IV Judith Kelly

MY work at Jack Robin's boiler shop was neither difficult nor arduous. His system of book-keeping was primitive in the extreme, and he was not the man to favour innovations. He insisted that I should persevere in his old methods, which were intelligible to him, fearing perhaps that any more elaborate scheme might puzzle his understanding. He carried on a sound and steady business, but as he paid his employees in cash, and purchased his materials in the same manner, practically all that I had to do was to enter up and look after his debit

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accounts, collect bills, and make up his bank balance. For this he paid me a salary of fifteen shillings per week. Mrs. Rowe levied a contribution of five shillings per week for my board. I had to pay sixpence per week to my uncle on account of the Push. The remainder was my own. I felt quite a capitalist, and immediately commenced to found a library. Jack Robin allowed me to read during my spare hours at the shop, so life seemed to have become quite pleasant and easy. To please my uncle I forced myself to study politics. I perused each morning the political articles in the daily papers, and at odd times immersed myself in the writings of Herbert Spencer, Kant, Le Conte, Fiske, and Henry George. It was at first a melancholy pastime, but I conceived it to be my duty to ground myself in all that might prove of use in my future career, and gradually grew to like it. Before many months had gone by I acquired a glib acquaintance with the laws of economics, and, influenced by my uncle's ideas, developed socialistic tendencies. My uncle obliged me to speak at every secret meeting of the Push, and insisted that my orations should always concern politics. With time I became a fluent speaker, and completely lost the nervousness which at first I suffered from. Only one restriction was placed upon my movements. I was forbidden to leave the Push district upon any pretext whatever. In consequence of this interdict, I knew really nothing of Sydney, beyond the confines of Miller's Point, Wooloomooloo, and Balmain, for several years. I never traversed George Street farther than the Circular Quay, and my ideas regarding the rest of the city were entirely gleaned from the study of maps. If I required exercise I was allowed to go sailing in the harbour, but was always accompanied by one or more of the Push. Even when a section of the Push had arranged a picnic, and proceeded to some distant rural resort to take their amusement, I was not permitted to go with them. I was actually a state prisoner. The whole Push knew and approved. They regarded me as common property—something exceedingly rare and valuable, something which no other push owned, an instrument destined to contribute to their future power and glory. I feel sure they would

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have been pleased to have confined me in a glass cage, which they might approach at their convenience, so as to stare at, appraise and applaud me. I sometimes marvel now at my spiritless acquiescence in their humours. But a little analysis of my condition at that time discloses the shameful fact that vanity had much to do with my obedience: vanity and listlessness. Every member of the Push except myself was incredibly illiterate and ignorant. They could all write and read, it is true, but beyond that, nothing. Their literature consisted of penny sensational stories, such as “Ching Ching's Own,” “The Deadwood Dick Serials,” “Ironclad Bushranging,” and “The Annals of Newgate.” They also scanned the police news in the daily papers, if any of their members happened to be in trouble, and a few, including my uncle, closely studied the reports of Parliamentary proceedings. Their language was a mixture of slang, bad English, and blasphemy. I shone among them like a star. My education and scholastic pretensions were regarded by them as inexplicable phenomena. They wondered at me, praised and flattered me to the top of my bent. Their ceaseless adulation ministered an intoxicating incense to my vanity. I grew to love my lot, and would not have exchanged it to dwell in a palace. Moreover, I was constitutionally inordinately lazy. I detested trouble of any kind. At first I felt extremely annoyed at having my movements restricted, watched, and followed. I meditated rebellion, for I had long looked forward to visiting theatres, and fashionable thoroughfares, where I might observe the appearance and manners of well-dressed folk—of gentlemen and ladies—and compare myself with them. So feeble, however, were both my energy and courage that the consciousness of opposition, the knowledge of the punishment I must endure if detected, soon abolished all ideas of revolt, and finally erased my very desires. It filled me with pride to observe that I was an object of importance. I loved, after dusk, to wander through the wretched lanes of my prison suburb, affecting to be buried in profound abstraction, but all the while in reality keenly on the alert to see and hear. As I proceeded doors would fly open, windows go up. Men, boys, and

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maids would stare out at me, as though I were something worthy of infinite attention. Often I overheard complimentary remarks passed on my appearance, the aristocratic pallor of my face, the whiteness of my unlarrikin-like hands, the cut of my clothes, the brilliance of my last oration. Sometimes I would be accosted, but always respectfully, as a superior being. I maintained always an attitude of proud reserve, and, jealous of my dignity, discountenanced anything verging on familiarity. I was, in truth, a hypocritical young snob, and deserved a good thrashing for my conceited airs and graces. The pity of it was that no one saw through me. My affectations were accepted as marks of genius, my arrogant manner as the proper demeanour of a “tin” god—their “tin” god. Meanwhile I despised everyone about me, even my uncle. I looked upon my brother Dogs as immeasurably beneath me. I placed myself on a private pedestal and worshipped myself with a whole-hearted admiration. I argued—I must be something grand, since I am universally so worshipfully regarded. There was a flaw, however, in my logic which I was resolutely blind to. Since I despised the people who adored me, what, then, was their worship worth? Were they wise to worship me? Did I deserve to be worshipped? But I was too vain to seriously consider these questions. I was too much of a coward to allow my contempt to be manifest. The Dogs believed that I loved them. I acted so that they should cherish the delusion. They were quite as vain as myself, and fancied themselves worthy objects of affection. So my task was not difficult, and we remained mutually self-satisfied.

