'You are much more likely to make her Mrs. Caldigate.'
'I don't know that I should have any objection;—that is, if I wanted a wife. She is good-looking, clever, well-educated, and would be well-mannered were it not that she bristles up against the ill-usage of the world too roughly.'
'I didn't know it had gone so far as that,' said Shand, angrily.
'Nor did I, till you suggested it to me. Now I think I'll go to sleep, if you please, and dream about it.'
He did not go to sleep, but lay awake half thinking and half dreaming. He certainly liked Mrs. Smith; but then, as he had begun to find out of himself he liked women's society generally. He was almost jealous of the doctor, because the doctor was allowed to talk to Miss Green and waltz with Miss Green, whereas he could not approach her. Then he thought of Maria Shand and that kiss in the little back parlour,—the kiss which had not meant much, but which had meant something; and then of Julia Babington, to whom he was not quite sure that he ought not to feel himself engaged. But the face that was clearest to him of all,—and which became the dearer the nearer that he approached to a state of dozing,—was that of Hester Bolton, whose voice he had hardly heard, who had barely spoken to him;—the tips of whose fingers he had only just touched. If there was any one thing fixed on his mind it was that, as soon as he had put together a large lump of gold, he would go back to Cambridge and win Hester Bolton to be his wife. But yet what a singular woman was this Mrs. Smith! As to marrying her, that of course had been a joke produced by the petulance of his snoring friend. He began to dislike Shand, because he did snore so loudly, and drank so much bottled ale, and smelt so strongly of cavendish tobacco. Mrs. Smith was at any rate much too good for Shand. Surely she must have been a lady, or her voice would not have been sweet and silvery? And though she did bristle roughly against the ill-usage of the world, and say strong things, she was never absolutely indelicate or even loud. And she was certainly very interesting. How did it come to pass that she was so completely alone, so poor, so unfriended and yet possessed of such gifts? There certainly was a mystery, and it would certainly be his fate, and not the fate of Dick Shand, to unravel it. The puzzle was much too delicate and too intricate for Dick Shand's rough hands. Then, giving his last waking thoughts for a moment to Hester Bolton, he went to sleep in spite of the snoring.
On the next morning, as soon as he was out of bed, he opened a small portmanteau in which he had put up some volumes the day before he left Pollington and to which he had not yet had recourse since the beginning of the voyage. From these he would select one or two for the use of his new friend. So he dragged out the valise from beneath the berth, while Shand abused him for the disturbance he made. On the top, lying on the other volumes, which were as he had placed them, was a little book, prettily bound, by no means new, which he was sure had never been placed there by himself. He took it up, and, standing in the centre of the cabin, between the light of the porthole and Dick's bed, he examined it. It was a copy of Thomson's 'Seasons', and on the flyleaf was written in a girl's hand the name of its late owner,—Maria Shand. The truth flashed upon him at once. She must have gone down on that last night after he was in bed, and thus have made her little offering in silence, knowing that it would be hidden from him till he was far away from her.
'What book is that?' said Shand suddenly, emerging with his head and shoulders from the low berth.
'A book of mine,' said Caldigate, disconcerted for the moment.
'What are you going to do with it?'
'I am looking for something to lend to Mrs. Smith.'
'That is Molly's Thomson's "Seasons,"' said the brother, remembering, as we are so apt to remember the old thing that had met his eye so often in the old house. 'Where did you get it?'
'I didn't steal it, Dick.'
'I don't suppose you did; but I'm sure it's the book I say.'
'No doubt it is. If you think it is in bad hands, shall I give it back to you?'
'I don't want it. If she gave it you, she was a fool for her pains.'
'I don't see that.'
'I would rather, at any rate, that you would not lend a book with my sister's name in it to Mrs. Smith.'
'I was not thinking of doing so. She wants a Shakespeare that I have got here, and a volume of Tennyson.' Then Dick retreated back into his berth, and snored again, while Caldigate dressed himself. When that operation was completed,—which, including his lavations, occupied about five minutes,—he went up on the deck with the books for Mrs. Smith in his hand, and with Thomson's 'Seasons' in his pocket. So the poor girl had absolutely stolen down-stairs in the middle of the cold night, and had opened the case and re-fastened it, in order that he, when in strange lands, might find himself in possession of something that had been hers!
He had not been alone a minute or two, and was looking about to see if Mrs. Smith was there, when he was accosted by the Captain. The Captain was a pleasant-looking, handsome man, about forty-five years of age, who had the good word of almost everybody on board, but who had not before spoken specially to Caldigate.
'Good morning, Mr. Caldigate. I hope you find yourself fairly comfortable where you are.'
'Pretty well, thank you, Captain.'
'If there is anything I can do.'
'We have all that we have a right to expect.'
'I wish, Mr. Caldigate, I could invite you and your friends to come astern among us sometimes, but it would be contrary to rule.'
'I can quite understand that, Captain.'
'You are doing a bit of roughing,—no doubt for the sake of experience. If you only knew the sort of roughing I've had in my time!'
'I dare say.'
'Salt pork and hard biscuit, and only half enough of that. You find yourself among some queer fellow-passengers I dare say, Mr. Caldigate.'
'Everybody is very civil.'
'They're sure to be that to a gentleman. But one has to be careful. The women are the most dangerous.' Then the Captain laughed, as though it had only been a joke,—this allusion to the women. But Caldigate knew that there was more than a joke in it. The Captain had intended to warn him against Mrs. Smith.
The Three Attempts
Something more than a month had gone by, and John Caldigate and Mrs. Smith were very close companions. This had not been effected without considerable opposition, partly on the part of Shand, and partly by the ship's inhabitants generally. The inhabitants of the ship were inimical to Mrs. Smith. She was a woman who had no friends; and the very female who had first appeared as a friend was now the readiest to say hard things of her. And Caldigate was a handsome well-mannered young man. By this time all the ladies in the first-class knew very well who he was, and some of them had spoken to him. On one or two occasions the stern law of the vessel had been broken; and he had been absolutely invited to sit on those august after-benches. He was known to be a gentleman, and believed, on the evidence of Dick Shand, to be possessed of considerable means. It was therefore a thing horrible to all of them, and particularly to Miss Green, that he should allow himself to be enticed into difficulties by such a creature as that Mrs. Smith. Miss Green had already been a little cold to the doctor in consequence of a pleasant half-hour spent by her in Caldigate's company, as they looked over the side of the vessel at the flying-fish. Mrs. Callander had been with them, and everything had been quite proper. But what a pity it was that he should devote so much of his time to that woman! 'Fancy his condition if he should be induced to marry her!' said Miss Green, holding up her hands in horror. The idea was so terrible that Mrs. Callander declared that she would speak to him. 'Nobody ever disliked interfering so much as I do,' said Mrs. Callander; 'but sometimes a word from a lady will go so far with a young man!' Mrs. Callander was a most respectable woman, whose father had begun life as a cattle drover in the colonies, but had succeeded in amassing a considerable fortune. 'Oh, I do wish that something may be done to save him!' said Miss Green.
Among the second-class passengers the same feeling existed quite as strongly. The woman herself had not only been able but had been foolish enough to show that in spite of her gown she considered herself superior to them all. When it was found that she was, in truth, handsome to look upon,—that her words were soft and well chosen,—that she could sit apart and read,—and that she could trample upon Mrs. Crompton in her scorn,—then, for a while, there were some who made little efforts to get into her good graces. She might even have made an ally of good-natured Mrs. Bones, the wife of the butcher who was going out with his large family to try his fortune at Melbourne. Mrs. Bones had been injured, after some ship fashion, by Mrs. Crompton, and would have made herself pleasant. But Mrs. Smith had despised them all, and had shown her contempt, and was now as deeply suspected by Mrs. Bones as by Mrs. Crompton or Mrs. Callander.
But of all the foes to this intimacy Dick Shand was for a time the most bitter and the most determined No doubt this arose at first from jealousy. He had declared his purpose of unravelling the mystery; but the task had been taken out of his hands, and the unravelling was being done by another. And the more that the woman was abused, and the more intent were all the people in regard to her wicked determination to be intimate with Caldigate, the more interesting she became. Dick, who was himself the very imp of imprudence,—who had never been deterred from doing anything he fancied by any glimmer of control,—would have been delighted to be the hero of all the little stories that were being told. But as that morsel of bread had been taken, as it were, from between his very teeth by the unjustifiable interference of his friend, he had become more alive than any one else to the danger of the whole proceeding. He acknowledged to the Captain that his friend was making a fool of himself; and, though he was a little afraid of Caldigate, he resolved upon interfering.
