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Title:      The Golden Shanty (1929)
Author:     Edward Dyson
eBook No.:  0500981.txt
Edition:    1
Language:   English
Character set encoding:     Latin-1(ISO-8859-1)--8 bit
Date first posted:          October 2005
Date most recently updated: October 2005

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Title:      The Golden Shanty (1929)
Author:     Edward Dyson






CONTENTS

A GOLDEN SHANTY
A VISIT TO SCRUBBY GULLY
AN INCIDENT AT THE OLD PIONEER
AT THE YARDS
A SABBATH MORN AT WADDY
THE TRUCKER'S DREAM
HEBE OF GRASSTREE
THE CONQUERING BUSH
A ZEALOT IN LABOUR
THE ELOPEMENT OF MRS PETERS
DEAD MAN'S LODE
A VAIN SACRIFICE
AFTER THE ACCIDENT
BENNO'S LITTLE BOSHTER
A HOT DAY AT SPAT'S
THE WOOING OF MINNIE
THE PACKER'S "LITTLE SILLY"
A SATURDAY AT SPAT'S
THE FICKLE DOLLY HOPGOOD
AT A BOXING BOUT
SUSIE GANNON'S YOUNG MAN
THE RIVALS
THE MAN-EATER
A QUESTION OF PROPRIETY
THE HAUNTED CORNER
A LITTLE LOVE AFFAIR
THE MORBID BOY
THE TOUCHER





A GOLDEN SHANTY

ABOUT ten years ago, not a day's tramp from Ballarat, set well back from
a dusty track that started nowhere in particular and had no destination
worth mentioning, stood the Shamrock Hotel. It was a low, rambling,
disjointed structure, and bore strong evidence of having been designed by
an amateur artist in a moment of vinous frenzy. It reached out in several
well-defined angles, and had a lean-to building stuck on here and there;
numerous outhouses were dropped down about it promiscuously; its walls
were propped up in places with logs, and its moss-covered shingle roof,
bowed down with the weight of years and a great accumulation of stones,
hoop-iron, jam-tins, broken glassware, and dried 'possum skins, bulged
threateningly, on the verge of utter collapse. The Shamrock was built of
sun-dried bricks, of an unhealthy, bilious tint. Its dirty, shattered
windows were plugged in places with old hats and discarded female
apparel, and draped with green blinds, many of which had broken their
moorings, and hung despondently by one corner. Groups of ungainly fowls
coursed the succulent grasshopper before the bar door; a moody,
distempered goat rubbed her ribs against a shattered trough roughly hewn
from the butt of a tree, and a matronly old sow of spare proportions
wallowed complacently in the dust of the road, surrounded by her
squealing brood.

A battered sign hung out over the door of the Shamrock, informing people
that Michael Doyle was licensed to sell fermented and spirituous liquors,
and that good accommodation could be afforded to both man and beast at
the lowest current rates. But that sign was most unreliable; the man who
applied to be accommodated with anything beyond ardent beverages--liquors
so fiery that they "bit all the way down"--evoked the astonishment of the
proprietor. Bed and board were quite out of the province of the Shamrock.
There was, in fact, only one couch professedly at the disposal of the
weary wayfarer, and this, according to the statement of the few persons
who had ever ventured to try it, seemed stuffed with old boots and
stubble; it was located immediately beneath a hen-roost, which was the
resting-place of a maternal fowl, addicted on occasion to nursing her
chickens upon the tired sleeper's chest. The "turnover" at the Shamrock
was not at all extensive, for, saving an occasional agricultural labourer
who came from "beyant"--which was the versatile host's way of designating
any part within a radius of five miles--to revel in an occasional
"spree," the trade was confined to the passing "cockatoo" farmer, who
invariably arrived on a bony, drooping prad, took a drink, and shuffled
away amid clouds of dust.

The only other dwellings within sight of the Shamrock were a cluster of
frail, ramshackle huts, compiled of slabs, scraps of matting, zinc, and
gunny-bag. These were the habitations of a colony of squalid, gibbering
Chinese fossickers, who herded together like hogs in a crowded pen, as if
they had been restricted to that spot on pain of death, or its
equivalent, a washing.

About a quarter of a mile behind the Shamrock ran, or rather crawled, the
sluggish waters of the Yellow Creek. Once upon a time, when the Shamrock
was first built, the creek was a beautiful limpid rivulet, running
between verdant banks; but an enterprising prospector wandering that way,
and liking the indications, put down a shaft, and bottomed on "the wash"
at twenty feet, getting half an ounce to the dish. A rush set in, and
within twelve months the banks of the creek, for a distance of two miles,
were denuded of their timber, torn up, and covered with unsightly heaps.
The creek had been diverted from its natural course half a dozen times,
and hundreds of diggers, like busy ants, delved into the earth and
covered its surface with red, white, and yellow tips. Then the miners
left almost as suddenly as they had come; the Shamrock, which had
resounded with wild revelry, became as silent as a morgue, and desolation
brooded on the face of the country. When Mr. Michael Doyle, whose
greatest ambition in life had been to become lord of a "pub.," invested
in that lucrative country property, saplings were growing between the
deserted holes of the diggings, and agriculture had superseded the mining
industry in those parts.

Landlord Doyle was of Irish extraction; his stock was so old that
everybody had forgotten where and when it originated, but Mickey was not
proud--he assumed no unnecessary style, and his personal appearance would
not have led you to infer that there had been a king in his family, and
that his paternal progenitor had killed a landlord "wanst." Mickey was a
small, scraggy man, with a mop of grizzled hair and a little red,
humorous face, ever bristling with auburn stubble. His trousers were the
most striking things about him; they were built on the premises, and
always contained enough stuff to make him a full suit and a winter
overcoat. Mrs. Doyle manufactured those pants after plans and
specifications of her own designing, and was mighty proud when Michael
would yank them up into his armpits, and amble round, peering about
discontentedly over the waistband. "They wus th' great savin in weskits,"
she said.

Of late years it had taken all Mr. Doyle's ingenuity to make ends meet.
The tribe of dirty, unkempt urchins who swarmed about the place "took a
power of feedin'," and Mrs. D. herself was "th' big ater." "Ye do be
atin' twinty-four hours a day," her lord was wont to remark, "and thin
yez must get up av noights for more. Whin ye'r not atin' ye'r munchin' a
schnack, bad cess t'ye."

In order to provide the provender for his unreasonably hungry family,
Mickey had been compelled to supplement his takings as a Boniface by
acting alternately as fossicker, charcoal-burner, and "wood-jamber;" but
it came "terrible hard" on the little man, who waxed thinner and thinner,
and sank deeper into his trousers every year. Then, to augment his
troubles, came that pestiferous heathen, the teetotal Chinee. One hot
summer's day he arrived in numbers, like a plague, armed with picks,
shovels, dishes, cradles, and tubs, and with a clatter of tools and a
babble of grotesque gibberish, camped by the creek and refused to go away
again. The awesome solitude of the abandoned diggings was ruthlessly
broken. The deserted field, with its white mounds and decaying
windlass-stands fallen aslant, which had lain like a long-for-gotten
cemetery buried in primeval forest, was now desecrated by the hand of the
Mongol, and the sound of his weird, Oriental oaths. The Chows swarmed
over the spot, tearing open old sores, shovelling old tips, sluicing old
tailings, digging, cradling, puddling, ferreting, into every nook and
cranny.

Mr. Doyle observed the foreign invasion with mingled feelings of
righteous anger and pained solicitude. He had found fossicking by the
creek very handy to fall back upon when the wood-jambing trade was not
brisk; but now that industry was ruined by Chinese competition, and
Michael could only find relief in deep and earnest profanity.

With the pagan influx began the mysterious disappearance of small
valuables from the premises of Michael Doyle, licensed victualler.
Sedate, fluffy old hens, hitherto noted for their strict propriety and
regular hours, would leave the place at dead of night, and return from
their nocturnal rambles never more; stay-at-home sucking-pigs, which had
erstwhile absolutely refused to be driven from the door, corrupted by the
new evil, absented themselves suddenly from the precincts of the
Shamrock, taking with them cooking utensils and various other articles of
small value, and ever afterwards their fate became a matter for
speculation. At last a favourite young porker went, whereupon its lord
and master, resolved to prosecute inquiries, bounced into the Mongolian
camp, and, without any unnecessary preamble, opened the debate.

"Look here, now," he observed, shaking his fist at the group, and
bristling fiercely, "which av ye dhirty haythen furriners cum up to me
house lasht noight and shtole me pig Nancy? Which av ye is it, so't I kin
bate him! ye thavin' hathins?"

The placid Orientals surveyed Mr. Doyle coolly, and innocently smiling,
said, "No savee;" then bandied jests at his expense in their native
tongue, and laughed the little man to scorn. Incensed by the evident
ridicule of the "haythen furriners," and goaded on by the smothered
squeal of a hidden pig, Michael "went for" the nearest Asiatic, and
proceeded to "put a head on him as big as a tank," amid a storm of kicks
and digs from the other Chows. Presently the battle began to go against
the Irish cause; but Mrs. Mickey, making a timely appearance, warded off
the surplus Chinamen by chipping at their skulls with an axe-handle. The
riot was soon quelled, and the two Doyles departed triumphantly, bearing
away a corpulent young pig, and leaving several broken, discouraged
Chinamen to be doctored at the common expense.

After this gladsome little episode the Chinamen held off for a few weeks.
Then they suddenly changed their tactics, and proceeded to cultivate the
friendship of Michael Doyle and his able-bodied wife. They liberally
patronized the Shamrock, and beguiled the licensee with soft but cheerful
conversation; they flattered Mrs. Doyle in seductive pigeon-English, and
endeavoured to ensare the children's young affections with preserved
ginger. Michael regarded these advances with misgiving; he suspected the
Mongolians' intentions were not honourable, but he was not a man to spoil
trade--to drop the substance for the shadow.

This state of affairs had continued for some time before the landlord of
the Shamrock noticed that his new customers made a point of carrying off
a brick every time they visited his caravansary. When leaving, the bland
heathen would cast his discriminating eye around the place, seize upon
one of the sun-dried bricks with which the ground was littered, and steal
away with a nonchalant air--as though it had just occurred to him that
the brick would be a handy thing to keep by him.

The matter puzzled Mr. Doyle sorely; he ruminated over it, but he could
only arrive at the conclusion that it was not advisable to lose custom
for the sake of a few bricks; so the Chinese continued to walk off with
his building material. When asked what they intended to do with the
bricks, they assumed an expression of the most deplorably hopeless
idiocy, and suddenly lost their acquaintance with the "Inglisiman"
tongue. If bricks were mentioned they became as devoid of sense as
wombats, although they seemed extremely intelligent on most other points.
Mickey noticed that there was no building in progress at their camp, also
that there were no bricks to be seen about the domiciles of the pagans,
and he tried to figure out the mystery on a slate, but, on account of his
lamentable ignorance of mathematics, failed to reach the unknown quantity
and elucidate the enigma. He watched the invaders march off with all the
loose bricks that were scattered around, and never once complained; but
when they began to abstract one end of his licensed premises, he felt
himself called upon, as a husband and father, to arise and enter a
protest, which he did, pointing out to the Yellow Agony, in graphic and
forcible language, the gross wickedness of robbing a struggling man of
his house and home, and promising faithfully to "bate" the next lop-eared
Child of the Sun whom he "cot shiftin' a'er a brick."

"Ye dogs! Wud yez shtale me hotel, so't whin me family go insoide they'll
be out in the rain?" he queried, looking hurt and indignant.

The Chinaman said, "No savee." Yet, after this warning, doubtless out of
consideration for the feelings of Mr. Doyle, they went to great pains and
displayed much ingenuity in abstracting bricks without his cognizance.
But Mickey was active; he watched them closely, and whenever he caught a
Chow in the act, a brief and one-sided conflict raged, and a dismantled
Chinaman crawled home with much difficulty.

This violent conduct on the part of the landlord served in time to
entirely alienate the Mongolian custom from the Shamrock, and once more
Mickey and the Chows spake not when they met. Once more, too, promising
young pullets, and other portable valuables, began to go astray, and
still the hole in the wall grew till the after-part of the Shamrock
looked as if it had suffered recent bombardment. The Chinamen came while
Michael slept, and filched his hotel inch by inch. They lost their
natural rest, and ran the gauntlet of Mr. Doyle's stick and his
curse--for the sake of a few bricks. At all hours of the night they crept
through the gloom, and warily stole a bat or two, getting away unnoticed
perhaps, or, mayhap, only disturbing the slumbers of Mrs. Doyle, who was
a very light sleeper for a woman of her size. In the latter case the lady
would awaken her lord by holding his nose--a very effective plan of her
own--and, filled to overflowing with the rage which comes of a midnight
awakening, Mickey would turn out of doors in his shirt to cope with the
marauders, and course them over the paddocks. If he caught a heathen he
laid himself out for five minutes' energetic entertainment, which fully
repaid him for lost rest and missing hens, and left a Chinaman too
heart-sick and sore to steal anything for at least a week. But the
Chinaman's friends would come as usual, and the pillage went on.

