Before they had been at Ahalala twenty-four hours they also had their tent and their frying-pan and their fire, and had pegged out their claim, and were ready to commence operations on the morrow. It was soon manifest to Caldigate and Dick Shand that they would have been very much astray without a 'boss' to direct them. Three or four hours had been passed in forming a judgment as to the spot on which they should commence to dig. And in making his choice Mick had been guided by many matters as to which our two adventurers were altogether ignorant. It might be that Mick was equally so; but he at any rate assumed some knowledge. He looked to the fall of the ground, the line in which the red flags were to be traced,—if any such line could be found,—and was possessed of a considerable amount of jargon as to topographical mining secrets. At last they found a spot, near a creek, surrounded by forest-trees, perhaps three hundred yards from the nearest adjacent claim, and, as Mick declared, in a direct line with three red flags. Here they determined to commence their operations. 'I don't suppose we shall do any good,' said Caldigate to Dick, 'but we must make a beginning, if only for the sake of hardening our hands. We shall be learning something at the time even though we only shovel up so much mud.'
For a fortnight they shovelled up the soil continuously without any golden effects, and, so far, without any feeling of disappointment. Mick had told them that if they found a speck at the end of three weeks they would be very fortunate. They had their windlass, and they worked in relays; one man at the bottom, one man at the wheel, and one man idle. In this way they kept up their work during eighteen hours of the day. Each man in this way worked twelve hours, and had twelve for sleeping, and cooking, and eating. Other occupation they had none. During the fortnight neither of them went any further distance from their claim than to the neighbouring shop. Mick often expressed his admiration at their continued industry, not understanding the spirit which will induce such young men as them to work, even when the work is agonising. And they were equally charmed with Mick's sobriety and loyalty. Not a word had been said as to hours of work,—and yet he was as constant to their long hours as though the venture was his own,—as though there was no question of wages.
'We ain't had a drop o' drink yet,' said Mick one night. 'Ain't we a holding off like Britons?' There was great triumph in his voice as he said this;—very great triumph, but, also, as Caldigate thought, a sound of longing also. They were now in their third week, and the word whisky had never been pronounced between them. At this moment, when Mick's triumphant ejaculation was uttered, they were all lying—in bed. It shall be called bed by way of compliment. They had bought a truss of straw, which Mick had declared to be altogether unnecessary and womanish, and over that was laid a white india-rubber sheet which Caldigate had brought with him from England. This, too, had roused the miner's wrath. Nevertheless he condescended to lie upon it. This was their bed; and here they lay, each wrapped up in his blanket, Mick in the middle, with our two friends at the sides. Now it was not only on Mick's account, but quite as much in reference to Dick Shand, that Caldigate deprecated any reference to drink. The abstention hitherto had been marvellous. He himself would have gone daily to the store for a bottle of beer, but that he recognised the expediency of keeping them away from the place. He had heard that it was a peculiarity of the country that all labour was done without drink, even when it was done by determined drunkards. The drunkard would work for a month, and then drink for a month,—and then, after a time, would die. The drink almost always consisted of spirits of the worst description. It seemed to be recognised by the men that work and drink must be kept separate. But Mick's mind travelled away on this occasion from the little tent to the delights of Ridley's bar. 'We haven't had a drop of drink yet,' he said.
'We'll push through the month without it;—eh, old boy?' said Caldigate.
'What wouldn't I give for a pint of bitter beer?' said Shand.
'Or a bottle of Battleaxe between the three of us!' said Mick;—Battleaxe being the name for a certain brand of brandy.
'Not a drop till the month is over,' said Caldigate turning himself round in his blanket. Then there were whisperings between the other two men, of which he could only hear the hum.
On the next morning at six Caldigate and Dick Shand were at the hole together. It was Caldigate's turn to work till noon, whereas Dick went off at nine, and Mick would come on from nine till three. At nine Mick did not make his appearance, and Dick declared his purpose of looking after him. Caldigate also threw down his tools, as he could not work alone, and went in search. The upshot of it was, that he did not see either of his companions again till he found them both very drunk at a drinking-shop about two miles away from their claim, just before dusk!
This was terrible. He did at last succeed in bringing back his own friend to the tent, having, however, a sad task in doing so. But Mick Maggott would not be moved. He had his wits about him enough to swear that he cared for nothing. He was going to have a spree. Nobody had ever known him to be talked out of it when he had once set his mind upon it. He had set his mind upon it now, and he meant to have his whack. This was what he said of himself: 'It ain't no good, John. It ain't no good at all, John. Don't you trouble yourself, John. I'm going to have it out, John, so I tell you.' This he said, nodding his head about in a maudlin sort of way, and refusing to allow himself to be moved.
On the next day Dick Shand was sick, repentant, and idle. On the third, he returned to his work,—working however, with difficulty. After that, he fairly recovered himself, and the two Cambridge men went on resolutely at their hole. They soon found how hard it was not to go astray without their instructed mate. The sides of the shaft became crooked and uneven, and the windlass sometimes could not be made to work. But still they persevered, and went on by themselves for an entire week without a sign of gold. During this time various fruitless expeditions were made by both the men in search of Maggott. He was still at the same drinking-shop, but could not be induced to leave it. At last they found him with the incipient horrors of delirium tremens, and yet they could not get him away. The man who kept the place was quite used to delirium tremens, and thought nothing about it. When Caldigate tried a high moral tone everybody around him laughed at him.
They had been digging for a month, and still without a speck of gold, when, one morning early, Mick appeared in front of the tent. It was then about eight, and our friends had stopped their work to eat their breakfast. The poor man, without saying a word, came and crouched down before them;—not in shame,—not at all that; but apparently in an agony of sickness,—'I've had my bout,' he said.
'I don't suppose you're much the better for it,' replied Caldigate.
'No; I ain't none the better. I thought it was all up with me yesterday. Oh, laws! I've had it heavy this time.'
'Why are you such a fool?'
'Well;—you see, John, some of us is born fools. I'm one of 'em. You needn't tell me, 'cause I know all about it without any sermoning. Nobody don't know it so well as I do! How should they? If you had my inside now,—and my head! Oh, laws!'
'Give it up, man.'
'That's easy said;—as if I wouldn't if I could. I haven't got a blessed coin left to buy a bite of bread with,—and I couldn't touch a morsel if I had ever so much. I'll take my blanket and be off as soon as I can move.' All this time he had been crouching, but now he threw himself at length upon the ground.
Of course they did what they could for the poor wretch. They got him into the tent, and they made him swallow some tea. Then he slept; and in the course of the afternoon he had so far recovered as to be able to eat a bit of meat. Then, when his companions were at their work, he carefully packed up his swag, and fastening it on to his back, appeared by the side of the hole. 'I'm come to bid you good-bye he said.
'Where are you going, Mick?' asked Caldigate, climbing up out of the hole by the rope.
'I'm blessed if I know, but I'm off. You are getting that hole tarnation crooked.'
The man was going without any allusion to the wages he had earned, or to the work that he had done. But then, in truth, he had not earned his wages, as he had broken his contract. He made no complaint, however, and no apology, but was prepared to start.
'That's all nonsense,' said Dick, catching hold of him.
'You put your swag down,' said Caldigate, also catching hold of the other shoulder.
'What am I to put my swag down for? I'm a-going back to Nobble. Crinkett'll give me work.'
'You're not going to leave us in that way,' said Dick.
'Stop and make the shaft straight,' said Caldigate. The man looked irresolute. 'Friends are not to part like that.'
'Friends!' said the poor fellow. 'Who'll be friends to such a beast as I be? But I'll stay out the month if you'll find me my grub.'
'You shall have your grub and your money, too. Do you think we've forgotten the potatoes?'
'—— the potatoes,' said the man, bursting into tears. Then he chucked away his swag, and threw himself under the tent upon the straw. The next day he was making things as straight as he could down the shaft.
When they had been at work about five weeks there was a pole stuck into their heap of dirt, and on the top of the pole there was a little red flag flying. At about thirty feet from the surface, when they had already been obliged to insert transverse logs in the shaft to prevent the sides from falling in, they had come upon a kind of soil altogether different from the ordinary clay through which they had been working. There was a stratum of loose shingle or gravelly earth, running apparently in a sloping direction, taking the decline of the very slight hill on which their claim was situated. Mick, as soon as this was brought to light, became an altered man. The first bucket of this stuff that was pulled up was deposited by him separately, and he at once sat down to wash it. This he did in an open tin pan. Handful after handful he washed, shifting and teasing it about in the pan, and then he cast it out, always leaving some very small residuum. He was intent upon his business to a degree that Caldigate would have thought to be beyond the man's nature. With extreme patience he went on washing handful after handful all the day, while the other two pulled up fresh buckets of the same stuff. He would not pause to eat, or hardly to talk. At last there came a loud exclamation. 'By———, we've got it!' Then Dick and Caldigate, stooping down, were shown four or five little specks in the angle of the pan's bottom. Before the sun had set they had stuck up their little red flag, and a crowd of neighbours was standing round them asking questions as to their success.