'Don't you think you are making an ass of yourself about this woman?' he said.
'I daresay I am.'
'All the wise men, from David downwards, have made asses of themselves about women; and why should I be wiser than the rest?'
'That's nonsense, you know.'
'I am trying to talk to you in earnest.'
'You make such a failure of it, old boy, that I am compelled to talk nonsense in return. The idea of your preaching! Here I am with nothing special to do, and I like to amuse myself. Ought not that to be enough for you?'
'But what is to be the end of it?' Dick Shand asked, very solemnly.
'How can I tell? But the absurdity is that such a man as you should talk about the end of anything. Did you ever look before you leaped in your life?'
'We are to be together, you know, and it won't do for us to be hampered with that woman.'
'Won't it? Then let me tell you that, if I choose to hamper myself with that woman, or with a whole harem of women, and am not deterred by any consideration for myself, I certainly shall not be deterred by any consideration for you. Do you understand me?'
'That is not being a true partner,' said Shand.
'I'm quite sure of this,—that I'm likely to be as true as you are. I'm not aware that I have entered into any terms with you by which I have bound myself to any special mode of living. I have left England, as I fancy you have done also, because I desired more conventional freedom than one can find among the folk at home. And now, on the first outset, I am to be cautioned and threatened by you because I have made acquaintance with a young woman. Of all the moral pastors and masters that one might come across in the world, you, Dick Shand, appear to me to be the most absurd. But you are so far right as this, that if my conduct is shocking to you, you had better leave me to my wickedness.'
'You are always so d—— upsetting,' said Dick, 'that no one can speak to you.' Then Dick turned away, and there was nothing more said about Mrs. Smith on that occasion.
The next to try her hand was Mrs. Callander. By this time the passengers had become familiar with the ship, and knew what they might and what they might not do. The second-class passengers were not often found intruding across the bar, but the first-class frequently made visits to their friends amidships. In this way Mrs. Callander had become acquainted with our two gold-seekers, and often found herself in conversation with one or the other. Even Miss Green, as has been stated before, would come and gaze upon the waves from the inferior part of the deck.
'What a very nice voyage we are having, Mr. Caldigate,' Mrs. Callander said one afternoon.
'Yes, indeed. It is getting a little cold now, but we shall enjoy that after all the heat.'
'Quite so; only I suppose it will be very cold when we get quite south. You still find yourself tolerably comfortable.'
'I shall be glad to have it over,' said Caldigate, who had in truth become disgusted with Dick's snoring.
'I daresay,—I am sure we shall. My young people are getting very tired of it. Children, when they are accustomed to every comfort on shore, of course feel it grievously. I suppose you are rather crowded?'
'Of course we are crowded. One can't have a twenty-foot square room on board ship.'
'No, indeed. But then you are with your friend, and that is much pleasanter than a stranger.'
'That would depend on whether the stranger snored, Mrs. Callander.'
'Don't talk of snoring, Mr. Caldigate. If you only heard Mr. Callander! But, as I was saying, you must have some very queer characters down there.' She had not been saying anything of the kind, but she found a difficulty in introducing her subject.
'Take them altogether, they are a very decent, pleasant, well-mannered set of people, and all of them in earnest about their future lives.'
'Poor creatures! But I dare say they're very good.' Then she paused a moment, and looked into his face. She had undertaken a duty, and she was not the woman to shrink from it. So she told herself at that moment. And yet she was very much afraid of him as she saw the squareness of his forehead, and the set of his mouth. And there was a frown across his brow, as though he were preparing himself to fight. 'You must have found it hard to accommodate yourselves to them, Mr. Caldigate?'
'Not at all.'
'Of course we all know that you are a gentleman.'
'I am much obliged to you; but I do not know any word that requires a definition so much as that. I am going to work hard to earn my bread; and I suppose these people are going to do the same.'
'There always will be some danger in such society,' said Mrs. Callander.
'I hope I may escape any great evil.'
'I hope so too, Mr. Caldigate. You probably have had a long roll of ancestors before you?'
'We all have that;—back to Adam.'
'Ah! but I mean a family roll, of which you ought to be proud;—all ladies and gentlemen.'
'Upon my word I don't know.'
'So I hear, and I have no doubt it is true.' Then she paused, looking again into his face. It was very square, and his lips were hard, and there was a gleam of anger in his eyes. She wished herself back again in her own part of the ship; but she had boasted to Miss Green that she was not the woman to give up a duty when she had undertaken it. Though she was frightened, still she must go on. 'I hope you will excuse me, Mr. Caldigate.'
'I am sure you will not say anything that I cannot excuse.'
'Don't you think—' Then she paused. She had looked into his face again, and was so little satisfied that she did not dare to go on. He would not help her in the least, but stood there looking at her, with something of a smile stealing over the hardness of his face, but with such an expression that the smile was even worse than the hardness.
'Were you going to speak to me about another lady, Mrs. Callander?'
'I was. That is what I was going to speak of—'
She was anxious to remonstrate against that word lady, but her courage failed her.
'Then don't you think that perhaps you had better leave it alone. I am very much obliged to you, and all that kind of thing; and as to myself, I really shouldn't care what you said. Any good advice would be taken most gratefully,—if it didn't affect any one else. But you might say things of the lady in question which I shouldn't bear patiently.'
'She can't be your equal.'
'I won't hear even that patiently. You know nothing about her, except that she is a second-class passenger,—in which matter she is exactly my equal. If you come to that, don't you think that you are degrading yourself in coming here and talking to me? I am not your equal.'
'But you are.'
'And so is she, then. We shan't arrive at anything, Mrs. Callander, and so you had better give it up.' Whereupon she did give it up and retreat to her own part of the ship, but not with a very good grace.
They had certainly become very intimate,—John Caldigate and Mrs. Smith; and there could be no doubt that, in the ordinary language of the world, he was making a fool of himself. He did in fact know nothing about her but what she told herself, and this amounted to little more than three statements, which might or might not be true,—that she had gone on the stage in opposition to her friends,—that she had married an actor, who had treated her with great cruelty,—and that he had died of drink. And with each of these stories there had been an accompaniment of mystery. She had not told him her maiden name, nor what had been the condition of her parents, nor whether they were living, nor at what theatres she and her husband had acted, nor when he had died. She had expressed a hope that she might get an engagement in the colonies, but she had not spoken of any recommendation or letters of introduction. He simply knew of her that her name was Euphemia Smith.
In that matter of her clothes there had been a great improvement, but made very gradually. She had laughed at her own precautions, saying, that in her poverty she had wished to save everything that could be saved, and that she had only intended to make herself look like others in the same class. 'And I had wanted to avoid all attention,—at first,' she said, smiling, as she looked up at him.
'In which you have been altogether unsuccessful he replied, 'as you are certainly more talked about than any one in the ship.'
'Has it been my fault?' she asked.
Then he comforted her, saying that it certainly had not been her fault; that she had been reticent and reserved till she had been either provoked or invited to come forth; and, in fact, that her conduct had been in all respects feminine, pretty, and decorous;—as to all which he was not perhaps the best judge in the world.
But she was certainly much pleasanter to look at, and even to talk to, now that she had put on a small, clean, black felt hat instead of the broken straw, and had got out from her trunks a pretty warm shawl, and placed a ribbon or two about her in some indescribable manner, and was no longer ashamed of showing her shoes as she sat about upon the deck. There could be no doubt, as she was seen now, that she was the most attractive female on board the ship; but it may be doubted whether the anger of the Mrs. Cromptons, Mrs. Callanders, and Miss Greens was mitigated by the change. The battle against her became stronger, and the duty of rescuing that infatuated young man from her sorceries was more clear than ever;—if only anything could be done to rescue him!
What could be done? Mrs. Smith could not be locked up. No one,—not even the Captain,—could send her down to her own wretched little cabin because she would talk with a gentleman. Talking is allowed on board ship, and even flirting, to a certain extent. Mrs. Smith's conduct with Mr. Caldigate was not more peculiar than that of Miss Green and the doctor. Only it pleased certain people to think that Miss Green might be fond of the doctor if she chose, and that Mrs. Smith had no right to be fond of any man. There was a stubbornness about both the sinners which resolved to set public opinion at defiance. The very fact that others wished to interfere with him made Caldigate determined to resent all interference; and the woman, with perhaps a deeper insight into her own advantages, was brave enough to be able to set opposition at defiance.
