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XXI Explanations

THE inquest held by the city coroner on the body of the unfortunate Alphonso Daly brought to the light of public criticism very little that had not been already published. I watched the reported proceedings with the most painful interest; but as adjournment succeeded adjournment, and the police, in the spite of all their efforts, could discover no clue to go upon, I gradually grew pacified. The Push had arranged matters with such consummate skill, that no vestige of suspicion came to rest on any member of the gang; I believe that they attended the funeral in force, and conducted themselves with such propriety that the police finally conceived the idea that some rival push, who entertained a grudge against the deceased, must have visited the district, under cover of the dark, committed the murder, and escaped without a remark. The jury brought in a verdict of wilful murder against some person or persons unknown, and the whole affair was presently from being a nine days' matter of wonder and horror, consigned to oblivion. It is strange how short and unstable the public memory usually is. Even the journals which had been most vehement in their pronouncements (and some of them had threatened never to let the matter drop until the murderers were discovered and brought to justice), soon quietly ceased to refer to the crime, and filled their columns instead with details of football matches and Parliamentary humours.

For a period after Miss Denton's departure from Sydney, I was, I think, almost heart-broken; so much so, indeed, that I welcomed the excitement of the inquest, and the


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consequent danger in which I stood, as something of a relief from the torment of hopeless longing. There came to me one day, however, a little registered package, postmarked Albany, which contained a gold ring, inscribed with the word “Mizpah!” Only May Denton could have sent it. The comfort and hope this token gave me was greater than can be described. It made me content to wait for her return; it inspired me with belated faith in her affection, and I construed the meaning of the word literally as a message sent direct from her heart to mine. How many thousand times I have kissed that ring, I cannot even guess! I wore it on a ribband next my heart. I worshipped it as a talisman of happiness; even now it is one of my dearest treasures. I was a very romantic person then; I think, perhaps, I am so still. But it is scarcely strange I set such value on the token. It was the only communication I received from the woman I loved for two long years, and my mind constantly dwelt upon it, so that I came to attach to it before the end an incalculable importance, and to regard it with a species of superstitious adoration, as an emblem of my hopes and dreams, and a promise of their ultimate fruition. I was never a philosopher. I have always been constrained to live either in despair or hope. The ring was a little thing, but it brought me the gift of hope, and for the rest I cultivated patience as best I could. My success was poor, perhaps, but then I was very much in love.

Time glided by for the most part peacefully. I leased a little cottage in Derwent Street—Forest Lodge—which, thanks to my uncle's money and Edward Shaw's taste, was transformed into a little bower of elegance and comfort. It contained only five rooms and a kitchen. Two of these I fitted up as bedrooms, one as a library, one as a reception, and the last as an eating room. I hired a woman to look after the place and cook my meals; she arrived at eight o'clock each morning, and left at nine in the evening; I paid her £1 a week for her services. The rent of the cottage came to another pound; but my uncle supplemented my salary, and allowed me a sufficient sum to live in comparative affluence. I am bound to confess that as far as money was concerned he invariably treated me with the


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utmost generosity. I had only to ask in order to receive. My cottage possessed a small garden-plot in front, and quite a beautiful fernery at the rear. I grew to love it very soon, and before long it became a rendezvous for my friends and even my acquaintances. I sedulously set myself to the task of making friends. It was quite an easy thing to do, situated as I was. I discovered that men are not excessively exacting; a number of those I met casually sought me out of themselves, and when they knew that they could always depend upon finding at my place a good glass of wine or whiskey, and excellent cigars and cigarettes gratis, their visits were repeated. Even those whom I chose myself for cultivation were not hard to win round; men of position I refer to. When they perceived that I had apparently no ulterior motive in seeking their friendship, they accorded it to me quite cheerfully, and many responded by receiving me into their circle of home intimates. In this manner I gradually acquired an assured status in Sydney society. I attended all the Government House functions—balls, fêtes, and garden-parties, and, having struck up an acquaintance with the Governor's son and the aides-de-camp, I was occasionally invited to dine at Government House. I visited at the houses of most of the society matrons, received cards to all their “at homes,” dances, etc., and before the first year was out, had I chosen, could have dined at a different place each night in the week. Mrs. Clare was especially kind to me personally, but she afforded no help to my advancement. I could not go to her house often enough to please her; I frequently escorted her to the races, out driving, to receptions, and “at homes,” but I soon perceived that she wished to keep me to herself, and would have liked to have had me always dangling in her train, a cavalier servente. Not that she was in love with me, or even cared for me particularly as a friend, but the fact is, Sydney society is split up into a hundred different little cliques, and the leader of each clique simply exists for the purpose of outshining her rivals. The cliques call themselves “sets,” and they are distinguished by the names of their various leaders; thus there is the “Clare” set, the “Smith” set, the “Carr” set, the “Cholmondeley” set, and scores of others. Men are in


