down from the distance. He turned with the swiftness and silence of a wolf, and leaned forward to find himself shortly rewarded by seeing a hurrying figure shoot away from the line of shade, cautiously flitting through the shadows of the trees, now lost, and again passing a lane of moonlight with the fleetness of a ghost. It had all passed so faintly and so quickly that the thing might have been some wandering animal abroad, or a creation by those senses that people the night with dreams. Mivers had no idea of his intentions when he started out towards the lines and blotches of darkness cast by the quaint gums. His object was as vague when he saw the form leave for the open moonlight as when he left his own house; but he sprang off in pursuit, feeling a kind of savage pleasure in the excitement, and a desire to penetrate the mystery. The chase was a strange one; there was the dull noise of running feet, making the night seem all the more solitary by the sounds struck back; by the spray and splashings sprayed up to glitter and shower back in throbbing pools; by the hurried breathings in the calm, and the contagion of excitement that surrounds human effort of whatever kind. Fleckings of wide light and barring rules melted away from seeming trunks to shadow, as though the runners spurned difficulties with seven-leagued boots.note The foremost slipped in his spring, at last, by a watercourse, and fell heavily into the narrow stream. Mivers was upon him as he gained a foot-hold, and the two men stood panting at each other without a word being spoken. Both faces were white with excitement and toil, but neither so changed as to be unrecognisable by the other.

"Come upon the bank," said Mivers hoarsely, but steadily; "I want to speak to you."

The other shook himself quietly, and clambered up a steep cliff of clay into the light; Mivers followed, and both stood again face to face.




  ― 61 ―

"Where have you been, Pelan?"

"The question is sufficiently impertinent, and you have worked hard for an answer," Pelan rejoined, wringing the skirts of his coat. "Do you think it is because you are Mivers' son, and choose to act like a fool, that you have the fool's licensenote to question me; don't imagine, my worthy outcome of squatterdom, I shall submit to the insults here which you chose to snarl at me when I waited payment for your I.O.U.'s."

"Blacklegsnote should never quarrel with their victims."

Pelan laughed loudly; "Pshaw, I choose to throw you aside like a plucked daw.note You must moult before you take another flutter."

"That is not the reason of my following you," the young man answered hoarsely; "I can afford to let your abuse of my simplicity pass. I want to know where you have been?"

"It seems to me our inclinations have led us in the same direction; good night."

"Stop!"

Mivers sprang upon him, and fastened fiercely on his collar. He was as strong as a young gladiator, notwithstanding his excesses. He had lost all care but one, and he turned Pelan round shaking up his face at the moon as though galvanising him into utterance.

"Tell me what you mean, or I'll batter your head out of shape against that trunk. Do you hear? Speak, if you want to save your life." The speaker towered up with eyes like a maniac.

"You want to know where I have been?" asked Pelan, slowly, with some kind of purpose made apparent by his not attempting to defend himself, but yet more apparent by a tremor of excitement that was overcoming his voice and the dallying manner of his question. Unnoticed by either, there were movements made by the hands of both. Mivers' strong fingers were creeping hungrily into contact with Pelan's throat, while the latter made a sudden motion and stood still.

"Where have you been?"

"To see Miss Shorter."

"You lie, you dog."

He shouted out the words. The plaintive voices of the stream seemed to sink out of hearing, and the silver park land came forward out of its peacefulness, as though dancing shadows were thronging up. Pelan found himself swept along by Mivers' arms with irresistible strength, and they held him furiously against a huge old tree where was neither the rustle of a leaf nor a break in the shade below.

"Tell me that you lie, or I'll crush your head in with one stroke on the wood behind you. Why don't you speak?"




  ― 62 ―

He could not see the gambler's face, but unknown to himself his fingers were tightening on the throat below him.

"Tell me, tell me. Oh—" The young squatter stood without speaking for an instant, his arms dropped by his side, and he staggered away and fell.

Mr. Pelan adjusted his wet raiment, and threw from him an ivory-handled clasp knife that looked for an instant as pure as the flutter of a white wing, as it twisted out from the black arch of boughs across the radiant night, and fell with a short quick plunge among the surgings of the stream. Mr. Pelan placed his arms below those of the fainting man, and dragging him backwards, put him carefully in a sitting position against the trunk, then, pulling off his boots, walked barefooted across the flat to where the trees grew thickest.

Mivers sat strangely twisted, with the moon full upon his glazing eyes and still face.

(to be continued)


  ― 63 ―

Chapter XI.

There Is Rest For The Weary.

THERE is a solemnity about our old trees bearing always the wear and rust of time on their crooked limbs and twisted branchings. They stand holding the silence of dead ages and the memories of trooping years. The gusts that smote, and the seasons that brightened them, are told upon their trunks, and live in the voices that whisper through their leaves. Their broad shade so often hustled with wind and pierced by sun speaksnote of the great yesterday, when the silent continent was lashed by storm or sun-struck in the glare of days, with the sky brass and the earth a furnace.note Beneath one of these in the grey distance curtaining the country from the horizon where Mindorf had grown was an old hut in keeping with its position. Upon its low slab walls grew creeping plants, hanging round the windows in tangled clusters, the wealth of colour beautifying the house with blossomings, and spreading tenderly from wall to ridge, showing blue and white gleamings.

The still old woman who sat by the door wore a frilled cap as white as the blanched hair parted beneath it. When she looked out into the distance with quick black eyes, and raised an aged face to the horizon in patient waiting, it was to be seen with what an anxious expectation she watched as from some kind of fear that had settled upon the remnant of her life. "The boy is beyond his time," she thought aloud. "His time will be past a week to-morrow, and I may see him no more." The withered fingers trembled in their work, as she shut her eyes impatiently, to hear more clearly through the closing day. Out through the


  ― 64 ―
arching branches over the quiet pasture there was not a sound. There was nothing to show that a presence was near, and she knitted on, communing with the past, as still as the boughs above her, and as patient as the coming stars.

"Holy Virgin bring the lad back if only"note—her lips closed on the unspoken words, but she looked up at the creeping night in protest. "He should have been here before, and the day is nearly done. God keep him from harm, my boy that has supported me through all these useless years."

Her prayer went forth through the twilight to weave another memory above her, and on where the soul's desire is potent. She waited farther till the calls of the marsh frogs broke the stillness, she listened while the night grew, and, with a movement that was habitual, placed her hand upon her side to press back pain. When she had lighted a candle, and moved about her house in that hermit stillness that to age is soothing, she looked to be nearly sixty years of age, with traces of beauty in her face, and the stamp of character in the features. There was the monotony of duty to be detected with the dregs which eventful years leave, hanging mysteriously about her. The little hut was divided into two apartments, and in each was a pallet showing scrupulousness and whiteness. She knelt at that in the first room in her devotions for the night before a little crucifix, and prayed audibly. There in past times many an anathema had been hurled out, and many a bitter curse bestowed. Where her white cap bowed in reverence strange deeds had been done. The faint sounds of her voice were partially echoed by the grimed rafters that once rung to blasphemies and the insanities of orgies. She might have been mistaken for the devout striving wife or mother of some Neapolitan fisherman, in whom once lived the lustrous beauty in harmony with the gorgeous sunsets and blue waters of those superb coastlands, having felt the fierce joys and sorrows of such a life in no ordinary degree, when the blood ran warm, when the limbs were round and the frame of lissome grace. She might have uttered it in different words, but hers was the prayer:—

Guide us while shadows lie
O'er the dim waters spread;
Hear the heart's lonely cry—
Thine, too, hath bled.note

Her intent earnestness was Irish, and her pronounciation refined and educated. The broken beauty, the crumbling strength of her face, the traces of quick impassionments, and the beautiful simplicity and cleanliness of her home, were all of the better class.




  ― 65 ―

The clouds came up and shuttered out the sky; the trees rustled in the darkness, while the clamour in the marsh made the night mournful. She walked weakly to the inner room, and, listening, fell asleep. The sleep of the aged is light—may-be in anticipation of the long rest coming. Its contentedness with dark hours is the preparation for the time when the doorway shall have been passed for the mysterious beyond, and the burthen of life laid down in the uncertainty of the change. A candle was placed near the window-blind, that the beacon might tell the comer of the woman's waiting and of her love. But the sounds outside were not disturbed till the hours trenched on morning. Then a reluctant step fell faintly beside the walls, and a timorous knock allied to it fell upon the door.

"Come in, James Brown, and tell me what is the message you carry. I've been waiting long; what have you done with the boy? Come in and tell me all your story."

She was sitting up in bed, so white and reverent and anxious, that she looked what she was—a grand grey ruin, waiting for words that might bestow the weariness which means death, or teach, at best, that the patience of her later life must continue in uncertain hopefulness.

"Come in and sit down; take the candle from the window: he'll not come to-night. Now, James Brown, what have you got to tell me?"

Mr. James Brown entered the room with shuffling hesitation, which was meant as a kind of disclaimer against the intrusion. He was constrained and embarrassed in his movements, and appeared to glance at the bed only at the cost of serious difficulty. This being overcome, he started, and drew his hand down the top of his head, which, in his particular person, carried the twofold meaning of greeting and homage, and having lifted the candle down as softly and furtively as possible, looked round below his brows for a seat, with the air of a man found out in the commission of some flagrantly unrighteous offence.

"What is your story, Brown?"

"Well, mother, ye see I took the boy to Mindorf. He ain't there now; he's all right in my hut, an'll soon be to see yer as hearty as a buck. He's a true-blooded one, an no mistake, is Bryan."

"Why is he not here?"

"He's took of a cough, an sufferin of weakness like; but afore I left, he was eatin like a hoss: sich a breakfast yer never see."

Brown was crushing up his opossum-skin capnote in his fingers in a sad state of nervous perplexity. The old woman breathed an impatient sigh. "You are not telling me the truth."




  ― 66 ―

"S' help me—"

"Stop! When you begin to swear to the truth of what you say, I always doubt you more. Brown?"

"Yes, mother."

"Tell me truth."

"May I never die——"

She put up her hand impatiently, and looked into his face. The poor battered waif let his head fall, and waited with his eyes steadily on the ground.

"Do you remember when you knew me first? You don't forget the time when I saved you from the lash; or, two years after, when I left food for you at the mouth of Stony Gap till the search was given up. You don't forget the time when suspicion fell on me through you, and I bore it; when he would have put you in irons but for me. How often have you had food from these hands when you were sore pushed? How often have you eaten beside me at the door of that far-off house, and asked me how you could show your gratitude? How often have you vowed me a return, Brown?"

There was no answer. The man's face was still held towards the floor. "You have done me many a faithful service since. You—fought at and beaten by the world at every turn, and in your stubborn anger striking out again. It was your loneliness and dreary years of persecution that made me help you. I saw you alone and chased, turning wildly in the unequal struggle, and I tried to befriend you in that time."

Her wrinkled hand was trembling, and her voice was unsteady, but there was no other sign of feeling. "If I did any of these things for you, look up at me, and tell me the story I wish to hear." After a short silence—"My time has nearly come. It will not be long before the hand that was so willing to help you will be held towards you no more. I must see the boy before that time comes, and it is coming faster as the days pass by."

In the low room there was only the white woman, the dim candle, and the broad, bent figure breathing hard.

"Look here." He raised himself slowly, and put the candle on the bed.

"The only one as ever I hed kindness off of were you. From the time when I was took from the Sinks in Englandnote and sent out here I never got but a blow or a kick. Men looked in my face an wur down on me at oncest. I could not help it, an thought I were made for a down. I couldn't believe it when yer fine face—it were fine then, mother—looked kind at me. My God, if ye hed asked me for my heart's


  ― 67 ―
blood ye'd a hed it, an ken now if ye want to. I'd a killed him for you if ye hed let me. See here, if that there hand had closed on his throat he'd a never spoke another lie against ye." The speaker held his furrowed palm to her, and closed his fingers upon it fiercely. "If ye'd a let me ben hanged for him how better it'd a bin than this warrigal life, with no more rest in it than a dingo's! Jim Brown would ha' slaved for yer, but he durstn't go where he's knew. He'd be took if he asked for honest work over there: that's what he'd be. Since yon time, mother, did I ever do anything for to fret ye?"

"Never before, Brown; never before."

"Ye shan't be fretted no more. Look at my eyes; it's the Brown ye befriended wot's speakin, and if I did tell yer a lie it were so's not to worrit ye; that's all. Listen."

"Is the boy alive and well?"

"He's alive, an nearly well. He were shot."

"Begin it; I wish to hear the whole."

As he told her, her wanness grew, and the lines on her face deepened. She stroked the clean patched counterpane tremulously from time to time, but her eyes did not quit the square face of the speaker, nor did she interrupt him till the narrative was over. Then he took the candle away, and bent forward with his face to the ground once more. Both were long silent. The candlelight played on the rough crucifixion above her head, giving a curious look to the passion and long-suffering. In the gloom the tortured Christ seemed the only certain thing—she so ghost-like and still, and he bowed in the shade. The shadow of the cross was upon the slab partition. She saw it, and audibly prayed—"Holy Mother, have the lad in your keeping." There was again a silence, while she contemplated the shadow of her salvation looming big beside her.

"Brown."

"Yes, ma'm," answered the man, startled into more respect than if a queen had spoken.

"The money is to be sent back."

"I knew that afore you spoke."

"You know my wishes on the other matters."

"Every one on 'em, ma'm."

"Do you ever think of the time when you must follow me? Your life will not be a long one."

"No," Brown replied, all the interest dying-out of his face; "nor don't care neither. Better now nor later, if ye are gone."

"Give me down the crucifix."




  ― 68 ―

"Afore ye begin, ma'm," asked the man hoarsely, with an inexpressible tenderness undertoning the question, "Ken I fix yer better?"

"No; no better. Take the crucifix."

He took it gingerly, and looked at it in sullen contemplation.

"I want you to swear upon the holy cross that you will do what I ask of you."

The hand that held the symbol dropped it upon the bed as though it had stung him.

"That there, mother, is a thing wot I know nothink about; that's wot the parsons swear on every day in the week; but I know 'em better nor you do. If it's to you"—he drew his hand over his working face—"if it be to you, I'll give my promise; no oaths; I know wot them is."

She listened with a reliant smile. "Yes, that'll do better. Promise me that the lad's history will not be told by you, except at the last extremity."

"Yes'm," James answered, whisperingly. "And you repeat your promises made to me before this time?"

"I do'm."

"That neither of you will ever harm him?"

James promised with his voice in his throat.

"That you will never lead the boy into temptation, and all through your years advise him against crime?"

"That will I," Brown responded, in a voice that shook the silence; "ye needn't hev asked that of me, mother; that's all finished, howsoever ye hev my promise. But wat's the meanin of this promisin now, ye mustn't give in to fancy, ye know: you're only tired with waitin, that's all—tired with waitin, an through me."

He was standing up, and his hand crept over on the bed till his stiff fingers touched hers; "tired with waitin, mind ye, nothin more, ma'm: only tired like?" His fingers crept upon the wrinkled hand; "I've often called ye ‘mother,’ that's my way, but I never had one I knew. Look, may I call ye mother, now, meanin mother, an think on ye as that—as mine—ennyhow, ye'r the only one ever I had, an its lonesome an hardenin to be without the thoughts of one," he could scarcely hear himself for the huskiness. "It's twenty years now since I knew ye, may I, m'am?"

She turned towards him with her face changed as though a shock of light had come to it, and in her reverent solemn way, "kneel down," her sere hands found out the man's rugged head and rested there, while she looked at the cross upon the bed. "Think of me as your mother, James—you goaded waif. Get up, my son."




  ― 69 ―

He rose softly, with a new feeling, and looked out upon the coming dawn, but the clearing sky and red-topped hills seemed to him to swim in mist.

"There's another step outside: go and meet him; do you hear it? Are my senses failing: listen."

The man turned with his head bent forward for a moment and passed from the room.

She sat moveless in the struggling light of the day that was being born, as shadowy and vague as the gloom within, till voices reached her, when her hand found the crucifix, and the silence heard her thanksgiving.

"Come here, my boy, and let me feel your hands; hold the candle close to your face, till I see your eyes again, and look at me with the bright look that has lightened my life so many years. You have come at last, Bryan, and you are wounded. I heard the story."

"But that is past."

"It must be past for ever. You and Mr. Mivers must meet no more in anger."

"I was only wounded in the shoulder, mother; there was no real danger, and I came to you as soon——"

"Yes, yes, you did: you came to me as soon as your strength permitted. What are you going to do, boy?"

"Going to do?" asked Bryan, wonderingly, "stay with you, mother, and try the old lead again."

She shook her head slowly, and looked longingly into his soft eyes.

"Your time with me will be but short. Over yonder by the hills we were happy. It was the happiest time in my life. I hope it will not be the happiest time of yours. You are made for something better than a bushman and a struggle to keep the wolf away. Before you were twelve years of age your hands were hard with working for me. I can give you no return but a love that has never left me. You've heard of mothers' loves? Mine was stronger than the strongest. You grew upon me till you were my only joy. Stoop to me, Bryan."

He bent over her, and she put her arms round his neck and drew his head down to hers, while the sunrise lit them both. She held him there with pent-up memories, the clasp of her arms growing closer. Then the strong face gave way to tears, and she lay back sobbing.

"I've been told a life of suffering makes a blessing precious. If I've lived patiently and bravely through thirty years of a broken life; if I've suffered persecution and undeserved shame; if with all this I never once lost my trust in God, my blessing must be precious; I give it to


  ― 70 ―
you, Bryan, praying that the Holy Virgin may keep you from all sin henceforth, and when death comes to you, may it be as happy and peaceful as mine is now, lighted up as we are with God's own glory to remind me of his farther shore."

The room was flushed with yellow light, and it fell radiating her face so strangely that the men were awed at a glory which seemed to be greater than the day. It poured into the room, filling and searching it, glittering on the young man's hair; softly on the dented face of the rebellious struggler with human passions and tyranny; on the face of the dying, as strengthening her hope, and symbolling the beyond, and the glory that shall be revealed. She looked up with her great peaceful smile, so full of strength and tenderness, that Bryan put his hands before his face, pushing down his emotion. Brown's hard hand was clenched upon his cap, and his hard eyes held a dim forsaken look, covering fierce sorrow.

The day rose up out of the misted gold of the morning to the clear sky and flooding sun; birds darted their colours through the creepers and past their flowers. The world was awake in the joy God gave it; from throbbing shadows to glistening waters it was one grand glad day; among the trees the soft checker work lay patterning on vivid green, but the hut was as quiet as a sanctuary and sacred as a minster. It held death. When the pilgrimage was finally done, and the ruin had crumbled down; when in the motherly heart no thought of the eventful past could raise a throb, and when the firm face took the calmness of sleep, with the white hair bordering it like a snow wreath, Bryan sat down in aimless stillness beside the silent bed, and held the dead hands. He dimly thought the mother's face had left him, and the voice had retreated where were no pursuing years to burthen and whiten. He knew that the strange past in her life had lost the power to throw its shadow, and that the travel stains sorrowed her no more.

Brown sat moodily down with his face to the floor in his bent attitude, which he changed from time to time, to give a quick glance to his companion. After a while he stole out and chopped wood savagely, and again returned to see "her boy" in the same position. He silently made a fire in the outer room, and cooked some breakfast with the deftness of a bushman. Having brought it in and placed it before him he stood patiently awaiting the result. When half an hour had nearly passed Brown anxiously said,

"Bryan, boy, hev yer breakfast. Look ye, she's took, an gone where she's better nor here. Take a bit, lad, from old Brown; when ye were no higher nor my knee ye et with him among the hills she spoke on.


  ― 71 ―
Take some now, we three won't be together no more," and he held a pannikin of tea towards him in his shaking hand, and saw him drink before he walked away and threw himself on the ground outside among the shadows. The day wore to its still noon, and life was everywhere, but when in the midst of the beauty that arched it all, Brown saw the old seat at the door vacant, he slunk further away with a dulled aching look, and wondered with a curse at the reason of his life.

(to be continued)


  ― 72 ―

Chapter XII.

A Picnic.

ONE evening the Mindorf Town Clerk announced to the Council that the borough had increased during the past year, that the revenue was proportionately larger, and that the new houses which were being built were equally a credit to the town and the colony. Councillors endorsed the statement, and intimated in a triumphant manner that business was improving—that there was a great future in store for the place. They all conceded that if their representatives in the Assemblynote could be prevailed upon to move the Government to erect a breakwater, and dredge in a general way about the harbour, the elasticity of the borough would prove to be beyond any moderate amount of speculation, and the value of property increase to fabulous rates. These prospects had an unusually stimulating effect in the local senate, and were the cause of the chairman intimating with unencumbered geniality that he wouldn't mind assisting to give a picnic to the burgesses. The contagion of the liberality became epidemic, and councillors, with due respect for the standing orders, suspended them forthwith, and intimated that they would severally assist. A ponderous grocer who that day had let a mouldy cottage for 20s. a week offered the use of his waggonette and £5 towards the treat. Those who snubbed him from the prominence of a genteeler position felt their pride of caste aroused to the extent of £7 10s. each; and, finally, the chairman, not to be outdone in the liberality evoked on this momentous occasion, invited his colleagues to adjourn to the nearest public-house, where he called for clicquot note he had that very morning supplied at 36s. per dozen.


  ― 73 ―
The magnates of Mindorf retired to the best room in the house, where it came to pass that the convivial party did not break up till an early hour, after which the local representatives taxed their ingenuity to account for their prolonged absences from their several bedrooms. The reasons given, it is needless to state, were all rambling and wholly unsatisfactory. It was in this manner the celebrated picnic to the Sandstone Point was conceived, and when in the fulness of time it became bruited about that the burgesses and visitors were to be regaled in the manner stated, the idea was embraced with popular fervour, and Mindorf clustered with enthusiastic canvassers on the spirited conduct of their councillors.

For a long time preceding the day fixed, the drapers' windows were filled with gipsy hats and Manchester printsnote fitted for the outdoor amusement; grocers displayed citron and other cognate delicacies for the requisite cakes; there were massacres in the fowl-yards; porkers were sacrificed at tender ages; and amongst the slaughter-yards the "sides" dressed in anticipation were, the Town Clerk remarked, a "caution to beef-eaters." Finally, when the spring day came round, proclaimed a holiday for the occasion, and the horsewomen and horsemen paired off and rode away; when the packed traps bearing delicacies and holiday-makers set forth; when cargoes of fresh-faced children and smiling matrons mottled the white road with life and colour, making for the sunny slope that was among the hills, cragged with monoliths and spotted with murmuring oaks and feathery mimosas,note and when the fragrance of the yellow blossoms swept down upon the groups, and the laughter and the voices moved over upon the hill-sides, even the most patrician of the visitors permitted themselves to grow gay within the limits of refined decorousness. Mr. Mivers was reminded of past years and bush days among the glowing heaths and patches of wild flowers. It is a long time before memories lose their freshness; they live green when life is withered, and when they steal down upon us bearing the passages of lost yesterdays, the breath of blossoms and the glows and lights that made life a happiness and strength a pride, they startle up emotions with soft appealing. The resonance of voices from that tide comes to us with their faded hopes, and the summer times that have died amongst the years. Mivers looked drearily round; he had won the purples and the homage; his long career of scrambling and of grasping had been run; he had clambered up from every fear of poverty to the autocracy of the purse, and before his money-bags all bent in worship. Beyond the hills lay his sources of income and moved his hundred flocks; over there worked his son on his behalf, and elsewhere men who


  ― 74 ―
sent him in princely returns from their vigilance and labour. Such thoughts as sunshine and craigs,note greenness and moving trees, the breath of spring and the tenderness of the day, brought to him, may have urged the Crsusnote of the party to regard with softened interest the figure of a girl beside him. She had a proud, grave face, and her tender eyes gave it an unusual charm, because they struck contrasts in it, and lighted up something better than beauty—something more powerful than beauty gives. Soft black hair, as luminous as her eyes, a slight firm figure, and this is Helen Mivers. Young ladies of her own age were with her in all the coquetry of jauntiness and the simpering daintiness of unequalled ladydom. It was quite a pretty group, and there were many others. There were, too, the manner in which gentlemen deferred to the central figure of Mivers; the way the ladies unbent into genial companionship towards him; the whispered speeches, and the ring of laughing—the gay trimmings; the cunningly displayed feet and elaborate petticoat borders—laughing eyes—arms showing the symmetry of their roundness; and the spreading of tablecloths here and there, showing like snow-patches below the scattered shades; eating in the grass; little screams in the dread of snakes, little clingings also; appealing looks to the elegant strength and courage of genteel manhood, inspired by similar causes—the most useful factor in the creation of such sudden emotions being lizards; and not at all behind in adding to the excitement, ants, liberally provided by nature for furious and efficient biting, and possessed of indomitable courage. All this and much more not to be detailed.

There was dancing on the green to a band that played instruments with local skill and straining eyes. These undulating movements were interrupted by twigs, and the general poetry of motion was punctuated by stones of semi-colon obstructiveness. There were games to show the athletic side of the gentlemen's resources, and the running and jumping in stockinged feet and picturesque shirts were said to be one of the liveliest features.

Maidens gathered round, stimulating the athletes to wildest effort; but, to the disgust of all competitors, "a fellow" in moleskinsnote so far surpassed the gentlemen that even the most mendacious of judges could have no option but to put on impartial and stern airs and declare him the winner.

When the day had worn down to yellow, and the hills were tawning with deepening colour, Miss Mivers told a gentleman who had remained devoutly by her side throughout the day that it was time to get the horses. Mr. Mivers put his hand on that of his niece with a warmth unusual for him, and seconded the request.




  ― 75 ―

"Miss Mivers is riding, Mr. Mansfield, and you will remember that neither of you is well acquainted with the road; I trust to you, sir, to see my niece home before dark."

Mr. Mansfield rose hastily, expressing his assurances that Mr. Mivers' wishes should be attended to, and left for the horses, dimly to be seen moving restively below a clump of trees.

"He is not a good horseman, Helen, and you must hurry him through the hills; the shadows and trees will make it dark. My man will drive me by the road."

Mr. Mansfield could not boast of either good horsemanship or bush lore. It was some time before the horses were ready, and his efforts to seat Miss Mivers on the saddle showed prodigious perseverance. He caught her foot in his hand, and gave out the magic "one, two, three" so often that he must have scored twenty before getting her on the horse. Next he found a difficulty in mounting himself. His steed was restless, and he hopped about in distressing circles with one foot in the stirrup before he saw the opportunity for making a spring. When he did throw his leg over the saddle he found himself uncomfortably poised in the back part of the seat, and the horse gaily cantering off in the wrong direction. These preliminaries being eventually overcome, they started on their way, guided on their return by pedestrians who were following the same track. They rode through the hills by dimming growths of trees till the voices of holiday-makers ceased, and the songs of those who had degenerated from picnicers into revellers were unheard. They moved as quickly as the difficulties of the path permitted, but their progress was slow. The sky became lit with an opal flush, and the gloom of the coming darkness was trailing down.

"We must ride on till we reach the level ground," Helen said in an uneasy voice; "there are drunken people about and our horses are easily startled. It must be half-a-mile to the plains, and there is no time to delay."

Mr. Mansfield shook the reins on his horse's neck, but it soon became evident that cantering was dangerous amongst the scattered boulders, and they contented themselves with drawing rein and urging their horses at walking speed.

"Can you see the path clearly, Mr. Mansfield?"

"It is under our horses' feet. I see it like a faint line beneath us; we shall soon be past the stones."

There was a sky-belt of vivid red along the contour of the hills, and the clouds were moving up, carrying gloom and twilight. The rocks were frowning darkly, and the indistinctness of evening hung upon


  ― 76 ―
their outlines. When ground and sky took the same even darkness they left their horses to their own guidance, but when they expected to see the lights of the town over the long stretch of level that ran up to the ranges another row of hills towered slowly against the sky.

"I fear we have lost our way, Mr. Mansfield. We have been travelling for a mile over the tedious road, and there is nothing in sight to guide us."

"We should have seen the lights of Mindorf before this; for your sake I wish we were at home."

"Now, then: look out, you and your horses," spoke a strong voice below them. "Don't ride over people."

"I beg your pardon," Mansfield made haste to say, pulling back his horse suddenly; "we can scarcely see the road. Which is the way to Mindorf?"

"Oh, you're some of the Mindorf swells;note been to the picnic, I suppose?"

"We have been to the picnic."

"Joe, take hold of that gent.'s bridle. I'll mind your horse, Miss. I kin only see your hat an' feather against the sky. Got him, Joe? You want to go the right way; wot'll you give us to take you?"

"I'll give each of you a pound to guide us to the town."

"A pound be hanged! Beg pardon, Miss," laughed the first speaker, coarsely; "give us ten."

"Let go our horses," answered Mansfield, who was by no means deficient in courage; "we'll find our way without you."

"You'll just stay here," replied the same voice, "s'long as we choose to ask you t'favour us with your company. Eh, Joe? Now, then, about this bargain?"

Mansfield stooped down to the figure that held his horse's bridle. "If you don't let go the reins you shall feel the weight of my whip." He spoke without any hesitancy, and in the voice of a man who would keep his word.

"Wot, do he say he'll strike you? Jest put yer hand under his foot an' unhorse him."

"Oh, Mr. Mansfield: pray be cautious, we are in their power."

Miss Mivers had scarcely finished whispering the sentence when the sharp whistle of the rider's hunting whip was heard, followed by the sound of the cut on one of the men's shoulders. The horse reared up, almost pulling the holder of the bridle off his feet.

"Look here," broke out the same voice, with an oath, "we only meant all this 'ere for a lark, but since you are so ready with your blow you'll


  ― 77 ―
stay all night, d'ye hear? Don't strike him, Joe. You an' your gal will stay all night, an' as much longer as we choose. Now, then, my noble swell! Keep your grip on that horse. This woman of yours is keepin' unnateral quiet; wonder her tongue ain't in the mess too."

"You shall rue this, you blackguards," spoke Mansfield, loudly, his voice quivering; "leave the horses alone; you'll find this the worst night's work you have stumbled on for a long time."

"We'll bring em up to our hut, Joe, an hev a better lark nor we thought on; come."

While the man had been speaking, Miss Mivers could not help seeing another figure approaching, that seemed to walk with swiftness and ease, and then pause to listen. He had heard the most of the dialogue, and now took a part in it. "Leave the horses alone."

"Who's this card?" queried the voice; "if you interfere in wot's not your business I'll bruise yer face."

"These men have seized our horses without any provocation," spoke Mansfield.

The new comer simply repeated his injunction, "leave the horses alone."

"Not for you," spoke the man, striking a blow which carried him so far with it that Helen's reins were pulled from her hands. There seemed to be a very brief interchange between them, when the spokesman of the two took his hand from the bridle, in his anxiety to defend himself; but he had scarcely turned fully round before he appeared to sink heavily down at the horse's feet. The figure approached through the heavy dusk towards the keeper of Mansfield's horse, but the latter gentleman had concluded that the lark was over and disappeared amongst a group of rocks.

(to be continued)


  ― 78 ―

Chapter XIII.

Mr. Mivers, Senior, Professes "Common Sense".

"IF you will allow me, Miss, and you, sir," said the clear voice of the figure that had relieved the equestrians of their difficulty, "I'll guide you home; you have branched from the track, and made a very natural mistake."

"I do not know how we can thank you," Miss Mivers said, bending forward, and unconsciously giving effect to the clear tones that were peculiar to her; "my uncle, Mr. Mivers, will, I feel certain, repay you handsomely for your gallantry."

The figure stood silent, looking black against the stones behind and above him, and his hand that had rested on the lady's bridle dropped from it.

"Who did you say, Miss?"

"Mr. Mivers—Mr. Luke Mivers."

"I have heard of him. You will pardon me for saying that I look for no reward, and shall take none. In the meantime the night is wearing on, and you are so far from the track you lost that I shall be compelled to take another road. The most unfortunate feature of your present position is that you must trust to me wholly."

"I will trust you," Miss Mivers said, through the falling night that was rapidly shrouding the twilight; "I trust you most fully."

She spoke altogether forgetful of her companion. Her voice met the ears of the hesitating man like music.

"Indeed," he replied, stammeringly, "you give me more than my reward! This way."




  ― 79 ―

He placed himself between the horses, and led them skilfully past black masses looking in the evening like entrances to Stygian gloom.note He took steep hillsides where the wind blew freshly, striking back gathering clouds from the stars above, then down defiles where the horses stumbled and snorted with alarm, but still safe, till the hills upon either side yawned away from them, and the lights of Mindorf struggled faintly in the distance.

"I would leave you here," he said, with a faint something of sadness in his voice, "but there is a ford beneath yon first lamp that is not safe."

"Oh, sir, how can I thank you?" was the lady's reply. "You have done me—done us—a great service."

"The distance to the ford is not far," he replied softly, "and my service, as you are pleased to call it, will soon be over."

Down in the hollow at the ford the darkness was greater than on the hillsides; even the glens held a faint suspicion of light. Below where the river ran and hissed over the crossing, the white froth was barely to be seen coming and disappearing from where the waters churned.

Mr. Mansfield leaned forward. "You will be careful here, my man; the place looks dangerous."

The guide gave for answer, "Keep your seats steadily. Keep steady, Miss."

In less than a minute he was wading nearly breast high, the horses were to their bellies, and the stream clutching and dragging at the skirt of Helen's habit. There was no word spoken, except a stifled exclamation of apprehension when the waters deepened yet further, but riders and guide found the other side safely. The dangers of the night were nearly over. There remained a worked-out lead to be crossed by a treacherously narrow track, and the party were in safety on the metalled road below a dim lamp.note Miss Mivers stooped down as far as she could, and spoke to the stranger.

"You cannot leave us like this; indeed you must not. I want to tell you how much I appreciate your courage and kindness. There is that which may be offered to all without insult to any—hospitality. You will oblige me in this?"

"Pardon me." There was again pain evident in the couple of words.

"My anxiety to thank you better is so great that I am concerned at your refusal. I shall think you are churlish."

He raised his head and looked at her face; both saw each other for the first time. She was flushed and earnest with gratitude, and her large eyes were soft and earnest. His face, with its bold beauty and the something of nobleness upon it, startled her. He wore a coarse blue blouse,note and his


  ― 80 ―
throat, that had the symmetry and strength of a pillar, was white and full. He never thought of disguising the earnestness with which he spoke.

"The service, so termed by you, which I call a simple duty, will add a few more miles to the journey I was making to-night; that must be my excuse; do not think I am churlish. Good night."

He had turned to go.

"Good night."

The meaning in her tone made him raise his eyes again to see her little gauntletted hand held out in eager good-bye. The young man took it and bowed over it instinctively with a natural grace that was not to be mistaken. In a moment more he was lost to her sight on his way to the ford and through the hoarse waters. She roused herself, and walked her horse slowly up the street, forgetful of Mr. Mansfield.

"Who can he be?" she thought aloud.

Mr. Mansfield replied to her, "He has certainly rendered us a great service; one which I regard as great on your account, Miss Mivers. You take some interest in him. Shall we advertise that the mountain hero, name unknown, will hear of something to his advantage by calling, &c., &c.?"

Proudly and curtly in answer, "I do take an interest in him, Mr. Mansfield; I am at least grateful."

He might have seen a very definite motion of her head, and a rapid expression catch her face, had the lights from the shops been less faint, which would have warned her companion to drop the subject. He continued, "I know who the fellow is: he won the prizes at the sports to-day."

"And took all the honours from the gentlemen athletes," she added with uncomplimentary laughter. "I wonder what those whose ambition is a big muscle and a high leap, and whose mental capacities eminently qualify them for such excellence, think of it. So you all succumbed to 'moleskins.' "

"Ares fell before Diomede."note

"And what a pity the gallant Diomede did not rid the world of a plague?"

Mr. Mivers' house held now, what it never held before, a comfort that spoke "home." Fire and lights were bright as the young girl came in all flushed, and her eyes sparkling with excitement. The old man's sombre face gathered a look of warm welcome when he saw the slender figure of his niece pass the threshold, and pause, looking strangely radiant beneath the lamps that were bringing out the graces of her figure. A lady


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was standing before the wide hearth, gazing pensively at the flames wrapping and murmuring round the wood, and paving their tracks with sparks while lighting rugged little hills with miniature craigs suffused with glow. It was a strong upright figure and graceful. Not at all could be detected any signs of age or weariness or weight upon it; but when she turned white hair was smooth above her forehead, and there time had marked his passage plainly; she looked so restful and so calm in her latter years that she impelled to reverence. There was pride of bearing in the decision of her movements, but far above it was the sereneness that lived with her. She was beautiful, this old lady, bearing her age and stamp of time so softly down to the last crossing.

"Back at last, Helen, to the pleasant hearth and to your mother. Coming from the darkness of the night how joyous are these lights and this warmth. You look flurried. Has your night ride frightened you? We expected you earlier."

"I am not frightened, but—but——"

The gathering feelings of the past hour flickered back to her face, and stirred her lips to trembling. Her eyes grew dark and wet as she walked to her mother, and laid her head upon her shoulder.

"What's the matter?" shouted Mivers, sitting upright in his chair, with his heavy brows drawn. "Has that fellow offended you, Helen? Ask her, ma'am, if that fellow has offended her. By Jove if he has, ma'am, I'll put a kick in his gallop. Eh, Helen, has he? Ask her, ma'am."

There was a quiet smile on the mother's lips as she put her thin white hand up to stop the questioning, and when the girl lifted her face the mist had passed from her eyes, and she ran over to tell her uncle that Mr. Mansfield was a most gallant and estimable young man.

"Indeed, he is more. I think he is clever and rather courageous."

With this preface, Helen related her adventures. Mr. Mivers hammered his knee and crossed his legs. He started forward scowling, and lay back in great agitation, and finally found it was only by a strong effort of self-control he could resist the desire to render, for the benefit of the ladies, a pantomime of "polishing off." Indeed he consoled himself by determining upon a rehearsal in his bedroom.

"By Jove, Helen, who was that fellow? Hang it all, ma'am, I'd forgo following the other cowards if I knew who that fellow was. Had you no money in your purse, Helen? A couple of sovereigns wouldn't have gone amiss with him; money repays everything, girl: that's a comfort."

"I must disagree with you, Luke," said his brother's widow, gently. "It is just certain of those people that money will not repay. Money might repay those whose lives are devoted to the accumulation of wealth if


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given proportionately to their position. There are, I know," her voice grew low and soft, "those who love nature and the sunlight, and all God's earth, and the kindness of God's creatures, better than money. I have known them, and believe me, Luke, they are happier in their lives than rich men are with their banked thousands."

"Ho! ho!" laughed Mivers, fidgetting; "it don't stand to reason, Jane. The want of poor people is money, and those you speak of are always poor. Come, now, isn't that it? Sun and nature, as you call it, won't fill a hungry man or buy him what he wants. I know the people you mean; they travel with swags, and come for a night's shelter and something to eat, at sundown, eh?"

"Pardon me; the class I allude to are prouder than you are. They are neither vagabonds nor idlers. They believe with Carlyle that work is prayer;note work to them is ennobling, and if only rendering a means to assist their fellows, industry becomes raised in their sight from a pleasure to a blessing; such men are few, I grant, but such men are, nevertheless."

"I could'nt have offered him money," spoke Helen, reddening, "even if I had it."

"Tut!" responded Mivers, nursing back his darling idea as inviolable and in every respect immaculate. "If they're poor they want money; that's what poor people want. Don't tell me, ma'am; I know them. Isn't it common sense?"

Mrs. Mivers' face flushed warmly, as though she were gently caressing some past happiness or defending some memory. She replied, "Common sense, you say; and what is common sense, Luke? It seems to me to be frequently the circumscribed state of ignorant thought rather than the grasp which any ordinary mind might cover if but the least industrious to observe. Common sense often is presented to me as the lazy and popular mind, apathetic and partial, and willing to sink individuality in aphorisms and custom."

Mr. Mivers found refuge in the steam that rose from the skirts of Helen's habit.

"Good heavens! I mean, by Jove! look at that girl standing there all this time in her wet things; ma'am d'ye want to give her her death? Come, that's common sense, anyhow."

Helen retreated, but Mivers did not speak till his sister-in-law had seated herself.

"I had news of my son, to-day, Jane. He has been nearly killed; stabbed, they say, by some ruffian, and he has had fever ever since; he was found lying against a tree some distance from the home station—lying there bleeding! Helen will be sorry to hear that; don't you think she will?"




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"She will be sorry to hear of any misfortune having happened to her cousin, I'm certain of that, Luke."

"To be sure, of course. But you know what I mean—sorry more than usual. She likes him from what I told her, don't you think so? Wouldn't they be a fine couple, Jane? There's his likeness over there; did you ever think how well they would suit; the boy will have all I have, and Helen's little fortune added would make it a nice match. Did you ever think of that, eh? We have known each other for a long time, Jane, and we ought to keep the family together."

Mrs. Mivers' hands moved restlessly over her grey silk, and, as was her manner, she gently stroked back the bands of her hair—it might have been to hide a shade of trouble in her face. "Indeed, Luke, I cannot say; the young people must please themselves. Marriages are not always made in heaven. Sometimes I think the meaning of that saying is that heaven is love. There can be no happiness without it. You will think I am absurdly romantic for an old woman, and yet romance sweetens life and gives it flowers: I have found it so."

"The young people are sure to fall in love; he's good-looking, not that I should say it, and as for Helen there's not her equal in the colony. There, Jane, that's what I think of your daughter."

Mrs. Mivers looked her thanks at the speaker. "I've sent an overseer to relieve the lad, and as soon as he is strong enough he is coming here. Helen will be glad of that; what do you say, Jane?"

"We shall both be very glad to meet him;" she seemed speaking from out the shadows of many years when she said, "They are both too young yet; early marriages are not prudent; better give them time to know their own hearts and experience to judge how the happiness of each is most likely to be attained: how it is best guarded and kept. A marriage of passion or of mere fancy or convenience is but staking all upon a glamour that fades into darkness as the twilight into night."

"Well, yes, ma'am, you always had strange notions. I suppose that's a part of them. I'd like to see their fortunes together; there would be something substantial for Helen then, and it would be their own fault if they could not enjoy it. That's common sense, again," added Mr. Mivers, chuckling.

(to be continued)


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Chapter XIV.

Dead Man's Gully.

TEN years ago a tubful of clay was washed in Dead Man's Gully, leaving for residue a saucerful of yellow metal, coarse as pebbles, small and round as shot, and in smooth flakes like scales. The man, covered with slime and mud, who found it, shook it round and round in his tin pan, in a nervous, bewildered way, and then laid the dish gently on the ground and sat beside it to think. He had toiled like a slave in other places where treasure flowed into men's pockets; where drunkards sank shafts and came away with thousands; where boys washed out fortunes, and the reckless poured out their winnings like water. He had worked with bitter constancy, and smothered many a curse that he, of all others, should be utterly divorced from fortune. In despairing hopelessness, because of the loneliness of the place and the bitterness he felt, he rested upon the spot whence he obtained the rich clay from a hole 8 feet in depth. He looked at the yellow treasure in the dish and wept like a boy. Only a tubful for 24 ounces! The claim was a fortune, and in the wildness of his greed he pegged off enough ground for a dozen men. He worked like one demented. Light did not creep upon the darkness any morning before he had left his tent with pick and shovel. The stars throbbed down upon him through the silence before he quitted his labour. He slept heavy patches of sleep that were oblivion, and woke in terror lest the day had come before his work was resumed. As the pile of auriferous earth became larger, and the gold gleamed from it in dead yellow, the craving grew. He cursed the rain that washed the earth away and exposed the riches he had gained, and again shrouded


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the heap with soil. He dug and delved with scarce rest for food; the day was too short for him and the night too long. His sweat watered his work in constant droppings, till one midnight he came laughing to his work, and toiled on and sang and shouted up at the silence, whooping madly at every bucketful of clay added to the pile. When the day broke he was tearing out the earth with feverish energy, his eyes red with blood and his lips pale and dry. When the noon came there was no cessation, but as the sunset deepened he was fumbling falteringly with his pick, and before the evening he lay upon the golden clay speaking softly about meadows, and telling his dead mother of the mowers and a holiday full of perfume and sunshine. The light quitted the tree-tops and faded from the hills as he rested, breathing hard in sleep, with sudden calls at past memories and unnatural laughter at the fancies that rose to him. When the morning's glory poured down, his hands and arms were buried in the earth, but he had abandoned his treasure for the one eternal certainty spread around us. The man had been long dead when wanderers saw the body. Shreds of cloth and of corruption were mixed with gold and clay, and by the time the bones were covered, rocking-cradles and washing-dishes showed pounds' weight of gold. The finders swore themselves to secrecy, and tore out the washdirt with the energy and fever of the discoverer, lest passers-by should guess the prize too soon. The thudding of the picks, the soft falls of clay, the busy windlasses, and the stir of voices struck through the quiet that had lain so long embalmed by the cycles. Ochre earth was soon contrasted with olive greenness round it when the wounds gashed by picks bled earth and mud, and quivered with the monotonous rockings of cradles above the spot where the treasure slept. Sounds such as these travelled far in those times, when the continent was scarce awake from the slumber of centuries.note One day a wave of human life surged upon the spot and rolled away down the valley in occupancy, from its depression at the hillside till it widened upon the far plains lying against the sky circuiting half the horizon in level monotony. Dead Man's Gully soon bore tents that fluttered through the aisles of trees like covies of white birds. Spears of smoke floated up with voices and nameless sounds of struggle, and a nomadic street was marshalled below the old branches. Echoes flung back sounds of traffic in fear, dismally repeating the strokes of axes and of crashing trees, and all the mad derangement that had torn the mystic quiet and penetrated the silence of repose. Coloured mounds rose from the earth like unhealthy wens; the greenness and freshness faded to the dragged pallor of beaten ground and trampled earth. The soft sward was scored and dented by ceaseless feet, and great fires stared redly at the night.


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Gradually the plain was bared to a desert, and the soft shadows and rapid birds that dwelt where the dead man had laughed upon the golden pile retreated with the echoes. But what of that? Lumps of gold large enough to buy independence or strangle the industry of the finder were unearthed. The next pick blow of every man that worked below might bring him similar fortune. The nugget that weighed 90lbs.note had been dragged out and carried to the bank by the strong arms of Thomas Rowe, now a ragged drunkard not twenty miles away. It had smitten him with a curse the day when first he bared it, drunk with exaltation, and weighed him hopelessly down to the driveller he then was. What of that? The fever of the dead man was in the gully; it had taken up its abode there and was beating pulse strokes in every tent. When the ground had been ripped and torn and embowelled, the tents took flight in scared flocks to settle elsewhere. The troubled wave ebbed back and was lost, and there remained not one stranded habitation to show the tide-mark. Then greenness crept slowly down from the hills; it broke out in dreary moles of flag-grass here and there; plants sprang up in pitying freshness to hide that past; shrubs held up green leaves to the sun and dew, beckoning back the shadows again, and offering shelter to the lost birds. Greenness spread once more, carpeting and hiding the spoliation of the monarch trees, and wiping out the record of the time when the fever of Dead Man's Gully had struck it with the pallor of death.

It was here that Bryan Fitzgerald worked; in the peacefulness of the desertion he fought hard for bread. He and his mate trudged to their labour wistfully for weeks together, but the weariness of failure was in every movement of the men. They had lived for days on the potatoes grown in the little garden where the creepers hung and held out their blossoming. The last ounce of powder had been used, and even Brown's opossum snares had failed of late. But the vast wondrous mornings in which all the spaces were filled with light, and the hills glowed; where the rocks shone like gold and the trees gathered brightness as the morning swept down—gave a dim intangible bracing that helped them with their labour.

"I'd like to live here always, Jim, if we could but find a little gold. Look at the hills there; they wear the glory of the heavens,note I think—sent down to make us strong and earnest; but it is profitless work. Only for her grave, and that seat by the creepers, I would try something else. There is something in the world that contains a better prospect than struggling to live, and it is to be found."

Jim had sat down beside their shaft, rubbing his palm along the worn point of his pick. "It might be for to be found, but I couldn't manage it.


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The world rises its back at me and pushes me down. I've nothing to thank it for. There's kindness in it somewhere; that I don't deny, or your mother wouldn't a bin among it; if it were only to be found: that's the question. It might be worth your while to try; yours ain't the face or the ways I hev, an ye could get honest work. If ye could only get a start with a bit of gold, I'd keep the old hut safe enough. I'd see ye now and again, boy, wouldn't I? Come, promise that."

"How could I forget you? You are all that is left of those years when my mother lived. Forget you."

Jim had commenced again to polish his pick violently. "All right, boy," he growled, and turned to look away out upon the sky that stooped to meet the plains in the grey distance.

Fitzgerald lay lazily watching the birds, and waiting for the signal of the worker in the shaft below to haul up at the windlass. His handsome face was turned pensively towards the west, where Mindorf lay, wearing a dreamy wonder with his speculations as to whether he should ever see the face of the lady again he had guided home some short time before. He imagined her there before him, some princess of that world he had never known, where the splendours of wealth and the pride of position, the daily joys and grandeur in the unbroken chain of pleasure, and all the rest of the circumstance therewith connected, made life like a fairyland, and digged the impassable gulf between them and the poor. Heaths were gleaming below him near to waters where was music; bright petals were showing their colours to the light, and above him stood the still trees shading the turf on the ranges and holding there indefinable music in eternal anthems. He knew those hills, and remembered their beauties were none the less when swept with storm or frowned with trailing clouds. But on that day, where so fit a place for this queen as amongst the beauty the sun made on the earth and called forth through the speech that day uttered unto day? Not in the rooms into which he had so wildly stolen, nor in the presence of the lowering man he had madly meant to rob. What carpet like that beneath him for the low whisperings it gave; what to equal the hill's breast there and the sky that arched it all!