They were about a week from their port when the captain,—Captain Munday,—was induced to take the matter into his own hands. It is hardly too much to say that he was pressed to do so by the united efforts of the first-class passengers. It was dreadful to think that this unfortunate young man should go on shore merely to become the prey of such a woman as that. So Captain Munday, who at heart was not afraid of his passenger,—but who persisted in saying that no good could be done, and who had, as may be remembered, already made a slight attempt,—was induced to take the matter in hand. He came up to Caldigate on the deck one afternoon, and without any preface began his business. 'Mr. Caldigate,' he said, 'I am afraid you are getting into a scrape with one of your fellow-passengers.'
'What do you call a scrape, Captain Munday?'
'I should call it a scrape if a young gentleman of your position and your prospects were to find himself engaged on board ship to marry a woman he knew nothing about.'
'Do you know anything about my position and prospects, Captain Munday?'
'I know you are a gentleman.'
'And I think you know less about the lady.'
'I know nothing;—but I will tell you what I hear.'
'I really would rather that you did not. Of course, Captain Munday, on board your own ship you are a despot, and I must say that you have made everything very pleasant for us. But I don't think even your position entitles you to talk to me about my private affairs,—or about hers. You say you know nothing. Is it manly to repeat what one hears about a poor forlorn woman?' Then the Captain retreated without another word, owning to himself that he was beaten. If this foolish young man chose to make for himself a bed of that kind he must lie upon it. Captain Munday went away shrugging his shoulders, and spoke no further word to John Caldigate on that or any other subject during the voyage.
Caldigate had driven off his persecutors valiantly, and had taught them all to think that he was resolute in his purposes in regard to Mrs. Smith, let those purposes be what they might; but nothing could be further from the truth; for he had no purposes and was, within his own mind, conscious of his lack of all purpose, and very conscious of his folly. And though he could repel Mrs. Callander and the Captain,—as he had always repelled those who had attempted to control him,—still he knew that they had been right. Such an intimacy as this could not be wise, and its want of wisdom became the more strongly impressed upon him the nearer he got to shore, and the more he felt that when he had got ashore he should not know how to act in regard to her.
The intimacy had certainly become very close. He had expressed his great admiration, and she had replied that, 'had things not been as they were,' she could have returned the feeling. But she did not say what the things were which might have been otherwise. Nor did she seem to attempt to lead him on to further and more definite proposals. And she never spoke of any joint action between them when on shore, though she gave herself up to his society here on board the ship. She seemed to think that they were then to part, as though one would be going one way, and one the other;—but he felt that after so close an intimacy they could not part like that.
Things went on in the same way till the night before the morning on which they were to enter Hobson's Bay. Hobson's Bay, as every one knows, is the inlet of the sea into which the little river runs on which Melbourne is built. After leaving the tropics they had gone down south, and had encountered showers and wind, and cold weather, but now they had come up again into warm latitudes and fine autumn weather,—for it was the beginning of March, and the world out there is upside down. Before that evening nothing had been said between Mrs Smith and John Caldigate as to any future; not a word to indicate that when the journey should be over, there would or that there would not be further intercourse between them. She had purposely avoided any reference to a world after this world of the ship, even refusing, in her half-sad but half-joking manner, to discuss matters so far ahead. But he felt that he could not leave her on board, as he would the other passengers, without a word spoken as to some future meeting. There will arrive on occasions a certain pitch of intimacy,—which cannot be defined as may a degree of cousinship, but which is perfectly understood by the persons concerned;—so close as to forbid such mere shaking of the hands. There are many men, and perhaps more women, cautious enough and wise enough to think of this beforehand, and, thinking of it, to guard themselves from the dangerous attractions of casual companions by a composed manner and unenthusiastic conversation. Who does not know the sagacious lady who, after sitting at table with the same gentleman for a month, can say, 'Good-bye, Mr. Jones,' just as though Mr. Jones had been a stranger under her notice but for a day. But others gush out, and when Mr. Jones takes his departure, hardly know how not to throw themselves into his arms. The intercourse between our hero and Mrs. Smith had been such that, as a gentleman, he could not leave her without some allusion to future meetings. That was all up to the evening before their arrival. The whole ship's company, captain, officers, quarter-masters, passengers, and all, were quite sure that she had succeeded in getting a promise of marriage from him. But there had been nothing of the kind.
Among others, Dick Shand was sure that there was some entanglement. Entanglement was the word he always used in discussing the matter with Mrs. Callander. Between Dick and his friend there had been very little confidential communication of late. Caldigate had forbidden Shand to talk to him about Mrs. Smith, and thus had naturally closed the man's mouth on other matters. And then they had fallen into different sets. Dick, at least, had fallen into a set, while Caldigate had hardly associated with any but the one dangerous friend. Dick had lived much with a bevy of noisy young men who had been given to games and smoking, and to a good deal of drink. Caldigate had said not a word, even when on one occasion Dick had stumbled down into the cabin very much the worse for what he had taken. How could he find fault with Dick's folly when he would not allow Dick to say a word to him as to his own? But on this last day at sea it became necessary that they should understand each other.
'What do you mean to do when you land?' Caldigate asked.
All that had been settled between them very exactly long since. At a town called Nobble, about three hundred miles west of Sydney, there lived a man, supposed to be knowing in gold, named Crinkett, with whom they had corresponded, and to whom they intended, in the first instance, to apply. And about twenty miles beyond Nobble were the new and now much reputed Ahalala diggings, at which they purposed to make their first debut. It had been decided that they would go direct from Melbourne to Nobble,—not round by Sydney so as to see more of the world, and thus spend more money,—but by the direct route, taking the railway to Albury and the coaches, which they were informed were running between Albury and Nobble. And it had also been determined that they would spend but two nights in Melbourne,—'just to get their things washed,'—so keen had they been in their determination to begin their work. But on all these matters there had been no discussion now for a month, nor even an allusion to them.
'What do you mean to do when we land?' Caldigate asked on that last day.
'I thought all that was settled. But I suppose you are going to change everything?'
'I am going to change nothing. Only you seem to have got into such a way of life that I didn't know whether you would be prepared for serious work.'
'I shall be as well prepared as you are, I don't doubt,' said Dick. 'I have no impediment of any kind.'
'I certainly have none. Then we will start by the first train on Wednesday morning for Albury. We must have our heavy things sent round by sea to Sydney, and get them from there as best we can. When we are a little fixed, one of us can run down to Sydney.'
And so it was settled, without any real confidence between them, but in conformity with their previous arrangements.
It was on the evening of the same day, after they had sighted Cape Otway, that Mrs. Smith and Caldigate began their last conversation on board the Goldfinder,—a conversation which lasted, with one or two interruptions, late into the night.
'So we have come to the end of it,' she said.
'To the end of what?'
'To the end of all that is pleasant and easy and safe. Don't you remember my telling you how I dreaded the finish? Here I have been fairly comfortable and have in many respects enjoyed it. I have had you to talk to; and there has been a flavour of old days about it. What shall I be doing this time to-morrow?'
'I don't know your plans.'
'Exactly;—and I have not told you, because I would not have you bothered with me when I land. You have enough on your own hands; and if I were to be a burden to you now it might be a serious trouble. I am afraid poor Mr. Shand objects to me.'
'You don't think that would stand in my way?'
'It stands in mine. Of course, with your pride and your obstinacy you would tell Mr. Shand to go to—the devil if he ventured to object to any little delay that might be occasioned by looking after me. Then Mr. Shand would go—there, or elsewhere; and all your plans would be broken up, and you would be without a companion.'
'Unless I had you.' Of all the words which he could have spoken in such an emergency these were the most foolish; and yet, at so tender a moment, how were they to be repressed?
'I do think that Dick Shand is dangerous,' she answered, laughing; 'but I should be worse. I am afraid Dick Shand will—drink.'
'If so, we must part. And what would you do?'
'What would I do? What could I do?' Then there was a pause. 'Perhaps I should want you to—marry me, which would be worse than Dick Shand's drinking. Eh?'
There is an obligation on a man to persevere when a woman has encouraged him in love-making. It is like riding at a fence. When once you have set your horse at it you must go on, however impracticable it may appear as you draw close to it. If you have never looked at the fence at all,—if you have ridden quite the other way, making for some safe gate or clinging to the dull lane,—then there will be no excitement, but also there will be no danger and no disgrace. Caldigate had ridden hard at the fence, and could not crane at it now that it was so close to him. He could only trust to his good fortune to carry him safe over. 'I don't suppose you would want it,' he said, 'but I might.'