After three days of successful washing, when it became apparent that a shed must be built, and that, if possible, some further labour must be hired, Mick said that he must go. 'I ain't earned nothing,' he said, 'because of that bout, and I ain't going to ask for nothing, but I can't stand this any longer. I hope you'll make your fortins.' Then came the explanation. It was not possible, he said, that a regular miner, such as he was, should be a party to such a grand success without owning a share in it. He was quite aware that nothing belonged to him. He was working for wages and he had forfeited them. But he couldn't see the gold coming out under his hands in pailfuls and feel that none of it belonged to him. Then it was agreed that there should be no more talk of wages, and that each should have a third share in the concern. Very much was said on the matter of drink, in all of which Caldigate was clever enough to impose on his friend Dick the heavy responsibility of a mentor. A man who has once been induced to preach to another against a fault will feel himself somewhat constrained by his own sermons. Mick would make no promises; but declared his intention of trying very hard. 'If anybody'd knock me down as soon as I goes a yard off the claim, that'd be best.' And so they renewed their work, and at the end of six weeks from the commencement of their operations sold nine ounces of gold to the manager of the little branch bank which had already established itself at Ahalala. These were hardly 'pailfuls'; but gold is an article which adds fervour to the imagination and almost creates a power for romance.
Other matters, however, were not running smoothly with John Caldigate at this eventful time. To have found gold so soon after their arrival was no doubt a great triumph, and justified him in writing a long letter to his father, in which he explained what he had done, and declared that he looked forward to success with confidence. But still he was far from being at ease. He could not suffer himself to remain hidden at Ahalala without saying something of his whereabouts to Mrs. Smith. After what had happened between them he would be odious to himself if he omitted to keep the promise which he had made to her. And yet he would so fain have forgotten her,—or rather have wiped away from the reality of his past life that one episode, had it been possible. A month's separation had taught him to see how very silly he had been in regard to this woman,—and had also detracted much from those charms which had delighted him on board ship. She was pretty, she was clever, she had the knack of being a pleasant companion. But how much more than all these was wanted in a wife? And then he knew nothing about her. She might be, or have been, all that was disreputable. If he could not shake himself free from her, she would be a millstone round his neck. He was aware of all that, and as he thought of it he would think also of the face of Hester Bolton, and remember her form as she sat silent in the big house at Chesterton. But nevertheless it was necessary that he should write to Mrs. Smith. He had promised that he would do so, and he must keep his word.
The name of the woman had not been mentioned between him and Dick Shand since they left the ship. Dick had been curious, but had been afraid to inquire, and had in his heart applauded the courage of the man who had thus been able to shake off at once a woman with whom he had amused himself. Caldigate himself was continually meditating as he worked with the windlass in his hand, or with his pick at the bottom of the hole, whether in conformity with the usages of the world he could not simply—drop her. Then he remembered the words which had passed between them on the subject, and he could not do it. He was as yet too young to be at the same time so wise and so hard. 'I shall hold you as engaged to me,' he had said, 'and myself as engaged to you.' And he remembered the tones of her voice as, with her last words, she had said to him, 'My love, my love!' They had been very pleasant to him then, but now they were most unfortunate. They were unfortunate because there had been a power in them from which he was now unable to extricate himself.
Therefore, during one of those leisure periods in which Mick and Dick were at work, he wrote his letter, with the paper on his knees, squatting down just within his tent on a deal case which had contained boxes of sardines, bottles of pickles, and cans of jam. For now, in their prosperity, they had advanced somewhat beyond the simple plenty of the frying-pan. It was a difficult letter to write. Should it be ecstatic and loving, or cold and severe,—or light, and therefore false? 'My own one, here I am. I have struck gold. Come to me and share it.' That would have been ecstatic and loving.' 'Tis a hard life this, and not fit for a woman's weakness. But it must be my life—and therefore let there be an end of all between us.' That would have been cold and severe. 'How are you, and what are you doing? Dick and I are shoving along. It isn't half as nice as on board ship. Hope to see you before long, and am yours,—just the same as ever.' That would have been light and false,—keeping the word of promise to the ear but breaking it to the heart. He could not write either of these. He began by describing what they had done, and had completed two pages before he had said a word of their peculiar circumstances in regard to each other. He felt that his letter was running into mere gossip, and was not such as she would have a right to expect. If any letter were sent at all, there must be something more in it than all this. And so, after much thinking of it, he at last rushed, as it were, into hot words, and ended it as follows: 'I have put off to the last what I have really got to say. Let me know what you are doing and what you wish,—and whether you love me. I have not as yet the power of offering you a home, but I trust that the time may come.' These last words were false. He knew that they were false. But the falseness was not of a nature to cause him to be ashamed. It shames no man to swear that he loves a woman when he has ceased to love her;—but it does shame him to drop off from the love which he has promised. He balanced the matter in his mind for a while before he would send his letter. Then, getting up quickly, he rushed forth, and dropped it into the post-office box.
The very next day chance brought to Ahalala one who had been a passenger on board the Goldfinder; and the man, hearing of the success of Shand and Caldigate came to see them. 'Of course you know,' said the man, 'what your fellow-passenger is doing down at Sydney?' Dick Shand, who was present, replied that they had heard nothing of any fellow-passenger. Caldigate understood at once to whom the allusion was made, and was silent. 'Look here,' said the man, bringing a newspaper out of his pocket, and pointing to a special advertisement. 'Who do you think that is?' The advertisement declared that Mademoiselle Cettini would, on such and such a night, sing a certain number of songs, and dance a certain number of dances, and perform a certain number of tableaux, at a certain theatre in Sydney. 'That's your Mrs. Smith,' said the man, turning to Caldigate.
'I am very glad she has got employment,' said Caldigate; 'but she is not my Mrs. Smith.'
'We all thought that you and she were very thick.'
'All the same I beg you to understand that she is not my Mrs. Smith,' repeated Caldigate, endeavouring to appear unconcerned, but hardly able to conceal his anger.
Dancing dances, singing songs, and acting tableaux;—and all under the name of Mademoiselle Cettini! Nothing could be worse,—unless, indeed, it might be of service to him to know that she was earning her bread, and therefore not in distress, and earning it after a fashion of which he would be at liberty to express his disapproval. Nothing more was said at the time about Mrs. Smith, and the man went his way.
Ten days afterwards Caldigate, in the presence both of Mick and Dick, declared his purpose of going down to Sydney. 'Our luggage must be looked after,' said he;—'and I have a friend whom I want to see,' he added, not choosing to lie. At this time all was going successfully with them. Mick Maggott lived in such a manner that no one near him would have thought that he knew what whisky meant. His self-respect had returned to him, and he was manifestly 'boss.' There had come to be necessity for complicated woodwork below the surface, and he had shown himself to be a skilled miner. And it had come to pass that our two friends were as well assured of his honesty as of their own. He had been a veritable godsend to them,—and would remain so, could he be kept away from the drinking-shops.
'If you go away don't you think he'll break out?' Dick asked when they were alone together.
'I hope not. He seems to have been steadied by success. At any rate I must go.'
'Is it to see—Mrs. Smith?' Dick as he asked the question put on his most serious face. He did not utter the name as though he were finding fault. The time that had passed had been sufficient to quench the unpleasantness of their difference on board ship. He was justified in asking his friend such a question, and Caldigate felt that it was so.
'Don't you think, upon the whole,——. I don't like to interfere, but upon my word the thing is so important.'
'You think I had better not see her?'
'And lie to her?'
'All is fair in love and war.'
'That means that no faith is due to a woman. I cannot live by such a doctrine. I do not mind owning to you that I wish I could do as you bid me. I can't. I cannot be so false. I must go, old fellow; but I know all that you would say to me, and I will endeavour to escape honestly from this trouble.' And so he went.
Yes;—to escape honestly from that trouble! But how? It is just that trouble from which there is no honest escape,—unless a man may honestly break his word. He had engaged himself to her so much that, simply to ignore her would be cowardly as well as false. There was but one thing that he could do, but one step that he could take, by which his security and his self-respect might both be maintained. He would tell her the exact truth, and put it to her whether, looking at their joint circumstances, it would not be better that they should—part. Reflecting on this during his three days' journey down to Sydney, it was thus that he resolved,—forgetting altogether in his meditations the renewed force of the woman's charms upon himself.
As he went from the railway station at Sydney to the third-class inn at which he located himself, he saw the hoardings on all sides placarded with the name of Mademoiselle Cettini. And there was a picture on some of these placards of a wonderful female, without much clothes, which was supposed to represent some tragic figure in a tableau. There was the woman whom he was to make his wife. He had travelled all night, and had intended to seek Mrs. Smith immediately after his breakfast. But so unhappy was he, so much disgusted by the tragic figure in the picture, that he postponed his visit and went after his luggage. His luggage was all right in the warehouse, and he arranged that it should be sent down to Nobble. Waggons with stores did make their way to Nobble from the nearest railway station, and hopes were held out that the packages might be there in six weeks' time. He would have been willing to postpone their arrival for twelve months, for twenty-four months, could he, as compensation have been enabled to postpone, with honour, his visit to Mrs. Smith for the same time.