Michael Doyle puzzled himself to prostration over this insatiable and
unreasonable hunger for bricks; such an infatuation on the part of men
for cold and unresponsive clay had never before come within the pale of
his experience. Times out of mind he threatened to "have the law on the
yalla blaggards;" but the law was a long way off, and the Celestial
housebreakers continued to elope with scraps of the Shamrock, taking the
proprietor's assaults humbly and as a matter of course.

"Why do ye be shtealing me house?" fiercely queried Mr. Doyle of a
submissive Chow, whom he had taken one night in the act of ambling off
with a brick in either hand.

"Me no steal 'em, no feah--odder feller, him steal em," replied the
quaking pagan.

Mickey was dumb-stricken for the moment by this awful prevarication; but
that did not impair the velocity of his kick--this to his great
subsequent regret, for the Chinaman had stowed a third brick away in his
pants for convenience of transit, and the landlord struck that brick;
then he sat down and repeated aloud all the profanity he knew.

The Chinaman escaped, and had presence of mind enough to retain his
burden of clay.

Month after month the work of devastation went on. Mr. Doyle fixed
ingenious mechanical contrivances about his house, and turned out at
early dawn to see how many Chinamen he had "nailed"--only to find his
spring-traps stolen and his hotel yawning more desperately than ever.
Then Michael could but lift up his voice and swear--nothing else afforded
him any relief.

At last he hit upon a brilliant idea. He commissioned a "cocky" who was
journeying into Ballarat to buy him a dog--the largest, fiercest,
ugliest, hungriest animal the town afforded; and next day a powerful,
ill-tempered canine, almost as big as a pony, and quite as ugly as any
nightmare, was duly installed as guardian and night-watch at the
Shamrock. Right well the good dog performed his duty. On the following
morning he had trophies to show in the shape of a boot, a scrap of blue
dungaree trousers, half a pig-tail, a yellow ear, and a large part of a
partially-shaved scalp; and just then the nocturnal visits ceased. The
Chows spent a week skirmishing round, endeavouring to call the dog off,
but he was neither to be begged, borrowed, nor stolen; he was too
oldfashioned to eat poisoned meat, and he prevented the smallest approach
to familiarity on the part of a Chinaman by snapping off the most
serviceable portions of his vestments, and always fetching a scrap of
heathen along with them.

This, in time, sorely discouraged the patient Children of the Sun, who
drew off to hold congress and give the matter weighty consideration.
After deliberating for some days, the yellow settlement appointed a
deputation to wait upon Mr. Doyle. Mickey saw them coming, and armed
himself with a log and unchained his dog. Mrs. Doyle ranged up alongside,
brandishing her axe-handle, but by humble gestures and a deferential
bearing the Celestial deputation signified a truce. So Michael held his
dog down, and rested on his arms to await developments. The Chinamen
advanced, smiling blandly; they gave Mr. and Mrs. Doyle fraternal
greeting, and squirmed with that wheedling obsequiousness peculiar to
"John" when he has something to gain by it. A pock-marked leper placed
himself in the van as spokesman.

"Nicee day, Missa Doyle," said the moon-faced gentleman, sweetly. Then,
with a sudden expression of great interest, and nodding towards Mrs,
Doyle, "How you sissetah?"

"Foindout! Fwhat yer wantin'?" replied the host of the Shamrock, gruffly;
"t' shtale more bricks, ye crawlin' blaggards?"

"No, no. Me not steal 'em blick--odder feller; he hide 'em; build big
house byem-bye."

"Ye loi, ye screw-faced nayger! I seed ye do it, and if yez don't cut and
run I'll lave the dog loose to feed on yer dhirty carcasses."

The dog tried to reach for his favourite hold, Mickey brandished his log,
and Mrs. Doyle took a fresh grip of her weapon. This demonstration gave
the Chows a cold shiver, and brought them promptly down to business.

"We buy 'em hotel; what for you sell'em--eh?"

"Fwhat! yez buy me hotel? D'ye mane it? Purchis th' primisis and yez can
shtale ivery brick at yer laysure. But ye're joakin'. Whoop! Look ye
here! I'll have th' lot av yez aten up in two minits if yez play yer
Choinase thricks on Michael Doyle."

The Chinamen eagerly protested that they were in earnest, and Mickey gave
them a judicial hearing. For two years he had been in want of a customer
for the Shamrock, and he now hailed the offer of his visitors with secret
delight. After haggling for an hour, during which time the ignorant Hi
Yup of the contorted countenance displayed his usual business tact, a
bargain was struck. The yellow men agreed to give fifty pounds cash for
the Shamrock and all buildings appertaining thereto, and the following
Monday was the day fixed for Michael to journey into Ballarat with a
couple of representative heathens to sign the transfer papers and receive
the cash.

The deputation departed smiling, and when it gave the news of its triumph
to the other denizens of the camp there was a perfect babel of
congratulations in the quaint dialogue of the Mongol. The Chinamen
proceeded to make a night of it in their own outlandish way, indulging
freely in the seductive opium, and holding high carouse over an
extemporized fantan table, proceedings which made it evident that they
thought they were getting to windward of Michael Doyle, licensed
victualler.

Michael, too, was rejoicing with exceeding great joy, and felicitating
himself on being the shrewdest little man who ever left the "ould sod."
He had not hoped to get more than a twenty-pound note for the dilapidated
old humpy, erected on Crown land, and unlikely to stand the wear and tear
of another year. As for the business, it had fallen to zero, and would
not have kept a Chinaman in soap. So Mr. Doyle plumed himself on his
bargain, and expanded till he nearly filled his capacious garments.
Still, he was harassed to know what could possibly have attached the
Chinese so strongly to the Shamrock. They had taken samples from every
part of the establishment, and fully satisfied themselves as to the
quality of the bricks, and now they wanted to buy. It was most peculiar.
Michael "had never seen anything so quare before, savin' wanst whin his
grandfather was a boy."

After the agreement arrived at between the publican and the Chinese, one
or two of the latter hung about the hotel nearly all their time, in
sentinel fashion. The dog was kept on the chain, and lay in the sun in a
state of moody melancholy, narrowly scrutinizing the Mongolians. He was a
strongly anti-Chinese dog, and had been educated to regard the
almond-eyed invader with mistrust and hate; it was repugnant to his
principles to lie low when the heathen was around, and he evinced his
resentment by growling ceaselessly. Sunday dawned. It was a magnificent
morning; but the rattle of the Chinamen's cradles and toms sounded from
the creek as usual. Three or four suave and civil Asiatics, however,
still lingered around the Shamrock, and kept an eye on it in the
interests of all, for the purchase of the hotel was to be a joint-stock
affair. These "Johns" seemed to imagine they had already taken lawful
possession; they sat in the bar most of the time, drinking little, but
always affable and genial. Michael suffered them to stay, for he feared
that any fractiousness on his part might upset the agreement, and that
was a consummation to be avoided above all things. They had told him,
with many tender smiles and much gesticulation, that they intended to
live in the house when it became theirs; but Mr. Doyle was not
interested--his fifty pounds was all he thought of.

Michael was in high spirits that morning; he beamed complacently on all
and sundry, appointed the day as a time of family rejoicing, and in the
excess of his emotion actually slew for dinner a prime young sucking pig,
an extravagant luxury indulged in by the Doyles only on state occasions.
On this particular Sunday the younger members of the Doyle household
gathered round the festive board and waited impatiently for the lifting
of the lid of the camp-oven. There were nine children in all, ranging in
years from fourteen downwards--"foine, shtrappin' childer, wid th' clear
brain," said the prejudiced Michael. The round, juicy sticker was at last
placed upon the table. Mrs. Doyle stood prepared to administer her
department--serving the vegetables to her hungry brood--and, armed with a
formidable knife and fork, Michael, enveloped in savoury steam, hovered
over the pig.

But there was one function yet to be performed--a function which came as
regularly as Sunday's dinner itself. Never, for years, had the
housefather failed to touch up a certain prodigious knife on one
particular hard yellow brick in the wall by the door, preparatory to
carving the Sunday's meat. Mickey examined the edge of his weapon
critically, and found it unsatisfactory. The knife was nearly ground
through to the backbone; another "touch-up" and it must surely collapse,
but, in view of his changed circumstances, Mr. Doyle felt that he might
take the risk. The brick, too, was worn an inch deep. A few sharp strokes
from Mickey's vigorous right arm were all that was required; but, alas!
the knife snapped whereupon Mr. Doyle swore at the brick, as if holding
it immediately responsible for the mishap, and stabbed at it fiercely
with the broken carver.

"Howly Moses! Fwhats that?"

The brick fell to pieces, and there, embedded in the wall, gleaming in
the sunbeam, was a nugget of yellow gold. With feverish haste Mickey tore
the brick from its bedding, and smashed the gold-bearing fragment on the
hearth. The nugget was a little beauty, smooth, round, and four ounces to
a grain.

The sucking pig froze and stiffened in its fat, the "taters" and the
cabbage stood neglected on the dishes. The truth had dawned upon Michael,
and, whilst the sound of a spirited debate in musical Chinese echoed from
the bar, his family were gathered around him, open-mouthed, and Mickey
was industriously, but quietly, pounding the sun-dried brick in a
digger's mortar. Two bricks, one from either end of the Shamrock, were
pulverized, and Michael panned off the dirt in a tub of water which stood
in the kitchen. Result: seven grains of waterworn gold. Until now Michael
had worked dumbly, in a fit of nervous excitement; now he started up,
bristling like a hedgehog.

"Let loose th' dog, Mary Melinda Doyle!" he howled, and, uttering a
mighty whoop, he bounded into the bar to dust those Chinamen off his
premises. "Gerrout!" he screamed--"Gerrout av me primises, ye thavin'
crawlers!" And he frolicked with the astounded Mongolians like a tornado
in full blast, thumping at a shaven occiput whenever one showed out of
the struggling crowd. The Chinamen left; they found the dog waiting for
them outside, and he encouraged them to greater haste. Like startled
fawns the heathens fled, and Mr. Doyle followed them, howling:

"Buy the Shamrock, wud yez! Robbers! Thaves! Fitch back th.' soide o' me
house, or Oi'll have th' law onto yez all."

The damaged escapees communicated the intelligence of their overthrow to
their brethren on the creek, and the news carried consternation, and
deep, dark woe to the pagans, who clustered together and ruefully
discussed the situation. Mr. Doyle was wildly jubilant. His joy was only
tinctured with a spice of bitterness, the result of knowing that the "
haythens" had got away with a few hundreds of his precious bricks. He
tried to figure out the amount of gold his hotel must contain, but again
his ignorance of arithmetic tripped him up, and already in imagination
Michael Doyle, licensed victualler, was a millionaire and a J.P.

The Shamrock was really a treasure-house. The dirt of which the bricks
were composed had been taken from the banks of the Yellow Creek, years
before the outbreak of the rush, by an eccentric German who had settled
on that sylvan spot. The German died, and his grotesque structure passed
into other hands. Time went on, and then came the rush. The banks of the
creek were found to be charged with gold for miles, but never for a
moment did it occur to anybody that the clumsy old building by the track,
now converted into a hotel, was composed of the same rich dirt; never
till years after, when by accident one of the Mongolian fossickers
discovered grains of gold in a few bats he had taken to use as hobs. The
intelligence was conveyed to his fellows; they got more bricks and more
gold--hence the robbery of Mr. Doyle's building material and the anxiety
of the Mongolians to buy the Shamrock. Before nightfall Michael summoned
half-a-dozen men from "beyant," to help him in protecting his hotel from
a possible Chinese invasion. Other bricks were crushed and yielded
splendid prospects. The Shamrock's small stock of liquor was drunk, and
everybody became hilarious. On the Sunday night, under cover of the
darkness, the Chows made a sudden sally on the Shamrock, hoping to get
away with plunder. They were violently received, however; they got no
bricks, and returned to their camp broken and disconsolate.

Next day the work of demolition was begun. Drays were backed up against
the Shamrock, and load by load the precious bricks were carted away to a
neighbouring battery. The Chinamen slouched about, watching greedily, but
their now half-hearted attempts at interference met with painful
reprisal. Mr. Doyle sent his family and furniture to Ballarat, and in a
week there was not a vestige left to mark the spot where once the
Shamrock flourished. Every scrap of its walls went through the mill, and
the sum of one thousand nine hundred and eighty-three pounds sterling was
cleared out of the ruins of the hostelry. Mr. Doyle is now a man of some
standing in Victoria, and as a highly respected J.P. has often been
pleased to inform a Chinaman that it was "foive pound or a month."

