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  ― 16 ―

III The Push

ONCE alone, the sensations which her amorous declaration had excited soon faded, but the memory of my uncle's strange promise, and the girl's suggestion, remained. He had promised to take me somewhere, to some mysterious unnamed place known only to himself and perhaps to Mrs. Rowe. Then Judith had spoken of my joining a “push.” Might not these matters be related? I wondered. It seemed improbable, for what connection could there be between my uncle and any push? He was a quiet living man; slow, self-absorbed, apparently a respectable citizen in his dealings with the world. I had never observed him mix with low company during all the years that I had been an inmate of his household. It was true that he was usually absent throughout the day, leaving his pawnbroking business entirely to his wife's management; true that he sometimes absented himself until late into the night, returning testy and ill-humoured to bed. At such times Mrs. Rowe treated him with the greatest deference, asked him no questions, granted all his whims, and yet he would often beat her cruelly without apparent reason. I was a light sleeper, and the noise of his return invariably aroused me. I used to wonder what was my uncle's secret calling, but I had never dared to question him. I intuitively realised that he meant to keep it secret, and that impertinent curiosity on my part would have been severely punished. Then again, the business of the shop was worth very little. Sometimes during a whole week no customer would cross the threshold of the street door. And yet we lived well. We had meat to eat three times a day, and puddings twice a week. Mrs. Rowe's hands were covered with flashing rings; she dressed execrably, but her dresses were made of costly materials, and Judith was always gowned in showy silks or satins. Whenever I wanted a new suit I received it for the asking. The money to purchase these comforts must have been derived from my uncle's private business, for


  ― 17 ―
truly the pawnbroking yielded little profit, if any. For the first time in my life I burned with ardent curiosity. I asked my fancy a hundred questions which it made pretence to answer. It seemed to me that an occupation which required so much mystery in its conduct could scarcely be an honest one. But then, if my uncle were dishonest, how had he been able during so many years to evade the law? The police of our district bore him no goodwill, I was well aware of that; surely they would long ago have convicted him, since their inclination and duty tended in the one direction. Thoroughly puzzled, I asked myself could he have anything to do with some push-organisation—perhaps be its king? The question appeared so extravagant that I laughed as I banished it. My uncle, so stolid and round-stomached, the king of a push! Ridiculous! Besides, he always deprecated the vicious habits and violent conduct of the younger larrikins of our district who were constantly in conflict with the police. At last I dismissed a subject which I found quite inexplicable, to revolve another matter. What could Judith have meant in saying she would be my “girl,” after I had joined the “push”—the push? She must then believe that I was predestined to join a push, and one particularised in her consideration. What did she know of pushes? My acquaintance with those peculiar organisations was extremely limited, in spite of the fact that for twelve years I had resided in the lowest part of Miller's Point, probably the most larrikin-infected portion of the city. But then I had always kept strictly to myself. My days had been fully occupied, and after nightfall I had never been allowed out of the house. I personally knew most of the larrikins who dwelt in our immediate neighbourhood, but not one of them was my friend. I had no friend, indeed, in the world except my uncle and Mr. Collins. I vaguely believed that pushes were gangs of vicious young men and boys, banded together in more or less organised societies under the government of “kings,” whose avowed objects were the seeking of amusement, the perpetration of paltry crimes, and the protecting themselves from the consequences thereof. I also knew that the more notorious pushes had occasionally committed murder in company, kicking their


  ― 18 ―
victims to death in an inexpressibly savage and cowardly fashion, always in odd nooks and lonely thoroughfares so as to avoid interruption. I did not experience the least desire to join any of these brutal orders, although such was the dearest ambition of all the boys with whom I was acquainted. I was of a strangely retiring and peaceful disposition. I abhorred violence of any description. A shrill voice grated on my nerves, an angry exclamation made me shrink and shiver. I think I should have been born a girl, and yet I could endure physical pain with the greatest fortitude, the severest thrashing without a murmur. I was a curious boy. My body was possessed by two totally divergent spirits. One of these was proud, bitter, and revengeful. It treasured up the memory of injuries and acts of injustice, it delighted in devising schemes of vengeance, in planning tortures, in contemplating the imagined miseries of its enemies. It knew how to hate, how to derive strength from suffering, how to conceal a black heart with a smiling visage. The other spirit was mollient, placid, studious, and kind. It knew how to disarm its stubborn and venomous fellow prisoner with a gentle “patience!” a philosophic “cui bono?” It melted at an unexpected smile, forgave all injuries for a word of unwonted softness; it shuddered at an oath, and trembled at a frown—it loved best to bury itself in the love of books, to wing its flight afar in rich romantic dreams, or live immersed in splendid visions of its own creation. Musing for hours in the gloom of that deserted room I learned to know myself better than I had ever done before. I recognised my powers, I realised my limitations. Mr. Collins, my kind teacher, whom I dearly loved, fondly believed that I was endowed with a mind of exceptional intelligence. He had once said to me, “Of all the boys who have been my pupils you are the brightest.” At another time—“Your quickness of apprehension resembles genius.” I had gladly accepted his valuation of my talents as the true one. Consideration informed me that he had overestimated my abilities. I had no special predilection—quickness of apprehension without doubt, also a love of study—but I lacked energy of application, lacked ambition, lacked a special province. All subjects of learning