Soon after noon, however, his time was vacant, and he rushed to his fate. She had sent him her address, and he found her living in very decent lodgings overlooking the public park. He was at once shown up to her room, where he found her at breakfast. 'So you have come,' she said. Then, when the door was shut, she flung herself into his arms.
He was dressed as a miner might be dressed who was off work and out for a holiday;—clean, rough, and arranged with a studied intention to look as little like a gentleman as possible. The main figure and manner were so completely those of a gentleman that the disguise was not perfect; but yet he was rough. She was dressed with all the pretty care which a woman can use when she expects her lover to see her in morning costume. Anything more unlike the Mrs. Smith of the ship could not be imagined. If she had been attractive then, what was she now? If her woman's charms sufficed to overcome his prudence while they were so clouded, what effect would they have upon him now? And she was in his arms! Here there was no quartermaster to look after the proprieties;—no Mrs. Crompton, no Mrs. Callander, no Miss Green to watch with a hundred eyes for the exchange of a chance kiss in some moment of bliss. 'So you have come! Oh, my darling oh, my love!' No doubt it was all just as it should be. If a lady may not call the man to whom she is engaged her love and her darling, what proper use can there be for such words? And into whose arms is she to jump, if not into his? As he pressed her to his heart, and pressed his lips to hers, he told himself that he ought to have arranged it all by letter.
'Why Cettini?' he asked. But he smiled as he put the question. It was intended to be serious, but still he could not be hard upon her all at once.
'Why fifty thousand fools?'
'I don't understand.'
'Supposing there to be fifty thousand people in Sydney,—as to which I know nothing. Or why ever so many million fools in London? If I called myself Mrs. Smith nobody would come and see me. If I called myself Madame Cettini, not nearly so many would come. You have got to inculcate into the minds of the people an idea that a pure young girl is going to jump about for their diversion. They know it isn't so. But there must be a flavour of the idea. It isn't nice, but one has to live.'
'Were you ever Cettini before?'
'Yes,—when I was on the stage as a girl.' Then he thought he remembered that she had once told him some particular in regard to her early life, which was incompatible with this, unless indeed she had gone under more than one name before she was married. 'I used as a child to dance and sing under that name.'
'Was it your father's name?'
She smiled as she answered, 'You want to discover all the little mean secrets of my life at once, and do not reflect that, in so far as they were mean, they are disagreeable as subjects of conversation. I was not mean myself.'
'I am sure of that.'
'If you are sure of it, is not that enough? Of course I have been among low people. If not, why should I have been a singer on the stage at so early an age, why a dancer, why should I have married such a one as Mr. Smith?'
'I do not know of what sort he was,' said Caldigate.
'This is not the time to ask, when you have just come to see me;—when I am so delighted to see you! Oh, it is such a pleasure! I have not had a nice word spoken to me since I left the Goldfinder. Come and take a walk in the gardens? Nobody knows me off the stage yet, and nobody knows you. So we can do just as we like. Come and tell me about the gold.'
He did go, and did tell her about the gold, and before he had been with her an hour, sitting about on the benches in that loveliest of all places, the public gardens at Sydney, he was almost happy with her. It was now late in the autumn, in May; but the end of the autumn in Sydney is the most charming time of the year. He spent the whole day with her, dining with her in her lodgings at five in order that he might take her to the theatre at seven. She had said a great deal to him about her performances, declaring that he would find them to be neither vulgar nor disagreeable. She told him that she had no friend in Sydney, but that she had been able to get an engagement for a fortnight at Melbourne, and had been very shortly afterwards pressed to come on to Sydney. She listened not only with patience, but apparently with the greatest pleasure, to all that he could tell her of Dick Shand, and Mr. Crinkett, and Mick Maggott, arousing herself quite to enthusiasm when he came to the finding of the gold. But there was not a word said the whole day as to their future combined prospects. Nor was there any more outspoken allusion to loves and darlings, or any repetition of that throwing herself into his arms. For once it was natural. If she were wanted thus again, the action must be his,—not hers. She was clever enough to know that.
'What do you think of it?' she said, when he waited to take her home.
'It is the only good dancing I ever saw in my life. But——'
'I will tell you to-morrow.'
'Tell me whatever you think and you will see that I will attend to you. Come about eleven,—not sooner, as I shall not be dressed. Now good-night.'
The letter which Caldigate wrote to his father from Ahalala, telling him of the discovery of gold upon their claim, contained the first tidings which reached Folking of the wanderer, and that was not received till seven or eight months had passed by since he left the place. The old Squire, during that time, had lived a very solitary life. In regard to his nephew, whom he had declared his purpose of partially adopting, he had expressed himself willing to pay for his education, but had not proposed to receive him at Folking. And as to that matter of heirship, he gave his brother to understand that it was not to be regarded as a settled thing. Folking was now his own to do what he liked with it, and as such it was to remain. But he would treat his nephew as a son while the nephew seemed to him to merit such treatment. As for the estate, he was not at all sure whether it would not be better for the community at large, and for the Caldigate family in particular, that it should be cut up and sold in small parcels. There was a long correspondence between him and his brother, which was ended by his declaring that he did not wish to see any of the family just at present at Folking. He was low in spirits, and would prefer to be alone.
He was very low in spirits and completely alone. All those who knew anything about him,—and they were very few, the tenants, perhaps, and servants, and old Mr. Bolton,—were of opinion that he had torn his son out from all place in his heart, had so thoroughly disinherited the sinner, not only from his house and acres, but from his love, that they did not believe him capable of suffering from regret. But even they knew very little of the man. As he wandered about alone among the dikes, as he sat alone among his books, even as he pored over the volumes which were always in his hand, he was ever mourning and moaning over his desolation. His wife and daughters had been taken from him by the hand of God;—but how had it come to pass that he had also lost his son, that son who was all that was left to him? When he had first heard of those dealings with Davis, while John was amusing himself with the frivolities of Babington, he had been full of wrath, and had declared to himself that the young man must be expelled, if not from all affection, yet from all esteem. And he had gone on to tell himself that it would be unprofitable for him to live with a son whom he did not esteem. Then it had come to pass that, arguing it out in his own mind, rationally, as he had thought, but still under the impulse of hot anger, he had determined that it was better that they should part, even though the parting should be for ever. But now he had almost forgotten Davis,—had turned the matter over in his mind till he had taught himself to think that the disruption had been altogether his son's work, and in no degree his own. His son had not loved him. He had not been able to inspire his son with love. He was solitary and wretched because he had been harsh and unforgiving. That was his own judgment as to himself. But he never said a word of his feelings to any human being.
John had promised to write. The promise had not been very enthusiastically given; but still, as the months went by it was constantly remembered. The young man, after leaving Cambridgeshire, had remained some weeks at the Shands' house before he had started;—and from thence he had not written. The request had been that he should write from Australia, and the correspondence between him and his father had always been so slight, that it had not occurred to him to write from Pollington. But Mr. Caldigate had,—not expected, but hoped that a letter might come at the last moment. He knew to a day, to an hour, when the vessel would sail from Plymouth. There might have been a letter from Plymouth, but no letter came. And then the months went by slowly. The son did not write from Melbourne, nor from Nobble,—nor from Ahalala till gold had been found. So it came to pass that nearly eight months had passed, and that the father had told himself again and again that his son had torn himself altogether away from all remembrance of his home, before the letter came.
It was not a long letter, but it was very satisfactory The finding of the gold was in itself, of course, a great thing; but the manner in which it was told, without triumph or exultation, but with an air of sober, industrious determination, was much more; and then there was a word or two at the end: 'Dear father,—I think of you every day, and am already looking forward to the time when I may return and see you again.' As he read it, the tears rolled down his cheeks, and unluckily the old housekeeper came into the room at the same time.
'Is it from Mr. John, sir?'
He had to recover himself, and to get rid of his tears, and to answer the old woman in an unconcerned tone, all in a moment, and it disconcerted him.
'Yes,—yes;' he said. 'I'll tell you all about it another time.'
'Is he well, sir?'
'I daresay he is. He doesn't say. It's about business. Didn't you hear me say that I'd tell you another time?' And so the old woman was turned out of the room, having seen the tear and heard the little gurgle in the throat.
'He seems to be doing well,' the Squire said to Mr. Holt. 'He has got a couple of partners, and they have succeeded in finding gold. He may probably come back some day; but I don't suppose it will be for the next twenty years.'
