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XXIV The Push Decide

“MAY,” said I to my sweetheart as we sat together late next evening on the lower terrace of Mr. Shaw's garden, “what would you think if suddenly I were to change towards you; if of a sudden I were to completely leave you to yourself, never come and see you, never write to you, never answer your letters if you wrote to me?”

“What a cruel fancy!” she answered. It was dark, but I think she smiled.

“Tell me, sweetheart!” I persisted.

“I would think you had ceased to love me,” she replied.

“But surely not if I were to change at once. You do not think that I have ceased to love you now?”

“Oh, no.”

“Nor will to-morrow?”

“No.”

“Well, suppose that when to-morrow comes there happens what I have described?”

She rubbed her soft cheek against my face. “I would think that you were ill, dear.”

“And what would you do?”

“I would wait till you were better.”

“How long?”

“A day, a week—perhaps a week.” Her voice was doubtful.




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“And then?”

“Oh, if you were not better then, I would go to you.”

“You would be sure I had not ceased to love you.”

“Make me sure!” she whispered. “Make me sure that you will never cease to love me.”

I held her tightly to me. “Listen, dear. I have a presentiment that an evil thing is about to part us, something that cannot be fought against and cannot be gainsaid. It may be for little, it may be for long; but, sweetheart, if it happens, if we part, and for ever, I swear to you, by all that there is sacred in earth and heaven, that I shall never love you less than I do now, and, too, that I shall be true to you as I have always been until I die!”

She rested silent for some time in my arms, I think a little troubled by my deep earnestness. “You have a presentiment,” she whispered, at last; “do you believe in dreams, Lucas?”

“I do not know, dear; why?”

“Last night I dreamed that Edward was dead—killed; it was horrible!”

“What, dear old Ned!” I cried.

“Yes!” she shuddered. “I cannot tell you how I suffered; it has made me ill all day. I could not banish the horrid memory of it, try how I would. His blood was on my hands. I have been looking at my hands every few minutes to reassure myself.”

“My poor darling, what a frightful dream it must have been; but it was after all a dream.”

“And yours is a presentiment. Let us each forget, Lucas dear.”

“Ah,” said I, “but I can't. I feel certain my presentiment must come true. Such happiness as mine has been of late cannot last. I feel it in my heart.”

“Lucas, you frighten me.”

“May, my own fear is inexpressible. It came to me when I left you last evening. Since then I have not closed my eyes. It would not let me sleep!”

“But that is foolish, dear; what could part us while we love each other?”

“Death, May!”




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She trembled in my arms. “If you were to die, so would I,” she muttered.

“You love me so much, sweetheart?”

“So much that I could not live without you!”

“And else?”

“What do you mean?”

“If shame came to me?”

“I would love you still.”

“If—crime?”

She pressed my hand to her heart. “Lucas, if you committed the worst of crimes I would still love you. I have given my love to you; it was a gift, not a loan.”

“May, if you were to find out that I had deceived you——”

“Ah!” she pushed me away from her. “Not in love?” she cried.

“No, not in love.”

She kissed me softly on the lips. “Nothing else matters, dear,” and with a contented sigh she nestled in my arms again.

When I was leaving her I whispered, “It may be for ever, May!”

She shook her head, smiled, and sighed. “You do not know me yet,” she said.

I had before leaving home that afternoon locked up my cottage with the most extraordinary caution; but, on entering the hall door, I heard voices. I had reckoned without my host, or rather my uncle. I should have remembered that a “fence” must know the rudiments of cracksmen's ways. Daniel Rowe and Judith Kelly were seated in my library. Stretched out on the sofa was a drunken man fast asleep, habited in the garb of a clergyman. He was snoring intermittently; his face was horribly blotched and bloated, he seemed very drunk; he was an absolute stranger to me. My uncle appeared to be in quite a genial mood; Judith Kelly was loudly dressed: she wore a great hat decked with a triple tier of huge ostrich plumes, and a white dress trimmed with glass beads; a row of big imitation pearls encircled her throat, and her bare fingers were covered with flash rings. In spite of the vulgarity of her attire, however,


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she was a beautiful woman. Her figure was superb, and though her face was bold and unmaidenly, her features were almost perfectly regular, and strikingly expressive. She looked an ideal barmaid.

“Well, boy,” growled my uncle, “I must say you're a tardy groom. Here have we—your bride, your uncle, and the sky pilot, all been waiting for ye this hour past ready to tie the knot; we'd commenced to think ye'd never come. The sky-pilot has gone to bye, but I'll soon alter that.”