'You would want me, but you would not want me for always. I should be a burden less easy to shake off than Dick Shand.'
'Is that the way a man is always to look at a woman?'
'It is the way in which they do, I think. I often wonder that any man is ever fool enough to marry. A poor man may want some one to serve him, and may be able to get service in no other way; or a man, poor in another way, may find an heiress convenient;—but otherwise I think men only marry when they are caught. Women are prehensile things, which have to cling to something for nourishment and support. When I come across such a one as you I naturally put out my feelers.'
'I have not been aware of it.'
'Yes, you are; and I do not doubt that your mind is vacillating about me. I am sure you like me.'
'Certainly, I like you.'
'And you know that I love you.'
'I did not know it.'
'Yes, you did. You are not the man to be diffident of yourself in such a matter. You must either think that I love you, or that I have been a great hypocrite in pretending to do so. Love you!' They were sitting together on a large spar which was lashed on to the deck, and which had served throughout all the voyage for a seat for second-class passengers There were others now on the farther end of it; but there was a feeling that when Caldigate and Mrs. Smith were together it would not be civil to intrude upon their privacy. At this time it was dark; but their eyes had become used to the gloom, and each could see the other's face. 'Love you!' she repeated, looking up at him, speaking in a very low voice, but yet, oh so clearly, so that not a fraction of a sound was lost to his ears, with no special emotion in her face, with no contortion, no grimace, but with her eyes fixed upon his. 'How should it be possible that I should not love you? For two months we have been together as people seldom are in the world,—as they never can be without hating each other or loving each other thoroughly. You have been very good to me who am all alone and desolate. And you are clever, educated,—and a man. How should I not love you? And I know from the touch of your hand, from your breath when I feel it on my face, from the fire of your eye, and from the tenderness of your mouth, that you, too, love me.'
'I do,' he said.
'But as there may be marriage without love, so there may be love without marriage. You cannot but feel how little you know of me, and ignorant as you are of so much, that to marry me might be—ruin.' It was just what he had told himself over and over again, when he had been trying to resolve what he would do in regard to her. 'Don't you know that?'
'I know that it might have been so among the connections of home life.'
'And to you the connections of home life may all come back. That woman talked about your "roll of ancestors." Coming from her it was absurd. But there was some truth in it. You know that were you to marry me, say to-morrow, in Melbourne, it would shut you out from—well, not the possibility but the probability of return.'
'I do not want to go back.'
'Nor do I want to hinder you from doing so. If we were alike desolate, alike alone, alike cast out, oh then, what a heaven of happiness I should think had been opened to me by the idea of joining myself to you! There is nothing I could not do for you. But I will not be a millstone round your neck.'
She had taken so much the more prominent part in all this that he felt himself compelled by his manliness to say something in contradiction to it—something that should have the same flavour about it as had her self-abnegation and declared passion. He also must be unselfish and enthusiastic. 'I do not deny that there is truth in what you say.'
'It is true.'
'Of course I love you.'
'It ought to be of course,—now.'
'And of course I do not mean to part from you now, as though we were never to see each other again.'
'I hope not quite that.'
'Certainly not. I shall therefore hold you as engaged to me, and myself as engaged to you,—unless something should occur to separate us.' It was a foolish thing to say, but he did not know how to speak without being foolish. It is not usual that a gentleman should ask a lady to be engaged to him '—unless something should occur to separate them!' 'You will consent to that,' he said.
'What I will consent to is this, that I will be yours, all yours, whenever you may choose to send for me. At any moment I will be your wife for the asking. But you shall go away first, and shall think of it, and reflect upon it,—so that I may not have to reproach myself with having caught you.'
'Well, yes, caught you. I do feel that I have caught you,—almost. I do feel,—almost,—that I ought to have had nothing to do with you. From the beginning of it all I knew that I ought to have nothing to say to you. You are too good for me.' Then she rose from her place as though to leave him. 'I will go down now,' she said, 'because I know you will have many things to do. To-morrow, when we get up, we shall be in the harbour, and you will be on shore quite early. There will be no time for a word of farewell then. I will meet you again here just before we go to bed,—say at half-past ten. Then we will arrange, if we can arrange, how we may meet again.'
And so she glided away from him, and he was left alone, sitting on the spar. Now, at any rate, he had engaged himself. There could not be any doubt about that. He certainly could not be justified in regarding himself as free because she had told him that she would give him time to think of it. Of course he was engaged to marry her. When a man has been successful in his wooing he is supposed to be happy. He asked himself whether he was proud of the result of this intimacy. She had told him,—she herself,—that she had 'caught him', meaning thereby that he had been taken as a rabbit with a snare or a fish with a baited hook. If it had been so, surely she would not herself have said so. And yet he was aware how common it is for a delinquent to cover his own delinquency by declaring it. 'Of course I am idle,' says the idle one, escaping the disgrace of his idleness by his honesty. 'I have caught you!' There is something soothing to the vanity in such a declaration from a pretty woman. That she should have wished to catch you is something;—something that the net should itself be so pleasant, with its silken meshes! But the declaration may not the less be true and the fact unpleasant. In the matter of matrimony a man does not wish to be caught; and Caldigate, fond as he was of her, acknowledged that what she said was true.
He leant back in a corner that was made by the hatchway, and endeavoured to think over his life and prospects. If this were a true engagement, then must he cease altogether to think of Hester Bolton. Then must that dream be abandoned. It is of no use to the most fervid imagination to have a castle projected in Spain from which all possible foundation has been taken away. In his dreams of life a man should never dream that which is altogether impossible. There had been something in the thought of Hester Bolton which had taken him back from the roughnesses of his new life, from the doubtful respectability of Mrs. Smith, from the squalor of the second-class from the whisky-laden snores of Dick Shand, to a sweeter, brighter, cleaner world. Till this engagement had been absolutely spoken he could still indulge in that romance, distant and unreal as it was. But now,—now it seemed to be brought in upon him very forcibly that he must rid his thoughts of Hester Bolton,—or else rid his life of Mrs. Smith.
But he was engaged to marry Mrs. Smith. Then he got up, and walked backwards and forwards along the deck, asking himself whether this could really be the truth. Was he bound to this woman for his life? And if so, had he done a thing of which he already repented himself? He tried to persuade himself that she was admirably fitted for the life which he was fated to lead. She was handsome, intellectual, a most delightful companion, and yet capable of enduring the hardships of an adventurous uncertain career. Ought he not to think himself peculiarly lucky in having found for himself so eligible a companion? But there is something so solemn, so sacred, in the name of wife. A man brought up among soft things is so imbued with the feeling that his wife should be something better, cleaner, sweeter, holier than himself that he could not but be awe-struck when he thought that he was bound to marry this all but nameless widow of some drunken player,—this woman who, among other women, had been thought unfit for all companionship!
But things arrange themselves. How probable it was that he would never be married to her. After all, this might be but an incident, and not an unpleasant incident, in his life. He had had his amusement out of it, and she had had hers. Perhaps they would part to meet no more. But when he thought that there might be comfort in this direction, he felt that he was a scoundrel for thinking so.
'And this is to say good-bye?' 'Twas thus she greeted him again that night. 'Good-bye—'
'Good-bye, my love.'
'My love! my love! And now remember this; my address will be, Post-office, Melbourne. It will be for you to write to me. You will not hear from me unless you do. Indeed I shall know nothing of you. Let me have a line before a month is over.' This he promised, and then they parted.
At break of day on the following morning the Goldfinder rode over the Rip into Hobson's Bay. There were still four hours before the ship lay at her moorings; but during all that time Mrs. Smith was not seen by Caldigate. As he got into the boat which took him and Shand from the ship to the pier at Sandridge she kissed her hand to him over the side of the vessel. Before eleven o'clock Dick Shand and his companion were comfortably put up at the Miners' Home in Flinders Lane.