A VISIT TO SCRUBBY GULLY

THE men at the mine were anxious to have me visit our magnificent
property. The battery and water-wheel were erected, there were 50 tons of
stone in the hopper, and we only needed water and the blessing of
Providence to start crushing out big weekly dividends. I know now that
there has never been a time within the memory of man when Scrubby Gully
did not want water, and that Scrubby Gully is the one place on earth to
which a discriminating man would betake himself if he wished to avoid all
the blessings of Providence for ever. But that is beside the matter.

I was carefully instructed by letter to take the train to Kanan, coach it
to the Rabbit Trap, take horse from Whalan's to the Cross Roads, ask
someone at Old Poley's on the hill to direct me to Sheep's Eye; from
there strike west on foot, keeping Bugle Point on my right, and "Chin
Whiskers" would meet me at The Crossing. There was no accommodation at
the mine for city visitors, but I was given to understand Mr. Larry Jeans
would be happy to accommodate me at his homestead over the spur.

Casual references to Mr. Jeans in the correspondence gave me the
impression that Jeans was an affluent gentleman of luxurious tastes and a
hospitable disposition, and that a harmless eccentricity led him to
follow agricultural and pastoral pursuits in the vicinity of Scrubby
Gully instead of wasting his time in voluptuous ease in the city.

"Chin Whiskers" met me at The Crossing. "Chin Whiskers" was a meditative
giant who exhausted his mental and physical energies chewing tobacco, and
who bore about his person interesting and obvious evidence of the length
and the severity of the local drought--he was, in fact, the drought
incarnate. The Crossing was a mere indication of a track across a yellow,
rock-strewn indentation between two hills, which indentation, "Chin
Whiskers" informed me, was "The Creek." That did not surprise me, because
I knew that every second country township and district in Australia has a
somewhat similar indentation which it always calls "The Creek." Sometimes
"The Creek" has moist places in it, sometimes it is quite damp for almost
a dozen miles, but more often it is as hard and dry as a brick-kiln. When
the indentation is really wet along its whole length it is invariably
called "The River."

I found the mine; it was a simple horizontal hole bored in a hill. The
battery was there, and the water-wheel. The water-wheel stood
disconsolate beside the dust-strewn creek, and looked as much at home as
a water-wheel might be expected to look in the centre of the sandy wastes
of Sahara. The working shareholders were unaffectedly glad to see me.
They were sapless and drought-stricken, but they assured me, with great
enthusiasm, that they lived in momentary expectation of a tremendous
downfall. Leen had been mending the roof of his hut, he said, in
readiness for the heavy rains which were due before morning. He examined
the sky critically, and expressed a belief that I would be detained on
Scrubby Gully a couple of weeks or so in consequence of the floods.

This spirit of unreasonable hopefulness and trust seemed to be shared by
Cody, and Ellis, and MacMahon. I alone was dubious. The journey up had
worn me out; the dry desolation all around and the flagrant
unprofitableness of our spec. sickened me; but Jeans still remained--the
prodigal Jeans, with his spacious homestead and profuse hospitality. I
was heartfully grateful for Jeans. We met in due course. As I talked with
Leen, a man came wearily down the hill, towing a meagre horse, which in
turn was towing a log. This man delivered his log, unslung his animal,
and approached us, heroically lugging behind him the miserable apology
for a horse--a morbid brute manifestly without a hope or ambition left in
life, and conveying mysteriously to the observer a knowledge of its fixed
and unshakable determination to lie down and die the moment its owner's
attention was otherwise directed. But the proprietor seemed fully alive
to the situation, and never allowed his thoughts to stray entirely from
the horse, but was continually jerking its head up, and addressing
towards it reproaches, expostulations, and curses--curses that had lost
all their vigour and dignity. This man was Jeans, and if I had not seen
his horse I would have said that Jeans was the most hopelessly
heart-broken and utterly used-up animal breathing on the face of the
earth. He was about 40, grey, hollow-cheeked, hollow-chested, bent, and
apathetic with the dreadful apathy that comes of wasted effort, vain
toil, and blasted hopes. Jeans had a face that had forgotten how to smile
and never scowled--a face that took no exercise, but remained set in the
one wooden expression of joyless, passionless indifference to whatever
fate could offer henceforth and forever. My last hopes exploded at the
sight of him.

Mr. Larry Jeans said I was welcome to camp in the spare room "up to" his
place, and added dully that "proberly" his missus could scrape up grub
enough for me "fer a day'r two." "Proberly" did not sound very
encouraging, but I had no option, and, being dead-beat, accepted the
hospitality offered, and followed Mr. Jeans. Larry laboriously hauled his
melancholy horse over a couple of low stony rises, and then we tackled
the scrag end of the range, across which led a vague track that wound in
and out amongst a forest of great rocks, and presented all the
difficulties and dangers of mountaineering without its compensations.
Jeans struggled on with dull patience, and in silence, saving when it was
necessary to divert the old horse from his morbid thoughts, and when he
briefly answered my questions. I gathered from him that the men at the
mine had been expecting rain for four months.

"And what do you think of the chances?" I asked.

"Oh, me, I never expect nothin'. Sometimes things happen. I don't expect
'em, though."

"Things happen--what, for instance?"

"Well, dry spells."

I elicited that pleuro happened, and rabbits, and fires, and "this here
new-fangled fever." But whatever happened Jeans never fluctuated; he had
struck an average of misery, and was bogged in the moral slough. It
seemed as if his sensibilities above a certain capacity had been worn out
by over-work, and refused to feel more than a fixed degree of trouble, so
that whatever might come on top of his present woes, be it fever, or
fire, or death, the man remained in his normal condition of grim apathy
and spiritless obedience to fate.

The "homestead" stood upon the flat timbered country beyond the rise. It
was just what Jeans's homestead might have been expected to be--a low
structure of bark and slabs, with a slab chimney at one end, and a door
in the middle between two canvas "windows." It stood in a small clearing;
just beyond the house stood the skeleton of a shed, upon which, it being
sundown, roosted a few gaunt fowls; a lank cow with one horn was deeply
meditating by the front door. There were signs of bold raids upon the
stubborn bush, pathetic ventures; and great butts lay about in evidence
of much weary but unprofitable work. A dog-leg fence, starting at no
particular point, straddled along in front of the house, and finished
nowhere about a hundred yards off. Not a new fence either, but an old
one, with much dry grass matted amongst the logs--that was the pathos of
it. There had been a brave attempt at a garden, too; but the few fruit
trees that stood had been stripped of the bark, and the hens had made
dust-baths in all the beds. In this dust an army of children were
wallowing--half-clad, bare-footed, dirt-encrusted children, but all hale
and boisterous.

At the door we were met by Mrs. Larry Jeans, and after introducing me as
"him from the city," the master laboured away, dragging his shuffling
horse, and leaving me in the centre of a wondering circle of youngsters
of all sorts and sizes, from two dusty mites not yet properly balanced on
their crooked little legs up to a shock-headed lubberly boy of thirteen,
curiously embossed with large tan freckles, and a tall, gawky girl of the
same age in preposterously short skirts, whom my presence afflicted with
a most painful bashfulness. A peculiarity about Jeans's children that
struck me was the fact that they seemed to run in sets: there was a pair
even for the sticky baby deftly hooked under its mother's left arm,
judging by the petulant wailing to be heard within.

The Jeans's homestead consisted of two compartments. I looked about in
vain for the "spare room," and concluded it must be either the capacious
fire-place or the skeleton shed on which the hens were roosting. The
principal article of kitchen furniture was a long plank table built into
the floor; between it and the wall was a bush-made form, also a fixture.
A few crazy three-legged stools, a safe manufactured from a zinc-lined
case, and an odd assortment of crockery and tin cups, saucers, and plates
piled on slab shelves in one corner, completed the list of "fixings."

Mrs. Larry Jeans was a short, bony, homely woman, very like her
husband--strangely, pathetically like in face and demeanour; similarly
bowed with labour, and with the same air of hopelessness and of accepting
the toils and privations of their miserable existence as an inevitable
lot. She was always working, and always had worked; her hands were hard
and contorted in evidence of it, and her cheek was as brown and as dry as
husks from labouring in the sun.

We had tea and bread and boiled onions and corned beef for tea that
evening--a minimum of beef and a maximum of onions. The last onion crop
had been a comparative success somewhere within half a day's journey of
Scrubby Gully. Tea served to introduce more children; they dangled over
the arms of the unhappy mother, hung to her skirts, sprawled about her
feet, squabbled in the corners, and overran the house. Jeans helped to
feed the brood in his slow, patient way, and after tea he helped to pack
away the younger in little bundles--here, there, and everywhere--where
they slept peacefully, but in great apparent peril, whilst the bigger
kids charged about the room and roared, and fought, and raised a very
pandemonium of their own. Every now and again Mrs. Jeans would lift her
tired head from her sewing or her insatiable twins, and say weakly, "Now,
you Jinny, behave." Or Larry would remark dispassionately, "Hi, you,
Billy!" But otherwise the youngsters raged unchecked, their
broken-spirited parents seeming to regard the noise and worry of them as
the lightest trial in a world of struggling and trouble.

I asked Jeans how many children he thought he had. He didn't seem
certain, but after due deliberation said there might be thirteen in all.
He had probably lost count, for I am certain I tallied fifteen--seven
sets and one odd one.

When the washing-up was done, and half of the family were bedded down,
Larry dragged a tangle of old harness from the other room, and sat for
two hours painfully piecing it up with cord, and his wife sat opposite
him, silent and blank of face, mending one set of rags with another--I
perched upon a stool watching the pair, studying one face after the
other, irritated at length by the sheeplike immobility of both, thinking
it would be a relief if Jeans would suddenly break out and do something
desperate, something to show that he had not, in spite of appearances,
got beyond the possibility of sanguinary revolt; but he worked on
steadily, uncomplainingly, till the boy with the unique freckles came
hurrying in with the intelligence that the old horse was "havin' a fit'r
somethin'." Jeans did not swear. He said "Is he but?" and put aside his
harness, and went out, like a man for whom life has no surprises.

The selector was over an hour struggling with his hypochondriac horse,
whilst I exchanged fragments of conversation with Mrs. Jeans, and went
upon various mental excursions after that spare room. It appeared that
the Jeanses had neighbours. There was another family settled seven miles
up the gully, but Mrs. Jeans informed me that the Dicksons, being quiet
and sort of down-hearted, were not very good company, consequently she
and Jeans rarely visited them. I was indulging in a mental prospect of
the jubilation at a reunion of the down-hearted Dicksons and the gay and
frivolous Jeanses when Larry returned from his struggle with the horse.
He resumed his work upon the harness without any complaint. His remark
that "Them skewball horses is alwis onreasonable" was not spoken in a
carping spirit; it was given as conveying valuable information to a
stranger.

At 11 o'clock my host "s'posed that p'r'aps maybe" I was ready to turn
in. I was, and we went forth together in quest of the spare room. The
room in question proved to be a hastily-constructed lean-to on the far
corner of the house, at the back. Inside, one wall was six feet high and
the other was merely a tree-butt. My bunk was built against the butt, and
between the bunk and the roof there were about eighteen inches of space.
That bunk had not been run up for a fat man. After establishing me in the
spare room Jeans turned to go.

"Best bar the door with a log, case o' the cow," he said. "If she comes
bumpin' round in the night, don't mind. She walks in her sleep moonlight
nights."

It only needed this to convince me that I was usurping the customary
domicile of the meditative cow. The room had been carefully furbished up
and deeply carpeted with scrub ferns. But the cow was not to be denied.

Weary as I was, I got little sleep that night. I had fallen off
comfortably about half an hour after turning in, when I was awakened
again by some commotion in the house. Half a dozen of the children were
blubbering, and I could hear the heavy tread of Larry, and the equally
heavy tread of his wife, moving about the house. Presently both passed by
the lean-to, and away in the direction of the range. For another
half-hour or so there was silence, and then the one-horned cow came along
and tried my door. Failing to open it, she tried the walls and the roof,
but could not break her way in, so she camped under the lee of the
structure, and lowed dismally at intervals till day-break.

When I arose a scantily-attired small boy generously provided me with a
pint pannikin three-parts full of water. The water was for my morning
bath, and the small boy was careful to warn me not to throw it away when
I was through with it. This youngster told me that "Dad, an' mum, an'
Jimmy" had been out all night hunting Steve. Steve, I gathered, was the
one enterprising child in the household, and was in the habit of going
alone upon voyages of exploration along the range, where, being a very
little fellow, he usually lost himself, and provided his parents with a
night's entertainment searching for him in the barren gorges and about
the boulder-strewn spurs of the range. How it happened that he was not
missed till nearly midnight on this occasion I cannot say, unless the
father and mother were really as ignorant of the extent and character of
their family as they appeared to be.

