― 63 ―

VIII I Am Confirmed

“STICK to words,” said Mephistopheles to Faust. “It is just when understanding fails that a word is useful!”

This ironical apothegm of the great German master struck me when I read it as a piece of profound wisdom, and wisdom peculiarly applicable to my position. I therefore turned it to such astute advantage in my speeches to the Push, I so enveloped them with verbiage, that they believed me the greatest orator on earth. My popularity rose by leaps and bounds, especially after my adventure with the police. I was their hero, and their instructor. I was required to make several speeches a week. I lectured them almost nightly, but always secretly, and they hung upon the words of my discourses with obsequious attention. I propounded to them the tenets of socialism, and soon every Dog was an ardent socialist. They began to grow ambitious, to want and to know what they wanted. What they did not know was how to get that which they wanted, and what I pretended I also desired. I was no wiser, but that they did not dream. When they asked questions I shrewdly concealed my innocence with voluminous phrases, spoke vaguely of an approaching general distribution of property, and suggested that this fanciful millennium would come to pass shortly after the time when I should enter Parliament. In their besotted ignorance they believed my promises, and impatiently looked forward to the time when I should come of age. My uncle watched my progress in a trance of delight. Each petty triumph I achieved stirred him to his depths. His affection for me developed into a species of intoxicated adoration. I could wind him round my finger whenever I chose. One evening, while chatting together after supper, about ten o'clock, there came to him his five councillors to present a petition from the Push. The Dogs humbly implored him to consent to my immediate confirmation, so that I should be bound to their interests for

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all time. I did not yet know what this confirmation portended, but such a proof of their regard touched me deeply. When the petition had been read aloud by Jack Robin, I joined my entreaties to those of the councillors.

“Yes, uncle!” I cried, “let me be confirmed as soon as possible!”

Jim McGrath watched me with glittering eyes.

“Sir,” he said to my uncle, “the trap is laid; last night it was smelt, to-night the bait will be snapped, and the spring fall if you give the word.”

“Twice last week,” said Dave Gardner, “he went down Gates' Lane alone. He now feels confident; besides, he is so anxious to win his last stripe, that he's game for anything,” said Jack Robin. “It can't be put off for ever.”

“The youngster's ripe and willing!” muttered Pat Daly.

“It's time Lucas was fixed,” said Jerry Brown.

Their words were Arabic to me, but I listened with the greatest interest and curiosity.

My uncle mused; he looked steadily at me for quite a time. At last he turned to the petitioners. “He knows nothing!” he said. His voice was tremulous with feeling.

“But he's got to learn,” urged Robin, with respectful persistence. “The Push is tired of waiting.”

“Lucas,” said my uncle, “go for a stroll, and come back in ten minutes.”

I obeyed, and wandered forth down Conduit Lane, deep in thought. In my abstraction I walked straight into the arms of a policeman. He was a big and burly man, with a fat conceited face; he had sharp ferrety eyes, and a coarse but resolute mouth.

“Ho!” he cried. “You're the bloomin' orator, aren't ye?”

I looked at him disdainfully, and tried to pass; but he blocked the path. “Not so fast, young man; where are you off to?”

“What business is it of yours?” I demanded. I did not feel at all afraid of the fellow, because I knew that at a call twenty Dogs would rush to my assistance.

“You cheeky pup,” he cried, angrily; “you just answer me or I'll run you in for vagrancy.”

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“How you talk!” I observed, indifferently; then, out of policy, “What do you want to know?”

He caught me by the collar. “This is what I want to know: the lights in Gates' Lane go out every night at ten. You tell your pals that if they do to-night Senior Constable Tobin 'll want to know the reason.”

“That's not a question!” I retorted, insolently. “I'll trouble you to take your hand from my shoulder. You have nothing to do with me.”

“I've heard of your speechmakin'!” he said, “an' I'll just give ye a word of warning, young man. You're very young, but you're goin' the right road to fit yourself for a hemp collar. A Dog, aren't you?”

“I don't know what you mean.”

“A precious innocent!” he cried.

I swung on my heel, for he had let me go, and I judged it time to return to the shop, but he marched beside me keeping step.

“A lot of cowardly murderers!” he muttered, “but I'll lay them yet.”

“Whom are you speaking of?”

“You and your kidney.”

“You are mad!”