After that he marked the posts, which he knew came from that part of the world by San Francisco, and had resolved not to expect anything by that of the next month,—when there came, a day before its time, a much longer letter than the last. In this there was given a detailed description of the 'claim' at Ahalala, which had already been named Folking. Much was said of Mick, and much was said of Dick, both of whom were working 'as steady as rocks.' The number of ounces extracted were stated, with the amount of profits which had been divided. And something was said as to the nature of their life at Ahalala. They were still living under their original tent, but were meditating the erection of a wooden shanty. Ahalala, the writer said, was not a place at which a prosperous miner could expect to locate himself for many years; but the prospects were good enough to justify some present attention to personal comforts. All this was rational, pleasant, and straightforward. And in the letter there was no tone or touch of the old quarrel. It was full and cordial,—such as any son might write to any father. It need hardly be said that there was no mention made in it of Mrs. Smith. It was written after the return of John Caldigate from Sydney to Ahalala, but contained no reference to any matrimonial projects.
Letters then came regularly, month by month, and were always regularly answered,—till a chance reader would have thought that no father and no son stood on better terms with each other. There had been misfortunes; but the misfortunes did not seem to touch John Caldigate himself. After three months of hard work and steady conduct Mick Maggott had broken out and had again taken to drinking champagne out of buckets. Efforts were made, with infinite trouble, to reclaim him, which would be successful for a time,—and then again he would slip away into the mud. And then Shand would sometimes go into the mud with him; and Shand, when drunk, would be more unmanageable even than Mick. And this went on till Mick had—killed himself, and Dick Shand had disappeared. 'I grieve for the man as for a dear friend,' he said in one of his father's letters; 'for he has been as true to me as steel in all things, save drink; and I feel that I have learned under him the practical work of a gold-miner as it cannot be learned except by the unwearied attention of the teacher. Could he have kept from spirits, this man would have made a large fortune and would have deserved it; for he was indefatigable and never-ending in resources.' Such was the history of poor Mick Maggott.
And Shand's history was told also. Shand strayed away to Queensland, and then returning was again admitted to a certain degree of partnership, and then again fell into drink, and at last, deserting the trade of a miner, tried his hand at various kinds of work, till at last he became a simple shepherd. From time to time Caldigate sent him money when he was in want of it, but they had not again come together as associates in their work.
All this was told in his monthly letters which came to be expected at Folking, till each letter was regarded as the rising of a new sun. There is a style of letter-writing which seems to indicate strength of purpose and a general healthy condition on the part of the writer. In all his letters, the son spoke of himself and his doings with confidence and serenity, somewhat surprising his father after a while by always desiring to be remembered to Mr., Mrs., and Miss Bolton. This went on not only from month to month, but from year to year, till at the end of three years from the date at which the son had left Folking, there had come to be a complete confidence between him and his father. John Caldigate had gone into partnership with Crinkett,—who had indeed tried to cheat him wretchedly but had failed,—and at that time was the manager of the Polyeuka mine. The claim at Ahalala had been sold, and he had deserted the flashy insecurity of alluvial searchings for the fundamental security of rock-gold. He was deep in the crushing of quartz, and understood well the meaning of two ounces to the ton,—that glittering boast by which Crinkett had at first thought to allure him. From time to time he sent money home, paying back to his father and to Bolton's bank what had been borrowed on the estate. For there had passed between them many communications respecting Folking. The extravagances of the son became almost the delight of the father, when the father had become certain of the son's reform. There had been even jocular reference to Davis, and a complete understanding as to the amount of money to be given to the nephew in compensation for the blighted hopes as to the reversion of the property.
Why it should have been that these years of absence should have endeared to John Caldigate a place which, while it was his home, had always been distasteful to him, I cannot perhaps explain to those readers who have never strayed far from their original nests;—and to those who have been wanderers I certainly need not explain it. As soon as he felt that he could base the expression of his desires as to Folking on the foundation of substantial remittances, he was not slow to say that he should like to keep the place. He knew that he had no right to the reversion, but perhaps his father would sympathise with his desire to buy back his right. His father, with all his political tenets as to land, with his often-expressed admiration as to the French system, with his loud denunciations of the absurdity of binding a special family to a special fraction of the earth's surface, did sympathise with him so strongly, that he at once accepted the arrangement. 'I think that his conduct has given him a right to demand it,' he said to Mr. Bolton.
'I don't quite see that. Money certainly gives a man great powers. If he has money enough he can buy the succession to Folking if you choose to sell it to him.'
'I mean as my son,' said the father somewhat proudly. 'He was the heir.'
'But he ceased to be so,—by his own doing. I advised you to think longer over it before you allowed him to dispossess himself.'
'It certainly has been all for the best.'
'I hope so. But when you talk of his right, I am bound to say that he has none. Folking is now yours, without encumbrance, and you can give it to whom you please.'
'It was he who paid off the mortgage.'
'You have told me that he sent you part of the money;—but that's between you and him. I am very glad, Caldigate, that your son has done so well;—and the more so perhaps because the early promise was not good. But it may be doubted whether a successful gold-digger will settle down quietly as an English country gentleman.'
There can be no doubt that old Mr. Bolton was a little jealous, and, perhaps, in some degree incredulous, as to the success of John Caldigate. His sons had worked hard from the very beginning of their lives. With them there had been no period of Newmarket, Davis, and disreputation. On the basis of capital, combined with conduct, they had gradually risen to high success. But here was a young man, who, having by his self-indulgence thrown away all the prospects of his youth, had rehabilitated himself by the luck of finding gold in a gully. To Mr. Bolton it was no better than had he found a box of treasure at the bottom of a well. Mr. Bolton had himself been a seeker of money all his life, but he had his prejudices as to the way in which money was to be sought. It should be done in a gradual, industrious manner, and in accordance with recognised forms. A digger who might by chance find a lump of gold as big as his head, or might work for three months without finding any, was to him only one degree better than Davis, and therefore he did not receive his old friend's statements as to the young man's success with all the encouragement which his old friend would have liked.
But his father was very enthusiastic in his return letter to the miner. The matter as to the estate had been arranged. The nephew, who, after all, had not shown himself to be very praiseworthy, had already been—compensated. His own will had already been made,—of course in his son's favour. As there had been so much success,—and as continued success must always be doubtful,—would it not be well that he should come back as soon as possible? There would be enough now for them all. Then he expressed an opinion that such a place as Nobble could not be very nice for a permanent residence.
Nobble was not very nice. Over and beside his professional success, there was not much in his present life which endeared itself to John Caldigate. But the acquisition of gold is a difficult thing to leave. There is a curse about it, or a blessing,—it is hard to decide which,—that makes it almost impossible for a man to tear himself away from its pursuit when it is coming in freely. And the absolute gold,—not the money, not the balance at one's banker's, not the plentiful so much per annum,—but the absolute metal clinging about the palm of one's hands like small gravel, or welded together in a lump too heavy to be lifted, has a peculiar charm of its own. I have heard of a man who, having his pocket full of diamonds, declared, as he let them run through his fingers, that human bliss could not go beyond that sensation. John Caldigate did not shoe his horse with gold; but he liked to feel that he had enough gold by him to shoe a whole team. He could not return home quite as yet. His affairs were too complicated to be left quite at a moment's notice. If, as he hoped, he should find himself able to leave the colony within four years of the day on which he had begun work, and could then do so with an adequate fortune, he believed that he should have done better than any other Englishman who had set himself to the task of gold-finding. In none of his letters did he say anything special about Hester Bolton; but his inquiries about the family generally were so frequent as to make his father wonder why such questions should be asked. The squire himself, who was living hardly a dozen miles from Mr. Bolton's house, did not see the old banker above once a quarter perhaps and the ladies of the family certainly not oftener than once a year. Very little was said in answer to any of John's inquiries. 'Mr. and Mrs. and Miss Bolton are, I believe, quite well.' So much was declared in one of the old squire's letters; and even that little served to make known that at any rate, so far, no tidings as to marriage on the part of Hester had reached the ear of her father's old friend. Perhaps this was all that John Caldigate wanted to learn.
At last there came word that John intended to come home with the next month's mail. This letter arrived about midsummer, when the miner had been absent three years and a half. He had not settled all his affairs so completely but that it might be necessary that he should return; but he thought that he would be able to remain at least twelve months in England. And in England he intended to make his home. Gold, he said, was certainly very attractive; but he did not like New South Wales as a country in which to live. He had now contracted his ventures to the one enterprise of the Polyeuka mine, from which he was receiving large monthly dividends. If that went on prosperously, perhaps he need not return to the colony at all. 'Poor Dick Shand!' he said. 'He is a shepherd far away in the west, hardly earning better wages than an English ploughman, and I am coming home with a pocket full of money! A few glasses of whisky have made all the difference!'
The squire when he received this felt more of exultation than he had ever known in his life. It seemed as though something of those throbbings of delight which are common to most of us when we are young, had come to him for the first time in his old age. He could not bring himself to care in the least for Dick Shand. At last,—at last,—he was going to have near him a companion that he could love.