"Bryan!"

It was not often that Brown called him by name, and he started. The speaker was standing breast high in the shaft below the windlass, partly supporting himself by resting his elbows on the surface. His rugged face


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had a disturbed look, yet the eyes were bright and steady. His head was visible over a growth of lank weeds, but the whole expression of the man seemed changed. For the first time Bryan thought he saw an unusual pride in it, and the fierce gladness of a triumph. The man took one hand away and passed it over his wet forehead and eyebrows, then looked silently at his young mate, now standing beside him. Fitzgerald noticed that his voice was trembling and his hands unsteady.

"Lad, ye hed our mother's blessin; mind ye, I say our. She blessed me too, afore ye come that mornin', an if I hevn't said it often I think on her always as ourn. Agreed?"

"Yes, Jim, of course. What's the matter?"

"Not but I give in she put all her heart in yours, bein' but natural; but we both had it, an' by course then she's ourn."

"Of course, Jim."

"She said the blessin' of one wot was tried were precious—them's her words. I mind it all; it's afore my eyes now. Well, it are precious. Ah! precious ain't no word for it. I feel it now; it has kept me from trouble ever since, an' will, too. Mind ye, Bryan, I promised her for you and myself—though a broke-down old soujeenote like me ain't much; never a swear or a oath, but a kind of solemn promise; with no crucifix nor book, but with my whole self like; an' I've done the best I could. Ain't that correct—ain't it?"

"It is, Jim, but——"

"Right, lad; but it knocked me of a heap to see ye this week past. I don't know what's up with ye, but yer frettin'. We ain't hed over and above too much grub." The speaker's voice trembled again, and then sank into some kind of hoarse oblivion in his throat. He held up his heavy knotted hand without speaking, which Fitzgerald took, thinking to assist him up, but Brown's grasp tightened like a vice, as though it would crush the bones, and the eyes of the scarred face looked up at his through a mist that blinded them.

"What's the matter, Jim?"

"I kep' my promise best I could, dear lad, an' unto the end I'll keep it, will Jim Brown."

So saying, he struck his hand across his eyes and displaced two big drops that might have been sweat. The goodness of the nature the world had trampled down lived still.

"Time was, an' not sich a deuce of a long while ago neither, I'd a bin ashamed of this. It's the blessin' of our mother, Bryan, that's what it is."

The grizzled speaker's voice seemed to go down so often to some cavern in himself that he was hard to understand.




  ― 89 ―

"Ye want to know what's the matter. Come down, my boy, an' we'll talk it out."

Fitzgerald knew that Brown had not tasted food since they left off work on the previous day, and he followed him with much anxiety. An excavation of earth had been made from the bottom of the shaft, reaching in about four feet, and at the entrance to this Brown twisted a quartz boulder into position, rolling one forward for himself.

"Sit down, Bryan. Ye mind all I said up there in the sunshine, every word on it, don't ye?"

"Every word."

"Jest pull that lump of mullock away there."

Fitzgerald did as he was desired, and saw a lump of yellow metal nearly as large as the boulder on which he sat.

"There: that's what's the matter with the old warrigal. Ye see it now; feel it." He dragged the mass of gold out, and lifted it with difficulty. A shade of fear seemed to pass over the young fellow's face, but the quick eyes of Brown saw it. He laughed hoarsely.

"That's egsackly as I felt when I fust see it. Look there, an there, an there." He pointed with his strong finger to other pieces of gold, as large as pebbles, surrounding the cavity whence the nugget had been taken. "Didn't she say her blessin' were precious? Ah, an' in more ways than one, too; better'n this," kicking the gold with his heavy boot. "I know that, even at my time o' day. Didn't she say, 'Ye wern't made for a bushman?' Look at that!" he kicked it again. "There wern't no oaths over it 'twixt her an' me," he went on, beaming strangely, "not the ghost of an oath; jest Jim Brown's promise to our mother—ourn, ye know. An' to see Bryan a nob,note better'n all the swells! No more goin' to games an wot not to get money for jumpin' to keep old Jim Brown in tucker; no more o' that. That there," the speaker explained, returning to the business of the occasion, and pointing to the cavity, "is a pocket, an that pocket's in a lead. Lord bless ye, lad, there ain't no knowin' how much is there: maybe half-a-dozen fortunes. An' ye straight as a lath, an' strong as a lion, among the swells, able to twist their precious necks if they crook a finger at ye, an' with a face like a picture too. Eh, Bryan, boy; an' me a keepin of the house at home where she died waitin' to see the boy come now and again. She said it were precious when the golden sun came in to her that mornin an' filled the room, an' waited for her, an' blessed her as she blessed us. It were the angels, maybe, or somethin o' that 'ere sort."

(to be continued)


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Chapter XV.

Mr. Mivers, Junior, Tries A Horse.

WHEN it became known that Luke Mivers, jun., was found stabbed half a mile up the flat from Narrgummie, the township was perturbed to its centre. That such a circumstance could occur amongst them fermented the society with a strong leaven. They seemed to have some vague dread of Asiatic justicenote being meted out to them, and hinted at the probability of the old man foreclosing all his mortgages—which were by no means few—as a punishment to the inhabitants amongst whom such an outrage was possible. An indignation meeting was proposed; but the constable who conserved her Majesty's laws there intimated that the ends of justice required silence, and with these ends he bound the people to eschew any demonstration. Nevertheless bullock-drivers gave up searching for their teams at a flagrantly early hour, and adjourned to the hotels to talk the matter over; selectorsnote sauntered down for a like purpose, till Narrgummie wore quite a festive and flourishing appearance. The policeman, who was intimate with the schoolmaster, advised with him concerning a report which that gentleman (who assured his friends with great mystery of manner that he was connected with the Melbourne Press) undertook to write. He ascertained the position of the wounded man, inquired minutely into the surroundings, and advised with emphasis that Johnny the blackfellow be set to trace the direction taken by the barefooted robber, there being no doubt of the young man having been despoiled of a large sum. It was true, he admitted, that Johnny was always drunk,note but in a case of this description instinct would triumphantly conquer


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alcohol, and the black man's sagacity would assert itself. Thereupon the schoolmaster retreated to the depths of a room he called his study, and wrote an elaborate description which, in justice to himself as a scholar and a gentleman, he liberally embellished with Latin. One of the boundary riders galloped off to Dr. Bellamy, who resided twenty-five miles away, and that worthy practitioner came promptly and prescribed absolute quiet, spoke to the servant about "healing with the first intention,"note and altogether behaved in a clever and profound manner on that and all subsequent occasions.

When young Mivers opened his eyes it was upon the sad twilight of his room, and when told of what had occurred he lay wearily back before recurring stupor. The loss of blood and the mental unrest induced a fever that seized and maddened him to incoherent ravings, and held him on the border-land of phantasy for weeks together. His last coherent direction was that his father should not be informed of the circumstance, and when he awoke to the world again it was to inquire if his instructions had been attended to. He seemed to have but slept an hour; the twilight was gathering in the room and blotting out the thin spring sunlight that quivered weakly on the floor and walls. The faint amber of the sky outside was wearing a metallic coldness, and a strange wan sadness above the darkening hill lines. In dreamy restfulness he saw the stars come where the colours of the sun lingered, and heard the distant sounds of life outside. Down beyond the flat might be seen the lights of the houses, and he raised himself slowly on his elbows and tried to look, but only saw the fading country below. When the nurse crept in like a ghost, and moved about the room, the half-dead memory of the gnomes and spirits that companioned him revived, and his heart trembled at the fleeting snatch of memory that caught him.

"Who are you?"

"I am the nurse, sir. The doctor says you mustn't talk; and you're out of danger, sir, if you keep quiet."

"Light a candle, and send Joe the boundary ridernote here."

"But, sir——"

Mr. Mivers tried to raise himself on his arm again, but failed; he could only reply by a peremptory motion of his hand.

"Well, sir," said Joe, soon after, as he sat near by the lighted candles, "you've had a bad time on it. Tried all we knew to find the robber what stabbed you, but no go, sir."

"Sit a little closer, Joe, and don't speak so loud. You've been to Shorter's since?"




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"Every blessed day, sir; the old 'un gives me a nobbler every time I come to tell him how you are, an' I can always see Miss Shorter, sir, listenin' behind the door."

The sick man's eyes became brighter, and he spoke with greater strength. "When you go to-morrow, or say to-night, tell them I am getting all right, and the first person I asked for was her, Miss Shorter; you understand?"

"Yes, sir."

When Joe left the presence and got outside, he discharged his surprise in a long, low whistle. "Well," said he, addressing himself on the point, "he is soft on her an' no mistake; my boundary ridin' will be the station and Shorter's, and Shorter's and the station. I don't object; it ain't half a bad billet."

As Mivers' strength grew, so grew the old passion—at first with a pathetic yearning, and later with the old strength and the reality of its remorseless occupancy. Her face with its radiance and its sorcery was the embodiment of the thought that starred his prospects through the nights and through the days. Her face came to him haunting and searching as it had been diablerie. Near at hand and far out on the coming years it hovered; he was not once alone or without her; for him only that brilliant smile and the whole fascination of her. She his wife, in the glancings of jewels and swish of silks—her splendid self, her thrilling laugh—all his; and so the mad boy licked his gyves.note Youth and longing raised him from his bed, and he was driven down by Joe one evening when night had come. The old bar was full of the well-known gloom; the wretched candle was manufacturing stalactites, and flickering dishonourable treaties at the darkness which it could not subdue; while the old year-worn man was to be seen twisting his fingers in his unreal fashion, and fawning to imaginary customers. His head was white in the dimness, and his old unreadable face nodding slowly at the fire in confidential intercourse. Beyond, the door of the room where she sat was partly open, and a glow of comfort crept past, making the gloom without the darker by the contrast. Mivers came in slowly and would have caught the old man's hand; but the bleached host bowed so low and was so heartily joyful and thankful to see him again, that the proferred hand was not observed.

"The old man, sir, has been thinking of you: not this day alone, but every day since the accident, and wondering when his humble roof would shelter you again. It is truly a happy moment for me to see Mr. Mivers out, and——I was going to say well, but say—convalescent; and my daughter, Mr. Mivers—dear girl; but she is inside. This way, sir."




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Never with more humility did the aged hotelkeeper show his guest out of the bar towards the parlour; never did the happiness of having such a gentleman as Mr. Mivers below his roof burthen him with so great an obligation. "There, sir," pushing open the door jealously. "You'll find the old chair—your chair—in the old place, he! he! This is like old times again, Mr. Mivers; you're welcome, you're welcome; go in, go in. I'll bring you a drop of wine, sir, just a little to strengthen and welcome you. Go in."

She was before him in reality at last—the look that had haunted him, the smile that had won him, and the voice whose echoes had never left him. She held out both her hands, giving him yet more joy with the lights in her face, the glister of her heavy hair, the sweep of her throat, and the brooch rising and falling with stinging scintillations upon her breast.

"I'm so glad to see you, Mr. Mivers. Sit down in the old spot once more."

"Give me a better welcome, Margaret," he asked, entreatingly, "after the absence and the danger—a better welcome than this: I may fairly ask it."

"You must not indeed," she replied, searching his eyes with hers; "I know what the doctor said and he shall be obeyed, so that you may soon get strong—no excitement. You see I know, and you look so pale and worn. You have had a long sickness."

"Did you find it long?"

Her lashes fell; then she looked up with a soft reproach in them that made him almost giddy. "When you are strong enough you shall tell me how it all happened."

"By-the-way, Margaret, did you ever see Pelan since he left the station above?"

Just the shadow of pallor came to her as she bent over her crochet-work before raising her head with a faintly heightened colour.

"What did you say, Mr. Mivers?"

"I asked if you had seen Pelan since he and I parted."

"Did I see him! What, that companion of yours that came here to play cards?" She laughed pleasant music. "Why do you ask me? I saw him coming away from your place one night," putting her hand up to hide a troublesome yawn, "possibly he was here. He might have been in the bar. Father," to the old man as he entered with the welcoming and strengthening wine, "Mr. Mivers wants to know if that gentleman who stayed with him at the station and played cards here sometimes has been here since he parted with him. You must remember who I mean," she added, cutting in at his pause; "he was called Pun——"




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"No, Pelan," said Mivers in correction.

"Pelan," repeated Mr. Shorter, very slowly; "of course I remember him. He may have been in the bar of course. Yes, sir, he—may—have—been—in; but if I were asked now, upon my oath, I should say I was doubtful. I should indeed, Mr. Mivers; being asked if of my own—own personal knowledge I knew, I should hesitate—hesitate most decidedly to give what lawyers would call a satisfactory answer, attributable wholly to my poor memory," the quality of which he emphasised by digging one of his fingers at the wrinkles of his forehead. "I heard that that gallant and clever gentleman had left you. You will feel his loss I have no doubt."

Mivers' brows knitted, and the old scowl gathered. "Yes, I feel it now," putting his hand unconsciously to where the stab was. "I feel his loss so much, Mr. Shorter, that I wish I had never seen him." He cleared again, speaking in that palpitating, childish way so frequently a residue of illness. "We'll speak of that again, Margaret. I want to tell you to-night that Astornote has been thoroughly broken to carry a lady, and I am advised gentle horse exercise. You say the doctor's instructions must be attended to, will you assist me to carry them out?"

Shorter was silently pulling his beard behind them, and covered the examination his eyes were bestowing on the speaker. He raised his face benignly to his guest, and looked across him to where his daughter sat, with blinking satisfaction while he twined his fingers.

"My daughter, sir, is a good horsewoman, that I know, and you would not willingly offer her a dangerous mount, Mr. Mivers?"

Thus appealed to he answered with a laugh, but there was a good deal of feeling in it.

"I did offer the horse as a mount for a few rides. I now offer it to your daughter altogether, if she chooses to accept it."

Shorter made haste to reply warmly, "I was never wrong in my estimation of a gentleman, and you are one, sir—one of those that we seldom meet."

The girl's head had remained bent in a quiet attitude of attention. There was a motion of the features before she raised it to show a smile that was not sunny but had a faraway expression of discontent. "You are too generous, Mr. Mivers, and if riding out with you will improve your health I shall be most happy to assist in its re-establishment." There lingered a fretting on her brow and a weariness in her voice notwithstanding the music of its intonations or the richness of the lips that formed the words.

He put his hand upon her caressingly, "Astor is yours."




  ― 95 ―

The feeling in his voice and the intensity clothed by the words shook her. The shines at her throat and darting from below her heavy hair quivered about her in quick movements as glittering to a wild thought, but the calmness came again and usurped the mystery in her unreadable eyes and sat on the riddle of her peerless face.

(to be continued)


  ― 96 ―

Chapter XVI.

A Stock Hunt.

ONE morning when the clouds were high and distant hills looked near, with the atmosphere lucid and buoyant, and the shadows racing gleefully on the meadow lands, horses' feet beat down the silent Narrgummie street, and the new appointments of Astor struck back the sun with each of his impatient movements. Mivers led him down beside his own shining-skinned hunter, and sat his horse so well that a couple of old bandy-legged stockmen stopped admiringly, and looked back emphasising their admiration by prodigal disseminations of tobacco-juice and more than one florid oath of approval.

Quietly upon the paths among the trees, and away into the day, side by side, where waters rippled and voices sang and the whole murmur of the day made happiness—away on the eager horses over the soft turf and the rolling uplands, over shadows and across tracks that were new, and into silence that seemed deepening to a great pause before the charm of earth and sky—they cantered on. But upon the hills there grew ruffling sounds; there were swift specks of motion on the green and among the shades, and there came out at last the singing pistol cracks of stockwhips. Mivers' face began to wear a startled trouble as he galloped swiftly along the base of the hills.

"Patterson's party is out to-day," he explained hurriedly, "and we must pass yon gully before the mob comes down. The beasts would frighten Astor."

The place named was a shallow glade scarcely deep enough to catch a shadow or show a depression among the tree-tops. Spots of red


  ― 97 ―
and dun and black and white flashed across the spaces among the trees like the changes of a kaleidoscope to the flanking vollies of whips singing out like a feu-de-joie.note

"Gallop, Margaret, we must try top speed," Mivers said earnestly, and the two horses shot away as though the riders bore colours,note were sought for by thousands of faces, and were cheered up the straight.

Miss Shorter was an unusually good horsewoman, and they passed the green paths, spurning the country behind them like a dream. One huge log barred the way, lying across the course like a mammoth centipede with its long black ungainly body, the twisted branches raising it up to a dangerous height. It was a heavy leap but needful to take it to pass the gully in time.

As Mivers settled into his seat he said, "The horse is fit if you are not afraid of it."

She flung her head and hair back in the pleasure she felt, and took the reins with a firmer hand.

"Be cautious, Margaret."

But the horses had quickened to the barrier, and they rose together with a bound that would have called cheers from racing men, having flown the leap with scarce an effort. Miss Shorter looked at her companion with pride in her eyes and face, with the thought of thanking him again for his magnificent present. There was a new expression upon her, and an eager sincerity that seemed to have conquered her habitual repose, but the whip-cracks were coming closer and he pulled his hat down, asking her huskily to ride on. The noise of hoofs was growing and the wave of sound was travelling along the valley with a roll of thunder. There were wild snortings up there in the reckless stockchase. Only those sounds, the beatings of hundreds of feet, and the ringing whips were to be heard as the mass of life rushed down in an irresistible surge. Patterson's men, with their fourteen-feet lashes, cut their warnings out, and where they fell blood flowed, mixing with foam on the sides of the frightened beasts. Just up from the mouth of the valley the forest of horns was travelling in a headlong rush, and below the two riders were galloping past the breaker that was coming towards them. There was not an instant to lose, the gully being but passed as the whole column of life flowed out on the plain. A big dun bull stopped sawing the air for a time, and with his head down rushed thunderingly at Astor. Jack Sheanote was alongside at once, and his cruel whip cut a track of blood on the glistening skin. "Gallop on," he shouted, whistling the lash round him and bringing it back with another report on the shoulder of the


  ― 98 ―
scrubber.note The brute fell sullenly into the mob as the riders passed, with the cutting whips rushing them to the cattle-yard wings, hidden with boughs, there to be wedged before the horses into the strong enclosure. The gallop paced on below the arching boughs as cattle and men streamed over tree trunks like breakers, and the red-shirted riders patched the route with dartings of colour. One of the more dangerous of the mob dropped behind and ran bellowing back to the camp above. The stockmen had no time to follow. There was a sudden smashing of boughs, a short fierce snort, and the ponderous brute shot across Margaret Shorter's horse. He propped and sprang madly away as his rider lost her balance and fell caught by the slipper. The young man's face sank into a leaden fright as he galloped to the horse's head, and flung out from his saddle, hanging to the animal's neck and by the bit to stay his flight and stop the dragging of the girl he loved. It was a desperate risk, but it succeeded. The space was clear and no fallen trees were in the course, otherwise the story of Margaret Shorter would have been all told. It was strange to see Mivers clinging to the horse's head strengthened yet bewildered by the fright and horror of the possibility of hurt to her who had won him. Astor was brought up in front of a great trunk as the foot of his mistress fell free. The pace had pulled Mivers from his feet, but the girl during the short and dangerous drag did not lose her presence of mind. She saw the young man casting his life upon the risk without a moment's hesitation, and she saw his face gray with fear for her, but with no thought of his danger—as great as her own. The hunter galloped a short distance off and stopped to feed with a sense of something wrong. Though the partly dragging legs of Luke were twisted and beaten by the hard fore feet of the scared horse, he never thought of losing his desperate clutch or chancing an escape without all his effort being put forth to save her. She recognized this. There was no part of that short swift drag that she did not comprehend and remember as she rose from the sward but slightly bruised or shaken. For ought Mivers knew, straining as he was at the frightened beast, a kick from his powerful leg might have already struck her life away. Miss Shorter rose with the lissome elasticity that was a feature of her steely strength, and smiled upon the white face such a look as it had never worn before. He was strangely awed at her rising thus, and came forward breathless and pale.

"Tell me, for God's sake, that you are neither hurt nor injured." He clasped his hands like a girl struggling with his strong fears. "What should I have done if you had been injured. You"—he looked at her


  ― 99 ―
fearsomely, but there was nothing in her face except the paleness of her fright and an inexpressible offering and depth of admiration he had not seen till now.

"You have behaved nobly, Luke."

His heart beat at the first mention of his name; thus hit he swayed as if drunken when she placed both her hands upon his shoulders with caressing tenderness in face and gesture, and told him in a strange hysterical sorrow that she owed to him her life. So indeed did she and at the risk of his. But he thought his reward a royal one, and the bright minutes there were the happiest that had ever rested on his memory.

"I never knew you till now," she said; "you have my respect for the first time."

He did not understand the reason of the feeling she exhibited or solve the sadness that seemed to overshadow her with a sort of wintry hopelessness, much less did he interpret her when her face clouded and broke before a storm of sobs. When he caught the horses and led them to where she sat with her supple figure amongst the spreading foliage—when he saw her look up with the flush of real emotion on her face—he could have worshipped before the strange power it gave to her and declared for his whole world the one presence. But the trees were growing red and the shadows long, and the couple mounted once more, riding slowly back from the day as they had ridden into the brightness of the morning. The accident of the stock hunt and his previous illness had rendered Mivers nervous. It was with a start and a gathering dizziness he heard the paces of a horse approaching. There was nothing in such a meeting, and he would scarcely have remarked the firmly seated rider and the strong horse that met them had his face not been turned in their direction. These were the features of a man he knew, a bearing in the saddle that was familiar to him—his eyes, and the very expression of his turning in his seat for an instant, struck Mivers like the snatch of some dream, not at all weakened when the rider reined up and looked after them, and he again saw the general bearing of the man corroborating the memory that evaded him.

"Who is that, Margaret?"

She laughed with a queer abrupt bitterness.

"Who is what?"

"The rider just gone by. I beg your pardon for being so stupid as to ask the question; how could you know."




  ― 100 ―

He did not see the paleness that came about her mouth nor the quiver of her lips. He did not notice that her speech died away and that somehow she did not tone with the sunset now, nor with the purple softness of the hills, nor with the unreal beauty of the dying light. The sun went down in a great blaze of gold and the loving shadows crept out with sheltering sadness as the joyous day passed out before the watching hosts of stars.

(to be continued)


  ― 101 ―

Chapter XVII.

Mr. Mivers, Junior, Tries A Steeplechase.

ONE or two of the restless spirits of Narrgummie, who had previously given way to enthusiastic impulses on behalf of their village, and had been eminently successful in forming a Hook and Ladder Companynote and a Young Men's Debating Society, felt that there were even greater heights to be reached. They organized a troupe of gentlemen gifted with several varieties of treble and bass voices, who had been especially endowed by nature in those humorous qualities considered to be attractive beneath black faces and wigs of a similar colour.note A popular subscription of half-crowns was launched, which resulted in the actors purchasing second-hand banjos and several coats with elongated swallowtails, as characteristic of those African races who live in constant mirth in American slaverynote and on the shores of their native land. The first performance was described by the schoolmaster as "calling forth rapturous expressions of approval," and having netted £12 by the transaction the company launched into extravagant buttons and a new violin. This prospect of prosperity had its due effect. The "troubadours" continuing to command large audiences induced the restless spirits to soar, and accordingly it was demonstrated to the grocers, the blacksmith, and the publicans, that trade would be placed on an imperishable basis if a race-meeting could be established. The squatters round gave liberally, and when it became known that the tradesmen were rivalling each other with guineanote contributions, a future was predicted for "town trade" that sensibly enhanced the value of corner allotments. The uneasy spirits were so elated at their success that


  ― 102 ―
they voted themselves personal expenses, and talked hurdles and handicapping over rum hot, that being regarded as a sporting and consistent drink during the exertion consequent upon the preparations for the noble and national pastime now an accomplished fact at Narrgummie. But when the entries and acceptances came in to the secretary—who gave up all his time to the work in consideration of an acknowledgement through the gentlemanly medium of a honorarium—the town became excited, and Narrgummie Races, as advertised in the Melbourne Press, were at once recognized as a monopolising and fascinating theme. Before the day fixed for the events so big with the future of Narrgummie's position amongst the towns of the colony, the youthful squatters, with all the gallantry and daring of twenty years, determined that the ladies should be recognized in the programme, and accordingly a purse was made up that startled the villagers into breathless astonishment. The prize was to be £70, only subscribers to the fund being eligible to ride. Young fellows who glowered at each other ferociously on account of some girl who looked more than ordinarily well in a riding habit, and had obtained the minor accomplishments of music and French at a select boarding-school, were to ride. For this race rivals in love and horsemanship put themselves forward with unfaltering courage. They re-christened fast horses and flying jumpers after the names of those ladies who were favoured with sudden valentines posted with chronological recklessness, according to the ardour of the sender. The colours for the event were so numerous and choice that the secretary swore the course would look like a rainbow. Altogether the success was far beyond expectation, and so elated had the stewards become that they conceived a ball at 5s. a ticket. This stretch of financial audacity also met with its reward, and if ladies made jackets for the riders they also set about the mysteries of tulle, the gathering of lace, and secured the monopoly of cunning fingers for the turning of skirts, the altering of styles, and veneerings of braid and bugles.note It was utterly unfashionable not to have gloves in the balance or a brooch in perspective, and no gentleman whose book was not heavily weighted with boxes of Dent's was regarded as properly gallantnote or patriotic. Posters with half-a-dozen horses flying a stone wall, and one or two breaking their necks and spreading their riders, were posted on gum trees for miles around. A speculative carpenter got the loan of a lot of flooring boards and erected a grand stand, with the aid of six-feet palings and green posts. And when at last the final preparations were made, and the town was busy with stable-boys chewing straws, and the final trial over, the stewards enlarged the margin for their expenses


  ― 103 ―
to embrace champagne, and drank it so ardently that the policeman was scandalized at the disreputable manner in which the heads of society lunged at their closed doors. Everybody stood to win. Narrgummie felt that quite a tide of prosperity individually and collectively was flowing into its pockets which the residents meant to take at the floodnote with prudent foresight and business-like enterprise. It was known that the amateur steeplechase would be the race of the day, and for this gentlemen entered who had already achieved fame at kangaroo and stock hunts,note and across the stiffest fences of the country.

Luke Mivers had determined to prolong his stay against his father's request, and much to the pleasuring of Miss Shorter took charge of Astor for the big event. If he brought his colours first to the post he should then be able to claim a reward much greater than the prize offered on the bills. Of his horsemanship and horse he was confident. This thought had monopolised him from the first, and every energy of his body and mind was given towards securing the victory. It was known that Astor's training was of the most careful kind, and his trial gallops induced the Narrgummie Flat people to put new hats upon him liberally—indeed the draper was induced to obtain so formidable a consignment that the Melbourne merchant instructed his traveller to make cautious observations as to the mental state of his constituent. Like all other circumstances connected with the initial movements of the uneasy spirits, their aim was towards accomplishing a position that would warrant the erection of the place into a borough.

The day selected for the races was as clear and fine as the spring could give. The long roads from distant circlings of timber, and the main overland Sydney road, hardened with the weary traffic that had trailed along it for thirty years before, was dotted with vehicles. Traps of every kind, from the family carriage of the squatter that went through nothing but weekly inspections and periodical exhibitions to strangers, to patched-up gigs and drays with families, told how well the sports had been responded to and what a hold they had taken on the public mind. Station-hands got special holidays; every man or boy who owned horse or pony put on their best strapped trousers and cantered gleefully to the course. Many a pretty girl with her face as fresh as the morning surrendered at discretion before the munificent offer of a horse to ride and a real side-saddle with which to travel to the gaieties. The bracing day on the plains and sky, the soft sunniness of the hills, and the beauty that seemed to fill the world drew forth laughter as fresh as flowers, and bestowed a joy that was a spontaneous worship. Old hard-faced station-hands trudged in, carrying memories of the Curragh or Monaghan with


  ― 104 ―
them, or flourishing experiences of Liverpool or Doncasternote at those who had scarcely ever seen a real set out live race before. Persons from unknown localities arrived with fruit carts and games, and the little crowd swayed and fluttered with all their human passions astir, as though the prizes had been for thousands, and the sports were to be graced by royalty. There were sturdy men jangling spurs and whisking formidable riding whips; there were youths in the gaiety and grace of cutaway clothes and elaborate riding boots; while the swelling surf of silk that quite overflowed the carpenter's grand stand was wonderous to look at. Mr. Dobitt, the squatter, who persecuted the poor selectors because they stole his sheep, cut down his fences, and at intervals hocked one or two of his best horses for variety, was there. Pringell, who got the top price for wool in the London market, drove up in a flashing landau. The McNab Brothers brought their own hamper and the pure Glenlivet,note these gentlemen having early attained red faces and extravagant graciousness of manner towards all comers. The Bibbses, who were related to Sir George Dido, the well-known naturalist, clustered together in solemn grandeur, working contrasts between their white hands and fragile laces (real lace, ladies) and the canaille note who moved past below them. Mrs. Dougherty and her black-haired daughters were there wearing glowing faces, and were vulgar enough to enjoy themselves and criticise the horses. Dartley and the family of eleven were rounded up to the grand stand, the good old lady contemplating them with proper pride while guarding a basket of sandwiches and a genteel supply of cherry brandy for Mr. Dartley, in the wild hope that he might forget the fact of spirits being vended below. Here and there around were green patches of crop and blue straight lines of smoke flowing upward; little cottage windows were dazzled in the sun among young trees stretching towards the eaves and dwarfing the height of the homesteads; but beyond these the plains were silent, showing no movement except the ghostly passages of light clouds above them or the slow changings in the flocks scattered silently about on the turf that ran away into the distance. Near to these was the solitary shepherd living out his life in the monotonous silence and whispered conversations to himself of the time when his world was more peopled with faces and fuller with voices. The solitary figure seemed as moveless as his slow years, and as truly a ghost of the pastnote as those he resurrected and conversed with. The grand stand, as it was called, continued to fill so that the carpenter, in an excess of remorse at the low price he charged, raised the two-and-six-penny tickets to four shillings, and yet was not happy. The noisings of skirts up his step-ladder and the number of pretty


  ― 105 ―
boots that mounted assisted to disjoint the man's calculation, and he spoke with fierce haste to an assistant as to the propriety of asking ten shillings a head "from them wot couldn't come in time," but being discouraged he relapsed into the atmosphere of lost chances and spoke of his luck with unbecoming levity.

Amidst all this radiance of the country side—the rasping of silks on rough sawn benches, the free laughter, and the hats and bonnets bedded with flowers amongst the richness of the sparkling baubles that held the stuffs together—Miss Shorter was a stranger. She wore the diamond earrings and brooch, and moved them to such sparklings that they snared the eyesight of "the quality," which, caught by the glitter, for a moment was attracted to contemplate the bronze hair, the face below it, and its changing expressions. The grace of her, and the quiet motions that were grace, created many whispers. She was alone, but so fair-looking that even the Bibbses came to regard her with admiration, notwithstanding their aristocratic connections. When Mivers' canary silk, with the racing whip looped to his wrist, and in white breeches and faultless boots, stalked down to where she sat, and took off his cap with a marked show of respect, everybody turned to look at her again, and some young gentlemen, I am ashamed to say, forgot their companions in the survey. The young fellow had nothing to say to her. He came to show how brave he looked, and to let her see that a piece of her ribbon was knotted upon his breast. The weighing bell called him as he whispered to her, with his face a shade paler, "You will take Astor back when he wins."

She looked at him with all her gift of enthralment, but said nothing.

"And the rider with him?"

There was an acquiescing movement of her head, so slight that it was only perceptible even to him, but he took it for all the answer that he desired, and left for the scales with a wild buoyant determination to win that would have made him invincible had he but himself to rely on.

The horses pranced out one by one, carrying jackets of every colour, whence looked up faces eager for the wave of a handkerchief, a sign from some hand, or encouragement from eyes there waiting and watching.

"This will be a stiff thing," remarked a gentleman with a shade upon his face, for his oldest boy Charley was amongst the riders. And so it was. One youngster who had a notoriously able jumper had proposed, in the excitement of brandy, that the fences be raised to four feet instead of three feet six inches, and the young bloods, nothing daunted, carried the proposal with thoughtless cheers. They were ugly-looking jumps, with a heaviness of rail and a solidity of post that forbade other than a


  ― 106 ―
true retirement; but all the horses were well known and straight and safe at timber as birds. A raking black, with a chest like a bulldog and strong flat legs, flew up the straight, showing a preliminary thirst for the struggle that nearly pulled his rider upon his neck. There was a big bay that seemed to span the turf like a greyhound, his long easy stride eating distance and carrying his rider in a style that won scores of admirers. When Astor came out slowly, his impatient patrician head was turned rapidly from side to side, and his long clean pasterns looked as springy as steel; the sun lighted up his bay coat till it showed every muscle and the vast power of his quarters. It was in his favour, many said, that there was neither fretting nor fractiousness to be seen in his aristocratic bearing, but the far-reaching, steady stride that showed the staying and the power. Others followed one by one till, as the secretary observed to some friends, "It's a picture; and this the first, too. What'll the next meet be, and the next? Well done, Narrgummie! What'll you have to drink?"

"Ten starters, and every one known horses," spoke Dougherty; "it'll be awful fast: there's no better company in Melbourne."

Other races had been lost and won that day, but the excitement was not greater than might be seen elsewhere. But now numbers in the crowd saw their masters wearing colours, and they backed their stations loyally with verbal I.O.U.'s on their quarter's wages, or with the cheque to be earned this shearing. Battered convictsnote left their drinking to criticise and look, and the ropes swayed below excited faces. When the starter rode gently up with his little flag there was not a word in the stand, and a few of those below who spoke during the excitement of waiting for a start were replied to with a shout for silence. At the third trial the flag fluttered down past the horses' heads, and hung listlessly as the thunder of the hoofs rolled off, the bright colours sailing on like a flight of mixed birds. Every rider was accustomed to the grim timber trunks of the stock hunt, and it was without much persuasion the horses faced the first post-and-railer.note There came a sudden upheaval of the colours, so that it seemed there was a wave beneath them, and the next instant the big fence was bare and silent. Astor was amongst the last, and took it steadily in his pace. The silks fluttered away down in a covey, and streamed over the next without baulk or stay; so the crowd, with their hearts lighter at the prospect of a safe run, cheered till the swelling ring of the voices overtook the trampling feet and quickened some of the hearts in the struggle now beginning. It became evident the pace must be made hotter, and the raking black began to creep through his horses till his wide muzzle and uneasy eyes showed past the foremost. In this position he led the third jump, where a little gray of young


  ― 107 ―
Frembill's baulked, and swerved two or three behind him. Through these the steady pace of Astor beat, and he sailed the leap, keeping dangerously steady in the wake. Three refused all persuasion to take the running again, and the knot of riders was sifted down to seven. At the next jump the rise was soft and low, and the ground looked terribly dangerous. Bibbs's bay with the blaze rose and clattered over. The raking black took up the pace beyond it like nothing; the gray and a couple of others flew after, with Astor on their flanks. The stand leap was breasted gallantly without accident, but flakes of sweat were showing, and the horses' nostrils were wide and red. From the crowd there sprang out such a short wild cheer that it cut through the noise of the horses like a knife, and struck like a reckless yell on the ears of the riders. The raking black, the bay with the blaze, and a strong chestnut took the next leap upon each other's quarters. Astor still astern and staying, never having felt a call. But the flat racing began, and the first bay fell slowly back, slightly swaying in his pace. On the stand the rows of faces looked white, like a surf line, from the storm of eagerness that had gathered. The laughter had disappeared, and even the swishing of silks had no voice. Ladies bent forward and forgot their fribbles. At the last sweep round Miss Shorter paled; she had seen one look turned to meet hers from out the crowd of hurrying horses, from a steady, sneering face, with hard blue eyes, and thought crept upon her brow, gathering it with an anxiousness that drove the calmness away and overspread her placid look. Her interest became so intense that the lips parted before her teeth, and only the scintillations of the diamonds showed the beating that was at her heart. The gay brightness of the stand seemed to pass away like a worn-out holiday, and the bravery of the crowding occupants fell fading before the excitement of which it was but the accessory and complement. Old Dougherty had interlaced his fingers with a grip that drove the blood from them; Bibbs held his field glass falteringly, and cursed it for dancing the speeding figures into confusion and blending them in an undistinguishable maze; the M'Nabs became so absorbed that they forgot Glenlivet, and offered absurd odds to each other mechanically. It was curious to watch how movement seemed to have ceased up there, but still stranger to see how the faces brightened and darkened as though the still bright day was full of shadows. Below the crowd swayed, moved to crushing and striving by the chances, and men bet wagers on their fancies as though their coin was not laid on blistered palms and wrenched by them out of sweat and endeavour. Station was backed against station, and the fury of betting grew like an epidemic. The old hands nipped their pipestems through with strong


  ― 108 ―
brown teeth, and crunched the clay in the forgetfulness of their excitement. The stolid publican, who had sold more nobblers in a shorter time than his dreams ever suggested, saw the bar deserted and his slopped counter left without a hammering fist, barring two or three that were doubled and stained in stertorous sleep.

(to be continued)


  ― 109 ―

Chapter XVIII.

Mr. Mivers' Steeplechase Continued.

THE hush that had fallen had something in it like a solemn waiting. These people were not used to races, and the spot might have been deserted, so great was the quiet as away from the far arc of the course the distant hoofs thrummed up their booming. There were none looking at the stand now, every one moved with the riders, and something like a universal sigh came from the crowd as the next leap was passed, and little Bobby Smith shot on before his horse and sprang up uncertainly, with only thought to save his reputation for pluck and growing manhood. He looked dimly after the horses and staggered towards his own shapely brown, brushing the clay from himself as he went in a kind of drunken confusion. His young, brave eyes saw dancingly the place where his mother and sisters sat, and then he quickened pluckily to catch his mare, whose delicate head was turned in watching the retreating horses, or tossed in impatient wonderment at the unusual chance that left her riderless. She had carried Bobby through the ugliest country the district held for many long days with never a mistake. Bobby and the brown were prominent at the stock hunts and never turned a jump; but the post that rose like a cruel molar from the rails touched her dainty leg and she stumbled, so that the lad lost his seat and flew forward from the impetus of the speed the field had put on. Bobby Smith put his arm on the neck of his beautiful brown, with the blood trickling down her fetlock, and thrust back a sob that rose in his throat as he mounted. So far as he was concerned the race was over; and he had promised Margery Chauncey


  ― 110 ―
the finest habit in the country if he won, and she had looked at him with the tender eyes that won him a year before, and tremblingly untied a ribbon from her throat for his badge. This had Bobby knotted on his yellow and black cap and swore it should lead the field. Alas, that it was muddied and draggled now. Thought of this, I think, at once raised and struck down the sob, and bore him upright with a right-gallant bearing in his tiny saddle. The girl who had bestowed the gage was bending over her little clasped hands, and thinking she would give anything in the world to put her hands on his shoulders and tell him how nobly he rode; but she was amongst silks and fashionable colours, where impulse is not to be countenanced. So she was fain to content herself with twisting her fingers rapidly and allowing nothing to be seen but a soft mist upon her eyes and a twitching trembling round her dimpled mouth. Old Mr. Smith, who had backed his son, gave a sigh of gladness when he saw him on his feet, and cursed the fifty he had lost as nothing, now that the boy was right. "Do you see his pluck?" he said to his wife, with the paleness still upon his lips. She had caught his arm and struck her sight away from the fall with the handkerchief she hoped to have waved as he rode past many lengths the first. But Bobby was not alone; the bay with the blaze dropped astern badly distressed, and Holt's chestnut propped at the next jump and would not be persuaded. Another dangerous bay, full of strength and training, sulked and swerved from the course, bearing his rider like mad in an aimless gallop towards the tree-belt. In that same negotiation a big-hearted black mare rose wildly at the fence and fell with her head doubled by her shoulder on the other side. Young Murchison, who wore blue and white, ploughed the ground half-a-dozen yards ahead of her with his shoulder, and then sat up slowly to look at his dead horse. All this took the compactness from the field, and when it cleared away from the distanced horses, leaving the train of accident and vanquished behind, there were only four striving on at full racing speed. The pace had grown to be reckless and so much too hot for timber that the voices of betters died out, and there was nothing to be seen above or below but the crowding of solemn faces.

"Durn it!" said a Queensland visitor, unknowingly eating the end of his pencil, "I've lost a couple of centuries"—this monetary epoch being represented by staggering figures in a book he held open and hanging in indignant flutterings. But even he forgot the £200 at the phase the race had taken. There were two jumps before the straight, and still the raking black was to the fore, with the steady, staying,


  ― 111 ―
and splendid Astor on his rump, doing his work with the coolness and game of a true patrician. The full, generous eye of Mivers' mount was as quick and bright as when he left the saddling paddock, and none could tell that the powerful muscles that drove him on, or the broad chest that rose against his jumps showed signs of tiredness in the very least. Mivers was as steady as his horse; he never turned his head once; he thought of the regal-faced girl that was looking on; and as Astor and the black came neck and neck at the next leap his heart swelled to straining. With all his skill he raised his magnificent bay at it, and both horses struck the sod on the other side hoof for hoof. Their riders managed them with consummate knowledge, the two being now on the same stride as though they had been one. From a portion of the stand there was only one horse to be seen. Mivers' canary jacket scarcely showed once past the crimson and black worn by the competing horseman, but it was evident the call was not far off. The last jump rose away before the riders, obstinate and remorseless looking. The speed, which was sorely fast, was telling as they neared the grim rules of wood for the last time. On the black the foam was lying in drifts, and his white-margined, vicious eyes moved languidly. Straight before was the pitiless fence, then home, and the struggle over. But the speed the horses were making was reckless, and the men who knew held their breath for the verdict the sticks would show. It was a high, stubborn jump, with broad, warped rails, heavy enough to trip the best horse and jockey into eternity. When Mivers found himself straight at it he felt his grand horse steadying, and to those in the stand it seemed that the black was walking past.

"Ten to one on crimson and black," shouted two or three voices above the rolls of notes in their hands, their eyes fixed on the coming horses. "Twenty to one!" as the black grew out of his company, till the old position of Astor's nose on the black's flank was resumed. "Twenty to one on black and crimson! Look at that! Hurrah for crimson and——"

The crowd silenced again as if every man and woman there were coming to the last jump. Up rose the rolling, unconscious murmur of the spectators as the black showed above the topmost rail, the view of his landing being counterchecked by Astor's springing up as a claimant for observation too. The latter horse seemed to have put forth all his pluck and breeding, and he swept over the barrier as though the effort was not pushing his heart to bursting. The black landed with a heavy alighting; but in swinging off again his foot twisted on a small block of wood and rolled him staggeringly out of his pace.


  ― 112 ―
There was a confused tripping effort at recovery, but the go had been too killing, and he rolled over slowly but helplessly on his rider, as Mivers cantered down the straight with his face as pale as the palest on the stand above him. The rending huzzas of the crowd, their frantic gesticulations of triumph, the whole soul of the congregation going out to him, the winner, were forgotten. The one face that lived in his life was scarce remembered in the spontaneous surge of affection he felt for the incomparable horse he bestrode. He looked round and saw in the face of the unhorsed rider, now leisurely leading in the raking black, the features of Mr. Pelan. Mivers' first thought was for Margaret Shorter, and he glanced up to see her face wearing a new expression. There were wonder and embarrassment on it as she looked far over the softening plain; whatever it was, she had lost thought of him in thought for herself. The lights from the gems she wore dwelt upon an expression whence the radiance had flitted. The race of the day was over and the stand emptied. Coloured silks and stuffs drifted out rapidly and spotted the greenness in search of conveyances and preparations for departure. When Mivers weighed, and had been borne in triumph by men who would take no denial, he crept up the carpenter's ladder to find the seats empty, and it seemed to him somehow that the day had darkened suddenly as with a forecast of trouble. It was as sunny and still as ever. The same peace was abroad, and the same beauty dwelt everywhere. Little Narrgummie had the sun on its windows. Pelan had left the course with a broken arm, and the raking black had been hurriedly clothed and ridden off. Mivers left the shouting crowd that was determined to see it out, and cantered back to the township in time to note that preparations were everywhere on foot for the coming ball. His thought was the double event which he had decided to settle finally that night. Had she not promised him on the stand that she would accept both horse and rider? Did not her eyes glow and tremble like the jewels she wore when he told her that Astor would win? His then, at last, this woman, with her haunting face and all the poetry of grace her figure carried. He had fairly gained her—he had fought and won the struggle. She would brighten his future years, for without her there would be blackness. Yet the thought of failure came to him sadly. The uncertainty of some sense of mystery that was about her trailed its shadow before him. Her unbroken calm seemed so moveless but for that one spot in his memory when he had saved her life. All this barred him back with a strength he felt afraid of. What was this girl who was so fair and seemingly settled to some purpose in the old barrack beyond? Society would flout her as his wife,


  ― 113 ―
as it does any waif that has not in some sort a history of recommendation; and what was hers? What of his father at Mindorf, who had ordered him home? How would he act, this determination of his once being made known? He was as strong of mind now as he had been of hand years ago, and he knew he should be thrust away from the threshold. As for her, she must be won and kept somewhere till his father's fortune was at his own disposal. Another's! He pulled up his horse unconsciously and an evil look fell on him, the blood of the father shook him, and there was a dull red in his eyes that covered the probability of a tempest. But the sun was fair upon the earth yet. He had won as reckless a race as ever blanched a rider or led to death. The incense of cheers to his victory rang round him still. He had stepped into favour with the crowd for the first time in his life. Around were stewards hurrying about in preparation for the evening's ball, where he would be the hero of the gaieties, and she would be there outshining all others and proud of him no doubt, for all her calm and its enigma.

The sun had reddened and sunk in the pomp of cloudland, and the curtain of the night was falling, habiting the hills in blue and creeping on the pastures, when Mivers walked with trembling uneasiness to the township—and thence to the old inn, now filled with shouting men. The old man was serving his impatient customers with hoary courtesy, and trotting stiffly from place to place in pursuance of their wishes. The shillings flung upon the counter betokened a windfall of commercial prosperity, while the scattered glasses were refilled constantly to allay the thirst which excitement had engendered. The old floor bent beneath the weight of heavy feet, and the twisted bar was full of voices and loud debate. Pushing quietly past, Mivers made for the parlour door that had so often shut behind him as conservator of his happiness with Margaret Shorter. There was the light stealing past the jamb and down at the threshold, but there was something not the same that steadied him as though warning hands were on his shoulders. With the chinks of light was the muffled sound of voices, and of voices that he knew. Some sudden, familiar intonation that he caught shot him forward with a spring, and he pushed the door wide open.

(to be continued)


  ― 114 ―

Chapter XIX.

Crimson And Black.

MISS Shorter was leaning over the sofa, on which was stretched the figure of a man in a crimson and black jacket. The rider of the raking black was listening to some words she said, while the vicious diamonds shone from below her hair. Never had she bent above Mivers thus. A whirl of passion struck him; he swayed giddily for a moment, but it passed. There was something ominous in the soft, decided way in which he closed the door, but far more ominous when he turned his full front and showed his heavily set face with the slumbering fury in his eyes. She turned and saw him thus, and she whitened to the lips. Pelan sat up steadily, but there was no fear expressed in his blue eyes.

"You are surprised to find me here, Mr. Mivers, I've no doubt; but a man with a broken arm must go to some place he knows for a little watchful attention. You goaded me into a fight not so very long ago; unfortunately I am a cripple now and at your mercy."

"Mr. Mivers," said the girl, "he is a cripple."

"I know you," spoke Mivers, not in answer to either, but as linking the past with his present thoughts, "to be a treacherous dog and a common blackleg. If I did grip you and wellnigh shake your worthless senses out, it was because you wantonly vilified the character of that lady. What have you to say," dropping his voice, so that it was almost a whisper, "why I shouldn't strangle you? Your stabbing claspknife is not here, and you are unarmed like myself."

It was the lowness of his measured voice, seeming to give strength to his meaning, that made the situation seem full of danger; and add to this


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the straight brows and the firmness of his face, but, more than all, the light that was in his eyes.

"I have no doubt you are brave enough to maltreat a man with a broken arm and so distinguish yourself as a bully; but you forget in the first place this is only the room of a public house, and that I have as much right here as you. Gentlemen do not usually quarrel, as you threaten, before ladies. Look at her!"

The words were flung with some resonance of contempt in them at the woman, and Mivers was so moved to dash his fist in Pelan's blonde face that he stepped forward. There was not the evidence of the slightest quailing in Pelan. His eyes glittered calmly into those of the squatter as he again said, with the ring in his voice unchanged:

"Look at her!"

Her hands were clasped, and her figure was plainly trembling, but her face was bloodless, and almost as moveless in the expression that stamped it as that of Mivers. It was still, almost calm. Her rutilantnote hair caught the light in its heavy braids, and the dark, unsearchable eyes moved slowly from the one speaker to the other in a waiting, determined way which tokened that strength of purpose Mivers could not fathom. The sound of loud voices and laughter came in cheerfully from the bar, bearing in their strong roll the florid and plaintive utterances of Shorter in his persistent abnegation. Sometimes "Mr. Mivers," sometimes "crimson and black," sprang above the murmurs while guiding the conversation. The squatter forgot those present in the purpose that he held.

"I shall shake his life out if he does not ask her pardon. I could strangle him in one grip," thought the young fellow aloud; "he has robbed me, he has tried to kill me, as a return for my hospitality, and he has insulted her. Broken arm or not, he is only fit to be crushed."