During the two days which Dick and Caldigate spent together in Melbourne Mrs. Smith's name was not mentioned between them. They were particularly civil each to the other and went to work together, making arrangements at a bank as to their money, taking their places, despatching their luggage, and sorting their belongings as though there had been no such woman as Mrs. Smith on board the Goldfinder. Dick, though he had been inclined to grumble when his mystery had been taken out of his hands,—who had, of course, been jealous when he saw that the lady had discarded her old hat and put on new ribbons, not for him, but for another,—was too conscious of the desolation to which he would be subjected by quarrelling with his friend. He felt himself unable to go alone, and was therefore willing that the bygones of the ship should be bygones. Caldigate, on the other hand, acknowledged to himself that he owed some reparation to his companion. Of course he had not bound himself to any special mode of life;—but had he, in his present condition, allied himself more closely to Mrs. Smith, he would, to some extent, have thrown Dick over. And then, as soon as he was on shore, he did feel somewhat ashamed of himself in regard to Mrs. Smith. Was it not manifest that any closer alliance, let the alliance be what it might, must be ruinous to him? As it was, had he not made an absolute fool of himself with Mrs. Smith? Had he not got himself already into a mess from which there was no escape? Of course he must write to her when the month was over. The very weight of his thoughts on this matter made him tamer with Dick and more observant than he would otherwise have been.
They were during those two days frequently about the town, looking at the various streets and buildings, at the banks and churches and gardens,—as is usual with young men when they visit a new town; but, during it all, Caldigate's mind was more intent on Mrs. Smith than he was on the sights of the place. Melbourne is not so big but that she might easily have thrown herself in his way had she pleased. Strangers residing in such a town are almost sure to see each other before twenty-four hours are gone. But Mrs. Smith was not seen. Two or three times he went up and down Collins Street alone, without his friend, not wishing to see her,—aware that he had better not see her,—but made restless by a nervous feeling that he ought to wish to see her, that he should, at any rate, not keep out of her way. But Mrs. Smith did not show herself. Whatever might be her future views, she did not now take steps to present herself to him. 'I shall be so much the more bound to present myself to her,' he said to himself. 'But perhaps she knows all that,' he added in the same soliloquy.
On the Wednesday morning they left Melbourne by the 6 A.M. train for Albury, which latter place they reached the same day, about 2 P.M., having then crossed the Murray river, and passed into the colony of New South Wales. Here they stayed but a few hours and then went on by coach on their journey to Nobble. From one wretched vehicle they were handed on to another, never stopping anywhere long enough to go to bed,—three hours at one wretched place and five at another,—travelling at the rate of six miles an hour, bumping through the mud and slush of the bush roads, and still going on for three days and three nights. This was roughing it indeed. Even Dick complained, and said that, of all the torments prepared for wicked mortals on earth, this Australian coaching was the worst. They went through Wagga-Wagga and Murrumburra, and other places with similar names, till at last they were told that they had reached Nobble. Nobble they thought was the foulest place which they had ever seen. It was a gold-digging town, as such places are called, and had been built with great rapidity to supply the necessities of adjacent miners. It was constructed altogether of wood, but no two houses had been constructed alike. They generally had gable ends opening on to the street, but were so different in breadth, altitude, and form, that it was easy to see that each enterprising proprietor had been his own architect. But they were all alike in having enormous advertisement-boards, some high, some broad, some sloping, on which were declared the merits of the tradesmen who administered within to the wants of mining humanity. And they had generally assumed most singular names for themselves: 'The Old Stick-in-the-Mud Soft Goods Store,' 'The Polyeuka Stout Depot,' 'Number Nine Flour Mills,' and so on,—all of which were very unintelligible to our friends till they learned that these were the names belonging to certain gold-mining claims which had been opened in the neighbourhood of Nobble. The street itself was almost more perilous to vehicles than the slush of the forest-tracks, so deep were the holes and so uncertain the surface. When Caldigate informed the driver that they wanted to be taken as far as Henniker's hotel, the man said that he had given up going so far as that for the last two months, the journey being too perilous. So they shouldered their portmanteaus and struggled forth down the street. Here and there a short bit of wooden causeway, perhaps for the length of three houses, would assist them; and then, again, they would have to descend into the roadway and plunge along through the mud.
'It is not quite as nice walking as the old Quad at Trinity,' said Caldigate.
'It is the beastliest hole I ever put my foot in since I was born,' said Dick, who had just stumbled and nearly came to the ground with his burden. 'They told us that Nobble was a fine town.'
Henniker's hotel was a long, low wooden shanty, divided into various very small partitions by thin planks, in most of which two or more dirty-looking beds had been packed very closely. But between these little compartments there was a long chamber containing a long and very dirty table, and two long benches. Here were sitting a crowd of miners, drinking, when our friends were ushered in through the bar or counter which faced to the street. At the bar they were received by a dirty old woman who said that she was Mrs. Henniker. Then they were told, while the convivial crowd were looking on and listening, that they could have the use of one of the partitions and their 'grub' for 7s. 6d. a-day each. When they asked for a partition apiece, they were told that if they didn't like what was offered to them they might go elsewhere. Upon that they agreed to Mrs. Henniker's terms, and sitting down on one of the benches looked desolately into each others faces.
Yes;—it was different from Trinity College, different from Babington, very different even from the less luxurious comfort of the house at Pollington. The deck, even the second-class cabin, of the Goldfinder had been better than this. And then they had no friend, not even an acquaintance, within some hundred miles. The men around them were not uncivil. Australian miners never are so. But they were inquisitive, familiar, and with their half-drunken good-humour, almost repulsive. It was about noon when our friends reached Henniker's, and they were told that there would be dinner at one. There was always 'grub' at one, and 'grub' at seven, and 'grub' at eight in the morning. So one of the men informed them. The same gentleman hoped that the strangers were not very particular, as the 'grub,' though plentiful was apt to be rough of its kind.
'You'll have it a deal worse before you've done if you're going on to Ahalala,' said another. Then Caldigate said that they did intend to go on to Ahalala. 'We're going to have a spell at gold-digging,' said he. What was the use of making any secret of the matter? 'We knowed that ready enough,' said one of the men. 'Chaps like you don't come much to Nobble for nothing else. Have you got any money to start with?'
'A few half-crowns,' said Dick, cautiously.
'Half-crowns don't go very far here, my mate. If you can spend four or five pounds a-week each for the next month, so as to get help till you know where you are, it may be you'll turn up gold at Ahalala;—but if not, you'd better go elsewhere. You needn't be afraid. We ain't a-going to rob you of nothing.'
'Nor yet we don't want nothing to drink,' said another.
'Speak for yourself, Jack,' said a third. 'But come;—as these are regular new chums, I don't care if I shout for the lot myself.' Then the dirty old woman was summoned, and everybody had whisky all round. When that was done, another generous man came to the front, and there was more whisky, till Caldigate was frightened as to the result.
Evil might have come from it, had not the old woman opportunely brought the 'grub' into the room. This she chucked down on the table in such a way that the grease out of the dish spattered itself all around. There was no tablecloth, nor had any preparation been made; but in the middle of the table there was a heap of dirty knives and forks, with which the men at once armed themselves; and each took a plate out of a heap that had been placed on a shelf against the wall. Caldigate and Shand, when they saw how the matter was to be arranged, did as the other men. The 'grub' consisted of an enormous lump of boiled beef, and a bowl of potatoes, which was moderate enough in size considering that there were in all about a dozen men to be fed. But there was meat enough for double the number, and bread in plenty, but so ill-made as to be rejected by most of the men. The potatoes were evidently the luxury; and, guided by that feeling, the man who had told the strangers that they need not be afraid of being robbed, at once selected six out of the bowl, and deposited three each before Dick and Caldigate. He helped the others all round to one each, and then was left without any for himself. 'I don't care a damn for that sort of tucker,' he said, as though he despised potatoes from the bottom of his heart. Of all the crew he was the dirtiest, and was certainly half drunk. Another man holloaed to 'Mother Henniker' for pickles; but Mother Henniker, without leaving her seat at the bar, told them to 'pickle themselves.' Whereupon one of the party, making some allusion to Jack Brien's swag,—Jack Brien being absent at the moment,—rose from his seat and undid a great roll lying in one of the corners. Every miner has his swag,—consisting of a large blanket which is rolled up, and contains all his personal luggage. Out of Jack Brien's swag were extracted two large square bottles of pickles. These were straightway divided among the men, care being taken that Dick and Caldigate should have ample shares. Then every man helped himself to beef, as much as he would, passing the dish round from one to the other. When the meal was half finished, Mrs. Henniker brought in an enormous jorum of tea, which she served out to all the guests in tin pannikins, giving to every man a fixed and ample allowance of brown sugar, without at all consulting his taste. Milk there was none. In the midst of this Jack Brien came in, and with a clamour of mirth the empty pickle jars were shown him. Jack, who was a silent man, and somewhat melancholy, merely shook his head and ate his beef. It may be presumed that he was fond of pickles, having taken so much trouble to provide them; but he said not a word of the injury to which he had been subjected.