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equally attracted me, but once I had mastered the rudiments they grew uninteresting. I believed genius to be a quality of persevering and deeply applied intelligence in one direction. I had a certain shallow aptitude for all. Yet I longed for genius, longed to possess profundity of knowledge. It was in sharp bitterness of spirit and in abased and humble mood that I confessed to myself my lacks, that I realised I should never acquire what I so ardently desired. A constitutional failing prevented me from carrying a study to its end. My mind was inquisitive rather than embracing; its curiosity was easily satisfied. The knowledge of these things came upon me with the anguish of a tragedy. I felt myself a miserable failure in spite of the medal I had won. A passage in a book on heredity which I had lately read buzzed in my head persistently like the refrain of a song: “Be sure that the progeny of ill-assorted parents will reflect as well as its father's strength, its mother's weakness; as well as its mother's strength its father's weakness. It cannot be too strongly urged or too frequently insisted on that since existing characters are the fruit of past virtues or excesses, they constitute also the condition of future generations.” The words overwhelmed me with a conviction of inexorable, unescapeable truth. “Ah!” I muttered, sadly, “I reflect my father's strength, for I am clever in a way, but how pallid is the reflection—he indeed was a genius! But I reflect also my mother's weakness. I shall never be anything but superficial, for I have no force of will! If only my mother had been another woman!”

My uncle's harsh voice broke in on my musings; he had noiselessly approached, and was standing in the open doorway: his squat, ugly figure limned against the dim light beyond.

“What's that you say of your mother, Lucas—you wish she'd been another woman?”

I had started back nervously; any unexpected sound always took away my breath, and sent a sharp pain to my heart. “Yes, uncle!” I gasped out presently.

He gave a grating laugh. “If she had been, I doubt if you'd ever been born, my lad. She was your mother whatever else, and my sister to boot, remember that, and strike


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me if she wasn't as good as your father any day—a damned music-playing snob!”

“She killed him—murdered him!” I muttered, angrily; any slighting mention of my father angered me—he was my fetish. It was my dearest pride to remember that he had been a gentleman.

“Served him right!” grated out my uncle; “he played up and wanted to desert her; he ought have knowed she wouldn't stand that.”

“She drank!” I cried, fiercely.

My uncle placed his stunted hand heavily on my shoulder. “See here, lad, it's a son's place to stick up for his mother, not run her down. You're not consistent, Lucas. A few hours back you stuck up for your aunt, and she deserved what I wanted to give her, but I let her be because you asked me. Your mother never did you no harm!”

“Uncle!” I cried.

“Well? What harm did she do you?”

“If it hadn't been for her who knows what my father might not have done for me—he loved me—had he lived—Oh!——” I suddenly cried out from sheer physical pain, for my uncle clutched my shoulder with a grip of iron.

“What!” he growled, “you're not contented—have I ever been unkind to you?”

“N-no.”

“Haven't I tried to make you happy?”

“Yes, uncle.”

“Have I tried to take ye from school or put you to a trade as I might have done years agone?”

“No.”

He shook me slowly back and forth, I felt his whole frame quivering with rage. “I've had offers for you—for the watchmaking, and for the foundry, where your white, thin fingers might have been of use. But no, because I saw you liked your schooling I let ye be. And this is what comes of it—ingratitude.”

Of a sudden I felt myself to be the most inhuman and thankless wretch alive. It was all true—my uncle had always treated me with kindness, he had hardly ever raised his hand to me; he had always taken an interest in my


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studies, and striven to encourage me. Tears rose in my eyes.

“Dear uncle,” I muttered, “indeed I am not ungrateful.”

“You'd like to leave me?” he growled.

His words gave me a curious thrill. I had never dreamed of leaving him; the very thought hurt; I realised then that I loved him, that without knowing it I had always loved him.

“I would not,” I replied, earnestly. “I hope I shall never leave you.”

My tones convinced him. He ceased shaking me, and his voice quivered a little as he said, almost in a whisper, “I'm glad to hear that, Lucas. I own up I set a lot of store by you—I have for years—I depend on ye to do me credit yet. Give me your hand, boy.”

I obeyed, and my fingers were caught in a grasp that crushed them almost to a pulp, but I did not wince.