"You forget there are others listening to your consultation, Mr. Mivers," the voice of Pelan interrupted without a change; "and it might be as well to remind you that one call of mine would fill this room with men from the bar. If you do persist in forgetting yourself and insulting this lady by your bear-play, I shall have you expelled from the room."

She did not speak, she only looked on, waiting, with her dark eyes. "You will have me expelled!" Mivers' voice was so deep that it filled the room. "And who is Mr. Shorter that he should permit the orders of a blackleg to be carried out?"

Pelan's voice cut his like a rapier. "Aye, who is Mr. Shorter?" The girl shivered, and the stones danced. The voice of the "crimson and black" held the victorious rider at bay with a subtle force. He started as from


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a sting, and looked hurriedly at the eyes of the woman. They were not to be sounded.

"Whoever Mr. Shorter is," he answered slowly, "you know who I am; and for your further information I will tell you yet more. I am going to make Miss Shorter my wife; therefore it is necessary that you apologise to her abjectly—do you hear?—as abjectly as a hound."

Pelan laughed a clear, full laugh that rang out from the room and into the bar, mingling with the laughter there, so fully that the speakers stopped to listen for a minute.

"Betrothed to her, eh, my plucked bird? ‘Two hearts that beat as one!’note Here is news! You—"

The powerful arm of Mivers struck out with the force of jealous hate, and the crimson of the jacket widened with the stain that followed, but the cold eyes did not lose their glitter.

"Bravely done," said Pelan, out of his reddening beard, and raising himself painfully from the sofa on one arm. "Bravely done!"

But Mivers was black with his passion, and he spoke so low that he could scarce be heard a dozen yards away. "Down on your knees, you dog, and beg her pardon."

With a rapid motion of his heavy arm he shot him on the floor. "Quick, ask her pardon," whispered the voice, while the speaker felt the strength of a giant in the rush of anger that seized him. "Ask for pardon, or I'll bruise your skull with a blow. Now ask it, beg for it, or, as God's above me, I'll break you!"

Had the raised fist fallen on the crown of the man's head, the glowing eyes of the speaker would have looked at a dead man. There was no voice from the woman, but her figure swept between them, and she put her strong white hand on Mivers' arm, and her eyes on his. He started at the rigidity of her face and the imperiousness of her gesture. Even in that hot moment the statuesque head and figure that clothed the hopes of his future stopped the rush of his passions to a calm. He turned from Pelan, and crossed his arms before him, still quivering from the passed storm. Pelan moved to the sofa, stopping back the blood.

"If this is one of the preliminary lessons you give your betrothed, you'll make a good husband and a brave and most desirable companion." His eyes were as undaunted as ever, but the metallic shine in them made him look tenfold more dangerous than the young giant who had struck him to the floor. There was nothing in the words, but a familiarity in the voice that cut Mivers like a blade. "Time for you to interfere," tossing the words carelessly at the girl. "Mr. Mivers, with your chivalrous permission, we will not consider the account closed; broken arms do get well, and then we shall have a kind of general balance."




  ― 117 ―

Mivers was looking at Margaret Shorter, not thinking of the speaker. She was sitting upon a chair with her hands clasped before her and her eyes upon the ground, showing no motion of any kind except the scintillations of the baubles. Roistering voices and loud oaths came from the outside, and with them the usual expressions of voluminous courtesy and humility from the old man to the preferred requests. Mivers stood moveless before the old fear that was not to be shaken, and he asked, in a voice that sounded strangely to himself, "Are you going to send that fellow to some other room?"

"That fellow" smiled quietly as she replied, "His arm is broken, and you have bruised him. He must remain."

"I am sorry if my violence has frightened you, and I apologise." He spoke sullenly, catching the sneering eyes on the sofa.

"You have surprised but not frightened me, and you narrowly escaped a crime."

"I could not help it, expecting, as I did, to find you here alone, and, instead, to see you bending over and waiting on the greatest enemy I have." He spoke in a low whisper. "But I'll explain all that to-night at the ball, and shall be ready for you in a couple of hours. Shall I come then?"

"I shall be ready then."

Mivers walked slowly home, and tried to recall the incidents of the quarrel, but he remembered them only as he might a dream. The passion that had seized him seemed like some excess from drink, and through it always the uneasy pervading feeling of some indistinct but rooted fear. There was, after all, he thought, nothing strange in Miss Shorter tending the wounded man who had pushed him so gallantly in the race; but one source of doubt was in his eyes and voice. He treated her like a barmaid and nothing more, and she should be removed from the position forthwith. He would explain all to her that night, and demand an answer, somehow, in the ballroom. A whisper among the people, in the full glare of the light, before the gay faces of the unknowing guests, if no other chance presented itself, would settle in some sort the doubt that had been his so long, and at last bridge the distance she kept between them. This night should resolve all. If she refused him? No woman could be so false. She had his gifts; her father his benefits; he had saved her life; he had won the race; he had her promise—not perhaps expressed in words, but still eloquently told. That night would settle all. There could be but the one answer; and then—and then——Ah! she would be his, and the whole longing love of the past would be filled. He would make her his wife at once, or wait for marriage, if she would, till


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the time when his father's property would be his. Could there be any doubt? There could not.

The merriment at Shorter's Hotel had by no means subsided at a late hour. Workers at farms and stations enjoyed themselves that evening after their own fashion. They logically concluded that if the swells had their pleasure it was for them to find enjoyment too. Accordingly, the hard beernote of the bar obtained a call that was not critical as to its head—surreptitiously manufactured into floating bubbles by an unusual length of fall. The drink was satisfying and muddling, if aided by isolated nobblers of rum. Then the stir and bustle and ravelled debate were as fascinating as the genteeler pleasures at the empty store beyond, where champagne was a tipple and bottled beer the staple.

Even the craving of the uneasy spirits of Narrgummie was satisfied at the result. Who would have thought to see so many of the "nobs" there? Never since the place was first conceived by the old public-house, that had its mortar mixed with convicts' cursings and its stones laid under tyranny and lashings, had so many of the Smiths, Browns, and Robinsons, with fabulous balances at the bank and unnumbered sheep, so honoured the place with their presence. The busy sounds of the moving skirts, with gallants attending in top-boots and tight breeches, showed at once the importance of the place as a grand natural centre for the widespread pastoral resources lying round and beyond the straggling township. It mattered not that the store—once built for a speculative grocer whose ambition it was to supply the stations round at wholesale prices, a little above Melbourne cost—had been a failure, the material progress of the town from thenceforward was assured.

There was a whole solar system of kerosene lamps from the rafters, and tin sconces on the walls that shot forth dazzling reflections from all varieties of stearine. The setsnote were so numerous that silks caught grippingly and confessed to each other the quality of the ankles that twirled them. Scores of young girls will long remember the Narrgummie race-ball as the scene of their first début. They have been to many another more select and elegant, but to none where the abandon of honest pleasure was so fresh and pure, or when the surroundings were so forgotten in innocent enjoyment. From the companionship of the chivalrous fellows who spun them round and helped them to tread the maze, life looked as bright as the light, and the dances of the future took their tonings of the possible. The sourness of rigidity was not amongst them with its cramping presence; and when Margaret Shorter, dressed in that mysterious softness natural to her taste, entered, there were none who did not look on her with admiration. Questionings were


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renewed as to who this Miss Shorter was, and young fellows, great in expectations, unthinking of all but her beauty, besought the honour of a dance. Then her face beamed out from the strange expression it had worn when she hastily met Mivers at the front of the old hostel. The pleasure seemed to her and him to be unmarred. She was in every dance, and as much the admired of the simple folk as though her history was as royal as her womanhood. The night was wearing away when Mivers' dark face, looking handsome with the successes of the day and the congratulations of the evening, found her amongst the set of the aristocratic Bibbses, and reminded her of the coming engagement. "Not that I wish to take you away, Margaret; but we owe each other an explanation, and it is but fair, I think, that all doubts between us should be cleared up to-night."

She took his arm with the calm that was her characteristic, and they walked amidst the gay promenaders. "This is the time I have thought about so often and looked forward to with so much longing. You know that months ago you held me to you by bonds that have proved strong enough to warp a man's life. For your sake I lost money to be near you, and to allay the excitement of my nearness I drank heavily. Through love of you I was nearly killed, but not till now, when the danger and excitement of the race are over, did I feel that I could freely ask you to be my wife."

She leant heavily on his arm as he went on: "When I saw the last two jumps before me to-day I feared that Astor could barely do it. I felt a sinking pity for the grand young horse that was yours, but a desperate determination when I landed him across the first of the two from home; then I knew there was enough in him for the very last, and there came a buoyant joy to me that we should win that helped me to lift him over and pass the judge. It was thought of your face and yourself that did it all. It was a fearsome leap in the headlong pace we ran; but who could beat you and the inspiration you gave? Not that cur with the broken arm, nor that long, strong black against your splendid Astor. Before the race you told me—not in words, Margaret, but with your own face—that you would accept us both, being winners; and now you will repeat that more plainly: that is all I want. I'll wait as long as you choose, but I want to know you are mine, and to feel relieved of the numb trouble that has kept with me since first I met you. I should care for nothing if you were mine: all the happiness possible would be my portion then."

He looked down at her, and noticed with a throb that her face was as it had been once that day before, when the eyes of crimson and black


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mocked him from the sofa. Her bearing was as graceful as when he led her to the dance, but the pale firmness of the face had usurped its joyousness, and there was a trouble shadowing her.

"I might say," he continued, hurrying to speak before her, "that you have wholly changed the purpose of my life—wholly changed me. I confess to the meanness and coarseness of my manners and aims before I knew you; but love refines like fire. You have changed me, Margaret—so changed me that there is no relapsing into the old paths."

"As for example this evening," she whispered wearily.

Hastily he made reply: "For that I cannot apologise. I met the man before my illness at a late hour of the night coming from the direction of your house, and he insinuated he had been in your society. I should have strangled him had he not stabbed me. As he said to-night, the account is not closed. He insulted you then, he did so again this afternoon by the contempt in his voice at you, and if I live and he lives we shall have the reckoning out."

Mivers had age and manhood in his voice and bearing, and the girl looked up at him with surprise, but there was no other change in her expression.

"I do not think I have acted fairly by you, Mr. Mivers. I did not think you were so attached to me as you say." Her voice trembled, for she knew she was lying; but her assertion had feeling in it nevertheless. "You were generous enough not to remind me that I owe you my life. I wish a girl dare give her love. I wish she—I—could listen to Luke Mivers. If I dared do it; but I dare not—I dare not—it would be yours; as truly as I look at your dark, powerful face and your pleading eyes, it would."

"But it will, Margaret; it will. I say that it will."

The impassioned depth of his whisper straight from his heart made her pace falter.

"You tell me that you love me. I am not wholly base. As I may one day hope for heaven I am not. Do you believe me? tell me that."

He opened his eyes at her, struck with surprise, but only saw the same firm features and the whiteness of her face.

"Do you hear me? Tell me that you believe me."

"I don't understand your question," answered he in a choking way; "base you cannot be, Margaret. Who said you were?" bracing his arm suddenly upon her hand. "Who thinks you base?"

"But tell me this. You will never believe it, no matter what may come?"

"Whatever may come, I could not believe it; but why do you ask me instead of answering?"




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"Ah! who knows why?" she asked in turn, with a dreary vacancy. "You will remember to-night and your promise always? I shall never forget it. The next dance is on, and here is my partner to fulfil his engagement."

She left him for another part of the room, and he sat down, feeling the old dread that he could not analyse. "What can she mean?" he asked, watching her; "what can she mean? I shall soon know. I must have it all settled to-night." He joined his brows and thought.

The dance was soon over and he claimed her. She was the first to speak. "You have made up your mind to come to an understanding to-night. Will you do me a favour?"

"Do you a favour?" He smiled with pity for himself. "You can ask me for no favour that I will not give, and that you know right well."

"Then do not resume the subject to-night. Don't frown at me in that wild way, Mr. Mivers. I claim this as the favour I want." She clasped his arm, and looked at him with sincerity and distress in her face.

"You have my promise on condition I know all to-morrow."

"It is granted."

The power of her beauty gathered again. The wonder of her grace found her, and it was late before she left, bearing home compliments as to her triumph of the evening. It was not far to the old house, and they walked slowly into the moonlight. They were below great clouds rimmed with silver, and fashioning white-tipped mountains and monstrous craigs soft in light, and the whole pageantry of skyland. They did not speak much, she leaning upon him with a heaviness that was like hopelessness. Little bits of pool beside them mirrored the dark blue above, and the silvery night chastened both with unusual thoughts. Before them, the plains were dark; behind, the hills were against the sky in shade and rest. The revellers had been seized by sleep and stricken to silence as though alcohol, like another destroying angel, had smitten them for the first-born.note There was neither voice nor language abroad but those of the sailing clouds and their glimpses of unreal beauty.

"You will remember," Miss Shorter said with an effort, as the old roof of the hotel rose before them, "what you have promised me to-night."

"The morrow has come."

"Oh, not that."

"Of course I will remember; but you hurt me by the question."

They had walked into the shadow, when she took her hand from his arm and stood before him.

"I am at home, Luke Mivers. Good-night."

He made his salutation to her as though she had been an empress, but she did not stir.




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"Good night."

"Good night."

And still they stood watching each other's faces.

"I claim your promise," spoke again the firm mouth of the woman.

"And I claim yours for to-morrow. Till then good night."

"Stay a little. Come one minute into the shadow."

He followed her as she looked up and down the road, into the darkness round them, then hastily at the gloomy old house.

"Good night."

She put out her white hands and arms and held his face to hers an instant. She touched him with a kiss lighter than a breath, and ran away sobbing.

(to be continued)


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Chapter XX.

After The Ball.

MR. Mivers felt his heart beating fast. "After all," he thought, "the word is truly spoken, and she is mine." He strode over the ground home in a riot of rejoicing. He loved the night and the day that had brought it. All fears would be cast aside on the coming morrow, and there was no doubt as to the result. It was already morrow. The dawn was flowing up among the stars like a tide, and sweeping round them as waters round the rocks. It was breaking gloriously past shining planets and streaming across the night. The day that was to settle all—when his one hope in the past would become his for all time! And when the moon failed to silver the little congregation of houses, and the dimness lay waiting on the struggle of day and dark, he turned in the direction of the hoary roof and said, "Good night."

From out all the days that had joined themselves in the history of Luke Mivers that come morrow was truly the brightest. He saw the dawn, and looked restlessly out on the sunrise. It was as fair as dreamland. The past was to be summed up by that blessed light, and with it the possible future would open. The brilliance of the day was itself gladness and joy. It was the calm, splendid spring, when bright-hued birds pair away among the tender leaves, and the lambs sport on the distant plains over the carpet of heaven's weaving. This day came down as cloudless as Mivers' hopes, and he wondered from his happiness at some new sense of the loveliness abroad he had not felt before. It was the touch of her lips as light as air that had given the day its colouring and called forth his admiration. It was the flash of her white hands upon


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his face for but an instant that marshalled to him the glory of earth and sky, and created his sense of its cloudlessness. And why, with the brightness everywhere, and the still brighter remembrance that hovered with him, should the beauty and joy of the spring not win and wonder him? He caught some forgotten words like the remnant of a distant thought:

"This world is very lovely!
Oh, my God, I thank thee that I live."note

He left the old homestead that afternoon to doubt for the last time, and marvel at the joy that had flown past him unheeded while he marked unconsciously the debt of the appreciation she had given him. There before him crept up the old hotel; it held all he cared for, and she would be his. She was more to him than "sheaves of sceptres," and yet he feared strangely for the meeting and the fulness of the happiness he was approaching. He wondered that the hotel looked the same. There was no unusual brightness in the old bar. The dismal shelving and dismaller bottles stood crooked against the warped partition, and the old man pottered silently about, giving the suggestion of an untimely resurrection. Mr. Mivers' voice was never so full and buoyant before. He talked about the trade bestowed upon them by the races, and the successful meeting just past; the absolute certainty of many such gatherings at Narrgummie in time to come. He did not remark that the profuse Mr. Shorter heard him reservedly. He did not notice that he shook his white head curtly when asked to have a glass of wine, nor did it occur to him that he wore the strange complex air that held some psychological resemblance to the face he loved.

"I'm going in to see Margaret. Ah, you should have seen her last night, sir; not one in the whole gathering could compare to her. They have all been speaking about her this morning."

He passed through the bar and opened the door of the room, with a thickening of his breath; but it opened upon darkness and silence; and when he turned disquieted to question the host, he found himself before him, the old man bearing a slobbering candle agueishly.

Mr. Shorter looked erect and steadfast, on this occasion. There was an unusual, resolved air about him.

"Come in, Mr. Mivers," spoke he, with distant courtesy as to an equal. "Hush, sir, ask me no questions, and sit down. If I had waited," he remarked, folding his hands and speaking so quietly and slowly that every word exasperated, "you would have asked me, I dare say, where Margaret Shorter is. Is it not so, young sir?"




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Not the words but the triumphant look of the face struck the poor young fellow with great amaze. He forgot to answer, and waited to hear more with whirling confusedness.

"In such case I should have been compelled to tell you that Margaret Shorter has left this roof."

Mivers' sight seemed to him to break up in sparks, but he only showed to the eager eyes opposed to his that his lips grew dry and trembled.

"What!"

"I have told you that my daughter has left this roof. Hush! You will ask me, why? I can only tell you she has left Narrgummie. You would ask me, where she has gone to? To that latter interrogation, presuming you put itwhich I presume you dois it not so?" he nodded in a sharp fashion and so ejected a couple of big drops from his bleared eyes. "Such being the case—meaning that you want to know where she has gone to—the girl that so often sat opposite you before the bright fire and in the light of the lighted candles. Such, I repeat," turning and twisting his hands with satisfied suppleness, "being your question, my answer is—I don't know. She is gone. That face you like so much, Mr. Mivers; and I again answer to your question, where? I don't know."

If he had been seized with the age of four score years, and all that strong grasp of time had shook him, Mivers could not have trembled more. If his 25 years had stretched into the 80 he could scarce have looked older or more helpless. He only pushed his tongue between his hot lips and waited.

"Yes, sir," the old fellow continued, with a white sneer, "gone." His eyes did not move from their feast on the young man's face. "You would ask, with whom? There I can satisfy you, Mr. Mivers, to your heart's content. She is gone with—but whom do you think?" The speaker shortened his face startingly by bringing his jaws together and then laughed. "That's the question—with whom?"

The slobbering candle spluttered a sudden interrogation too, and the old man turned and flipped the wick; then he fixed his unholy eyes on Mivers and paused.

"Don't you guess, eh, my young patron? even now can't you guess? Then I'll tell you." He pulled forward his chair and placed his hands upon his narrow knees with hunger in his look. "She's gone with crimson and black!"

"You lie, you infer—" He swayed wildly and sat back upon his chair.

"With all your prepossession in her favour, you'll admit this conduct was undutiful in a daughter. And I had made up my mind that she loved you," he nodded complacently at his companion; "but when you live to


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be as old as I am, you'll not place much faith in women. How much better to have her here beside you to-night, and the house as it used to be, instead of her being away with crimson and black, and lost to you after all your kindness—for you were kind to her—certainly you were kind to her. I'll not deny that," he said assuringly to the candle. "And who would have thought that your rival in the race would have beaten you in love! Off with crimson and black in preference to canary colour and Luke Mivers, junior, Esquire, the brave gentleman who won the steeplechase—the liberal gentleman who gave her diamonds and the blood horse Astor, when he could ill afford it perhaps. Who would have thought it?" The speaker's voice had no sincerity in it. It was hot and keen with the ring of hollowness and enjoyment, and his mocking face was merciless. "But you have lost her now, you know. How did you lose her? Tell me that. I am interested in the matter, you will admit?"

Mivers stood up in the forlorn light and before the cold hearth. The room was full of preposterously big shadows, and his face had a dark, scared look. He scarcely heard the old man's voice.

"What do you know of this?" he asked so hoarsely that his words were difficult to catch. He laid his shaking hand on Shorter's shoulder. "What is there between your daughter and this Pelan? It is not of late she has known him, nor within the short time of my knowledge of him that he gathered the familiar contempt for her I heard in his voice yesterday. Come," he went on, with a sudden rush of rage that made him clutch Shorter as though his hand had been iron, "tell me all about it, or I'll shake your joints asunder."

Shorter rose quickly and steadily and turned his bitter face upon him. "You will know all about it, and you will use your strength against me, will you? Listen to me for your own sake. I have never touched you willingly yet. On no occasion that you can call to mind have I ever put my hand upon you or in yours. If your hand rests upon me again I'll commit you to prison—not for the assault, Mr. Mivers, but as a common forger. Do you think I do not know that the name on your last bill was not a forgery, or that I have lived all these years not to know how to use it for my own advantage and safety? You shall learn nothing from me, except that my daughter has left you, as you may see, for crimson and black, and your courtship has ended, and you are in my hands. See! In these old hands that are strong to crush you, though you had the strength of a score Miverses. I who can disgrace you to-morrow and put you in a felon's dock. Come, now, what do you think of this turning of the tables?"




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The young man listened without answering. The dark, shadowy room, the guttering candle, the merciless bitterness of the aged face, seemed to him a nightmare. Through it all there was the stricken sense of bereavement and the possessing wonder if she was lost to him. The feeling she had raised had developed within him all that was best in his nature, but the development had wrecked him. If her beauty and the unthinking worship he had given her had driven him to reckless debt and crime, it was but to pleasure her, who had come into his life, and won him with her brightness. It had all faded. The night had come down—a night out of which he could see no breaking; and the emptiness and dreariness of the desolation struck him with despair, and flung him in a hopeless blank that he did not yet appreciate.

Mivers stood leaning against the dim wall, but he could not think. The blow that reeled him robbed him of thought, only he seemed to know through it all that she was gone—she to whom he bade good-bye that morning with the dawn. Oh, how his day had fallen!note

He walked away mechanically without replying a word. He turned towards his home; but the following day was old before he reached it, marked with travel, and carrying a new wistful light in his restless eyes.

(to be continued)


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Chapter XXI.

Mr. Fitzgerald Meets The Mivers Family.

IF on a former occasion, when the Borough Council of Mindorf determined on a grand picnic, they had been favoured with a kind of municipal pentecost,note the prophesying of the local legislators could not have come truer. Mindorf progressed with such rapid strides that carpenters and bricklayers regarded it as an Eldorado of labour and an Arcadianote for the worker. The saw-and-chisel men found themselves so successful that they struck for higher wages; stonemasons followed the example; and, lastly, the bricklayers, not to be behind their brethren, flung their trowels aside and drank beer in a chronic state of indignant protest at the arrogance that was grinding them down to the beggarly pittance of 10s. per day. Having as a matter of course run in debt to their shopkeepers, they often met to sing of nights, and with great taste and feeling, "——his eyes, whoever tries to rob a poor man of his beer."note These inspired lines came to take the high position of a Masonic anthem, and were generally the verse that parted them for their respective homes. Upon these occasions they told their families they had patriotically determined in the interests of the grand brotherhood of bricklayers to wring another shilling per week from the purses of the grinders. But these flirtations of the labour market ceased as the butchers' bills grew, and finally the laudable aspirations of the workers sobered down to work once more. Rows of dwellings with elaborate fronts grew up to look out upon the sea, new hotels promised elegance of living before unthought of, and what with artistic cooking, bills of fare, and imported wines, the town believed itself to be growing into a


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city, and made a move to obtain a bishop, a peal of bells, and several other necessary concomitants for the centre of a bishopric. It was not a matter for surprise that Mindorf grew. It had an illimitable supply of health to bestow. It had scenery that made that health a delight, to say nothing of the waters that rolled their long breakers upon the shore below, and lashed their music over the town, or murmured in great, soft melodies to the days and nights. Out where the bay mirrored the brightness in calm, or ruffled and frowned and washed in steady charges upon sand or rocks, it was always a thing of beauty. The enterprise that built the dwellings saw the necessity for the establishing of a promenade, which was accordingly set about, till the stream of loungers was diverted to the beach, to the extravagant anger and indignant amaze of the older settlers, who had, of course, especial claims on the patronage of the residents. These held public meetings to obtain wards, and so dissolve the borough partnership for the due representation of ends and positions. The gardens grew apace with such collections of hard-named shrubs in them that handbooks of botany became no inconsiderable item in the bookselling trade. A short time showed the enclosures covered with plants and flowers of every kind of beauty. Mindorf increased in gaiety. The Mindorf Herald devoted a column to fashionable gossip, and enlarged upon the arrivals of fashionable visitors. Along the crooked roads that hooped the hills were the square farms, rippling their crops as they were green mantles struck with velvet shades and play of colour, and upon the plains rolling up to them were human homes, snug among trees near to the river that strung them along its banks. The invalided turned their eyes to Mindorf with hope. Over-fat hostesses, who had waxed stout at the bar-trade, and the attenuated nervousness of ladydom, were represented. Weak children who had seen the sea for the first time were there lying on the sands, and dreaming with the swell, while health crept to them, and in due course to undisputed possession. This time was spoken of as the gayest that Mindorf had seen. There was an epidemic of parties, and the privileged were so engaged of nights that evenings at home became phenomena worth studying. Dancing parties led the van so decidedly that all the new cottages that had rooms with movable partitions commanded high and ready rentals.

When Bryan Fitzgerald stepped upon the pier one gray evening, and walked quietly to the town from the noises of the impatient sea, there were not a few who noticed the tall, gentlemanly visitor, with his black hair and free stride. It was not at all to be wondered at if his carriage, and the symmetry of strength in it, attracted notice. There was so much of


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the thoroughbred in his clean limbs and staglike poise that exclusives mentally claimed him. The reposeful appearance of power and self-dependence, with his handsome face and heavily fringed eyes, so distinguished him that he was easy of remembrance—far different from the tattered young man who jumped at the athletic sports some time before to gain money to parry a while with hunger. The unkempt hair was close trimmed, and the shaggy beard shaven. Yellow moleskins and blue serge had been exchanged for the efforts of those artists in cloth who make fortunes by their cutters, and stitch by proxy. Thus Mr. Fitzgerald entered Mindorf habited as a gentleman, and as disguised from the magnificent animal that baulked the troopers as though his individuality had been changed. None in the town could have recognized him, if not the eyes that looked into his on the dark night when he crossed the little river and bade farewell to the face that looked so truthful. Mindorf found him out in his modest lodgings, and pasteboard compliments reached him from all sides. In his easy way that had some tinge of sadness with it, he allowed himself to drift with the current that flowed up to and around him, and he stalked to the dances, knowing nothing of them; but listened, pleased, to the pretty chat that was offered, the pleasures of which lighted up his face with an interest so fresh and undisguised that it was a pleasure to watch his eyes and the play of his face. Mindorf took it into its collective head to be as gracious and indulgent as though he had called himself Count and spoke English in triumphant gutturals. There was no disturbing his quiet, self-dependent manner, and there was no attempt made at it by smart talkers when it became known that, at a late picnic, he had, with a convenient sapling, felled a young bullock that had taken offence at a group of assorted colours, and charged madly at a gay shawl. Mr. Fitzgerald carried that strength with his comeliness that secured respect. With his candid face and far look he was sought for and praised uncriticised. One of the first difficulties and pleasures of the position he had assumed was when a delicately written invitation in the writing of Mrs. Jane Mivers invited him to an evening party at the house of the wealthy squatter. The night when he twisted the pistol from the old man's hand, and pushed him back to a seat, rose before him vividly, out of the regret that since then had pursued him, but the bending face below the lamp on the street side was stronger than any probabilities he might conceive, and on the evening named he found himself in Mivers' drawing-room, where his old square-faced mentor had sought for unconsidered trifles.note The house wore that appearance of space and comfort that is so eloquent of wealth. Pictures that he knew nothing of


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refined the walls with their classic beauty, and pieces of scenery won him with their depth and charm. There were many there he had met of late, and there were men who talked to him with that nameless air of refinement and simplicity that attracted him more than fair faces and elaborate hair. It was a gathering where bullion is indicated by metallic fancies of gold and jewels, where costly laces were passports to respect, and where intricate extravagances were as much certificates of position as the ribbon of an empire. Fitzgerald thought he had never seen anything so beautiful as the clustering colours, the glitterings amongst them, and the animated features, the low laughter, and the pervading elegance that leavened the whole. Glitterings came from the scattered vertu or rested on the wide-framed pictures, that illustrated strange, weird scenes or types of beauty he had not known. Mirrors repeated the brilliancy of the party in willing encores; and when music held sway and moved them to its ruling, the soft light and changing shades seemed to him almost as beautiful as when the great hills beyond were sun-laden and lay dressed in gold and shadow. But he had only entered upon the life the graces of which were closely kin to his nature, and but appealed to smouldering aspirations that had touched him years before. He had yet to learn the science of veneer, and the untold value of simulation. When Mrs. Mivers spoke to him from the plain, placid dignity of age, her soft white hair and the gracious matron-look reminded him of the old woman who sat beneath the creepers above the porch in the forest, and who died beside him in the glory of the morning. His eyes softened, and unthinkingly he bowed before her with unusual reverence. It was her pleasure to talk with him apart, and learn his impressions of Mindorf before she took her presence elsewhere, leaving the unspoken protection it had bestowed. He saw Mr. Mivers, sen., and, but for the heavy face and the deep lines that indulgence had harrowed, he would not have recognized in the spruce, smiling old gentleman the forbidding features or the dark, tyrannous scowl that stamped his face in the days that were past, much less the startled invalid who had bought himself from ill-usage with the cheque.

"Mr. Fitzgerald, I presume?"

This was spoken by an old young man who sauntered wearily to where Fitzgerald stood looking at him with a kind of listless interest. Mr. Fitzgerald replied, and made haste to imply after a while that he did not dance, and that he had been such a short time from a pure country training that he was sorry to admit he had neglected that accomplish-ment; but after all he found it as pleasing to be a looker on, more especially when his awkward movements might in no small degree mar


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the picture he had been watching.

"I don't care for dancing either," his companion mused aloud, scarcely heeding the reply. "The quiet country or a wild, mad race where there is danger and excitement is pleasanter than this whirling show of silks and stones."

Fitzgerald could see that the speaker's hair was as black as his own, but threaded with gray, and that there was some kind of indescribable, smouldering light in his searching eyes.

"I have been in danger too, but I think its excitement has a charm that is not healthy. There is a furious exaltation in it that I should think was like brandy-drinking; danger drills well, but it is a wearing pastime, and sooner or later it gains the struggle."

"So it does, and that is why I like it. I know you have been in danger, or you wouldn't have tumbled over that beast the other week so neatly. What's your first feeling when you're cornered?" the questioner asked, with a queer laugh.

"Why," said Bryan simply, "to face the cornerer, whatever it is, that one may learn the worst."

"Wish to God I could. What do you think of the company?" he asked, carelessly looking round in a restless way.

"This is the first large ball I've been at," Bryan answered, "and it has far exceeded my expectations."

"There is the nicest girl in the room, although she is a near relation of mine; look at her: opposite you."

The speaker had sat down on a chair, and was looking vacantly at the dancers. Bryan looked in the direction, and saw for the first time the face he so well remembered. There was the slender figure of Helen Mivers; the same proud face and sad eyes—"brighter and lovelier now than ever," he thought—set off with her dark hair. He looked at her with a new sense of embarrassment. His first feeling was one of annoyance at the pale, intellectual face of the gentleman who was speaking to her. She caught the steadfastness of his look and started; then he could see that she had attracted the attention of her companion to him, and that both were making their way to where he stood. For a moment he thought of his race from the troopers, and the blood left his face; but his advice to face the cornerer recurred to him. He tried to look unconcerned, but he knew the white dress was steadily bearing in his direction, accompanied by the pale companion.

"Why, Luke, what are you doing here?" she inquired, laughing—"alone, and not dancing?" But while speaking her eyes passed continually from one face to the other of the young men.




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"Eh! Helen. I beg your pardon," he said, "allow me to—excuse me, Mr. Fitzgerald. I forgot to introduce myself. I am Luke Mivers, and this is my cousin, Helen Mivers—Mr. Linkton."

"I have just been wondering," she said gaily, "at the resemblance between you two gentlemen."

"I quite agree with you," affirmed Linkton, looking at his boots. "Has neither of you observed it?"

"I didn't," answered Mivers, passing his hand slowly over his eyes.

"Nor did I," spoke Fitzgerald, looking down at Mivers, whereat the lady started, and a perplexed look came to her.

There certainly was a likeness that, if not remarkable or very unusual between strangers, was sufficient to attract the attention of an observer. Fitzgerald might be described as a fresh, strong portrait of Mivers done with a bold hand. The expression of each was different. One was weary and worn; the other calm and strong. Mivers' eyes held a sorrowful yearning; Fitzgerald's were soft and bold, with a far look as though seeking for the liberty of the plains or the breezy sides of mountains. It becomes me, as a truthful recorder of events, to state that from the time when Fitzgerald met Miss Mivers till the gaieties closed that young gentleman behaved with undoubted rudeness to a number of very nice young ladies who, from the overflowing sense of the pleasures of dancing, came to sympathise with him in their prettiest way, and volunteer the suggestion of establishing little quadrille parties where Mr. Fitzgerald would become a pupil, and so gain an accomplishment without which society was but an empty mockery and life generally an unconscionable bore. To these sage and mature counsels Bryan paid but little heed, and he was, moreover, guilty of the unpardonable sin of showing that his attention was absorbed by something that had nothing to do with dancing or the fair faces so anxious to relieve his life of the gloom which it must suffer minus the practical knowledge of the soul-gladdening Terpsichore.note But so it was. There was for him that evening only the thought of Helen Mivers' voice and her graceful figure. What a distance she was from him some months before when she offered him her gloved hand in thankfulness, and now the whirligig of chance had placed him on a level with the life she led and the society in which she moved. The sweeping glance of her eyes often caught him watching, and she tried to recall some dreamy memory that haunted her. The truthful earnestness of his face had a freshness in it she seldom realized, and she felt the power of his look to bring to her a new enjoyment. It was with a feeling near to disappointment she found him engaged with some of her companions, to be dissipated again when his eyes sought her


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out from time to time, as they might dwell upon some unformed hope. Before the midnight Mrs. Mivers found him again, and with kind, motherly purpose invited him to a riding party for the next week.

"Mr. Mivers is going, and has promised you a mount. It is the intention to ride amongst the Glenston hills some miles distant, and inspect the caves there."

Fitzgerald coloured with pleasure at the prospect. From these rises he could see, dim in the depths beyond, the trees that had shielded his mother's house, where Brown was quietly resting among the years that at last were bridging his life calmly towards the unbroken rest. He must express his warmest thanks to Mr. Mivers for his kind consideration of him, and he sought him for this purpose.

"Don't mention it," replied the young man. "The horses are eating their heads off in the stable, and a day's work will do them a service. A bracing gallop will do me more good than all the Mindorf dances."

And when, before the ball was over, Mr. Fitzgerald saw Helen Mivers, he bearing his excuses to her that he did not dance, she wondered at his voice again, and looked up at his face with renewed perplexity. She met his eyes and caught the rare smile that was his, and was angered to feel her face grow hot.

"Mamma tells me you are coming to the riding party on Tuesday?"

"Mrs. Mivers was kind enough to invite me, and Mr. Mivers has promised to mount me."

"I trust we shall have a favouring day; remember we start at 9. It will be a pleasant change from crowded rooms to the sun and the trees and the flowering grassland."

She was claimed for the coming dance, and Mr. Fitzgerald found his way home.

(to be continued)


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Chapter XXII.

Mr. Fitzgerald Goes Out Riding.

SUMMER had begun to signal itself at intervals through the days. Its warm breath came with the freshness of spring, forcing out the later flowers till the growth of colour and of grass and leaf were full. The long glorious days that passed in pageant across the earth sowed gladness everywhere. On the levels, and amongst the hills where the stillness slept in wide repose, the land was giving of its wealth, and the roistering birds and gay flowers made it all holiday. The sense of freedom across the country, with the following murmur of the mighty sea, sounding his grand hosannah, and then the dark broad shadows where were glimpses of wings, and shrill calls on to the stretches of purple flowers, or gold and crimson heaths tangled in mixtures of every shade and in patches of rich colour. To see it all was like drinking joy. The bright day with its showered blessings had its effect on the party of ladies and gentlemen who paired off for the stretching gallops before them. Fitzgerald was beside Luke Mivers, who shrank in a pained way from the society of ladies; and in answer to his request Bryan companioned him across the rolling lands. The paces were prettily kept, and from the line of equestrians laughter rang that was more joyous than music, and faces gained colour and brilliance and happiness too—fresher and better than the keenest excitement the dance could yield. On across the shades, and beneath waving wattles, laden with their hawthorn smell,note and reaching down their golden globes of blossom, to contrast with leaf and grass, the busy hoofs drummed rapidly on the flowering turf, and the perfumes of the day rolled up against the


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speeding party like offered incense. Voices were loud and merry faces were bright with happiness. The jangling bits, the snorting horses, the earth passing beneath them like a rolling web, the sentinel trees rising slowly up in review and meeting them with their tasselling mistletoe: all this, and far more than could be told, struck upon their senses from the panorama spread to them. And when the huge old sleeping hills began to throw back the sounds the party carried, in grumbling defiance, and the aged rocks looked tottering in the sun—when the plash of falling waters met them, even young Mivers raised himself with a curious questioning look in answer to such a subtle appeal as he had not felt since the morning that followed the ball he so well remembered. Across the shoulders of the hills, in and out the dark caves, by the side of sparkling streamlets, where swaying flowers were—where unknown plants dipped to the showering spray and birds bathed their breasts and shot out again on vivid wings to the sun. Thus amongst ferns and strange vegetation till the day was shading down to gold, and then back on a new path by the river and the deep ford, they galloped up along its banks watching the plashes of red glow on its waters, the reflected clouds and stripes of light throwing paths across with glories in their hues gorgeous enough for entrance to paradise. The day was dying in its solemn imperial fashion as they reached the ford.

"Straight between those posts," Fitzgerald called out in his full tones. "The ladies will lift their habits. The river is unusually high; ride steadily."

Two by two they entered the strong current, and some of the cavalcade passed in safety. Mivers was in the act of leaning down to guard against guiding his horse over the side of the ford, when the impatient animal flung up his head with sudden petulance and struck him on the forehead. He swayed dizzily and then rolled helplessly over the saddle-bow into the stream. Those of the ladies who saw the occurrence screamed, and the rest remained in awed stillness, not knowing what to do.

"Make room on the ford, there," shouted Fitzgerald. He was dashing back the way he had come before his directions were understood. He passed Helen Mivers with his spurs struck harshly home to his horse, and she, noting the purpose in his face, and scarce knowing what she did, turned and followed. There was an ugly fence that cut away the direct course along the river, and by riding round a minute might be lost. Fitzgerald did not pause; he settled himself in his saddle and cut his horse with a stroke that maddened him; then firming him with the rein, he rode at the obstacle, that was as dark and stubborn-looking as a wall;


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the horse was a pace behind for his spring, and he rose to it ten feet away, clearing it by two feet and alighting far beyond. The riders were still motionless on the ford, and it seemed for a while there was a shadowy hunt down the stream, now growing grey beneath the leadening sky. The river flowed on at its speed, but the horse strided past the bubbling froth as though it had been still. Helen Mivers could see Fitzgerald's profile turned against the sky as he watched the water and rode on. Suddenly his horse faltered, and stopped under the power of the rider's hand, and in an instant the saddle was empty and shining.

Miss Mivers saw Fitzgerald running down the bank, with his eyes fixed on the floating surf and dancing ripples, then stooping for an instant, to run again in his stockinged feet. Thus for a while, with his face to the stream, and with quickened pace like the speed of a deer; then he stood, and a great plash showed that he had leaped far into the water. The twilight had not come, and the day was yet so clear that every movement could be seen. The swimmer's head appeared shaking the water away like a Newfoundland dog, and then his face moved in every direction while breasting the current and being borne slowly down. To her belief the time thus spent seemed terribly long, and there was nothing whatever to be seen but the unbroken breast of water and the mirrored yellow of the sky. She threw the slipper from her foot and sprang down, running over with her hands clenched in fear. She saw the head of the swimmer sink and rise again, confused in its outlines by some other shape, and turning with the stream, make rapidly for an elbow of the river. Miss Mivers tucked her skirts high and ran abreast of Fitzgerald. He bore in towards the first point with a strength that roughed the waters to waves, and then glided on to where a foam line was stretched against a mammoth tree, lying in the torrent nearly half-way from bank to bank. She was at the big trunk before he was, and was clambering up on the smooth bark, breathing hard, with some thought of giving help, when the swimmer's voice sent her back: "Don't come out there, Miss Mivers, I require no assistance."

He had cut the foam scum while speaking, and fixed his grasp on the bark; then cautiously the hand moved towards the branches, when the limp figure of Mivers was pushed up and the tall form of Fitzgerald rose slowly after. He ran with him along the tree as though he had been a boy, and jumped down to the bank sward as Doctor Milton galloped up. In half an hour Mr. Mivers was in his saddle and the arm of Bryan in waiting near him. It was late when the town was gained, and far into the night when the doctor saw his patient peacefully sleeping. Helen would have asked Fitzgerald to stay but for his saturated clothes, and as once


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before she tendered him her hand, but this time with perplexity, gathering her brows and the uncertainty of a faint recollection on her face. He promised old Mr. Mivers to call next day, and suffered him to wring his hand in stormy thanks. "I cannot thank you now," he said, with a blustering sort of earnestness. "Call to-morrow, Mr. Fitzgerald. By G——, sir, you have made me your debtor—do you hear, sir—me. I'm your debtor."

She wondered if he would come early. The plash into the river, the steadfast bearing against the stream, the cool watchful face, and the warning voice that sent her back from the fallen tree, had woven themselves with her dreams no less than the gallant leap. She went out to show the old gentleman the horse that had carried Mr. Fitzgerald, and flew with him over the space of 34 feetnote in the haste to the rescue. There was the wale on his side the stroke of the whip had raised, and there where the spurs had struck home. She was at the piano ringing out a storm of music when Fitzgerald came in, and she rose gladly to welcome him, but the eyes of the visitor turned hers away, and when she looked at his stature and face, and felt the stored strength and self-dependence of him, she grew petulant and wayward at the fancies that came to her as she distantly invited him to the room of young Mr. Mivers.

Fitzgerald entered and saw the patient, who was pale and tired-looking. But for the dark fire that was in his eyes his face would have borne but one helpless expression of weakness. Mivers held his hand out gladly to the embodiment of strength that crossed the threshold, and asked him to be seated, with an earnestness he had not heard from him before.

"Sit down, Mr. Fitzgerald. I ought to give you all the thanks that words could convey, and I know you deserve them, but I wish you had been a less powerful swimmer, and less courageous."

"I don't understand you," spoke Bryan in natural surprise.

"Of course you don't," with his dark eyes brightening; "but I wish I was now lying meshed in one of the sunken snags, and all efforts to drag me out unavailing. That is the reason I cannot thank you as I ought."

He pressed a hand nervously upon his eyes, and looked curiously at his visitor. The latter looked down upon him sadly.

"It is seldom that those who have your youth and prospects think in that way. You must be very tired of life to speak as you do. Your accident has unmanned you."

"Not in the least. I feel as well now as when first I saw you. I am tired of life."




  ― 139 ―

He looked up, showing the slumbering mist in his eyes and the indescribable yearning there. Some instinct that was gathering about Bryan's self struck him with a sense of fear.

"I do not ask you," he said, much moved, "to make a confidant of me; that would be impertinent: but if it is a hopeless——"

"Aye, aye. You would say a hopeless love. You are right; and you might add a helpless crime—a crime not to be helped. That's what I mean by being ‘cornered.’ It is cornered is'nt it, and no mistake? A helpless crime! Yes, that's the name of it. There is no help for it. I know the worst, and I can't see my way. Come, Fitzgerald, you saved my life, and that's a reason why you ought to know." Then, in his listless way, "I would'nt so much have cared if I had'nt loved her so. If she had'nt grown into my life, and held it to herself with her white hands as strong as a rope of steel. If she had'nt won me so utterly that my word was hers, and she my joy and my future. She was all, and she filled them. If I could only find her I'd go to her, like a fool that I am, and live for her. The ties she has fixed can't be loosed. There's the secret. There's no loosing them."

Bryan could only look and listen.

"And the last day. She touched me with her lips, and sobbed, and asked me to believe she was not base. What did she mean? I don't know who she is. The more I think of her the less I know. The farther off she seems—the wilder I seem. To please her I got money to spend. I spent it like water on her and before her, and I forged to get it. Fitzgerald, I forged, and the bill is in the hands of her father, who hates me, with his white face and all the strength of his queer old age; and every night, in my dreams now, he strangles her back from me, and presents the forged bill." A pause. "Maybe I would not have cared so much either, but she made me better than I was. I was a mean ignorant bully when I saw her. I am not much now; but she made me better—far better—trying to be good enough for her. It is strange—this burning feeling I have, and the longing to know where she is and follow her. I know I had better be amongst the snags, Fitzgerald; but there is no help for it now."

Fitzgerald's great eyes grew larger, and he heard with dread. Was he entering upon such a love? A crime he had committed already, and the future was coming.

"I wish I knew how I could help you, Mivers."

"Do you? Oh! If I only knew where she is!"

He ran his fingers through his hair nervously.

"If I could but see her, and speak to her but once—a long talk, and a farewell coming away, with only the knowledge that she cared for me!


  ― 140 ―
But she does not. She has carried my soul with her, and she has caught all my thoughts; she gathered them to herself with her drinking eyes, and she cares no more for me, with her flashing gems and bright hair, than if I had never known her. I—my God, how I worshipped her! She was the only woman I ever cared for."

He struck his hand upon his knee and moaned.

"If you had only left me among the snags!"

Bryan's whole heart went towards him because of the mad love he treasured, and when he saw the despair in his eyes and the fire it covered, he feared for himself. His love was gathering, he thought shrinkingly; his crime was done, and they resembled each other, and their lives were running parallel.

"Your secret is mine, Mivers. What can I do?"

"Aye, that's the question. What can you do? What's to be done?"

"You want a change—a change," said Fitzgerald, brightening, "among the hills—out among the wild, silent lands and woods, looking at the calm of nature, and feeling her loveliness; by chance to make you stronger, and brace you against this unfortunate passion of yours. It is the only cure I know of in all the world, when a man is bent or broken—the wild storms, the joyful sun, the long shadows, the birds and rocks, and the billowed plains. They are, after all, the best and truest comfort."

But he was speaking sadly, as there might come a time when he would seek rest and strength there, and seek it in vain. Mivers flickered a wan smile, and sighed.

"I know the country well. The silence would be maddening. The calm and the beauty you speak of would have no soothing or strengthening for me. I want to be away—I want to be away and moving on—anywhere if only toiling and striving on till this feeling is beaten—is beaten down. It is killing me like this."

And so it was if the barren hopelessness of his voice and face was a guide, or the flittings that came to his eyes were an index. Bryan cowered at his thoughts again. A few days before he would have offered his companionship; now he shrank at the thought of distance from Helen.

The father sent word that he would like to see Mr. Fitzgerald. His heart beat quickly as he entered the room where the rich man was, and saw Miss Mivers there seated near her mother. Mrs. Mivers rose with that charming courtesy that had won him, and gave her thanks with an earnestness that might have covered a benediction; and the old man, too, he stood up waiting. "You have seen the boy, Mr. Fitzgerald; that's right, sir, he owes his life to you, and he knows it, as I know it. I cannot


  ― 141 ―
tell you how much I feel your service, how can I? He is my son. The only child, Mr. Fitzgerald. That'll explain to you what I cannot. You have laid a great obligation on the Mivers, sir. Hasn't he, Jane—on the Mivers, and by jove they won't forget, will they?"

If the speaker's manner was pompous his voice showed his earnestness, and Fitzgerald disclaimed any importance being attached to "the service," so far as he was concerned. It had been his good fortune to save life, but under the circumstances he, the swimmer, actually braved no danger. He saw Helen's face change to his words and wondered what the thoughts might be that came to her. She did not speak but listened eagerly when he said that on riding to the surface of the water he was afraid Mr. Mivers had been carried past—how he dived to avoid the glitter of the sun that was upon the whole surface of the stream, and saw the dark figure swirling towards him; then he rose with his burthen. "Miss Mivers, with great courage," he added softly, "was about to run out on the smooth and slippery trunk of the tree to help us, had I not, I fear rather roughly, insisted upon her remaining on the bank."

The girl blushed hotly, but smiled, when she thought how his round clear voice struck her back from her efforts to obtain a footing.

(to be continued)


  ― 142 ―

Chapter XXIII.

Mr. Luke Mivers, Junior, Commences A Search.

"SIT down, Luke," said the father to the son, weeks after; "sit down, man, I want to talk to you."

The room was as gay as sun and colour could make it, and the world outside full of life. The sea lay in front, glittering back the light, and birds, like downy snow-flakes, sailed against the blue, or shot down to the waters, embodiments of purity and joy. The bright gardens shimmered in the soft atmosphere, and away were the stretched lines of hills in gossamer mists of blue, broken with shadows.

The speaker spoke with a purpose, and, if his son did not start, he turned quickly, with a shade of expectancy that was too dreary for apprehension and wholly beggared of hope. He sat languidly down, and looked out upon the sea-line, then away at the dimness of the farthest hills.

"What has come to you of late, man? There is no more life in you than a broken-down cart-horse. Is your health bad?"

"My health is very good."

"You want a change, Luke, and I am going to propose one. You want some one to live for and think for, and some one that will think for you better than I could. It is time you were settled. Do you ever think of marrying?"