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great demand amongst these sets; that is, unmarried men; and it is the fixed ambition of every woman belonging to the separate coteries to attach to her brigade, by unbreakable chains, every bachelor of her acquaintance. For this purpose the women go to any lengths, and will unhesitatingly embroil their male friends with the opposing factions if they can accomplish it; should fair means fail, there is always scandal to fall back upon. I narrowly escaped several little traps, laid cunningly for my unwary feet, by Mrs. Clare and others, through the good offices of Edward Shaw. He was at first very jealous of my social aims, but when I explained how necessary it was for the accomplishment of my political ambitions to secure as many friends as possible, and, moreover, when he perceived that I honestly regarded him with unaltered affection in spite of my little successes, he put aside his jealousy, and often consented to accompany me where I went in the capacity of mentor and sarcastic commentator on my progress. Some of the social methods of the dames in securing unrivalled dominion over a male satellite are contemptible in the extreme. Should a man appear to waver in his allegiance between the claims of adverse sets, a favourite plan is as follows:—but no, everything considered, I shall give the facts of one instance exactly as they occurred. Mrs. Clare's most dangerous rival for supremacy amongst all the subsidiary sets was a lady named Mrs. Palmer-Glynne. Mrs. Palmer-Glynne had several times entertained me at her house, and one evening while there Mrs. Clare came into the room, and gave me an unfriendly glance. Edward Shaw caught this, and subsequently warned me that Mrs. Clare would probably endeavour to induce me to slander Mrs. Palmer-Glynne. What he had prophesied came to pass. While dining with Mrs. Clare about a week later, the whole table, as though on a preconcerted signal, commenced to discuss Mrs. Palmer-Glynne, and in a somewhat sneering fashion. Had I not been forewarned, I must have fallen a victim to the snare, for I was constantly appealed to, and there is nothing so easy in the world as to play the game of follow-my-leader in a frankly slanderous conversation, when such is conducted, as this was, under the cloak of a good-humoured sort of compassion


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for the person spoken of. Had I made a single remark derogatory to Mrs. Palmer-Glynne, Mrs. Clare would have had news of it quietly conveyed to her rival, with the names of witnesses, and I should have been thenceforth tabooed by the lady in question. After this experience I watched myself most carefully, and such was my success that I managed to keep in touch with quite a score of separate “sets,” and to render myself equally desirable to them all. I was never a great favourite, however, although a welcome guest and visitor. The most popular men in society were the gossips and scandal-mongers. Of course, they were disliked by the sets they scandalled, but, being persons of position, were, in spite of that, universally received, and in some sets positively adored. Shaw and I detested those fellows; they were greater liars than any of the women, and perfectly unprincipled. They numbered about twenty, and all appeared to be inveterate bachelors; about half were in the civil service, and the remainder either solicitors, doctors, or clergymen. I avoided them like the plague, but took extreme care not to offend their susceptibilities. The advantage which a male possesses over a female gossip is incalculable. A woman is expected to be a gossip, and her assurances are discounted by sensible folk, especially men, for that very reason. It is supposed, however, to be impossible for a man to be a scandal-monger. On that account his tales are accepted as gospel by ladies; and his fellow-men, reluctant to class him as an old woman, credit him very often, in spite of their private inclinations. I have observed many a lady's reputation quietly fractured in the smoking-room, after dinner, in many a splendid Sydney mansion, to the accompaniment of cigar smoke, jingling glasses, and vaguely credulous brow lifts and shoulder shrugs. Probably in nine out of ten such cases the maid or matron slandered was, in reality, as pure as snow. The motive actuating these dangerous brutes was in each case vanity; they were extremely jealous to shine as centres of attention, and like certain old-fashioned actors, wished to permanently occupy the centre of the stage. With the same object in view, each had possessed himself of an apparently unlimited repertoire of realistic stories and unrepeatable