“Stop!” I commanded, as he started to cross the room.

“What's the matter?” he demanded.

“I won't pretend to misunderstand you,” I said, coldly. “You have brought Judy here to marry me, and that man is the parson hired for the work, I suppose. Am I right?”

“As a trivet.”

I turned to Judith. “My dear girl,” I said, “I am deeply grateful for the honour you have paid me, even though I cannot guess how it comes about that you are willing to throw yourself away on me, considering the fact that we have scarcely exchanged a dozen words during more than two years.”

“That's all right!” cut in my uncle. “Judy's always been fond of you, and she's glad of the chance to get spliced. Everything's fixed but the knot, and that'll soon be over, and you un's can do your billin' and cooin' together. I brought Judy's box along, it's in the fernery outside.”

“Excuse me,” I objected, with rising anger. “It seems to me you have done everything with one exception. You have neglected to obtain my consent to these proceedings.”

My uncle gave a grim laugh. “Don't fool, boy,” he said.

“I'm not fooling, uncle.”

He looked me in the eyes. “Come into the dining-room for a bit, I want to talk to you!”

I followed [?] locked the door, then faced me with clend know that [?] You'll marry her to-night!” he said.

“I shall never marry her!” I replied, coldly.

“Let us understand each other. You are silly on that high-flown lady of yours; do you want her to check up, suddenly?”




  ― 225 ―

I shuddered, but forced a sneer. “Bah, you can't frighten me, uncle. You are no longer dealing with a boy; the sooner you realise that, the better for us both. I give you fair warning that if so much as a hair of her head is injured, I shall betray you and your Push to the police without compunction, and do my best to hang you all, if I have to swing for it myself.”

My uncle turned deadly pale, and fell back to the window which I perceived stood open. He gave a low whistle. To my amazement, within a moment the room was filled with silent figures, twenty of them; the five councillors, and fifteen ordinary members of the Push.

“You heard, boys?” asked my uncle.

“Ay, sir,” they muttered.

“It's got to be, though it breaks my heart to say it,” muttered the king. “Boys, do your duty.”

In an instant I was surrounded by men whose eyes were lurid with sudden hate; these were the men who had but lately worshipped me as a god. I was seized, strapped, and gagged with the speed of thought, stripped nude, and held face downwards across my own table, helpless as a week-old child.

“Lay on hearty, boys,” said my uncle; “he's been gettin' out o' hand this long while, mind and take all the starch out of him.”

I have described the “sock” before. There is little need to speak of it again, save to state that I experienced the fullest measure of its torture. I fainted three separate times, and each time was recalled to life and recollection by intolerable physical agony. Had my mouth been free I would have screamed loud enough to wake the dead. As it was, I was gagged by practised hands, and could not move a muscle of my body. When they had satisfied their [?] brutal appetites the inhuman fiends rubbed [?] naked wounds, then plastered me with some [?] which was smeared over a sheet of oilcloth. They rudely dressed me, and, last of all, partially removed my gag. It was a blessed relief to moan; I had not strength enough left to cry out or even groan. I said to myself, “Ah, fool that I was to have ever dreamed that pleasure is anything but absence of


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pain.” If a knife had been near me I should have slain myself.

My uncle addressed me in a low but harsh voice; tears were running down his cheeks. He was evidently sorry for me, but I loathed him for his emotion.

“Don't cross me any more, Lucas,” he said. “See what's come of it already! Will you marry Judy now?”

“For God's sake kill me!” I moaned.

Dave Gardner held a glass to my lips. “Drink this!” he commanded.

I was parched with thirst. The liquor was salt to taste, but I thought it nectar. Almost immediately I felt very drowsy, and did not mind the pain so much. My uncle led me back to the library, and forced me to stand side by side with Judith. She looked at me very curiously, but said nothing. I moaned continually. I scarcely knew why, for I was growing numbed. My uncle kicked the drunken clergyman into a semblance of life. The beast staggered to his feet, shook himself, and uttered a hideous cracked laugh.

“The happy pair,” he chuckled, and leered at us.

“Go on!” commanded my uncle. “Marry 'em quick; can't you see the man's sick?”

The clergyman rubbed his eyes, yawned, and swore that he must first have some whiskey. My uncle gave him half a glass of raw spirit, which he gulped as though it had been water. Meanwhile, unable longer to stand, I tottered to a chair. I had no will power left. The clergyman was more drunk than ever. Swaying backwards and forwards with a rotary movement, like a stray pendulum, he searched his pockets for something which he could not find. His gyrations made me so giddy that I closed my eyes. I heard as in a dream a mumble of words, and presently a heavy fall. But I did not open my eyes. “It [?]!” said Judith's voice.