"I do not, sir."

"I have been thinking it over of late, and I think it is the best thing you can do."




  ― 143 ―

The heavy Mivers frown was gathering on the young man's face, and his father recognised it.

"I say," he repeated, "it is the best thing you can do, and I want to see you do it soon. There is the nicest girl in the colony—Helen Mivers, and you have only to ask her. That will keep the money in the family at all events, and I want to get the matter settled early. Her mother is quite agreeable, and, as far as I can judge, rather anxious about it; so the sooner you complete the arrangement the better for all parties, and the better I shall be pleased. I've set my mind on this, Luke, and I mean it."

"I should like to please you, father, if I could; but in the first place, whatever my aunt may think, Helen Mivers is not a girl to be had for the asking, and if I did ask her I should most certainly be refused."

"It's my belief that any little sense you ever had is leaving you. You'll oblige me by doing what I tell you."

"I was going to say," the son went on, in the level unemotional voice, "that I do not intend to marry, and that I shall never ask Miss Helen Mivers to be my wife."

A dusky red flush came angrily into the face of Mivers, senior. He knew the temper of his son, but his own was as unyielding as success and stubbornness could make it. After a pause, during which the young man dreamily watched the white sea-gulls, his father asked, with husky menace,

"What do you say?"

"That I shall not get married, and that I shall not ask my cousin to be my wife."

"Listen," said Mivers, speaking low, just as his son had spoken low in the hotel at Narrgummie, and with the same dark bent face; "listen, for your own sake, before you make a fool of yourself. I say you must get married, and you shall ask your cousin. I've arranged it, and, as God's above me, I'll not be trifled with—do you hear?"

His son signified that he did.

"Now, I want to have no words with you, but remember this thing must be done, or——. If you ever regretted any refusal you ever made in all your life, you'll regret this."

"Probably," replied the young fellow, quietly.

" ‘Probably!’ be d——d, sir," shouted the father, the bullying of his nature shooting out upon his features. " ‘Probably’ as sure as you sit in that chair."

"There are many reasons why I should refuse, father."

"Give me one of them."

"Unfortunately I am not at liberty to give you even one."




  ― 144 ―

"Then by Jove you'll either give your reasons or do it. Listen." The rich man's voice was trembling with anger. "If you don't come to me to-morrow and tell me that you have changed your mind, don't come to me at all. Expect nothing of me. The world is wide enough for us both. You understand? I've made my money, sir, and can do with it what I please. You are young, so we're about balanced, I think. There are two sides to this house—that is a sufficient understanding for to-day, remember. I've pledged myself to this matter, and I'll not be made a fool of."

Luke Mivers, junior, put his hands wearily into his pockets, and walked slowly from the room.

The next day was one of frowns and shadows. Winds hissed in from the sea with angry strength, and upon the waters the foam curled below the driving wrack. Constant showers were hustled against the windows. The sweeping of the weather bowed the trees and furrowed the grass plains with misty surgings. There seemed to be nothing above but the hollow day.

"Where," asked Mrs. Mivers, as she turned quickly to the fire from the misted glass, "is your son Luke? He has not made himself visible yet."

Mr. Mivers started nervously. "He'll be here for dinner, Jane, you may depend on that. Late rising does not help the appetite much. You may be sure he'll be here for dinner. I don't know," he said, in self-communing, "what could have taken him away. He can't be far off in such weather as this—what do you think?"

Mrs. Mivers thought it not at all unlikely that he had gone to see Mr. Fitzgerald, with whom he now spent much of his time. They would probably both come up for dinner. But the dinner time came, and the night threw blackness on the storm, and the booming crash of the waters rolled up like a thunder-tone. The room was bright and warm; lights sparkled on the crystal of the table and gave out prismatic colours. The elaborate dinner was served, and the little household waited, but neither Luke Mivers, junior, nor Mr. Fitzgerald was announced.

"Look here," said Mivers, speaking up hotly from his wine, after a long silence, "the fellow's in his sulks. He has not been himself since he came from Narrgummie, and I should not be surprised if it isn't a couple of days before he honours us with his presence. I tell you, Jane, I can't stand this kind of stupidity, and I'll be——, —I beg your pardon—what's more, I won't. Confound him, he can go to the banks of the Jordan, for me."

Mrs. Mivers's face became serious. "I don't know what you mean, Luke. Was there any prospect of his leaving Mindorf?"




  ― 145 ―

"Not that I know of; but if he chooses to show off his tantrums, he can go. Luke Mivers, ma'am—that's me—is not to be made a fool of. If he has left Mindorf in his sulks he'll have to look out for himself, that's what I say."

"What's the meaning of all this, Luke? Have you had a misunderstanding with your son?"

"Not at all; quite the contrary, we have had an understanding. I mean he understands that his home is not to be had on any terms, that's all—nor my money either, for the matter of that, ma'am."

The wind and the rain rushed the windows dismally, and away at the chimney-top was a hollow moaning; outside was the noise of waters and the striving of the wind. Mrs. Mivers shivered.

"It would be a sad thing, Luke, if through some difference with your son he was out in a night like this."

The father started to the thought presented, and knit his brows. "Pooh, Jane, he is not out on a night like this. He's up with Fitzgerald or some other of his acquaintances. The man who knows the comfort of a home and the value of money won't throw them away. If a man gets money, money gets him—that's about the fact of it. People don't throw money and homes behind them nowadays, believe me. We had a difference yesterday; I don't deny that; but he'll find his way out of it."

The speaker laughed till his face grew red, and then tossed off a bumper of wine in honour of his prophecy.

But, in the bleak night that was far spread abroad, in the driving, bustling winds, and in the showers they cast before them, no roof was above young Mivers. There was the lone pacing of a horse on a wet road lying shining up to snatches of moon and darkening below careering clouds. There was the ruffling of blinding rain on the pools, and the dismalness of the weather working its passion on the lands covered by the darkness. The moaning of the bending trees, the menace of sudden streams, and the dimness shading into blackness seemed closing round Luke Mivers as he rode. The wildness was a pleasure to him, the dreariness a kind of balm, and the savage straining of the night through which he fought brought him the solace of effort and the blankness of no thought. He rode on prospectless through the storm in longing after the loss that had come. Black trees started up at him and shook their old arms dirgingly as he rode by. Crowding shadows came like phalanxes of warning ghosts; but he rode steadily on—the sad sound of the lonely horse striking through the night when all things had sought rest and shelter. Across the road, like a great whisper, crept the voice of the far sea, telling out its might on the coast, while he made steadily for the


  ― 146 ―
hills. The storm blustered against the invader, and carried voices with it from far; but the beating feet of the horse kept on, and when the horizon grew gray, and then took lurid colour from clouds and sun—when the night was spent and the cave of darkness rifted before the day, the traveller had lost the sound of the sea-boom, and entered upon spreading grass lands eyed with pools. The road stretched wearily on into the ranges, and the tired horse faltered painfully along the rutted track. When the day was unrolled and wintry straggles of sun gave hope to wild flowers, and passing warmth to dripping foliage, Mivers was fain to wean himself from his thirst for speed. The journey had spotted him with stains, but the night passed, and all its sounds and voices had not aroused him from the intolerable brooding. If he could have seen her then—if in some of the hamlets he passed through he had met her and found the smile that had driven him out, he might have turned and temporised with hope for what the future would bring; but she was not among them—only strange faces and strange looks came to confuse the thought and the search of her. He fed his horse at a queer blue-moulded hotel, because of some distant resemblance it bore to that at Narrgummie, but it rung to children's voices, and sheltered lazy contentment. He rose quietly to the saddle and the horse moved away towards rising grounds, and short blinks of sun along shoulders of banks that lay before him, and across hurrying brooks, with only the one face, and the living remembrances that framed it. He only delayed for rest and food for his horse in the aimless and haggard persistence that had come; waiting impatiently on the hours when he was not moving on. It did not matter where; he had the feeling of search, and the thought that he was nearing her, wherever she might be. He never considered that he might find her with Pelan, that she had given herself to his rival in the race, or, as the old man put it, made choice of crimson and black. Consideration of him scarcely intruded upon Mivers till he began to wonder at the contempt he had marked in Pelan's tone, and the cause of his laughter, when he had said he would make her his wife. If he found them together he would crush the blackleg!—his head bent forward in the darkness of the thought as his horse plodded on.

On a level road running down from the ridge of hills amongst trees, and open park land, where homes were spotted in the green of coming crops, he pulled up at a cluster of houses and found a shelter for his horse. There were the faint sounds of labour overpowered by voices in the inn. The smell of blossoms was in the air of the lazy day. He had eaten at the hostelry and was waiting on his horse, when one of those little men with riding boots and sporting buttons noticed him from the bar door.




  ― 147 ―

"Beg pardon," as an introduction, while refraining from the enjoyment of worrying a tattered cigar; "wern't you one of the gents as rode up the country at the races at Narrgummie?"

Mivers signified that he was.

"Ah, thought I knew yer seat in the pigskinnote when you was a coming; that was a bustin' steeple ye carried off. Joe—him what near licked you—took up a horse a purpose for it an' lost a hatfull, too."

The speaker pushed his hands into his shallow pockets and jerked the skirts of his coat up contemplatively.

"Joe's as good a rider as ever knee'd a pad."

"What Joe is that?"

"Blest if I know, we all call him Joe; he does a lot at country meets sometimes, and a good deal of a swell, too—thought when I saw you an' Joe left for it, he'd a licked you; but there was no comin' up to that horse o' yours. Lord, what a beauty an' not such a light weight on him neither. Crimson an' black was fair licked that time."

The speaker did not see the ominous light that came to the young man's eyes, or notice that a pallor had drifted on his face.

"You know this Joe—or crim——"

"Yes, crimson an' black, them's his colours. Know him to meet him well enough, but not chums as one might say. Many a fivernote he won me, too. I always back Joe."

Mr. Mivers spoke slowly to hide the eagerness in his voice. "Where does he live?"

"Well, that I can't say, he goes about like. Races is a good place to see him at. He might be at Melbourne now, or he might be at Gippsland. Lord knows. He left Narrgummie for Melbourne the day after the races. Said he didn't care a durn for his broken wing, he must go to town an' hev it fixed there."

"Did he ride?"

"He always does, coaches makes him bad. That's what he says, anyhow. Rum, isn't it?"

"Was there any one with him?" The questioner's voice caught with a sudden motion in his throat and he had to repeat the words.

"I see him at the creek crossing that day, early; he had a led horse clothed, an' was covering the ground stiffish, just behind the coach."

A hope that had not come to Mivers yet came now with something like joy—"She had not gone with him then, as her father had said, thank God." The thought crossed him like a flash and left its light behind. "The old man had lied that he might laugh at him. But why should he hate him so?"




  ― 148 ―

The little jockey, who had by this time unfitted his cigar for further use, threw it away and whistled. He gave Mivers all the information he could over a glass of ale, took upon himself a critical examination of the legs of his horse, and counselled rest. Then, finally, advised the rider that if he wanted to see Joe he ought to hev a squint at the advertised races, an' look up nominations, an' when the black gelding Ace of Clubs was there, there would Joe be, safe as "God made little apples."note

Through the lights and frowns of the spring Mivers travelled, carrying the hope he had formed with him as a new-found comfort. He slept at places on his road, but moved tirelessly on from day to day, as though motion was the only ease for his pain. He did not forget once the face that could stop him now on the highway to heaven. The strong, generous grey he rode often faltered at the unthinking call. Once he fell, and lay a moment as for a little rest before trying to gain his feet; then droopingly waited for his master to mount, and struggled on along the merciless track that linked plain to plain and crept round the tiring hills. One day, when the shades were settling, and houses growing closer, and the comfort of homes shone through curtained windows, and the smoke of chimneys signalled warm hearths where were voices and laughter, he tried to gain a few more miles, although his horse had stopped unbidden and trembling in a mute request for respite. The master urged him mechanically, beneath the wilderness of stars resting upon the waters and quivering through the night. The toil was slow, but he had no thought of it till the horse lurched forward and fell with a moan of exhaustion. After patient trying he got him up, and led him gently to where lights were among trees. They crept up to sounds of revelry; but when he entered, all smeared of mud, and asked to have his horse taken round, the revellers of the bar looked as if a misfortune had come amongst them, and thoughtless words died out. The pale draggednote man with the weary horse carried his shadow with him. His face had so eager a lingering, and such an intent wistfulness, that men unknowingly respected him as they do a misfortune or a mystery.

Next morning he left his horse behind him and walked on. He passed many farm houses by the banks of streams, through the buoyant spring, taking no heed of sky or flowers, or the radiance of the day. On before there rose up the thick city haze, dimming the life below it, where he hoped to see Margaret Shorter again. To him there was hope in every vehicle as it rattled past his questioning face. Houses and shops, as they joined into streets, caught his searching eyes, and the tide of life rolled on with him and passed him. The new world was opening that might give joy yet, or enfold the waste of his life, and offer but a journey from


  ― 149 ―
whence might be no prospect on the weary level, nor flowers beside the feet. And he had not much of hope—only the longing that was leading him, he knew not whither. He had money, and had learned to be frugal in days gone by. The search in the hive would be long, but well repaid if he could catch trace of her. So into the clinging smoke and steam, past hurrying men, beautiful faces, flaunting silks, and strings of shining carriages, and where crowds assembled and the riot of pleasures reigned; to every holiday gathering, with the sense of weariness growing—every exhibition that attracted crowds—all took Mivers to scan the faces and wonder if the blank was ever to be filled. Out at night before the glare of gas, among reckless laughter; before bold faces, fair as of angels, if not for the softness that was lost and the womanliness that was wrecked; but nowhere the curious beauty of her. Not in the shades among the verdure of the gardens, nor near the crowding masts and cords; not in the bustle of the streets; neither by the cottage nor the mansion, nor among scattered homes by bridged streams; neither in the forlornness of bleak streets, nor the houses beyond the city—and he searched them all. Sometimes in his quest a voice would turn and blanch him with the mockery that he knew was mockery before he tried to see. Some figure like hers he would follow hopelessly, knowing the disappointment that would come with the knowledge to be gained by a corner or door. So would he walk on, wondering if she were indeed there, or planning some distant journey. The lonely room where he slept grew more cheerless; shadows came to crowd the walls, and only when the night and sleep came with their healing did he find rest. Hordes of faces looked down at him through his dreams, hers away in the distance, crowded back. Long lines of figures and many tones of voices swept past him. Meetings that gave him joy, but awoke him to the old pain, made the more bitter because of them, were all with him nightly. And while the old man at Mindorf wondered, in his lowering way, where Luke was, it was thus Luke was living.

(to be continued)


  ― 150 ―

Chapter XXIV.

Mr. Bryan Fitzgerald Declares Himself.

THE intercourse between Helen Mivers and Bryan Fitzgerald became insensibly closer. The Mindorf house now appeared to hold an abiding vacancy, and cover some dismal want, since Luke Mivers, jun., had left it. The father stormed at the son for a few days, but when Fitzgerald told him that he had no knowledge of his whereabouts or intentions, and when again, after inquiring, he told him that he must have left Mindorf, the old man was fully alarmed. When the letters came of a morning he looked at them with trembling, and then invited opinions concerning the boy's absence, which he listened to with childish interest. From out of a long silence he would pitiably say:

"He must come back."

Above his wine he wondered if Luke had begun to think of home—of his home—and the sorrow he had left behind him.

"Mr. Fitzgerald, sir," he was wont to say, "I feel it that the lad should leave me through a trifling misunderstanding; it makes me feel more lonely than I care to say. You know him well. You saved his life. What do you think? Now, come, give me a candid answer. He'll come back? The poor boy has taken some money with him, but that need'nt frighten him; nothing will be said. Why can't he come back to his home—to his home! Fitzgerald, you know a good deal of him—why does he not come back?"

But Fitzgerald knew nothing beyond the secret he had been told, and hopefully counselled Mr. Mivers to wait.

"I cannot wait," said Mr. Mivers, irritated by the same unchanging advice. "There is no waiting for a man of 65 years of age. I might be ill unto death at any time, and I want to see him. I'd give a couple of thousand to see him on that hearth now, I would, sir, for I don't forget that I told him if my views did not fall in with his, that this house had two sides to it; and he rode away in the storm of that black night. If he could only be found and brought back!"

One day Fitzgerald saw the name of Luke Mivers published amongst a list of passengers leaving for England. The father had seen it too, and was silently looking out at the sea. When Bryan entered he neither looked at him nor spoke, but kept his eyes fixed on the level waters, "You saw the Argus note this morning?" asked Mr. Mivers after a time; "what do you think of my waiting now?"

His voice was low and broken, and his stubborn face showed pain and doubt.

"How about waiting now, Mr. Fitzgerald? Gone to England, never to come back. There, that is my interpretation of the voyage. What do you say?"

"I don't think he has gone to England."

"Have you seen the paper? Look at it—second cabin, Luke Mivers, jun.—look."

"I have seen it, sir."

"And you don't think he has gone? Why?"

"I cannot explain my reasons, but still I hold the belief that he is in Australia still. He may simply have paid some other person to use his name, to avoid any present importunity; it would be very simpleyou understand?"

"Mr. Fitzgerald, you saved his life; he is more to you than a mere stranger. I need not ask you what you know or what you suspect: that has nothing to do with the matter at present; but if you could add to the obligation of your services by bringing him back, look you, you would smooth the few years of life I have got to spend. You are young and strong, the search will be but travel for you—go at my expense. Let me see him again, and break up this loneliness. I can't bear up against it by day and by night. He is my son, sir, you will understand."

Mr. Mivers put his trembling hand upon his face for a minute, in something like a faint effort to press his misfortune away from him, and sighed.

"I should have known his temper was like mine, and that all the Mivers's stubbornness was his. Through these hot days and dark nights I am thinking—thinking—about him. I have no right to ask you to do


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it, Mr. Fitzgerald—no right at all; but you have leisure and you are strong. If promise of reward would send you?"

"Promise of reward would not send me, Mr. Mivers, nor the prospect of your fortune to back it. If I do go, sir, your money will have nothing to do with it; let me think the matter over for a day."

Mr. Mivers raised himself from his chair, and came slowly over to where Fitzgerald was.

"I think you'll do it, and I don't deserve it. I may not have been the best of men to give me a claim on strangers, but if you go you'll give me hope, and that will help to fill the blank that is widening. I suppose it's all selfishness on my part, but I'm his father, and I sent him." Then on, in a kind of garrulous thought, "Age is very lonely. After all these years of striving not even my son near me, and the prospect of my money does not bring him back—till I am dead. What is the use of my money if it won't do that? Money was made to buy. It ought to buy what I want. You think he has'nt gone to England; it ought to bring him back, even if he had, eh? Can't it bring him back? If he is not mad it will. What do you think?"

The speaker had resumed his seat, and was staring up from it with a sunken look, such as a worshipper might feel who finds that the prostrations and sacrifices of a lifetime have been a mistake, and was waiting the bewailing that was surely coming.

A short time afterwards Fitzgerald saw Helen down by the bay, and she told him of the atmosphere of sadness that seemed to fill the house since her cousin had gone.

"We cannot leave my uncle in his trouble, and the house seems as empty and quiet now as though there was a coffin in it." She shuddered and looked away up amongst the gardens in that direction. "How I wish the foolish fellow was home again. Do you know the reason of his leaving, Mr. Fitzgerald?"

"Come down by the strand here, Miss Mivers, I have something to tell you."

She looked up inquiringly, and, without speaking, turned in the direction.

"There is only one thing that has kept me from trying to bring Luke Mivers back, and that is you."

This turned her with a sudden gesture, but it was not more sudden than the flush that rose to her face.

"Me!"

"Miss Mivers, I have been afraid, or too weak, to leave you. I have loved you for a long time, and I can only tell you this in plain fashion.


  ― 153 ―
I think I am presuming too far in saying so much, for I am not your equal, but the feeling I have levels all considerations before it, and I feared you might forget me if I went away. As men linger near some prize they hope to possess, and try to obtain it with every possible effort, and as they think over it till that one consideration becomes their weakness or their strength, so I have thought of you."

Helen's face was against the sea, where the lights lay splashed in glitters of ruby and yellow. She looked trembling into distant dimness.

"I say, I am not your equal. My birth was humble. I have not the education some have, nor can I think of any reason I might urge to make you consider what I say other than presumption. I only know I am speaking the truth, and that the whole hopes of my future are in the few words I have said." His voice told that more convincingly than his words. "If you had not held the place you do in the society I have but lately entered, I should not have thought the distance between us so great, but that makes it very wide, and seems to place you so far away that, even now, I wonder at myself."

Miss Mivers' proud face was very pale, but there was a soft light in her eyes, and shifting thoughts quivered her lips.

"I do not offer you anything but my truth and my love. Many who are more favoured than I am could do as much; but money, or birth, or high position, cannot furnish a home with happiness, or purchase a love that is stronger than time, and a trust that will live with life."

She looked up at his face, with its frankness and perfect truth looking down upon her. There was something like fear gathered on the repose of her wide brow and resting on the paleness; but there was a brave, vast faith in her looks nevertheless. She turned again towards the music of the sea and the poetry of colour spread there before her. Spots of brightness were flung down near deep blue calm that seemed as full of peace as a gained heaven. Beside her—the strong guileless face. Her hands were trembling, but she paid no heed.

"I thought, if I might presume, to ask you for a return of that trust and love, I would be strong enough to leave you for a time, knowing them to be mine at last. There would be my strength—so strong that the world would never shake it."

"You would go to England, then," she asked impulsively, with a nearness in her voice.

"If it would please you, on your uncle's behalf, to search for him in England, he having gone there, I should go. A knowledge of your love would carry me bravely anywhere, but I have reason to suppose he has not left the country. And now, Miss Mivers, I have laid before you all my hopes and fears."




  ― 154 ―

She put her hand in his, with a winning trustful firmness, and smiled on him with her soul in her eyes, and she looked at his face again and again till the tears blinded her, and she told him, brokenly, that her love was his. They walked on as colours of purple and gold crept away out into the beyond after the setting sun to keep his train with shades of regal splendour.

(to be continued)


  ― 155 ―

Chapter XXV.

Mr. James Brown Prevents A Rush.

BROWN held up his jagged face in the summer heat, and looked at Fitzgerald riding towards him out of the belts of forest land that separated him from Mindorf and walled him in from it with the silence and the flowers that were around the low bush cottage, the whispering grass that covered the dead lead, upheaved and broken with the wounds of pick and spade, and sleeping finally from the din of maledictions, the calls of voices, and the noises of slushing cradles. The great face of the valley was pitted and scarred with the struggle of the past, but time had soothed it over with velvet green, and promised again those swaying nooks and shelters that had once before checkered and draped it with stripes and gussets of sun upon the rest that Brown had longed for so often years before. On this beat the hoofs of the "boy's" horse, as he chose to call him; and when he pulled up, with his face glowing and his strong figure resting lightly on the impatient horse, the grizzled man welcomed him with his look of bulldog faithfulness.

"Well, lad, yer soon back again to the old spot. Ah, ye may talk of Mindorf as ye like, but it aint equal to this by long chalks, that I will say. Look over at that there."

A stream of sun, banked by coming clouds, was sweeping down the valley in a tide of light, flooding it from side to side, and from ridge to plain, widening like risen waters down to the far horizon.

"This's the place for Brown, with that there kind of thing to make one glad. Look at the garden, an the creepers, Bryan, on our mother's


  ― 156 ―
porch. Lord, if her old white cap was only yonder among the leaves, I could stay here always, knowin ye was right, boy. Git off the mokenote an take a turn, it'll stretch yer legs before supper, an we'll go to the old patch where the gold comes from, an where we got the first dividend of her blessin."

They were soon walking slowly towards the old holes, where so much of human effort had been spent in vain. Brown was leading restlessly, as if burthened with thought, till he stood beside some fresh earth that had been thrown to the surface.

"Ye see, Bryan," he intimated mysteriously, "I never leaves the windlass; I'm workin her still, my boy. I said we'd got here the first dividend o' the mother's blessin. Lord bless ye, it's only the first, an nothin more. The patch wot we thought worked out hes opened into a lead, an I've washed many a pound weight out of it since ye giv up work. There's twice as much money's worth buried in the old hut floor below the mother's bed than we took out together, an the lead's as rich as when we fossicked the pockets we first found. There's a dozen fortunes there good as we've got now, if there's a ounce—wot d'ye think of that?" he said, laughing up at Bryan. "Did not I tell ye her blessin were a good thing? Ye'll hev to take it to Melbourne the way ye did the first time. They'd be askin questions at Mindorf."

Bryan put his hands on the old man's shoulders and looked at him with such thankfulness and respect that he turned to busy himself with a rope. "Look here, it's the gift of our mother, mind ye. An held in trust by me, my boy. Lord, man, when it goes on a while longer, you'll be the biggest nob on 'em all. An' we share the blessin—mind ye always tell me that, lad."

"Always," replied Bryan, softened beyond belief; "always with you, my friend. We are the only two living who knew her."

He had already told him of his saving Luke Mivers' life, to which Brown had replied he was right, and but following the mother's counsel.

"Look here," he said, in a whisper, "blest if I would'nt shake the old 'un by the hand myself, an sometimes I think if I could do him a good turn it would please her. She knows all that's goin on, Bryan, that's my belief; an she comes in an out o' the old crib reg'lar, if one could only see her. Darned if I don't think she's a enjoyin of the old seat now, only she aint wisible. 'Cause, ye see, I feel her s'if she was before me."

From the fullness of his happiness Bryan told him of his interview with Miss Mivers by the strand, to which he replied, with much


  ― 157 ―
indifference, that the cottenin' o' the girl to him were one of the naturallist things he knew. "She took ye at yer word, did she?" he inquired, in a state of grim humour. "Rather think she did."

"But she's a great lady, Jim."

"So much the better, lad, all the greater nob you, that's wot I say, an the sooner ye'll be able to give the sujee coves fits,note eh? Oh, we're a gettin of the mother's dividends."

"Young Luke has left his home, and I have promised Miss Mivers to try and find him if he is in Australia. I'm going to start at once."

"Wot kind of a journey is it likely to be?"

"I think of going to Melbourne first, and then tracking him, if I can, wherever else he may be."

"Then I'm with ye, lad. I can hide my workin on the old lead here, an if we can't find him it's a caution to snakes."note

"That is just what I want to dissuade you from. The journey will be an irksome one wherever it may lead, and I feel certain I could do much better alone."

"If ye mean by that it's a ticklish job, I'm with ye; but if there aint no manner of dodging wanted, then I aint perticular. How long will ye be arter him?"

"It will be a work of some months, I should think."

"That's a good while, Bryan, but ye know these coves best. You'll take the gold to Melbourne. An' there aint likely to be no trouble about this little game o' yours, honour bright?"

"None indeed, Jim, that I know of. No, it's not at all likely. But I can easily send you word."

It was late when the treasure that was to be disposed of in Melbourne was unearthed and packed in Brown's deftest and most secure style on the saddle-bow, and the sky was getting grey when the young man started gallantly away towards Mindorf and the low sun. But he would have pulled his horse up with no gentle rein if he had known that the long grass in the silent gully had been gently stirred by a human figure behind them, and that the glittering almond eyes of a large-framed Asiatic had been staring at them through the grass, and greedily longing to understand their conversation. He stalked them till the old hut rose in sight, and then lay quietly down waiting on the dusk. He understood that something had been said of "gold" and "bed." These words he regarded as significant, and so waited with the invincible patience of his tribes. If a strong spare form, a long reach, a hungry leather scabbarded knife, and Asiatic cunning gave the spy the advantage, then the stalwart and grizzled Brown,


  ― 158 ―
who placed the gold on the saddle as though it were but a change of linen, had little chance of seeing the figure of the retreating horseman any more. Through the paling of the fence, and past the climbing leaves, the stretched-out figure only knew that the horse was being saddled. "Gold" and "bed" were behind the silent slabs and below the slowly waving creepers rustling upon the roof.

Habits had been contracted by Mr. James Brown during the many years of his hunted life which were eccentric, and to a certain extent suggestive. Mr. Brown watched the figure of the rider disappear in the misty background of trees, and then took a slow cautious sweep of the circle of country surrounding. He walked round the little garden, eying the ground beyond the enclosure with the keenness of a red Indian,note and faded into the darkest shade, when he sat with the silence of a sentinel till all the groups of stars were out. Soft warm winds were amongst the grass, and the uncertain shadows grew dimmer as the hush of night fell like a coverlet on the earth. There was no sound or motion to warn his quick ears. The big-shouldered Chinaman lay as passive as the logs around him, and beyond the moving eyes in the moving grass there was nothing to show that there was any life. It was not until Brown rose and walked quietly into the cottage that a dark globe was raised above the herbage, and the prone figure dragged itself nearer to the palings. There was an hour's fire-light within where could be seen obscurely the movements of the dweller, in a kind of regularity which showed he was engaged in a routine of the evening. Mr. Brown ate his supper in semi-darkness, and threw himself on the pallet bed undressed, in a manner that would have conveyed, by the decided stealth of movement which he had unthinkingly acquired, that he knew not when some call might be made upon his ready resources. He lay thus thinking of the hopes that had come to him, and of Bryan's prospects, when the sky with its stars beyond the window was suddenly blackened, and the broad Mongolian face and big shoulders showed against the glass. Mr. Brown's sight was of the keenest, but he never moved lest the low flickerings of the fire should betray his wakefulness. The mere outline of the shoulders in the thickly quilted blouse and the shape of the head told him the kind of visitor that was without, this being still further proved to his satisfaction by the profile shape as the intruder flitted back. The faint light of the fire trembled up, showing something like a grim smile on the corrugated face that was not at all assuring. Another hour passed, and the world slept on outside. The eyes of the waiter inside did not leave the window.


  ― 159 ―
Again the figure looked in, but there was only to be seen a few dim sparks on the hearth, the shadowy shape of a bed, and a reclining figure. All was so dark and so quiet, and "gold" and "bed" so tempting, that after a sustained survey there was a soft movement of the latch, and a field of sky and stars replaced the door. Mr. Brown could see dark tree-tops out beyond, and hear the nearer croakings of the marsh frogs. A sighing breath of air fanned his face, and the form seemed to grow bigger against his eyes. In the darkest nights and in his greatest extremity the sight of the watcher had not failed, and this incident but came to him with all the familiar excitement of some past rehearsal. His teeth pressed each other hard when he saw the door shut upon the sky again, but he resumed the old smile when the figure bent over the embers and tended them noiselessly till a thin flicker was born that threw a little track of light across the earthen floor and trembled upon the spot where the gold had lain. The Chinaman's eyes glittered over at the bed, and he saw the motionless man and heard his regular breathing. Gradually he glided to the middle of the floor and took the long knife from its scabbard, which caught the little flame with one or two cold gleams. Mr. Brown did not expect this, and his pulse may have beaten faster, but no motion showed it. He now readily appreciated the value of continuing his motionless breathing and of remaining moveless, but henceforth his eyes were fixed on the hand that held the knife. By degrees the firelight broadened, and when the thief saw the disturbed earth betraying "gold" under "bed" he straightened up swiftly and stood over Mr. Brown. Brown's eyes were on the blade with immovable constancy. If it had passed upwards from the line of his sight, say above the second button of the Chinese's blouse, he should have announced himself to be awake. Absolutely the only thing in the hut now seemed to be the breathing in the bed and the faint cracklings of the little fire. The thief stooped his head down till his breath struck Mr. Brown's face while he was making the regular respirations with the skill of an adept. Then, on one knee, and still watching, he pressed his thin fingers into the loosed earth. Most men have a natural dislike to commit murder if their purpose can be served without it. This is one even characteristic of every race. The Chinaman, who had seen human slaughter made a pastime of under a ferocious rule,note and had looked on scores of victims being beheaded for a whim, hesitated to secure himself by lifting the blade beyond the level which Mr. Brown had considerately allowed him. That the earth was disturbed seemed to the searcher the last convincing proof


  ― 160 ―
of "gold under bed." He instinctively clutched his weapon, still resting on his knee while considering the situation; but the blade did not pass the level of Mr. Brown's sight, and although his broad hand closed he made no further motion. The man crept over to the fire again, and added a few more sticks skilfully, and again turned his face at the steady breather. The movement of a little blaze rested an instant on Brown's eyes, and the Chinaman strode over like a ghost, with the point of the blade much beyond the utmost stretch of the indulgence granted. The breather seemed to be galvanized upright by some shock, and his heavy fist sprang out before him with the swiftness of a thought. The armed hand was caught by the wrist. There was a muffled crunching sound, and the Chinaman's arm fell dislocated as his knife flashed down across the heavy boots of the Englishman. Not a word was said, and when with a rapid movement, that was almost simultaneous with the falling of the weapon, Mr. Brown picked it up, the invader had not recovered his surprise. A person listening outside would have heard the natural question asked, in very quiet tones—

"Wot fur ye come here?"

The disabled thief looked wincingly at the knife his opponent held, and stood in shrinking expectancy of he knew not what. Brown put a bar across the door and struck a light. Then he repeated the question, but in a tone and with a look that perfectly conveyed the desirability of furnishing an answer—"You tell me."

He took a faster hold of the knife-handle, when the thief fluttered down in an attitude of beseeching. "Gold," "bed," he stammered shrilly; "me hear you talkee 'long a lead: me poor, hungry too much; me bad, no more come. You good man."

There was an agony of entreaty in the face, and a fear in the voice, that Brown by no means approved of.

"Git up, ye infernal sniveller; so ye wanted gold under bed, did ye. There aint none about here; wish there was. Ye try him, try him, durn ye, d'ye hear?"

The cowed Oriental crawled to the bedside like a flogged dog, and buried his clawing fingers in the soft earth again.

"Try him all, try him well, or I'll slice ye inter cat's meat."

The man scraped out the earth with his left hand as though every handful brought him salvation, and when he had returned it and sat grovelling down, Mr. Brown was busy laying the table; next he proceeded to make the trembling wretch partake of a repast which to his rice-accustomed stomach must have carried with it its own


  ― 161 ―
punishment. In the grey of the morning he dismissed his prisoner, and watched him away amongst the trees with his jagged smile.

"There aint a goin to be a rush of Chinamen to this here gully for a while more. Seen the time I'd a knifed him, but that'id a been fresh trouble." Mr. Brown further addressed himself, and said approvingly, "Ye've saved the old lead from them niggers for another spell, an knocked another rush on the head. Lord, if he'd only guessed." Whereupon Mr. Brown went inside to prepare his breakfast, well satisfied with his night's experience.

(to be continued)


  ― 162 ―

Chapter XXVI.

A Bush Fire And Its Consequences.

THE pitilessness of cloudless summer days came on, and the sirocco windsnote swept witheringly across the plains, bleaching green to sombre brown. Every tender plant was scorched and seared as day by day the bald fierce sun rode up and struck down its heat over sea and land. Every day there was the same quivering atmosphere rising from the earth, as from the breast of a furnace—the same evenly distributed sky shade of yellow to blue with sunrise and gold to grey with sunset. Cattle hid from the sky beneath friendly shades, and the great glare of the open days struck all verdure with its blight. Rolling clouds were swept up from the plains and carried seaward by furious gusts of heated winds. Even Mindorf, with its ridges, succumbed, and the gaieties of the place died out below the tawny lassitude flung upon it by the ceaseless heat. Only out amongst the caves, where the water dripped eternally, and below their deep shades and their guarded freshness, was there respite from its violence.

Thither Mr. Mivers used to drive, when the chrome light of the sun was on the hills, to spend the day among the arching rocks and sit in cool shadow. The morning drive and the lazy loitering aided him to pass the summer. Here he was spoken to of the past by the voices he had thought dead, and memories were exhumed and came to him filled with the doings of distant days that had faded away down from thought. He had heard of Fitzgerald's engagement with Miss Mivers, and had listened in scowling impatience to the explanations of his sister-in-law. He came to blame Bryan, in his dogged way, for the misunderstanding with his son, and intimated that in no case would he approve of his gaining the position which he had hoped for so jealously for Luke; it mattered not that he was searching to bring him back. Out among the cool hills, with fragrant spots of nature round him, he denounced Bryan as the cause of his misfortune, and determined to frustrate his object. But he was absent, and the subject, which was seldom canvassed, was never in any case alluded to before the quiet girl. Down from the Glenstone hills was a deep span of scrub and timber, beyond which were the rolling lands and carpeted valleys that Mr. Mivers wished to visit. A large property was there that had been offered to him at a reasonable price, and he drove through the still trees upon the white track. The sweltering day was nearly at its full heat when he started from the rocks towards the undulating lands he desired to purchase. His coachman turned out the horses for a time while he strolled about without noticing the mists of smoke that were gathering till his attention was drawn to the frightened bays galloping frantically in the direction of their home, and the coachman following in vain pursuit. Then the busy crackling of a rapid conflagration told him the season's story, and the rolling waves of smoke unfolded round him their suffocating ensigns of disaster. Mr. Mivers was not then in untimbered country; the spot where he had been overtaken was chosen by him for the sake of the shade till the day became cooler. There were around him withered scrub and prostrate branches, and beside him huge old trees that the flames would greedily catch. The air was growing dun with smoke. He tried to make for the open country which was below him, but in the tumult of the hissing fire and the roar of the coming surges flaming from tree to tree, and from clump to clump, like tossed spray, he mistook his direction. Trying, with all the instinct of self-preservation, to quit the forest for the open, he stumbled tiresomely on along tangled cattle-tracks; but the lake of fire was streaming after in a flood. He paused a few times, his face black with the gross ash that settled on him—the foam of the coming hell; and although behind him tall trees stood up, flaming landmarks of the passing devastation, he had to wait and gather strength; the hootings of the pursuer rose out of the tossing fires, and the voices were caught up and repeated by withering branches overhead. Before him was the dead silence of the waiting vegetation and behind the billowing scourge in all the fury of irresistible mastery. To his tiring efforts it seemed that the wall of fire behind was rising and burning with faster speed along the trees. The wind had risen and carried up columns of fire above the forest, and the howlings and rushings of the charging power


  ― 164 ―
travelled on with the wind like a coming army. At intervals big trees tottered and fell, sending up fountains of sparks. The day was getting dark, and the sun looked through it like a copper globe. None knew the danger better than Mivers. He thought pantingly of the old shepherd long ago who was found at Narrgummie in a crusted cinder, with his horn-handled knife lying burnt and twisted on the bare thigh bone. On into the horrible trailers, and amongst the baffling boughs spread at every side, till his eyes grew red, and the thunder of the fire rang through his senses as though its breath had struck him, and the tongues of it were blazing on and licking him. Great red sparks swirled past, and alighted to shoot out fresh fire from the coarse grass near his feet. Dizzy birds flew over, showing the glare on their breasts, and things with life that he scarcely marked were hurrying on abreast of and before him. He never knew how far he travelled, or how long he struggled; his only consciousness was the constant roar growing fiercer. The face of his son came before him now, and many ghosts of the life that was past flitted by like shadows. They carried stories that he felt, and unrolled memories of his treachery and mercilessness. How he got past logs that turned him hurriedly from his direction; how he noticed, for the first time, that his hat was gone and his coat hanging in tatters; how he wondered at the length of the effort he was making; how he turned in very fear and wildness, and looked at the fire flowing on in a tide; how he tottered and fell with a sleepy hope that it was all over, and a painless numbness shrouding his thoughts with sounds of the fire growing distant and at last dying out—all this he recalled afterwards, but not the fact that two strong arms closed on him, and hurried him away with difficulty, though with all speed, as a dozen blots of fire were rising round him from the falling sparks. He was borne down a steep gully and across a shallow stream, where the trees and grass were green on the banks; there the helpless man and the man who carried him, their faces black and their clothes but fluttering rags, rose upon the open ground, and found safety. The progress was difficult; but it was not long till the shadow of a house was before them, and the bearer passed in, closing out the noises of the escaped danger and the glare it had spread upon the sky. His strong arms reached above a bed, and Mivers opened his eyes on the dark room of a hut and the figure of a man distressed with effort and sobs, catching at his breathing. "Where am I?"

"Don't be in sich a hurry. If I hadn't seen ye by the fire-light ye was racin from, ye wouldn't hev troubled about where ye are. Can't tell till I git breath." The speaker soon put the fire together and had


  ― 165 ―
a candle burning; both were grimed with soot flakes and clothed in rags. Mivers sat up listening to an account of the manner in which he was saved, told in a few nervous sentences.

"The fire was risin about ye," the speaker concluded, "in a dozen places, an makin' darts at yer grey hair; when I got up I thort at first ye was smothered, and I found yer weight no joke; but it's all right now. Who are ye? I wouldn't trouble ye with the question, but people with gold watches don't go wanderin about the bush. The watch an chain wot I laid beside ye there was hangin to a branch over where ye lay."

The trial and subsequent exhaustion had weakened Mivers. He shrank from the danger he had escaped with a terrified cowering. The thought brought the fear and the late memories which the near prospect of death had conjured up.

"I don't want to know your name," he replied in a broken voice, and he held out his hand shaking with the tremor of a palsy. "I know you saved me from the worst death a man can die. You preserved me to my home and friends—and my son, and to the remaining years of life that may be mine. You have all my gratitude, and you will find I am not ungrateful. I can afford to be grateful, thank God, and I'm happier in knowing I can afford it than I ever did before. My name is Mivers—Mivers, of Mindorf."

He broke down nervously, and felt vaguely for his handkerchief, which, with most of his coat, had been consumed. Then he put his shaking hand on his dirty face to wipe away tears. The owner of the hut looked curiously at the man, and advised another spell till there was a pannikin of tea made.

"An I suppose, Mr. Mivers, ye know the bush well enough to know wot bush teanote is. Lie down, sir, till I get it ready; that'll do ye good."

Mivers could only think of his escape throughout the night. The daze and scare of the fire returning to him in vivid repetitions, and when a snatch of sleep came, and the scene recurred, he started up in bed in violent fear. His host sat with him till dawn, and soothed him in his rough way. When the day was near at hand sleep came to him, and he lay in blank oblivion till the noon was nearly gone; while thus the man who carried him from the fire occupied himself in chopping wood and making other preparations about the house, only stopping at times to contemplate his guest earnestly. Mr. Mivers washed, and sat up refreshed. As for his host, he said that his blackened face was no novelty, and he should let it be.




  ― 166 ―

"Hev ye thought, sir, of how ye are to get back? I was over at the fire this mornin, and there's the remains of yer trap, I take it, jest the tyres an springs an a few o' the mountings visible, that's all."

Mr. Mivers had forgotten; he had not time to think yet.

"Well then, here's my idea. Jest write a line to yer folk, an I'll bring it an git a trap sent out for ye, supposin ye aint afraid to stay alone."

"But it's thirty miles," spoke the old man dolefully, thinking only of himself. "It's more'n thirty by the road, but I can walk it under twenty-two. All's ready here, chopped wood and rations, an as good a dampernote as a man could wish for. Ye couldn't be snugger, ye see. The trap'll be here this time to-morrow. What d'ye say to that?"

"You're taking a good deal of trouble, but I'll not forget it, indeed I won't, as sure as my name is Mivers." His host shrugged his shoulders contemptuously, and started on his long tramp. Mr. Mivers walked about quietly in the still cottage, where for miles around were the trees and the riding sun crossing the inexorable sky. The shadows shortened and lengthened, the fragrance of evening rose from the little stream behind, and the hills caught their twilight mantles as the beauty lingered like a left blessing. The solemnity of the woods, the mystery of the distance, the reverence that was in the stillness, and the wonderment the stars made—these seemed to give Mivers the thought that the world was closing on him, and that not far from his journeying now "his grave was cut across."note He had struggled for wealth with remorseless hands, he had gripped her purple robe with his strong tenacious grasp; what matter that he had been dragged through the mire; what matter that he had grovelled and bullied? He had won the world's insignia of merit, and he in turn held others in grovel and mire as he had been. But there, in the shades and alone, with an escaped death only gone with that one yesterday, the purples he had won with most of life and all of soul, appeared to lose their charms. He might have thought them brighter and better, perhaps, if there had been the pearl of some widow's blessing gemming the robe somewhere. He would have felt more satisfaction, somehow, below the grandeur of the questioning night, if some charity rendered, some past mercies done, some one of the many weary ones who had crossed his way during the travel of the gone time had known help from his hand rather than buffets. No voice came down to him with a tender greeting or a cheering thought. There was no memory raised to give him joy. Though villainous and vagabond poverty had been beaten and trampled, the past was as dark as the hills before him, and the unchanging watching and waiting stars above held for him but scant consolation. His


  ― 167 ―
luxurious home was waiting, it was true, but the day was nearly spent, and the night with its darkness at hand. His income was accumulating grandly, but his son had left him in the strength of his manhood, and those who gave him service were strangers. The short prospect was blank, he had scared away hope and happiness, and he was alone.

Next day the horses drove up, but the frightened coachman waited in vain for a curse and a curt order. The grimed face of his saviour looked quietly out from the silken fittings, and his figure stumbled awkwardly down from the paint and the polish of the panels. Mivers touched him familiarly on the shoulder, and asked him into his own house.

"Sit down," he said respectfully and sorrowfully; "tell me what I can do for you."

"Nothing, Mr. Mivers, we're quits, sir; I swore once to kill ye. I've saved yer life, we're quits."

The squatter's face grew blank. He knew the past was returning again, and he feared it as he did dreams of the fire he had been snatched from.

"I'm the man, sir," said James Brown slowly, "wot ye giv a year's imprisonment for stealin, 'cause ye wanted me out of the way—'cause ye thought I knew too much about her. I'm the man wot made ye give a cheque for £200 to save yourself one night, an wot ye laid the troopers on to catch me an the boy that was with me after we had yer promise. I'm the man, sir, wot returned ye the money (me an the boy) after ye broke yer bargain, an tried to put us in gaol. Now, sir, I've saved yer life, an feel all the better for it. I know of no man I'd rather save nor you: that's who I am, Mr. Mivers. I want no help, sir."

The speaker had one arm upon his thigh, and was looking through the leaves that crept past the door jamb, past the shining carriage and out upon the hills. He spoke with a grave calm thoughtfulness that surprised his companion.

"I have harmed you, I fear, more than I can repay. If you were the only one my course would be easy. If I could buy up my past to-day I would do it. There are others beyond that—far beyond me."

"Aye, there's others far beyond ye, sir."

Mivers looked wearily up. "Tell me what I can do for you, Brown. Let the matter of the gaol pass. Can anything be done?"

"I don't know, sir. Nothin that I knows of now."

"This is a poor bare place, and I've money."

"Not a poor place or a bare place to me. Look at them creepers;


  ― 168 ―
look at that bit of garden; look at the hills there. No, sir, it aint a poor place to me. I want no better."

"But," in a kind of supplication on behalf of his crumbling idol, "let me do something, Brown. I've money; money does much, you know."

"I can't say that it do, sir; but if it do, money I don't want. I might hev a favour to ask."

"What is it? If Luke Mivers can do it, it's done. Let me do it," he begged; "tell me that you will."

"Yes, sir, I will; but not now. An still it aint a favor neither, but a right, that'll be all Jim Brown 'll want."

"A right? Well, put it in any way you please, Brown, and you'll see what amends I'll try to make for a good deal gone."

"For the matter o' that it'll do ye good more'n me."

"Ah!" replied Mivers with a tremble, "you're right; it'll do me more good than you; and her—what about her, Brown?"

"Not now, sir, but soon maybe."

Mivers looked sorrowfully out with all the more sorrowful seeming that his clothes were tattered and his face had brokenness in it. Out upon the day his black eyes were fixed as waiting there for the sign of some ship that had reeled down in still waters past the driving of waves or the speed of storm.

"But is there nothing to be done now. It would be a consolation to me. My son has left me, and I am alone, and life wears fast," murmured the old man.

"Not jest now, sir."

Brown brought in clothes for his guest who, before he left for the waiting carriage, turned hesitatingly, and sat down again.

"Are they all gone, Brown; all I mean connected with those times that—that—I might have harmed one way or another? Are there any of them left yet, in their old age, that some money would comfort? Not as coming from me, but from some one else, so that they'd help themselves. Anything I kept back or did wrongly I want to repay over and over again. Can't you remember some of them?"

Brown shook his head. "I can't, sir, the're all dropped out somehow, an their endin's were'nt good neither, leastways sich as I know. There's old Slater; him wot hed his legs broke, an his wife an daughter, maybe, starvin in Melbourne. When he came down a cripple I give him all I could at that time, £5, but I'm afraid it was too late; the wife was in the hospital, an the daughter drove to worse, the father saidas he sat down in the old hovel an looked at the dazzle in her face, wot had more brightness an good looks nor ever I see before. Ye never


  ― 169 ―
answered his letters, he said, did the old gentleman (he was a gentle-man, he told me), as he sat nigh starvin an cryin like a baby when I gave him the money, but he's got well-to-do since, an he's no need of help, I hear. No, sir, they're all gone; all as I know of."

Mivers covered his face in his hands, and bent low while Brown spoke in a kind of whisper. The heavy features were working when he raised them.

"You'd be doing good, Brown, if you could find out any of them who want help—for their own sakes, and if you would not mind—thinking of me in another way now—for mine I've more than enough money to leave if my son comes back, and I can spare plenty to help them if they can be found. Will you try?"

He kept harping upon this one wish with a perseverance in which lingered the mental tenacity of old and the weakness of the present.

"Well, sir, the most I could do would be to promise to let ye know."

"You promise to do that?"

"Aye, I'll promise you that."

"And now, Brown, will you shake hands?"

Mr. Mivers held his hand out with a sorrowful, humbled gesture, and an embarrassed look. Brown started and frowned, seeming to gulp down something in his throat.