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anecdotes, any of which might have brought a blush of shame to the cheek of the creator of Pantagruel. I loathed them, but I listened to them, and applauded them, because the other men did so, and it was not in my book to quarrel with anyone, or excite undue remark. It is charitable and I believe proper to conclude that a great number of other men did as I did for similar prudential reasons. But enough of Sydney society; it is a subject which saddens me every time I think of it, for I am then inevitably compelled to reflect what a cruel thing it is that one of the most beautiful and otherwise perfect cities in the world is rendered a social Bedlam by a score or two of unscrupulous persons, men and women, utterly unworthy of the name, who contrive (for no other purpose than the gratification of their vainglory and petty spite) to disturb and distract the lives of hundreds of vastly more worthy people, and cast discredit upon a community which it should be their dearest ambition to maintain in harmony, and make an example for the honour and imitation of the country's lesser capitals.

Throughout all my social engagements I did not neglect my studies, and I also took care that Edward Shaw should do likewise. We set apart certain days out of each week to the subduing of our authors, and it is a pleasure to me to reflect that my friend owed his success at the yearly examinations to the unremitting care with which I watched and combated his native indolence. In this matter he rendered me full justice in his father's consideration, and when we together passed our second year, Mr. Shaw made me a present of a handsome grand piano. He was a very sweet old gentleman, and one of the most grateful creatures I have ever met.

Once a week, usually on Thursday evenings, between ten o'clock and midnight, my uncle visited me, sometimes accompanied by members of his council, and not infrequently by Judith Kelly. Five times during those two years I attended secret meetings of the Push, which were held in my honour, in John Robin's workshop, at dead of night. On those occasions I addressed to the assembled larrikins an account of my progress at the University, and my social successes, and wound up with a short political lecture,


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devised for the purpose of keeping before their minds a definite political ambition. They regarded me as a sort of demi-god, but one essentially their own property. I was a toy for them, a subject of constant wonder, question, and excited speculation. I was, in fact, their experiment, the most important experiment they had ever undertaken. They listened to my words with silent reverence, accepted my dicta on all subjects as oracles, and whenever my addresses were concluded they gathered round to shake my hands, examine my clothes, or furtively touch me somewhere with their finger tips. They were so proud of me, and so jealous of the distinction which they believed I was subsequently destined to give them over all other Australian pushes, that they passed a law inflicting the punishment of the “sock” upon any member who might be led to boast of my connection with them to a member of another push. It was their fear that their example might be imitated. I always proceeded to these meetings, rowed in a boat, from Balmain by one of the councillors, and there was generally a quarrel among the rest for the honourable privilege of rowing me back to my starting point. All these precautions were taken so that not a whisper might reach the ears of the police that Lucas Rowe, the University undergraduate, continued to take the slightest interest in the fortunes of his old associates at Miller's Point. I think they troubled themselves needlessly, because the police could have had no motive in suspecting or interfering with me, and I very much doubt if they had not long ago forgotten my existence, if even they had ever been more than vaguely aware of it, for my life in the district had always been extremely unobtrusive. But the air of mystery thus cast over the proceedings charmed the larrikins, and endowed me with a sense of enhanced importance in their eyes. They felt that they were pioneers, exploring seas of interest and excitement, whose existence was undreamed of by their rivals. They regarded me as the central figure of a great conspiracy. How childish they were, how insensate and profoundly ignorant, may be gathered from the fact that one and all professed to believe that a sort of political millennium must come to pass very soon after I became a


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member of Parliament—their member! Their faith sometimes frightened me; it seemed so deep and perfect. The first measure of reform I was expected to accomplish was the abolition of capital punishment! Next I was to procure the Government to resume all alienated lands, so that every foot of real estate within the colony should be the property of the community. What they expected to effect by this drastic measure was a redistribution of riches, in which they should personally benefit, for their policy extended to the idea that landholders should thenceforth become tenants of the people at reasonable rents, and that all native born colonials should be equally eligible as tenants, and the claims of rival tenders to lease the same property should be decided in every case by ballot!