“Promise me something, Lucas!” said my uncle.

“Yes—anything.”

“To-night,” he muttered impressively, “you'll start on a new life. I want you to promise me you'll not go back on it whatever comes, that you'll stick to it—for—(his voice quavered a little) for my sake, lad.”

I passed my word unhesitatingly. I would have given my uncle my life at that moment had he required it.

He immediately brightened up. “Come,” he said, “that's good—that's nicely done. I've great things set by for you, Lucas—a reg'lar career. You won't like it at first, for a bit perhaps, but you'll soon get over your squeamishness. And I'll help you all I can.”

“What is it, uncle?” I asked, my curiosity reviving.

“Never mind yet, I can't tell you yet.”

“But what do you want me to do to-night?”

“It's the start, boy; the thin edge of the wedge, you've got to crawl before you can walk, and walk before you can run; to-night you'll join the Push.”

“The Push!” I gasped.

“Yes, being as how you're my son—my adopted son—I got the novitiate service relaxed; you'll be elected to-night. I stand sponsor for you.”




  ― 22 ―

“But—but, uncle, do you belong to a push?”

“Yes, why?”

“You have always seemed so down on larrikins.”

He laughed contemptuously. “On larrikins, yes—blasted set of fools—but we've got past all that years ago. But it must be time for us to go. Where is your aunt?”

“Upstairs.”

“Come, then!” He led me to the forbidden chamber, and after shouting to his wife to mind the shop, opened the door, which he carefully locked after we had entered the room. By the light of a match I perceived that it was exactly as I had last seen it. The trapdoor still yawned wide. My uncle lit a candle and approached the trap. I observed the rungs of a ladder down which my uncle climbed, motioning me to follow. Presently we reached the floor of a deep cellar which was bricked on all sides but one. It was about fourteen feet square. He approached the wall which was not bricked, and on removing a large barrel, the only article which the cellar contained, I perceived the mouth of a small open, sloping tunnel about four feet high. This we entered, crouching low, and after a journey of some eighty yards emerged into a much larger passage, circular in shape, built of solid cement, and quite six feet in height. A stream of clear spring water flowed swiftly along the floor in one direction. “This,” said my uncle, pausing, “is the old pump stream which at one time supplied the convict settlement of Sydney Cove with water. It has been covered up and built over for close on sixty years.”

“The water is cold,” I commented, “is it fresh?”

“As paint, but don't drink it, lad—come on!”

We followed the course of the stream, wading through water just past our ankles, until I distinctly heard the swish of waves.

“Is that the sea?” I demanded.

My uncle nodded, and struck sharply to his left through the mouth of another passage I had not perceived. This was dry, and led us to a cellar exactly resembling the one under my uncle's house. We ascended a ladder, and rapped on a plank door, which was immediately raised. In another


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moment we stood upon the floor of a small room, roughly furnished as a business office. The wooden walls were thickly covered with files of account slips, bills, and other documents. A large old-fashioned deal desk occupied one portion of the apartment, and two small stand desks, littered with bill books and diaries, a letter press, and several chairs, completed the appointments. Five men who had been lounging about stood up to receive us. I knew them all slightly from having occasionally seen them in my uncle's company. They were respectable iron-workers, ranging in age from twenty to thirty.

“Good-day, sir!” said they all.

“Good-night, boys,” replied my uncle, genially. “I've brought my son along, as you see. Lucas, stand up here beside me, and I'll do the honours. This is Jack Robin, my first council—owner of this factory, and a man to tie to.”

We shook hands in silence. Robin was a tall and thin good-looking young man, with a pair of kindly eyes in his face.

“This is Jim McGrath, Jack's foreman and second council—a good sort.”

“Glad to know you,” said McGrath. The man was an undersized, black avized creature, with a huge hump on his back; his hands were hard as steel, as I found to my cost.

“This,” pursued my uncle, “is Dave Gardner, dock mechanic and third council—the man to make a fellow laugh.”

He looked it, his face was merry as a mask, and his eyes twinkled ceaselessly. “Welcome, brother Dog,” he cried, good-humouredly, “even though your tail is wet”—and he pointed to my sopping shoes.

“This is Pat Daly, piece-worker and designer, fourth council; Sour-leg is his nickname—don't cross him.”

“Ugh!” said Daly. “I don't deserve it, Lucas, my boy, as I'll prove to you one of these fine days. I'm the best tempered fellow living.”

The others roared with laughter; my uncle proceeded. “This, Lucas, last but not least in love, is Jerry Brown, the best locksmith and cracksman we have amongst us. We call him the priest because he's bald. Now, boys, that you're


  ― 24 ―
introduced, we'll go to the others and get to work. But before we clear out I want you to understand that I put it to you all to help my boy along, educate him—you'll not find him a fool. You, Jack Robin, in particular. Lucas, you'll start to-morrow working here to keep Jack's books; you'll be under his eyes, and must do your work like a man. I know you'll do that; and, Jack, I want you to look after him.” He paused.