Mrs. Jeans was the first to return, and she brought Steve with her. The
dear child had not been lost, after all. Incensed by some indignity that
had been put upon him during the afternoon, he had "run away from home,"
he said, and slept all night in a wombat's hole about 200 yards from the
house. There his mother found him, returning from her long, weary search.
The incident did not appear to have affected her in any way; she looked
as tired and as heart-sick as on the previous evening, but not more so.

"You know we lost one little one there"--she extended her hand towards
the low, rambling repellent hills--"an' found him dead a week after."

Larry returned half an hour later, and his apathy under the circumstances
was simply appalling.

We had fried onions and bread and tea for breakfast, and immediately the
meal was over Larry, who I imagined would be going to bed for a few
hours, appeared in front of the house leading his deplorable horse. He
was bound for the mine, he said. I put in that day exploring the tunnel,
examining the immovable mill, hunting for specimens in the quartz-tip,
and listening to Leen's cheerful weather prophesies; and Jeans and his
soured quadruped dragged logs to the mine from a patch of timber about a
mile off, which patch the men alluded to largely as The Gum Forest.

Returning to the homestead at sundown we found the children fighting in
the dust and the one-horned cow meditating at the door as on the previous
evening. I fancied I detected in the eye of the cow a look of pathetic
reproach as I passed her. Tea that evening consisted mainly of roast
onions. Jeans felt called upon to apologize because the boys had been
unable to trap a rabbit for my benefit.

"Now'n agen, after a rainy spell, we're 'most afraid the rabbits is
a-goin' to eat us, an' then when we'd like a rabbit-stoo there ain't a
rabbit to be found within twenty mile," said the settler impassively.
"When there is rabbits, there ain't onions," he added as a further
contribution to the curiosities of natural history.

The second night at Scrubby Gully was painfully like the first: Mrs.
Jeans stitched, Mr. Jeans laboured over his tangle of harness, and the
brood rolled and tumbled about the room, raising much dust and creating a
deafening noise, to which Larry and Mary his wife gave little heed. When
a section of the family had been parcelled up and put to sleep, I was
tempted to ask Jeans why he continued to live in that unhallowed,
out-of-the-way corner, and to waste his energies upon a parched and
blasted holding instead of settling somewhere within reach of a market
and beyond the blight of tangible and visible despair that hung over
Scrubby Gully and its vicinity.

"Dunno," said Jeans, without interest, "'pears t'me t'be pretty much as
bad in other places. Evans is the same, so's Calder."

I did not know either Evans or Calder, but I pitied both from the bottom
of my heart. Jeans admitted that he had given up hope of getting the
timber off his land, though he "suspected" he might be able to handle it
somehow "when the boys grew up." He further admitted that he didn't know
"as the land was good for anythin' much" when it was cleared but his
pessimism was proof against all my arguments, and I went sadly to bunk,
leaving the man and his wife working with slow, animal perseverance,
apparently unconscious of the fact that they had not slept a wink for
over thirty hours.

The cow raided my room shortly after midnight. She managed to break down
the door this time, but as her intentions were peaceful, and as it was
preferable rather to have her for a room-mate than to be kept awake by
her pathetic complaints, I made no attempt to evict her, and we both
passed an easy night.

I was up early next morning, but Mr. and Mrs. Jeans were before me. They
were standing together down by the aimless dog-leg fence, and the
hypochondriacal horse lay between them. I walked across, suspecting
further "unreasonableness" on the part of the horse. The animal was dead.

"Old man, how'll you manage to haul those logs in now?" As Mrs. Jeans
said this I fancied I saw flicker in her face for a moment a look of
spiritual agony, a hint of revolt that might manifest itself in tears and
bitter complainings, but it passed in the instant.

Jeans merely shook his head, and answered something indicative of the
complete destruction of his faith in "them skewbald horses."

We had bread and onions for breakfast.

When I last saw Jeans, as I was leaving Scrubby Gully that day, he was
coming down the hill from the direction of the gum forest, struggling in
the blinding heat, with a rope over his shoulder, towing a nine-foot
sluice leg.

We had a letter from Leen yesterday; he says the working shareholders are
hurrying to get the sluice fixed over the wheel, and he (Leen)
anticipates a heavy downfall of rain during the night.

AN INCIDENT AT THE OLD PIONEER

MANAGER M`Fie had seen the 12 o'clock shift below, and now, tired and
disgusted, he kicked off his wet things, and "turned in." Manager M`Fie's
hut was quite a salubrious summer residence, but the rain had already
picked holes in the bark roof. An iron bucket suspended above the head of
the bunk caught the tiny stream that would otherwise have dribbled upon
his pillow, an oil-skin coat turned the drops that rained upon the foot
of the bed into a miniature river meandering along the hard clay floor,
and the darkness was made musical by the tinkling sound of drops falling
into tin dishes placed here and there about the hut to catch them. Mack
curled down amongst the blankets under his great 'possum rug, swore a
prayer or two, and endeavoured to give himself up to sweet forgetfulness
of his "danged roomertism," the fact that she was pinching out--"she"
being the reef--and his many other managerial troubles.

Outside the night was pitch dark, and the rain raced by in successive
charges, driven by the howling wind that caught and tore the gusts of
phosphorescent steam above the engine-house at the mine, and sent the
fragments streaming and curling away amongst the complaining trees like
maddened wraiths. The driver in the well-lighted, rain-tight engine-house
whistled contentedly over his work, and the battery boys, under
comfortable shelter, rather delighted in the storm, the howling of which
could be heard even above the thunder of the stampers; but the
unfortunate braceman, crouching in the lee of one of the poppet-legs
beneath the misty yellow glow of his lantern, cold, soddened, and more
than half afraid of the tempest, that shook the brace vigorously under
its bare poles, muffled the chattering of his teeth with a big quid, and
heartily envied the facemen in the warm stopes and drives below.

Sleep was long coming to the weary "skipper;" he lay awake for hours,
feeling the rheumatism like rats gnawing in his old bones, and swearing
quietly but with the emphasis of a devout "Geordie." At length, whilst
listening intently for the four o'clock whistle, oblivion fell upon him,
and a deep organ note mingled with the tinkling of the raindrops in the
scattered tins.

Mack imagined he had not slept twenty minutes when he was roughly
awakened. He felt himself being energetically shaken, and heard a voice
with a decided note of terror in it mixed up with the march, march, march
of the rain and the long shrill cries of the wind in the dead gums. A
shower of water rained upon his face from wet oilskins as he turned, and
the voice of Tom White called again:--

"For God's sake, boss, tumble up! The 'big blow' has caved in, and the
old shaft is choked with reef."

The manager was out on the sloppy floor in a moment, groping for his
clothes.

"An' Brierly, Brierly--D----n it all, man! what about Brierly?" he
gasped.

"He is trapped like a rat."

"Lord, Lord!" groaned M`Fie, "an' there hasn't been a man near the cursed
hole for months before to-night."

Mack discovered the matches, but they were like mush in his hand, and he
was compelled to tear his way into his clothes in the darkness. Presently
he rushed after White towards the mine. The whistle was piping piteously
against the storm, which still thundered in the gully.

A hasty examination served to inform the manager of the extent of the
disaster, which troubled him all the more for the fact that it was not
quite unforeseen and might have been avoided. About forty yards from the
working shaft of the Old Pioneer mine was another and a smaller shaft,
one that had been sunk by the discoverers of the reef. At the lower-most
level of the latter hole the two shafts were connected by means of a
drive for the purpose of improving the air in the workings. Within about
fifty feet of the surface the original workers had opened out and struck
a big blow of quartz, the very richest of the lode, and in taking out the
stone had excavated a great irregular chamber, reaching in places to
within twenty feet of the surface. This chamber they eventually stowed
full of loose reef from the lower workings, with the dual object of
saving hauling and holding up the ground. It was a bad job from a miner's
point of view, but when a small independent party is on rich stuff that
is not expected to hold out the members rarely waste time on fancy
mining. Long since the surface over the excavation had settled down,
leaving a large hollow place. To-night the great pressure of the many
tons of earth, combined with the force exerted by the swelling of the
reef, caused by the moisture that percolated through, had crushed out the
timbers that walled up the mouth of the old drive, and sent the broken
reef pouring into the pit, like the waters of a cataract, filling eighty
feet of shaft in the winking of an eye.

If this were all the accident might not have been very serious, but at 12
o'clock M`Fie had sent Bill Brierly to put in a shift in a small drive
leading from the air-shaft towards the Old Pioneer, and about thirty feet
from the bottom of the former. Scarcely any work had been done in this
drive since it was opened out, and now the shaft was choked, and Brierly
was penned in that tiny chamber, with air enough, Mack reckoned, to last
a man five hours, provided he had sense enough to put out his candles,
and sit and wait for death in the dark--a hair-bleaching, marrow-freezing
experience men say who have so sat and waited.

"Stop the battery!" roared M`Fie, after his cursory inspection. "Send the
boys to knock up the men at the Piper an' up at Mother Murty's. They'll
never hear that penny whistle agin this wind. White, you take Harry an'
Bricky an' a couple of others when they come, an' rig a win'las over the
air-shaft, an' pull reef till all's blue! Ben, go below--I expect Evans
an' Castro are already on the job. Chuck it down the winze, stow it
anywhere, an' work--work like fiends. If we don't get at Brierly inside
five hours I'm a done man, an' so is he!"

The manager remained on top a few minutes longer, giving orders to the
brace-man and the engine-driver, and then went below with a couple of
volunteers who had come out of the black bush, half-dressed and puffing
like engines. In No. 3, which drive ran into the old shaft, three silent
men, stripped to their flannels, reeking in the faint, ghostly light of
the candles, worked desperately upon the broken reef that had gushed into
the drive.

M`Fie and the others "took a hand," more men came down in the next cage,
and the next, and next, and presently wherever there was room for a man
to plant a shovel or push a truck a man was toiling with the magnificent
energy with which the meanest miner is endowed when the life of a mate is
at stake. On the brace three or four men handled the trucks as the cages
leapt to the landing. The engine throbbed, groaned, and strained like a
living thing, and the eager volunteers, stoking vigorously, kept steam up
to a dangerous pressure, while the safety-valve fairly shrieked under it.
At the mouth of the air-shaft a brawny contingent whirled the windlass,
pulling dirt from the top of the heap below, where two men toiled like
heroes. Six or seven others, waiting to relieve exhausted mates, gathered
in the red glow before the boilers, and talked of the imprisoned man in
low voices and with a newborn respect, telling all the best they knew of
him; and two or three frightened, curious women, with shawls drawn over
their heads, peered with white faces out of the surrounding darkness.

At daybreak the struggle was still going on with undiminished zeal, and
every handy place that would hold a truck of dirt was choked with reef,
and the cages sprang up with the full trucks or rattled down with the
"empties" swiftly, and with scarcely a pause.

Manager M`Fie worked with the best of them. Drenched with perspiration,
bruised and cut by pieces of falling reef, he faced the mass of dirt in
the old shaft, careless of danger and ignorant of fatigue. As fast as the
reef was shovelled away more rolled into the drive out of the shaft, but
at length Mack uttered a sharp exclamation of joy and pointed to a dark
open space showing below the cap-piece of the first set. Enlarging this
with a few strokes of the shovel, he seized a candle and examined the
shaft beyond; then, staggering back in the drive, bellowed a cheer that
was caught up by the men and echoed on the brace.

The unexpected had happened. The choked pit was a ladder-shaft; a stout
ladder, well stayed, ran up the side of the shaft, past the drive in
which Brierly was immured; between it and the slabs lining the shaft was
a space about 18 in. wide; large lumps of reef had jammed between the
rungs, and now, right up the side to the mouth of the drive, was a clear
passage, large enough to admit of the escape of a slight man like
Brierly.

"Steady lads--easy does it!" said Mack, as the men attacked the reef
again. "A wrong stroke might bring the stuff down again. Clear a way, an
let's see what can be done."

Mack put his head into the shaft and called, but no answer came back. He
called louder, again and again. Still there was no reply, and the old
manager turned away, and looked meaningly into the blank faces of the
men, and his own cheeks were grey with dread.

"I'll chance it, boss!"

A young fellow stepped forward--a trucker, a boy merely--with a plain,
strong face and glowing eyes, luminous with resolution.

"No, no, lad! it might mean death."

But young Stevens pushed by the extended arm and seized the ladder.
Somebody stuck a lighted candle on his hat with a scrap of moist clay,
and he went up the shaft on the under side of the ladder, climbing
gingerly, conscious that the least vibration might bring the reef rushing
in upon him. Mack watched him from below, and no man spoke a word. The
boy reached the drive, paused only a moment, and started down again. Half
a minute later he was dragged from the ladder by M`Fie's eager hands, and
the same instant the reef rushed in, and filled up the place where he had
been, and poured into the drive with a vibrant roar like thunder.

Stevens stood with his back to one of the legs for a moment, a
superstitious fear transfiguring his face, his limbs trembling painfully.