I must confess that my own enthusiastic utterances of the past had implanted these wild aspirations in their dense minds. But the ideas had taken root, and grown into flourishing and firmly-established dream forests, which they considered were quite capable of being transplanted into realities. I had been a silly, stupid, visionary boy when I first talked to them in that fashion, and I think I must have believed what I said, and believed also in my own ability to work the miracles I prophesied, else I could scarcely have so successfully convinced them. It did not, however, take me long, once I mixed with the outside world, to perceive how utterly impossible it would be for me, or, indeed, the greatest genius ever born into the world, to accomplish the smallest jot or tittle of the Push's vain imaginings. I had possessed, as a boy, only the vaguest conception of people, of society, and of politics, ideas gathered from history and books of fiction. I had steeped my mind in the half-fanciful and marvellously facile successes of dead and gone heroes, orators and reformers, in the dramatic achievements of the fictitious characters of romance and poesy. I had thought of men as masses of puppets, invented for the purpose of furnishing a plastic material for the recording of impressions by a master's hand. I had thought of women as half-hysterical worshippers and helpers of the discovered great. I had fatuously dreamed to enter the world in some vague, splendid fashion, and my greatness proclaimed in a piece of astounding


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oratory, or other absurd and impossible fashion, to ascend a permanent throne, and thereafter, in an undisputed sovereignty of intellect, magnetically bend and sway the multitude of my subjects to my wishes. Of course, I should have governed wisely, kindly, and well. My kingdom would have been an ideal state, its every inhabitant happy, prosperous, and good, and crime within its confines a word of no significance.

Other lads have dreamed the same dreams as I. Other men have, in similar wise, awakened to their sad absurdity, and recognised, as I, not only that they had dreamed foolish dreams of the world, but also of themselves. That is the saddest part of the awakening, to realise that as the world of other men assumes its true proportions in one's understanding, so one does oneself, but in the opposite direction. I discovered that, instead of the wonderful creature I had believed myself to be, I was a very ordinary man indeed. I was able to achieve no marked success at the University examinations, no marked success in society. I had not a special aptitude for any particular subject, and scores of other men eclipsed me in everything, even in ambition. I was obliged to admit that I was a failure, and, as regards the Push, a humbug and a hypocrite. It was the feeling of keen shame which I experienced in addressing the Push at the third of the secret meetings I have mentioned, that first made me realise that I was treating them unfairly. They were paying for my education on a false assumption, and most generously; I was repaying their generosity with deceit. In other words, I was wasting their time and money, entirely conscious the while that it would be impossible for me ever to give them the recompense which I then believed was the stipulation fixed between us.

It is right that I should not spare myself. I have now to paint the most contemptible portion of my character. I knew that I was cheating the Push, yet I deliberately continued to cheat them. Two reasons moved me to this shameful course. I think the principal one was my affection for Miss Denton. I felt that even the very slender chance I possessed of winning her absolutely depended upon my maintaining my position as a gentleman, and without the


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help of the Push I did not know how to do this. A second reason was even more despicable. I was ashamed to admit to the Push that I had been mistaken in myself, and they in my abilities; I was ashamed to confess to them that as an orator I was, compared with educated speakers, a mere tyro. I did not even shine in the University debating society, which I regularly attended; how, then, could I hope, or they hope for me, to make any mark among the professional debaters in the Legislative Assembly? Again, all this while, my allowance from the Push was constantly supplemented from my uncle's private purse. Now I knew that my uncle had not made his money by legitimate means. I knew, from his own admission, that he was a “fence.” I was, therefore, living in luxury upon the proceeds of crime!