'Them's a-going to Ahalala, Jack,' said the distributor of the potatoes, nodding his head to indicate the two new adventurers.
'Then they're a-going to the most infernal, mean, ——, —— break-heartedest place as God Almighty ever put on this 'arth for the perplexment of poor unfortunate —— —— miners.' This was Jack Brien's eloquence, and his description of Ahalala. Before this he had not spoken a word, nor did he speak again till he had consumed three or four pounds of beef, and had swallowed two pannikins of tea. Then he repeated his speech: 'There isn't so —— —— an infernal, mean, break-hearted a place as Ahalala,—not nowhere; no, not nowhere. And so them chums'll find for theirselves if they go there.' Then his neighbour whispered into Caldigate's ear that Jack had gone to Ahalala with fifty sovereigns in his pocket, and that he wasn't now worth a red cent.
'But there is gold there?' asked Caldigate.
'It's my belief there's gold pretty much everywhere, and you may find it, or you mayn't. That's where it is;—and the mayn'ts are a deal oftener turning up than the mays.'
'A man can get work for wages,' suggested Dick.
'Wages! What's the use of that? A man as knows mining can earn wages. But Ahalala aint a place for wages. If you want wages, go to one of the old-fashioned places,—Bendigo, or the like of that. I've worked for wages, but what comes of it? A man goes to Ahalala because he wants to run his chance, and get a big haul. It's every one on his own bottom pretty much at Ahalala.'
'Wages be ——!' said Jack Brien, rising from the seat and hitching up his trousers as he left the room. It was very evident that Jack Brien was a gambler.
After dinner there was a smoke, and after the smoke Dick Shand 'shouted' for the company. Dick had quite learned by this time the mystery of shouting. When one man 'stands' drinks all round, he shouts; and then it is no more than reciprocal that another man should do the same. And, in this way, when the reciprocal feeling is spread over a good many drinkers, a good deal of liquor is consumed.
While Dick Shand's 'shout' was being consumed, Caldigate asked one of his new friends where Mr. Crinkett lived. Was Mr. Crinkett known in Nobble? It seemed that Crinkett was very well known in Nobble indeed. If anybody had done well at Nobble, Mr. Crinkett had done well. He was the 'swell' of the place. This informant did not think that Mr. Crinkett had himself gone very deep at Ahalala. Mr. Crinkett had risen high enough in his profession to be able to achieve more certainty than could be found at such a place as Ahalala. By this time they were on the road to Mr. Crinkett's house, this new friend having undertaken to show them the way.
'He can put you up to a thing or two, if he likes,' said the new friend. 'Perhaps he's a pal of yourn?'
Caldigate explained that he had never seen Mr. Crinkett, but that he had come to Nobble armed with a letter from a gentleman in England who had once been concerned in gold-digging.
'He's a civil enough gent, is Crinkett,' said the miner;—'but he do like making money. They say of him there's nothing he wouldn't sell,—not even his grandmother's bones. I like trade, myself,' added the miner; 'but some of 'em's too sharp. That's where Crinkett lives. He's a swell; ain't he?'
They had walked about half a mile from the town, turning down a lane at the back of the house, and had made their way through yawning pit-holes and heaps of dirt and pools of yellow water,—where everything was disorderly and apparently deserted,—till they came to a cluster of heaps so large as to look like little hills; and here there were signs of mining vitality. On their way they had not come across a single shred of vegetation, though here and there stood the bare trunks of a few dead and headless trees, the ghosts of the forest which had occupied the place six or seven years previously. On the tops of these artificial hills there were sundry rickety-looking erections, and around them were troughs and sheds and rude water-works. These, as the miner explained were the outward and visible signs of the world-famous 'Old Stick-in-the-Mud' claim, which was now giving two ounces of gold to the ton of quartz, and which was at present the exclusive property of Mr. Crinkett, who had bought out the tribute shareholders and was working the thing altogether on his own bottom. As they ascended one of those mounds of upcast stones and rubble, they could see on the other side the crushing-mills, and the engine-house, and could hear the thud, thud, thud of the great iron hammers as they fell on the quartz,—and then, close beyond, but still among the hillocks, and surrounded on all sides by the dirt and filth of the mining operations, was Mr. Crinkett's mansion. 'And there's his very self a-standing at the gate a-counting how many times the hammer falls a minute, and how much gold is a-coming from every blow as it falls.' With this little observation as to Mr. Crinkett's personal character, the miner made his way back to his companions.
The house which they saw certainly surprised them much, and seemed to justify the assertion just before made to them that Mr. Crinkett was a swell. It was marvellous that any man should have contemplated the building of such a mansion in a place so little attractive, with so many houses within view. The house and little attempted garden, together with the stables and appurtenances, may have occupied half an acre. All around it were those hideous signs of mining operations which make a country rich in metals look as though the devil had walked over it, dragging behind him an enormous rake. There was not a blade of grass to be seen. As far as the eye could reach there stood those ghost-like skeletons of trees in all spots where the soil had not been turned up; but on none of them was there a leaf left, or even a branch. Everywhere the ground was thrown about in hideous uncovered hillocks, all of which seemed to have been deserted except those in the immediate neighbourhood of Mr. Crinkett's house. But close around him one could see wheels turning and long ropes moving, and water running in little wooden conduits, all of which were signs of the activity going on under ground. And then there was the never-ceasing thud, thud, thud of the crushing-mill, which from twelve o'clock on Sunday night to twelve o'clock on Saturday night, never paused for a moment, having the effect, on that vacant day, of creating a painful strain of silence upon the ears of those who were compelled to remain on the spot during the unoccupied time. It was said that in Mr. Crinkett's mansion every sleeper would wake from his sleep as soon as the engine was stopped, disturbed by the unwonted quiescence.
But the house which had been built in this unpromising spot was quite entitled to be called a mansion. It was of red brick, three storeys high, with white stone facings to all the windows and all the corners, which glittered uncomfortably in the hot sun. There was a sweep up to it, the road having been made from the debris of the stone out of which the gold had been crushed; but though there was the sweep up to the door carefully made for the length of a few dozen yards, there was nothing that could be called a road outside, though there were tracks here and there through the hillocks, along which the waggons employed about the place struggled through the mud. The house itself was built with a large hall in the middle, and three large windows on each side. On the floor there were four large rooms, with kitchens opening out behind, and above there were, of course, chambers in proportion and in the little garden there was a pond and a big bath-house, and there were coach-houses and stables;—so that it was quite a mansion. It was called Polyeuka Hall, because while it was being built Mr. Crinkett was drawing large gains from the Polyeuka mine, about three miles distant on the other side of Nobble. For the building of his mansion on this special site, no one could imagine any other reason than that love which a brave man has of overcoming difficulties. To endeavour to create a paradise in such a Pandemonium required all the energies of a Crinkett. Whether or not he had been successful depended of course on his own idiosyncrasies. He had a wife who, it is to be hoped, liked her residence. They had no children, and he spent the greater part of his time away in other mining districts in which he had ventures. When thus absent, he would live as Jack Brien and his friends were living at Mrs. Henniker's, and was supposed to enjoy the ease of his inn more thoroughly than he did the constraint of his grand establishment.
At the present moment he was at home, and was standing at the gate of his domain all alone, with a pipe in his mouth,—perhaps listening, as the man had said, to the noise of his own crushing-machine. He was dressed in black, with a chimney-pot on his head,—and certainly did not look like a miner, though he looked as little like a gentleman. Our friends were in what they conceived to be proper miners' costume, but Mr. Crinkett knew at a glance that there was something uncommon about them. As they approached he did not attempt to open the gate, but awaited them, looking over the top of it from the inside. 'Well, my mates, what can I do for you?' he said, still remaining on his side, and apparently intending that they should remain on theirs. Then Caldigate brought forth his letter, and handed it to the owner of the place across the top of the gate. 'I think Mr. Jones wrote to you about us before,' said Caldigate.
Crinkett read the letter very deliberately. Perhaps he required time to meditate what his conduct should be. Perhaps he was not quick at reading written letters. But at last he got to the end of the very few words which the note contained. 'Jones!' he said, 'Jones wasn't much account when he was out here.'
'We don't know a great deal about him,' said Dick.