"He is not there!" he gasped in a choked voice.

"Not there?"

The boy shook his head.

"Then," murmured M`Fie, "he is there;" and he pointed towards the
filled-in shaft with a despairing gesture. "He must have made a rush for
the ladder when she started to run, and he's under the reef. It's all UP,
boys!"

Something like a groan broke from the lips of the men, but they seized
their shovels and went to work again--all but one man. Graham turned away
and walked towards the working shaft. He went up on the cage, and in less
than five minutes returned and drew M`Fie aside. He whispered a few words
in the manager's ear, and Mack followed him with an amazed look in his
face. The two men got on the cage, and Graham pulled the knocker,
signalling to the engine-driver to drop them at No. 2.

Graham led the way along No. 2, in which drive no work had been done for
some months, and presently stopped and threw the light of his candle full
upon the recumbent form of a man sleeping heavily upon a few slabs, his
head pillowed on his arm. Mack turned the face towards the light, and
beheld Bill Brierly, the supposed dead man. Graham, and M`Fie stared at
each other for a moment. Graham grinned feebly but Mack breathed a mighty
oath. Brierly's tea-flask lay near. The manager picked it up and brought
it to his nose.

"Drunk!" he ejaculated, kicking the sleeping miner.

"As a jackass," responded Graham, tersely.

Ten minutes later the brace-man called to the men below to knock off and
come up.

"We have got Brierly. He is alive!" he cried.

The men rushed the cages, cheering, and wondering. On top a circle of
disgusted miners stood round Bill Brierly, who lay sprawling on the floor
before the boilers, grinning inanely in his drunken sleep. The truth was
told in constrained whispers. Brierly was probably "half-screwed" when he
went on at 12; he had made his way to No. 2, the driest and warmest drive
in the mine, early in the shift, taking his flask of rum with him, and
intending, no doubt, to "do a comfortable loaf" up there; and there he
had lain, stupidly drunk, throughout those dreadful hours of anxiety and
toil. The men thought of their long struggle and their wasted sympathies,
of the reef piled everywhere about the workings, yesterday so orderly and
correct, and each man glanced into his neighbour's face, but none spoke;
no one even ventured to swear, and they could not laugh--the situation
was too tremendous for any form of expression of which they were capable.

One by one the worn-out miners dragged themselves away towards their huts
and houses, but M`Fie remained, sitting on a log, glowering at the
drunken man, his mind full of the choked winzes and drives below, and of
young Stevens cheek by jowl with death on the buried ladder.

"Ain't you going to turn in, boss?" someone asked.

"No," he said, angrily. "No. I'm goin' to sit here till Bill Brierly
sobers up, an' then, by thunder, I'm goin' to kick him from here to the
Piper, an' back again!"

"But, man, this is better than having to fish him from under the reef."

"I dunno, I dunno!" snarled Mack, striking his knee fiercely with his
great gnarled fist, "but I must kick that man or blow up!"

AT THE YARDS

WADDY, in its decadence, lived through two days of every week. The
awakening began late on Sunday night, or in the gloom of Monday morning,
with the sound of phlegmatic cursing--softened and chastened by distance
and the enfolding darkness--the yapping of busy dogs, the pathetic lowing
of weary beasts, the marching of many hoofs, the slow movements of big
flocks and herds on the ironstone road.

On Sunday evening Waddy was a mile-long township facing an apparently
interminable post-and-rail fence and a wide stretch of treeless country
dotted with poppet-legs--a township of some fifty houses, a Sunday-school
and a chapel; grey, weatherboard, rain-washed houses, and an old,
bleached, wooden day-school shored up on either side with stays, but
lurching forward and peering stupidly out of its painted windows with a
ludicrous suggestion of abject drunkenness. On Sunday evening Waddy was
still, silent, and apparently deserted, oppressed by the weight of a
Cousin-Jack Sabbath, but on Monday morning tents and covered carts linked
the scattered houses, camp-fires smoked everywhere, and bearded
cattle-men, making their scant toilet under the decent cover of a
cart-wheel or a rail-fence, enlivened the place with light-hearted
blasphemy and careless snatches of song, whilst flocks of sheep drifted
on the common, fraternizing with the local goats, and mobs of cattle came
slowly down the old toll-road, sniffing at the bare, brown track; the
dust-coloured, sleepy drovers, with sunken heads, nodding on their limp
horses.

Tuesday was sale-day. Monday afternoon was devoted to the yarding of
cattle and the yarding and drafting of innumerable sheep--the former a
comparatively easy and decorous undertaking; the latter a clamorous and
arduous business provocative of disgust, dust, and madness, and inducing
a thirst that afflicts the toiler like a visible disease, making him an
object of pity to all humane beholders. The average bullock is of
incalculable mental density, but he has the virtue of faith, and if you
wish him to go through a gateway he goes in blind confidence; but you may
pack a mob of five or fifty thousand sheep hard against a 10 ft. opening
in a fence, and you may yap yourself hoarse, and beat your trousers to
rags, and your dogs may bark their lungs up, without inducing a single
monumental idiot of the whole flock to venture through.

It is a hot afternoon--it always was a hot afternoon, it seems to me at
this distance--and scores of thousands of sheep are being hauled, and
bullied, and cursed, and cajoled into the yards, and from pen to pen.
There is a decided substratum of sound--the ceaseless, senseless bleating
of sheep, low and unvarying; above this the "yap, yap, yap" of the men
and boys, the sharp barking of the dogs, and the lowing of the cattle in
the high yards beyond. Over all, the dust and the sun--a burning, yellow
sun, and a rolling cloud of powdery dust--and everywhere in the air the
taint of sheep, the pungent smell of the beasts, and the taste of them if
you open your lips to breathe. It is a great time for several of the boys
of Waddy; it means half a day from school and the opportunity of earning
a shilling or two playing at work. Every healthy boy in the township is
ambitious to be a drover, and have a black pipe, a wonderful horse, and a
fabulous dog. Working at the yards is an approach to the ideal, and
confers a dignity obtainable in no other way. To the boys penned in the
stuffy little drunken schoolhouse the others who have a job at the yards
are kings, and objects of an envy unspeakable. They command humble
service, and awe, and admiration always.

With treasured whips, home-made of many fragments, the boys are busy
helping with the drafting and penning of the cattle, or, coated half an
inch deep with yellow dust, they are rushing the sheep up and down,
bleary black patches indicating where their eyes may be, and muddy
circles the probable situation of their mouths. It is hot, hard work,
but, oh! the glory of it, and the pride of walking home with money in
one's pockets, and covered with heaped-up, honourable dirt!

On sale-day the Drovers' Arms is hemmed in with conveyances of all sorts
and sizes, each with a sober horse or two tethered to a wheel, dreaming
with drooped heads under the scorching sun, or patiently foraging for the
last oat in the corner of the feed-box. The heat is the same, so are the
dust and the smells, but the noises of yesterday are supplemented by the
continuous rattle of the auctioneers' voices. Over the simmering stew
sound the voices like the crackling of gum-twigs in an open fire:--

"Fo'rteen T! fo'rteen T! fo'rteen T!
"All done eighteen, done eighteen, done eighteen!
"Fo'r pounds, I'm bid. Fo'r two six! fo'r two six!
"Fo'r two six! Goin'for--two--six!"

There are a few "drunks" sleeping in attitudes of absurd abandon along
M'Mahon's fence, coated with flies; and out on the common, with the whole
waste to themselves, two men, stripped to the buff, are engaging in a
dull, boozy, interminable fight. They have been fighting ineptly for many
hours, and their punctilious observance of the rules of the ring is the
wildest farce; but the comedy is wasted on Waddy, and the drovers are too
busy to give heed.

In the afternoon the cattle begin to move out again and off by the roads
they came, but the babel continues, and the buyers--stout, red, bibulous
men of one pronounced type--follow the auctioneers in knots along the
platforms over the yards. The cattle are not the meek, weary animals of
yesterday; they have been hustled from one yard to another, rushed
around, whipped and prodded, packed into small pens, and cursed and
orated over to the complete loss of their few poor wits, and there is now
a decided note of revolt in the lowing that rises up from the yards like
a lingering curse. In every lot turned out there are one or two beasts
filled with blind, blundering hate; they swing up the road, leading the
mobs, red-eyed and possessed of devils; cords of saliva hang from their
muzzles, and their moaning is ominous, suggesting the vacuous complaining
of a maniac.

The youngsters coming from school keep close to the rail-fence, but they
delight to run deadly risks, and fill the air with the profane shrieks of
the drovers. Often a goaded, homicidal bullock bolts, and then young
hearts are glad. It is wonderful sport to behold that frantic race for
the distant timber--the long, rolling plunge of the bullock, with the
good horse working on his shoulder, and the volleying whip kicking up
dust and hair from his hollow ribs.

The clatter of the auctioneers grows fainter and hoarser, and the
perishing beasts in the pens below toss up their heads like the branches
of wind-blown trees, and push hither and thither ceaselessly with a
pitiful "mooing."

Marks is selling a pen of Bellman's stock in No. 26. The buyers cluster
about him on top of the fence, and bidding is brisk. One bullock, a fine
red beast, has knocked himself about badly; his tail has been torn clean
away, one horn is cracked close to the head, and the thick red blood
oozes out, and blackens rolling sluggishly down the white blaze of his
face. It is a large yard, and there is plenty of room for the brute to
charge, which he does several times, now and then driving blindly into
another bullock, but generally cracking his skull sharply on the great
posts of the fence. Suddenly a portly, helmeted buyer, leaning over to
get a better view, misses his centre of gravity and goes after it, the
whole 16 st. plumping solidly into the slush of the yard below. The red
bullock is at him instantly. The good horn takes Langley in the back of
the trousers, and the drive rips him bare to the collar, leaving him
unmarked, but prone, in a condition of unseemly nudity.

The beast backs away for another drive, shaking his head and uttering his
low, tigerish bellow, the expression of all malevolence; but at the same
moment a figure drops smartly from the platform, and a ragged, smudgy,
red-headed small boy is riding astride the animal's neck, diverting his
attention by battering him over the eyes with an old felt hat. Dicky
Haddon has performed this feat often for his own amusement, to the
amazement of staid and matronly cows, but this is a beast of another
colour, and the trick is done in response to an involuntary heroic
impulse.

The bullock backs about the yard, tossing his head in an effort to be rid
of his mysterious burden, and many hands clutch stout old Langley from
the other pen, and tow him along through the mire to the gate, the bottom
rail of which is high enough from the ground to enable them to pull him
out of danger. Then he is borne away, unnerved and invertebrate. The boy
seizes his opportunity, drops from the bullock and slips under the gate
like a cat. Then he follows Langley, and stands in eager expectance
whilst the damaged grazier is being bundled into his buggy. Really
Langley suffers from nothing more serious than blue funk, but is
oblivious of everything excepting a great craving for neat brandy, and is
driven off without bestowing even a glance on his small preserver.

This base ingratitude inspires the youth with a loathing that can only be
expressed in the choice idiom of the yards, and the disappointed hero,
dancing in the road with his thumb to his nose, yells bitter and profane
insults after Jabez Langley, moneyed man and M.L.A.

A SABBATH MORN AT WADDY

SUNDAY-SCROOL was "in" at Waddy. The classes were all in place, and of
the teachers only Brother Spence was absent, strange to say. This was the
first Sunday of the new superintendent's term, always an evil time for
grace, and a season of sulkiness, and bickering, and bad blood. Each
beloved brother coveted the dignity of the office, and those who failed
to get it were consumed with envy and all uncharitableness for many
Sabbaths after. Some deserted the little wooden chapel on the hill till
the natural emotions of prayerful men pent in their bosoms could no
longer be borne, and then they stole back, one by one, and condoned in
hurricanes of exhortation with rain and thunder.

Brother Nehemiah Best occupied the seat of office behind a deal table on
the small platform, under faded floral decorations left since last
anniversary. Rumour declared that Brother Best was unable to write his
own name, and whispered that he spent laborious nights learning the hymns
by heart before he could give them out on Sunday, as witness the fact
that he "read" with equal facility whether the book was straight, or
end-ways, or upside down. Brother Best was thin-voiced, weak in wind, and
resourceless and unconvincing in prayer. No wonder Brother Spence was
disgusted. Brother Spence could write his own name with scarcely more
effort than it cost him to swing the trucks at the Phoenix; his voice
raised in prayer set the loose shingles fairly dancing on the old roof;
and his recitation of "The Drunkard's Doom" had been the chief attraction
on Band of Hope nights for years past. Ernest Spence had not hesitated to
express himself freely at Friday evening's meeting:

"Ay, they Brother Best, he no more fit for pourin' out the spirit, you,
than a blin' kitten. Look at the chest of en!"

"True for en, Ernie!" cried Brother Tresize.

"They old devil, you, he laugh at Best's prayin', sureli. Brother Spence
some tuss, you."