It is but just, that having confessed my infamy, I should now propose excuses. There is an excuse for everything. A great writer has said, “To know all is to forgive all.” Never were truer words uttered. My chief excuse is this: throughout my childhood, indeed throughout all my youthful life, I was not instructed in the tenets of morality. I was brought up among a class of people peculiarly irresponsible and unprincipled. They constantly committed mean little sins and crimes. Their code of morals was contained in the maxim, “To be found out is the only sin.” Men and women, boys and girls, were daily haled off to prison for all sorts of misdemeanours. Their sentences served, they returned to their homes unrepentant and unashamed, and their friends and acquaintances never thought the less of them because of their incarceration. No disgrace attached to them, among the Push families at all events, and as I was never allowed to mix with respectable people, I had had no opportunity of discovering their ideas. I myself joined in none of these practices, because my uncle looked after me very sharply, and also because my disposition as a child was timid, retiring, and studious, and I hated and feared violence. But never did I once hear my uncle or aunt make a remark derogatory to the vicious people about us, that is to say, from a moral standpoint. My uncle would occasionally disgustedly observe, “That——idiot—So-and-so—is copped again; he


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sneaked a purse from a lady in a tramcar. He'll get six months this time, without the option, and deserve it for being such a messer. Fancy, he snatched the purse in broad daylight, and a copper about five yards off watchin' him!”

Is it to be wondered at, therefore, that brought up within such an environment my ideas of right and wrong were somewhat indefinite? Remember also, I knew nothing about God, Heaven, Hell, or the Hereafter except what I had read in books. I had never been inside a church, and although I had received Biblical instruction in the public school in common with the other scholars, it was there only a matter of learning and reciting verses by heart in chorus with the class, chiefly from the Old Testament, verses which were not explained to us, and which we unanimously regarded as boring and ridiculous, because they were meaningless, being couched in language only half intelligible to our unenlightened minds. I read the Bible for the first time when I had been already a year at the University. It may be objected that my conscience should have taught me at all times my duty. I must admit, it did. But in what a vague and uninsistent fashion, people who have been bred from infancy according to orthodox principles can hardly conceive. Its lessons were only perfectly intelligible where broad principles were involved. I felt it was wrong to murder, to steal, to swindle, to calumniate, in fact, to do anything to injure my neighbour. This, because reason helped conviction, and also egotism. It was only natural for me to conclude to treat my neighbours in the manner in which I wished them to treat me. But in the finer issues between right and wrong, my conscience, dulled by utter lack of cultivation, only gradually commenced to help me. For instance, it seemed wrong, I vaguely felt it was wrong, to lie, to depart in anywise from the truth. But it was quite easy to persuade myself that a lie which harmed no one was not a sin or dereliction. To tell the truth always, for the mere sake of truth, when a harmless lie might prove of service, appeared to me absurd.

So, too, in scores of other things. When first I realised that I was deceiving the Push, acting to them the part of humbug and hypocrite, I was overwhelmed with


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shame. But that feeling soon faded. I could not recognise that I was injuring them in any way. I persuaded myself that I was doing my best to keep my part of the bargain, and even though foredoomed to fail in my mission, at any rate I should always do my best to succeed. I fed myself on such sophistries, and became blinded to the true issue. But not always could my blindness continue. I dwelt in daily, almost hourly, intercourse with a man who was the very soul of honour, a man who, however much he lacked the power of poetical expression, nevertheless possessed a true poetic sense of the finer duties of existence. Dear old Edward Shaw, how good he was to me, in spite of my shortcomings; how invariably kind and charitable to my failings; how unwearying in his efforts to make of me a proper gentleman! It is a sad thing to remember that his affection was founded upon my pretended appreciation of his execrable poetry. I feel more ashamed now of having played the hypocrite to him, than of having continued to deceive the Push. Inspired by his example and his gentle doctrines, I gradually awoke to a completer understanding of the word “honour,” and by insensible degrees formed a code for my own guidance. I was assisted in this by my love of novel-reading. In all the books which I voraciously consumed, there was a hero; and each hero possessed some particularised attribute which appeared to me good, and worthy of acquisition. Once I had been content to be pleased with my heroes, and presently forget them. But this light attention became impossible when my mind was more urgently directed to the fact of lacks in my own composition which might be remedied. Those admirable characters who had fought for principles and died for ideas, if only in the pages of romance, must surely have been proper men, I told myself, for their contemplation produced delight and inspired emulation even in me; while the world regarded them as criterions of conduct. I analysed my heroes, then, those I loved best, and the discoveries I made reduced me to despair. I found it would be impossible for me ever to resemble them; they were all so splendidly strong, so steadfast, so virtuous, and strict; I, in comparison, so weak, unstable, and covetous of peace. But at last my