'Well, yes; I suppose he has put together a little money,' he said to Farmer Holt, when that worthy tenant asked enthusiastically as to the truth of the rumours which were spread about as to the young squire's success. 'I rather think he'll settle down and live in the old place after all.'
'That's what he ought to do, squoire—that's what he ought to do,' said Mr. Holt, almost choked by the energy of his own utterances.
Again at Home
On his arrival in England John Caldigate went instantly down to Folking. He had come back quite fortified in his resolution of making Hester Bolton his wife, if he should find Hester Bolton willing and if she should have grown at all into that form and manner, into those ways of look, of speech, and of gait, which he had pictured to himself when thinking of her. Away at Nobble the females by whom he had been surrounded had not been attractive to him. In all our colonies the women are beautiful and in the large towns a society is soon created, of which the fastidious traveller has very little ground to complain; but in the small distant bush-towns, as they are called, the rougher elements must predominate Our hero, though he had worn moleskin trousers and jersey shirts, and had worked down a pit twelve hours a-day with a pickaxe, had never reconciled himself to female roughnesses. He had condescended to do so occasionally,—telling himself that it was his destiny to pass his life among such surroundings; but his imagination had ever been at work with him, and he possessed a certain aptitude for romance which told him continually that Hester Bolton was the dream of his life, and ought to become, if possible, the reality; and now he came back resolved to attempt the reality,—unless he should find that the Hester Bolton of Chesterton was altogether different from the Hester Bolton of his dreams.
The fatted calf was killed for him in a very simple but full-hearted way. There was no other guest to witness the meeting. 'And here you are,' said the father.
'Yes, sir, here I am;—all that's left of me.'
'There is quite plenty,' said the father, looking at the large proportions of his son. 'It seems but a day or two since you went;—and yet they have been long days. I hardly expected to see you again, John,—certainly not so soon as this; certainly not in such circumstances. If ever a man was welcome to a house, you are welcome to this. And now,—what do you mean to do with yourself?'
'By nine o'clock to-morrow morning you will probably find a pit opened on the lawn, and I shall be down to the middle, looking for gold. Ah, sir, I wish you could have known poor Mick Maggott.'
'If he would have made holes in my lawn I am glad he did not come home with you.' This was the first conversation, but both the father and son felt that there was a tone about it which had never before been heard between them.
John Caldigate at this time was so altered in appearance, that they who had not known him well might possibly have mistaken him. He was now nearly thirty, but looked older than his age. The squareness of his brow was squarer, and here and there through his dark brown hair there was to be seen an early tinge of coming grey; and about his mouth was all the decision of purpose which comes to a man when he is called upon to act quickly on his own judgment in matters of importance; and there was that look of self-confidence which success gives. He had thriven in all that he had undertaken. In that gold-finding business of his he had made no mistakes. Men who had been at it when a boy had tried to cheat him, but had failed. He had seen into such mysteries as the business possessed with quick glances, and had soon learned to know his way. And he had neither gambled nor drank,—which are the two rocks on which gold-miners are apt to wreck their vessels. All this gave him an air of power and self-assertion which might, perhaps, have been distasteful to an indifferent acquaintance, but which at this first meeting was very pleasing to the father. His son was somebody,—had done something, that son of whom he had been so thoroughly ashamed when the dealings with Davis had first been brought to light. He had kept up his reading too; had strong opinions of his own respecting politics; regarded the colonies generally from a politico-economical point of view; had ideas on social, religious, and literary subjects sufficiently alike to his father's not to be made disagreeable by the obstinacy with which he maintained them. He had become much darker in colour, having been, as it seemed, bronzed through and through by colonial suns and colonial labour. Altogether he was a son of whom any father might be proud, as long as the father managed not to quarrel with him. Mr. Caldigate, who during the last four years had thought very much on the subject, was determined not to quarrel with his son.
'You asked, sir, the other day what I meant to do?'
'What are we to find to amuse you?'
'As for amusement, I could kill rats as I used to do; or slaughter a hecatomb of pheasants at Babington,'—here the old man winced, though the word hecatomb reconciled him a little to the disagreeable allusion. 'But it has come to me now that I want so much more than amusement. What do you say to a farm?'
'On the estate?'—and the landlord at once began to think whether there was any tenant who could be induced to go without injustice.
'About three times as big as the estate if I could find it. A man can farm five thousand acres as well as fifty, I take it, if he have the capital. I should like to cut a broad sward, or, better still, to roam among many herds. I suppose a man should have ten pounds an acre to begin with. The difficulty would be in getting the land.' But all this was said half in joke; for he was still of opinion that he would, after his year's holiday, be forced to return for a time to New South Wales. He had fixed a price for which, up to a certain date, he would sell his interest in the Polyeuka mine. But the price was high, and he doubted whether he would get it; and, if not, then he must return.
He had not been long at Folking,—not as yet long enough to have made his way into the house at Chesterton,—before annoyance arose. Mrs. Shand was most anxious that he should go to Pollington and 'tell them anything about poor Dick.' They did, in truth, know everything about poor Dick; that poor Dick's money was all gone, and that poor Dick was earning his bread, or rather his damper, mutton, and tea, wretchedly, in the wilderness of a sheep-run in Queensland. The mother's letter was not very piteous, did not contain much of complaint,—alluded to poor Dick as one whose poverty was almost natural, but still it was very pressing. The girls were so anxious to hear all the details,—particularly Maria! The details of the life of a drunken sot are not pleasant tidings to be poured into a mother's ear, or a sister's. And then, as they two had gone away equal, and as he, John Caldigate, had returned rich, whereas poor Dick was a wretched menial creature, he felt that his very presence in England would carry with it some reproach against himself. He had in truth been both loyal and generous to Dick; but still,—there was the truth. He had come back as a rich man to his own country, while Dick was a miserable Queensland shepherd. It was very well for him to tell his father that a few glasses of whisky had made the difference; but it would be difficult to explain this to the large circle at Pollington, and very disagreeable even to him to allude to it. And he did not feel disposed to discuss the subject with Maria, with that closer confidence of which full sympathy is capable. And yet he did not know how to refuse to pay the visit. He wrote a line to say that as soon as he was at liberty he would run up to Pollington, but that at present business incidental to his return made such a journey impossible.
But the letter, or letters, which he received from Babington were more difficult to answer even than the Shand despatch. There were three of them,—from his uncle, from Aunt Polly, and from—not Julia—but Julia's second sister; whereby it was signified that Julia's heart was much too heavily laden to allow her to write a simple, cousinly note. The Babington girls were still Babington girls,—would still romp, row boats, and play cricket; but their condition was becoming a care to their parents. Here was this cousin come back, unmarried, with gold at command,—not only once again his father's heir, but with means at command which were not at all diminished by the Babington imagination. After all that had passed in the linen-closet, what escape would there be for him? That he should come to Babington would be a matter of course. The real kindness which had been shown to him there as a child would make it impossible that he should refuse.
Caldigate did feel it to be impossible to refuse. Though Aunt Polly had on that last occasion been somewhat hard upon him, had laid snares for him, and endeavoured to catch him as a fowler catches a bird, still there had been the fact that she had been as a mother to him when he had no other mother. His uncle, too, had supplied him with hunting and shooting and fishing, when hunting and shooting and fishing were the great joys of his life. It was incumbent on him to go to Babington,—- probably would be incumbent on him to pay a prolonged visit there. But he certainly would not marry Julia. As to that his mind was so fixed that even though he should have to declare his purpose with some rudeness, still he would declare it. 'My aunt wants me to go over to Babington,' he said to his father.
'Of course she does.'
'And I must go?'
'You know best what your own feelings are as to that. After you went, they made all manner of absurd accusations against me. But I don't wish to force a quarrel upon you on that account.'
'I should be sorry to quarrel with them, because they were kind to me when I was a boy. They are not very wise.'
'I don't think I ever knew such a houseful of fools.' There was no relationship by blood between the Squire of Folking and the Squire of Babington; but they had married two sisters, and therefore Mrs. Babington was Aunt Polly to John Caldigate.
'But fools may be very worthy, sir. I should say that a great many people are fools to you.'
'Not to me especially,' said the squire, almost angrily.
'People who read no books are always fools to those who do read.'
'I deny it. Our neighbour over the water'—the middle wash was always called the water at Folking—'never looks at a book, as far as I know, and he is not a fool. He thoroughly understands his own business But your uncle Babington doesn't know how to manage his own property,—and yet he knows nothing else. That's what I call being a fool.'
'Now, I'm going to tell you a secret, sir.'
'You must promise to keep it.'
'Of course I will keep it, if it ought to be kept.'
'They want me to marry Julia.'
'My cousin Julia. It's an old affair. Perhaps it was not Davis only that made me run away five years ago.'
'Do you mean they asked you;—or did you ask her?'
'Well; I did not ask her. I do not know that I can be more explicit. Nevertheless it is expected; and as I do not mean to do it, you can see that there is a difficulty.'
'I would not go near the place, John.'
'Then you'll have to marry her.'