'But when he heard that we were coming, he offered us a letter to you,' said Caldigate. 'I believe him to be an honest man.'
'Honest! Well, yes; I daresay he's honest enough. He never robbed me of nothing. And shall I tell you why? Because I know how to take care that he don't, nor yet nobody else.' As he said this, he looked at them as though he intended that they were included among the numbers against whom he was perfectly on his guard.
'That's the way to live,' said Dick.
'That's the way I live, my friend. He did write before. I remember saying to myself what a pair of simpletons you must be if you was thinking of going to Ahalala.'
'We do think of going there,' said Caldigate.
'The road's open to you. Nobody won't prevent you. You can get beef and mutton there, and damper, and tea no doubt, and what they call brandy, as long as you've got the money to pay for it. One won't say anything about what price they'll charge you. Have you got any money?' Then Caldigate made a lengthened speech, in which he explained so much of their circumstances as seemed necessary. He did not name the exact sum which had been left at the bank in Melbourne, but he did make Mr. Crinkett understand that they were not paupers. They were anxious to do something in the way of mining, and particularly anxious to make money. But they did not quite know how to begin. Could he give them a hint? They meant to work with their own hands, but perhaps it might be well for them at first to hire the services of some one to set them a-going.
Crinkett listened very patiently, still maintaining his position on his own side of the gate. Then he spoke words of such wisdom as was in him. 'Ahalala is just the place to ease you of a little money. Mind I tell you. Gold! of course there's been gold to be got there. But what's been the cost of it? What's been the return? If sixteen hundred men, among 'em, can sell fifteen hundred pounds' worth of gold a week, how is each man to have twenty shillings on Saturday night? That's about what it is at Ahalala. Of course there's gold. And where there's gold chucked about in that way, just on the surface, one gets it and ten don't. Who is to say you mayn't be the one. As to hiring a man to show you the way,—you can hire a dozen. As long as you'll pay 'em ten shillings a-day to loaf about, you may have men enough. But whether they'll show you the way to anything except the liquor store, that's another thing. Now shall I tell you what you two gents had better do?' Dick declared that the two gents would be very much obliged to him if he would take that trouble. 'Of course you've heard of the "Old Stick-in-the-Mud"?' Dick told him that they had heard of that very successful mining enterprise since their arrival at Nobble. 'You ask on the veranda at Melbourne, or at Ballarat, or at Sydney. If they don't tell you about it, my name's not Crinkett. You put your money, what you've got, into ten-shilling shares. I'll accommodate you, as you're friends of Jones, with any reasonable number. We're getting two ounces to the ton. The books'll show you that.'
'We thought you'd purchased out all the shareholders said Caldigate.
'So I did, and now I'm redividing it. I'd rather have a company. It's pleasanter. If you can put in a couple of thousand pounds or so between you, you can travel about and see the country, and your money'll be working for you all the time. Did you ever see a gold mine?'
They owned that they never yet had been a yard below ground. Then he opened his gate preparatory to taking them down the 'Old Stick-in-the-Mud,' and brought them with him into one of the front rooms. It was a large parlour, only half furnished, not yet papered, without a carpet, in which it appeared that Mr. Crinkett kept his own belongings. Here he divested himself of his black clothes and put on a suit of miner's garments,—real miner's garments, very dirty, with a slouch hat, on the top of which there was a lump of mud in which to stick a candle-end. Any one learned in the matter would immediately have known the real miner. 'Now if you like to see a mine we will go down, and then you can do as you like about your money.'
They started forth, Crinkett leading the way, and entered the engine-house. As they went he said not a word, being aware that gold, gold that they could see with their eyes in its raw condition, would tempt them more surely than all his eloquence. In the engine-house the three of them got into a box or truck that was suspended over the mouth of a deep shaft, and soon found themselves descending through the bowels of the earth. They went down about four hundred feet, and as they were reaching the bottom Crinkett remarked that it was 'a goodish deep hole all to belong to one man.' 'Yes,' he added as Caldigate extricated himself from the truck, 'and there's a precious lot more gold to come out of it yet, I can tell you.'
In all the sights to be seen about the world there is no sight in which there is less to be seen than in a gold-mine. The two young men were made to follow their conductor along a very dirty underground gallery for about a quarter of a mile, and then they came to four men working with picks in a rough sort of chamber, and four others driving holes in the walls. They were simply picking down the rock, in doing which they were assisted by gunpowder. With keen eyes Crinkett searched along the roof and sides, and at last showed to his companions one or two little specks which he pronounced to be gold. 'When it shows itself like that all about, you may guess whether it's a paying concern! Two ounces to the ton, my boys!' As Dick and Caldigate hitherto knew nothing about ounces and tons in reference to gold, and as they had heard of nuggets, and lumps of gold nearly as big as their fist, they were not much exalted by what they saw down the 'Old Stick-in-the-Mud.' Nor did they like the darkness and dampness and dirt and dreariness of the place. They had both resolved to work, as they had often said, with their own hands;—but in thinking over it their imagination had not pictured to them so uncomfortable a workshop as this. When they had returned to the light, the owner of the place took them through the crushing-mill attached, showed them the stone or mulloch, as it was thrust into the jaws of the devouring animal, and then brought them in triumph round to the place where the gold was eliminated from the debris of mud and water. The gold did not seem to them to be very much; but still there it was. 'Two ounces to the ton, my boys!' said Crinkett, as he brought them back to his house. 'You'll find that a 10s. share'll give you about 6d. a month. That's about 60 per cent, I guess. You can have your money monthly. What comes out of that there mine in a March, you can have in a April, and so on. There ain't nothing like it anywhere else,—not as I knows on. And instead of working your hearts out, you can be just amusing yourselves about the country. Don't go to Ahalala;—unless it is for dropping your money. If that's what you want, I won't say but Ahalala is as good a place as you'll find in the colony.' Then he brought a bottle of whisky out of a cupboard, and treated them to a glass of grog apiece. Beyond that his hospitality did not go.
Dick looked as though he liked the idea of having a venture in the 'Old Stick-in-the-Mud.' Caldigate, without actually disbelieving all that had been said to him, did not relish the proposal. It was not the kind of thing which they had intended. After they had learned their trade as miners it might be very well for them to have shares in some established concern;—but in that case he would wish to be one of the managers himself, and not to trust everything to any Crinkett, however honest. That suggestion of travelling about and amusing themselves, did not commend itself to him. New South Wales might, he thought, be a good country for work, but did not seem to offer much amusement beyond sheer idleness, and brandy-and-water.
'I rather think we should like to do a little in the rough first,' he said.
'A very little'll go a long way with you, I'm thinking.'
'I don't see that at all,' said Dick, stoutly.
'You go down there and take one of them picks in your hand for a week,—eight hours at a time, with five minutes' spell allowed for a smoke, and see how you'll feel at the end of the week.'
'We'll try it on, if you'll give us 10s. a-day for the week,' said Caldigate, rubbing his hands together.
'I wouldn't give you half-a-crown for the whole time between you, and you wouldn't earn it. Ten shillings a day! I suppose you think a man has only just to say the word and become a miner out of hand. You've a deal to learn before you'll be worth half the money. I never knew chaps like you come to any good at working. If you've got a little money, you know, I've shown you what you can do with it. But perhaps you haven't.'
The conversation was ended by a declaration on the part of Caldigate that they would take a week to think over Mr. Crinkett's kind proposition, and that they might as well occupy the time by taking a look at Ahalala. A place that had been so much praised and so much abused must be worth seeing. 'Who's been a-praising it,' asked Crinkett, angrily, 'unless it's that fool Jones? And as for waiting, I don't say that you'll have the shares at that price next week.' In this way he waxed angry; but, nevertheless, he condescended to recommend a man to them, when Caldigate declared that they would like to hire some practical miner to accompany them. 'There's Mick Maggott,' said he, 'knows mining a'most as well as anybody. You'll hear of him, may be, up at Henniker's. He's honest; and if you can keep him off the drink he'll do as well as anybody. But neither Mick nor nobody else can do you no good at Ahalala.' With that he led them out of the gate, and nodding his head at them by way of farewell, left them to go back to Mrs. Henniker's.
To Mrs. Henniker's they went, and there, stretched out at length on the wooden veranda before the house, they found the hero of the potatoes,—the man who had taken them down to Crinkett's house. He seemed to be fast asleep, but as they came up on the boards, he turned himself on his elbow, and looked at them. 'Well, mates,' he said, 'what do you think of Tom Crinkett now you've seen him?'