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blindness was dispersed. I could see! My mind was clear, and the choice of ways stood straight before me. Either I had to go to the Push and confess myself a cheat, or continue deceiving them, and rest an outcast of honour! Other ideas and other questions then propounded themselves for my consideration. I had once fatuously resolved to devote my life to the regeneration of the Push. Already I had accomplished something; I had won their promise to refrain from the crime of homicide except in the case of punishing a traitor to the order. But, alas! since that time I had realised the petty limit of my abilities. How could I hope to reform others, weak and unregenerate myself! From the task of perfecting my own character I shrank; I recognised the task of elevating the morals of the Push to a reputable standard as superhuman. Two years' absence from their ranks had obliged me to consider them in their true colours, to despise and detest them. I hated their vulgar habits, their gross manners, brutal instincts, and bestial conversation. It was a misery to mix among them. I had lost all desire to attempt their reformation. Nevertheless, I owed them a duty, and however much I disliked them, I could not but loathe myself the more for my hypocrisy and my cowardice.

Miss Denton's return to Sydney put a term to my indecision. When Edward asked me to accompany him to meet her, I suddenly realised that it would be a crime to go before her until discharged of my obligation, purged of the shame which had beset me for so long. I made an excuse to my friend, and sent a letter to my uncle requesting his attendance with his councillors the following evening at my cottage. The resolution once taken, I felt happier than I had done for months. I determined to confess everything, and, whatever the result, I would at least be secure in my own esteem, and able to look the woman I loved in the eyes without shame. I thought that I was going to ruin, for I believed that the Push, on hearing my confession, would at once cut off my supplies and withdraw me from the University. The ultimate future I dared not consider. I felt that I was doing right; the consciousness of that sustained me. I passed the day in a mood of curious elation; through the night I


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paced the streets, dreaming of Miss Denton as I walked. I was hungering to see her; but, to save my life, could not have approached her with an unshrived conscience.

Next morning, during Greek class, Edward said to me:

“She was disappointed, Lucas; she expected you at the boat.”

My heart throbbed. “How do you know?” I muttered.

“She made no secret, boy. You must come and dine with us to-night. The mater has invited you.”

I shook my head; I could not speak.

“But May expects you,” said Edward. “I told her that you would be sure to come.”

“I have an engagement I can't break, Ned,” I whispered. “But tell me of her; how does she look—has she improved?”

He smiled. “I think I see your game, Lucas. Well, perhaps it's not a bad line. Yes, she is much changed; you will scarcely know her, she has grown so sedate, quiet, and lady-like, and her accent—good Lord! She talks like an English Johnny!”

“But in looks—is she as beautiful as ever?”

“I think her improved. She has filled out, you know, and is more of a woman. Her dresses are simply too gorgeous. Of course, she has her own money now, and can do as she likes with it, but I guess she has invested a year's income on gowns.”

“Is she engaged?”

“I don't know, but a rich Englishman has followed her out from London; he is mad on her, mother says!”

This piece of information made me so miserable that immediately class dispersed I slipped away from my friend. I simply could not bear to talk with him any more, and returned as quickly as I could to my cottage, where I spent some wretched solitary hours.

My uncle, attended by his councillors, arrived a little before midnight. They were full of wonder. I was terribly nervous. After shaking hands, I drew them into the dining-room, where they each silently swallowed the rum I had prepared for them. Then they looked at me. I pointed to chairs. I was shaking so much that I too sat down.




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“Well, boy,” said my uncle, “what have you brought us here for?”