“Lucas won't [?] though,” said my uncle. “I'll make out your lines myself after we get him to bed.” I was lifted quite gently from the chair, and carried to my bedroom. Someone took off my boots, and I was placed tenderly upon the bed, and propped so that I lay sideways, and half face downwards.




  ― 227 ―

I remember no more until I woke, late upon the following day. I ached in every limb, and the pain of my lacerated back commenced to sting and torture me immediately I opened my eyes. I bit my lips almost through, but I could not repress a groan. At the noise the door opened, and Judith entered the room. She was dressed like a hospital nurse, in a grey uniform, with white apron, cap, and veil complete. She carried a tray with a bowl of broth. I realised that I had been undressed, and put into pyjamas while I slept.

Judith placed the tray upon a table and stood beside me.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Almost noon.”

“Why are you dressed like that?”

“I am going to nurse you. Your uncle made me put on this gown, so that if anyone comes, it will look alright my being here! I am to tell people you are ill with a fever, and can't be seen. You are to see no one until you are quite better. Did it hurt much, Lucas?”

I groaned. “Horribly; you knew, Judith. You knew what they were doing to me.”

She turned pale. “I couldn't help you, Lucas. It wasn't my fault.”

“Ah, what a heart you must have!” I sneered.

She flushed crimson. “Come to talk of that!” she cried, “what about yourself? It's not every fellow has to be socked into marryin' a girl! 'Tisn't as if I was an ugly beast. I've seen the piece you're gone on; I'm as good as her any day.”

“Silence!” I cried, angrily.

“I won't silence!” she retorted. “I've as much right as you to speak. I'm not goin' to be put upon, I can tell you, by you nor no one. I'm your lawful wedded wife!”

“Liar!”

“Liar yourself. We was married last night fast and tight.”

I sneered in her face. “You poor fool!” I groaned.

“Am I; am I?” She was furious. “I have my marriage lines here!” and she pointed to her bosom.

I laughed mockingly. “Written by my uncle, after the


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clergyman (who was probably a mock) had fallen down dead drunk. I only appeared to sleep, Judith; I heard everything!”

She stared at me for a while, white to the lips, her bosom heaving wildly; then, without a word, flung out of the room.

I immediately drank the broth which she had prepared for me, for I wanted my strength. I wanted to recover as quickly as possible. Afterwards I forced myself out of bed. Movement did not hurt me so much as I had anticipated, for my body was swathed in bandages. I looked for my clothes, but they had disappeared; my cupboards and wardrobe were stripped bare. Underneath my bed was, however, a trunk which had escaped my tyrants' notice. I locked the door, and with many a groan of anguish slowly dressed myself. Only boots were wanting to complete my attire. I found a pair of slippers, and, donning these, made my way to the library without meeting Judith, whose voice I heard, however; she was talking to my servant in the kitchen. I locked myself in the library, and scrawled this note to my sweetheart: “Darling, my presentiment is realised. I have fallen ill with a sort of aching fever. You must not worry about me, though, for I shall soon be better, and I am well looked after. I shall go to you the first moment that I can. Do not write to me, for your sweet letters would only delay my recovery by increasing my impatience, which is already intolerable. With all my heart and soul I worship you.—Your devoted lover,

“LUCAS ROWE.”

I addressed and stamped this letter, then opening the door, passed out into the hall. Judith was still conversing with the servant. As quietly as I could I took a hat from the rack, and slipped from the house. A pillar-box stood within fifty yards of my street door. I almost fainted before I reached it; but I reached it, posted my letter, and managed to return without mishap. It was, all considered, the greatest undertaking of my life. Judith met me in the hall. She was mad with rage. “Where have you been?” she almost shrieked the words.

I looked her full in the eyes. “I have written and posted


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a letter to the woman whom I love, and whom one day I shall marry,” I said, very quietly, and entering the library I poured out and drank a glass of whiskey. I needed it.

Judith followed me. “I—I am your wife!” she protested.

“You sicken me of the word,” I said.

“You hate me!” she cried.

“As much as I love another, I detest and despise you. If I had the strength I would turn you out of my house this instant. You poison the air I breathe; you stifle and sicken me!” I said, slowly, and with deadly earnestness.

She threw herself into a chair, and burst into a wild storm of tears. I watched her without an echo of sympathy, without the least emotion. When she had worn herself out, she looked up at me.

“You are hard as steel!” she muttered.

I smiled.