'He doesn't seem to approve of Ahalala,' said Dick.
'In course he don't. When a new rush is opened like that, and takes away half the hands a man has about him, and raises the wages of them who remain, in course he don't like it. You see the difference. The Old Stick-in-the-Mud is an established kind of thing.'
'It's a paying concern, I suppose,' said Caldigate.
'It has paid;—not a doubt about it. Whether it's played out or not, I'm not so sure. But Ahalala is a working-man's diggings, not a master's, such as Crinkett is now. Of course Crinkett has a down on Ahalala.'
'Your friend Jack Brien didn't seem to think much of the place,' said Dick.
'Poor Jack is one of them who never has a stroke of luck. He's a sort of chum who, when he has a bottle of pickles, somebody else is sure to eat 'em. Ahalala isn't so bad. It's one of them chancy places, of course. You may and you mayn't, as I was a-saying before. When the great rush was on, I did uncommon well at Ahalala. I never was the man I was then.'
'What became of it?' asked Caldigate with a smile.
'Mother Henniker can tell you that, or any other publican round the country. It never will stick to me. I don't know why, but it never will. I've had my luck, too. Oh, laws! I might have had my house, just as grand as Polly Hooker this moment, only I never could stick to it like Tom Crinkett. I've drank cham—paign out of buckets;—I have.'
'I'd rather have a pot of beer out of the pewter,' said Caldigate.
'Very like. One doesn't drink cham—paign because it's better nor anything else. A nobbler of brandy's worth ten of it. It's the glory of out-facing the swells at their own game. There was a chap over in the other colony shod his horse with gold,—and he had to go shepherding afterwards for thirty pounds a-year and his grub. But it's something for him to have ridden a horse with gold shoes. You've never seen a bucketful of cham—paign in the old country?'
When both Dick and Caldigate had owned that they had never encountered luxury so superabundant, and had discussed the matter in various shapes,—asking whether the bucket had been emptied, and other questions of the same nature,—Caldigate inquired of his friend whether he knew Mick Maggott?
'Mick Maggott!' said the man, jumping up to his feet. 'Who wants Mick Maggott?' Then Caldigate explained the recommendation which Mr. Crinkett had made. 'Well;—I'm darned;—Mick Maggott? I'm Mick Maggott, myself.'
Before the evening was over an arrangement had been made between the parties, and had even been written on paper and signed by all the three. Mick on the morrow was to proceed to Ahalala with his new comrades, and was to remain with them for a month, assisting them in all their views; and for this he was to receive ten shillings a-day. But, in the event of his getting drunk, he was to be liable to dismissal at once. Mick pleaded hard for one bout of drinking during the month;—but when Dick explained that one bout might last for the entire time, he acknowledged that the objection was reasonable and assented to the terms proposed.
It was all settled that night, and some necessary purchases made. Ahalala was twenty-three miles from Nobble, and a coach had been established through the bush for the benefit of miners going to the diggings;—but Mick was of opinion that miners ought to walk, with their swag on their backs, when the distance was not more than forty miles. 'You look so foolish getting out of one of them rattletrap coaches,' he said, 'and everybody axing whether you're going to pick for yourself or buy a share in a claim. I'm all for walking,—if it ain't beneath you.' They declared themselves quite ready to walk, and under Mick's guidance they went out and bought two large red blankets and two pannikins. Mick declared that if they went without swags on their backs and pannikins attached to their swags, they would be regarded with evil eyes by all who saw them. There were some words about the portmanteaus. Mick proposed that they should be left for the entire month in the charge of Mrs. Henniker, and, when this was pronounced impossible, he was for a while disposed to be off the bargain. Caldigate declared that, with all his ambition to be a miner, he must have a change of shirts. Then Mick pointed to the swag. Couldn't he put another shirt into the swag? It was at last settled that one portmanteau should be sent by the coach, and one left in the charge of Mrs. Henniker. 'Them sort of traps ain't never any good, in my mind,' said Mick. 'It's unmanly, having all them togs. I like a wash as well as any man,—trousers, jersey, drawers, and all. I'm always at 'em when I get a place for a rinse by the side of a creek. But when my things are so gone that they won't hang on comfortable any longer, I chucks 'em away and buys more. Two jerseys is good, and two drawers is good, because of wet. Boots is awkward, and I allays does with one pair. Some have two, and ties 'em on with the pannikin. But it ain't ship-shape. Them's my ideas, and I've been at it these nine years. You'll come to the same.'
The three started the next morning at six, duly invested with their swags. Before they went they found Mrs. Henniker up, with hot tea, boiled beef, and damper. 'Just one drop at starting,—for the good of the house,' said Mick, apologetically. Whereupon the whisky was brought, and Mick insisted on shouting for it out of his own pocket.
They had hardly gone a mile out of Nobble before Maggott started a little difficulty,—merely for the purpose of solving it with a master's hand. 'There ain't to be no misters among us, you know.'
'Certainly not,' said Caldigate.
'My name's Mick. This chap's name's Dick. I didn't exactly catch your'n. I suppose you've been kursened.'
'Yes;—they christened me John.'
'Ain't it never been Jack with you?'
'I don't think it ever was.'
'John! It do sound lackadaisical. What I call womanish. But perhaps it's for the better. We have such a lot of Jacks. There's dirty Jack, and Jack the nigger, and Jack Misery,—that's poor Jack Brien;—and a lot more. Perhaps you wouldn't like not another name of that sort.'
'Well; no,—unless it's necessary.'
'There ain't another John about the place, as I know. I never knew a John down a mine,—never. We'll try it, anyhow.'
And so that was settled. As it happened, though Dick Shand had always been Dick to his friend, Caldigate had never, as yet, been either John or Jack to Dick Shand. There are men who fall into the way of being called by their Christian names, and others who never hear them except from their own family. But before the day was out, Caldigate had become John to both his companions. 'It don't sound as it ought to do;—not yet,' said Mick, after he had tried it about a dozen times in five minutes.
Before the day was over it was clear that Mick Maggott had assumed the mastery. When three men start on an enterprise together, one man must be 'boss.' Let the republic be as few as it may one man must be president. And as Mick knew what he was about, he assumed the situation easily. The fact that he was to receive wages from the others had no bearing on the subject at all. Before they got to Ahalala, Caldigate had begun to appreciate all this, and to understand in part what they would have to do during this month, and how they would have to live. It was proposed that they should at once fix on a spot,—'peg out a claim,' on some unoccupied piece of ground, buy for themselves a small tent,—of which they were assured that they would find many for sale,—and then begin to sink a hole. When they entered Ahalala, Caldigate was surprised to find that Mick was the most tired of the three. It is always so. The man who has laboured from his youth upwards can endure with his arms. It is he who has had leisure to shoot, to play cricket, to climb up mountains and to handle a racket, that can walk. 'Darned if you ain't better stuff than I took you for,' said Mick, as the three let the swags down from their backs on the veranda of Ridley's hotel at Ahalala.
Ahalala was a very different place from Nobble,—made Nobble seem to be almost a compact and prosperous city. At Nobble there was at any rate a street. But at Ahalala everything was straggling. The houses, such as they were, stood here and there about the place, while a great part of the population lived under canvas. And then Ahalala was decidedly in the forest. The trees around had not yet been altogether killed, nor had they been cut down in sufficient numbers to divest the place of its forest appearance. Ahalala was leafy, and therefore, though much less regular, also less hideous than Nobble. When Dick first made tender inquiry as to the comforts of an hotel, he was assured that there were at least a couple of dozen. But the place was bewildering. There seemed to be no beginning to it and no end. There were many tracks about here and there,—but nothing which could be called a road. The number of holes was infinite,—each hole covered by a rough windlass used for taking out the dirt, which was thrown loosely anywhere round the aperture. Here and there were to be seen little red flags stuck upon the end of poles. These indicated, as Mick informed them, those fortunate adventures in which gold had been found. At those very much more numerous hillocks which showed no red flag, the labourers were hitherto labouring in vain. There was a little tent generally near to each hillock in which the miners slept, packed nearly as close as sheep in a fold. As our party made its way through the midst of this new world to Ridley's hotel, our friend observed many a miner sitting at his evening meal. Each generally had a frying-pan between his legs, out of which he was helping himself to meat which he had cooked on the ashes just behind him. Sometimes two or three were sharing their provisions out of the same frying-pan; but as a rule each miner had his own, and each had it between his legs.