"Well, ye see, sir, this means more'n quits, and wot's the use o' shakin hands with an old warrigal like me as has lived inside o' gaol so long; wot good 'll it do ye, I don't see," looking down with his brows bent; "wot good it'll do ye?"

"It would have done me good, Brown, and I might have slept the pleasanter for it, maybe," he made answer, with pain on his face and in his voice; "but I know you'll keep your promise to me."

"Yes, sir: you ought to know that by this time." He was looking steadily away, that he might not see the man before him, or the pathetic way in which the hand fell down. There was a long silence; outside the pawing and stamping of the impatient horses; between the two men lay a long track of sun. The shadow of deathnote that Mr. Mivers had passed had bent his nature and his thoughts. The night before had carried him back to remembrances that he believed long dead. He knew now that over every year his path had been laid the records lived; the hollowness of his vast gains, and the forlorn result of his long struggle with life, cast their gloom about him. His mammon had its hordes of worshippers, but the god was powerless to accomplish one of the desires he harboured now.

"It's gettin late, sir," Brown said softly, "an the road aint so easy


  ― 170 ―
to be found neither."

"Yes, it's getting late, very late, I think too late. I'll go now, Brown; when can I see you again? If you won't deny an old man, I'd like to see you soon."

"Ye hev my promise."

"I know if you hear anything; but to come if I send, that is not much to ask."

"No it aint, an I'll come."

He saw Mr. Mivers to the carriage, and stood watching after it till the sounds had died beyond the reach of his hearing.

(to be continued)


  ― 171 ―

Chapter XXVII.

Mr. Luke Mivers Obtains A Clue.

BRYAN Fitzgerald repeatedly wrote to Helen Mivers from Melbourne. Many of the letters were not, I fear, of a kind to interest any beyond the parties most concerned. In all, however, there were references made to the lady's cousin, and the progress of the search was duly reported. The last which arrived after the escape of Mr. Mivers from the bush-fire was somewhat more detailed in its references. . . . ."With some trouble I found out the place where your cousin lodged. He chose a clean little boarding-house, and lived, I am informed by the landlady, very economically. She paid more heed to him than to any of the other boarders, because of the settled sad look he wore. His practice was to leave about 9 o'clock in the morning and return sometimes at midnight, sometimes at 1 or 2 o'clock on the following morning. She demurred to these late hours at first, she said, but he came in so quietly at night, and looked so worn and absent that she allowed him to take a key after the first week. A gentleman belonging to one of the newspapers, who lodged in the same house, told me he saw him at nearly all the late places in the city, and always apparently in search of some one. He went to day gatherings and night entertainments, but in all cases showing the same evidences of searching; he was to be met with amongst the people when steamers or ships came in or went out; he frequented the railway platforms, but made no companions as far as was known. The gentleman who gave me this information said also (and this I consider so important that I purpose acting upon it) that in the discharge of his duty he had to report the proceedings at a luncheon that


  ― 172 ―
was given on board an outgoing Sydney steamer.note On leaving, he saw his fellow-lodger amongst a group of steerage passengers, dressed in strong coarse clothes. He was leaning against the side of the vessel with his hat leafnote pulled down over his eyes, and evidently intending to make the voyage. I need scarcely say that I went at once to the agents of the ship Gortendaragh, that sailed for England, and in the passenger list of which the name of Luke Mivers appeared,note but the person who gave that name bore no resemblance to your cousin. Sergeant Creetain, of the detective force, remembered perfectly this man who called himself Luke Mivers, having seen him on board speaking to some one whose description answered to that of your cousin (these detectives seem to remember everything they see). So far I think my business in Melbourne is over, but whether subsequent events will take me to Sydney only, or on to Queensland, I cannot say; I purpose leaving by the steamer in which he sailed, and making inquiries concerning him of the officers. He must, as his landlady told me, have lived very sparingly in Melbourne. Those places where the reporter saw him were always where admission was cheapest, his attention from thence being given to the more respectable portions of the assemblies. I imagine, therefore, he is far from being in want. I hope the news I have given you will serve to relieve your uncle's mind very materially. And now my" . . . . . .

So far, the information conveyed by Mr. Fitzgerald was correct, and in distant Mindorf they could but wait. It was the entry of a horse called the Ace of Clubs for a Sydney race that decided Luke Mivers to leave Victoria. He left his lodgings with a small compact bag, and sailed out into the broad liberty of the waters. He had never been at sea before, but the thudding stroke of the great steamer, the hissings and foamings of the passing waters, scarcely moved him. When the wide horizon lay round him, with the sea against the sky, he felt soothed by the freedom of the expanse, while fearing that each wave ploughed might mean a further distance from the one face. The wind blew boisterously upon him, fresh over foam from the distant wilds of stretching seas, till the stately stars came out and sang together in the arched sky. When the winds that whistled in the cordage and bellied the sails had swept the deck of loiterers, Mivers came forward to where the glow of the cabin light shone up on the darkness like the streamer of an aurora.

Down below was a card party, where men were playing with stooped heads, and where odd, bitter curses, were uttered at the changing luck. He could see the hands that flung the cards, but not the faces; he could hear the sudden malediction, not knowing from whom it came, and see money drawn across the table by greedy hands. Judged by a pile of bank


  ― 173 ―
notes and gold, the stakes were heavy; judged by some sudden glimpse he caught of some partially upturned face, it was heavier than the players could afford; and again judged by the fact that the hand of one of them left the table, and once flipped a card far from him beneath one of the other players, skill seemed heavily handicapped, but when the hand that so disposed of the card found others by some mysterious means, it was evident that the battle would not be to the strongest. Immediately below Mivers was a young man whose hands shook like an aspen's, but the bloodshot eyes around him did not observe it. He appeared to be playing with reckless wildness, and when, as was his habit, he put his hand upon his head and drew it quickly down again, it looked as though the large stoned ring he wore quivered out protestings above his amber hair. The play went on, and deepened down into silence. For almost an hour the intense expectancy choked back ordinary cursing, and the quick glimpses to be seen of the faces below told that they were as white as the foam that was riding round them a few feet away. The pile of bank notes faded and grew again; it became weighted with gold, and topped with hurriedly-written paper, and again faded and changed hands. It grew once more, and with fourfold rapidity. The faces partially seen from above looked set as stones. The hands fluttered out in following the game as though the wind outside was shaking and swaying them. Mivers could also see that drops were standing on the foreheads of the players. The hand that flipped the card away filled up tumblers of champagne, and with a treacherous movement spilled its own upon the floor. The straining necks above the cards as they tickered downnote showed the thirst of the men. Again the pile faded down, and again it moved and mounted higher than ever, representing there many a wrung heart—many a wail and effort, now tossed lightly about, as though human toil and danger were not. The fingers that drove the card from them so skilfully repeated the operation, and again mysteriously found another. This time the heads met to a common dice. They bowed to each card as though they were in the sanctuary and the name of Christ spoken, and as the spotted paper fell there came a hush that even the solitary spectator felt. The hand that exchanged the cards was slowly stretched out, showing many rings, and the pile was drawn over beneath a grasp that shrunk it into littleness. The ringed fingers rolled up the notes in silence, and the young man with the amber hair threw up his face while opening his shirt in the stifling atmosphere. Mivers remarked its pallor and its beauty, but the pain and despair upon it had a terror that rivalled the features of a Eumenides.note He rose staggeringly and toiled to the


  ― 174 ―
deck, while those below sat drinking by the dimming light permitted by grace of the captain. Where Mivers had been stooping the glare from below was between him and the stairs, and he could barely recognise a figure walking hurriedly, as it rose once or twice against the stars with the movement of the vessel. As his eyes found strength he could see the walker silently gesticulating, and with a sudden movement of both hands to his head displace his hat. It was carried far amongst the white lines that gleamed from the waves, but he paid no heed. He moved up and down the deck with irregular paces, and if the winds bore sounds truly it swept words to Mivers as wild as the attitude of the swinging arms. The man looked steadily at the waters beyond him, and then walked stiffly towards the ship's side as in a sort of fascination. He turned his face rapidly up and down the bare deck, and passed out beside the rigging. Before Luke Mivers could utter a sound, there was a plash that fairly jarred on the regular rollings and breakings of the waters among the mirrored stars. He saw the white face for a moment mingling in with the surf, and a slender hand held up for an instant, then the rising swell moving on to the horizon, after closing on the wasted life.

The sounds from the cabin had grown boisterous in some controversy as the champagne went round, and as the players threw up their faces in laughter, Mivers noticed the haggardness it all covered. The hand with the two rings, that had shot the cards upon the floor, was the first to point to them, indignantly showing where the feet of the players were, and hot words broke forth, opposed by the cool imperturbability of the player who had drawn attention to the suspicious fact. They rose in haste to search for the missing player, and stumbled to the deck. "There he is," called one of the voices, referring to Mivers, who was sitting close to the cabin light.

"There is a circumstance connected with to-night's game that requires explanation, sir, for all our sakes, and which must be made. I beg pardon," he broke off, as the bearded face of the watcher was raised.

The gambler was stooping directly over the light as it came from below, and Mivers recognised the face of Pelan. "Then she was not with him."

"Our friend is not here," Pelan told his companions as he turned away; "he has gone to his berth most likely; we can make inquiries in the morning."

It was only the condensed overpowering determination to effect the present object of his life that kept him silent. He walked away to the forecastle with a fresh hate in his hope, and a pity for the untimely death. He did not think where she could be, he being there—only she


  ― 175 ―
was not with him, thank God. The royal mail steamship Tarralooloonote shot up the bay with her sails curled in, and but one passenger missing. As to the manner of his disappearance there was no trace . . .

Beyond there, back across the strip of sea, there were a mother and sisters waiting. The mother's hair was, maybe, as yellow once as her son's had been, and the white-haired girls had asked her for weeks together when Alfred would come back. She waited awhile till the story reached her which planted its desolation and shattered her mind. She wondered soon, amongst many other wondering patients, when he would return. She daily expected to see his fair face and long-lashed blue eyes come to her dreary dormitory, and ask her home to make up the circle with him that he had broken, and one day in the twilight, when the branches against the window beside her bed were moving like the flittings of wings against the wall beyond, he came at last (she said so) and took her home, leaving the delicate girls with their tender high-bred faces and soft wealth of yellow hair, herding with the offspring of crime and the waifs of a city. The one man, disguised by his beard and clothes, followed the other to his hotel, and thence to many others in Sydney. Mivers saw Pelan in many bars, he saw him disappear into private rooms, bright with lights and elegant with ornament and lustre, where strangers were not admitted. At times he had seen faces come out from them wearing much the same family likeness as those of the players on board the steamer. He had followed him to theatres and betting rings; he had watched him in his incomings and outgoings,note and his hope grew braver and stronger, that Margaret Shorter knew nothing of him. He was at the races where the Ace of Clubs ran, and shivered to see his brave Astor there winning for his master thousands of pounds. His great strong stride and aristrocratic blood led the field without fault or flutter to the finish, winning splendidly, and as splendidly ridden by crimson and black. But amongst the rows of faces and the gay dresses on the stand or the costumes of the lawn, neither in the graceful equipages nor amongst the crowd beyond could he see her, and the streets and all else in the city grew as purposeless and void as those of Melbourne. That weariness of the heart that trembles down to sickness was steadily creeping upon him, till the contour of a photograph framed at a studionote twisted him round like a strong hand, and he stood before it white and breathless in a tremor of sudden fear and joy. There were the old shaped rolls of radiant hair, the diamond earrings and brooch, and the superb haughty look her face had so often worn in the distant time. The street and hurrying figures passed away from his thought—men only seeing there a drawn, dreaming face alone—an intent tall figure standing


  ― 176 ―
mutely before some picture of the many, as the worshipper in other lands before his graven god. Bearing a sort of dreaming joy, he found his way to the artist, and pointed out the picture as well as his excitement would allow.

"Had he taken it long since?"

"About six months, he thought. He remembered the lady coming there alone, and returning hurriedly the next day for the dozen she had ordered before the boat left for Queensland. He was quite certain she said Queensland. Yes, he had some more, and would sell them all for a pound, including that in the frame outside."

And so Luke Mivers went off to a quay hotel carrying his first clue with him.

(to be continued)


  ― 177 ―

Chapter XXVIII.

Mr. Luke Mivers Obtains Another Clue.

A MEMORY of Queensland,note where foliage of endless richness deepens down to heaviest shades—where colours are all bright beneath the skies—where the days hold atmospheres like crystal, giving nearness to vast stretches and far views varying in leaf and brilliance, bears a bold beauty. In the sleeping light of the days—in the wondrous rest that lies abroad on the glowing carpet spread from sky to sky, there always seems to lurk a fear, suggesting a treacherousness in the rest, and a shrouded danger below the gaudiness of it all, as though talons were fixed somewhere in the velvet-cushioned earth. There is the beauty of the snake in it, and the insincerity of some vague doubt curtained below the climatic splendour. On the broad sluggish streams fever seems to lurk, and beneath gayest flowers the shining slime of adders. The fat mud, smooth and warm by the rivers, bears queer tracks of beasts, below flaunting plumaged birds, flashing their violent contrasts of colour and sheen. The vivid days have a tiresome opulence in them, and the prodigal earth in favoured seasons is burthened with vegetation. Always the same days, with their balmy breaths, follow across the seasons. There are no honest, keen, blustering winds, no swift sweeping gusts, no grey bracing days, nor the protests of driven showers. It is the calm indolence of an unroused beauty, with sleeping fire in her eyes, and a poniard in her girdle.

When it became known amongst one of the small communities there that gold had been found on the Palmer,note British enterprise asserted itself. The spirit of endeavour and search that had brought them there


  ― 178 ―
spread like an epidemic. Forty ounces a week had more attraction than slumbrous life among the richness of the drowsy days. They were away on the weary tramps over dangerous tracts where miasmas slept, and across the slowly flowing rivers and the soft earth, bearing to the teeth of the north, and to fiercer suns. There was no thought of fear for the throbbing heat or the lurking fevers, and no heed but the heed for gold. It was not considered how food was to find them out across the tangled distances where their journey lay. Stores and supplies would reach them as they had before; and there was no time for delay when men were rushing to the metallic harvest, and when unexplored country gave hundreds of ounces to the worker. The gold had been seen and felt; unbelievers rolled and weighed it greedily in their palms, and were smitten with the disease that hurried them on over many scores of miles, past bands of waiting cannibalsnote as pitiless and treacherous as wolves. Thus they passed to the Eldorado, protected by the grim barrelled weapons of a higher civilization. And near the longed-for river, as it shone towards the sea from the mysteries of far lands and the solemn shadows of unknown woods, the calls and the hurrying of the workers soon grew out to volume. The heavy muteness of the ages was staggered away with echoes. Valley beds were ploughed, but gold grew scarcer; distant basins and likely gullies were tried, but the gain was scant, and bread was hard to win. The hope of fortunes to many faded out beneath the monotonous sun, and fever stalked up to sweep them like a plague. Men hurried towards the nearest port,note and trembled down to death by the way. Companions left each other in their course. Diggers with fever in their eyes dropped from the retreating parties for brief slumber, and rose no more. Mates came wearily home from work, and sank, while others were hurrying to reach aid before the grip of fever should close upon them and wring them down to pay the forfeit. Hunger was the enemy that struck the hardest, and only those who dragged the food through long widths of quivering turf could do battle with the place. There were many who bravely wrestled on till food and strength came back, and over them houses grew in straggling streets. Wanderers drifted to them after each lucky find, and so the settlement grew till the nucleus of an Anglo-Saxon town, with its indomitable strength of purpose, settled down near to the sea that barred back southern Asia.

Into the life at Brisbane, among the play of light and shade that the day struck out, and the houses and trees developed, the news of the gold found, and of the failures following, lent its influence to attract the restless or to steady the more cautious. And though men came back amongst their neighbours, with the subtle seeming of distance and


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change upon them, whose gaunt faces and shrunken limbs testified to the trial beyond, and hungry eyes glared out their story of starvation and trial, the lazy capital would scarce believe that the mysterious land of promise lying towards the distant coast was not an Ophirnote from whence would rise the pedestal of their greatness. Aboriginals stalked through the streets, whose brethren were writing their history darkly amongst the whites of the country, sometimes with deeds of bloody treachery, but always mistrusting themselves and yielding before the racial strength of character that was surely conquering.

Amongst those who landed tiresomely back from that far North was a little man who came on a day that, like its fellows, was clear and blue, and filled of heat and beauty. It was a forlorn-looking skeleton, that had outraced the fever's progress and gained a ship before the disease had fairly grappled him. He was withering and moneyless, and had the quiet despairing furtiveness in his face that told the story of wrecked health. He tottered up the wide street that was blistering in the sun, to rest in the shades, and struggle on to where the hospital stood, showing its walls and windows amongst the heavy-foliaged trees paraded along its front. He had sought assistance at some of the stores, and lay down in weakness below the shadow of a big-leaved tree, as he had seen many do at the merciless Palmer. The insatiable desire for rest in the soft warm air had weighted him heavily, and, dreamily wondering if he should ever rise, he passed into dull forgetfulness. But the wanderer was roused soon by a heavy kick, and looked up to see a black face scowling down at him, and a row of white teeth stripped in a beastlike snarl. He dimly remembered some sort of quick shadow passing, and seeing the drunken blackfellow roll over and lie still in fear.

The fever-struck man was lifted from his resting, and when next his eyes opened upon the world there was a bronzed face above his, and a voice speaking that searched him vaguely.

"You're in the hospital," the voice said, "and have just escaped what the doctor calls the worst attack of the kind he has seen. You'll soon be strong and fit for work once more."

The patient could not tell where the speaker had addressed him before, but his narrow breast rose to the kindly words, and his eyes grew moist with gratitude.

"I don't know," he asked whisperingly, "where I've seen ye; not in this place—where was it, sir?"

The look in the face deepened, and thought came over it, but he shook his head wearily and said the dream of his fever was not all over yet.




  ― 180 ―

"Oh, yes, sir, it's gone, sure enough, for I've seen you in Victoria somewhere, and dash me if I can think; not at no races were it, nor yet at Brisbane before I left?"

"No."

"Well, your face carries some other place along of it, but I can't tell where."

The little fellow chose to hide his weakness and prostration; but though his words were brave, he felt a lassitude like death upon him. In the heavy wards, where the air felt soft and weakening, and where the sun shone in always cloudless, strength gradually came back, and he was soon able to feel the breaths from the river as they came up softly from the grounds, and to meet his visitor with sturdier thanks.

"I'd like," he was used to tell him, "if I could only think of where I see you. You'd be a kind of old acquaintance like, sir—if I could but mind, but the fever has mazed me, I think, an maybe it's some dream from seein of your face when you brought me here."

One day the little man told him it was no dream, and that his was the face he had met at the creek hotel in the Merton townshipnote when he rode the knocked-up hoss. Din'nt he mind of it now?

His companion shook his head, intimating that he had no recollection. But when the patient told him how he had asked for tidings about Joe, leastways "Crimson and Black," and that he had given all the information he knew, telling him to look up the race entries in the papers, then Luke Mivers remembered the circumstance out of the dimness of that dreary journey.

"An you found him, did you, sir?" asked the convalescent.

Yes, he had found him.

"Ah, but not what you wanted, I ken see that, sir. Excuse me, but there's the tiredness in your face still. Maybe you're searchin now?"

Mivers intimated reluctantly that he was.

"See here, sir, I'm not strong at the best of times, an I aint much to talk about as to schoolin, but I never sold a race in my life; an sir," playing tremblingly with one of his tarnished sporting buttons, "if you'd let me try to help you, I'd—I'd,"—his voice then faltered. "An, sir," trying to cough down the gratitude that was moving him, "all I ken say is I'd like to show you that I don't forget your kindness—that's what I mean."

"You have been at Narrgummie Flat at those races you spoke of?"

"I was, sir."

"And you remember faces you see once?"

"I knew yours when you first come to the creek hotel, and I minded you of it."




  ― 181 ―

"What hotel did you stay at at Narrgummie?"

"I was at both of 'em, but I slep at the stone one."

"Do you remember the other?"

"What, Shorter's? Of course I do. Rum old card that, sir. Joe used to take me there for drinks."

"Did you see any one else there?"

"If you mean as belonging to the hotel, only the old file,note but plenty of customers."

"You have been to all the hotels here?"

"Well, yes, on my way north I may say I've bin to 'em all."

"I'm going to trust you."

The patient looked up with a flush on his face. "Are you, sir? Thank you. Just do, an Bill Bartley will let you see he aint ungrateful. It may seem strange to you, but if I can help you it'll be like winnin a race, that's about the size of it."

Mr. William Bartley had not recovered from the effects of the fever, and both his hands and voice were trembling in quite a weak manner. He was only a little pocket edition of humanity, and such morals as he possessed were picked up in the stables; but, so far as his uninstructed eyes saw, he preferred such humble paths as were before him—they leading towards the light, and in his own little world, memoried here and there by the glory of a silk jacket, the triumph of a mount, the exultation of a win—little Bartley carried himself as straight as a hero.

"Have you ever seen this face before?"

The young man spoke so low that his hearer scarce caught the question. He seemed to himself to be parting with the one secret that was in his heart, and baring to the world's handling the tenderness of a hidden wound.

Bartley looked first to the face of the speaker in great surprise, and next at the card he held showing the portrait of beautiful Margaret Shorter. He kept his head bent over it for a time, but his eyes did not dwell on the features after the first glance; he was moistening his dry lips with his tongue in a kind of passing stupor. When he raised his head it was pale, and there was a look of dull fatigued hopelessness in his eyes.

"Yes, sir, I knew that face," answered he solemnly.

"Where have you seen it, Bartley? Tell me that, and I am a thousandfold repaid. I mean," catching faintly at his impetuosity, "you will have rendered me a greater service than I could render you. Was it here in Brisbane? You said you wished you could help me. You see you can help me. Ah! and so it is winning a race, Bartley. If you only knew how weariful and distressing the pace is, then you would know the service."




  ― 182 ―

"It was not here I saw her, sir," Bartley replied, with the same evenness of voice.

There was a pause for a minute. Both men could hear each other breathe—the one curbed to silence by the disappointing words, and the other leaning forward on the deal table of the ward, with his forehead resting on his thin hand, forgetful seemingly of the questioner. He did not move from this position as he went on to say, "Not here, but in this country; she aint in Brisbane, but away up yonder, near the diggings, at an hotel. I saw her there, an thought I must bin dreamin with the fever, but it was no dream—she was there."

"An hotel!"

"Ay, an hotel, not forty miles off of the Palmer. If you want to know how she got there, I can't say—if what she is there, I don't know; but the mistress of it, as I thought, so far as I can remember—that may be a thought of the fever; howsoever, I think not. An if you ask me what I know about her, sir, that's not mine to tell." The speaker spoke with an embarrassment that was like shame, and with much sadness.

"Thank you, Bartley. I may tell you some day how much you have served me."

"I don't know how far from the Palmer," he said, quietly continuing. "You see I did'nt go to it the way I come, an about that time I used to rave on and off. It's a new place without a name, with fresh paint blistered on it, an a thick thatched roof over it, an goggle windersnote lookin as it were starin an frownin. Bottle-treesnote grew near, an looked to move in the dusk like natives. It's a place where strong men come in an call for drinks, an scowl at one another—about her, maybe—God knows, an some sick diggers that hes money to pay stay there to rest, they told me. An not far away, when a shot is heard, they laugh an say, ‘That's another nigger wiped out;’ but this is only what I heard—what I see was her an the house. There, sir, ye know as much as me now. How she come there—her, with the face like a queen, I can't tell."

He stopped from his half dreamy description, and looked up showing a new thought. "You're going up, of course, sir; will you take me with you?"

"You're not out of one fever yet, Bartley, and if you took another you'd never see Victoria again."

"Exactly, sir, that's just it. Will you take me?"

"Why, my poor fellow, your fever seems to me to be returning. I'll see you when I come back, and I promise you it won't be long. There, go and lie down. You look as if you were having a relapse. You are far from well."




  ― 183 ―

"Do I? I suppose so. Maybe it's a relapse. I see you'll start at once, an I feel I could'nt do it. Will you promise to call an let me see you—to search for me, if need be, to see me. I'll not leave Brisbane, an—an—if you only would, sir"he caught Mivers' shaking hands with his hands"Just let me see her again. Good-bye, sir; maybe I'll see neither of you any more. God bless you. You promise?"

"Of course I promise. Now get to bed."

Bartley staggered as he rose, and Mivers' arms were round him in a moment, and they laid him gently, as if he had been a child worn out with play, on his lonely bed.

(to be continued)


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Chapter XXIX.

Mr. Mivers And Miss Shorter Journey Together.

THE hotel to which Bartley alluded has many times changed owners and appearance since then, but when he saw it, through the mist of his coming fever, it was very much as he had said. There seemed to be a kind of effort through it that looked like an attempt at civilization. And when it became known that in that still, cloudless district, where was the riot of vegetation, and guarded by disease, an hotel had been built where food was to be purchased—when it stated that the stout storehouse was well filled, and gold could buy food and drink, diggers trudged towards it from the plains and gullies, looking at it longingly below the burnings and shiverings that had caught them. They sought food that they might travel to other climates where such glory of leaf and frond were not—where the lustrous parasites and the gaudiness of clinging creepers, with their cable strength and wildering sameness, would be quitted for breezy hill-sides, and clouds, and wind-swept low lands.

Here came strong determined men, as wild as the wilderness, braving the fear of the quaking marsh and sluggish river in the worship of gold, that pitilessly demanded the sacrifices and bestowed its remorseless delirium. They rested briefly there, and tramped on as though the yellow dust was food and comfort and peace and happiness. The few who won came back readily enough, for some short sense of rest and such comfort as could be given behind the spear-proof slabs, and below the frowning sun-proof roof. The distance to the cool sea was not great, and the sound of the long surgings through the days was music. This


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hotel was a "digger's rest" between the port settlements and the restless wrestle beyond it; and if neither empty nor full at any time, it drew the passer to its solitude, and meshed such streams of traffic as there was. It was not an uncommon thing to find the spears of the blackfellows trembling in the strong walls. One evening there a deep-breasted digger, who leisurely carried a breech-loading rifle smelling of burnt powder, and laughing at a memory of that morning having relation to the "durned injins,"note shouted for a drink. He was emptying his tumbler, when a shadowy line of black ruled the doorway, and the huge American fell over on the counter coughing blood on the spear-point that was through his chest. Some few saw him buried on a little mound below the creek in front of the hotel, and a sympathising gentleman, who appropriated the rifle and a few other trifles of the dead man, swore he would earn the "gift." And he did so honestly. He conscientiously shot as many blackfellows and their gins as he saw at safe distances, having managed, by virtue of a strong taste for field sports, and a quick sight, to dispose of eight before the fever caught him in his wild turn. He left his gun a legacy to an acquaintance, stipulating for twelve.

Mivers was not now as in the days gone by, when he rode over to the crooked hotel at Narrgummie on his fine black horse, before the sullen bullyism of his self was broken, and the arrogance of his ignorance had disappeared. Then he was fresh and strong, and mean and grasping. Now, what had once been the object of his soul was crushed, and the shrine was changed, but the strong nature was still dominant in the determination of the present, as it had been in the grasping, brow-beating meanness of the past. Then he bravely sat his horse, as fine a specimen of a rider as could be seen in any country; his face was ruddy and full, and his figure promising unusual strength. Now he was toiling through the tropical timber with a feeling of being a stranger and alone. He sat one horse that was tired and patient, and led another through the close breath of the shades, finding but difficult passage by the courses of streams, and over the tremulous sod that ran out into warm and treacherous marshes or banked the rivers. He was a better man now, I think, and though a more hopeless one, in the world's eyes—the world and he had shaken hands—there was a great deal of good in that overriding disposition he owned, developed by the purest feeling of human nature. Of what consequence what he loved, so long as the purifying pain that was his was called into existence and dominated his future. I have seen the worshipper of a carved stick do more reverence to his god than half the Christian congregations in their organ-shook churches. Whether the reverence be called forth by the groined arches


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or the waves of sound—whether it spontaneously springs from a higher source, yet it is roused as much in the devotee before the stick as in the kneeler below the white-robed choir and the gorgeous oriel windows with their painted saints.

He was leading the horses and walking with unfaltering persistency through the tangles that snared and pulled at his feet, and tried to noose him back; and gradually, as the country grew more open, as the heavily crowned trees stood forth apart, and the grotesque shapes of climatic plants became scattered over rank grass land, the sense of danger occurred to him, and he looked to his rifle—tramping on, carrying his anxiety and fatigue in his slow footsteps. There were years on his face that were not due, and the slumbrous fire in his eyes was of the love that had taken him.

The haze of the grim fever that Bartley had did not so cloud his eyes but Mivers could tell by his description of the staring, frowning house that he had found the place where she was. Up to the time when the thick roof pushed itself in sight beside a couple of bottle-trees, I do not think he asked himself why Margaret Shorter was in that distant inn—what were the reasons of her going to so far and distant a wilderness—and (but he had fought with the question and put it behind him) who was Margaret Shorter. He only thought he was there at last—at last, and he should see her face to face—once more face to face, thank God. The traveller felt such a rush of joy and fear when he saw the house that he sat down giddily and spoke to her softly through the distance, as though the fair brow was looking down upon him—as though that moonlight night had come again when she kissed him and ran away with sobs—as though he had held her back on that night and was telling all he should then have said in this present waiting. And he dreamed and spoke softly, saying what he would repeat to her in telling of the fullness of his love. There, in the distance, after all the months of pain, after the life he had left and the wanderings he had entered upon in the tide of untold yearning that never ebbed once—after the sorrow that had never lessened, and the empty grey hopelessness that had filled those days of monotonous waiting—she was there in the silence yonder amongst savage bushmen. Well it was he was so near her—her, Margaret Shorter. He took out her photograph and kissed it, and again thanked God.

The day was yellowing, and the orange shades of sunset gathering on the sky, when he rose and tramped on. The fear that was with him increased somehow, he knew not why, lest she should be gone. There was no other thought of her but the loyal wish to be beside her again,


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and his weary face found a smile and his eye brightened as he felt the repose and loneliness. How she would like to see him once more! There were no loud voices such as Bartley had spoken of, no stinging gun report piercing the silence. There was the broad sun riching the sky before him, and going down in peace. The bar was silent enough; a couple of men lay in drunkenness, and large flies drowsed about; there was a confusion of bottles on the counter, and rows of them on the shelves behind; there was keen splintered glass lying sharp as lancets among the grass before the house; but there was no man's voice. Mivers' face was very white when he asked a stout elderly woman at the bar if the landlady was in. Even in the trying pause of waiting for the answer he noted how big and strong she was, and how brown were her face and huge arms. There was a marriage-ring on her thick finger too, and a faded damp ribbon on her rippling neck.

"Yes, sir, the landlady is in. Do you want to see her?"

He sighed a long unbroken sigh, as with his drawn face and grown beard he walked after the woman to the mistress's room. "You'll find her in there, sir." She pointed to a door standing partly open, as her door had done at Narrgummie, and retreated to her duties. Mr. Mivers put his hand upon the handle to pass in; it clattered loudly beneath his touch, and there was a wail in the noise the hinges made. Her head was bent down when he saw her, but he knew the glory of her metallic hair, he knew the pose of her figure that had never left his dreams, and he knew the white moving hands above the click of needle-work.

She looked up as he stood full upon the threshold. Margaret Shorter's eyes grew large after an instant's survey, and her face paled painfully; then a great surging flush swept her, and she rose to meet him with both her hands held out, running to where he stood in an abandonment of glad greeting.

"And you have found me, Mr. Mivers—you have followed and found me—up to the far country you have followed me."

She put her hands into his, and looked such searching questions at his face, that his eyes grew dim and his voice broke as he said—

"Aye, Margaret, at last—at last, and all through love of you." He stooped to her, and she let him kiss her on the lips. She then pulled her beautiful face back to look at him again. She needed no telling as to its wornness, as to its solemn manliness, as to the history his grave dark eyes carried. Thus for a minute, then hers was hidden in his breast.

"Why should you seek me? If—if you knew how unworthy I am. I left you that you might have a new life—a new hope, perhaps—and peace. I risked your curse that you might be saved. Why did you come?"




  ― 188 ―

There at last, the stained traveller, with her hands in his—what heeded the past with its gone suffering? Her hands were in her grasp, and she should never leave him more.

The gorgeous sunset of the evening streamed through on them, lighting her face to a weird loveliness that thrilled him. The same figure, the same voice—every corner of his memory and his heart was filled with them,—never lost the grace of her, nor the witchery of her wondrous smile. She was the same, the very same—his Margaret Shorter. Holding her standing palm to palm, with the possession and earnestness and strength suffering had given him he said—"I have won you. I won your life at the gully mouth by the Narrgummie plains. I won you when Astor carried double—your promise to be mine. I have won you by my search, that knew no tiring, and the suffering that filled it, and by much more that you shall know hereafter. Are you fairly and loyally won, Margaret?"

She looked at him with a stag-like despair, and took her hands away, and held his face to see it. The perfume of her breath, her dazzling teeth, and deep dark eyes were before him.

"Have you won me?" There was some defiant thought in her voice, and a wildness too, contrasting with the composure that had previously marked her always. "You won me long ago—at that gully at Narrgummie; you won me with the race, and now God help me!" She trembled a moment, and found her seat with a return of sobbings that would not be stayed. As well as she could speak, "Leave me, Luke, for a little, only for a little while. Oh, if I were only dead, or worthy of you!"

In the impulse of beckoning him out she held up her hands as if to bar him from her, and the light muslin fell from her rounded arms. Tears glittered on her face like the diamonds he had given her, and the feeling in the sorrow and the joy she showed made her look so bright that Mivers wondered how anything on earth could be so fair. There was sorrow for him no longer, the emptiness and void of the past were filled. The long-delayed hope at Narrgummie was his, and the short joy that had revealed to him the morning's beauties, when strong from the one night's short farewell, had returned. She told him she had sold Astor to Pelan, that she left the little village to save him from the disgrace of an unequal union. The rest—and there was much more—he should be told in time. It was enough that all his faith and trust were hers. He was glad he had wandered for her sake so far, and at such risk—glad he had forfeited home, and position, and fortune, for it made her the more precious. She was his world, and he had won her. His feverish journeyings and searchings were but memories that added to his present


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happiness. He had stepped into manhood amongst men, and he was there with her never to part. The world was wide,note and he was strong to labour. She in the perfection and dazzle of her fascinating Bohemianism,note would look forebodingly in his eyes, and sit out in the wilderness with him, shaken and weak with weeping. He had questioned her hour after hour till the pain and remorse in her face bade him away from the examination with the sorrowful refrain that he should know all the reason of it by-and-by. In the early morning, when the light came, they walked out together. He had held her trembling to him as the sun shot up from the horizon, and tree tops afar were ablaze with red. He had told her all that was in his heart. The tropical days passed thus, but there were diggers who scowled at him. Her name was but another for the beautiful among them in the ferocious admiration she created.

One night he was sitting near her, when Tom Falkiner, the lucky miner, stalked into the room, and shouted for wine. Falkiner had travelled over the world, and had sworn in the bar that he never saw so fine a face as hers. He had been given the lie before now, and had shown, by the power of his muscle, and his skill at weapons (so they said), that he would back his opinion. There was no reply to the look inviting contradiction which he threw at his listeners, and so he announced himself as Miss Shorter's admirer, after the fashion named. Tom had fought a sailor he distrusted in Miss Shorter's reference, and his competitor retired staggering before the ponderous arms of her champion. The reckless population on the fields amongst the gullies northward admitted his claim and tacitly recognised his right to the position. When the man came in he was partly drunk and wholly furious, being like a ferocious bull-dog in his adoration of the woman, and he carried his gage of battle on his sleeve, for his arm was always ready for any strife. The colossus had won gold, and he swore she should share it. His claim was worked out for 500 ozs., and he had come to tell her of his luck, and of his determination to boot, when he learned that some one from the south had come for her, and that she favoured him more than all the diggers of the plains and gullies. So he called for wine, and had it served, drinking it slowly, with his broad face set at Mivers above his matted beard. Luke saw that Margaret Shorter was trembling, and he had, moreover, heard of this man before. He rose with collectedness, and all the advantage which it gives, to quietly request the intruder to finish his bottle elsewhere. Mivers knew his danger, because he knew the man's history, and while speaking he was watching and waiting with preparedness, for he knew not what. Speech from Luke was all Falkiner wanted. He flung his glass at him with a force that shivered it on the


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slabs behind. The cast was aimed for his eyes, but the glass passed his head harmlessly, and before the shower of crystal had fallen to the floor the man found he had an active and dangerous antagonist. Mivers had lived carefully of late, not knowing the call that might be made upon him during his search, and even at the worst his strength was much beyond that of most men. Now he was hard and lithe as a watch-spring. Falkiner threw up his arms, and struck out too late; drinking had made him slower, perhaps, than usual, but he was certainly too late. The blow that struck his great neck sent him back dazed, and the next flung him down, with his huge head upon the strong wall, where he lay still. It was only when Mivers dragged him together, and pulled him, insensible, into another room, that he saw a loaded pistol in the belt below his blue shirt. When he returned he spoke with Margaret Shorter till the night had worn through. In the morning, when the house first stirred to the heavy blunderings of the beaten Falkiner, the woman who attended the bar saw a letter and documents to guide her management for a month, and knew the mistress and the stranger were gone.

(to be continued)


  ― 191 ―

Chapter XXX.

Mr. Mivers And Miss Shorter Still Journey Together.

AS THE sudden curtain of the morning flung up from the horizon, and the sun appeared, they were far from the sight of the public-house, riding steadily into the panorama that spread before them in the beauty of sparkling dews and tints. Lands like meadows were thick with flowers. Sounds rose from the trees, and birds shot by amongst their branches. They drove a couple of pack-horses before them, and, with their faces to the south on the two that Mivers brought, they journeyed side by side, feeling the balmy freshness, and hearing at times the breathing of the waters rolling over from the ocean. This was perhaps the gladdest time Mivers had ever known. There were none now to interrupt their talk; they were out in the world together, and for both the new journey of life had begun. The low sunlight was around Margaret Shorter, making her rich hair richer, and, as all things and changes seemed to do, adding to her beauty. When she turned her face, with trust in it, to him, it was still, as it had always been of late, shadowed with regret, and with the sorrow that was to be explained by-and-by. But he only knew that she was at his side, and that was his happiness. He knew an agent in Sydney who would take charge of the hotel and sell it. He had some money, and doubted not but he could get more. If for her he had risked his chances of fortune, yet they were young, and he was strong, and there was money to be made. How he would strain and work for her to gain the position that only was fitted for her future! "Look at the brightness all round, and the gladness spread abroad. The world is a brave world, and with you I have courage to meet all


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difficulties; with you I am strong and manful." There was only one possible trouble, but that he need not meet. He told her how, in his wasteful and reckless hope to please her in the homely Narrgummie country, he had forged a signature to a bill which her father held; but they need not meet him; there were other parts to which they could go and live in peace. Here she turned upon him with the joy in her eyes that made her so radiant.

"Have no fear for the bill, Luke. It shall never be used against you. I can prevent that."

And he guided his horse close to hers, and put his arm round her with the simple loving motion of a child, and they rode thus together through the shadows and through the sun. When in some shelter of leaves they stopped for rest, and he placed food and drink before her upon the grass and among the flowers. He laughed and talked loudly in the recesses; when she looked at him and leant towards him in the ways of gracefulness she had, and promised they should never part more, the joy he felt was like wine to him, and he thought life could be no happier than it then was.

But there is always a fear in happiness such as his which he daily felt. He knew there was danger in that bush land, and that human life was a light thought there. He feared because she was not so glad as he; because a dignity of sorrow or remorse so often came to her; because of her quick changes, and something of defiant recklessness ringing in her voice, not at him, but at her thoughts; and this she would explain by-and-by, only he must wait, and not believe her base. Why this weary epilogue? How could he believe her base? She, who held his life, who joyed him so with her deep eyes, who had entered into his present and his future,—what could she mean—this woman, that was to him such a living harmony? And he would look down upon her from the height of his love, that was as pure and lofty as a star, and trust her wholly. He would wait while she choose. Her time should be his time, be it when it might, or be it now. But this faith in her seemed to make her droop in a stately fashion, as bearing some burthen that had been laid upon her in a past time, or struggling to put back memories that struck her with storms of weeping. And his eyes would wander sorrowfully to her, but he should know the reason by-and-by. So they went on, through the days and through the forests. He pitched her little tent at nights, and waited upon her as though she had been a queen. Marvellously like a queen she looked, fresh from some spring or river-bank, with her sun-shot hair in a mist about her shoulders and round her face.




  ― 193 ―

They had passed a tribe of skulking blackfellows that drained out slowly towards them from the woods, with treachery in their rapid eyes, and spears in their lean hands. A resolute motion of the horseman, and the muzzle of the terrible gun pointed at the foremost, brought them to a standstill, when they showed signs of friendship, and called in blubbering, broken English words, for "bacca"note and money. Mivers' jealous fear showed no abatement; the muzzle kept its poise, and the party retreated to the trees again. They rode on, driving their horses, and urging them to speed, as the "pst" of a spear shot by, and the weapon quivered in a tree-trunk beside Margaret Shorter, as another glanced from the packing on the leading horse. Faster still through the troublesome ways among the timber, and from the yells of rage overtaking them as they went. Her face showed no fear. Her companion never left her; but when the cries had faded out, and the solitude became voiceless again, her trouble, whatever it was, came with the returned peace. With the infinite tenderness of his look, and his touching loyalty of purpose, he rode close to her again, and took her hand in his, while the reins hung loose upon their horses; and so, like children, they journeyed, knowing only that the ground was passing beneath them, and that the days were wearing with the passage. One day Mivers was pale and absent; through the stretch of noon he scarcely spoke; his brow clouded and his eyes grew restless, when in turn she questioned him timorously for the reason.

"All is not right, Margaret. I've seen something like shadows moving in company for the last four hours, and I fear we are followed. We are in a dangerous silence, and I feel I am responsible for it all. There, again, do you hear that faint sound, like withered leaves? We are followed. If you should come to hurt!" She turned with her smile of trust, and put her steady hand upon his shoulder.

"Let come, Luke, what fate is about to send; all the better, maybe, that it should come now. The only pain I shall feel will be in parting from you."

Again he saw a shadow, and he unslung his rifle to rest it across his saddle-bow. He had a day of constant watching. When night came on there was no fire lighted, and they slept as best they could—she beneath the tent, and he sitting in black shade, and watchful with the gun across his knees. The next day was spent similarly, and when the morning that followed came he found he had fallen asleep. There was a figure near, and he drew the hammer of his weapon up with a click. When raising the gun he heard her voice—




  ― 194 ―

"I have been watching for you. You are worn out. There is no one near."

He knew by her tones that she had been in tears, and begged her to rest a while till the sun was up, and the hobbled horses brought back; but she would not leave him.

"I shall go with you. We were parted in my dreams a little while ago; let us find them together." And both walked to where the sound of cropping herbage was, and, knowing the horses against the sky, they drove them back to camp. Her composure had left her, and her lips were trembling in the dawning day.

"I cannot leave you; I am afraid something will come between us," she told him, in such soft entreaty that he put his strong embrace round her and bore her to his breast, and for the first time since they left the hotel, he kissed her in answer. She coiled her arms on his neck, and told him she never loved before. "Could you forgive me much?" prayed she, just on a precipice of weeping; "tell me, could you?"

"Anything that is possible," he answered, looking down on her face. "Why do you ask me such a question? You knew the answer that must come."

For the first time since the moonlight night, months ago, she drew his face to hers. The sky was cloudless, but the day had shadows other than those of grass and trees. Unknowingly they ate in haste, and hurried on their journey. There was the absorbing feeling between them, and by each other; they were happy but for the faint fear they felt. The swish of a brilliant wing, the first coming of a discordant note from the branches, and sounds not to be interpreted by birds, kept Mivers on the strain from the beginning of the dawn till the close of day. She thought his face wonderfully improved by the deep red flush below the swarthy bronze. The purity of his love had drawn from her a feeling of devotion, though there was no change for him in the proud sorrowful face, which seemed to grow more broken and more beautiful in the brokenness, as the days followed. When the greater exuberance of vegetation grew beneath them, and lilies and wild flowers lay upon the earth as stars upon the sky, the young man's hopes sprang up tumultuously, and he took his companion's hand and laughed with a joy that was new to him at any time, that all was over. Beyond the hills yonder to the east was Brisbane, and they should hear the murmur of the sea before long. "Watching was useless now," he said. They were in a settled part of the country at last; "and over there, Margaret, are churches and ministers."

She pulled her horse up. "Suppose some grand obstacle came between us." The pride and composure that had held her back so long were gone.


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Her face showed as tremulous a softness as her hair. "Suppose some grand obstacle came between us."

Mivers reined up his horse too, and dismounted. "Come to the ground, Margaret. I will answer you here. Death may part us, but nothing to be forgiven will ever come between us." He placed his arms round her, and in a weakness that bent his face to her shoulder, said with solemn words he would be hers for ever.

(to be continued)


  ― 196 ―

Chapter XXXI.

Messrs. Fitzgerald And Brown Test Their Rifles.

"THE passenger," said the steward of the Taralooloo, "stayed in Brisbane for some time after landing. I did not go on the return trip, and had an opportunity of seeing him here in Brisbane. I believe he spent a good deal of his time at the hospital above. He found some one who had returned from the diggings lying in the street in fever, and he carried him up and looked after him—so I heard."

"Thank you," Bryan Fitzgerald replied. "Your information will assist me materially. I will call at the institution to-day."

He found the little patient propped up with pillows, and the fire of the fever gone, but there were dark circles round the eyes, and the lassitude that followed the struggle for life had come. The surgeon's hopes of him were faint, and he told Fitzgerald that if he had come later the patient would not have strength for his questionings. Bartley tremulously answered after his fashion.

"I don't know what the name of the gent was, sir, what carried me here, but I see him before at Narrgummie. He won the steeple there—some squatter, I think."

"I am trying to find him, and persuade him to come home again. His father wants to see him and be reconciled, before he dies. You would be doing him a great service if you could tell me anything concerning him."

Bill Bartley put his two wasted arms on the coverlet and looked up mournfully at the speaker. "He left here to go to the Palmer, sir, an to join a lady that's hansomer nor a queen—ah, ever so much hansomer.


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I see her there, an I knew her in Victoria, but I never see nothing like her before. Her looks were always enough for me; but I were'nt the only one. I knew chaps would have cut their hands off if only they could please her. When the gentlemen used to see her, they'd hang about an follow her, an she'd walk past them and through them like they was nothing. Then I see her at the Palmer a holding out like against some sorrow. I think the diggers there were mad about her. Many an many a cove walked miles round when they need'nt a done, jest to see her. I was lucky enough" (smiling dreamily) "to do her more nor one good turn in Victoria, an she said often an often she liked little Bill Bartley, not thinkin she was winnin me out of myself, an turnin my head till I could do nothin for thinkin of her, an could'nt stay away from where she were—jest only to sit and watch her an know I was in the same house as her, or a doin something for her, that was all I wanted. He's gone to find her, sir, is the winner of the Narrgummie steeple, an he's a wearin her likeness at his heart. It was the first time I envied anything, but I envied that. She often said she liked honest little Bill—true as death. You jest ask her, if you're a goin there, what she thinks of Bill Bartley. If he brings her down, which he's goin to try, they'll call an see me, an if they don't see me I'll be in the ground over there. You can see the railings from this window. Maybe you'll ask them, sir, just as a last favour, to go to the ground, if only once, an there's a letter in my pocket for her, if I'm took over there afore she comes."

His questioner listened on compassionately, recognising some distant chain of sympathy between them, and gathering his information as it came. Poor little Bartley had the weak garrulousness of febrile excitement, and he spoke on without a sense of effort.

"He were not a goin by steamer; he took horses by the blazed track, an that's the way he'll come down—to keep clear of people. Such were his intention. I aint bin on the track myself, but I heard say it was plain enough, an he's a good bushman. So you're goin after him, or more likely goin to meet him, if he's lucky? The blacks that way aint to be trusted.—Put my head up a bit, sir."

Fitzgerald told the man, who lay sick unto death, that a friend of his was coming out to join him who had travelled in Queensland many years ago, and as soon as he arrived they would start together.

Bartley began to pick at his bedclothes vacantly. "She'll be as bright as ever, but there aint no understandin her. She'll hold him off the way she did other gents, and win him hands down. If she was only here now. I could see her again, an if she laughed at me—all the same—I'd tell her what I think. With her face watchin of me, I could start all right on the


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journey over there, but I aint got much stay in me, an I feel wearin down to sleep, like what I feel when coming from the mines above, an seein her in a kind of dream. Maybe you'd better take the pocket-book now, sir. I feel like talkin to myself a long way off; that aint a good sign; take it now, it'll tell her what I'd a told her if she were sittin there in your place—an it's honest truth. ‘Bartley,’ says she to me, puttin her hand out an givin it me, like as if she were makin me something great, ‘You've been true an faithful to me; there aint many of them as is that, but you never change, Bartley; I like you better than them all’—true as death." Even then, on the brink as he was, before taking the steps into the darkness that has no region or record of time, his wan face burned up, and his large unquiet eyes grew bright. The day was soft and balmy in the ward, and the noises of birds came in cheerily; here and there were shadows, and distant sounds from other parts of the building came to them like quiet visitors as death gathered.