“It isn't my fault. Daddie made me do it; and oh, Lucas, I've always loved you! she moaned.

“You are not a woman, Judith,” I replied, “you are a harpy.”

“I am a woman!”

“In form, not in heart. But please be silent; I don't want to hear your voice.”

She got up and meekly left the room, but soon she returned, and implored me to go back to my bed. I followed this advice, for I was burning to recover, but I did not undress. I was fearful that she might remove and hide my clothes.

The day passed wearily; no visitors came, not even Edward. I only saw Judith when she brought me my meals, and at those times she maintained a sullen silence, for which I was grateful.

About ten o'clock in the evening my uncle came. He said very little, for he assumed that my spirit was completely broken. He, however, dressed my back, and assured me that already it had commenced to heal. I never opened my lips to him. Before he went he said that my suffering had hurt him more than it had myself, but that he could not


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regret it, as I needed the lesson I had received to teach me that I must not get “cocky,” and must always do as I was told. He held a long conversation with Judith in another room after he left me, I heard the mutter of their voices, and occasionally an angry exclamation. I undressed myself, but took good care to hide my clothes under the mattress. I could not lock the door, for the key had been abstracted. About half an hour after my uncle had gone, Judith came into the bedroom, holding a lighted candle in her hand. She looked very pretty, but I loathed the sight of her. As she crossed the floor I sprang up, heedless of the pain, and hurried into my library, the door of which I was able to lock. In a very few minutes a rap sounded on the door, but I made no answer. She called out to me several times, but finding herself unheeded, at last took herself off. At midnight I softly slipped into my spare bedroom, wherein I barricaded myself, and slept peacefully until the morning. I was aroused by a loud pealing of the street bell. By the bright light of the early sun I saw that all my clothes which had been abstracted from my wardrobe were bundled up in a corner. The bell continued to peal; so hurriedly dressing, I proceeded to see who was my visitor. It was my servant, the charwoman. Judith had disappeared, but she had left a letter pinned to the library door, addressed to me. It was scrawled in pencil, and ran: “Look out for yourself, Lucas Rowe. Don't think I'm going to stand your insults. I'm not that sort!”

I was so pleased to be rid of her, that I felt much stronger already, and ate a hearty breakfast. During the morning I wrote and posted a passionate love-letter to my sweetheart; Edward Shaw came to see me before lunch, and stayed almost all the afternoon. He thought I looked very ill, but I told him the doctor said I was much better, and no longer needed the services of a nurse. Altogether I passed a pleasant day, but as evening approached I grew excited; I felt that I was resting on the crater of a sleeping volcano, which had already given signs of approaching activity. I went to bed quite early, and fell into a troubled sleep. About midnight I awoke and became aware that a man was climbing through the window. I looked at him, trying to


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suppress my fear. It was my uncle; he lighted the gas, and looked at me.

“You're awake!” he growled.

“Yes.”

“So you've drove Judith off already.”

“She was kind enough to leave me of her own accord.”

“You insulted her.”

“Indeed, how?”

“You know—she's your wife; you have no right to.”

I sat up in the bed. “I wish you'd dress my back, first; we can talk afterwards.”

To do him justice, no woman could have performed the office with greater tenderness. He shuddered each time I groaned. I lay back at last, panting but peaceful.

“She is not my wife!” I said. “I had all that out with Judith; she knows herself that she is not. The clergyman was drunk, and you forged the certificate. If you tried to make use of it you would get five years' hard labour at least.”

“Never mind that,” he growled. “She's your girl at all events now, according to push law; 'cause she spent a night with you alone. That's enough to fix that.”

“Even though I was insensible.”

“Even anything; so now, my boy, if you play up with her you know what to expect?”

“Another application of the sock, you mean?”

“No, my boy, not that.”

“What, then?”

He clenched his fist and banged it on the bed. “If you don't break off with that lady of yours within the week, there's goin' to be a death in the family, Lucas.”

“Whose?” I muttered; “mine?”

“We'll see, we'll see. Anyway, whatever happens it'll be your fault, for I've given you fair warning, and I never go back on my word. I'm tellin' you as king o' the Dogs—to-night.”

Silence fell between us for awhile; a deep silence, which I devoted to thought. In the midst of it I became inspired with an idea, a plan which seemed so brilliant that it almost took away my breath.

“Uncle,” said I, “do you know what I did this morning?”




  ― 232 ―

“No.”

“I wrote out a full statement of all I know about you and the Push. I gave every name I could remember, and explained every one of your secrets down to its last detail. When I had completed this document, what do you think I did with it?”

His face had turned a horrid pasty colour. “What?” he gasped.