'Then there'll be a quarrel.'
'It may be so, but I will avoid it if possible. I must go. I could not stay away without laying myself open to a charge of ingratitude. They were very kind to me in the old days.' Then the subject was dropped; and on the next morning, John wrote to his aunt saying that he would go over to Babington after his return from London. He was going to London on business, and would come back from London to Babington on a day which he named. Then he resolved that he would take Pollington on his way down, knowing that a disagreeable thing to be done is a lion in one's path which should be encountered and conquered as soon as possible.
But there was one visit which he must pay before he went up to London. 'I think I shall ride over to-morrow and call on the Boltons,' he said to his father.
'Of course; you can do that if you please.'
'He was a little rough to me, but he was kind. I stayed a night at his house, and he advanced me the money.'
'As for the money, that was a matter of business. He had his security, and, in truth, his interest. He is an honest man, and a very old friend of mine. But perhaps I may as well tell you that he has always been a little hard about you.'
'He didn't approve of Davis,' said the son, laughing.
'He is too prejudiced a man to forget Davis.'
'The more he thinks of Davis, the better he'll think of me if I can make him believe that I am not likely to want a Davis again.'
'You'll find him probably at the bank about half-past two.'
'I shall go to the house. It wouldn't be civil if I didn't call on Mrs. Bolton.'
As the squire was never in the habit of going to the house at Chesterton himself, and as Mrs. Bolton was a lady who kept up none of the outward ceremonies of social life, he did not quite understand this; but he made no further objection.
On the following day, about five in the afternoon, he rode through the iron gates, which he with difficulty caused to be opened for him, and asked for Mrs. Bolton. When he had been here before, the winter had commenced, and everything around had been dull and ugly; but now it was July, and the patch before the house was bright with flowers. The roses were in full bloom, and every morsel of available soil was bedded out with geraniums. As he stood holding his horse by the rein while he rang the bell, a side-door leading through the high brick wall from the garden, which stretched away behind the house, was suddenly opened, and a lady came through with a garden hat on, and garden gloves, and a basket full of rose leaves in her hand. It was the lady of whom he had never ceased to think from the day on which he had been allowed just to touch her fingers, now five years ago.
It was she, of course, whom he had come to see, and there she was to be seen. It was of her that he had come to form a judgment,—to tell himself whether she was or was not such as he had dreamed her to be. He had not been so foolishly romantic as to have been unaware that in all probability she might have grown up to be something very different from that which his fancy had depicted. It might or it might not come to pass that that promise of loveliness,—of loveliness combined with innocence and full intelligence,—should be kept. How often it is that Nature is unkind to a girl as she grows into womanhood, and robs the attractive child of her charms! How often will the sparkle of early youth get itself quenched utterly by the dampness and clouds of the opening world. He knew all that,—and knew too that he had only just seen her, had barely heard the voice which had sounded so silvery sweet in his ears.
But there she was,—to be seen again, to be heard, if possible, and to receive his judgment. 'Miss Bolton,' he said, coming down the stone steps which he had ascended, that he might ring the bell, and offering her his hand.
'You remember me, then?'
'Oh yes, I remember you very well. I do not see people often enough to forget them. And papa said that you were coming home.'
'I have come at once to call upon your mother and your father,—and upon you. I have to thank him for great kindness to me before I went.'
'Poor mamma is not quite well,' said the daughter. 'She has headaches so often, and she has one now. And papa has not come back from the bank. I have been gardening and am all——.' Then she stopped and blushed, as though ashamed of herself for saying so much.
'I am sorry Mrs. Bolton is unwell. I will not go the ceremony of leaving a card, as I hope to able to come again to thank her for her kindness before I went on my travels. Will you tell your father that I called?' Then he mounted his horse, feeling, as he did so, that he was throwing away an opportunity which kind fortune had given him. There they were together, he and this girl of whom he had dreamed;—and now he was leaving her, because he did not know how to hold her in conversation for ten minutes! But it was true, and he had to leave her. He could not instantly tell her how he admired her, how he loved her, how he had thought of her, and how completely she had realised all his fondest dreams. When on his horse, he turned round, and, lifting his hat to her, took a last glance. It could not have been otherwise, he said to himself. He had been sure that she would grow up to be exactly that which he had found her. To have supposed that Nature could have been untrue to such promises as had been made then, would have been to suppose Nature a liar.
Just outside the gate he met the old banker, who, according to his daily custom, had walked back from the town. 'Yes,' said Mr. Bolton, 'I remember you,—I remember you very well. So you found a lot of gold?'
'I got some.'
'You have been one of the few fortunate, I hear. I hope you will be able to keep it, and to make a good use of it. My compliments to your father. Good evening.'
'I shall take an early opportunity of paying my respects again to Mrs. Bolton, who, I am sorry to hear, is not well enough to see me,' said Caldigate, preventing the old curmudgeon from escaping with his intended rapidity.
'She is unfortunately often an invalid, sir,—and feels therefore that she has no right to exact from any one the ceremony of morning visits. Good evening sir.'
But he cared not much for this coldness. Having found where the gold lay at this second Ahalala,—that the gold was real gold,—he did not doubt but that he would be able to make good his mining operations.
Again At Pollington
On his arrival at Pollington, all the Shands welcomed him as though he had been the successful son or successful brother who had gone out from among them; and spoke of 'Poor Dick' as being the unsuccessful son or unsuccessful brother,—as indeed he was. There did not seem to be the slightest anger against him, in that he had thriven and had left Dick behind him in such wretched poverty. There was no just ground for anger, indeed. He was well aware of that. He had done his duty by Dick to the best of his ability. But fathers and mothers are sometimes apt to think that more should be done for their own children than a friend's best ability can afford. These people, however, were reasonable. 'Poor Dick!' 'Isn't it sad?' 'I suppose when he's quite far away in the bush like that he can't get it,'—by which last miserable shred of security the poor mother allowed herself to be in some degree comforted.
'Now I want you to tell me,' said the father, when they were alone together on the first evening, 'what is really his condition?'
'He was a shepherd when I last heard about him.'
'He wrote to his mother by the last mail, asking whether something cannot be done for him. He was a shepherd then. What is a shepherd?'
'A man who goes about with the sheep all day, and brings them up to a camp at night. He may probably be a week without seeing a human being, That is the worst of it.'
'How is he fed?'
'Food is brought out to his hut,—perhaps once a week, perhaps once a fortnight,—so much meat, so much flour, so much tea, and so much sugar. And he has thirty or thirty-five pounds a-year besides.'
'No;—perhaps quarterly, perhaps half-yearly. He can do nothing with his money as long as he is there. If he wants a pair of boots or a new shirt, they send it out to him from the store, and his employer charges him with the price. It is a poor life, sir.'
'Very poor. Now tell me, what can we do for him?'
'It is an affair of money.'
'But is it an affair of money, Mr. Caldigate? Is it not rather an affair of drink? He has had his money,—more than his share; more than he ought to have had. But even though I were able to send him more, what good would it do him?'
This was a question very difficult to answer. Caldigate had been forced to answer it to himself in reference to his own conduct. He had sent money to his former friend, and could without much damage to himself have sent more. Latterly he had been in that condition as to money in which a man thinks nothing of fifty pounds,—that condition which induces one man to shoe his horse with gold, and another to chuck his bank-notes about like half-crowns. The condition is altogether opposed to the regulated prudence of confirmed wealth. Caldigate had stayed his hand in regard to Dick Shand simply because the affair had been one not of money but of drink. 'I suppose a man may be cured by the absence of liquor?'
'By the enforced absence?'
'No doubt they often break out again. I hardly know what to say, sir. If you think that money will do good,—money, that is, in moderation,—I will advance it. He and I started together, and I am sometimes aghast with myself when I think of the small matter which, like the point on a railway, sent me running rapidly on to prosperity,—while the same point, turned wrong, hurried him to ruin. I have taken my glass of grog, too, my two glasses,—or perhaps more. But that which would elate him into some fury of action would not move me. It was something nature did for me rather than virtue. I am a rich man, and he is a shepherd, because something was put into my stomach capable of digesting bad brandy, which was not put into his.'
'A man has more than one chance. When he found how it was with him, he should have abstained. A man must pay the fine of his own weakness.'
'Oh, yes. It is all understood somewhere, I suppose, though we don't understand it. I tell you what it is, Dr. Shand. If you think that five hundred pounds left with you can be of any assistance, you can have it.'
But the doctor seemed to doubt whether the money would do any good, and refused to take it, at any rate for the present. What could he do with it, if he did take it? 'I fear that he must lie upon his bed as he has made it,' said the doctor sorrowfully. 'It is a complaint which money cannot cure, but can always exaggerate. If, without costing myself or my family a shilling, I could put a thousand pounds into his hands to-morrow, I do not know whether I ought to do it.'
'You will remember my offer.'