But Brother Spence had left the meeting in a state of righteous
indignation. Yet here were Brothers Tresize, and Tregaskis, and Prator,
and Pearce, and Eddy. True, they all looked grim and unchastened, and
there was an uneasy, shifty feeling in the chapel that inspired boys and
girls, young men and young women, teachers and choir, with great
expectations. Brother Best, in his favourite attitude, with one arm
behind him under his coat tails, his right hand holding the book a yard
from his eyes, his right foot thrust well out, the toe touching the floor
daintily, made his first official announcement:

"We will open they service this mornin' by singing hymn won, nought,
won."

Then, in a nasal sing-song, swinging with a long sweep from toe to heel
and heel to toe, he gave out the first verse and the chorus, ending
unctuously with a smack of the lips at the line:

Thou beautiful, beautiful Poley Star!

Nehemiah was a dairyman, and had a fixed conviction that the poley star
and a poley cow had much in common.

The hymn being sung, the superintendent engaged in prayer, speaking
weakly, with a wearisome repetition of stock phrases, eked out with
laboured groans and random cries.

Brother Tresize could not disguise his cynical disgust, and remained
mute. A prayer to be successful amongst the Wesleans of Waddy must make
the hearers squirm and wriggle upon their knees, and cry aloud. Brothers
and sisters were all happy when moved to wild sobbing, to the utterance
of moans, and groans, and hysterical appeals to heaven, and when impelled
to sustain a sonorous volley by the vigorous use of pocket handkerchiefs;
but that was a spiritual treat that came only once in a while, with the
visit of a specialist, or when the spirit moved Brother Spence or Brother
Tresize to unusual fervor.

The superintendent's prayer did not raise a single qualm; and the boys of
Class II. straggled openly over the forms, pinched each other, and passed
such rubbish as they could collect to Dicky Haddon, the pale, saintly,
ginger-headed boy at the top of the class, who was in honour bound to
drop everything so sent him in amongst the mysteries of the old, yellow,
guttural harmonium, through a convenient crack in the back.

Throughout the service Brother Best, proud of his new office, watched the
scholars diligently, visiting little boys and girls with sudden sharp
raps or twitches of the ear if they dared even to sneeze, but judiciously
overlooking much that was injurious and unbecoming in the bigger boys of
Class II., who had a vicious habit of sullenly kicking elderly shins when
cuffed or wigged for their misdeeds.

The Bible reading, with wonderful, original expositions of the obscure
passages by horny-handed miners, occupied about half an hour, and then
the superintendent stilled the racket and clatter of stowing away the
tattered books with an authoritative hand, and invited Brother Tresize to
pray. If he was great he could be merciful.

Brother Tresize made his preparations with great deliberation, spreading
a handkerchief large enough for a bed-cover to save the knees of his
sacred black-cloth trousers, hitching up the latter to prevent bagging,
and finally loosening his paper collar from the button in front to give
free vent to his emotions--and preserve the collar. Then, the rattling of
feet, the pushing and shoving, the coughing and whispering and sniffing
having subsided, and all being on their knees, Brother Tresize began his
prayer in a soft, low, reverent voice that speedily rose to a reverberant
roar.

"Oh, Gwad, ah! look down upon we here, ah; let the light of Thy
countenance ahluminate, ah, this little corner of Thy vineyard, ah. Oh,
Gwad, ah! be merciful to they sinners what be assembled here, ah; pour
down Thy speerit upon they, ah, make they whole, ah. Oh, Gwad, ah! Thoo
knowest they be some here, ah, that be wallerin' in sin, ah, some that be
hippycrits, ah, some that be cheats, ah, some that be scoffers, an'
misbelievers, an' heathens, oh, Gwad, ah! Have mercy on they people, oh,
Gwad, ah! Show they Thy fires, ah, an' turn they from the wrath, oh,
Loord Gwad, ah!"

Brother Tresize was evidently in fine form this morning; already the
windows were vibrating before the concussions of his tremendous voice,
and the floor bounded under the great blows that punctuated his
sentences. As he went on, the air became electrical, and the spirit moved
amongst the flock. The women felt it first.

"Oh, Gwad, ah!" interjected Mrs. Eddy from her corner.

"Throw up the windies, an' let the speerit in!" sobbed Mrs. Eddy.

Brother Prator blew his nose with a loud report, a touching and helpful
manifestation.

Brother Tresize prayed with every atom of energy he possessed. His
opinion was on record:

"A good prayer Sunday mornin', you, takes it out of en more'n a hard
shift in a hot drive, you."

When his proper momentum was attained he oscillated to and fro between
the floor and the form, swaying back over his heels till his head almost
touched the boards--a gymnastic feat that was the envy of all the
brethren--he shook his clenched fist at the rafters and reached his
highest note. The plunge forward was accompanied by falling tones, and
ended with a blow on the form that made every article of furniture in the
building jump. The perspiration ran in streams down his face and neck;
dry sobs broke from his labouring chest; long strands of his moist,
well-oiled, red hair separated themselves from the flattened mass and
stood out like feelers, to the wild, ungodly delight of Class II.; and
whilst he prayed the brethren and "sistern" kept up a continuous fire of
interjections and heartrending groans.

"They be people here, ah! what is careless of Thy grace; chasten 'em with
fire an' brimstone--chasten 'em, oh, Lord, ah! They be those of uz what
go to be Thy servants, oh, Gwad, ah! an' to do Thy work here below, ah,
what is tried an' found wantin', ah--some do water they milk, oh, Gwad,
ah! an' some do be misleadin' they neighbors' hens to lay away. Smite
they people for Thy glory, oh, Loord, ah!"

A great moaning filled the chapel, and all heads turned towards Brother
Nehemiah Best, kneeling at his chair, with his face buried in his hands,
trembling violently. Nehemiah, two years earlier, had been fined for
watering the milk sold to his town customers; quite recently he had been
thrown into the Phoenix slurry by an unregenerate trucker, who accused
him of beguiling his hens to lay from home. Brother Tresize was wrestling
with the superintendent in prayer, and the excitement rose instantly to
fever heat.

"They what do not as they wad be done by, pursue 'em, ah; smite they with
Thy right hand, oh, Lord Gwad, ah! so they may be turned from they
wickedness, ah. They what have better food to they table for theyselves
than for they children or they wives, ah, they what be filled with
vanity, ah, they what havin' no book-learnin' do deceive Thy people, an'
fill the seats o' the learned, ah, deal with such, oh, Gwad, ah!"

Brother Tresize was now almost frantic with the ecstasy of his zeal. His
exhortation was continued in this strain, and every word was a lance to
prick the cowering superintendent. The women sniffed and sobbed, the men
groaned and cried "Ahmen, ah!" It was a great time for grace.

But suddenly a new voice broke in--a shrill, thin voice, splitting into
that of Brother Tresize like a steam-whistle. Brother Best had assumed
the defensive.

"Oh, Lord, ah!" he cried, "give no ear to they what bears false witness
against they neighbors, to they what backbite, ah, an' slander, ah, an'
bear malice, ah; heed they not, oh, Lord, ah!"

Abel Tresize rose to the occasion. It was a battle. His voice swelled
till it rivalled the roar of the ravening lion; he no longer selected his
words or cared to make himself understood of the people; it was necessary
only to smother Brother Best, to pray him down, and Abel prayed as no man
had ever prayed before at Waddy. A curious crowd--the Irish children, Dan
the Drover, an old shepherd, and a few cattlemen from the Red
Cow--attracted by the great commotion, had assembled in the porch, and
were gazing in open-mouthed, delighted.

Tresize persevered, but Best's shrill, penetrating voice rang out
distinctly above all. Brother Best was transformed, inspired; under the
influence of his great wrath he had waxed eloquent; he smote his enemy
hip and thigh, he heaped coals of fire upon his head, and marshalled St.
Peter and all the angels against him.

The severity of his exertions was telling heavily upon Abel Tresize; he
was dreadfully hoarse, his great hands fell upon the form without
emphasis, he was almost winded, and his legs wobbled under him. He pulled
himself together for another effort, and the cry that he uttered thrilled
every heart, but it quite exhausted him, and he went over backwards,
striking his head upon the floor, and lay in the aisle convulsed in a
fit.

Instantly the chapel became a babel. The teachers ran to Brother Tresize,
and bore him into the open air, the wondering children crowding after,
and left the new superintendent sobbing on his table like a
broken-hearted boy.

THE TRUCKER'S DREAM

"I HAD a divil of a drame last night," said Bart O'Brien, as he crowded
his usual two-pound "plaster" of cold fried bacon and bread into his
crib-bag.

"'Drame,' d'ye call it?" muttered Brown from his bunk. "I thouoht you
had the buckin' fantods; you howled like a madman."

"Be Hiven, I don't wonder thin. I thought I was pumpin' away in the
place below there, whin thim two sets at the bottom av the incline came
away, an' I saw Lane crushed under thim. His dead face was starin' out
av the heap at me, all battered an' bloody, an' ghost-like in the
candle-light. Faith, an' I ain't much amused wid these lone shifts!"

The boys grinned at O'Brien's fears, but Gleeson muttered something
about the manager being "d--d well hanged" for not giving an eye to that
timber, and Gleeson was considered an authority.

Bartholomew O'Brien was a Bungaree native. In Bungaree the natives are
more Milesian than the Irish. Bart had for Father Cassidy a great,
childlike veneration that the ribald stories told of His Reverence by
Bart's sceptical hut-mates could not shake; and his belief in the
wonders and mysteries of his religion and the folklore of his mother's
country was profound. Bartholomew had also ruddy cheeks, and an
unreliable heart.

It was Sunday evening at Waddy, hot and thirst-provoking. His mates were
lounging about in their trousers on the tumbled bunks, but O'Brien was
due on the plat at nine o'clock, and was dressed in his working clothes.
He was a trucker at the Hand-in-Hand, and it was his turn to go below
into the mine and pump the water over the incline at the head of the
main drive on the lower level. Every Sunday night, after the long shift
off, this work had to be done by one of the truckers, so that the face
might be dry for the first night-shift, coming on at one a.m. None of
the boys liked the job--O'Brien hated it. In the presence of a tangible
danger he was as game a fellow as any in the district, but his
superstition--an ineradicable inheritance intensified by early
influences that bring the emotional side of the unlettered believer to
an unhealthy development, and leave to the man the reasoning faculties
of the child--made him little more than an irresponsible idiot when his
imagination ran riot amongst the spooks and wraiths. He had an
extraordinary stock of mottoes, religious and legendary, for warding off
the spirits, and possessed all the portable charms obtainable; but his
faith was not as powerful as his fears, and, in spite of these spiritual
arms and armour, he dreaded to be alone in the murderous old mine with
the ghosts of its many dead.

On going to the bottom level that night, and threading the course of the
long, tortuous main drive, the trucker found the water below the incline
higher than usual. The heavy iron pump stood over a slab-covered well in
a small chamber about ten feet by six, dug in the side of the drive. It
was worked with a back-racking up-and-down stroke, and lifted the water
into pipes, which carried it to the higher ground, whence it drained to
the shaft. The face was quite a thousand yards from the plat; and the
sound from the air-pipe, like the laborious breathing of some gigantic
animal afar off, offered no relief from the oppressive stillness and the
deathly atmosphere of the drive.

It is a trying thing to a man afflicted with the accumulated
superstitions of a hundred generations to be left alone for any time in
the deep, extensive workings of an old mine, every drive, and winze, and
shoot in which has its tale of blood and suffering. Bart O'Brien stuck
his candle to the side of the chamber, and paused to listen. The terror
was already strong upon him: his mouth was dry, and his heart beat like
a plunger, catching his breath at every pulsation. The chamber was deep
enough down and hot enough to suggest its proximity to the flaming home
of all the damned devils in whose existence Bartholomew implicitly
believed. He had done solitary duty several times at the pump, but never
before had his horror of it been so great as to-night. His dream
recurred to him, and he glanced uneasily towards the suspicious sets. He
was a believer in the portents of dreams--he expected something to come
of this one.

Catching at the long handle, Bart began to pump, almost in desperation.
Up and down, up and down--there was relief in action, and he worked
fiercely. The pump had been oiled recently, and ran smoothly and
noiselessly. This irritated him--he wanted hard work, something material
to fight with. And then the "click, clack," would have gone well to the
rhythm of an ancient Irish rhyme which his old mother held to be
infallible in keeping the elves from cows, and which he was wont to
mutter all the time when beset by supernatural enemies.

So hard was the mental battle O'Brien was fighting that bodily pain or
weariness never obtruded. With bent head and tightly-closed eyes he
toiled at the big pump, whilst the perspiration streamed from him and
ran through the folds of his scant clothing. Sometimes the face of
Geordie Lane, corpse-white and bloodstained, as he had seen it in his
dream, thrust itself upon him; then his brows met in cords, his hands
gripped the iron with a force that split his callous fingers, the handle
took a quicker, longer sweep, and the water boiled and foamed into the
wooden gutter in the drive.