“I sealed it up, and gave it to a lawyer friend of mine; I told him to put it in his safe, and keep it for me. I, however, instructed him to open and read it should he hear that Miss May Denton has been murdered, or died suddenly, or committed suicide within the next twelve months.”

“Ah!” gasped my uncle. “Ah!”

“So you see,” I pursued, “if you lay a hand upon the woman I love it will be all up with the Push. Every man of you will be hanged, for I have given in my statement enough clues to help the police find plenty of evidence. I may hang myself, but I don't care a fig for that!”

My uncle commenced to pace the floor; he was dreadfully agitated, but strangely, curiously quiet. He paused at last and said, “If the Push knew this you wouldn't have a day to live.”

I laughed scornfully. “I would have plenty to follow me to the grave, uncle. There are five hundred in the Push, are there not?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, naturally, if I died, my friend would open the document that I gave into his keeping; don't you think so?”

He gasped. “Ah! Ah! Ah!” and stared at me, stupid as an owl, his eyes strained wide open.

“Who was your friend?” he demanded, presently.

I laughed derisively. “You must find that out for yourself.”

“A student at the Uni.?”

“No, a lawyer in good practice. I wired for him this morning, and out he came; he charged me 13s. 4d.”

My uncle sat down; he had gone quite limp.

I suddenly reflected that in order to perfectly succeed in


  ― 233 ―
the lies I had uttered, I should force my uncle to believe them by every means in my power.

Shrugging my shoulders I said, “On thinking it over, my dear uncle, I see no reason why you should not know the lawyer's name. You might like to call upon him and chat the matter over. I am sure he would be delighted to make your acquaintance. He is a great swell, a Government House man, and so forth. His name is Rupert Finlayson.” I had named the most respectable and one of the most influential solicitors in the city.

My uncle gave a sort of inarticulate exclamation, and his jaw fell. All the fight was taken out of him. Determined to strike while the iron was hot, and press home my advantage, I said, quickly, “You will do wisely to allow me to follow my own desires in the choice of a wife, uncle. You must persuade the Push to the same course. I am perfectly resolved to have my own way, and if you fight me it will mean universal ruin. I shall never give in. As for Judith Kelly, I loathe the very sight of her, and if she dares to come out here again, or you try to force her on me, I shall simply sever my connection with the lot of you at once, and defy you! You know now what that will mean.”

He got to his feet. “An'—an' supposin',” he stammered, “supposin' we let you marry this gal of yours; what'll you do then?”

“I shall be as true as steel.”

“You'll get back that document?”

I shook my head. “No, uncle, I am not such a fool. That document must stay where it is as a guarantee for the safety of my wife and myself.”

He retreated to the window slowly, climbed out, and then looked back at me. “I've nourished a viper!” he muttered. “Boy, I never thought this of you.”

“You thought I was a soft fool, and would always remain a soft fool,” I retorted. “You are now finding out your mistake.”

An indescribable expression of hate and baffled fury flashed into his eyes. He ground his teeth, and shook the window frame with the strength of a maniac; for a second he struggled to speak, but not a word came. He disappeared


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in the same tempestuous silence, and presently I heard the gate click.

I said to myself, “I have beaten him, but only for a time. Men such as he is, and the other members of the Push, are capable of fear, but not of calculation. For a while, a month, perhaps, or even two, they will remain beaten and panic-stricken, then their fury will break out, and their longing for revenge will force them to dare their own annihilation in order to hurt me. My uncle will then be my bitterest enemy. I have destroyed his ambition, and broken the dream of his life, for he now knows that he can never in the future find me the facile instrument to his desires that he thought. He can never again trust me, and he knows that if I marry Miss Denton I shall be financially independent of the Push, and able to quit Australia when I please. He will, therefore, do one of two things: he will either place my confession of Tobin's murder in the hands of the police, or he will decree my death regardless of the consequences which he believes must follow. I must be up and doing during my time of grace. I must arrange to escape from Sydney and quit Australia with my sweetheart as my wife; but before I go, I must seize and destroy the Push Book, for only then can I be safe from the Push!”

I sprang from my bed on to the floor. My back hurt me like the devil, but I laughed with contempt at the pain. I was a man, a man at last, every inch of me. I threw up my hands, and with the gesture, I threw off every shackle that bound me to the Push. I was free; my own master for the first time in my life. I feared nothing; I knew that I should never be a slave again, and I felt within me a power to force my way over every obstacle, to fight the dastard Push single-handed, and subdue them, and to win and hold the woman I loved from the very grip of death itself.

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