“Am I?” he growled. “Three in nine months, and I'm mad!”

“Three what?”

“Men disappeared, sonny. You tell your Push I'm on their trail, and your precious uncle, too.”

“What has he done?”

“Never mind.”

We paused before the door of my uncle's shop. “Goodnight to you,” I said, and turned to go in, but he caught me by the sleeve, and whispered: “Look here, sonny, you seem a bit above your crowd. You can't think much o' them. Now, you work in with me, and I'll make it worth your while.”

I laughed. Already several policemen had made me similar proposals. “You are barking up the wrong tree, Constable Tobin.”

He shook his head, muttered something inaudible, and

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strode off. I noticed that his boots were shod with felt; he made no sound as he walked.

I entered the shop, and pushed into the dining-room. My uncle and his councillors had apparently come to an agreement. They looked grave and thoughtful, with the one exception of Jim McGrath, who seemed extremely pleased. He was rubbing his hands together, as in the operation of soaping them; they were disgracefully dirty.

My uncle said to me: “Lucas, boy, it's fixed!”

“I'm to be confirmed?”


“Then now I may know what it means, eh?”

The councillors glanced at one another questioningly. Jim McGrath uttered a grim laugh. My uncle replied: “It's not a thing to talk about, Lucas, but you needn't worry long. It'll take place to-night.” He shivered as he spoke, and his eyes held an anxious, furtive look that made me vaguely alarmed.

“It won't hurt?” I queried.

My uncle's face turned sallow; he laughed uneasily. “Wait,” he said. “Who was that you were talking to outside?”

“Constable Tobin! He was very tragic. He told me to warn you to beware. He calmly suggested that the Dogs' Push are a lot of murderers, and told me to inform you he is hot on your trail.”

My words were a perfect bombshell. My uncle and his councillors sprang to their feet, and, it was plain to see, were covered with confusion.

“You see, sir,” cried Jack Robin, “it is high time.”

“He should have been put to bye a month ago,” said Dave Gardner.

Jerry Brown gesticulated fiercely. “To-night,” he muttered; “to-night!”

“Something has been found out,” said Pat Daly.

Jim McGrath licked his lips; he seemed the least nervous of all. “I'll fix him,” he growled. “Don't worry, boys; leave him to me!—he paused—“and Lucas!” he added; his voice was threatening, he looked savagely at me.

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I turned enquiringly to my uncle. He nodded slowly, and waved his hand.

“To-night, Lucas, Jim will be your captain; you'll do all he says—and remember it's by order of the Push. You may not like the work, boy,” he muttered, rapidly; “but it's got to be done. You can't escape it, and I depend on you to do me credit. When it comes to the point think of this, the safety of the Push depends on the work of to-night; we are all in the same ship, and it means sink or swim together.”

My fears awoke in full force. I anticipated some evil, perhaps some wild and awful crime in which I should be forced to participate.

“It—it—it is not murder?” I gasped.

“No!” said my uncle, and his eyes glittered. “McGrath, I give my boy into your charge; treat him kindly!”

“Trust me!” replied the humpback. He moved to the door, eyeing me all the while. “Come on!” he said.

“Go!” commanded my uncle.

I was overwhelmed with uncanny apprehension. I had a horrible sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. My steps were slow and uncertain; my feet seemed of a sudden heavily weighted. Outside the shop Jim McGrath passed his right arm through my left. “Cheer up, covey!” he muttered. “I'll be as good as a bad stepmother to you.”

“Where are we going?” I demanded.

“To my shanty first.”

At the corner of the street we met Judith Kelly. She started on observing me in such close companionship with her lover.

“Hallo!” she cried, “you are sudden friends.”

“Bless you; we love each other,” said the humpback, with a grating laugh.

“I'm glad to hear it,” replied Judith. “Where are you going?”

“For a walk.”

“It's late.”

“Not eleven yet.”

“When will you be back, Lucas?”

“Soon,” I answered, vaguely.

The humpback laughed again. “Don't wait up for him,

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Judith. He's like to go home drunk; to-night he's on the loose!”

“Oh, Lucas!” said Judith, reproachfully. “You are not going to make a beast of yourself?”

I shook my head. “I don't know. I don't know at all.”

“You try it on,” said the girl, turning fiercely to her lover, “and I'll chuck you like a stick. As for you, you are tight now if you ask me.”