Bart worked in this manner till about half-past eleven; then he was
startled by a gurgling, choking sound in the well beneath his feet, and
fell back into one corner of the chamber with an exclamation, his eyes
staring, full of fear.

The pump was drawing air! He had done four hours' hard work in little
over half the time. The drive was dry.

The young man's left arm was rubbed raw from the elbow to the wrist, and
his indurated hands were bleeding profusely from several deep cracks.
Bart gazed at the blood stupidly, and presently found himself listening
again--listening in the profound silence, out of which he heard at
length the distinct patter of footsteps. Small flakes of clay were
falling from the roof of the drive on to the muddy floor, but what
little reasoning power Bart had was lost by this time in a passion of
superstitious fear. He clutched the pump-handle once more, but it rose
and fell loosely, with a clatter, and drew no water.

With nothing for his hands to do, O'Brien was no longer able to control
his thoughts; they ran over the history of the mine--its list of killed.
He recalled the story of Martin's ghost haunting the old balance-shaft,
whilst the spirit of his wife, who died of grief, sought for him after
every shift in the next level. He remembered with startling vividness
Rooke, the braceman, as he looked spread upon the plat-sheets after
falling down five hundred feet of shaft-battered into a horrible mass,
out of which the face stood forth, ghastly white, and unmarked, though
the brain was laid bare as cleanly as by surgeon's saw. Then passed
before his eyes in grisly procession, showing their fearful wounds--Bill
the trucker, killed at No. 5 by a fall; Carter, brained in the shaft;
Praer and Hopkins, smashed in the runaway cage; Moore and German Harry,
blown up in the well when sinking; and Lane, pinched under the shattered
timber right before his eyes there in the drive.

O'Brien was crouching in the corner. No longer understanding that it was
only in a dream he had seen Lane killed, he expected a ghost to start up
before his eyes--a ghost with mangled limbs and a pale, blood-stained
face. He remained thus for some time, fighting the dread as it grew upon
him. At length he started up, and his fear found vent in a yell that
echoed shrilly through the workings. He meant to rush into the drive and
make his way to the shaft, but struck his head against the pump-handle
at the first stride, and was hurled back into the water, which had risen
again to the height of several inches.

The blow and the drenching steadied Bart a little, and he started
pumping once more, with nervous energy. Whilst he worked, the candle
fell from the wall and hissed out in the wet clay. He had no matches. In
a few minutes the pump was drawing wind again, and now O'Brien's
greatest trial began.

The darkness was solid, substantial--the young man felt it weighing upon
him with a pressure as of deep water, and his sense of solitude and awe
was such as might be known by the last, lone man in a waste, sunless
world. At times he crushed his ears with his hands to shut out the
dreadful silence, and then he heard the passing of spirit feet, the
muffled beat of wings, sobbing sounds, and long moans dying away beyond
the distant curves. His treacherous eyes saw fleeting forms and tense,
inhuman faces traced in faint, phosphorescent lines on the dense, black
wall that stood up before him. His agonized fears had now obtained
complete mastery of him, his mind ran in a frenzy from horror to horror,
and an intolerable dread filled his soul with hellish expectations.

He stood transfixed at the back of the chamber, his arms outspread, his
fingers dug knuckle-deep in the sodden reef. His eyes stared as in
death, and his mouth was open wide, the fallen lower jaw jerking
spasmodically. His greatest terror was of the thing he had seen at the
chamber-door--the corpse--face under the splintered timbers. He saw it
now, white as quartz, with clots of blood hiding the eyes; he felt its
presence--it mouthed at him--threatened him.

Out of the darkness and the silence of death came a faint rumbling
sound, like far-off thunder. It swelled and drew nearer. It roared in
the drive, and from the inky blackness, in a pale yellow light, Lane
rose up with a bloody face, and caught at O'Brien.

A minute or two later the men of the night-shift were shocked to meet
Lane rushing back from the face like a maniac, with a dead man in his
truck.

* * * * *

"Thoo's got a bad cut i' tha head thasel,' lad," said the boss of the
shift to Lane, half an hour later.

"Yes," he answered, "I slipped into that crab-hole at the second curve
going up, and knocked my forehead on the truck."

HEBE OF GRASSTREE

A CHANGE had come over the spirit of Grasstree; there was a false note in
the gaiety of the men up from Ramrod Flat, and the young fellows in the
pastoral interest around on the Black Cockatoo, when they foregathered in
Cleever's bar, discovered an un-accustomed awkwardness and restraint in
their attitudes towards each other. With miners and bushmen alike
confidence had given place to suspicion, and good-fellowship to an
all-round surliness.

For a time the men could not account even to themselves for this strange
alteration; an attempt was made to make the climate responsible, and a
few insisted that it was something in the drink, but certainly all had
become "sudden and quick in quarrel"--hats went down and hands went up on
the slightest provocation. Men whose ordinary work-a-day friendship had
previously heightened to brotherly love under the warming influence of
alcohol now became profane and bitter in drink, and short arguments
terminated with a rush and a collision in the bar. Little differences
that might previously have been settled by mutual concessions were now
nursed and coddled till they grew into hot enmities, and even Foster and
Brierly, once the best of mates, were camping apart and each working a
lone hand at Goat Creek.

Eventually Hetty Maconochie was generally recognized as the disturbing
element at the Grasstree, but, by tacit agreement, that fact was not
publicly admitted. Possibly a delicate and chivalrous consideration for
"Miss Mack's" sensibilities inspired this polite reticence, but perhaps
it chiefly arose from the shamefacedness of her worshippers. The man
out-back, secretive in most things personal, will admit any weakness or
wickedness ere confessing to the pangs of unrequited passion. Hence when
Hetty was particularly affable to Stacey on Monday evening in the bar,
and allowed Riverton to monopolize her smiles on Tuesday evening,
Riverton and Stacey fought a desperate and bloody battle on the Wednesday
afternoon to decide the ownership of a one-eyed dog which was the local
head depot for fleas, and which really belonged to a third man, who,
being public-spirited, waived his claim rather than spoil sport. Riverton
won the dog.

Of course Miss Maconochie was quite conscious that she had introduced a
new element into the relationship of things at the Grasstree, but,
although exultant in the knowledge that the men were contending with
animal ferocity for her favour, she appeared always quite oblivious, and
was genial or distant with the discrimination of a conscientious
barmaid.

Miss Mack had been sent to the Travellers' Rest from a Melbourne labour
office in response to Cleever's order, which specified "a strapping girl,
not more than 26, to work and assist in bar." Hetty was "strapping," and
certainly not more than 26; five feet seven, straight as a lath, strong,
ruddy-cheeked, and possessing a marvellous efflorescence of glorious red
hair as fine as spun silk, coruscant, throwing little subtle tendrils
down about her ears, her temples, and her long white neck. There are many
female Samsons. But Hetty's power was not wholly in her hair; her
strength was peculiarly attractive to the men; her every action suggested
strength--strength underlying a womanly softness and roundness. She often
served in the bar on warm evenings with her sleeves rolled well above her
shapely elbows, and then Cleever's patrons felt it was worth the price of
the drink to see "Mack" reach up for the bottle. She draped lightly for
comfort, and blushed to find it fame. The average woman who puts on much
to make herself attractive does not realize that half the art is in
taking off. Hetty was innocent of coquetry when she divested herself of
superfluous drapery, but she could not remain long ignorant of the
advantages she enjoyed from her emancipation. Then her laugh helped to
ensure success--it was a generous laugh, full of suggestive music, and
discovered new attractions in her large, handsome mouth. Such a laugh is
honeyed flattery for the man who provokes it, and, as Hetty was proud of
her fine white teeth, no man's joke was altogether a failure in Cleever's
bar.

There were other young women in and about the Grasstree--two or three in
the township, and settlers' and farmers' daughters judiciously
distributed over the district; but, although these had been courted, it
was in a temperate and bloodless manner. These girls were not slow in
concluding that Miss Maconochie was a person of extraordinary deceit and
peculiar morals. But Hetty was by no means a designing woman. Saving a
year spent in domestic service in an extremely Methodist household in
Melbourne, her knowledge of men and manners had been gathered in the bush
township where she was born and bred. Her morals were particularly
healthy; it was soon understood by Cleever's customers that "Mack" knew
how to take care of herself--an understanding that detracted not from the
zest of the pursuit.

After the morbid propriety of that Methodist household, Hetty revelled in
the unrestraint and comparative brilliancy of life at the Travellers'
Rest. Cleever was a widower, and not at all exacting, and in the bar of
evenings the girl received at least a specious show of respect
sufficiently gratifying to a young woman of her intellectual limitations.

The first battle fell about between Stacey and one of the Devoys. Both
had been dangling over the bar, chatting and larking with Hetty for an
hour or so, when Stacey's glass was upset in a bit of horse-play, and
Stacey, receiving its contents over his shirt-front, became a butt and an
object of derision to all in the bar. "Mack" laughed aloud, and flashed
her white teeth in the lamp-light, and Devoy laughed too, and Stacey's
blood grew hot, and he longed for slaughter. His opportunity came when
the girl left the bar a minute later. He confronted Devoy:

"Damn you, Devoy, you did that on purpose!"

It was entirely an accident, but neither was in any humour for
explanations. Devoy felt it was beneath him to excuse or parley; he
blurted much defiant profanity.

"What if I did! Why don't you drink up your liquor like a man!"

He was cut short by a swinging, open-hand blow. Then thud, thud, thud,
thud--four quick blows, two and two, with a sound as of a teamster
banging the ribs of his bogged horses with a shovel--and Stacey and Devoy
were fighting with the ferocity of tigers at mating-time.

Hetty returned to the bar to see the first blow struck, and now, leaning
over the counter, with sparkling eyes, glowing cheeks, and heaving breast
she watched the fight. There was none of the impassivity of the lolling
tigress in her attitude: she burned with excitement; she clenched her own
hands, and bruised her knuckles on the boards; she followed each swift,
cutting blow, and uttered inarticulate cries of wonder.

The men fought without science, fought with the brutality of powerful
men, wounding with every blow, but feeling nothing in their heat and
fury. A ring of onlookers circled round them, and outside this ring
danced Cleever--"Fighting" Cleever--with his "peacemaker," a
wicked-looking "waddy," eager to get in a blow and stun one of the
combatants, for the peace of Devil's End and the credit of the house.

The fight was not settled in Cleever's bar. Two or three rounds served to
exhaust the blind fury of the combatants, and then mutual friends
interceded, and a formal meeting was arranged for next day. A two hours'
struggle in Haddon's grass paddock on the following afternoon ended in
the defeat of Stacey, and that night Devoy appeared before Hetty
Maconochie, bruised, bandaged, and badly hacked about, but big with
victory. The fight was not discussed, but the girl quite understood, and
the conquering hero rejoiced in her luminous smile, and was sullenly
given the pride of place by his companions, who tacitly admitted this
right to the victor for the time being.

After that fistic battles were daily occurrences at Devil's End.
Callaghan, the solitary constable of the district, made a gallant attempt
to cope with the press of business, but after an exhausting week yielded
to public opinion and was officially blind and deaf when the battle-cries
were heard at the Travellers' Rest. Presently every second man in the
district possessed black eyes, split lips, or a swollen ear, or all these
things, and the local chemist did a roaring trade in court-plaster and
Friar's balsam. The men fought on the slightest provocation, or with no
obvious provocation at all; arguments on religion or politics invariably
ended in bloodshed; mates in the drives below disagreed as to the proper
locality for a "shot," and came blaspheming up the shafts to "settle it"
in a "mill;" the boys at "Old Burgoo's" fought viciously to maintain
their superiority as horsemen and shearers, and always the victorious
pugilist turned up at Cleever's, in all the glory of his wounds and
bruises, to invite the admiration of the creamy-skinned goddess with the
brown eyes.

Grasstree had discovered Hetty Maconochie. Previously she had received a
reasonable amount of attention from the men with whom she was thrown in
contact, but Grasstree had made her a sensation--a craze. She gloried and
revelled in her success, and the sense of pride and power it gave her.
Thinking over it through the day, she laughed with rapturous delight, and
felt like a queen amongst her pans. Cleever did well these times: there
were no tee-totallers left in and about Grasstree, and the Travellers'
Rest had absorbed all the business of the district. Being in love with
Hetty himself, Cleever made an effort to dispense with her help in the
bar, and excited an instantaneous revolt.

"Fetch out the girl," was the general demand. "You don't think we've
travelled down here to be served by a splay-mouthed Dutchman!"