My uncle's five councillors were the only persons with whom I ever unbent. In their case I had to, for they were my preceptors in push laws and habits, and as they had enlightened my ignorance in those concerns I could hardly treat them as absolute inferiors. Policy, too, urged me to make friends with them, since they possessed the confidence of the Push. This I did by devised degrees; but I permitted no familiarities, for I wished to preserve my position and their respect. I found the push laws at first bewildering, because of their many curious inconsistencies.

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The Dogs, for instance, were allowed to get drunk on holidays and at their social gatherings—in company; but if a Dog became a drunkard he was fined or socked into sobriety. If these methods failed of cure, he would be punished in some nameless fashion—I believe killed; but I am not sure, for there were no habitual drunkards among them. Again, a Dog could choose a mate among the girls of his acquaintance and live with her. He would thenceforth be obliged to remain absolutely faithful to her, and maintain her to the best of his ability. Yet he need not marry her. Women were not admitted into the pushes; they were regarded as inferior animals in the scale of creation altogether, but their importance as potential factors of evil was confessed in a law which enjoined death on any member who told a push secret to his wife or “donah.”

My uncle had power of life and death over the whole Push. I discovered that in the first instance he had been elected king, and that he must hold office for life or good conduct. He had already been their king for over twenty years. His lightest command was a Medean law. Disobedience was punishable by the sock, or, if he so decided, by death. His duties were manifold and onerous. He was treasurer of the Push, lawgiver, judge, and parent. He decided all disputes, adjusted all difficulties, arranged their meetings, amusements, and executions. He decreed vengeance on outsiders, and at his command men were occasionally condemned to death and actually murdered. He also conducted, assisted by his council, all political elections in his district, and I soon discovered that his power in this respect was enormous. It depended upon him whether any candidate for Parliamentary honours should be allowed a hearing; if he said no, the Push would attend all meetings in force and so behave themselves that the poor politician would be obliged to depart without having ever opened his lips. On the other hand, the meetings would be well attended and orderly, and the fortunate candidate's oration unstintedly applauded. No wonder my uncle had conceived a political ambition. His electioneering methods were simple but effectual. When

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polling day came round, every member of the Push who was entitled to a vote, registered his vote in favour of my uncle's protégé. But if, as occasionally happened, the king did not care to exercise a choice, the Dogs would take a ballot among themselves, and the expression of the majority so determined would then decide the votes of the entire Push. It is a fair thing to say that the candidate selected by the Dogs' Push was pretty sure of return for that district, no matter who was his opponent. There were, of course, living in the neighbourhood some thousand of more respectable electors, but they were terrorised by the Push, and when it is considered that most Sydney elections are narrowly contested, a solid caucus vote of 200 will be admitted to be a great factor in determining results without at all regarding the other methods of the Push. I refer to the system of persecuting their political opponents at public meetings with stones, stale eggs, and continuous uproar. I have seen Sir Henry Parkes, the most popular man who ever contested an election in Australia, glad to sneak away from such a meeting, and he was old then, deeply versed in every wile for cajoling a mob, wise in every art of stump speaking, and entirely unscrupulous in his methods of securing votes. He had probably offended my autocratic uncle.

But I go ahead too fast. I have yet to relate things which happened during my initial service as a Dog, and much of these concerned the girl Judith Kelly.

As soon as Judith knew that I had joined the Push (it was not long before she made the discovery), she paid me open court. When I reached home one evening I found my room bright with flowers. That was the first symptom. Next afternoon my table was decorated with two pretty rose vases, and the walls were hung with gaudy-coloured prints—battle pictures. I detested battle pictures, and promptly tore them down. At supper Judith favoured me with many furtive glances, but I coldly thanked her for her kindness and paid her no further attention. Mrs. Rowe afterwards suggested that I should take Judith for a walk. I agreed, and we made our way to an old and unfrequented wharf, which jutted out into the sea. We

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sat down at the extreme edge and dangled our feet over the water. I was shy, Judith quite confident. I nervously introduced a score of topics, which she calmly dismissed one after the other.

“Well,” she said at last, “have you done?”

“Done what?” I asked, innocently.

“Done with rot,” she replied, frowning; “you well know what I mean, Lucas. I've spoken to mother, she is willing.”

“What about?” I gasped.

“You—you want me, don't you?”