“Garn!” cried McGrath, contemptuously. “I've not had 'arf a pint since sundown.”

“Lucas, you mind what I told you!” muttered Judith.

“Oh,” I answered, wearily. “Don't bother about us, Judy. I'll be alright.”

“I'll leave some supper for you in the dining-room,” she said, and moved off.

The humpback pulled me along—very roughly; but my temper commenced to rise. I shook myself free somewhat angrily. “I'm not your prisoner,” I muttered.

“You'll do as I bid ye,” he growled.

“I'll not be dragged.”

As we passed beneath a lamp I saw that his eyes were lurid and bloodshot; he was chewing savagely at his underlip.

“What's the matter with you? you look as if you'd like to kill me!” I muttered.

“So I will, if you show funk to-night,” he retorted. “Kill you like a crow; like this!” and, with a motion of his talon-like hands, he clawed the air as though my throat was in his grasp. I shuddered, and with the greatest difficulty concealed my terror.

“Two can play at that game,” I said, with all the hardihood I could muster.

He made no reply. We reached his cabin soon. It was on top of the hill overlooking Darling Harbour; a dirty four-roomed stone cot, built an age ago by convicts. It commanded an immediate view of the low-terraced tenements before the sea, but a wider prospect also of the shipping beyond, the bay, and in the distance the twinkling lights of Balmain. It was a black night. There was no moon, and the sky was heavily overcast with clouds.

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It seemed to me a night fit for the darkest of crimes. I cannot describe the feelings which oppressed my fainting spirit as I gazed out over the mysterious waters. In the middle distance a ferry-boat swam through the oily gloom—a monster, with a hundred fiery eyes. I could see people, little black specks of people, moving on its decks. I vainly craved to be among them. For one wild moment I thought of flight as an escape from the vague evil which threatened, from the terror and loathing of my companion, which obsessed me like an insidious disease. But I had no refuge in the wide world.

Jim McGrath, having opened his door, returned to my side, and for a moment peered in the direction of my distracted glance. “Not a flake of white, not a breath of air. Wot a night!” he muttered.

The depths below us seemed a very pit of Hades. The lamps on the far shore excited no reflections, the surface of the waters was indistinguishable from the gloomy atmosphere, only the lamps twinkled up through the haze like warning beacons, or uncanny demon eyes. “Wot's that?” said the humpback, suddenly clutching my arm, and pointing seawards. A white shape fluttered through the blackness—whining as it flew—some big sea-bird.

“A lost soul,” I whispered.

He shuddered. “Wot a beastly thought; but it wasn't, it was a curlew.”

“At night ghosts walk,” I whispered; “the air is full of spirits, can't you feel them, Jim?”

“Rot!” he gasped. “Stow such twaddle.” But the man was superstitious, and my words profoundly disturbed him. “There's no such things,” he protested; “when we're dead, we're dead—like dogs.”

“No!” said I, impressively as I could. “Only fools think that; we are watched, Jim McGrath—watched by a thousand devils. They are gloating over us and what we intend to do, because one day they hope that we will be devils, too.”

His teeth chattered in his head. “There's no such things as devils; it's all rot,” he muttered.

“Jim, do you believe in God?”

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“No, do you?”


“Come inside,” he said, gruffly. I followed him into the cabin. To my surprise the interior was wonderfully natty and clean. “Speak low,” he advised. “Mother's asleep. I don't want to wake her.”

On the deal table was a jug of rum. Jim helped himself to a generous measure, and gulped it down. “God!” he said, presently, “is a bogey invented by the lazy sky pilots as a livin' for themselves.” The rum had quickly restored him to his normal state of brutal opinionatedness.

“Indeed,” I observed, with sarcasm; “did they tell you?”

“I'm no fool,” he replied; “I can see a hole through a ladder, I can. Once a sky pilot come to me, he did; tried to convert me; a priest he was, Father Le Rennitoul he called himself.”

“He met his match,” I suggested.

“Bet your pile on me,” replied the vain rascal. “I told him I'd go to church if he'd work a Bible miracle, or prove in some way he wasn't a lyin' villain. He prayed over me till I got sick; 'twas all he could do. But it didn't come off; he caught the old woman, though, but she was born a Catholic, she was. She goes to Mass twice a week now.”