“Yes, sir,” said Jack Robin.

“He knows nothing yet; he has a lot to learn, but he's my boy, and you'll find him grit through.”

“Knows nothing, sir?”

“Nothing,” replied my uncle, impressively glancing at the other.

“What about Tobin?”

“He'll join in that.”

“Good,” said Robin. “ 'Nuff said.”

“Quite,” said my uncle. “Open the door.”

“Uncle!” I cried, suddenly, “are you the king of this push?”

My uncle drew himself up with a gesture of great pride, his eyes flashed. “I am!” he said, pompously.

I was overwhelmed with surprise, and followed the king and his five councillors like one walking in a dream. We entered a large open structure, full seventy feet long, and twenty high. It opened at one end on the sea, at the other upon a street, and either door stood wide. I glanced about me half-dazed but curious. The building was filled with great iron cylinders, some finished, some in process of construction; it was only dimly illumined by a single gas-jet high above our heads; the whole place looked titanic and gloomy. It was a boiler foundry and workshop combined. As we entered some half-hundred young men emerged from the shadows of the boilers where they had been lurking, and others streamed in from the street and the floating jetty. My uncle made a sign, and the street doors were promptly closed; another, and half a dozen gas-jets sprang into sudden flame. He then seated himself upon a bench, directed me to stand beside him, and called out in a loud voice—“Pass.”




  ― 25 ―

Instantly the young men filed before him in perfect silence, like so many shadows, but he narrowly scrutinized them all. Apparently satisfied at last, he stood up and addressed them in the following quaint speech: “Brother Dogs—and subjects—we are met to-night in secret conclave for two objects: the first is to consider the candidature of a person desiring to join our order, by name Lucas Rowe. You all know him, for he is my son, and has been among you for many years, but when you come to elect or reject him, I want you to put his relationship to me from your minds, although I tell you plainly I'll be disappointed and hurt if you refuse him. The second object of our meeting here is to punish a fool. Any man who goes agin our rules is a fool, because he ought to know he'll get his divvy soon or late. That is why I call Sam Rogers a fool. I've sat on his case, and after due deliberation, reckoned that he needs a new pair of socks—so sock it is, Dogs!”

Here a low, deep murmur of approval burst from the ranks. My uncle raised his hand for silence, a soft rap had sounded on the street door—“Douse the glim!” he commanded; “you, Jack, go and see.”

In a second all the lights, save one, had disappeared. Cautious footsteps passed me, but I could see nothing in the sudden gloom. I heard some whispered converse in the distance, then the footsteps returned—“What is it?” asked my uncle's voice.

I dimly made out Robin's face. “No alarm, sir, but Tobin's just gone up Wylie Street.”

“Alone?” demanded my uncle, sharply.

“No, sir, with another cop and pistols drawn.”

“Bah!” said my uncle, “up with the rag, the sentinel's an idiot; who was it?”

“Joe Riley, sir.”

“He ought to be smacked. Well, Dogs, to business, and the first item on the programme first, that's business. Would you like to hear my boy speak before we go to count?”

The Push roared out their approbation of this suggestion.

My uncle bent to whisper in my ear. “Now, Lucas, boy,


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you'll have to make a speech. Here's a chance to show your book learning; do me credit!”

“But what shall I say?” I muttered, all a-tremble, “I've never made a speech in my life, uncle.”

“What you like; spout to 'em in Latin if you feel like it, but speak you must, and don't you disgrace me.”

Pale as a ghost, and shaking in every limb, I moved a few steps forward, opened my mouth, and gasped. I could scarcely breathe, my legs tottered to support me. My heart swelled and threatened to burst my ribs asunder. I felt like death.

“Go on, boy!” growled my uncle.

“G-g-entlemen,” I stammered.

The word evoked a faint laugh. “We're not gentlemen,” muttered someone, in a voice harsh with scorn.

“Speak for yourself,” cried another; “I'm a b—— toff, I am.”

“Blow me, the gal's shakin', she's like to faint—water, Bill!” cried a third.

There followed a low growl of laughter.

“Curse you!” whispered my uncle, his heavy hand pinching my arm; “if you make a fool of me, I'll break every bone in your body!”

“Scuse me,” rasped a thin voice from the outskirts of the crowd, “he's a scollard, he's may be composin' a rhyme to give us.”

“Give the boy a show!” cried a rich throaty voice from just behind me. “Buck up, lad, get it off your chest,” and my trembling hand was gripped hard. It was Jim McGrath, my uncle's second councillor, who had spoken; he gave me just the support I needed. My horrible nervousness departed as though it had not been in a great surging wave of gratitude to Jim McGrath; the hideous weight which had oppressed me lifted suddenly, I felt light as air, and was filled with a reaction of vivacity.