The doctor thanked him, and said that he would remember. So the conversation was ended, and the doctor went about the ordinary occupation of his life, apparently without any settled grief at his heart. He had done his duty by his son, and that sufficed,—or almost sufficed, for him.
Then came the mother's turn. Could anything be sent to the poor lost one,—to poor Dick? Clothes ran chiefly in her mind. If among them they could make up a dozen of shirts, would there be any assured means of getting them conveyed safely to Dick's shepherd-hut out in the Queensland bush? In answer to this Caldigate would fain have explained, had it been possible, that Dick would not care much for a dozen new shirts,—that they would be to him, even if received, almost as little a source of comfort as would be a ton of Newcastle coals. He had sunk below shirts by the dozen; almost below single shirts, such as Mrs. Shand and her daughters would be able to fabricate. Some upper flannel garment, and something in the nature of trousers, with a belt round his middle, and an old straw-hat would be all the wardrobe required by him. Men by dint of misery rise above the need of superfluities. The poor wretch whom you see rolling himself, as it were, at the corner of the street within his old tattered filthy coat, trying to extract something more of life and warmth out of the last glass of gin which he has swallowed, is by no means discomposed because he has no clean linen for the morrow. All this Caldigate understood thoroughly;—but there was a difficulty in explaining it to Dick Shand's mother. 'I think there would be some trouble about the address,' he said.
'But you must know so many people out there.'
'I have never been in Queensland myself, and have no acquaintance with squatters. But that is not all, Mrs. Shand.'
'What else? You can tell me. Of course I know what it is that he has come to. I don't blind myself to it, Mr. Caldigate, even though I am his mother. But I am his mother; and if I could comfort him, just a little——'
'Clothes are not what he wants;—of clothes he can get what is necessary, poor as he is.'
'What is it he wants most?'
'Somebody to speak to;—some one to be kind to him.'
'My poor boy!'
'As he has fallen to what he is now, so can he rise again if he can find courage to give his mind to it. I think that if you write to him and tell him so, that will be better than sending him shirts. The doctor has been talking to me about money for him.'
'But, Mr. Caldigate, he couldn't drink the shirts out there in the bush. Here, where there is a pawn-broker at all the corners, they drink everything.'
He had promised to stay two days at Pollington and was of course aware of the dangers among which he walked. Maria had been by no means the first to welcome him. All the other girls had presented themselves before her. And when at last she did come forward she was very shy. The eldest daughter had married her clergyman though he was still only a curate; and the second had been equally successful with Lieutenant Postlethwaite though the lieutenant had been obliged in consequence to leave the army and to earn his bread by becoming agent to a soap-making company. Maria Shand was still Maria Shand, and was it not too probable that she had remained so for the sake of that companion who had gone away with her darling brother Dick? 'Maria has been thinking so much about your coming,' said the youngest,—not the girl who had been impertinent and ill-behaved before, for she had since become a grown-up Miss Shand, and had a young attorney of her own on hand, and was supposed to be the one of the family most likely to carry her pigs to a good market,—but the youngest of them all who had been no more than a child when he had been at Pollington before. 'I hope she is at home,' said Caldigate 'At home! Of course she's at home. She wouldn't be away when you're coming!'
The Shands were demonstrative, always;—and never hypocritical. Here it was; told at once,—the whole story. He was to atone for having left Dick in the lurch by marrying Maria. There did seem to him to be a certain amount of justice in the idea; but then, unfortunately, it could not be carried out. If there were nothing else against it but the existence of the young lady at Chesterton, that alone would have been sufficient. And then, though Maria Shand was very well, though, no doubt, she would make a true and loving wife to any husband, though there had been a pretty touch of feeling about the Thomson's 'Seasons,'—still, still, she was not all that he fancied that a wife should be. He was quite willing to give L500 for Dick; but after that he thought that he would have had almost enough of the Shands. He could not marry Maria, and so he must say plainly if called upon to declare himself in the matter. There was an easiness about the family generally which enabled him to hope that the difficulty would be light. It would be as nothing compared with that coming scene between himself and aunt Polly, perhaps between himself and his uncle Babington, or perhaps,—worse again,—between himself and Julia!
When he found himself alone with Maria in the drawing-room on the following morning, he almost thought that it must have been arranged by the family. 'Doesn't it seem almost no time since you went away,' said the young lady.
'It has gone quickly;—but a great deal has been done.'
'I suppose so. Poor Dick!'
'Yes, indeed! Poor fellow! We can only hope about Dick. I have been speaking to your father about him.'
'Of course we all know that you did your very best for him. He has said so himself when he has written. But you;—you have been fortunate.'
'Yes, I have done very well. There is so much chance at it that there is nothing to be proud of.'
'I am sure there is a great deal;—cleverness, and steadiness, and courage, and all that. We were delighted to hear it, though poor Dick could not share it with you. You have made an immense fortune.'
'Oh dear no,—not that. I have been able to get over the little difficulties which I left behind me when I went away, and have got something in hand to live upon.'
'I suppose I shall go back again,' said Caldigate, with an air of indifference.
'Go back again!' said Maria, who had not imagined this. But still a man going back to Australia might take a wife with him. She would not object to the voyage. Her remembrance of the evening on which she had crept down and put the little book into his valise was so strong that she felt herself to be justified in being in love with him. 'But not for always?'
'Certainly not;—but just to wind up affairs.'
It would be no more than a pleasant wedding-tour,—and, perhaps, she could do something for poor Dick. She could take the shirts so far on their destination.
'Oh, Mr. Caldigate, how well I remember that last night!'
'So indeed, do I,—and the book.' The hardship upon the moth is that though he has already scorched himself terribly in the flame, and burned up all the tender fibre of his wings, yet he can't help returning to the seductions of the tallow-candle till his whole body has become a wretched cinder. Why should he have been the first to speak of the book?
Of course she blushed, and of course she stammered But in spite of her stammering she could say a word. 'I dare say you never looked at it.'
'Indeed I did,—very often. Once when Dick saw it in my hands, he wanted to take it away from me.'
'But I have never parted with it for an hour!'
'Where is it now?' she asked.
'Here,' said Caldigate, pulling it out of the breast-pocket of his coat. If he had had the presence of mind to say that he had lent the book to another young lady, and that she had never returned it, there might probably have been an end of this little trouble at once. But when the little volume appeared, just as though it had been kept close to his heart during all these four years, of course she was entitled to hope. He had never opened the book since that morning in his cabin, not caring for the academic beauties of Thomson's 'Seasons;'—had never looked at it till it had occurred to him as proper that he should take it with him to Pollington. Now he brought it out of his pocket, and she put out her hand to receive it from him. 'You are not going to take it back again?'
'Certainly not if it be of any value to you?'
'Do you not value the presents which your friends make you?'
'If I care for the friends, I do.'
'As I care very much for this friend I shall keep the book.'
'I don't think that can be true, Mr. Caldigate?'
He was painfully near the blaze;—determined not to be burned, and yet with no powers of flying away from the candle into the farthest corner of the room. 'Why not true? I have kept it hitherto. It has been with me in many very strange places.'
Then there was a pause,—while he thought of escaping, and she of utilising the occasion. And yet it was not in her nature to be unmaidenly or aggressive Only if he did like her it would be so very nice, and it is so often the case that men want a little encouragement! 'I dare say you thought more of the book than the donor.'
'That is intended to be unkind.'
'No;—certainly not. I can never be unkind to a friend who has been so very good as you were to poor Dick. Whatever else may happen, I shall,—never,—forget—that.' By this time there was a faint sound of sobbing to be heard, and then she turned away her face that she might wipe a tear from her eyes. It was a real tear, and a real sob, and she really thought that she was in love with him.
'I know I ought not to have come here,' he said.
'Why not?' she asked energetically.
'Because my coming would give rise to so much sadness about your brother.'
'I am so glad you have come,—so very glad. Of course we wanted to hear. And besides——'
'Papa and mamma, and all of them, are so glad to see you. We never forget old friends.' Then again there was silence. 'Never,' she repeated, as she rose from her chair slowly and went out of the room. Though he had fluttered flamewards now and again, though he had shown some moth-like aptitudes, he had not shown himself to be a downright, foolish, blind-eyed moth, determined to burn himself to a cinder as a moth should do. And she;—she was weak. Having her opportunity at command, she went away and left him, because she did not know what more to say. She went away to her own bedroom, and cried, and had a headache, during the remainder of the day. And yet there was no other day!
Late that evening, just at the hour when, on the previous night, he was closeted with the father, he found himself closeted with the mother. 'She has never forgotten you for one moment since you left us,' said the mother. Mrs. Shand had rushed into the subject so quickly that these were almost the first words she said to him. He remained quite quiet, looking out from the open window into the moonlight. When a distinct proposition was made to him like this, he certainly would not be a moth. 'I don't know whether you have thought of her too, Mr. Caldigate.' He only shook his head. 'That is so?'
'I hope you do not think that I have been to blame in any way,' he said, with a conscience somewhat stricken;—for he remembered well that he had kissed the young lady on that evening four years ago.