“To pray for her son!” I suggested.

“Damned if I care what she goes for! she's a blasted old fool!”

“Shut up!” I said, sternly.

We stared at each other for near an hour in deep silence, but the air was vibrant with evil feelings. We hated each other intensely, and our eyes made no secret of our disposition. Jim McGrath would dearly like to have strangled me, but he restrained himself, and was supported by some secret exultation. Often he chuckled as at some thought of joy. I grew with the passing moments more and more oppressed, more fearful, more excited. Sometimes it was with the greatest pain that I kept from shrieking aloud or bursting into hysterical laughter. We heard the city clocks chime for midnight, yet still sat on. At last there reached us the sound of a thin, weird cat-call. My companion raised his head and stared at the open door. A curlew wailed.

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He got to his feet and uttered a low, horrid laugh. “Time's up,” he whispered. “Come and be confirmed!”

I arose, tottered, and almost fell. My heart was beating like a boiler-maker's hammer. My body ached with fever pains; my hands were hot and clammy. The humpback caught and shook me in his iron grip. “I knew you was a coward!” he grated, low.

“Pity!” I moaned. “Oh, Jim, let me go; don't take me with you. I'll be your slave!”

His eyes glittered with a fiendish joy. “This is just nuts!” he muttered, derisively; “I wish Judith could see you!”

“Jim” I whispered, feverishly, “I'll be your slave for life if you save me.”

He pushed me a little from him and glared into my eyes. “I'll strangle you like a pup, and the Push'll kick you to death if you show the white rag to-night, understand that. Bah! you've got no pride; you're not worth hating. Come, I rather like you!”

His scorn restored me to my senses. I clenched my hands, and tried to smile. “Lead on!” I said, “che sera, sera.”

“What's that?” he asked, suspiciously.

“Lead on!”

He caught my left hand within his right, and drew me into the street. Near the stone steps we struck sharp aside, and descended towards the sea, picking our way cautiously, and gliding like phantoms past the silent houses of the quarter. All the street lamps were extinguished, and the darkness was profound. Very soon I was lost, but the humpback never paused. We trod, often ankle-deep, through slush and rubbish which had been carelessly thrown out by the filthy housewives. The stench was abominable. Presently, however, we reached a cleaner part. We slipped through a maze of stone-paved narrow streets and alleys, tenanted with an inexpressible silence, the blackest gloom. But all the while I felt that we were watched; that eyes peered at us from the deepest shadows, that in spite of the deadly stillness the quarter was awake and on the tiptoe of evil expectation. At infrequent intervals cat-calls

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sounded faintly, seemingly far off. As we proceeded, snakes hissed at us unseen—human serpents. It was a region of devils. I shivered like an aspen, and wished a thousand times that I were dead. My dry tongue clicked against my parched palate and hurt. I could hear the noise of it distinctly, and wondered if also others could. I was past the pitch of swooning, though I longed to swoon. I think that no man has ever experienced greater anguish than I did during that abominable night. At last we paused before a high stone wall. With his free hand my companion felt his way along the brick-work. I panted with terror. Suddenly came a little grating sound. A door had opened in the wall. The humpback pulled me to the ground. Crouching there, I watched sixteen silent shapes of men defile into the lane. The door closed then with a low click. The shadowy forms vanished like spirits. Twenty minutes dragged slowly by, and still we waited, crouching on our haunches. McGrath's clutch on my hand never relaxed. He hurt me cruelly, but I endured so many other forms of pain that only occasionally did I realise that piece of torture. Suddenly the humpback stood up, a curlew had wailed far to our left, from the opposite direction to that which we had followed.

“Do exactly as I do!” whispered McGrath; “you know what disobedience means.”

I could not reply. I nodded, though I knew he could not see. Soon about a hundred yards down the lane a tiny ball of fire flashed across the path, quavering for the space of a second here and there. It disappeared. The humpback crushed my hand so that I almost uttered a cry; he pressed me against the wall. In the deep silence I caught the sound of furtive footfalls. The ball of fire again quivered into view. It flashed before our feet and passed, fleeting along the path, feeling its way like a finger of flame. It issued from a bull's-eye lantern in the hand of a man who was creeping down the lane not ten yards from where we stood. I could see nothing but the lantern. It approached us seemingly of its own volition, swimming through the air about four feet from the earth, a veritable fire-fly.