“Sir!” I exclaimed, addressing him by his proper Push title, “this is a formal meeting!”

“Yes, boy, as formal as you like.”

I stood up, white and desperate. “I have sent for you, sir and councillors, to tell you that for almost two years I have deceived you, first unwittingly, but of late consciously!”

“What?” growled my uncle; his small eyes commenced to blaze, and his face rapidly assumed the hue of fear. Perhaps he thought that I had disgraced him. The councillors sat up in their chairs and glared at me. But now that the announcement was made, I was calm and cool.

“Yes,” I continued, “I have deceived the whole Push!” and paused.

“How?” asked Dave Gardner.

I shrugged my shoulders. “The Push believes that immediately I become their member I shall do a lot of wonderful things—abolish capital punishment, make the Government resume all landed property to the state, and so forth. Well, I have to tell you now, as the representatives of the Push, that such things are absurd impossibilities. If I were the greatest orator who ever breathed, and possessed of the energy and power of forty Ciceros, they would still be impossible. I have to tell you that if you continue to keep me at the University, and later contrive to send me to Parliament, you must expect me to accomplish very little, if anything, for years and years to come!”

With that I sat down again and drank a glass of wine. I expected a storm, and waited for it. There was a long silence, during which I stared at the table-cloth, trying to nerve myself for what must come.

“Is that all?” demanded my uncle at last. His voice was tremulous.

“Yes,” I said, and looked at him defiantly.

He commenced to laugh, and the councillors followed his example. They laughed and laughed; they rocked themselves in their chairs, in perfect paroxysms of mirth, while


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I gazed at them, at first amazed, but very soon indignant. I waited, hot and enraged, until they were quiet, then demanded an explanation. My uncle partially composed himself, and looked at me as though I were a sort of comical conundrum, which amused but puzzled him.

“What did you tell us all this for, Lucas?” he asked, with a gasp.

“Because I thought it right you should know; but if I had guessed how you would have received my confidence, I——”

“Bosh!” he interrupted. “Never mind what you'd have done. I like you all the better for this!”

He turned suddenly to the councillors.

“Well, boys, what do you think of my son—straight enough for you, is he?”

His voice was sonorous and full of challenge.

To my astonishment, the councillors sprang to their feet, and crowded round me with the heartiest expressions of approval and goodwill; but the king presently ordered them to be seated, and addressed himself to me.

“It's this way, Lucas,” he explained, “we all know what we want, and we all have hopes of getting it in the end. But we don't expect blind impossibilities, leastwise, we 'uns here don't, and what the others think ain't of much consequence; it's about what we want them to, I guess. When you're elected all the Push 'll expect you to do is to make as many speeches as you can, and bring up what you've spoke to them about—abolition of hangin', and the rest, no matter whether it does any good or not.”

“Do you mean to say,” I gasped, “that they expect no more than that? Uncle, don't tell me that I have been such a fool. I am sure that they want more, and expect more. I am certain that they believe that once I am elected I shall do all I have been stupid and wicked enough to promise them.”

My uncle stopped me with a deliberate, derisive wink.

“I guess I know more of the Push than you do!” he replied. “Of course, they have great faith in you, and all that, but Lord bless you, boy, when it comes to a question of what they expect, you go too far; they ain't quite such


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fools as you make out. They like you to speak big to them; it's the sort of talk that hits 'em on the spot, and the more you promises, the better they like it. But rot it all, boy, they have a bit of sense. They know you can't do everything at once. The great thing is that they'll have a member of their own, and the other pushes 'll jolly soon know it when the murder's out. That'll be our nuts; if you never did anything else for a year after it wouldn't much matter.”

“But what good can I do them? They are paying for me; I don't suppose they want me as an ornament.”

“That's another pig, Lucas, another pig altogether; it's my business, mine entirely, leastwise the councillors', too. Don't you fret, boy; you'll come in mighty handy, I promise you.

“But how?”