"An only think of it now. Years ago I got the Hermit for a mount. He was well rode, though I say it, an she said if I win she'd give a horseshoe pin what she had, an she'd back me. I'd a rode a elephant to please her, but Hermit wos a grand horse. The pin's in the pocket-book too, sir, and a neck ribbon what she lost, an never could find. She little thought I took it. Just behind them railings over there—that's where they'll hev to come." His weak voice toned down to whispers, and fluttered at last to silence.

In the pause that filled the room the only motion was the regular picking of the weak transparent fingers at the counterpane;note but by-and-bye that ceased, and there was no sound at all to gauge the quiet. While the hush lay thus curtaining everything with its solemnity—while there seemed a standing still of the day's brightness as it came in and the shadows from without moved stealingly, Bill Bartley's life passed out to God who gave it, forsaking his open eyes looking over there where the palings were, and where they were to revisit him, if only once. The change came like sleep as the faithful big soul went forth to the new life.

Fitzgerald had only looked on death once before, but he knew the peace it brought, and when he saw the little face untroubled by a thought, and the features growing pale and pure, he knew that the eyes held no sight, and the humble love that had possessed them had for ever ceased from troubling.

He took the dead man's pocket-book, and found the letter there beside it, the tarnished horseshoe pin, and a light-blue ribbon folded. The letter was addressed "Miss Shorter, to be kinely given by bearer."


  ― 199 ―
On the first page of the book was written, in a large school-boy hand, "William Bartley it is my name, England it is my nation, Victoria it is my dwelling-place, an heaven my expectation."

Three days after the earth had been laid on the plain coffin Fitzgerald stood waiting and watching beside the mangrove-fringed river to where the blue waters and the blue sky parted. Beyond the undulating grounds and the pleasant houses that banked the stream there came sudden round specks like the wings of dark birds, and they grew larger and nearer to show that it was but the labouring steamship coughing grime on the day. From the dimensions of a man's hand the big toiler sat on the sea-line like a blot of ink, and came spluttering out its sobs like a tired swimmer, with the breezy look of a journey on it. It travelled on without pause, blew the stream of soot that flowed from her like an unclean thing lazily coiling on the pure air, and unrolling into spent lines, to disappear like a forgiven sin. Bryan detected the square figure of Mr. James Brown leaning over the side, with his face turned to where he stood. He put up his hand as a signal of recognition, and then mixed with the rest of the passengers. He had on a coarse straw hat, and his eyes were nearly hidden below the broad leaf, but they showed a gleam below the shade as he stepped on shore carrying a long parcel.

"So, boy, ye'r stranded an waitin, are ye? So much the better. There's some go here yet, an I know the country." He spoke low, but squared himself before his friend to exhibit the habitation of the "go," and there seemed plenty of room for it in his deep chest, his long arms, and sturdy legs.

"There's a parcel of minavellinsnote I bought in Sydney wot we'll want. Hev ye heard anything more?"

"He's on the overland track to the Palmer somewhere, whether alive or dead."

"Whew," whistled Mr. Brown; "that aint a holiday trip by no means. The blacks up there don't say no more prayers nor they kin help, and they ought to be good too—they et all the missionaries as ever went among 'em. But yer lookin all right, boy; none o' the darned fevers hev crooked ye yet."

They walked together to a quiet lodging-house where Fitzgerald was staying, and agreed to purchase horses and start on the journey at once.

"How did you read my letter?" Fitzgerald inquired on the following day.

"Never read a word of it, lad. The lady sent out a groom or something to tell me as ye wanted to see me at Mindorf, or leastways to give me a bit of a message, so he said; an next day we got in. Lord bless ye, she met


  ― 200 ―
me in the hall, and took me up to a room full of books, an she sat down beside me an read the letter over, only some places she skipped, not bein proper wrote, she said, as soft an kind as a little girl. I did'nt think there was any of that sort nowadays. She's good, boy, take yer daveynote o' that."

"Did you ever see such a handsome face?"

"Well," responded Mr. James Brown, with a critical retrospect in his expression; "hansim is as hansim does, and hansim she does. I hev seen a splendider face—Slater's girl it were, but it was the only one I see before it—leastways to my mind."

"I don't believe you."

"I aint going to argue. Ye've jest got my notion. It's proud, an soft like, an very winnin," replied Mr. Brown, biting at a knot on the twine that tied his long parcel. "This here's two guns wot loads at the starn.note I shot 'em both—they're nippers.note There aint no trouble to load 'em, an if we're lucky we'll raffle 'em when we git back."

The next morning, before the sun was up, they were among the trees and out beyond the rolling lands, to where flowers grew beside the warm waters. They were away from the mangrove swamps, and far towards the open, carpeted with long grass and clothed with heavy shade. Brown spoke like a boy out for a holiday. For the first time he told Fitzgerald of a bush fire near the old hut, and of the terrible misery he knew, when he had like to die on these lands, further on, living on lizards and water for days together.

"It's not the hunger more'n the quiet wot sets coves mad in the bush. Seem'd s'if the world was stopped, an ye was all wot was left; when a bird passed, it looked flyin out of it after the rest, an if a alligator crawled up out of the river, it looked like the fust o' the batch wot was a comin in their place. Then there come voices all roun—voices of dead mates answerin—they wasn't dead, no more'n you—an laughin—an they keep at ye till ye see them—hanged mates with halters, an cryin women with blood on their breasts keepin ye company. It were all fancy, I know," he murmured, shuddering, "but they nearly fancied me along of 'em. I were jest agoin to lie down among 'em, when a choppin of wood caught me, an I followed the sound."

Brown rode on in a bee's-line, with the unfailing instinct of a bushman. His eyes were never at rest, and his attention absorbed. Towards the close of the second day he became restless, and mechanically fumbled at his gun. It was a shadow that he saw flit past among the trees that made him take the gun from its rest and lay it before him on the saddle.




  ― 201 ―

"Like as not the niggers is about here, an there aint no use in being caught nappin. Keep yerself ready, boy, there's no knowin." After a long silence, undisturbed by the almost inaudible sound of the horses' feet on the turf, he spoke again quickly—"Thought I wasn't mistook. D'ye see that cedar an the roun black lump on the side? Watch how it moves. Durn the nigger, do he take us for new chums?note Steddy—git off, git off quick, Bryan."

The pronunciation of the last word was full of anxious meaning, and in a moment the sun was shining on the empty saddle seats.

What looked like a tuft of parallel spears shot out and quivered past where the riders stood. If there was any possibility of arriving at an estimate of Mr. Brown's feelings at any time, then both satisfaction and pleasure were expressed by his voice as he spoke above his busy hands.

"This here dodge of getting off the horse an a shieldin yerself was shown me by a Yankee. He used to say niggers was varmint. Lord, couldn't he pot 'em. Don't put the barl on the saddle; put it acrost the withers, like mine—that's best. Ye see, them devils see a glint on iron faster nor we do, and when ye shoot don't move the gun; the less move the less sparkling that's"—— The first report rang out, and as part and parcel of the thin sting the slumberous air got, something that had looked like a blackened stump tottered forward and disappeared in the high grass.

"I was a goin to say, that's the beauty of these guns—jest stick a pillnote in the end an yer right again."

His small eyes were gleaming as the action of his hand followed his words.

"An here we are again, right as ninepence. Turn quietly to that tree on yer left, Bryan, an take good aim; it's expensive a losing of ammunition when spears or lead is the only exchange. Durn ye, ye kin shoot better nor that; wot are ye doin playin with"——

Again Mr. Brown was silent for an instant, but his sentence was taken up by the deadly weapon, and an arm that had thrown a badly aimed spear developed from behind some brushwood into broad bronze shoulders, glistening as they fell.

"That cove's in his war grace.note Look here, no more foolin'." Keeping up his criticisms—"This yere party hev done for poor Mivers, safe as houses; that's wot makes 'em so bold. We'll lie here if we don't knock a few on 'em over."

The discharges had created a belief in the minds of the savages that the danger of the weapons was gone, and there seemed a figure pushed from every tree as a flight of spears, some wounding and some striking their horses, fell about them.




  ― 202 ―

"Stan still, blow ye," was Brown's advice to his horse. Then to Bryan—"Ye see how it is now, maybe. Look at that big fellar a poising of his aim." Another ping from the rifle. "I told ye I would. See him a wheelin an a turnin down—thought so. If yer want to save yer life, fire—an t'save Mivers, and t'save mine, though not much good."

Brown's hands were busy as he spoke. And I am afraid that the old man,note with his affections and lusts, had got strong hold of the convict. Fitzgerald saw that, in self-defence, he must fire with deliberate aim, and the second report of his rifle brought down one of the flitting black figures, seeming to sink quietly to rest.

"They can't make out these here starners. If we hed to load ornerrary, we'd be tomahawked.note Now jest to show 'em a bit of skill. Look at that fellar balancin of hisself on the fork behind the front ones."

Another charge left the horse's wither, and the blackfellow fell amongst his fellows like a stricken bird. That's about the last, Bryan, boy; that long shot'll surprise the durned corroboree.note See how they go. I will say this's the best gun wot I ever fired, an here's a last minder; go in, durn ye"—to the cartridge.

There was a young native who had got behind the rest, and he was covered as the man spoke. Another sound on the evening, and another life fell to it. The young dusky warrior threw up his arms and fell forward on the shoulders of another in advance, but the latter clubbed him down with his nulla,note and ran on.

"Look here, Bryan, the search aint scarcely worth follerin. Mivers is done; that there crowd has been at him, or they wouldn't a stood so well afore us. I suppose ye think," he said, with his chin on his hands, looking from the saddle contemplatively, "that them niggers is all killed. Look at the grass movin over there; they're crawlin off as well as they can. It'll be a long spell afore they git water—that's a comfort. Wot fine guns! I aint a goin t'raffle mine. These here guns hev saved our skins."

They went over to where the blackfellows had ambushed, and found but two. There were stains of blood and ruts in the crop of grass where they stood, showing the direction taken by the wounded. All the tracks of the broken warriors dragging amongst the grass were parallel, and in the direction nearest to water, away from where the infernal barrels of civilization looked at them over the steady horses. One of those that lay dead had his arm below his face, and a hand bruised down beneath it. There was a red track from the body to the grass, and a big dot of blood beside him. "That's the cove wot come from the tree, an only a chance shot too."




  ― 203 ―

The sun was shining like fire on the place, burning with the angry flamings of a carbuncle on the prone figures, and lending redder red to the blood that smeared the grass.

"We're safe enough now," Mr. Brown informed his friend. "There 'ont be one on 'em seen in this part for months."

"How about Mivers?"

"I'm afraid the young fellar hes come to grief. We kin light a fire t'night, boy."

(to be continued)


  ― 204 ―

Chapter XXXII.

In Which The Journeyings Of Mivers And Miss Shorter Are Concluded.

"ONLY a couple of days," Mivers had said. "The danger was over, and the rest but quiet travelling to the town. There was no need to struggle on beyond the strength of their horses. Caution was no longer so imperative. The journey had been the pleasantest he had ever known, and there was now scarce need to shun the belt of trees. They could see where the fences were away out beyond them. They were safe at last."

"You're wounded, you're wounded, and your blood is comingall through me. Bear up, bear up, for the love of heaven; all will yet be well."

His arms met round her and carried her he knew not where, as though she had been an infant. Over before them was a shadow from broad leaves, and he took her there, entreating her, for heaven's sake, if not

But they had scarcely mounted, when a figure stood out amongst the brown grass, and a spear swept across Mivers' breast far into the shoulder of Margaret Shorter. The nervous arm that flung it was scarcely down before the muzzle of Mivers' gun threw out its charge, and the blackfellow sprang upwards, then turned dizzily, and tried to run; he swayed over the ground as though drunken, and reeled down in a coppice of brush. Miss Shorter held herself straight when the wound came, but, like the aborigine, she swayed over upon her horse. Then she slipped to the ground, and looked faintingly at the lance of wood that dragged behind her. Mivers was by her and had hold of the weapon, which he pulled away in a feeling of bewilderment, and the blood spread and broadened in a creeping stain upon her dress.

"You're wounded, you're wounded, and your blood is coming—all through me. Bear up, bear up, for the love of heaven; all will yet be well."

His arms met round her and carried her he knew not where, as though she had been an infant. Over before them was a shadow from broad leaves, and he took her there, entreating her, for heaven's sake, if not


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for his, to bear up. He hardly noticed the new smile that had come to her face, or the lassitude of her limbs and figure. The horses were browsing in the sun, and he slipped through the yielding grass, carrying her with indescribable care where the nearest shadow was in that weary land. Borne thus, she looked only at his eyes, but the depth of hers was shadowed with thoughts, and had a calm that was easily read.

"This is right," she said, weakly, down by the tree-trunk. "Luke, I have something to tell you."

She turned all the marvellous gift of her beauty to him in something like a mute appeal, and he, broken and sobbing with his dry eyes, sat her down as she asked and kissed her. He had scarce a word to speak because of his fear, but his eyes burned strangely between his shaking sobs.

"And there is no help to be had in this cursed place, and what am I to do to save you and to ease your pain? The blood must be coming still, for the stain is widening. I shall go mad, my love, my love."

He threw himself before her on the ground, showing a strange contrast by his wild face to that of the calm repose of the girl, that seemed to grow purer and fairer as the stain grew and crept over her breast. Her hand wandered to his shoulder with a fond familiar meaning, but he had no word to give. He looked at her dazed and frightened, as a condemned man at the clock that will tell him when the gallows will be beneath his feet, and the white-faced expectant witnesses around him. He lay before her, propped up by his arms, and looking at her face with limitless suffering in his. His great pain pained her.

"Don't suffer so much, Luke. My Luke, always mine, 'till the sea gives up its dead.' "note

"Margaret, Margaret, you remember the verses you taught me now. Will you die, will you die?"

He dropped his face upon her knees in a boy's abandonment of sorrow, and it was only when the eloquent searching hand found him that he looked up to listen.

"This is the best ending. When I saw you first, at the inn, behind us I felt a scare as of death upon me for a moment, because it came to me we should never part in life any more. So best, Luke. But you know none of the story yet. One object of my father in taking that hovel at Narrgummie was to entrap you; the other, to lend money. He got me to help him. It sounds all like a story, but it is true. He knew, and I knew, that I was fairer to look at than other women, and he gave me the mission you know of now. I have succeeded." She smiled tenderly, and one hand wandered down upon his that was supporting him before her


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and trembling. "Pelan was invited to make your acquaintance and win your money."

"Who is Pelan?"

"It was Pelan who shared his money with my father when we were all starving, and when your father refused to send down the wages due to mine. He had broken my father's legs with a crowbar somehow, and sent him down to us in Melbourne a cripple and a burthen. One night, when my mother was delirious with want and fever, I was told to go to the theatre with Pelan. We left my father staring at the floor and cursing yours with such curses as only desperate men can utter—and then the mistake of my life came, and I am not fitted to be your wife, Luke. My father's name is Slater, and by such is he known to yours; and now the ‘by-and-by’ has come, and you know all." She seemed to gather strength for this, and half raised herself to look at him, broadening the stain sadly by the effort. "And now that I love you more than women love, we are to part. Oh! Luke, say you forgive me."

He did not answer; only with a savage tenderness he lifted her on his knees and clung to her. His great eyes seemed to burn into hers, and he pressed her to his breast, not thinking that the blood print was still getting bigger. The dying woman made an effort to put her arm up on his neck; she smiled at him with something of the beauty of another sphere in her face. "You forgive me. I fell once—but I fell, I fell."

"Forgive you!" he shouted; I'll find you on the shores beyond and claim you there. Forgive you, my love—say you are my own."

She clasped her arms on his neck and kissed him, and the eyes that held such depths above her unsearchable trouble faded as she passed in his embrace into the life that is to be revealed. As she lay thus he made no sign, but looked at the face which was growing quiet so fast. He placed his face beside it, but there was no weeping. The bronze cheek lay touching the one that had faded to marble pallor. With a kind of vacant shock, Mivers thought that he could not remember the time when he had prayed to God. But he threw off his hat now, and sat with the dead in his embrace and prayed.

I am certain his words were far from the orthodox form, and that he was lamentably behind in the authorised style of address to the Power that dwelt above and around him. But if prayer is the soul's desire, he prayed with an earnestness that obtained record, and he rocked with her there like a weak and mourning mother. The sun passed away and the night came, but there was no alteration. He felt her growing cold in his arms, but he swayed her to rest and caressed her face, and in his frenzy cursed all things and begged that he might not live. It was thus


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the morning rose to him, and in the light of sunrise he mechanically said a prayer again. The plains and trees were yellow as he crooned his petition above the dead. Then he placed her as she had asked to be placed, resting against the tree trunk, and waited before her upon his hands as when she had spoken—waiting expectingly for words. Why not? Her face was beautiful as it ever was, and the sun was in her hair as it used to be; why not the words, and why no movement of arms or face? So he waited staringly before her for the love she had spoken, and so the insane wish held him breathing at her face, and burning it with his eyes. Ah! she but slept. He took her again in his arms, and sat down praying, in his poor fashion, that her soul might rest in heaven, and that he might follow there to take her, his own love, fit to be his wife, and driven to wrong by his own father. So to his Father that was in heaven he told his troubles in childish sentences. His hat, that had been cast away that he might petition God, lay bruised beyond the shade. He looked out with a lowering face on the book of the earth before him while he held her. The horses had wandered away, but he would stay there. The stain had deepened from red to black upon her breast, and all the world held of her he held—thank God for that. Her last words and thoughts and love were his—again thank God. So would they never part. She had said it—his Margaret, with those lips and eyes of hers. She had spoken it. He would rest with her there, and join her soon.

He looked up at two horsemen who rode to where he was, but bent to his rocking and tenderness of care again. Mr. Brown alighted without any explanation, and beckoned his companion to follow his example.

"Look here," when away from where Mivers sat, "he's alive, that's more nor I ever thought to find; but it's a case, I'm afraid. He has got a dead woman there in his arms. It will be the hardest part of the task to git him away. Reglar mad he is. Why didn't they spear him too? It'd a bin better." Old Brown, swinging his arm down in deprecation, wondered how such things could come about, and God in the sky above them. "He's gone cranky,note an nothin we kin do 'll show him that it's only clay he's a nursin of. She must be buried here, an we must git him away, if we strap him to one of his horses grazin out there. Come."

The convict stood staring at the warm sunny hair and at the face of the dead. "I know her," he spoke solemnly, rising from the scrutiny; "that there girl is Slater's daughter. There aint no mistakin her face; it were the finest ever seen. And they together like this! It's like a kind o' providence o' God. There's the girl I meant," pointing at the figure, "wot no face come near to, an we've come to see her dead."

Fitzgerald put his hand on the shoulders of Mivers and shook him.




  ― 208 ―

"Till the sea gives up its dead."

"But you know me, Luke. When you were floating down the waterhole at Reedy Creek I saved your life. You know me now. She's dead, Luke; we'll bury her here. What is the use of keeping her like that? She'll sleep and wait for you. We have come for you. I think your father is dying over there, and waiting to see you once before he follows her."

Mivers looked up with some sense of dim knowledge, but bent forward again and repeated his wail.

Brown came to them without speaking, and took the figure from Mivers with gentle force, telling him, as he sat listless and speechless, that yonder Maggie Slater was a waiting of him. He ran over to the cedars in such haste that the old man looked dimly after him, while Fitzgerald followed and took him round to corners and shades, and called upon her among the trunks. Brown digged the grave, and bent above it.

"Not that it's anything to me," justifying his weakness, "but she were the finest woman I ever see. Look at her hair. An I knew her—daughter of Slater. Ah! no blame to poor Slater."

He laid her in the shallow excavation, and reverently placed a large sheet of bark to protect the breast and face, while wondering vaguely at the dispensations that came from above. He stamped upon the soil, and covered the earth with leaves and bark—below the big tree, that would cast its shade to guard the daisies over her, and shield away the sobbing rain in the waiting for the resurrection and the life.

Mivers wandered about mad-eyed after a want that was escaping him. When he stopped to think, he could not. The clearness of his memory was retreating before fever. The party travelled quickly back, and the stricken man was soon lying in the bed that Bartley had tenanted. And when the unrest of the restless life was at rest too beyond the palings where the jockey lay, the men turned home to tell the old squatter in the house at Mindorf that he was childless.

(to be continued)


  ― 209 ―

Chapter XXXIII.

The Brotherhood Of Fair Play.

DAMIM'S hotel was the resort of all that was gay and fair-playfied and bruising, crack and slogging, in the sporting world. There were gentlemen who made books,note and cut bold gashes into other people's fortunes by the beautiful combinations of chance and figures, and that wonderfully erudite and inspired aphorism which bears on its face the vast vague roominess of an oracle—"you never can tell till the numbers are up." There were gentlemen who had won fame and applause in the journals of their adopted country by the science they had displayed in shattering, with unerring precision, three out of four Tyriannote purple-necked pigeons, as they flew from traps. There were white-handed men with rings and other aggressive jewellery, who wore the romance of being agents or brokers by day, and assumed the realities of their owl-lives by straddling at pokernote at night. There were parties who had the stern and high reputation of carrying off victories in quiet spots by warring, with bunches of fives, with manly pluck and envious powers of stay in all that pertained to their noble art.note They hid the effect, which otherwise might be expected by the observant, by flashing and valuable knuckle-dusters, and by intensely clean faces and closely shaven chins, so that their heavy features shone again with an asseverating reputableness and deep-seated peacefulness. There were youths who looked upon the latter with an humble envy that partly raised them from the absurd and monotonous position of respectability to the grim height of these veteran warriors, and so lent them a reflected reputation as of themselves possessing the achieved position of regular punishers.


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There were men whose hunting whips and spurs told that the dangers of the field were to them the pastime of their lives, and that anything beyond the rubicon of a stable, or the flight of a rasper,note held but a transient and unsubstantial happiness. Gentlemen to whom the science of pool bestowed fruitful crops of other persons' moneys, and cigars raised from a solitary possession known as "their own chalk," win there too. Damim's had such a reputation for somehow acclimatising and fostering that breezy sporting principle which is flung at quiet people's heads, and at the world generally, as "Fair play, sir," that all the votaries naturally came there as to a congenial atmosphere, and in the bar and in the sitting-room, and upstairs and down stairs, and in my lady's chamber, these birds of a feather flocked together,note bound by the heart-stirring tenet that won them—"fair play." Ragged urchins who sold the papers, and caught one or two of the outside feathers from the stray pluckingsclerks to whom the charm of living fast, and the reputation of it, was the pearl of great price,note as also representatives of that people who are shortly to return in triumph to the regions about Jordan,note were also of the number. Gott seemed waiting round in an invisible way to help them out with every oath as though their divine power was nothing but a commissioner for taking affidavits. Such was the crowd attracted at Damim's hotel on the eve of all great events; such the republic joined in the glorious brotherhood where rank and position were flung down as vanities beneath the abiding motto "fair play." After chignons and scent, the barmaids were pervaded with it. They threw dice for drinks and gloves under the prompt and convincing rules of Yankee grab.note If they won they scratched the entry in pointed and intoxicated letters on a bit of note paper. If they lost they paid by serving out Damim's bitters or his beer with becoming urbanity. Damim himself was a model of rosy, roistering, rollicking, manhood; coins were always clinking in his capacious pockets, and a waistcoat hole set apart for the purpose was weighed down by a watch chain strong enough to curb the excesses of a fair-sized bull-terrier. He was the high-priest of the brotherhood, and was known to fling his hat down in indignation when it was related to him of young Travers that he shot a snipe sitting. If a jockey jockied,note or a man hit below the belt, or did not come smiling to the scratch at settling day, his rooms were closed to the rascals. They might rob their masters, break open a till, embezzle their happiness with the money that passed through their hands; they might drag down families in efforts to climb up to their debts of honour, and this, in all conscience, was latitude enough—but "Sir, fair play." Damim's clothes were of the latest


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cut, over which the artists of tailordom wandered in wanton elaborateness. They bestowed on him raised seams, and broad seams, and prodigal rows of stitchings that, judiciously administered, would have furnished a slop shop.note It was not at all a wonder that Damim's rooms were crowded. The latest thing on the Turf was to be heard of there. The first news of any Sydney event, or of any event anywhere near the wires,note was to be heard at Damim's. Besides all this, Damim had a stock of carrier-pigeons on hand, and was about to make intricate arrangements with sporting ministers of the Crown for news from places when telegraph posts and insulators were not social indulgences.

One afternoon, when the news of the Sydney Metropolitannote was expected, the rooms were perspiring with the sporting brotherhood. There were book makers of every degree; clerks in haggard suspense; boots and spurs in cringing and clinking assertiveness; weary-eyed officers of the Crown trying to figure out the strength of their hedging; jockeys chewing cigars and elaborating their premature coolness by spitting at supposititious targets on the floor. The chosen peoplenote were in thick abundance, sweating and swearing that Heliogabulusnote would win, and in the agony of the waiting, chance offering to lay on more at that eleventh hour. Men were asking for odds in fierce supplication, just to square them a little; others cast bankrupt looks on their blundering books, and denounced themselves with greater bitterness than they ever did an enemy. Those who were most confident showed their nervousness, too, lest, by some unlooked-for chance, they should be potted—though with books "safe as a village church." The magnetism of the impatience was on all, whether shown or not. One gentleman, in irreproachable clothes, came vacantly to the bar and asked for brandy. The epidemic at large had caught the bar girls, and shook them fluttering and pale from one vapid drinker to another. One of the girls put the bottle and glass before the gentleman alluded to, and he tried to pour out his minim, but his hand shook in such an ague that he asked her to give him his drink. She looked at him wonderingly for an instant, as womanhood visited and flushed her. "What's the matter?"

He did not speak, but smiled in wan unconcern, and his handsome weak face twitched sadly.

"Drink it up, George, it will do you good; are you heavily in?" said she, in her whispering the soft feeling woman's whisper; "are you heavily in? I've known you long."

He was looking past the bottles behind her into the future, and came back with a start.




  ― 212 ―

"No, your honour."

Then he remembered himself, and drank the brandy with an inward curse. She looked after him through tears, and that night she dreamed he said, "No your honour" when asked if he had anything to say why sentence should not be passed, and in another month he had said those words indeed in the bitterest reality of their meaning.

He who seemed the most unmoved, whatever he may have felt, was Pelan. There was no visible concern in his agate-blue eyes, and his pale clear cut features looked immovable. During intervals he looked quickly at some memoranda he had made in figures on a narrow strip of paper, which he returned to his waistcoat pocket immediately, as though exposing a stolen thing that might be seen. There was a face pushing through the crowd with somewhat hasty perturbation towards him, and working earnestly up to where he stood.

"Mr. Pelan, come into one of the rooms a minute; I want to speak to you." He bethought him, and added hurriedly, "If you would be so kind?"

The face and figure were unmistakably those of a gentleman, and the tone might be described as deprecating when contrasted with the voices round it.

They found a quiet spot and sat down.

"You will excuse my bluntness, but I am so anxious." His lips showed that he was. "What horse will win?—come, you ought to know better than any man in this crowd, and I am sure you will tell me."

"What good can your knowing do you, now your book is made; and why do you make books? I have warned you against it."

"But I was so strongly advised, Pelan, and I was forced to run a great risk to recover—to win something—that would—that would clear me, you know."

"What have you bet on?"

"Mogul."

"Whew! the favourite?"

"Aye, the favourite," replied the gentleman brightening. "Isn't that fortunate, but indeed I'll want it all to—to clear myself. I have been so well advised, and, what is better, advised early, that I took him early at odds, and backed, and backed on, up to last week, Pelan, till he grew a dear horse. You are only a few days from Sydney, and you know more than the papers can tell us—what do you say, Pelan, he's sure to win?"

"You have a wife and family," Pelan mused.

"I don't see what that has to do with it," laughed the stranger, nervously, but shrinking back from the familiarity to a more distant manner.




  ― 213 ―

"But I see what it has to do with it," Pelan answered, turning his blue eyes on him; "however, it's none of my business."

The gentleman took out his handkerchief without replying, and wiped away the beads of sweat from the roots of his soft black hair mixed with grey. "But you haven't said what you thought, Pelan. This waiting is enough to kill a man—and he's a good horse, a splendid horse, a grand horse—so they say; all who ought to know say that. Indeed, you will oblige me very much by telling me what you think."

Pelan was not listening to his companion. There was a rush of men—a surge that seemed to sway the floor. Feet were rushing on the stairs, and scores of wondering faces were jostling and swearing in. There came a roar at last, "Mars! Mars, by heavens!" "Who is Mars?" "An outsider never mentioned." "It's a confounded lie, a trick." And through the rooms were cries of joy, cries of exultation, in wild swirls of cheers from the bookmakers and maledictions from the rest.

"That's the answer," spoke Pelan, as steadily as before.

But the gentleman was sitting with his glass broken in his bleeding hand, staring out vacuously. Pelan rose and hurried away. He pulled out his slip of paper and looked again. This time his small strong hand was trembling.

"Here's Pelan," cried one of the hoarse voices. "He's potted a mint; come, old man, how much?"

Pelan had paled again, and was cool as before, but could scarce keep his voice. "Ten thousand!"

"I guessed eight—but ten! By Jove," shouted the speaker with an elaborate curse, "there's a streak, and your own horse too, and didn't wait to see him run—knew better; made sure I mean, and didn't feel no anxiety, not by no means." The winner of the "ten" turned as quickly as a rapier point on the speaker, and shot a look at him. "Mars saved you and your crowd;" the words were low, but they were distinct to those around him, and they cheered again as if a spell of lunacy had caught them.

The gentleman in the small room sat still above his bleeding hand. He did not hear the slow pattering of blood on the oilcloth. His look indicated a wound that had pierced him to death, and when he was roused by the respectful waiter the noises had died away. There were only a few with disordered dress leaning on the counter muttering drunken philosophy about the chances of the Turf. When he rose and looked at his hand, and allowed the waiter to bind it for him with a handkerchief, he asked, with imbecile courtesy, what horse had won the Metropolitan. The man told him that Mars was the winner, and


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that the telegrams of all the day's events were posted on the board beside the bar counter.

"Thanks—thanks—I'm sorry to give you so much trouble. Would you show me the particular telegram about Mars?"

"Yes, sir; this way, sir."

"And get me a strong glass of brandy, please."

The waiter gave it in his blandest manner. He had won ten pounds. The gentleman looked at all the telegrams, and read each one through mechanically; then asked, in a whisper, for more brandy, and requested to be shown the nearest way out. He passed from the glare to a dim lamp, wondering where he should go, while turning, hesitatingly, down the street with the human stream, and mingling with them in a walking sleep.

The gay lights, the bright glaring, flaring, festive lights shone steadily above Pelan and his company, as they laughed, and ate and drank, and swore and shook hands with one another in prodigious bursts of noisy glee. Damim was there, rosy and fresh as the morning, and made many eloquent remarks concerning the Turf, and all true sportsmen, till the whole brotherhood, as there represented, related how much they had done for the noble cause of sporting, and swore intermittently that horse-racing was all very well in England, but in Australia it had reached perfection.

Pelan's fortune was noised abroad, and his name occurred in the current literatures of the day with nearly as much frequency as it would have done had he won some national victory or discovered a new motive power. His words were hung upon (whatever that may mean), and his imperturbable pale face gave him a sphinx-like presence that awed jockeys into treasuring his suggestions and forecasts, as, by them alone, they could enter into peace and small public-houses. When Pelan drank at the bars, the maids in attendance considered it a direct honour to minister to his wants, and if he condescended to badinage, the proud pinnacle to which he raised them rendered them unfit to serve other customers for different periods thereafter. Pelan eschewed large-patterned clothes and raised seams, to the utter disgust of tailors. He would have no stitching meant to show the playful exuberance of twist in a labour of love for a netter of ten thousand, and he was ridiculously quiet for the brotherhood of fair play.




  ― 215 ―

Reports of the gay doings at Mindorf reached the Melbourne folk from time to time. Newspaper correspondents told of the successes which attended the turf and hunting clubs there established, and of the intense gratification received by the spirited members in hunting a sponge, if no higher game took the liberty of presenting itself for their amusement. In one week they had obtained two kangaroo tails, and a gentleman who had been in at both deaths gave a dinner, the feature of which was the soup afforded by the trophies, and to this a convivial party of the members assembled. Their forthcoming races were descanted on as promising to be something that would only fall short of the Melbourne meets. The entries were very numerous, and to these the acceptances held a proportion so large as to be unprecedented, reflecting equal honour on the head and heart of the skilful and painstaking gentleman who held the high position of general handicapper. Mr. Pelan's attention had been attracted to Mindorf, and having sent a couple of horses down, found time from the arduous duties of his calling to pay the favoured spot a visit. He had joined card parties and played for half-crownnote points. He lost so amiably to several ladies, and having a mount to spare for the weekly hunts, he soon became a favourite. Mr. Pelan's horses won the races, and he a local reputation.

There is something in the sea that attracts most natures, and it might have been that the wide waters of the bay, breathing their life against the sky in regular sound, and charging the shore with constant squadrons of riding foam, had a charm for Pelan, because, perhaps, of the greedy treachery that lay below it all. He was there one day before the delicate rose mantle of the morning had been drawn back from the hills, watching the shore moaning plaints that were harmonies, and the headlands brightening below curvatures of frowns and indurated scowls. The sky that morning, following the example set it since day first uttered speech, seemed to concentrate its attention on the prominent features of the bay. There were the waters like a grand highway paved with lustres older than mosaic. There was a group of solitary trees by the shore. A white ridge lay basking like a Mastodon,note stretching its lazy length into distance. A few white sails were tripping up the glimmerings, and bellying out toward the horizon, and a woman was walking slowly on the sands below him. He was sitting lazily, enjoying it as he would a piece of wonderland, till the only moving figure there


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approached his hiding. The pale-coloured skirt looked as fresh as the sea breath was, and the little hat with its simple ribbon seemed the wing of a hovering bird. Mr. Pelan was stoical at all times. He could lose a "century," his friends said, without perceptible change of muscle, and for a steady hand at a stiff thing was by them considered to be unrivalled. But when this lady turned her face right upon where he was, he, hearing the faint whisper of her dress, and the low warnings of her steps, and when he saw the heavy braids of her black hair, the broad brow, and the pride that rested on her face, found he was betrayed into the unpardonable weakness of a sudden start. This lady, who seemed to have divided the attention of the morning with headland and hill, soon monopolised all of his. And there was a sort of broken flush on his clear features while looking after her—along where the waves faltered and broke and retired murmuring from her dainty feet.

Mr. Pelan rose from the rock leisurely, and gained a higher path, where he saw her saunter for a while on the new Mindorf parade, whence he followed her with an air of studious abstraction up the long straight street, whence he saw her turn to the aristocratic quarter above, and he still followed, still studiously abstracted, till he watched her into the elegant house of Mr. Luke Mivers. Mr. Pelan wandered aimlessly on, and learned that the rich squatter lived there. Subsequently he was told that the old gentleman's health was failing him, and that he was expecting the return of his son, who was understood to have left for England, but who was now in Queensland taking up country.

And it was in that calm morning, over in the heavy warmth of the tropics, that the stain was widening on the breast of Margaret Slater.

(to be continued)


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Chapter XXXIV.

The Mayor Of Mindorf Gives A Ball.

WHEN the mayor of a country town sees fit to give a ball, it is not, as a rule, because he can afford it, or that he is particularly fitted for the elegance and etiquette and silken gallantries necessary for so expensive and delicate an undertaking. One reason is because he is mayor—that is the public and accepted one—but the imperative and dominating motive is because his wife is a committee of the whole, and it is her very proper and very natural desire to do the butterfly during the short period of mayoral sunshine—the chrysalis of the councillor having been cast off. It was under these civic and matrimonial conditions that the worthy mayor of Mindorf thought it best to kill a number of birds with one ball. His wife insisted on it, and so far there could be no demur. The people who dwelt in the upper quarter of the town bought their drapery at his shop; he was also sleeping partner in a butchery which supplied joints; and furthermore, as his active and waking partner would benefit by the affair, he might be induced to bear a portion of the expense. All things considered, therefore, the undertaking was practicable and might prove profitable. Mrs. John Smith consequently announced to her more immediate friends the liberal intentions of Mr. Smith, the mayor. Mrs. Smith, with a chosen and select band of ladies, superintended all the arrangements, and you may be certain, madam, that when Mrs. Smith took the affair in hand it would be a success. This being the first mayoral ball held at Mindorf, it was to be on a scale of unexampled splendour, so the knot of selected ladies told their friends. It was to be held in


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the schoolroom just finished; the school committeenote having unanimously carried a motion to the effect "that the mayor's request be acceded to," waited for invitations. Ladies made it a point of honour to buy their dresses at Smith's, and gentlemen hung up their swallow-tailed coats to get the creases out. Invitations were numerous, and included all the eligible of Mindorf. Mrs. Smith, having made the shopmen take a note of all who purchased kids and silks, and other terpsichorean fixings,note found, to her infinite beatitude, that the cream of Mindorf would be at her ball. There was a good deal of humming amongst burgesses of a certain grade, who, I am ashamed to say, resorted to voting pressure, being hounded on by their wives to get invitations; but they shortly found it would be about as easy to get within the schoolhouse on that occasion as for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heavennote—Mrs. Smith being fully equal to the emergency. The walls were decorated with excellent taste, and all the arrangements as complete—so the guests said afterwards—as could possibly be desired. And when it was over, the mayoress—complimented by the residents of upper Mindorf so frequently and gracefully—felt what a joy the mayoral sunshine was, and wept furtively that it was to fade within a year. When the room was filled there was a gathering of colours and a variety of ornamentation that was gratifying to behold. Proud ladies of the highest connections unbent to the chastened hilarity that prevailed. The floor bent below the quick and slender feet for the first and last time. Henceforward it would echo to tinier footfalls starting on the race of life, to the louder ring of merrier voices, or the hum of more innocent effort; "but for all that" Mr. Smith said, "it was a great success: not that he should say it."

The Miverses were there, and it was most creditable to Mrs. Smith that at every available opportunity she fluttered up to the old gentle-man, and engaged him in brisk and familiar conversation, leaning with kindly friendliness on his chair with a repose quite affecting, as showing simply the honour with which age is regarded in our high civilization, as well as the pleasing contrasts offered by the summer and winter of life. Mrs. Mivers was honoured too, but as the old lady repelled too much familiarity, the benevolent intentions of the hostess were principally directed to the squatter. Mrs. Smith, having pranced about Mr. Mivers, after the fashion narrated, at several sudden periods retreated triumphantly on the impression she had made.

But the old man was alone amongst it all. If the world and weatherbeaten face of James Brown had appeared to tell him that Luke was home, he should feel strong and brave, against the wearying hollowness


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that bowed the knee to his power of purse. How much happier when he came back to the old bark hut, that rose before him out of the long perspective, tired with sun or rain; when he planned unceasingly in the fight with the world that bent beaten now before the supremacy of his bank balance. The long green pastures that he covered with his horse day by day, his determined labourings at yards and wanderings for lost flocks, his reckless rides behind thundering hoofs when the swing of his stockwhip reported the chase miles away, when his arm was strong, and the fight and struggle and gain all a pleasure—if he had but known it then! Everything at that time—the moving white sheep feeding home in the twilight, or in groups huddled, panting in the shades; the broad front of their congregated numbers streaming from the folding ground, and scattering on the pasture; the stillness in which the grey shepherds lived and sometimes maddened—how much better all this than the realisation of the prospect he had attained! How faded the hills he had regarded as his bourne from the green they presented to him then! They were covered with withered things, and fissured with dark ravines, and they were so lonely too—lonely as the stillness in which shepherds of his had dragged through monotonous years. All this, which should not be related in a ballroom, crowded round him beneath the lights and among the silks and glitterings. There was one face that warmed him like a sunbeam against that far time. It was the serene girl who passed him in the twistings of the dances, with always, for him, a light of love in her eyes. He saw that her partner was a stranger, but he perversely liked the unspeaking Greek features and the little figure, that was as graceful as Helen's; and when he came over to where he sat, he gracefully accepted the introduction, and spoke to Mr. Pelan with an interest that was flattering.

"If my boy and she cannot agree to marry, why better he than Fitzgerald, who caused their separation," thought Mivers. And the result was that he gave Pelan a general invitation to his house. Mr. Pelan showed a deeper colour than when the news came that Mars had won. With Mrs. Mivers he scored to his credit, he thought, and wisely sauntered away amongst the other guests. There were many pleasant faces there, but none, in his estimation, to compare with that of the girl who was thinking of the wide-breasted man who had spoken to her down by the sea, and was bidden by her to search for her uncle's son. On the day that was ticked upon that midnight by the little clock in the ladies' dressing-room poor Mivers had been carried inside the palings that were to be seen from his ward. Fitzgerald and Brown


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lowered him gently out of the airless calm into the rich clay, and heaped the earth upon the coffin lid, and shaped the mound. A broad shadow from a tamarind tree let through the quilted sunlight, magically patching it with delicate shades of frond and leaf. They laid him down, free at last of the life that had been partly ennobled by the possession of a passion that was reckless but pure. Their search was over. Yet, in the growing day that saw this, his father had determined to strike at the hopes of one and the wishes of the other who had companioned the son into the shadows cast on time by the eternal mystery.

The dancers wheeled on, and Pelan was again the partner of Helen Mivers. They drew out gradually from the shifting colours; he, from his experiences, speaking of many things she but faintly knew, and of a life that had the charm of gaiety and fashion, and the fascination of a brilliant dissipation.

"And you have never been in Melbourne, Miss Mivers? Living there is so wonderfully different from the quiet humdrum of a place like this. Such trophies of art as we can obtain are there, and I think such triumphs of science as are to be had, meet one every day. I can imagine the wonder you would express at the constant hurrying life in our little London—as constant as the long unbroken swells of sea that plash upon your shores below, and give such music to the mornings."

She looked up pleased at some thought that touched her, but did not speak. He caught her look.

"I was quite surprised to find Mindorf such a fashionable little place, though. I never could have believed Mindorf was so beautiful."

"Mindorf, and the scenery around it, make, together, the most desirable place to live in that I have known. I do not think I should care to stay in Melbourne, with its smoke and bustle; and as for the art and science, and the delights of the opera and theatre, and all those things you speak of, a very short intimacy with them would be sufficient for me."

It was evident that Mr. Pelan's knowledge of women was not of the kind to assist him on the present occasion, but he laughed lightly, and vowed "that, after all, change added in no small degree to the happiness and zest of life. All temperaments, he thought, needed excitement of some kind, and there were those formed to require more than others. That, after all, was the secret of so many different tastes, and, it might be said, but another phase of that variety which gives pleasure to every one."

"Then, as I understand you, you are one who requires a large proportion of excitement to give zest to your existence?"




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Mr. Pelan feared he must plead guilty. "That am not I," she answered; "but after all it is not so much a question of excitement, as of the quality of it, or rather as to what it is that produces it. You may only find excitement sufficient for you in sitting on a horse over a dangerous leap, or in winning a closely contested race, but I find a far healthier and to me a much more enjoyable pleasure, or excitement if you will, in looking at the sea, or in watching the changes on the mountains."

If Mr. Pelan had been alone, he would have treated himself to a prolonged whistle, this being his habit when roused to surprise. He but admired the girl the more that he felt in the present instance rather heavily weighted. He talked no further of Melbourne life, and they walked towards Mr. Mivers. "But you attended the last races, Miss Mivers?"

"I was at the races, but not to see the running. There is more variety and charm to me in watching human faces lit up with pleasure or exultation or happiness, and more instruction in watching disappointment and annoyance at the trivial fact of a too heavily weighted horse losing by a stride, than in seeing a dozen galloping racers urged with whips and spurs. I can see them galloping over the plain any day without riders to wale or bleed them."

"But a steeple, Miss Mivers?"

"As for the steeplechase, I should have left as soon as I saw the men putting up the jumps, if I conveniently could. I felt relieved when that part of the programme was over."

"Do you know much of Queensland, Mr. Pelan?" asked the old man, pulling himself together out of some thought upon which he was intent.

"I have been there, but know it only as a fine pastoral country."

"I mean, do you know the dangerous parts of it?"

"I think the most dangerous part is the northern territory—the Palmer and the country near it. The natives are not to be trusted. They are fierce and treacherous, but there is a worse enemy to the whites there."

"Aye, what is it?"

"Fever."note

Mr. Mivers looked vacantly at his niece, and she told him they would go home after the next dance.

"Nonsense, Miss Mivers," answered Mrs. Smith, who came up. "You surely don't think of leaving us so soon. There are yet so many who wish for an introduction, and it is quite early."

"My uncle is not accustomed to be out so late, and we must leave."




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There was a pleasant air of confused order below the lights. Different people were becoming quite happy in the genial good-fellowship that was everywhere. Ladies, under the influence of the mayoral occasion, made no objection to partners, and honestly filled their programmes with all kinds of names. Here were neither trade nor professional sets, and Mr. Smith's partner (the butcher, who never danced before) was put through by a number of ladies, greatly to his glory and delight.

(to be continued)


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Chapter XXXV.

Mr. James Brown Relates His Story.

THE autumn season in Australia is unsurpassed for beauty by any country in the world. The weary lands, stricken to greyness, as with a blight, catch the charm that clothes the days in stillness. In the cool air the chastened rays fall, with mellow warmth flushing the hills with their soothing, and gladdening the day from the time of its ebbing against the night till night flows back upon the rose and purple of the sky. On one of these days Mr. Mivers looked out sadly. He saw no beauty that could cheer him in the colour the sea bore, or in the radiance flooding the valleys. The hills held shade in their broad furrows, and lay against the bosom of the sky in sleep. The squatter was looking at the chair where last he saw his son. His heavy face was dragged, and a sore longing was in his eyes. He wondered if he should see another autumn, if the long array of dead days was nearly finished, when the last leaves of his history would be turned down with all the record written.

A servant opened the door quietly. "Mr. Brown, sir. Mr. James Brown is below, and wants to see you."

He answered thickly and quickly that he should be sent up, and lay back trembling. When Mr. Brown came in he seemed to have resumed all his furtive and uncertain ways, and he turned his hat in his hand, as once before he had twisted his 'possum skin cap in the presence of the lonely woman in the hut. He sat down fumblingly, and putting his elbows on his knees, stooped over looking at the carpet. The old man found strength to ask "Where's my son?"




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Brown nodded his head, as if Queensland lay at the other side of the street, "He's over yonder, sir."

"Ah!" and his voice was shrill with joy. "Oh, Brown, how can I repay you, and you did it all for me."

Mr. Brown looked up to know the reason of the sudden silence, and saw that tears were dropping on the white beard before him, whereupon he seated himself in another position, and his crooked fingers gripped his hat into a wisp.

"It aint that, sir," he replied, clearing his voice. "Yer mistook. First, Fitzgerald did more nor me, but yer mistook wuss about the boy. Don't take on, sir. When I said over there, I meant over in Queensland; that's where he is safe enough."

The speaker's eyes were shifting, and his rough voice shook down into a whisper, as Mr. Mivers sat up straight and fixed, and looked at him.

"Luke won't come back then—not to his father—not for all his expectations: neither for home nor money. I might have known he had the stubbornness of the Mivers in him, Brown. So you could'nt prevail on him. Did you tell him how I wanted him—how I'd forgive him, and beg his pardon—aye, me, his father? Did you let him know he should do as he chose if he would but come to me, and let me put my hand on his head, as I used to do when I bought him the grey pony? Only to see him often—only that. Did you tell him all that, Brown? Surely he would come then. But you did'nt know. You must go back and tell him. I've more money than I want. You shall have a thousand pounds for yourself and him, just to bring him back with—eh, Brown?"

"Yer wrong again, sir. He won't come no more," Brown whispered, trying to rub a flower out of the brussels carpet with his iron-shod toe.

"You can't tell. You don't know the Miverses were all fond of money. I'll show you my will, Brown, before you go. He is left £12,000 a year, and I'll write him a letter to come to me in my loneliness. Oh, he'll come then; I know him better than you do."

"No, sir," whispering so loudly that he filled the room; "he won't come no more"——

"And I say you don't know. What right have you to tell me, sir, that my son, my only child, won't come to his father? You have no right to say it. Don't you see it's a reflection of undutifulness and hard-heartedness against the boy? Why should he stay there in danger from blackfellows and fever when his home's here, and his property, and his father? God help me—if he only knew how lonely I am for him! He wants to know all these things, and he shall, even if you won't tell him."




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James Brown, having worked his felt hat into a ball, closed his hand over it to support him, feeling somehow steadier that he had something to grip, and rose to his feet.

"Now, sir, if ye'll promise for to listen to me, I'll tell ye all. I ought for to hev broken in on ye afore, but I could'nt."

"Listen to you, and you with tidings of my son!"

"Heavens," said Brown, his voice trembling in his vast throat; "I can't stand this."

"I beg your pardon, Brown; indeed, I do," replied the squatter meekly. "I was wrong." He looked up waiting respectfully, with the eagerness of his worn soul kindled to hear what Brown had to tell. But the latter was silent. He looked round the room in sore embarrassment, and then dropped his crumpled hat. There was a pretty plaything of a silk-cushioned gilded chair near him. He put his hand on this, making the fragile seat creak as if in pain, and he sat down, though it swayed below his weight.

"No, sir, poor Luke aint a goin for to come back no more. We found him on the Palmer track, all mad with fever, an we took him along of us on our horses. He come like a baby, wonderin like, but he never spoke to us from the time we lef the gr—— the blackfellows; only now an again he'd ask no questions, an fall to ravin. We rode along of like this for two days and nights, keepin him warm in the dews, an givin him water, an straight up through Brisbane streets to the 'ospital. We never left him, neither on us, for the week. When the week was over, an—an he bid us good-bye, an thanked us, an asked yer forgiveness of him,—so he fell off to sleep, an woke no more. We carried him over, did Bryan an me, to the grave we dug: an when the parson read the book we put the clay down on the coffin soft s'if he were only sleepin, till the grave was filled. There's where Luke is, an that's why I say he aint a comin no more—an may God help yer, sir. There's the whole story we've got to tell."