“Dogs,” I cried, boldly, “will you listen to me?” The sound of my voice gave me increased courage and confidence.

“Anythin', 'cept wait for ye,” returned someone, and all laughed.

Well, then,” said I, “Dogs, gentlemen, —— toffs, in


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fact, whatever and whoever you are, you see before you a lad who wants to join your ranks; a lad who knows very little of you, but who is quite willing to take you on trust, because he is thoroughly convinced that the men whom Dan Rowe owns as mates, comrades, and subjects, must be rattling good fellows. You know very little of me, but you are aware of my relationship to your king, and you ought to be sure that the lad whom Dan Rowe is willing to stand sponsor for must be a good sort, too. There are two sides to every bargain, but if I am willing to take you on trust, you ought to return the compliment. That's all I have to say; accept me if you want me, if you do you won't regret it. If you don't want me, say so, and be damned to you!”

I fell back amid a perfect storm of applause. I glanced at my uncle, his face was positively beaming.

“Good lad,” he muttered, then raised his arm. “Dogs, the question is before the meeting; those who accept the candidate say ay, and raise their arms.”

“Ay! ay! ay!” came in a hum, and every arm was uplifted.

“Those who object to the candidate, say no.”

There was a dead silence.

“Dogs,” said my uncle, solemnly, “you have a new brother, his name is Lucas Rowe!”

“The book, the book!” muttered all.

My uncle nodded, and, unbuttoning his coat, abstracted from beneath his vest a long, thin, leather-bound portfolio tied with strings of black silk. Two councillors brought forward a small table furnished with ink, pens, and blotting-paper. Upon this table the king placed the portfolio, and kneeling on the dust of the floor unfastened the strings. He opened the book at a particular marked page, then turned to me. “You must sign your name here, Lucas.”

“Yes, uncle!”

“Yes, sir,” corrected my uncle, his voice stern and full of dignity.

“Yes, sir.”

He handed me a pen. I stooped, signed my name on a blank space indicated by my uncle's clubbed thumb, then stood erect. I was greeted with a long, deep sigh, as of


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pent-up excitement suddenly released. The eyes of all the Dogs that I could see were strangely glittering. They seemed to hail me as a victim rather than a companion. I did not know what I had done, but I experienced a sudden heart chill, a thrill of something like panic-fear. What was the mystery of the Book? I glanced at it. My uncle was carefully turning over the loose sheets that it contained.

“Do you wish to see, or shall I read the last?” he asked, addressing the Push, without, however, looking up.

“Read!” they cried.

“Attend then!” he answered, and commenced in a low, muttering voice. “I, James Rayne, for nine years a member of the Dogs' Push, being about to set forth for America on private business, before severing my connection with the Push, am desirous of transacting an act of justice, and exonerating my brother members from all suspicion of having participated in a deed which I alone committed. I, therefore, voluntarily hereby confess, declare, and assert that on the night of the —— day of ——, I, single-handed, and unaccompanied by living creature, killed Robert Pye, the night-watchman of Willis and Co.'s stores, in revenge for injuries sustained by me at his hands. I do not regret having killed him; the man was a perjured wretch, and well deserved his fate. Signed on this —— day of ——, 18—, James Rayne. Witnesses, signed, James McGrath, John Robin, David Gardner.”

A second deep sigh testified the satisfaction of the Dogs as this terrible memorial was recited to them. I retreated into the friendly shadow of a big boiler, for I was assailed with a sort of blind, unreasoning terror. I felt that I was sharing in some dark and inexplicable species of villainy, and fell to shivering. Naturally I did not want my emotion to be observed by any of the Dogs.

My uncle got slowly to his feet. “The prisoner!” he said, commandingly.

The ranks of the Dogs opened, and a thin, weedy-looking youth stepped forward. His face was ghastly pale, his hands were tightly clenched.

“Forgive me, governor,” he pleaded, falling on his knees. “I swear to God I'll never do it again.”




  ― 29 ―

“Sam Rogers,” said my uncle, sternly, “if I were to remit your punishment it would be an example for other offenders. Others would do the same thing as you, and expect to be forgiven too. Personally I'm sorry for you, but you've got to be socked.”

“For God's sake!” cried the wretched man. “I'm willin' to marry the girl.”

“Whether you marry her or not, Sam Rogers, you'll have to stick to her, my boy; for she's your girl taken solemnly. You've been unfaithful to her, and will have to take the consequence. It's the rule of the Push—now silence! Councils three and five—the bench!”

