When at a question from Mary John began animatedly to discuss the tuition of the younger children, Mahony seized the chance to slip away. He would not be missed. He never was—here or anywhere.
On the verandah a dark form stirred and made a hasty movement. It was the boy Johnny—now grown tall as Mahony himself—and, to judge from the smell, what he tried to smuggle into his pocket was a briar.
"Oh well, yes, I'm smoking," he said sullenly, after a feeble attempt at evasion. "Go in and blab on me, if you feel you must, Uncle Richard."
"Nonsense. But telling fibs about a thing does no good."
"Oh yes, it does; it saves a hiding," retorted the boy. And added with a youthful vehemence: "I'm hanged if I let the governor take a stick to me nowadays! I'm turned sixteen; and if he dares to touch me—"
"Come, come. You know, you've been something of a disappointment to your father, Johnny—that's the root of the trouble."
"Glad if I have! He hates me anyway. He never cared for my mother's children," answered Johnny with a quaint dignity. "I think he couldn't have cared for her either."
"There you're wrong. He was devoted to her. Her death nearly broke his heart.—She was one of the most beautiful women I have ever seen, my boy."
"Was she?" said Johnny civilly, but with meagre interest. This long dead mother had bequeathed him not even a memory of herself—was as unreal to him as a dream at second hand. From the chilly contemplation of her he turned back impatiently to his own affairs, which were burning, insistent. And scenting a vague sympathy in this stranger uncle who, like himself, had drifted out from the intimacy of the candle-lit room, he made a clean breast of his troubles.
"I can't stand the life here, Uncle Richard, and I'm not going to—not if father cuts me off with a shilling! I mean to see the world. THIS isn't the world—this dead-and-alive old country! ... though it's got to seem like it to the governor, he's been here so long. And HE cleared out from his before he was even as old as I am. Of course there isn't another blessed old Australia for me to decamp to; he might be a bit sweeter about it, if there was. But America's good enough for me, and I'm off there—yes, even if I have to work my passage out!"
Early next morning, fully equipped for their journey, the Mahonys stood on the William's Town pier, the centre of the usual crowd of relatives and friends. This had been further swelled by the advent of Mrs. Devine, who came panting up followed by her husband, and by Agnes Ocock and Amelia Grindle, who had contrived to reach Melbourne the previous evening. Even John's children were tacked on, clad in their Sunday best. Everybody talked at once and laughed or wept; while the children played hide-and-seek round the ladies' crinolines. Strange eyes were bent on their party, strange ears cocked in their direction; and yet once again Mahony's dislike to a commotion in public choked off his gratitude towards these good and kindly people. But his star was rising: tears and farewells and vows of constancy had to be cut short, a jaunt planned by the whole company to the ship itself abandoned; for a favourable wind had sprung up and the captain was impatient to weigh anchor. And so the very last kisses and handclasps exchanged, the travellers climbed down into a boat already deep in the water with other cuddy-passengers and their luggage, and were rowed out to where lay that good clipper-ship, the RED JACKET. Sitting side by side husband and wife watched, with feelings that had little in common, the receding quay, Mary fluttering her damp handkerchief till the separate figures had merged in one dark mass, and even Tilly, planted in front, her handkerchief tied flagwise to the top of Jerry's cane, could no longer be distinguished from the rest.
Mahony's foot met the ribbed teak of the deck with the liveliest satisfaction; his nostrils drank in the smell of tarred ropes and oiled brass. Having escorted Mary below, seen to the stowing away of their belongings and changed his town clothes for a set of comfortable baggy garments, he returned to the deck, where he passed the greater part of the day tirelessly pacing. They made good headway, and soon the ports and towns at the water's edge were become mere whitey smudges. The hills in the background lasted longer. But first the Macedon group faded from sight; then the Dandenong Ranges, grown bluer and bluer, were also lost in the sky. The vessel crept round the outside of the great Bay, to clear shoals and sandbanks, and, by afternoon, with the sails close rigged in the freshening wind, they were running parallel with the Cliff—"THE Cliff!" thought Mahony with a curl of the lip. And indeed there was no other; nothing but low scrub-grown sandhills which flattened out till they were almost level with the sea.
The passage through the Heads was at hand. Impulsively he went down to fetch Mary. Threading his way through the saloon, in the middle of which grew up one of the masts, he opened a door leading off it.
"Come on deck, my dear, and take your last look at the old place. It's not likely you'll ever see it again."
But Mary was already encoffined in her narrow berth.
"Don't ask me even to lift my head from the pillow, Richard. Besides, I've seen it so often before."
He lingered to make some arrangements for her comfort, fidgeted to know where she had put his books; then mounted a locker and craned his neck at the porthole. "Now for the Rip, wife! By God, Mary, I little thought this time last year, that I should be crossing it to-day."
But the cabin was too dark and small to hold him. Climbing the steep companion-way he went on deck again, and resumed his flittings to and fro. He was no more able to be still than was the good ship under him; he felt himself one with her, and gloried in her growing unrest. She was now come to the narrow channel between two converging headlands, where the waters of Hobson's Bay met those of the open sea. They boiled and churned, in an eternal commotion, over treacherous reefs which thrust far out below the surface and were betrayed by straight, white lines of foam. Once safely out, the vessel hove to to drop the pilot. Leaning over the gunwale Mahony watched a boat come alongside, the man of oilskins climb down the rope-ladder and row away.
Here, in the open, a heavy swell was running, but he kept his foot on the swaying boards long after the last of his fellow-passengers had vanished—a tall, thin figure, with an eager, pointed face, and hair just greying at the temples. Contrary to habit, he had a word for every one who passed, from mate to cabin-boy, and he drank a glass of wine with the Captain in his cabin. Their start had been auspicious, said the latter; seldom had he had such a fair wind to come out with.
Then the sun fell into the sea and it was night—a fine, starry night, clear with the hard, cold radiance of the south. Mahony looked up at the familiar constellations and thought of those others, long missed, that he was soon to see again.—Over! This page of his history was turned and done with; and he had every reason to feel thankful. For many and many a man, though escaping with his life, had left youth and health and hope on these difficult shores. He had got off scot-free. Still in his prime, his faculties green, his zest for living unimpaired, he was heading for the dear old mother country—for home. Alone and unaided he could never have accomplished it. Strength to will the enterprise, steadfastness in the face of obstacles had been lent him from above. And as he stood gazing down into the black and fathomless deep, which sent crafty, licking tongues up the vessel's side, he freely acknowledged his debt, gave honour where honour was due.—FROM THEE COMETH VICTORY, FROM THEE COMETH WISDOM, AND THINE IS THE GLORY AND I AM THY SERVANT.
The last spark of a coast-light went out. Buffeted by the rising wind, the good ship began to pitch and roll. Her canvas rattled, her joints creaked and groaned as, lunging forward, she cut her way through the troubled seas that break on the reef-bound coasts of this old, new world.