The marks the years had made in Mivers' face trenched deeper as the story went on. It wore a flabby stillness, but there was a change to greyer grey, and a distance gathered in his dim dark eyes as though he was following him out over the sea to the journey down to the hospital and to the softly heaped earth. He had settled himself back to hear the tale, but the tears dried in his eyes, and he slowly bowed before the weight of the tidings. Something on his coat-sleeve caught his attention, and he brushed it away with care. There was a little table beside his elbow; he put his hand upon it, and trembled out a tattoo with his fingers. Then it appeared that something startled him, when he turned round to


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Brown and looked at him. His white hair lay smoothly back from his forehead, but he put up his hand to smooth it more in patient silence. So at intervals his hand would wander up to his forehead and over his hair again and again, but he gave no speech. Brown sat on the gay, yielding seat, looking at him from below his brows and waiting. At his feet lay the crushed hat. This caught Mivers' attention too. He looked at it, and then at the man before him, striving to connect them somehow.

"I've got the things here wot I took after he died. There's clothes in a parcel at the door there, an here's his bits o' things"—the man's voice came to softness and reverence now—"I thort it 'ud be well for to bring ye this too."

"This" was an envelope, which the speaker opened solemnly, whence he took a long lock of black hair with white threads through it. "I cut it off of him myself, sir, just afore they put him in the coffin." He held it over—"There it is."

Mivers looked at the hair and the giver, and put his hand forth and took it. The lock curled round his finger when he patted it with the palm of his other hand softly and continuously. "This here, sir, is his ring." He took that also. "And this bit paper," laying it on the little table; "his knife an things are in it. He had 263 sovereigns in his belt at the 'ospital, leavin after burial an doctor's expenses 231, which ye will find in this here paper." He put the gold on the table beside the rest.

Mivers was patting and stroking the hair in his hand, listening to the speaker vaguely, when some movement of the man shook the table, inlaid with its gaudy flowers of pearl, and the paper of gold fell to the floor and broke. The bright coins rolled away from his feet, but, turning on their course, settled round him in a yellow swarm.

"Do you see that, Brown? That's gold—that's what I have made. I used to think it could do everything; so it should for me, by the way I fought for it. There are wages there that ought to have been paid; there's justice kept back there that ought to have been given, and there are curses there. Look." He opened his hand, holding out the hair and the ring—"There they are—the curses."

The soft autumn crept in upon the occupants, and lit the room with sun, spreading and diffusing itself through the heavy furniture, playing against the big-framed pictures and the wrecked face of the rich man. It touched the ring and the gold alike, as it shines on the just and the unjust, from the bent sky above, from off the spread waters below, from over the hills beyond, from past the plains and the farthest rivers, giving glory and joy all the same, for all the wickedness and wrong. And in the


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mellow light of one of the fairest days the world sees, amongst all the luxuries the world can offer to wealth, with all the homage it has to give—waiting to pay daily devotion to him—Luke Mivers sat with the lock of hair and the ring, beseeching James Brown, the convict, with childish earnestness, not to leave him in his loneliness. He had his friends there, and one was a girl he loved, but his past was rising and turning upon him, and he feared it. Brown, who knew much of it, seemed to him the one remnant of it all, through whom perhaps might be found some place in repentance.

There was so much hopelessness in the face below the smooth frosted hair, that Brown remained on the slender chair, and bent his shaggy face near him, straightening out his shapeless hat. With his breadth of chest and huge limbs above the bright carpet, he stopped by him, as shadowing him with his strength.

"You remember when I was at your hut a short time ago, and when you refused to take my hand."

"Hisht, hisht," said his companion, holding out his seamed palm.

And the rich squatter, revered of all men, with the gold lying at his feet, and the sumptuous paraphernalia of elegance around him, put his soft hand into the proffered hand, and the bunioned fingers closed over it kindly.

"If I could see some of the old servants—some of the old shepherds who helped me to get money (for they all did) that you know of—they might let me assist them. Surely there are some alive—all have not gone before me with stories of hardship or wrong."

"Sir, I promised to help ye if I could."

(to be continued)


  ― 228 ―

Chapter XXXVI.

Mr. Pelan Comes To Grief.

WHEN Mr. James Brown set out for the rows of villas and architects' devices in stucco, with his hat drawn over his face, his long stride, and his mournful parcel, Mr. Fitzgerald sauntered where another Architect had spread the seas and built the skies above the waters and the hills. He turned amongst the rocks and stood alone. The bay lay throbbing before him like a jewelled breast below the robes the day had dressed it with. Fresh smells swept round him, till the voice of Helen Mivers seemed to come again, without which the great antiphon of the breathing ocean would have lost the grandeur of its lulling sounds. Another step was being then covered by the noises and mingling with the breaths of the curling waves. Miss Mivers had chosen times for walking by the beach when the sands were lonely, in the hope of missing Pelan and finding the pleasures she sought without companionship. She flushed with annoyance to see the form of a man against the rocks on the spot where she always lingered, and stood irresolute beside the sea plashing on the stones. It was not the slender figure of the pale winner of racing events, but a bold outline of physical strength. She walked slowly on without scrutiny, and wondered to hear the feet of the loiterer make speed to where she was. Miss Mivers turned her face in the direction of the sound, and her look changed to one of glowing welcome and great joy.

"When did you come back, Bryan?" To him her voice gave a softer murmur than the riplets at her feet.

"Only to-day, and straight down here, hoping I might see you."




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His emotion put colour into his dark face as he caught her slender hands in his, beneath the shelter of the rocks, and kissed her.

"And you have come back safe and well?" Voice and face and eyes all asked together. There was joy at his return in them, and there was the gladness at his felt presence.

"And you were successful?"

"Yes, I was successful."

But her eyes wondered at his voice, and she sat down and listened to the long sad story, and on this he told her the history of his past, holding back no circumstance of his life that he could remember. Then he waited in fear. He had not before seen her look so proud, as she turned her firm face upon his, with the haughty curve in her neck, and the queenly meaning in her figure; but her brow was clear, and the speaking in her eyes as eloquent as before. Then the rare smile he knew came back, and she placed her cool hand on his.

"I believe every word you have told me, Bryan, or you would not have told the tale. I have nothing to forgive. Women's hearts are not easily won or easily lost. Love for a mother is a sacred thing, and the strongest motive on earth. I can understand the power that was your weakness in the temptation, and is your strength now."

And he? He felt as if some breathless effort had placed him safe at her side at last.

"Through the months which have passed I shivered back in fear from telling you all my history, but I felt I was winning you in disguise, and that my hold on you therefore might be unloosened and flung aside at any moment."

The day wore on, with its shades and colours, and its stretching shadows, and the sea crept in with voices from afar. It jangled and pushed its sounds before it as birds throw songs upon the air. Upon the plains the haze of yellow mist was gathering, and the day joined two shadows on the smooth strand, where were gleams of spray and rainbow hues from shells and resting foam.

Those gentlemen of Mindorf who joined the hunting club deemed it a point of honour, because calculated to enhance their reputation in sporting circles, to mount scarlet coats and top boots. "It was not," said the president, "that they could not ride as well in anything else, but because it gave them a distinct appearance in the field at a large meet, and showed they were members. With this knowledge upon them


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they would gallantly ride at raspers or face the most formidable logs, knowing that they carried on their respective backs the reputation of Mindorf—a reputation which, from the fearlessness already displayed, would enable them to hold as high a position in the estimation of all bold horsemen and true sports as did the members of the Melbourne Hunt Club."note Pelan had been made an honorary member, and attended a long-discussed meet on a strong black. He was anxious for a wild gallop, to brace his nerves after a hazardous night at cards, and others like him were waiting and willing for the excitement the danger gave. Rocky Point, the place of rendezvous, was famed for its ugly fences and the generally uninviting and obstructive appearances of all its other features. There were heaviness and frowns among the clumps of leafy trees. The grey river, that ate the rocky lands and plain, gave sullen noises in its journey to the sea, and the lazy clouds threw dusks upon the lands as they moved slowly on the sky. It was a grim sunless day, that dropped mists among the gorges, or trailed them along the plains, keeping the country voiceless. There was no brightness. There were the thin bleached grass, the harsh rusty foliage, and hills where mossed stones were pattered on by falling water.

When Pelan saw Miss Mivers present and escorted by a gentleman, he would have turned to speak to her, but the cries ran out and hung upon the air a moment like an unwilling cloud. The sound of horses' feet boomed over the sod as the field started for the quarry. The straight goers bent to their work, knowing that those who would be in at the death would not find the ride child's play, and they pulled their caps down and settled in the saddle. The first few fences were flown by the leaders, and the work of the day began. Miss Mivers and Fitzgerald rode leisurely to points of observation whence they could obtain easy views of the chase, and they saw that every jump was sifting the field till there was but a little group of horsemen together, and behind, at long distances, the chaff were galloping hurriedly about for easy jumping. Near to Pelan was a little sun-dried man, mounted on a bay, showing all the strength of his powerful muscles at work, and taking his leaps with the ease of a true flyer. The others were close, and fence after fence was put past without thought of turning. Each barrier, as it rose, but showed the reins grasped more carefully, and maybe a paler shade on some of the faces. So the field swept on. The bay on Pelan's left seemed only greedy for the run, being ridden by the light horseman, with all the skill of a practised fielder. One ugly rasper with a roll of brush before the rails was met. The bay skimmed it, followed by the black, who hit one of the posts with an ugly bat, and then on


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unto the grey mist. At a wide creek the bay led, and the black too found the opposite bank in a loose bewildered way, both followed by not more than half a dozen horsemen; then along the shoulder of a bare hill, and down a gully, where the flood had piled up brushwood and crooked limbs of trees against a line of posts and rails running down the centre, till it shallowed on the plain. There was not a rider there perhaps who did not wish he was in some other country; and Pelan, who looked from his path for a moment, saw a little group before him waiting to see the obstacle cleared. He wrongly concluded that Miss Mivers was amongst them, and, putting his teeth together, gripped the saddle closer with his knees. His black showed signs of rolling, but the broad-breasted bay was as steady as ever. The latter rose fiercely against the débris toothed with the wry limbs, and landed safe. Pelan brought his horse at it with all the care and coolness for which he was known, but the hunter was unable to gather himself—he rose wildly, striking some timber with a blow that reached the ears of the spectators, and the Ace of Clubs landed with his breast upon the turf and rolled over his rider. Two or three others passed the gully, and the run went on beyond the group of trees to be seen standing behind the mist like ghosts. The black horse rose after a time, but the rider lay where he fell, with blood upon his lips. There was clay on his face and nervous hands; clay was ground into the setting of his diamond ring, and matted on his beard.

When it became known that Mr. Pelan, the sporting man, was dangerously hurt in the hunting field at Mindorf, the excitement amongst the brotherhood of fair play was of a nature that spoke highly for their hearts and general kindliness of disposition. Would the horses he had entered run? was the consideration that shook them as the wind shakes a wheat-field, and over this they jostled their heads in grave concern while drinking dismally to his speedy restoration, not knowing what to do. Mr. Damim telegraphed to the hotel where he was staying for bulletins concerning his health. "Pelan seriously hurt," "Pelan, signs of convalescence," "Pelan very critical," occupied the board that told the victory of Mars not so long ago. Some would have taken a run up, but the doctors denied visitors admission to the patient's room. The newspapers related the accident with minute details, and away over at Narrgummie it was known that the winner of the Metropolitan was dangerously bruised and like to die. Mr. Mivers had inquiries made daily, and the whole Mindorf community were unitedly anxious concerning him. Yet there was a certain kind of satisfaction in the knowledge that their own club chose country for their meets


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where the most accomplished of horsemen would find there was danger. They were not carpet sportsmen, these Mindorf gentlemen, and the world would know it now. The accident, moreover, had put the Mindorf Hunt Club into all the papers, and if poor Mr. Pelan was badly hurt, it was undeniable that they had gained notoriety.

(to be continued)


  ― 233 ―

Chapter XXXVII.

Strange Visitors Come To Mindorf.

IN THE bustle of business and pleasure, the search after health, and the returns to Melbourne with so much of it as could be gained, the population of Mindorf was always changing—at least that part of it which might be described as the floating capital of the permanent residents. The more numerous the number of pale and worn faces which came in to recruit the forlorn hope, the better the people of the town liked it, and about this time it appeared that a prodigious number of ills had conspired in Mindorf's favour. Drivers of cattle starting for far country saw at times some lonely conveyance driven slowly past them, as though it held a life which might be jostled out across the ugly ruts. Men with swags and pannikins, who carried besides a dim speculation as to where they were going and what route was best for the squatters' huts, where were free lodgings and rations, remarked upon the few of these gingerly driven traps they passed, and in their freedom and health were not at all envious of the owner who sat, bent and pale, on pillows. Amongst these was one which attracted attention by its ramshackle appearance. It crept slowly along on its feeble wheels, swaying with the weakness of age, and shabby and dented with the wear of years and the patchings from past accidents. It seemed such a puzzle of cobbling that one loose screw might have resolved the whole combination back to the fragments with which the years had supplied it. The worn grey gig was drawn by an old strong horse, who plodded patiently on, driven by a worn grey man, patiently watching every landmark of the road pass behind him, but steadily moving downwards towards the sea. Of these


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remnants of a past time none was so much of the past as the driver. He was grey and bowed, and shook painfully to every lurch of the wobbling wheels, but kept his eyes steadily fixed before him; his white beard, his rusty clothes, and low beaver hat were of times gone by. When Slater heard of the accident to Pelan, he set his gums together and turned his broken profile from Narrgummie towards Mindorf.

That popular passenger boat known as the Mermaidnote drove a profitable passenger trade between Melbourne and the watering-place. This was the instrument that contributed to the welfare and prosperity of Mindorf. From its decks were poured suffering humanity and holiday-makers seeking for strength among the brine smells and the clashings of the waves. Amongst these passengers one day was a soft-eyed woman, with some timid trouble about her like the fear of a dumb animal, and an embarrassed shrinking from those around her. Her clear face and grey eyes were sufficient to draw attention, but she had an evident care and fear of people that longed to do her some little service during the voyage. She had lived for years past in a pretty cottage in one of the suburbs without a care to cloud her, or an anxious thought but for her husband. In him was the embodiment of all that was good and great. She saw in his hard eyes a firmness that charmed her, and in his imperious and cruel wants but the natural outcome of his greatness, and she was satisfied to know that it was business kept him out at nights and took him away upon long journeys. She saw less of him than many of his acquaintances, and knew nothing concerning his pursuits. Years before he had followed her to where she was living with her sister, with his handsome face and graceful figure. They met and came to know each other, and one day her whole heart was stirred, and the bounds of her life brightened when he asked her to be his wife. She had not known what sunshine or happiness was till then, and her eyes carried in them depths of joy. After marriage she might have felt sad, because of her loneliness, but she kept back tears, and hoped bravely for the time when she should be always with her husband. When the papers carried the story of Pelan's accident she looked blankly at the page and sat helplessly pressing her hands together, wondering what she should do. At the risk of offending she would go to Mindorf to nurse him. And she sits now on the deck thinking of the time when she got the wedding outfit and drove beside him to the suburban church. To her no day of the past had been so bright as that one; it was a fresh memory that rose


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before her always, and to her the fairest and proudest day the twenty-four years of her life had given her. The world had not brushed the down from the soft wings, or scorched her with its glare, and this was the first real trouble that had come. He was lying in the hotel bedroom catching the white shade from the curtains, making his face pale and cold-looking as marble. It was only when he opened his eyes upon the world again, and recognised his wife sitting patiently by his bedside, that a faint colour came to him, she unwitting that he was watching her.

"You have found me out, Julie," he said in a whisper, moving his hand slowly towards her across the coverlet.

She took it in both of hers and kissed it in a passion of devotion.

"You must not speak, George, the doctors tell me. I thought this was the proper place for me—you being ill. I have come to nurse you; none could do it so well: you're not angry?"

He smiled weakly, and twined his fingers into hers. Mr. Pelan lay back awhile; the sound of the room was his heavy breathing. Her face was alight that his hand was in her grasp. His eyes were fixed on her with wonder in them as he lay with his broken, overtaken look; then he motioned her gently nearer to him to whisper softly—

"I am not worthy of you, Julie. I had thoughts of leaving you if I could have worked my will, but I am glad it was not to be. Don't look so startled. When I get well I shall remember this time more than any other of my life, and if I do get strong we will make a home together far away. You remember our drives in the summer evenings four years ago after you had finished work, and the walks in the gardens, and our trips on the steamers and the trains, that you might look on the sea and the grass and flowers. Will those times ever come again, Julie?"

Her delicate mouth was quivering, and her shy loving eyes moist. "Why should they not, if you wish it?"

"I have been unmindful of you, and wicked in thought and action—worse than you would believe. But that is all past. You will forgive me?"

She bent over and kissed him meekly. With her fragrant breath on his face, she told him "that wherever the home might be her happiness would be to be near him; that she had nothing to forgive, only thanks to offer for the happiness and the home he had bestowed upon her, and with God's help he would soon get well and strong again." She would not let him speak to her more, but sat without moving till his hand slackened in hers and his eyes closed in sleep.




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Old Slater was hobbling along the streets of Mindorf, looking vacantly at the people as they passed him, and at the sea away below him. He was so intent upon his thoughts, whatever they were, that he did not hear a heavy footfall behind him, and scarcely turned to the weight of a hand that was laid on his shoulder.

"So, daddy, you've come down to Mindorf?"

Slater stopped, and tried to recollect himself. "Yes, I have come to Mindorf, but I do not remember you."

"Not remember Jim Brown?" asked the grizzled man. "I spotted ye the minit I saw ye. Come inter a hotel an let us hev a drink an a chat."

They found a quiet room in an old inn, and sat down, both of the men blinking at each other across a sloppy table, ringed with the shapes of tumbler bottoms, and there they remained speaking of past times for nearly an hour, when Brown said, "Ye git old an white, Slater; but how did ye come down?"

"I drove all the way."

"Well done, old man. Who'd a thought ye'd hev such pluck in yer old bones. Stay long?"

"I do not know how long I may stay. I have come to see Mivers. You understand, Brown—to see Mivers. You know what that means, I suppose. After all these years, to see him. And ready to see him at last, with such papers in my hand as I can produce. Twenty years is a long time, is it not, Brown?—twenty years to wait, and then to be ready after all;—to tell him who I am—to ask him to give me back my wife who died in the hospital, my lost son, and the happiness of my daughter—to weigh her happiness against that of his son, and of his own, with the papers I can produce,—and to be able to do this after waiting and working for it for twenty years."

The old man, who seemed to revive with the recitation, opened his mouth and laughed silently; but there was a baneful light in his eyes, and the joy of a finished purpose filled his face like a malison.note

"Aye, I see," meditated Brown aloud, "ye want satisfaction for them times wots gone. It's natural, I suppose, an I don't mean for t'say wot I wouldn't toothat is, afore ye began to make money, old man. Ye suffered then bad enough. I saw ye that time; an I never had no pity to give away, but I had some for ye then. If all's true I hear, ye hevn't done so bad after all. An this here go in at Mivers 'ill be yer hobby maybe. I can't blame ye."

"Can't blame me!" shouted Slater, almost in a shriek. "Can't blame me! My God, hear Jim Brown—and he knowing what he did! Look you, I say nothing of myself. I put that away altogether; but my wife was a lady


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by birth and education, and she trained her daughter to be ladylike—poor mother. Yes, she managed to do that. I was wrong to try to fire Mivers' place; I am well aware of that; but he crippled me for life, and that paid the debt. If he had sent the £25 down to me, out of hard-earned wages, we would have been saved; but my wife died, Brown, through disease brought on by poverty and want, while £25 of mine was lying in Mivers' hands. And my daughter?"

He put his hands over his brow, while his figure shook, and he pulled them away with the impetuosity of a child, to show his face red and his eyes dry, and his hands trembling on the table before him.

"You don't blame me! After twenty years I shall shake him with one motion of that old hand, that looks so weak and is so strong, and I'll send his son where he would have sent me—to gaol. Let him give me back my wife. Let him—— Not blame me! What do I care for money when I am aged and broken down, and all the feelings and prospects that make life worth living are as withered as last year's leaves. I would spill the money I have to beggar or starve him, if that could be done—— Meeting a man at the end of a ruined life, who pushed me into that ruin and flung me to despair—I choose to strike him, to revenge my dead wife, and you say you can't blame me. Shake me by the hand—tell me that you respect me for what I am about to do, and enable me the better to do it. Tell me you honour me for being no weak whiner, fitted only to be hustled through life and trampled out. The man who tried to burn Mivers' shed aims a little higher; he wants to burn his heart out, look you; he wants to make him taste what he has tasted, and give him measure for measure."

There was so fierce an intent in the words used in the inflamed ragged face, traversed by veins and lines, with the contrast of his reverent hair, that the foam of his words and hopes and fixed intent appeared to hold something lawful and terrible.

"I've heard ye like this afore, but ye might be a startin at it too soon or too late."

"What do you mean?" Slater broke in, with the quickness of a fright.

"Jest wot I say. Ye might be a goin at it too soon or too late. Ye don't know all I know, old man, an afore ye see Mivers ye'd better hear wot I kin tell ye. As fur as I'm concerned, I've forgiven him."

"Have you?"

Slater rose, looking dignified in his hoary contempt. "You have forgiven Mivers. Well, then, I want neither knowledge nor help from you. My retribution will be a just one. Twenty years of my life have been given up in an attempt to deal it out. I had a wife once, and he killed


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her. I had a stainless daughter once, as fair as the flowers and as bright as an angel. Make her what she was, and give me back my wife and my lost son, and then talk about forgiving Mivers. I don't understand it else."

Brown winced, but slowly told him, in his deep voice, that was such a contrast to that of Slater, "I warn't never one to forgive, nor yet to forget, Slater, but I forgive him, an if I arn't a goin to argey it aint because I don't know I'm right."

Slater took his old-fashioned beaver off the table with his old shaking hand, and put it upon his long hair slowly with an unsteady pathetic motion. Without further speech he hobbled out, two red spots burning below his eyes.

(to be continued)


  ― 239 ―

Chapter XXXVIII.

Brian Fitzgerald Weathers A Gale.

EARLY on a morning when the brightness of the late autumn was falling on the hazes the approaching winter breathed, Miss Mivers and her mother with Bryan Fitzgerald embarked in a rough but stanch sailing boat of his own choice for Imogennote Island, which was to be seen on the horizon during fair days, fretting the finely ruled sea with a blot, and when the sun shone down upon it looked to warm as with a fire against the sky. The mist that clung on the grey waters was soon struck to shreds, and the voyagers were out in the fresh breeze, with joy and health in the strong breathing that drove them seaward. Far on the bay the sky and waters met in a yellow sheet, and the sun amongst stray clouds over the little spot of land seemed to carpet it for their coming. Fitzgerald sat in the stern, with his eyes upon the sails, and the ladies on the seat near him, feeling the pleasures of the strong sea that day by day gave so much beauty to the world. Mrs. Mivers broke a long silence, softly contrasted by the plashings at the prow—

"If our habits of life could be altered, and the beauties of mornings such as this always realised as we realise them now, there would be more reverence and love in the world, because more appreciation of the Power that bestows such gifts. Look at that shore, with the changings of light and shadow upon it, and the sea that is blue below the sky. Over yonder the hills are bathed in light, and the quiet plains seem slumbering."

"I like the land better than the sea," Miss Mivers said, "though it does not always convey such a sense of power and vastness. It is the insecurity


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we feel that quickens the sense of awe, which may be felt in the level loneliness of a desert as in the motion of tumbling waves."

"I have been out on plains," Fitzgerald remarked, "that looked as level to the horizon as that low sea before you; but the motion we enjoy now gives this view a pleasure that is not realised in the solitude of a mighty stretch of land."

"You know a good deal of the bush, Mr. Fitzgerald?"

"I was taught bush life and sailing near coasts such as this from the time I am able to remember. Indeed I may describe myself as a wanderer amongst the hills and waters since boyhood. Such was my occupation, barring my mother's teachings, and such studies as they led me to. I used to sit in the twilight watching the clouds fading into colder colour as the evening came, and I wondered how the change grew, seeing the forest become gloomier till hidden by night. Night speaks everywhere of rest and sleep, but on the sea it only covers dangers and awakens fear."

"Some days the twilight grows to night faster than on others. You remember that time, mother, when the picnic was at Mindorf, and our late ride home. It seemed as if the darkness travelled on before us to meet the sun that was on the hills, and so we lost our way."

Bryan said, "And you and your esquire were interrupted by two half-drunken holiday-keepers of whom you asked the way, when some wild-looking fellow arrived opportunely and refused money to show you home, which was loftily offered him by your companion; and he took the horses by the reins away down the gorge and over the sidelings,note and then across the swollen creek at Mindorf, and left you safely in the street."

Mrs. Mivers and her daughter looked at each other in surprise.

"You have heard it all from Mr. Mivers, I presume."

Fitzgerald shook his head, and slightly altered the course.

"Who told you?" Helen asked.

He was looking towards the low island patch that was growing larger. He smiled gravely, and shook his head again.

"That action," Helen resumed, "has never left my memory. Even now I think often of the figure of that strong man, who, like some chivalrous chief, gave us safety, and my uncle speaks of him too. I just caught his look below the lamp-light, and I am so glad I gave him my hand at parting instead of offering money. I should recognise the upward look of thanks he gave me, could I see it again, under any circumstances."

Miss Mivers' face flushed; she was speaking warmly, in remembrance of the service. Fitzgerald laughed, and looked at her with an amused expression.




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"Indeed it is true," she said earnestly. "It may be because I cannot boast of many services such as that, but it was one I should not like to lose the memory of."

"Who acquainted you with the circumstance, Mr. Fitzgerald?" asked Mrs. Mivers, in her calm way, as she turned her placid face to his.

"No one, Mrs. Mivers," Bryan replied, still showing his amusement in his smile.

Helen started, and bent forward to look at him, with an expression of joy and curiosity. While her face flushed and her eyes grew joyful she put her hand over his broad grip upon the tiller, and said earnestly, "Thank you," and she looked curiously yet again, and her eyes grew dim.

"So you are Helen's chief of the woods, Mr. Fitzgerald. Let me add my thanks to hers. It is not often we find knights-errant in this work-a-day world, still less do we meet them a second time, as we have met you—except in romance."

"If you saw me," Bryan replied, turning to Miss Mivers, "with an old serge blouse on, and with the same long hair and beard, you would then recognise me. That short good-bye was in my dreams for months," he whispered.

The grace of the high bright day kept them silent. Fitzgerald felt a happiness that was too keen for peace and two full for words. And Helen Mivers' girlish dream of her rescuer and the face that bent above her hand beneath the lamp-light, were materialised.

From the few acres of island thousands of wild birds took wing. There were some shaggy goats on the unshaded pasture, and rabbits flitted away in moving strings of dun.

When the boat was hauled up, they were all alone between the seas—landless on one side, and a distant line where their world lay on the other. They wandered round the spot, and found out crannies of rock where clear water lay, and marked the heights that gathered frowns and cast their shadows. They saw the wings of ships beyond, and sat them down to rest, when Bryan repeated the story he had told to Helen beneath the rocks, and the mother, with the world behind her, saw his guilelessness and power, and believed him, as her daughter had done. Then the hours flew past, and the day gave its joy to theirs. Such a day as this was surely never known before. It was one to live with them when the romances of the present had faded down into the more sombre hues of coming years—when, with chastened hopes upon their road in life, they would remember this day as all the brighter from the retrospect, all the happier from the grey standpoint of solemn years, all the more glad from the shadows that might fall around them. It would be the memory of the joy of their spring-time—this day framed and set in sea.




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Fitzgerald sprang to his feet hastily, and looked eagerly at the sky. In a minute more they had quitted the island and were out upon the waves again. There was no blue upon them now. They were of ruffled grey, giving sounds of anger and strength. The wind came stronger, carrying up a haze with it, and the white combings grew whiter and fiercer. There were no longer plashings at the prow, but shocks and thuds that struck the frail boat to moanings. The sun was shut out as with a lid of clouds, and the waves tumbled down at them in precipitous banks.

"Mind the sail, Bryan, and place my mother when you tack. I'll hold the rudder." Helen spoke without a change in her voice or face.

The boat lay in the wind nearly lipping the sea with the force of the gale. Fitzgerald's hat was carried far out on the waters, but he did not turn. Ready to manage the sail, and helping the guidance of the rudder, he stood calmly up waiting for the trial. The spray was hissing over them as the boat struck seas, while the mist clung treacherously around. When the full strength of the blast came up and delivered its might the sturdy fisherman's boat trembled, but flew on at the valleys and hills of sea, though lying nearly down, distressed at the strain.

"Keep the rudder as you have it, Helen."

The masts creaked and bent, and shocks struck them like giants' hands; the wind beat her to the waters and swept on, and wave followed wave, scowling down at them, and flinging their boat against the next in white passion. A ghastly bank swept past like the flitting of a spectre, and the course was changed. The boat jumped widely away, still lying down before the wind. A roller hit the bows a mighty blow, and she seemed to stop stupified for a fragment of time, but bravely rose, and crept on with her side upon the sea. The mist was scattering slowly, yet it lifted enough to show many figures on the beach, the houses dim beyond them, and patches of green and garden trees. Fitzgerald was standing ankle deep in water when he turned, with his brow clear, and bade the ladies to look past him, and say what they could see. A few more short swift struggles, and he sat down to take the tiller, and relieve the girl's numbed arms.

"Were you afraid, Helen?"

"I did not think to see that street more. We could only have gone down together."

She looked up at his face, and saw there the strength he owned, notwithstanding his gentle bearing, and the low deference of his voice.

Mrs. Mivers held her hands in supplication below her cloak. Her thoughts were with the past and a shoreless sea. As they flew up to the landing, a hoarse cheer came out to meet them, and the foremost there


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was Brown, whose arms lifted the ladies to safety. There were none amongst the group of men who expected to see them back. A messenger had been sent running to Mivers' house as soon as the wet low-lying sail was seen sweeping up through the haze, and the three walked slowly home.

There was a light in Helen's eyes, though the water was lying upon her hair and face. So the day ended, but the thought of sea and sky, blue and sunny—of the little island among the tossing waves, of the words spoken, of the looks exchanged,—these were the memories that remained.

(to be continued)


  ― 244 ―

Chapter XXXIX.

The Present And The Past.

ONE evening, when the darkness was coming into Mr. Pelan's bedroom, softening the outline of the nursing wife's figure and the pallor of the sick man's face down to indistinctness, there came a low knock on the door. Mr. Pelan turned from wondering at the stars to see the face of the waiter, who said an old man was below who wished to see Mr. Pelan.

"What is he like?" inquired the patient, out of the gloom on the bed.

"Well, he's old, and says he knows you, sir."

"Did he give his name?"

"I asked him for his name, but he says you will know him well enough when you see him."

"Show him up."

"Who is it, George?"

"I don't know, Julie, there are many old men whom I have met, but I cannot say I would be particularly pleased to see any of them. Those against whom I've been driven were not, I am afraid, of the most respectable kind. This one may be an exception."

The door opened slowly again, and they could see a bent figure, with a dim white head, enter the room unevenly.

"Is Mr. Pelan here?"

Mr. Pelan started, and told his wife hurriedly to get candles, and leave them alone. The lights were placed on the table beside the bed, when the sick man asked his visitor to take the chair lately occupied by his wife. There was no such thing as greeting between them. The visitor,


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with the light upon him, sat on the chair, and slowly rubbed the back of one hand with the palm of the other. Shame and anxiety were on his face. The face that lay back on the pillows seemed impassable.

"What do you want?"

"Where is my daughter?"

Question and question floated and mingled together in the pause which followed.

"The last I heard of your daughter was that she had gone to Queensland. I bought the horse from her, and you gave her enough money to make her independent of me. It's two years since she refused to stay with me; why should I know more about her than any other person?"

"Because you promised her marriage. You lied and shut her out from every happiness that life might have held for her. Because you cast her down in the world's mire and left her there. There are reasons with some, probably with you, why you should not know. There are reasons with others, and certainly with me her father, why you should know. You led my daughter out of the innocence of girlhood into sin, and you would let her drift, lost and ruined, upon the world—what mattered it. Where is she?"

"I never cast her off," replied the pale face.

"No. When the wonder of her beauty grew, you offered to that what you refused to her tears. But she knew you then. You were her soul's keeper, you know. Where is she? Now when I can give her an independence, and guard her from all further shame, I come to you and ask you where she is. Was it not in the hope of her accepting you that I permitted her to leave Narrgummie at that race time?"

"And in the hope of torturing Luke Mivers."

"Yes, and in that hope. I want to find my daughter, and bring her back, if only to give her some taste of the peace she has wrecked."

The face on the pillow said quietly, "What was her peace to you when you persuaded her to come to you to decoy Mivers into excess and extravagance. You made her the instrument of a passion worse than mine. You got me to help you too and win his money, and your plans succeeded so well, that if she had never seen him, I could answer your question to-night."

The old man's hands shook up over his white hair and down his beard. "Pelan, do you remember the oath you swore to me in the house in Melbourne, when she sat shaking with sobs? Only tell me where my daughter is and I will forgive it all. What is the use of the money I have scraped together if I cannot help her? It is not much to ask of you." The whole motion of the world-withered man was one of beseeching; his


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white locks, his trenched face, his long beard, and his misty eyes seemed to utter the intensity of supplication.

"Mr. Slater, I have told you all I know. Young Mivers is in Queensland too, taking up country. He could tell you her whereabouts, I suppose."

"He! let her go to her grave, let her sink to degradation, let her come to me broken, but let her not come as wife to Luke Mivers."

"Whose will be the blame if she does?"

"But she told me," cried the old man dizzily, "that she did not care for him."

"You asked her that question a long time ago. I tell you plainly, Slater, I'm ashamed of all that business; it drove your daughter away at last, and honestly I am glad of that because it was your own doing. We spoiled the happiness of that young fellow's life for ever."

"You have done worse things than that," Slater responded, chokingly.

"I have, perhaps, but not in the same way, and I see things differently since a week ago."

"You have done worse, twice told, to my certain knowledge. I simply measured Mivers' meanness and injustice back to him. I take all that responsibility."

"Then why come to me to ask for your daughter, when it was your own plot drove her away? She left that Luke Mivers might be saved from his infatuation—not for my sake."

"You lie."

"It is true," responded the immovable face. "Why then come to me?"

"Because I—I cannot let her go. She is all I have in the world."

He bent his head before the steady voice till the light fell only on his hair and beard and his old black clothes.

"You have built a house clumsily, and it is going to fall around you."

"So be it if others fall too; and fall they will as surely as this book of papers is in my pocket. The work of a score years is here—not of mine so much as of circumstances. There is an oath here to be fulfilled. If I could only find her first." After his fashion, he set his gums together, and breathed through his beard as men do in pain. Looking over at the white face, he said, in a quieter voice,

"I've been mad for twenty years. That madness and its thirst have kept me alive till now. There will only be one ending."

A pause.

The wicks of the candles were long and black, and the dull light cast a sort of shadow on the bruised man in the bed.




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"Pelan, you won't live long."

Pelan swayed his head slowly from side to side.

"Your time is nearly over too. Neither of us will live to see her disgrace."

He puckered his hoary face, imprisoning some wicked thought, and groped his way slowly out.

"Julie," said Pelan, when his wife returned, "I should like to see a lawyer the first thing to-morrow."

The two old people sat amongst the elegancies of Mivers' house. The winter had come to both as it had come to the world outside. Winds which brought up the voices of the sea were hollow, and the ruffled bay was cold and began to sob upon the shore.

"So, Jane," spoke Mivers, "Helen seems to have made up her mind to marry that young fellow Fitzgerald."

"She has made up her mind to do so; he is her choice, Luke."

"I don't like him. He had something to do in causing an estrangement between poor Luke and her. If that had not happened, he would have been here to-day. I look upon him as an usurper."

"You are wrong, utterly and entirely wrong. Before Mr. Fitzgerald met her, and before Luke came here from Narrgummie, he also had made his choice; he was passionately attached to some one he had met there; any woman who saw the weary and hopeless apathy he exhibited for all things could have guessed the reason. Did not you remark that, even at his age, there were far too many threads of grey in his hair, and he showed signs which to my mind were plain enough of having led a hard exciting life down there. He was so hopelessly won by the girl, whoever she was, that he could scarcely hide the recklessness that had come to him, but it was there, and sometimes broke forth; one thought only dominated him, and that sprang of the passion conceived for this girl."

"Who was she?"

"I do not know. I only know she was of singular beauty."

"His youth and recklessness are over now, Jane. Poor boy, he lies away in Queensland. I am to blame myself. Some words passed between us on the matter of your daughter, and I never saw him since. I am to blame so far, but I cannot disassociate Fitzgerald from the severance."

"Fitzgerald followed him to bring him back. He traced him to Melbourne and to Sydney, then to Queensland, and pursued him, with Brown, up the Palmer track, where they found him in fever."




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"I know all that," acquiesced Mivers doggedly, "but if Helen had not seen Fitzgerald, she might have tried to win him, and she would if she had tried."

"Helen would try to win no one, Mr. Mivers," said the lady quickly.

"Well, Jane, you know what I mean. We are old people, and an expression not uttered perhaps the right way need not come between us; but I don't like him all the same."

"Fitzgerald saved your son's life."

"Aye, he did, there's no mistake in that, but I wish she had taken up with some one else. Of course it's your business more than mine. I suppose you know all about him?"

"I have heard all his history; I have watched his gentleness and his strength, and I know his truthfulness. Fitzgerald is a noble man, Luke, and the fittest for Helen I have yet seen. He is not very rich, but he has a sufficient independence."

"I don't know," broke in Mivers, "how it is that there is not one near me who seems to care for what I spent a long life in trying to get—a life of struggle and of stain, I'll not deny it. The people outside grovel at me because I have money. The world worships it and cringes about me; but my friends—you, Jane, and Helen, and even old Brown, don't regard it. How is it?"

"There are many things to be valued more than money."

"What can a poor man like Brown value more than money—and a convict to boot, m'am?"

"His principles of right and wrong, whatever they may be, and certainly the welfare of his young master, Fitzgerald."

"It's a sad thing," sighed Mivers, in a tone of profound weariness, "to find, at the end of a long life, that one has struggled so hard for nothing. I have sinned for money, Jane. If I could help those I may have wronged, I could find a pleasure in that, but the only man of them I have met would not touch a shilling. The world is more lonely and comfortless than ever, now that I have won what I fought for."

"Ah," replied Mrs. Mivers gently, "the experience is not new."

(to be continued)


  ― 249 ―

Chapter XL.

Mindorf Gets Drunk.

COMMUNITIES are like individuals in being unable to bear with equanimity any unusual excitement. The dreary dissipations of "Boxing-days,"note called pleasure, and the solemn holiday-making of Easter, had never pushed the Mindorf mind beyond such very proper and seasonable extravagances as roast turkey and bottled beer. Mindorf martyred itself for dusty picnics and out-of-door games, when the sun was at 100°,note in the most maniacal way. When patriotism required, it loyally made holiday, and yawned the day through in a dejected pursuit of amusement, but it was not known at any time to transgress the rigid rules of decorum, until one Friday, when I am bold to say Mindorf got drunk.

Three days before the event happened, it became known that a little boy of Mr. Keil's had strayed awaynote upon the ranges overlooking the sea, and that his father and mother and sisters were running along the hill-sides, shouting and searching frantically, and waiting in the pauses, listening for responses till the air seemed to sing again; then, on, in tears and hurried marches, to shout up Johnny somewhere from his sleep among the thick undergrowth below. Tradesmen asked their customers if he had been found, and the reply was that the night had passed, and part of the next day, but there were no tidings of the child. The mother had struggled back fainting to her home, and the father was madly trudging on, over stones and stumps, through the shadows of trees and twisted undergrowth, calling hoarsely upon the son. The active little bellmannote volunteered the service of his big lungs, and called for help


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along the street; and bell and voice told more than was spoken. The boy had been missing a night and a day, and there was no trace of him on the bare hills, or in the iron silence of the woods; would they meet on the early morrow, with horses and flasks, to find the waif, and give a day to search and save the little life that was somewhere among the shadows of the vegetation? The voice of the crier and his bell shut the doors and windows as they travelled from house to house, and business and barter were flung away for a time. Men thought of their own boys, and hastened to prepare for the effort of the following day. Mindorf closed all business, and came up in the early grey of the morning waiting for instructions. When the sun rose there was a line of men that stretched for miles, mixing lusty cooeesnote with the sounds of pistol-shots. That evening Mindorf went to bed unsuccessful, but it was up in the morning again with only thought of the time that had passed, and in hurry to race against the cold and hunger of the autumn days and nights. They started afresh and in haste. Bushmen came in from beyond the town and joined the ranks, and while the mother lay distraught she heard them among the hills, and saw mistily with her red eyes that they were travelling over valleys and disappearing like a coloured rope among the thick trees, and below the olive-green leaves. The day passed away with cruel speed, and the inexorable night was coming up from the ravines; the ranks were thinning, and the mother again saw that men were dropping back tired and hopeless. There was a mechanical halting waver upon them all, when a cry away beyond travelled up, pursued by other cries, and yet others, till it rolled down upon them in a great English cheer. The rope of searchers had gathered to a ball, as an old bushman, with long hair, trotted towards them, showing now and again the gleam of a pair of little red stockings, and the pale wondering face of Johnny Keil. They ran behind the finder with joy, and they shook hands aimlessly with each other, and laughed, that he was found. They shouted out cheers again, some of them below tears; then they swayed on behind the shaggy horse; and the tattered serge shirt above it, with such hearty cries and unthinking whoopings as never were heard on that hill-side before. But they ceased when the rider pulled up at the house, waiting till the door opened, as the mother ran out wildly, and the old man tenderly gave the boy back to her arms. And when she shouted, as far as her thin trembling voice could go, that God would bless them for saving her child, and when she placed him standing on the gravel path, and knelt down, and hid her face upon his little breast in a whirl of joyful tears, some unconsciously uncovered below the dim sky, and others slunk away half ashamed of their wet cheeks, but far richer for the brave


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unspotted two days they had spent to find the child, and comfort the mother, as they had seen her comforted. The wicked world, so represented, found wonderful comfort and joy in the ending. It came back purer and better to dream but children's dreams of where Johnny had been found sleeping beside a spring near creviced rocks. It was the excitement that was too much for Mindorf, and, as I before said, I am bold to say Mindorf got drunk in telling to itself its wanderings; the noises it thought it heard when searching, and the races it made up steeps, to be disappointed; the echoes that deceived it, and the start it got at scraps of ragged cloth near dizzy places; and lost the joy it felt as it cheered behind the rough horse and the tattered blouse. Bars were crowded with red and bronzed faces, and sleepers, still intent upon rejoicing, awoke themselves with broken "hoorays," and muttered words born of the two days past. The hotel trade was at its very best, and a kind of impromptu artist, who drew old Canterbury Tom with Johnny Keil on the saddle, and a crowd cheering him up to a disjointed woman with laterally disposed hair and immense tears, supposed to be the mother, sold the picture for half-a-crown and constant beer till midnight. This drew large custom; even old Tom, the petted of the night, came to see it, and found himself on a Napoleonic horse in a bran-new shirt. He pronounced it to be devilish-like with an air of critical satisfaction, and drank to the health of the lad, and "good healths, gentlemen all," with his respects, so often, that he forgot his old mare, and wandered home without her.

There was one hotel to which the tide of public satisfaction carried but little custom. It was frowning in a back street, and though many were there, few of them had been in the search either day. To this rendezvous men usually slunk when their good terms had expired, and in the long room behind money was lost soon over greasy cards. Brown came there for a time every evening of late, to see who the strangers were. When the door opened and closed behind some new comer, he was the first to watch him and the quickest to listen. Men with their tatterdemalionnote lives nearly shredded out came quietly in, and sat down and drank till their blood was quickened, when they spoke of the past with laughter, and flung their ready maledictions at it. It had been crushed and twisted for them so that their aims were gone, and no hope for the future lived. On this night of general indulgence two men differed about the position of an hotel in some far place on the Murray River, and words followed between them which cannot be written here. In the heat and fury of the argument, and of drink, they spoke across the table, underlining their sentences by striking it and making the lights


  ― 252 ―
quiver. The loud speech and the vehemence of their drumming caught the frequenters of the bar till they came in and stood around, listening to a torrent of abuse that was fierce and drunken. One was a tall thin stranger, with a narrow weak hand, and bloodshot rage in his eyes. He had invited his adversary to fight him like a man, and not sit smoking like a coward. The latter was quiet and pale-faced, with a breadth of beam and a broad fist that would have warned a soberer man from hazarding such an invitation. He refused to fight in a careless and unmoved way, formidable in itself.

"Look at him," the tall disputant said, in frothing anger, to the listeners, "that calls me a liar and won't fight. Look at the gaol bird. He's nothing but a snow-droppernote and robber of hen-roosts. If you are a man, stand up." To the call he only moved his thick arm upon the table for an easier lounge, and rested with his head upon his hand, looking upon the spectators. The words that came from the speaker did not touch him. He surveyed the men around him without anger while slowly tracing figures on the table.

"He is one of the curs, lads, that is ready enough to bark till the biting game begins. You call yourself a man, and won't fight after telling me I'm a liar." He snapped his fingers below the massive features.

Brown moved from his chair and put a couple of men aside who wore looks of pleased expectation.

"Sit down, mate; if ye wer'nt drunk you'd see that that man there ain't done nothing to git yer passion up like this. Sit down an' be quiet."

"Who are you?" shouted the scolder, twisting on him, "that comes to me with your advice; you ain't in it are you? Go back to your chair, or I'll mark you—do you hear? Go back out of this; I don't choose you should stand beside me. Sit down."

Brown had said "just take advice," when the man struck out a heavy blow, with the malicious thought of taking him unawares, but the former was one of those who seem always prepared for contingencies, and his keen eyes did not once quit those of the noisy combatants; the striker felt only a strong hard arm against his fist. He tried again and again, but the blows fell harmlessly on the same spot; then, wildly, he closed his eyes and rushed in.

"Do be quiet and sit down."

As Brown spoke, he had a grip on each wrist, and was pressing him back in his chair.

"Don't fight with me." The powerful grasp he seemed to have when he bore the man back conveyed their meaning. "If standin here ain't t'


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yer taste I'll sit down too, but take a friend's advice, an don't try for to fight no one."

The man looked up vacantly, when a hoarse shout of laughter from the ring flushed his face with a whirl of passion. His first disputant had not moved from his place, and both his arms were on the table. Although his eyes had a surprised look, and followed Brown respectfully to his seat, there was a coarse sneer in his smile when he turned and looked at his tall adversary seated. This was the face that caught the attention of the swaggerer.

"Maybe you'll fight now?"

A large pewter pot was before him, and he hurled it with such force that the rim gashed a cut into the man's scalp, striking the wall, and falling to the floor crumpled. A narrow streak of red came out from below the hair, as the figure slowly rose.

"Yes; I'll fight now."

Somehow the composure of the speaker had a nervous effect on the audience, and, without knowing why, they feared him. The boaster seemed to realise that he had gone too far, and his passion settled like wind-blown surf. Mr. Brown rose from his seat also, and came to the man, who was wiping the stain from his forehead.

"Look here, mate, there ain't no use in knocking that man about, an ye'll get into trouble over it; wot's the use of hammerin him?"

"I'm not going to hammer him," the man replied; "I'll only teach him."

The stain still kept coming and spreading on the speaker's face, and while the other was ostentatiously taking off his coat and crushing up his shirt sleeves on his arm, he merely buttoned his coarse jacket across his breast. The combat was over in a moment. The tall man rushed in with all his force in a swinging blow, as the other stepped back and struck twice with singular rapidity. The force of the one blow would have been enough, but the other followed so quickly that he had not yielded sufficiently to the first before it fell. The man staggered over with his side upon the rail of a sturdy sofa, and lay there doubled, while the other began again to dry away the blood, and slowly resumed his seat.

"Who is he? Who is this blower that can't take his own part?" several persons wished know. "Git up yer sujee," they called in voices of huge disdain; "who'se the cur now? Show us yer muscle, Ramrod." But there was only a groan to answer them. Brown lifted him up, and asked the landlord to show him a bedroom.




  ― 254 ―

"Bed be ——," roared out a dozen voices. "Throw him out; give him the gutter."

A great hulker, with a savage voice, who was furiously disappointed at the early termination, shouted, "You don't give him no bed; he aint worth it," while placing himself doggedly in Brown's way.

Mr. Brown put the senseless man in a half-sitting position on the sofa again, and said, "Git out o' that."

His voice was quick and fierce, for the old nature with its old leaven had come back to him in a sort of familiar rush. "Git out o' that, afore I put ye."

The hulker sobered a little, and his eyes moved uneasily, but his companions were there.

"Bravo, Bill. Yer right, lad. He aint worth no bed without striking a blow."

Mr. Brown's swift hands were on his arms, however, and Bill was dashed amongst his friends with such force that they staggered away. He lifted the man up again, and in less than a minute he was lying upon a stretcher breathing heavily. He who was holding the handkerchief to his head spoke for the first time.

"Leave him alone, or he'll clear ye all out. I know him now: that's Wolf Brown, else I'm confoundedly mistook."