'Oh no. I have no complaint to make. My poor child! It is a pity. But I have nothing more to say. It must be so then?'
'I am the least settled man in all the world, Mrs. Shand.'
'But at some future time?'
'I fear not. My mind is intent on other things.' So it was;—intent on Hester Bolton! But the statement as he made it, was certainly false, for it was intended to deceive. Mrs. Shand shook hands with him kindly, however, as she sent him away to bed, telling him that breakfast should be ready for him at eight the next morning.
His train left Pollington at nine, and at eight the doctor with all his family were there to greet him at the breakfast-table,—with all the family except Maria. The mother, in the most natural tone in the world, said that poor Maria had a headache and could not come down. They filled his plate with eggs and bacon and toast, and were as good to him as though he had blighted no hopes and broken no heart. He whispered one word at going to the doctor. 'Pray remember that whenever you think the money can be of use, it is there. I consider that I owe him quite as much as that.' The father grasped his hand, and all of them blessed him as he went.
'If I can only get away from Babington as easily!' he said to himself, as he took his place in the railway carriage.
Again at Babington
The affair of Julia Babington had been made to him in set terms, and had, if not accepted, not been at once refused. No doubt this had occurred four years ago, and, if either of them had married since, they would have met each other without an unpleasant reminiscence. But they had not done so, and there was no reason why the original proposition should not hold good. After escaping from Babington he had, indeed, given various reasons why such a marriage was impossible. He had sold his inheritance. He was a ruined man. He was going out to Australia as a simple miner. It was only necessary for him to state all this, and it became at once evident that he was below the notice of Julia Babington. But everything had been altered since that. He had regained his inheritance, he had come back a rich man, and he was more than ever indebted to the family because of the violent fight they had made on his behalf, just as he was going. As he journeyed to Babington all this was clear to him; and it was clear to him also that, from his first entrance into the house, he must put on an air of settled purpose, he must gird up his loins seriously, he must let it be understood that he was not as he used to be, ready for worldly lectures from his aunt, or for romping with his female cousins, or for rats, or rabbits, or partridges, with the male members of the family. The cares of the world must be seen to sit heavy on him, and at the very first mention of a British wife he must declare himself to be wedded to Polyeuka.
At Babington he was received with many fatted calves. The whole family were there to welcome him, springing out upon him and dragging him out of the fly as soon as he had entered the park gates. Aunt Polly almost fainted as she was embracing him under an oak tree; and tears, real tears, ran down the squire's face as he shook both his nephew's hands at once. 'By George,' said the Babington heir, 'you're the luckiest fellow I ever heard of! We all thought Folking was gone for good.' As though the possessions of Folking were the summit of human bliss! Caldigate with all the girls around him could not remonstrate with words, but his spirit did remonstrate. 'Oh, John, we are so very, very, very, very glad to have you back again,' said Julia, sobbing and laughing at the same time. He had kissed them all of course, and now Julia was close to his elbow as he walked up to the house.
In the midst of all this there was hardly opportunity for that deportment which he meant to exercise. When fatted calves are being killed for you by the dozen, it is very difficult to repudiate the good nature of the slaughterers. Little efforts he did make even before he got to the house. 'I hardly know how I stand just yet,' he had said, in answer to his uncle's congratulations as to his wealth. 'I must go out again at any rate.'
'Back to Australia?' asked his aunt.
'I fear so. It is a kind of business,—gold-mining,—in which it is very hard for a man to know what he's worth. A claim that has been giving you a thousand pounds net every month for two years past, comes all of sudden a great deal worse than valueless. You can't give it up, and you have to throw back your thousands in profitless work.'
'I wouldn't do that,' said the squire.
'I'd stick to what I'd got,' said the Babington heir.
'It is a very difficult business,' said Caldigate, with a considerable amount of deportment, and an assumed look of age,—as though the cares of gold-seeking had made him indifferent to all the lighter joys of existence.
'But you mean to live at Folking?' asked Aunt Polly.
'I should think probably not. But a man situated as I am, never can say where he means to live.'
'But you are to have Folking?' whispered the squire,—whispered it so that all the party heard the words;—whispering not from reticence but excitement.
'That's the idea at present,' said the Folking heir. 'But Polyeuka is so much more to me than Folking. A gold mine with fifty or sixty thousand pounds worth of plant about it, Aunt Polly, is an imperious mistress.' In all this our hero was calumniating himself. Polyeuka and the plant he was willing to abandon on very moderate terms, and had arranged to wipe his hands of the whole concern if those moderate terms were accepted. But cousin Julia and aunt Polly were enemies against whom it was necessary to assume whatever weapons might come to his hand.
He had arranged to stay a week at Babington. He had considered it all very deeply, and had felt that as two days was the least fraction of time which he could with propriety devote to the Shands, so must he give at least a week to Babington. There was, therefore, no necessity for any immediate violence on the part of the ladies. The whole week might probably have been allowed to pass without absolute violence, had he not shown by various ways that he did not intend to make many visits to the old haunts of his childhood before his return to Australia. When he said that he should not hunt in the coming winter; that he feared his hand was out for shooting; that he had an idea of travelling on the Continent during the autumn; and that there was no knowing when he might be summoned back to Polyeuka, of course there came across Aunt Polly's mind,—and probably also across Julia's mind,—an idea that he meant to give them the slip again. On the former occasion he had behaved badly. This was their opinion. But, as it had turned out, his circumstances at the moment were such as to make his conduct pardonable. He had been harassed by the importunities both of his father and of Davis; and that, under such circumstances, he should have run away from his affianced bride, was almost excusable, But now——! It was very different now. Something must be settled. It was very well to talk about Polyeuka. A man who has engaged himself in business must, no doubt, attend to it. But married men can attend to business quite as well as they who are single. At any rate, there could be no reason why the previous engagement should not be consolidated and made a family affair. There was felt to be something almost approaching to resistance in what he had said and done already. Therefore Aunt Polly flew to her weapons, and summoned Julia also to take up arms. He must be bound at once with chains, but the chains were made as soft as love and flattery could make them. Aunt Polly was almost angry,—was prepared to be very angry;—but not the less did she go on killing fatted calves.
There were archery meetings at this time through the country, the period of the year being unfitted for other sports. It seemed to Caldigate as though all the bows and all the arrows had been kept specially for him,—as though he was the great toxophilite of the age,—whereas no man could have cared less for the amusement than he. He was carried here and was carried there; and then there was a great gathering in their own park at home. But it always came to pass that he and Julia were shooting together,—as though it were necessary that she should teach him,—that she should make up by her dexterity for what was lost by his awkwardness,—that she by her peculiar sweetness should reconcile him to his new employment. Before the week was over, there was a feeling among all the dependants at Babington, and among many of the neighbours, that everything was settled, and that Miss Julia was to be the new mistress of Folking.
Caldigate knew that it was so. He perceived the growth of the feeling from day to day. He could not say that he would not go to the meetings, all of which had been arranged beforehand. Nor could he refuse to stand up beside his cousin Julia and shoot his arrows directly after she had shot hers. Nor could he refrain from acknowledging that though she was awkward in a drawing-room, she was a buxom young woman dressed in green with a feather in her hat and a bow in her hand; and then she could always shoot her arrows straight into the bull's-eye. But he was well aware that the new hat had been bought specially for him, and that the sharpest arrow from her quiver was intended to be lodged in his heart. He was quite determined that any such shooting as that should be unsuccessful.
'Has he said anything?' the mother asked the daughter. 'Not a word.' This occurred on the Sunday night. He had reached Babington on the previous Tuesday, and was to go to Folking on next Tuesday. 'Not a word.' The reply was made in a tone almost of anger. Julia did believe that her cousin had been engaged to her, and that she actually had a right to him, now that he had come back, no longer ruined.
'Some men never do,' said Aunt Polly, not wishing to encourage her daughter's anger just at present. 'Some men are never left alone with a girl for half a moment, but what they are talking stuff and nonsense. Others never seem to think about it in the least. But whether it's the one or whether it's the other, it makes no difference afterwards. He never had much talk of that kind. I'll just say a word to him, Julia.'
The saying of the word was put off till late on Sunday evening. Sunday was rather a trying day at Babington. If hunting, shooting, fishing, croquet, lawn-billiards, bow and arrows, battledore and shuttle-cock, with every other game, as games come up and go, constitute a worldly kind of life, the Babingtons were worldly. There surely never was a family in which any kind of work was so wholly out of the question, and every amusement so much a matter of course. But if worldliness and religion are terms opposed to each other, then they were not worldly. There were always prayers for the whole household morning and evening. There were two services on Sunday, at the first of which the males, and at both of which the females, were expected to attend. But the great struggle came after dinner at nine o'clock, when Aunt Polly always read a sermon out loud to the assembled household. Aunt Polly had a certain power of her own, and no one dared to be absent except the single servant who was left in the kitchen to look after the fire.