“Well, for one thing, you are going in for the law; you'll be able to defend our coves who are unlucky enough to get run in, on the cheap. Then there's the matter of billets; you'll be able to get anyone as wants it work on the trams and railways, and roads and things. That's worth paying out a few hundreds for alone. Then, when a cove's lagged, you'll be able to look after him, and his friends can get to see him without parting through the neck for it like we have to now. Then look at the way the coppers treats any of our boys when they arrests 'em, and gets 'em in the cells. Only last week Bill Evans was copped for stoushing a chow in Upper George Street. He followed the copman as quiet as a lamb, but when the bloke got him to the lock-up, he put Bill in a cell, and gave him a frightful time; near beat him to death, and next mornin' charged him with assaultin' a constable in the execution of his duty. The poor beggar got three months. I took the thing to Truth, but Norton wasn't interested, because it was just Bill's word against the cop's. Well, you'll have to show those sorts of things up, and put a stopper to them, Lucas. Then there's Jack Robin's wharf. Jack Robin's lease is almost up, and a big company is after it already. You'll have to put the kibosh on their game, and get Jack a fresh term at the same rent he's paying now.”




  ― 203 ―

“But, uncle,” I objected, “your present member could do all these things.”

“Indeed,” he snarled; “who's been telling you? I guess we are all just about sick of ——, he is just the same as the others before him, and we put 'em all in, the ungrateful dogs! They promises as much as you like before the election, and afterwards we can go to blazes for all they cares.”

“Then,” I cried, “am I to understand that I have been mistaken, and that the whole Push will be perfectly satisfied, although I fail, as fail I must, in redeeming the promises I have made them.”

“So long as you do what we tell you, whatever you fail in, boy, the Push 'll be perfectly pleased with you, depend upon that.”

“Very good; I am content. We understand each other better now. To tell you the truth I have been very unhappy for a long time in believing that I was deceiving you all. I perceive that I have been only deceiving myself.”

“So you have, boy; so you have!”

Thus ended the interview and my attempt to put myself straight with my tyrants and patrons, the Push. My uncle and his councillors quitted the cottage, believing me a perfect model of all the virtues on account of my confession. As for me I felt relieved of a great load, and looked forward very happily to meeting Amber Eyes as soon as possible. The thought of the rich Englishman who had followed her from London was the only bitter drop in my cup, and even that I was content to quaff—for I reflected, “If she cared for him there must have ere this transpired an engagement of which Edward would surely have been informed.”

Before I went to bed I wrote a letter to my uncle, in which I informed him that I no longer intended to be a drain upon his private purse, as I found I could manage to live perfectly well on my allowance from the Push. I had not cared to tell him this before the councillors, because I was not sure if they knew that he was supplementing my income. When I had posted the letter I was more satisfied with myself than I had been for years. I thought that I had climbed two great steps in the right direction. I felt clean in mind, and


  ― 204 ―
worthy to meet the woman I loved. I was no longer a hypocrite, and I had rid myself of the odious charge of living on ill-earned gold. It will be perceived that even so my regeneration was only as yet an amateurishly conceived and dreadfully unfinished article. It did not enter my dreams that there existed any reason why I should not always continue to dwell in the dear little cottage which my uncle's tainted gold had purchased; not a single qualm of conscience came to disturb my placid pride of possession. You see I was only gradually becoming a proper man, and very slowly acquiring the instincts of honour. I fondly believed that the past did not matter, because it could not be mended, and only concerned myself with the future. The present I did not consider at all, and as my cottage was a thing of the present, and also allied with the past, inasmuch as it was an accomplished fact, bought and paid for, I continued to live in it without a tittle of remorse, unconscious, indeed, of the existence of occasion for remorse. One curious little fact concerning my moral reformation is worthy of recording. Then, and for years thereafter, whenever I became or was made aware of a new and desirable delicacy of feeling, a hitherto unrecognised perception of proper relative values in separate spheres of action, or some finer distinction between right and wrong than I had been accustomed to consider in the past, such discoveries would strike me with the force of long preconceived convictions. I would realise their justice almost instantly, and with the sharpness and ever-increasing vitality of long sleeping but suddenly awakened memories. I think myself that they were really memories, inherited from my father, who was a gentleman. The idea is fanciful, perhaps; but if we inherit from our parents traits and tendencies, then why not memories?

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