Brown reappeared with his hat leaf over his face. "Bring a candle landlord, an send for a doctor."

Then the excitement of those present ended in fear, and they quietly drifted out, with the exception of the man who had struck him.

"Is he bad?" he asked, without lifting his head.

"Jest about as bad as he ken be, mate, that's my opinion. Ye might a seen the man was mad."

"So I did, but madmen ain't to be allowed going about scalping people with pewters. I did'nt want to hurt him."

"It were'nt the blow, but the fall on that rail that done for him. I wish the docter were here."

The doctor came, but could give no opinion. He thought it likely to prove a dangerous case; he would come in the morning, and who was to pay him? Mr. Brown gave him a sovereign, whereupon he sat down with great sagacity and wrote a prescription.

It was in the quiet hours, with the shadow of Brown upon him, broadened and lengthened by the candle, that the catching breathings gradually ceased, and the injured man opened his eyes.

"Who's that?" he whispered in a voice from which all excitement was gone. "Who are you?"




  ― 255 ―

"Brown by name."

"I'm in Mindorf, and I—— We found the child, did'nt we? I remember the mother with it in her arms, and we came down to drink. What has happened? Drink makes me mad. I've no memory with drink. There's something wrong here,"—he put his hand slowly to his side, and groaned.

"You're Brown—Brown of Mindorf House, at the Dead Man's Gully?"

"Eh! that's me," Brown answered, looking long and closely at the patient, "with a house at the Dead Man's Gully. Right—go on."

"I was over there; but what's wrong, why am I in bed? What are you doing here, what has happened. My voice is not the same."

He was talking in a tone that could scarcely be heard. "I remember being at the mother's house when they brought her son to her, and coming down to drink. Tell me the rest."

"The rest is easy told. I heard from an old mate o' mine some'un would be looking for me afore long, an' fur the last week I come here every evenin listenin if I could find him; he were to hev papers."

"That's right; that's me. Well?"

Brown told him what had occurred, and he lay back in silence breathing hurriedly between his blue lips.

"Come nearer me, and prop me up. So Tom would'nt give me the gutter, and you got me a doctor. Where's the man that struck me?"

"He stayed here to-night to see how you'd be by day-light. It wer not his fault."

"I feel as if something was gone inside, and my sight is dimming. Bring the candle over. Put your hand in the lining of my vest and feel for papers." Brown felt what appeared to be a broad thin packet.

"Yes, I feel 'em."

"Take your knife and rip them out."

Following these instructions, he took possession of a neatly-folded packet.

"I got it from Powers before he died when attending to him in hospital. 'They are very important,' says old Powers, 'and Brown will pay you for them.' I could'nt hear of you for a long time till Black Tom told me about your hut, and I thought to make a rise with them."

Faint sounds from the street came in; sometimes a heavy tramp could be heard reeling past.

"When I took the prize at school I remember my mother's face—it was warm and kind as a summer's day—pride and joy in her eyes. When she saw me after I got into trouble—forgery, Brown—that face looked


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like barren winter—trembling from the frost. The face seemed to come to me just now; it always comes before a change. That fall last night will stop my troubles. Do you believe in God?"

Brown started and shifted uneasily.

"If He gives me sight of her again the past will have no power. She used to tell me long ago there was another place than this, and that God loved us all. If He does He'll forgive me for the darkness I've wandered into, and He'll help me as I was never helped here. There are no broken-down outcasts hanging on the edge of the other world, are there, Brown?"

"No," replied Brown suddenly, "there ain't nothing o' the kind. Lagsnote hev gone there as brave an honest as ever man were—that I know. My mother—wot were one to me I mean—used for to say all was equal there, an there'd be no more trouble nor stealin, and the poor knocked-about 'uns might fare best. She never spoke but the truth. That's about the size of it, and the right of it too—she were always right. The mornin's comin'; the black before the winder is gettin grey."

"So it is; it breaks cold."

The watcher took his coat off and threw it over the patient, who was holding his hands up looking at crusted spots on them, and letting his arms straighten heavily again on the bed beside him. As the daylight searched the room and lay upon him, he took the grey disordered look of a wornout reveller, and he seemed so quiet that he might have been sleeping. His eyes closed, and the noises of the house did not reach him. He was breathing flutteringly, with his drooping eyes on his companion.

"Good-bye, Wolf Brown; the day is coming."

Brown put his hand on his, and resumed his watch. The efforts of the eyelids ceased and he lay at rest; the room was as silent as a sepulchre. When the doctor came in he saw the dark figure of Brown against the window in stern contemplation of the bed.

"And how is our patient to-day?"

"He's asleep."

The doctor leaned over.

"He is asleep, but will wake no more. You've been watching a dead man."

"I thought it might a bin so. I've been watchin my own thoughts as well."

(to be continued)


  ― 257 ―

Chapter XLI.

Mr. Brown Complicates Matters.

BROWN was at Fitzgerald's lodgings next day, before the latter had left the house, when he told him the story of the dead man at Bilter's.

"Did ye ever remark, Bryan, that the mother was livin more to wait like than to live? I did, often, when she used to look out across the bush with a sigh as for something that would never come. Powers had told her, before he'd bin taken away, that he wrote to England for papers to show what he were; that's what she waited for so long, an' that's wot I got here. The mother were married in Tasmania,note as ye know. But ye did'nt know—how could ye?—that it was said to be a gammon affair,note and that the man wot spliced her wern't a parson. When she came to hear of it, she hid herself away, an a report spread she was dead. When her husband heard that, he left the country an come to Victoria. I know who he is, and about the only one here wot does know, but that ain't to be told yet."

"You know that my father is living and who he is," asked Fitzgerald, dismayed, "and you won't tell me? Do you call that friendship?"

"Them papers is the proof that Powers were a parson, an all in order; so the lawyer says."

"And you know my father?"

"On and off, since before ye were born. That mornin when the mother died, an before ye come, she made me promise not to tell ye till there could be no lawful doubt, or to mention no name if not badly


  ― 258 ―
needed, for your sake. Ye can ask me no more; the time aint come yet, leastways so I look at my promise."

"Why did you tell me so much then?" Fitzgerald asked, anxiously. "Is he—— " He hesitated, and looked confusedly at his friend.

"No, he ain't a lag. Ye only thought that, Bryan, without thinkin of her. Ye mind of her proud ways as well as me."

"My father alive and in Victoriawhat will they say to that? This will surely cause a difference between us. Mr. Mivers is doing all he can against me, Jim; he wants to prevent my marriage with his niece. I must tell Mr. Mivers the story about my father, no matter what comes of it. You seem to have more influence with Mr. Mivers than any one else. You might——"

"It ain't no use. The old man is broken-down an sorrowful an rueful about many things, but there's things again there ain't no movin him in; I tried it on."

"Why do you go near him at all if he'll do nothing you wish him?"

"I go near him, first, 'cause he's got my promise; I go near him, second, 'cause it may do ye good yet—who knows? third, I go near him like a kind o' dooty, an' he ain't agoin for to be long alive neither. Maybe it's a kind o' returnin good for evil. It's wot the mother'd hev me do—that, most of all, makes me go.

It was a sad-coloured day, with thin streams of sun flowing down through fissures and over crags of clouds, to fall weak and winterily upon the hills, when Mrs. Mivers and her daughter were on the beach bending forward to the gusts, and enjoying the desolate freshness that was abroad as Fitzgerald joined them.

"There is a sheltered spot over yonder, ladies, where the wind strikes past the rocks, and the water swirls as smoothly as in summer time. From these one looks as out of a fortress at the anger before them."

They reached the angle of the promontory, that was as calm and still as Antaeus.note

"What a sense of protection this colossal wing of rock gives," Mrs. Mivers remarked; "and yet I saw a boat strike and sink on that treacherous claw of reef it has spread out yonder, hiding below the combs of foam."

"I saw Brown this forenoon, Mrs. Mivers; and he has obtained the proofs. I mean the legal proofs that were wanting of my mother's marriage."




  ― 259 ―

"So far as I am concerned, Mr. Fitzgerald, I am convinced of the truth of your story without any such documents; but it is well to have them."

"He told me also," he went on, with a catch in his breath, "that my father was alive and in Victoria."

Mrs. Mivers turned and looked straight at the speaker with a concerned face—"And your father is——"

"He refuses to tell me now. He promised my mother that early morning before I came, and on which she died, that he would not disclose the name, except under circumstances of the last importance to me."

"Then I think the time contemplated by your mother has arrived. I refrained from asking you many questions, Mr. Fitzgerald, believing, as you believed, that you were friendless in Victoria, and that your goodness and worth were alone the considerations that should concern me. I even admit that your candour in this matter has raised you in my esteem, if that were possible; but the case is altered now."

He found no consolation in seeing that she tried to soften her voice, or that the regard of a mother for him was in her brown old eyes. Although she spoke with tenderness and pity, she spoke steadily.

"This knowledge that Brown possesses must be known to me before the intimacy continues longer, and I am sure Helen agrees with me. Take a supposititious case, Mr. Fitzgerald. What might not your father be? Drunken, dissolute, worthless or—or worse, and a source of shame and degradation to you and to your wife. You will perceive this possibility as well as me."

Her voice was almost caressing, but it seemed so much the more hopeless by reason of that, and of the regret expressed by her face. Fitzgerald's hand shook as he drew it across his forehead. Miss Mivers gave him an interesting look, and her lips quivered.

"Mamma knows these things best, Bryan," she said, gently and pityingly too, "but Mr. Brown will tell you."

"Brown will tell me soon, I think," he answered, in his candour, "for I don't doubt he will see the matter as you and your mother do, Helen; but, somehow, I am afraid of the knowledge. Should my father be what you describe, Mrs. Mivers?"

She came forward and took his hand with the motherly grace of age. "In that case, Bryan, you must part. The first step of your wife must not be to confront a shame."

He took his hat off unthinkingly, and looked at the lines of breakers with a sense of loneliness, and when Helen saw him bowed, as she had not yet seen him before, tears came slowly and fell above the spray that was splashing at her feet.




  ― 260 ―

"I do not know why," he made answer sadly, "the happiness of a life, may be of two lives, should turn upon such a chance. As for me, the brightest of all things here depends upon it so utterly that I am afraid. Time does not heal a sorrow such as this would be. There can be no growth, Mrs. Mivers, over a love like mine; all that is in the world would be blotted out; yet what you say is true. I could not take a wife to confront a shame; and so how easily may darkness come."

"I wish I could give you hope. If Brown had thought your father worthy of you, he would have told you. If your mother had thought so, they would not be living apart."

Miss Mivers looked up at the coming darkness, and saw its mists. Her still figure was clear against the background of rocks; her calm profile against the tumbling of the sea, but her love caught her in its strength, and the dusk hid her tears.

"Listen, Fitzgerald, when I was Helen's age there were objects which filled my whole world. The dearest hopes and thoughts of my life were centered in them. By day and by night there was present with me the same dream of joy. It seemed to me, in the gladness that sprang up from happiness, that the world was fair and shadowless, and that my path in life would be nothing but constant rejoicing and one hymn of praise. Yet in one month I had to contemplate the silence of desolation. Those hopes to which I clung were not struck down in the excitement of storm or the crash of a wild wrecking; they simply died out from before me with remorseless quiet—they sunk away like a mirage, and I was left alone. My joys lay strewn like the flowers of a past year, and they passed from me into the perpetual darkness that covers all things lost in life. When memory took me back to them and showed the ruin and the present loneliness, it was like the store of a life desecrated, and the most sacred tenants of the heart defiled and bemired. I wished for death with a passionate longing; I cried for release and rest with frantic prayers, but the ruin lay there with its stern teachings, and I doubted if God and justice were not empty words, and creeds but lies. The outlines of that wreck were clear and vivid, and the love with the beauty it held, and the prospect it gave was sharp and shattered at my feet. Time softened it; the veil of years gathered about it all slowly and tenderly, and thus the thoughts of them came down bearing incense. These memories are as strong now as they were then, but they are softened and dim behind me. The mind is bent unknowingly to new hopes, and the world goes on bearing the mourners kindly with it."

The blast swept by, and the waters wailed past them. The quick mournful cries of birds mingled with the noises, and the sun lined banks


  ― 261 ―
of clouds with crimson flame. Mrs. Mivers' words reached her listeners like what they were—the utterances of a lifetime, and Helen could only look out before her with an emotion that was like inward weeping. Spent waters crept up towards them, and stole back again dismally, and the brown rocks gleamed redly. Helen turned towards her mother with a half-pleading gesture.

"But are we not anticipating misfortune, and are you not raising ghosts of a past that may never come?"

"My child, disappointment and sorrow are so continuously woven about us all that they are a necessary part of our training here. Could I see at that time that what I speak of was but a chastening, and that before long I should bow my head to the justice and the mercy of it? Could I tell what the years had in store for me, and the benefit of those memories to me now? How could I tell, in the thoughtlessness of my youth, that those sorrows were but sent to slacken my hold of earth and win my hopes beyond it? But so it was. The man and the woman who have not felt sorrow have not been strengthened."

Fitzgerald rested back upon the wall of stone, showing the trouble on his face.

Mrs. Mivers forgot there were those to whom the loss of hopes like Fitzgerald's is not chastened by years, and their yearning only speaks the louder of the possibility gone, because they are lost. It is such for whom the wreck is complete. It is to those only that the argosynote sinks, leaving the lonely sea with never another sail upon its waters till the night comes. There are those whose sorrow and loss neither absence nor time can soften; they stand on the ruin that is left them, and see thereafter but the one hopeless horizon. Some men, like some women, have only one love to give away, and they give it.

Helen turned from her contemplation. "Such a shame as that you speak of I am surely brave enough to meet; and is it not, at most, the weighing of happiness against the worst possibility you have described? And what is it at that worst? A shame it cannot be to me; an unhappiness, perhaps. But you have just told us that trouble makes us strong."

"My dear, we do not know this father who has a claim on Bryan. He may consider it his duty to interfere and assert his authority. He may demand of us that the intimacy go no further."

Miss Mivers' face reddened as she turned it seaward again.

Bryan Fitzgerald laughed sternly. "Give my happiness to the keeping of one who deserted me from my birth, and left my mother, for aught he knew, to starve in obscurity! An explanation will be asked by the son


  ― 262 ―
not demanded by the father. He has less claim upon me than any man who walks your streets, Mrs. Mivers. Claim! He has done a wrong to me personally, and again to me through my mother. Why should he assume authority?"

"I cannot deny what you say, from your point of view; but the world must be considered. You have not known each other so very long that parting, if need be, should be fraught with so much unhappiness; and you must know, Mr. Fitzgerald, that I am but studying my daughter's interests."

"I know you are, and it is that feeling which takes away my strength. But surely, Mrs. Mivers, you will weigh our happiness against the world's opinion."

"I promise you faithfully to do that, and you, in your turn, must promise that you will not seek each other's society till this riddle has been made clearer."

Bryan's eyes spoke to the girl before him while he gave his promise, and she put her hand in his and said good-bye. He bent over her.

"I can never renounce my claim, Helen. No matter what may come, I am yours always."

And with melody in her speech, she echoed his words, "Always."

They walked homewards across the wind, that shouldered and shook them as it blustered on, and they left the rage of the sea, the fiery bars of the struggling sun, and the rolling hills of clouds.

That evening Fitzgerald said, "I can't tell, Brown, what reason my mother had for making you give that promise concerning my father, and you will of course be able to judge of her wishes in this respect. Whatever they are, they must be observed, but the present appears to me to be the most important occasion of my life."

"Wot present, lad?"

"I have just parted from Miss Mivers and her mother. The latter refuses to let us see each other any more till this half-told story is cleared up."

"Wot half-told story?"

"I repeated to Mrs. Mivers what you told me; and, not knowing who my father is, or what may be his character or position, she declines to let her daughter remain on terms of intimacy with me, whose father may be a dissolute, worthless character; and the probabilities are that he is all this, or he wouldn't have left my mother and me to starve; he


  ― 263 ―
certainly would not have let her live with a dishonouring suspicion on her. If he was an honourable man, why did they live apart? If he is one whom I might be proud of, why did he forsake us?"

"That's a question might take a long time for to answer. He thought yer both dead."

"But how did you come to know him and his thoughts?"

Mr. Brown replied with some sternness, "I hev lived in these colonies a long time. I know most of them wot was here early, rich an poor. He wern't nothin the worse for knowin of Jim Brown."

"I am sure he was not, and I did not mean what you imply; but it seems very hard that, after his desertion all these years, I should suffer through him now."

"Aye, lad, somehow it'll look hard t' you. But I promised her, an that promise 'll be kep. Ye know it will, Bryan, as well as I do—till the time comes. It aint come yet."

That night, while the storm blew, Helen Mivers came to her mother's bedroom. "If Bryan's father should be all you suppose, and if we must see each other no more, I think," she said quietly, "my heart would break."

Her face showed fear rather than wear of sorrow. She had yearned for some word of hope, and came for it dejectedly, as for a dole.note "I know this is weakness, and I thought I was strong, but I cannot help it." Her long hair was flowing round her shoulders, while her mother looked on her and smiled sadly.

"Dear child, I will not risk your happiness too far. I promised that, but you are proud enough to bear, if need be. I only pointed out the probability."

The daughter's voice shook as she asked, "And if it is to be so, am I strong enough? If I were only strong when I think of him and the repose of his presence gone from me. I feel as though all my happiness and love would go out and cling to him. He said he had only the one love to give, and he had given it. He has all that ever I shall have to give." She put her face on her mother's breast.

The wind of the night tossed upon the house, and the voices of the sea were with it filled with anger and with warnings, and then died away in gentle wailings and murmurings as of long-nursed sorrows.

(to be continued)


  ― 264 ―

Chapter XLII.

In Which Mr. Slater Finds His Son.

NEXT morning, when the dawn made the horizon clear, Bryan was out to watch the sea. He had not slept, and the restlessness of the waves soothed him. There were others there too afraid to see anything but waves—afraid that in the distance might be some distressful sign, or that shreds of boats battered against the reefs might be visible. They were a group of strong sailor-looking men, whom not a patch of water seemed to escape; nor a bend of the beach nor a cranny of the rocks but the sweep of their glasses rested on. Two or three of the fishermen had not come home, and it was hoped they might have landed in a safe bay some miles to eastward, but the faces of all were grave and anxious. By and by a frightened woman came up, with her hands upon her breast, and the wind flouting her thin skirts and clutching at her hair, streaming it to landward like a pennant. More men came down, and more women, till a crowd stood gazing at the bay, and those who saw the grouping from their windows joined them, so the numbers grew faster than the morning brightened. Fitzgerald kept his glass directed at one spot for some time. He took it away to rest, and looked again, and then joined the first comers. A few words, and all glasses were turned upon the place. No one spoke. The woman with the thin covering was looking at them in suspense.

"The boat I had a few days ago is the safest—we can choose no better," Fitzgerald said.

And they walked away over to the jetty, and preparations were at once commenced. The crowd followed, wondering, till it got about that something was floating out to sea, probably on a spar.




  ― 265 ―

"It's my husband, may be," the woman who first came cried, with dry eyes. "You will save him for the love of God—and the children at home asleep, and their father there!" She struck her hands together, and flung her apron over her face; then swept it away, and looked out wildly on the sea, but could see nothing—only the wilderness of waves.

"All ready below?" asked Fitzgerald, standing on the stout jetty.

The men spoke from the boat,

"We want two more oarsmen, lads," looking at the faces of the crowd.

Two men came forward silently, and he sent them down. He was about to follow, when a grasp was laid on his arm.

"Bryan, are you going?"

"Helen, are you here? I am going. I shall rest on your love; till I come back, rest you on mine."

"You will be careful?"

"I will be careful and brave for your sake."

She stood watching the boat swing off on the rollers, and saw him at the rudder, with the little shell poising on the waves, or hidden behind them. Some one tried to raise a cheer as she started, but the dishevelled woman kept the people silent, and when Helen heard men speculating on the chances, she drew back unable to speak, and joined her mother. Excitement drew her forward again, till, unknowingly, she stood beside the fisherman's wife, now bending over on the gale. The sea was driven in spinning lines and ropes of foam, and beyond there was the dark speck the glasses brought near to be recognised as not of the waste or storm. Some one said anxiously,

"Where are they now? It's an awful risk. Ah! well done! I can see them—steady men. Who's at the helm?"

"Young Fitzgerald," answered a voice.

"Ah, I thought so. If they can't do it, no others can."

"Wait," spoke an old man behind, "till they pass that far point. Look at her now—the boat will never live."

"That boat's the best on the beach," answers some one. "It was her came in the other night from the island through the cracker, and the same man's at the helm."

Helen and the fisherman's wife were abreast. The latter bent yet farther over on the storm, staring and dumb to see, and listening with a shiver to the words behind her. She lost sight of the boat once, and others asked of the men holding the glasses if they could see it. There was no response for a minute, and the woman wailed, "My husband, is Heaven against you too? Won't help be allowed to save you?"




  ― 266 ―

As the fisherwoman put her doubled hands upon her breast, seen and read of all men, Helen stole hers up beneath her cloak and placed them on her breast too. The human nature and human love of both spoke similarly. Mrs. Mivers came forward and placed her hand softly on the tension of her daughter's arm, but she did not turn. One little speck, that sometimes broke the continuousness of the foam, held her mute and rigid. One of the voices that had spoken before called out,

"Can you see her, Bill?"

The man addressed had a telescope to his eye.

"I aint seen her this long while; she ought to be seen yonder if she's above water. What do you make of it?"

The man's glass was slowly moving about the place; and every glass on the beach was upon it.

"It looks bad. The sea is awful. Nothing more or less than risking life."

The fisherman's wife was cowering round at the speakers with her hands twisting, and she made moan, "He is my husband." There was no movement of Helen's features. They were set as rigidly as her body, and when her mother saw her eyes she sighed and drew closer to her. Her daughter did not notice her; she was waiting for what the men might say.

"There," said one of the watchers, "a bit to the left."

The glasses moved to the left, obedient to one common thought.

"There, again—see."

They all saw it, and held their glasses down for a human sigh.

"Have you seen them?" sprang out from the crowd in many voices.

The old harbour-master turned round, with his grey hairs tossing about his face, and nodded; and there rose a hum of joy.

"They must be somewhere near the place now."

The glass of the speaker was trembling with his excitement. Helen could only watch and listen to the men.

"If that was a man they saw, he must be drowned before this," whispered one.

"There's always a chance, he may be lashed to a spar."

"What do you see now, gentlemen?" asked the fisherman's wife, dashing her hand across her eyes.

"We see the boat still, m'am," replies one, with sorrowful respect.

"Tell me, do you see what you saw first—the man in the waves?"

"We can scarcely see the boat now, the waves are so high."

Again a voice, "What's that? Is that the boat?"

"That's the boat still, well done, lads. This is worse than May two years ago, sir."




  ― 267 ―

The harbour-master's hat had blown off, and he was holding it under his arm. "Much worse, it is the worst sea I have seen, but that is the best boat on the beach, she—— "

The grey moustache ceased moving, and the speaker jerked his telescope hurriedly, and was silent.

"Do any of you see her?"

A long pause.

"I have her again," shouted one of the men, "just off that white line of foam."

"Helen," her mother said, "Helen."

Her eyes were fixed on the harbour-master's face.

"Yes, that's her, sure enough; she's in dangerous ground now."

"Every man there knows the spot," remarked a deep voice; "none better nor Fitzgerald."

Helen looked at the speaker, and saw Brown walking abreast of the men with the glasses. One beside him let his telescope fall. "Lend it a spell, mate."

Nearly five minutes elapsed when Brown spoke.

"I see her; look to the left—this side the rocks—there, mates, an by—— she's coming home."

"She's making home," spoke the crowd.

"Tell me, sir," entreated the thinly-clad woman, "did you see them stop and take anything out of the sea. That's what they went for, you know; they went to save him. He called his boat Sarah—that's my name. Tell me if you can see him among the gentlemen. I am his wife."

There was no answer.

"Oh tell me what you see."

We could'nt see him if he was along o' 'em," Jim Brown said. "They are all in peril yet."

When they passed the sheltering headland all could see the boat shooting up skyward upon the waves, with her keel half bared, and plunging downwards again into the troughs. Men with faces that had browned below the winds and suns of that coast were anxious. While thus, Brown said, "There's something in the boat with them."

Against the wind, and through the noise of the surf, the fisherman's wife heard him.

"Is it a man, sir, tell me that?"

"Like enough a man, but the rowers hide him, an he's hard to see."

All grew plainer every time they bent to their oars. The boat seemed walking in on its steadily moving legs like some creature of the sea gallantly riding above it and through it, and nearing shore, till the noise


  ― 268 ―
of the oars could almost be heard. Again the crowd would have cheered, but they did not know whether the still figure lying at the feet of the workers was dead, and the wife was there asking if they thought he was. Brown stooped and took a brandy bottle from a messenger, then hurried to where the boat shot out upon the smooth sand with its living freight. The wife ran down too, and the crowd made way before her battling, till she stood beside the thwarts, and saw them lifting the man out from below the seats.

"Tom, speak to your wife. Tell him to speak to me, sirs. He must be drowned. He would know my voice if he were not. Lift him up gently. My cottage is there—see, just at that point. Take him home amongst the children. There is a fire that is warm, and his bed is waiting. Come on for the love of heaven."

They forced some brandy into the man's mouth, and a quivering of the eyelids caused the spectators to say that he was alive. Then the woman knelt upon the sand, and said that God would remember this service of theirs against the time of death, and measure to them the mercy they had measured now to her and to him. Helen saw Fitzgerald standing up by the rudder with his spray-beaten hat pulled down upon his face unmovably steering to safety. She faded slowly out from the front, and when the keel struck shore she turned for home with her mother; her face all aglow with a light of joy. She had seen his strong self wet with sea and his dress hustled with storm. So she carried home with her the bravest memory of him yet. The name of the half-drowned fisherman was spoken by the people there, and an old man came out from amongst them with frightened hurry to look closely at the face. He shook so that his staff trembled while he examined the hair and face.

"Well, Slater," asked Brown, "wot d'ye see?"

"I see the past coming back to me, and bringing the dead with it. He left me twenty years ago, and lies senseless in men's arms now."

"Wot?—not little Tom, is it?"

"It's the same name, and his hair and face are like. Twenty years ago since starvation drove him out of Melbourne, and I thought him dead. Now God has given him back. The alteration of manhood is in his hair and face, but it is the boy, Brown."

The crew were carrying him home in his dripping clothes, and Fitzgerald walked behind them. The old man caught him by the hand to thank him.

"You have saved him, sir, and brought him back. He returns to me like this after twenty years. Sir, I am his father."




  ― 269 ―

When the man who had been found lashed to a spar opened his eyes, he saw his little roof-tree, and lay looking at the smoked rafters trying to remember what had happened. The children were speaking in whispers, and their mother was kneeling by the bed crying and laughing above the hand she held in hers. The sight of the old man troubled the sailor till he hobbled over to ask brokenly if he were better. The reply was faint and careless.

"Do you remember," the stranger asked, drawing a low stool forward, "when you left Melbourne in the Glassloughnote for India?"

"Under Captain Whitelaw?" Yes, he remembered it as if but that morning when the Sarah gave him to the sea. He went on board with some things his mother had scraped together in a handkerchief.

"An old silk handkerchief your father once bought for you, of faded red and yellow?"

The sailor sat up and stared at the questioner. "Who are you?"

"When your sister Margaret came to see you go, with the fairest face and fondest eyes that ever girl had here, when your father raised his hat, glad to see you go, and wondering where the food for those at home would come from."

"Aye, aye, but they're dead more than a dozen years ago, so they told me when I came back with money in my pockets, to try the mines, and help them. A new house was where the old one stood that summer evening when I came up, so I turned away to face the world alone. But who are you?"

"Your father, Tom" and the old man bent his face upon the bed. "Your mother died in the hospital, my son, and your sister is somewhere in Queensland. I hope to hear of her soon, but—— I thought I was alone in the world, and you have come back to me after all this time."

The wife had risen to find the best chair; she dusted it, and rubbed away the tears that fell from her eyes on it.

"Sit here, sir. This has been a kind day to us all. Who would have thought, when the mad morning broke, he would have been here back to his wife and children, and speaking to his father. Sit here, sir. God is good." Whatever Slater may have felt, the simple words silenced him. The beautiful faith of the woman who had stood before the storm, speaking her despairing words with tears, led her to forget the trial she had passed. She only thought that her husband was rescued and at home, that the hands that found them bread were not below the waters, and that he who had won her ten years before was with her still. Hardships had written grooves in his features, and stamped his figure with its mark, but he was still to her the same who, with found gold and


  ― 270 ―
rich brown hair, had taken her from the comforts of her father's farm to settle her in the little house beside the sea. Her lot was the weariness and drudgery of life, and they never knew, those people of hers, with their cropped acres, that she was a harder drudge than the lowest in her father's household. Her husband had for her the same fine face and sailor bearing that drew her from the sheltering roof, and she kept the same faith she knew when they left the church together one spring morning among the scents of wattle blossoms.

"I paid the crew for their work to-day, Tom—all except the young fellow who had the rudder. I could not offer him money; but the time may come when I can render him some service. We never know who the sportsman may be that casts the net, or the mouse that gnaws the meshes. A wrong done pursues a man and overtakes him, be his life long or short. The wrong done to me lives in you to-day, and it lives in me; and, look you, I have my grip on the man who sent my son to sea, and your sister to be a wanderer—that killed your mother. I am going to ask him where they are, before many days are over, and show the strength that is in this old hand. I have lived for it, and the time has come." The speaker's words were whispered, but the hatred bearing him on was capitalized on his aged face.

(to be continued)


  ― 271 ―

Chapter XLIII.

Mr. Pelan Retires From The Race.

THE Brotherhood of Fair Play was in sad perplexity concerning Mr. Pelan. It was time his horses were entered, but whether they would run was altogether a different matter. Half-made books were cursed over with a variety of imprecations more or less creditable to the fertile genius of the gentlemen who coined them. They wrote letters and sent telegrams to him, but there was no substantial knowledge to be gained. Mr. Damim himself volunteered to go to Mindorf, as a kind of ambassador, but he returned without obtaining the necessary glad tidings. A lady had met him at the door of the room with trouble in her looks, and said the doctors would not permit an interview. Consequently it came to pass that Jews and Gentiles—men who otherwise stood to win against nothing—dolefully relinquished their prospects, and set industriously about the compensatory pursuit of hedging.note It was no wonder that Damim had been refused an interview. The self-possessed man, who carried strength in his eyes and face by reason of his unflinching look and unmovable self-possession, was breathing hard and fighting to live upon the pile of pillows before the only love ever yielded to him, and the only devotion he had known. Pelan would have the old white-haired man to see him as often as he chose to come, and replied mildly to his bitter moods. He owed him compensation for a wrong, and his face remained calm before hopeless recriminations; but time after time he silenced him by speaking out his own guilt, and warned him that it would all be made plain. Pelan turned to his wife one day—




  ― 272 ―

"There is a man called Brown who goes to the house of Mr. Mivers sometimes. He is often with the young fellow who steered the boat that rescued the fisherman, a short time since. Ask the landlord to get him here, if he is still in Mindorf."

In an hour the messenger returned with the man, and showed him into the room. The visitor saw a sad, worn woman by the dim bed with the shading of a faint white upon it, but no whiter part was then than the features of the dying.

"You will want, sir, to sit close to him; his voice is weak, and it will save him effort. Sit here."

Brown took the chair where his wife had slept and prayed through many a night. He let his hat fall, and stooped over towards the restless eyes.

"You know Mivers?"

"Yes, sir, I know Mr. Mivers."

"Put your hand below the pillow, there is a letter there."

The visitor drew out a formal-looking envelope. "Yes, I hev it."

"Bend lower to me. You have tried to put Slater off his intended interview with Mivers. He is as pitiless as the sea, and as immovable as its rocks. If he will persist in fighting the rich man, you will read that, and Mivers' son will be exonerated. It is a confession of conspiracy in which I was an actor. You know both of them. You'll do this honestly?"

"I'll do it honestly, that ye may be sure of. I'll be in the house, I hope, when Slater comes, 'to put his hand on the old Mivers,' as he calls it. He arn't to be blamed much, sir, but if he knew everything he wouldn't do it. I can make it all plain to him."

"Ye hev known Slater a long time, maybe?"

"Shortly after his trouble. When he returned from Narrgummie."

Brown struck his hand on his thigh with a sound that went round the room.

"Pelan, to be sure—the same Pelan, is it?"

"Yes," announced the sporting man, putting his wasted white hand out on the white counterpane,—"the same Pelan."

The watching wife came noiselessly to Brown and pressed his shoulder. She bent her head to his till her hair touched him before whispering, "He is weak, and the doctors do not allow him to talk much."

When she stood up, and the man saw her small fingers trembling amongst each other, and her eyes, that were dim with weeping and watching, he wondered at the faithfulness won and bestowed in that little room. Mrs. Pelan brought in candles, and sat down waiting. As the


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patient opened his eyes and looked round, he exclaimed, "He is gone. I must have been dreaming. Where is your hand?"

In a moment it was closed round his.

"It is growing dark, Julie, and you seem getting further away."

She put her arms round him, and laid her face beside his on the pillow.

"I feel your fresh breath, and your soft hair, that looked so well. I have left you in loneliness for many months together, but you never complained. There was no time like the time we walked quietly beside each other among the garden flowers, and strolled upon the sands. You loved me then, Julie."

Her arms tightened round his shoulders. "Then, and always. You must not speak much—oh, take care."

He smiled sadly, looking up at the curtains above him. "I have been unkind to you in thought and action, I have been faithless and unworthy, and yet you are the only one of all of them near me now. I wish I could have lived to make amends. We will never be among the heaths any more. Think of that time gone when we sat waiting for the purpling colours to come, and to watch the day die out. Take my hand, Julie."

She tightened her grasp.

"You are getting further away." She pressed her face to his.

"There are shadows trooping up in the strange twilight. Keep close; a pure life is a charm against them. Looking down below us where the waters ran that evening, you said I was all the world to you. I wish I had known you then as I do now; it would have kept me from sin. Only those parts of my life show peace where your happy face is resting. If we had been side by side amongst it all, I should not have quitted it now for these shadows."

She looked at him softly, and with a low moan lifted her wet face. His eyes were upraised, his hand was in hers, and the embrace of her arm on his shoulder. She lay beside him thus for a time, that seemed to stretch over hours, until with a shiver she started to find that his hand was cold, and his open eyes moveless on the curtain above. She spoke to him, and called upon him, following him with with her voice and love into the shadows he feared; but the expression of his eyes had gone, and the silver cord was loosed.note

The next morning, when the first light was coming down the hills, and the vastness of earth and sky was opening before the new day—when the plains and seas awoke, and the life of all things rose to watch the sun riding up the heavens, Julie Pelan sat pale, with her husband's hand in hers, upon the threshold of her widowhood. Mindorf rose


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sedately and followed Pelan to his grave, and it pitied and tried to soothe his young wife; but she had a poor sister, who toiled in a little shop in Melbourne, and she carried her sorrow to her. She had left her with the whole world filled with gladness, and she returned bearing with her the four years' history that had crossed her life lying on her heart, and weeds in her sunny hair.

The Brotherhood of Fair Play looked despairingly at their books, and set themselves with furious industry to make new ones.

(to be continued)


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Chapter XLIV.

Face To Face.

WHILE Mr. James Brown was idly speculating one day as to Mr. Slater's whereabouts, that old gentleman was mounting Mr. Mivers' stairs. He followed the servant up, with the steady calmness of his purpose, and, but for his restlessness, he looked to have the hoary confidence of the years that weighted him. He was but an ancient fragment of humanity revived to take the master by the hand and lead him back upon his past. When he entered, without giving his name, the two men looked at each other from the ends of their respective journeys—the one from his spacious room, with its gildings and pictures—with all the flowers that money could scatter at his feet, but worn with his toilsome ascent, weary of the ruggedness below the strewn colours, and fearful of the coming night; the other, in his old dress, might have been a memory of a gone century. He had travelled careless of bruises; his past had driven him on over wildernesses and wastes and glooms that were nigh forgotten now. But the skeleton hand of that past was on his shoulder, pushing him forward over weaknesses and doubts—always with him, it filled his present now.

The one journeyer told the other to be seated, and held himself upright in his luxurious seat. The other sat down stiffly upon a gay fauteuil,note with the air of a dusty pilgrim who finds a resting on a tiresome road.

"You are greatly changed since I saw you last. Where is all your strength gone to, and all your bullying brag—your cruel words and careless tramplings on your fellow-men? Where is all the energy, Mr.


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Mivers, that used to bend men to your purpose, and fling them useless from you on the scrap-heap of humanity? You must be happy now, looking on your successes then."

"If you are one of those you speak of," answered Mivers, in a kind of humble wonderment, "and if I can make up for wrongs I have done you, or cruelties you have suffered from me, I will do what I can. I am far from blameless. What is your name?"

"Surely you will do all that out of your abundance. What are pounds of your piled money to you now? It has been erected with sweat and women's and children's shame, and accumulated amongst cursings. A few coins from the heap will hide all that, and doles of your charity, as you step down into the grave, will cover a multitude of your sins. You repent of your past when the journey is ended. What an acceptable offering yours must be just as your grey life, worn as I have described it, is, like mine, trembling out!"

"Who are you?" asked the old man, frightened at the bitterness of the voice.

"Who am I? I am your past." He lifted up his brows, that his eyes might rest fully upon him, and nodded with a silent laugh that raised his white moustache. Then he shut his gums together, and seemed to gap and break his profile at him as he waited. "I am your past."

Mivers' hands were not trembling with age.

"Pasts come back, you know. They double and turn and sweep down on one like ghosts, when least expected. You may think them dead and buried, but they never die, and there is no burial for them. They rise from their graves always waiting. You may rake the withered leaves over them, but the first storm whirls them off. Is that so?"

In his vehemence he did not wait for an answer. "And those ghosts breed ghosts. This ghost of your past, for example"—he struck his breast with his thin hand—"it never crossed your memory before that he had a wife who died of starvation, a daughter who went to shame, and a son who wandered away to sea, because of you, and that the one ghost would come to ask you concerning those you gave to him. They fill my past, and I, hand-in-hand with them, fill a space in yours. One of those kickshaws there," pointing to a large oil painting, "would have saved them; but you condemned them to it, that you might be so much the richer; that you might buy that thing, you killed the body of one, and the soul of another is gone!" He slowly took his finger from the picture, and aimed it at Mivers' grey head. "Is your room the brighter and better for it? Do you never hear the curses that followed you? Don't they hang about your grandeur? Don't the maledictions reach you? Is it not all


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carried to you sometimes like voices with the sounds from the sea when it moans at you?"

Mivers put his hand to his forehead, and took it away again without speaking.

"You have got a long life and wealth. Every one respects the rich Mivers, who can do no wrong. The world is yours, and all it can offer—you must be happy."

The rich man looked at the speaker as though labouring under some kind of nightmare. "Happy?"

"Of course, and you would add to that happiness. You would lay the ghosts with your money now. Money can do everything, you know. You have a son who is your hope—your only child—with all the good things the world can give piled up and stored away for him when needed. He won't have to crush and trample or sin for it, as you did. He'll be an elegant and respected gentleman, and you will contemplate him, respecting and loving you while your life lasts. His success and position are your success and position. What would your money be worth if he was not respected, and flattered, and fawned at? If he was in gaol, for example, and a common felon, where you have put many, what could your money do for you then, eh?"

Slater broke his profile at Mivers again, and contemplated him.

Mivers took his hands away from his face, and asked, "Who are you?"

"Who am I? The man who flattered your pride once, by becoming your servant. The man who came to you an educated gentlemanhe whom you pointed out as a student of Horace and Homer to your friendshe whom you abused once by virtue of your superior strength, and who tried to burn down your shedhe whose legs you shattered with a crowbar, and sent away, crippled and penniless, to his helpless family—he who wrote to you for his wages time after time, and told you that his wife and daughter were starving—he who got some thousands of pounds from his friends when it was too late. But that is past."

He struck his hand impatiently away, as flinging the consideration with it.

Said Mivers, brokenly, "Aye, Slater is your name."

The man rose up in the dignity of age and the remorselessness of his wrongs, looking down on the squatter.

"You remember it all now. I have told you of the dead wife, the ruined daughter, and the lost son. Their past and mine will live amongst yours—we are an indelible part of you. You never knew that Shorter, the publican at Narrgummie Flat, was Slater. I kept in wait for your son, and caught him with one of the fairest faces in Victoria, till I got my grip


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on him at last—at last, after all the waiting. Look you"—he held out his clenched hand—"I have both of you here safe. Your son is a forger and a felon, and he'll be in gaol before a month is over—your son, with the black hair, and red face, and large eyes, whom you liked so much long ago. All your money can't save him from the indignity of a prison—all. Eh! rich and respected Mivers, what do you say to that? That's what I've waited for. That's what I've plotted for. That's what I'm here about. Only your old servant, that your son killed with a blow, knew me and my purpose. But the beauty of a face struck your Luke and withered him. Do you hear?"

The speaker did not laugh, but a joy was on his face. The purpose of his age seemed to grow up in him and give him strength and bitter words. "Look at the years on my hair. Think of the years that have crowded and sat on me since that time. I have borne them all to come here to-day as your past, and ask you concerning my dead wife and my wronged child."

Mivers in a dreamy way shook his head sorrowfully.

The man moved closer to a chair that had an elegant seat of silken stripes of amber and black, and sat there, lowering his voice to its intensest expression. "Are you aware that all your money, twenty times told, could not save your son from gaol? He is as surely in my power as though he were standing handcuffed on that hearth-rug. Why do I pursue you? That is what you would ask, with your money and your gauds. Pursue a man who has broken my life and trodden on my years—who has brought death and shame to my door; and so have I pursued you down to the very last turning—to your grave. We stand looking at each other now, backed by those tiresome years that are behind us. It was a long race, Mivers, but it's mine. From the day my feeble wife burst into tears and told me the food was done—when I saw the eyes of my daughter dimming daily, and bade good-bye to the boy bravely waving his tattered hat on the Glasslough's deck, the race began, and here I am to strike you through your son. Pasts do come back like ghosts, don't they?"

The man's thin hair came down nearly to his shoulders, and the suppressed intonations of his words made his eyes blaze.

They seemed like two materialised echoes—these men, coming down out of the mist and twilight of the long gone times, and confronting each other on that grey winter's day.

Mivers' troubled face followed Slater earnestly, as though studying forgotten scenes. The words seemed to bring darkness with them, and to gather up the toils and tribulation he had heedlessly scattered.




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"I would undo that past," answered the squatter slowly. "If I could travel back through it over every year and make amends down into poverty, I'd do it."

"Hear him—listen to him, with the darkness of the grave closing him in, and saying all this! He would repent and make all amends, and he wants but another year to put him in his coffin. The remorseless trampling Mivers says this when the ghosts of his spent life come jibbering at him in the twilight of his days. Of course you would do it. Now see the difference. I would begin the race again, knowing all I have done, and win it. I would repent every action of that past, and would sit as I sit here now, and show you that I have you in my power. There is only one place for your pampered son, and that is a prison. You understand?"

Again Mivers shook his head.

"You think I'll relent. I am as near death as you are," the man cried, lashed by the strength of his passion; "I'd not relent to gain salvation."

"My son is beyond your power."

"You lie. He went to Queensland, but I'll reach him there. You know what money can do, Mivers; you ought to know. You sold your soul for it—ah! many years ago. I have money, and I'll reach him as surely as you reached me through my wife and daughter."

Neither of the men saw Mr. Brown, who had entered and walked noiselessly across the thick carpet. He sat quietly down and listened, looking curiously at the white beards, the white hair, and heavy white eyebrows of the two men. They might have passed for brothers at a hasty glance. There the resemblance ended. In the one was the insolent whirl of a triumph, in the other the weariness of brokenness and the humility of repentance.

"I don't want for to disturb ye, Slater, nor to shame ye, but——"

The grey-beards looked round at this other fragment belonging to both, that seemed to have been placed there by superhuman power.

"I aint a goin for to blame ye for wot yer doin, but——"

"I care neither for your blame nor your approval, as you very well know, and you do disturb me by being here," struck in Slater, with a greedy fear of losing the bestowal of one burning word. "Since when were you allowed to prowl through houses like this? Are you one of those through whom he seeks a place in repentance? No doubt you'll make him bleed for your forgiveness. He has plenty of money to pay for it, and you will whine and cant, and smooth away the evil things of his life, and otherwise comfort him; but I have come out of it, to stand before and judge him. He has wronged me with a deeper and blacker


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wrong than any atonement can wash out. My forgiveness is not spoken yet, and never will be, either in this world or in the next."

"If ye think I come here for to git money off Mivers yer far mistook. You know, for all yer raging, I would not touch a penny of it, an so does he. But I told yer not so long ago that I hed something to say to ye afore ye come here, an ye wouldn't listen." Brown's voice gathered solemnity as he continued, "An so ye want to be yer own almighty. I've knew that tried afore, but it always was a failure."

"I'm my own denouncer, that is all," Slater retorted, and the mover of the law against forgers, as his son shall find out. The matter has been in the hands of the police a week ago."

"If I was you I'd get 'em back."

Slater opened his mouth and laughed till his one black fang could be seen above his beard. "That would be your advice, no doubt, but you are not me."

"I saw young Luke Mivers in Queensland," spoke Brown sternly, seemingly bearing down upon the two men, with the strength of his rugged face and deep voice. "The first time I see him," said the convict, pointing a twisted finger at Slater, just as the man he addressed had pointed his at Mivers, "was nursin yer dead daughter, Maggie, away out in the bush—their horses strayed, an him mad. Them hands an the hands of young Fitzgerald, wot saved yer son's life a week ago, buried her. Wot killed her? There was a broad black stain on her breast, an a spear lay broke that the young fellow pulled out—an the Ingins flittin roun like devils. We left her there quiet below the shade. The last we see of Luke Mivers in Queensland—where the last word of his mad love was for yer daughter Margaret—was in the 'ospital ward. We screwed the coffin-lid down on him an carried him over to the cemetery, an we filled in his grave as gently as we filled in yer daughter's. That's why I say I'd git the detectives back if I was you."

Slater stood up swaying under the blow that had struck him. In the time it took Brown to say the few words the fire of his triumph had died out; he came over to the speaker in the desparation of a fear.

"That is your story, is it?—and it is well concocted and told. Now tell me, you renegade, how much Mivers has given you to trump it up. You lie."

Brown, with his sonorous voice, made answer, "The fear in your face shows that you believe me. Ye know that Wolf Brown is not a renegade, an don't trump up lies." Then he also stood up with a towering gesture. "I brought that old man there something from his son. I brought you something from yer daughter, just for the sake of the time when we used


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to be together, an it's here." He pulled a packet from his breast-pocket and laid it on the table open, pushing it over to the trembling man. There were the diamond earrings and brooch, and a long lock of her bright hair.

Slater's eyes seemed to grow large and wild. He held by the table with a shaking grip as the things struck out their lights.

"Them's yours now. They was in the pack of her horse. I wanted you to hear me before ye come here, for the old man there does sorrow for the wrongs he done."

Mivers was seated with his hands rested upon his knees, and a darker shade was on his face.

"Now, supposin Luke Mivers was alive, there would'nt bin no need to bluff ye with a story. Here's a confession of Pelan's that young Mivers was plotted against when he gave ye the forged bill." He opened another paper and placed it beside the diamonds. "But it might be better if bygones was forgot between ye. An if it had'nt a bin for your daughter, Slater, Luke Mivers would'nt a died in Queensland; an if it had'nt a bin for yer son, Mr. Mivers, Slater would hev lost his the other day. Yer son, sir, were the first to see him an get a boat's crew together."

"My son?" asked Mivers, with a sort of cry, his hands trembling again. "He's in Queensland, dead, but you never told me the reason before."

"No, I didn't; it weren't wanted to be known till now, but you've a son alive still."

The sluggish blood of the old man rose to his face.

"There's the papers showin Powers were a parson; but ye did'nt know it, an yer wife's pride sent her from ye. Bryan Fitzgerald is her son."

Slater was standing feebly before Brown. "I don't know where I am. Would you take me home to where my son is? I have been out long, and the day is late. I am tired. Get me away, Brown, out of this house. See how old I am."

He stood upon the stairs once, with the daze in his face, to ask Brown to guess his age, and then sighed, and continued his descent, not waiting for any answer.

Mr. Mivers saw the bent man leave him, with only the childish desire to quit the house, and he was alone in the silence of his lofty room and the glitter of his gilded things. The past was all before him with its merciless record. His heart had died with his son Luke, and all that he had toiled for through sin and weariness and the loneliness of an unscrupulous life was fading. It was now all for one who to him was a stranger.




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There were ghosts of faces and of voices near him, but from none the sound of blessing. There seemed a chorus of lamentation in the echoes, and from them the cry, "I will mock when your fear cometh."noteAnd he wondered, as the world slipped away, if the grave meant rest.

Three months after Mivers' death the stars of the morning shone from their pale chrome setting in the east, and pennants of colour flushed up on the waters of the sea, catching those tints of beauty that come with the birth of light. Hills around had the rare reflections upon their mighty shoulders. Sails as pure as the wings of gulls were struck by the low sun, and paths and shining roads shot down from horizon to shore. Before one of these tremulous highways Helen Mivers stood, with peace on her brow, and the joy of happiness nestled in her eyes. Her hand rested in that of Bryan Fitzgerald for a time, and when she drew it away it bore the evidence of a plighted troth.

THE END
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