Dave Gardner and Jerry Brown immediately stepped from my uncle's side, and from the rear of the building noiselessly brought forward a plain deal sitting bench, which they deposited upon the centre of the floor, the Push parting to make room for it.

“Councils one, two, and four, do your duty!” said my uncle.

Sam Rogers suddenly gave a scream, and springing to his feet made a rush for the sea. In a second, however, he was caught and overthrown. His yells were quickly stifled, and in less time than it takes to record it, the three councillors had stripped him naked. He was then roughly lifted from the floor and bound with straps face downwards along the wooden bench. I watched the proceedings dazed and feverishly wondering what was to come.

My uncle took a sheet of paper from his pocket and commenced to read therefrom a list of names. As each was called, a man would step from the crowd and take his stand beside the bench. At length nineteen men stood around the victim, who was thus hidden from my sight. My uncle paused after calling the nineteenth name, then turning round deliberately looked me in the face. “Lucas Rowe,” he said.

“Sir!” I gasped.

He pointed slowly to the nineteen. “Take your place!” he said, sternly.

In obedience to his command I moved forward. The whole business seemed wildly fantastical and unreal I


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feverishly assured myself that I was experiencing some horrid dream, that it was not I but another who was under-going this ordeal. The hallucination comforted my mind a little. I took my place like a sleep-walker, without being conscious of the least sense of effort.

“Council one, the sock!” said my uncle.

Jack Robin disappeared into his office, and presently returned, carrying a curious-shaped bag. It looked like a woman's stockinged leg, amputated at the knee; some fluid dripped from it—I thought it must be blood, and almost fainted at the thought. This he placed in the hands of the man who stood opposite, and separated from me by the victim. This man glanced enquiringly at my uncle, who nodded as if in answer. The man then raised the dripping leg on high, and brought it down with a peculiar sweeping stroke on the back of Sam Rogers. A dull thud echoed through the deathly silence of the building. When the “sock” was raised I perceived a mark of flame scored across the shoulders of the wretched victim; he was shuddering violently, but not more than I. The man who had struck the blow looked me full in the face, and offered me the sock: his eyes were strangely menacing. I guessed what was expected of me, and accepted his offering. I found that the sock was very heavy, it was filled with wet sand. Still animated with the idea that I must be dreaming, but too terrified to entertain a thought of disobedience, I raised the sock aloft, and brought it down gently as I could upon the body of Sam Rogers. He flattened under the blow, and in spite of his gag, uttered a hollow groan. I realised what I had done. The agony of that moment tortures me yet, and will haunt me to the last hour of my life. I believe that Sam Rogers did not endure a tithe of the pain I suffered when the sock was lifted and I saw his brown skin streaked with little lines of oozing blood. I threw rather than passed the ghastly weapon to the man nearest me, tottered a moment, clutching wildly at the air, then sank in a nerveless heap to the ground. When I recovered consciousness I found myself propped against a sort of daïs; my face and clothes streamed with sea-water. The execution was over, but dead silence still reigned. A glance showed me Sam


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Rogers, standing securely grasped by three or four men, a few yards off. From shoulder to thighs his back was one mass of raw flesh, which looked like butcher's meat. Jack Robin was sponging him down with water from a bucket. I could not remove my eyes from the horrid spectacle, much as I wished. The poor wretch was quavering and shrinking under each application of the sponge. “More salt,” said Robin, suddenly. A man emptied a packet of salt into the bucket, and stirred the mixture with a stick. Robin then continued his treatment of the prisoner, and from the increased twitchings of the wretch's body, I understood how much the salt stung his wounds. When all was over a large sheet of greased paper was bandaged around his back, his clothes were put on him, and as soon as he was completely dressed, three men led him between them to the floating jetty. I noticed that he was still gagged, and had to be supported, so feeble was his gait. He was lifted into a boat, his three guardians followed, and presently, in profound silence, the boat put off from the jetty, and was rowed away in the direction of the outer harbour.

I felt a hand upon my shoulder, and looking up, saw my uncle. His coat was tightly buttoned, his face was hard and set.

“I couldn't help fainting, uncle, really I could not,” I protested, miserably.

He smiled. “You'll do, my boy, you'll do,” he said, not unkindly; “lots faint at first.”

“Where are they taking him?” I muttered. “They are not going to kill him, are they?”

He shook his head. “No, boy, they will take him to a hulk of ours in Kerosene Bay, and keep him there till he is better.”

“They won't hurt him any more?” I pleaded.

My uncle laughed. “No, his punishment is over, he'll be fed on the fat of the land now, and receive two quid when he is discharged. We don't bear malice in our Push, lad. But come, it's time to go home.”