It passed us and vanished. The owner of the light had

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paused. The only sound I could hear was the throbbing of my bursting heart. I felt I stood upon the threshold of a tragedy. A low sigh wailed through the night, then a sort of angry hiss. A deep guttural exclamation sounded in my very ears. The bull's-eye flashed in my face, and a rough hand caught me by the throat.

“Whom have we here?” a voice cried out. “Ha, the orator.” The voice was that of Constable Tobin. “I arrest you as a suspicious character; you can't say I didn't warn you,” he growled.

I trembled in every limb. Jim McGrath still held my hand. He gave a low whistle. I heard a sound like the pattering of raindrops on the sand. Figures swarmed about us, but unseen. The constable uttered a hoarse, startled scream, and blew his whistle long and loud. Then he groaned, stumbled, and fell. For a horrible second his lantern flared up. Dimly I discerned a crowd of wretches surrounding the prostrate man, who savagely but silently kicked him as he lay upon the ground; then the lamp expired. I heard dreadful thuds, a few deep groans, then nothing but thud, thud, thud!

“Dogs!” said Jim McGrath, “here is Lucas Rowe waiting to be confirmed!”

I was dragged forward helpless as a babe, amid a low, deep storm of hisses. The thuds ceased. “Kick,” said Jim McGrath. I stamped upon the ground, desperately thankful for the dark. The fiends thought I had kicked the constable. My agony was so great that I moaned aloud. The devils thought it was their victim who had groaned, and, muttering applause, returned to the charge as at a signal, in a body. Suddenly from our left came a shout and the crashing snap of a revolver. The devils ceased their horrid work, turned and incontinently fled. The humpback, who had never let go my hand, sprang away like a deer, dragging me with him; but in a second he stumbled. I sprawled to earth beside him, but to my joy scrambled up again unhurt and free. Someone clutched my coat in the dark. I struck out wildly, frenzied with terror.

“Fool!” muttered a voice. I was caught up, bodily carried a few yards, and swung over a wall. I fell sprawling

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upon a patch of soft turf. My captor followed with the speed of thought, wrenched me to my feet, and pulled me down a flight of winding stone steps—down, down, down. Giddy and breathless, I was always clasping at the black air. It seemed a bottomless pit which we descended, but after a period we emerged into an alley; hurried to its end, it was a cul-de-sac, climbed a wall, crossed a slush-covered yard, and, scrambling over a fence, finally stood panting and palpitating before the door of Jack Robin's workshop. My captor opened the door without speaking, pushed me within, and locked it behind us. He led me to the office, and there struck a light. I saw Jack Robin; his face was brick-red, and perspiring with exertion. He held the candle under my face, and examined me attentively. “You are baptised,” he said, grimly. I felt like death. I commenced to weep and wring my hands. Jack Robin gave a ghastly smile. “I felt like that—once,” he said, gravely. “Bear up, boy, you'll have to get home as quickly as you can; a lot of houses will be visited to-night!”

I put my hand to my forehead. “It's here!” I cried; “here—can't you see it?”

“What?” he demanded.

“The brand of Cain!”

He shuddered, glanced at me curiously, then, stooping, pulled up the trap. He forced the candle into my hands. “Go,” he said, hoarsely. “Go home quick.”

I slipped down the steps, and hurried through the tunnel, pursued by haunting fears. I reached my bedroom, and undressed; I know not how. Then I fell upon my knees beside the bed, and humbly thanked God that I had had no hand in Tobin's murder. He had not suffered by me. I had not touched him. I could not have saved him, at least I tried and still try to think so. It was the first prayer my lips had ever breathed. I crept into my bed at last. God knows the sort of night I passed. I cannot describe it. My pen falters and language fails when I essay the task, and once again I endure a small part of the horror which possessed me throughout those few but dreadful hours before the dawn. When daylight came I left my bed and glided like a spectre to the mirror. My face was ashen white,

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haggard, and incomparably old. Indeed, from that moment I was no longer a boy. I marvelled that my hair had not turned grey as I have heard hair does from abnormal mental suffering. I had suffered—surely enough! But I did not feel the guilt of murder on my soul—only a heart-numbing knowledge of crime which robbed my mind of peace, and weighed upon my senses like a pall.