I considered the matter. I did not want Judith for a sweetheart; in fact, I secretly disliked her, hated her, indeed, for the tyranny of the past. I did not wish, however, to hurt her feelings, and was a little afraid of her.

“Of course,” I admitted, presently.

“Well, then!” she looked at me enquiringly.

I perceived that something was expected of me, but I hardly knew what. However, I had often seen larrikins kissing their donahs. I guessed it might be that. With great hesitation and extreme nervousness I slipped my arm round Judith's waist. She looked still far from satisfied. I glanced about, but no one was within sight; I kissed her. She kissed me, and smiled. I rather liked it, too; her lips were satin-soft and luscious; it was like rubbing a ripe plum across my mouth. I kissed her again.

“I guess,” said Judith, presently, “we'd better get spliced; it's more respectable than the other.”

Such rapidity of thought dazed me. “What other?” I asked, foolishly, to gain time.

“Just living,” said Judith. “Besides, I want to be a bride and have a wedding dress.”

“But,” I cried, “there's plenty of time for all that, Judy; we can't marry on fifteen shillings a week!”

“Oh, yes, we can,” said Judith, with a confident laugh.


“Well, what difference can it make? It only means putting a double bed in your room.”

“Judith,” I cried, in utter dismay, “don't talk such nonsense. I shall never marry you until I can afford to keep you in a home of our own. Why uncle——”

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“Uncle,” snapped my sweetheart, “is quite agreeable. I asked him this morning; he and mother have fixed up the whole thing. Mother sent me out with you to-night to talk it over. We'll be married at the registry, but I'm to be dressed as a bride. Father is going to give me five quid for the gown. It 'll be white muslin, and silk shoes and stockings, and a veil with orange blossoms. We'll have a dance after in the Singers' Hall, and father's promised to give me a wardrobe, with a real glass door, full length, for a wedding present, and mother's going to get in a girl to do the work, so I can act the lady.”

I listened in a sort of trance. Never did a prospective bridegroom consider with so little ardour the details of his happiness. The very future seemed cut away from my feet to the last inch. I thought Judith horribly unmaidenly, bold, and forward. I liked her less every second, and each moment grew more enraged. But I dared not exhibit my anger. I knew that if this was my uncle's plan he would expect me to unquestioningly embrace it, and I feared him desperately.

“When—is all this to be?” I queried, with dry lips, after a long silence.

“When you are confirmed,” said Judith.

“Confirmed! what can you mean?”

“It's to do with the Push,” she replied. “I don't know what it means, but you'll have to be confirmed—they all have to. But gammon you don't know.”

“I don't!” I protested. Mentally I prayed that the period of my confirmation might be indefinitely postponed.

Judith sniffed. “Oh, I know all about you Dogs; you never tell nothing to girls, I know. Never mind.”

“Really, I don't know, Judy.”

She turned to me. “Be confirmed quick, Lucas, won't you?” she muttered.

I saw something in her eyes that brought the colour to my cheeks, something that thrilled me through and through. I was a veritable innocent, and knew absolutely nothing of women; but for a moment I felt that if Judith were to always look at me like that I would not very much mind how soon I was confirmed.

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“Yes!” I whispered.

She swayed towards me and our lips met. She put my hand on her heart.

“Feel how it beats,” she said.

I was thrilled again. I caught her to me suddenly, as suddenly released her, for I almost swooned. Judith held me up and stroked my hair with her soft, fat fingers. “You are a pretty boy, Lucas,” she muttered, dreamily. “I wouldn't give you up for two of Jim McGrath.”

I moved away presently, quite recovered and a little curious.

“Why did you say Jim McGrath?” I demanded.

“He's after me.”

“Does he kiss you?” I asked, jealously.

“When I let him.”

“Do you often?”

“Sometimes, but he's rude.”

“How do you mean?”

She giggled. “He's just rude, that's all.”

“Well!” said I, “if you are going to be my girl you must never allow any other man to kiss you. I wouldn't stand that.”

Judith looked at me defiantly. “What would you do?”

“Throw you up,” I replied.

“Would you?” she muttered, half under her breath; “you wait, my boy. Soon you won't be able to. I'm just goin' to make you mad on me. I am.”

I smiled, for I did not think that possible.

“You think I can't!” she cried, frowning.

I got up. “You can try,” I replied. “I guess it's time to go in. I want to finish a book.”

She sprang to her feet furious with rage, and approached me, quivering all over, an excited little spit-fire. “You want to read, an' leave me for a dirty book?” she cried.

“It's quite clean,” I replied, calmly. “I bought it yesterday.”

She shook her fist in my face. “All right, Master Lucas, you wait. See if I don't pay you out for this. I'll go down to your shop an'—an'—I'll kiss Jim McGrath before your very eyes first blessed thing to-morrow.”

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I was thoroughly amused. “You are not game,” I said, tauntingly.

“Go to blazes!” said Judith Kelly. I went instead to my room, and presently, deep in the mysteries of Darwin's “Origin of Species,” utterly forgot my sweetheart and her threat.