He helped me to my feet, and glancing round I perceived that we were quite alone; the Push, even the councillors, had melted into air like so many phantoms. I rubbed my eyes


  ― 32 ―
to make sure that I was awake and had not dreamed everything, but even as I looked the gas lights were turned off, and we stood in thick gloom. My uncle struck a match and led me to Jack Robin's office. The first councillor was standing by the open trapdoor.

“Good-night, sir,” he said, respectfully to my uncle, and to me, “Good-night, Lucas, I shall expect you here at eight to-morrow morning. Your hours will be from eight to twelve—from one to four; you can go home for lunch.”

“Thank you!” I muttered. Next moment we were in the subterranean passage. I said to my uncle presently, “Uncle, why do you use this passage; what is the good of it?”

I heard his grim laugh. “My boy!” he returned, “we have already found it very useful, though I don't use it often now, only for secret meetings, when I have to show the Push Book, like that of to-night, so as to hoodwink the police.”

“But,” I objected, “if the police were to search your house they would easily discover it.”

He laughed again. “They would dearly like to have the chance, my boy, but we give them no opportunity; we do all our business abroad.”

“But they might.”

“And if they did,” he replied, impatiently, “what could they make of it? A tunnel, that is all; it's not unlawful to have an underground passage between the houses of friends.”

“Do the police know that you are king of the Dog's Push?”

“They believe it, but they are not sure.”

We had reached the pump stream by this, and here my uncle paused.

“Why are the police so down on you, uncle?” I asked.

“Because of the Push.”

“But why?”

“Oh, they always hate what they can't get to the bottom of. They suspect us of all sorts of things, but luckily they can't hang men on suspicion.”

“Uncle, what is your real business?” I muttered, half fearful of my impertinence.




  ― 33 ―

He glanced at me over the candle, a queer look in his eyes.

“I am a pawnbroker.”

“But you make very little out of that,” I whispered.

He laughed grimly. “No, boy, you are right, and since you are one of us now you have a right to know; I am a fence.”

“A fence? What is that?”

“I buy things which people can't sell elsewhere—tickers, chains, and things.”

“Stolen things!” I cried, in horror.

“Yes. Robin melts them down for me in his furnace at Balmain, that's why I'm often away at night.”

“What do you do with them?”

“Stones I send to Holland—to Amsterdam; I have a pal in business there; gold and silver I sell in bars to the Chinamen.” He had been watching me very narrowly. Of a sudden he cried, “You're disgusted; say so if you are, out with it!”

I felt my cheeks burn, and involuntarily I shrank from him. “I have no right to be,” I muttered.

“It's fed and clothed you these twelve years past, anyway!” he cried, angrily.

“But I didn't know.”

“You know now. What are you going to do?”

I stood looking at him, miserable and utterly forlorn. “What can I do?” I groaned. I felt inclined to weep.

“You can leave me if you want to,” he suggested, speaking very slowly. “You can put me away to the police!”

“Uncle!” I exclaimed, in weary indignation; “you don't believe that.”

“There's another thing you can do,” he went on, unmoved; “you can keep the promise you made to-night.”

“Ah!” I muttered, “I did not know what I was doing.”

He frowned, and I saw the blood mount into his forehead and cheeks, and suffuse his very eyes. It is a terrible thing to be a coward. So horribly did I fear my uncle's rising rage that nothing in the world seemed so important at that


  ― 34 ―
moment as that I must escape his wrath. I knew him capable of anything when aroused as he was then. Pride, honour, honesty, duty, shame, every virtue I admired or had ever hoped to possess, fled on the whirling wings of panic.

“Uncle,” I gasped, despairingly, wildly, “don't be angry with me. I shall keep my promise, you know I shall.”

His brow cleared like magic, he smiled, and his eyes grew mild and kind. I was wretch enough to feel criminally grateful for the change; I had expected to be dashed, bruised and mangled, to the streaming floor of the tunnel.

“I knew you would, dear boy,” said my uncle, affectionately; “I only tried you; but let me tell you this, Lucas, you have in future only one thing to do, and that is obey. You belong to an order now where disobedience is punished as you saw to-night; think of it, Lucas; as for treachery”—he paused, impressively.

“What?” I muttered, timidly.

“Traitors are kicked to death, lad; but come, you'll catch your death of cold standing in this water!”

I could hear my heart beating as we pushed on our way. Any nascent idea of rebellion which had been in my mind was crushed and dead. My teeth chattered with craven fear, but I was commencing to burn with curiosity, and curiosity soon overcame my cowardice.

“Uncle,” I said, when we reached the angle of the tunnel and turned to enter the passage leading from the pump stream, “are all pushes like yours?”

He shook his head. “We are the most advanced, but the others are copying us fast.”

“But what do you do; what are pushes for?”

He looked puzzled, and shifted his candle from hand to hand. “Oh, I dun'no; if a member gets copped we pay for his defence, keep his missus and kids, too, if he's lagged for more than a week.”

“Then it's a society for committing crime!”

“Boy, you're wrong; it was once, years agone, they all was, but now that's only incidental; my Push don't commit crimes—members might, and do now and then, but that


  ― 35 ―
don't affect the Push, except that we help them still. No, Lucas, what we want is to be let alone, left to amuse ourselves, and do what we like in our own fashion. We want nothing to do with outsiders, we'd be peaceable enough if we wasn't molested; a pity the cops won't understand that.”

Somehow I did not quite credit what my uncle was saying, his eyes held a shifty look, and would not meet mine. I guessed he was trying to deceive me.

“But surely you must have some definite object in view, you don't go to so much trouble for nothing!” I protested.

“Hum,” he replied. “Some. I guess the Dogs take an interest in politics; we held among us two hundred votes last election.”

“But,” I cried, “there were not more than sixty at the foundry to-night.”

“The full number for a secret meeting,” said my uncle. “Every district sends its representatives; we're more than four hundred all told.”

I was silent for a moment in sheer amaze. “You are king of them all?” I asked at last.

“Ay,” he muttered, with a look of pride, “and my word's life or death to every man jack of them. See here, Lucas” (he came quite close to me, and whispered as low as if he feared eavesdroppers in that deserted place), “you have a big future before you if you stick to me, lad. I'm no blasted dull fool as some folks think me (he tapped his forehead). In here I have big ideas, a big ambition. It's all for you. Wait a few years, go on right, and do your duties properly, and—and—(his voice sank so low that I could barely catch his words), I'll send you to Parliament. Think of it, Lucas—to Parliament.”

My uncle's dream did not move me at all. I knew nothing about politics, and had no ambition to do anything but study. But his enthusiasm was so marked, his manner so impressive, and his anxiety that I should appear delighted so painfully transparent, that I felt constrained to play the hypocrite. I pretended to be overwhelmed with my prospective good fortune, but all the while a quaint little music-hall rhyme was ringing in my ears:




  ― 36 ―
Oh, Mr. Jones, of Lismore town,
Was full of aches and pains;
He fell off Locket's balcony,
And dashed out all his brains.

In the dark and dreary sky
A silver lining you'll descry,
If you wait till the clouds roll by.

Now when they found his brains all gone
They wisely agreed
To make him member of Parliament,
Where brains they do not need.

In the dark and dreary sky, etcetera.

I could hardly refrain from smiling, but fear is a most capable face-iron. During that evening I had grown to fear my uncle like the devil, and mentally resolved never to cross him in the least if I could help it. He detained me in the gloomy tunnel for a full half-hour recounting to me all the advantages which must accrue to the Push from having a private pocket member, as it were, and the glories which I should achieve as the Dogs' political representative. He confessed to me that this had for many years been his pet ambition, and admitted that for that reason only had he allowed me to stay so long at school. He wished me to obtain as good an education as possible, so that when the time came I should be able to reflect credit on the Dogs. I think my uncle was unwise to have been so frankly communicative. I no longer felt grateful for his past kindness, which I now believed had been dictated by a deep-seated policy rather than affection. He helped me upstairs to my tiny room with the tenderness of a woman. It was the first time that he had entered the place for many years. He glanced about him, sniffing disgustedly. “It's too small,” he commented at last. “To-morrow I'll furnish the big room for you; we can put a mat over the trapdoor. It'll do really better as a bedroom so long as you're careful to keep the door locked.”

“Trust me for that!” I cried, delighted to escape from the loft at any cost. My uncle put his arm round my neck and kissed me on the forehead. He had never done so before. I felt embarrassed and silly, and blushed like a


  ― 37 ―
girl. “Good-night, boy,” he said, affectionately. He could scarcely tear himself away, so much had I advanced in his regard because of my weak compliance with his strange designs. He saw in me an instrument which could be made to fulfil his dreams, and minister to his own glory. I dimly knew my uncle for what he actually was, that night: a man of extraordinary force of will and tenacity of purpose; of deep pride, yet of little vanity; of marvellous cunning, courage, ambition, and hypocrisy. I shuddered to consider the strength of character which had tricked me and many others for so many years into believing him a half-brutal, gross-witted, good-natured creature, incapable alike of imagination or invention. I considered him in his new and more truthful aspect for hours before I slept, and at last vaguely wondered how many crimes might rest at his door, how much blood might not have stained his hands. I did not attempt to deceive myself. I knew as well as if God had told me, that my uncle was not a man to spare for pity, or shrink from the sight of human blood. I felt that he was a murderer, I felt it in my bones. I cannot express the horrible sensation I experienced more clearly than by those words. It was a conviction of inexpressible sincerity, of unfathomable depth, I felt it tingle through every nerve and vein of my body; yes, I felt it in my bones.

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