Cleever was a Swede; but Swedes, Norwegians, Danes, Belgians, Germans,
Austrians, and men of Holland are all Dutchmen out-back. Other foreigners
are invariably Frenchmen. If Hetty was not produced on demand there was
no more drinking, but much disorder and many accidents, and the
proprietor was always compelled to yield. Cleever fought with the rest.
He fought without science or discrimination, and nobody took any
satisfaction from an encounter with the "Dutchman." He never knew when he
was beaten, and had a ridiculous and disconcerting way of resuming the
battle, without word or warning, a day, a week, or a month after being
egregiously whipped. Being a foreigner, he did not allow any absurd
sentiment to interfere with his manner of fighting, and repudiated
British prejudices and British reverence for rule and precedent, and
fought with all his weapons--fists, nails, teeth, and feet. There was no
credit in beating Cleever; he couldn't fight, but he was always willing
to try, and, although he was considered wildly humorous in his tantrums,
his opponents rarely escaped an injury of some kind or another before the
battle was ended.

After much indiscriminate fighting, in the course of a couple of months
it was understood and admitted without argument that the final must be
contested by Riverton and Devoy. Both were unbeaten, and each would have
done battle with a raging lion for the love of Hetty Maconochie. Cleever
alone, of all the whipped candidates, refused to abandon his hopes of
winning his handsome Hebe, and was quite willing to "take on" the two
last aspirants one after the other or both together. The other men of
Grasstree, and Ramrod Flat, and Grecian Bend admitted themselves "out of
it," and it was quite understood that the winner of the Riverton-Devoy
contest had only to step up and take possession of the prize. This view
had never been questioned; Hetty's keen interest in the many battles, and
her evident delight in the knowledge that she was the prize in the
greatest competition that had ever shaken an Australian bush township out
of its habitual quietude and lethargy, were taken as indicating her
acquiescence. Certainly both Devoy and Riverton took it for granted that
the best man of the two was destined to marry the belle of Grasstree.

The great fight came off on a beautiful pitch under Grecian Bend on a
Tuesday morning, and half the male population of the district was there
to see. Devoy and Riverton fought because the latter had ventured before
witnesses to assert his disbelief in the story of Devoy's great shooting
exploit--a wonderful narrative, never before questioned at Grasstree. The
fight was long and stubborn. Both men were young, strong, hardened with
toil, active, game as peccaries, six-foot and a bit, and fighting for an
issue that seemed dear as dear life.

They fought bare-knuckled and stripped to the buff. There was no sparring
and no vain display; every blow cut or bruised; and during the first
half-dozen rounds the great toughened, knubbly fists were going like
sledge-hammers about a busy forge. After that it was a brutal exhibition
of butchery and endurance. Blood ran freely, dyeing the combatants and
darkening the grass. The faces of the fighters became unrecognizable, and
after the 13th round neither could see. By this time half the spectators
had sickened and turned away, and awaited the end at a distance. Devoy
was knocked clean out in the 19th round, and then Riverton was carried
away across three saplings, a bruised and battered champion, limp as a
wet shirt, but triumphant, and feeling drunk--happily, jubilantly drunk.

Riverton would have much liked to drag himself to the Travellers' Arms
that night, but it was impossible. He was helpless next night, and on the
following morning his bunk still held him captive. But on Friday night,
with the assistance of his mate, he conveyed his battered carcass into
Cleever's bar. A woeful spectacle was the champion of Grasstree, but his
wounds were glorious. About a dozen men sat in the bar. Cleever was in
attendance. The hero called for drinks all round.

"Where's Mack?" he asked authoritatively.

The publican had evaded this query from others for two days in order to
produce a good effect when the champion appeared to claim her. He
lingered over the answer now as he served the drinks.

"She haf went by dot city for der honeymoons," he said composedly.

"Wha-at!" Riverton sprawled upon the counter, and his bruised face went
livid.

"Vile you vos fight mit Devoy, she haf ride away in der coach to marry
anodder feller."

"Marry! marry! Who--who is he?"

"Tommy Haynes."

"Haynes!" Riverton stood upright, looking around upon his companions, but
saw only blank faces.

Tommy Haynes was the successful storekeeper of Grasstree, a small boyish
man of 24, slight and fair, with curls and a complexion. He would easily
have stood upright under Hetty's extended arm. Whilst others fought and
suffered Haynes courted--courted pluckily, with kisses and caresses and
pretty presents--courted and conquered. "Haynes!" repeated Riverton, with
a lingering, bitter imprecation, "that--that worm. By the Lord! when they
come back I'll put him over my knee and spank him before her face."

But they were two months coming, and long before their return Riverton
had thought better of it.

THE CONQUERING BUSH

NED "picked up" his wife in Sydney. He had come down for a spell in town,
and to relieve himself of the distress of riches--to melt the cheque
accumulated slowly in toil and loneliness on a big station in the North.
He was a stockrider, a slow, still man naturally, but easily moved by
drink. When he first reached town he seemed to have with him some of the
atmosphere of silence and desolation that surrounded him during the long
months back there on the run. Ned was about thirty-four, and looked
forty. He was tall and raw-boned, and that air of settled melancholy,
which is the certain result of a solitary bush life, suggested some
romantic sorrow to Mrs. Black's sentimental daughter.

Darton, taught wisdom by experience, had on this occasion taken lodgings
in a suburban private house. Mrs. Black's home was very small, but her
daughter was her only child, and they found room for a "gentleman
boarder."

Janet Black was a pleasant-faced, happy-hearted girl of twenty. She liked
the new boarder from the start, she acknowledged to herself afterwards,
but when by some fortunate chance he happened to be on hand to drag a
half-blind and half-witted old woman from beneath the very hoofs of a
runaway horse, somewhat at the risk of his own neck, she was enraptured,
and in the enthusiasm of the moment she kissed the hand of the abashed
hero, and left a tear glittering on the hard brown knuckles.

This was a week after Ned Darton's arrival in Sydney.

Ned went straight to his room and sat perfectly still, and with even more
than his usual gravity watched the tear fade away from the back of his
hand. Either Janet's little demonstration of artless feeling had awakened
suggestions of some glorious possibility in Ned's heart, or he desired to
exercise economy for a change; he suddenly became very judicious in the
selection of his drinks, and only took enough whisky to dispel his native
moodiness and taciturnity and make him rather a pleasant acquisition to
Mrs. Black's limited family circle.

When Ned Darton returned to his pastoral duties in the murmuring wilds,
he took Janet Black with him as his wife. That was their honeymoon.

Darton did not pause to consider the possible results of the change he
was introducing into the life of his bride--few men would. Janet was
vivacious, and her heart yearned towards humanity. She was bright,
cheerful, and impressionable. The bush is sad, heavy, despairing;
delightful for a month, perhaps, but terrible for a year.

As she travelled towards her new home the young wife was effervescent
with joy, aglow with health, childishly jubilant over numberless plans
and projects; she returned to Sydney before the expiration of a year, a
stranger to her mother in appearance and in spirit. She seemed taller
now, her cheeks were thin, and her face had a new expression. She brought
with her some of the brooding desolation of the bush--even in the turmoil
of the city she seemed lost in the immensity of the wilderness. She
answered her mother's every question without a smile. She had nothing to
complain of: Ned was a very good husband and very kind. She found the
bush lonesome at first, but soon got used to it, and she didn't mind now.
She was quite sure she was used to it, and she never objected to
returning.

A baby was born, and Mrs. Darton went back with her husband to their hut
by the creek on the great run, to the companionship of bears, birds,
'possums, kangaroos, and the eternal trees. She hugged her baby on her
breast, and rejoiced that the little mite would give her something more
to do and something to think of that would keep the awful ring of the
myriad locusts out of her ears.

Man and wife settled down to their choking existence again as before,
without comment. Ned was used to the bush--he had lived in it all his
life--and though its influence was powerful upon him he knew it not. He
was necessarily away from home a good deal, and when at home he was not
companionable, in the sense that city dwellers know. Two bushmen will sit
together by the fire for hours, smoking and mute, enjoying each other's
society; "in mute discourse" two bushmen will ride for twenty miles
through the most desolate or the most fruitful region. People who have
lived in crowds want talk, laughter, and song. Ned loved his wife, but he
neither talked, laughed, nor sang.

Summer came. The babe at Mrs. Darton's breast looked out on the world of
trees with wide, unblinking, solemn eyes, and never smiled.

"Ned," said Janet, one bright, moonlight night, "do you know that that
'possum in the big blue gum is crazy? She has two joeys, and she has gone
mad."

Janet spent a lot of her time sitting in the shade of the hut on a
candle-box, gazing into her baby's large, still eyes, listening to the
noises of the bush, and the babe too seemed to listen, and the mother
fancied that their senses blended, and they both would some day hear
something awful above the crooning of the insects and the chattering of
the parrots. Sometimes she would start out of these humours with a
shriek, feeling that the relentless trees which had been bending over and
pressing down so long were crushing her at last beneath their weight.

Presently she became satisfied that the laughing jackasses were mad. She
had long suspected it. Why else should they flock together in the dim
evening and fill the bush with their crazy laughter? Why else should they
sit so grave and still at other times, thinking and grieving?

Yes, she was soon quite convinced that the animals and birds, even the
insects that surrounded her, were mad, hopelessly mad, all of them. The
country was now burnt brown, and the hills ached in the great heat, and
the ghostly mirage floated in the hollows. In the day-time the birds and
beasts merely chummered and muttered querulously from the deepest shades,
but in the dusk of evening they raved and shrieked, and filled the
ominous bush with mad laughter and fantastic wailings.

It was at this time that Darton became impressed by the peculiar manner
of his wife, and a great awe stole over him as he watched her gazing into
her baby's eyes with that strange look of frightened conjecture. He
suddenly became very communicative; he talked a lot, and laughed, and
strove to be merry, with an indefinable chill at his heart. He failed to
interest his wife; she was absorbed in a terrible thought. The bush was
peopled with mad things--the wide wilderness of trees, and the dull, dead
grass, and the cowering hills instilled into every living thing that came
under the influence of their ineffable gloom a madness of melancholy. The
bears were mad, the 'possums, the shrieking cockatoos, the dull grey
laughing jackasses with their devilish cackling, and the ugly
yellow-throated lizards that panted at her from the rocks--all were mad.
How, then, could her babe hope to escape the influence of the mighty bush
and the great white plains beyond, with their heavy atmosphere of despair
pressing down upon his defenceless head? Would he not presently escape
from her arms, and turn and hiss at her from the grass like a vicious
snake; or climb the trees, and, like a bear, cling in day-long torpor
from a limb; or, worst of all, join the grey birds on the big dead gum,
and mock at her sorrow with empty, joyless laughter?

These were the fears that oppressed Janet as she watched her sad, silent
baby at her breast. They grew upon her and strengthened day by day, and
one afternoon they became an agonizing conviction. She had been alone
with the dumb child for two days, and she sat beside the hut door and
watched the evening shadows thicken, with a shadow in her eyes that was
more terrible than blackest night, and when a solitary mopoke began
calling from the Bald Hill, and the jackasses set up a weird chorus of
laughter, she rose, and clasping her baby tighter to her breast, and
leaning over it to shield it from the surrounding evils, she hurried
towards the creek.

Janet was not in the hut when Ned returned home half an hour later.
Attracted by the howling of his dog, he hastened to the waterhole under
the great rock, and there in the shallow water he found the bodies of his
wife and child and the dull grey birds were laughing insanely overhead.

A ZEALOT IN LABOUR

THE creek was hacked and mangled out of all semblance to a sylvan
rivulet.

The ruin effected looked like the work of many men. The muddy, yellow
stream had been diverted from its course several times within half a
mile, and all along the banks were torn down, great cuttings made, piles
of gravel heaped up, dams built, and races dug. But the ravisher was
there--a lone man, gouging his way into a bank at the head of the flat
where it met the hill, looking a mere midge amongst the destruction he
had wrought with his two good hands.

"Humpy" Bannon was puny and weazened and old; he had a hump between his
shoulders, and no intelligence to speak of, but he had the spirit of a
little red ant, magnified to suit his size. He loved labour, and he had
chosen Grim Creek as his vineyard. From a miner's point of view Bannon
was the discoverer of Grim Creek. He it was who prospected it and found
gold in it, and he was exceedingly proud of his field, although it was a
starvation hole at the best, and rewarded him for his tremendous
labours--digging, shovelling, puddling, cradling, wading in water, and
grubbing in sludge--with a few wretched pennyweights where ounces would
have been poor pay. But Humpy never thought of leaving. Wet days and fine
found him, smeared with clays of many colours, struggling in a wet shaft
or delving at the banks, full of enthusiasm, without resource, without
horse sense, but all grit.

"Leave the creek?" he would say in answer to the advice of casual
visitors. "Why, where'd I go ter?"

"Well, there's some good gold gettin' at Black Cap, an' I hear about
somethin' worth prospectin' ten miles out by Double-U Hill."

"No fear! you don't catch me leavin' the creek. Why, some o' them minin'
sharks from the city would be down here an'jump the claim afore I'd bin
gone a week."

"Jump this show, Humpy! Why, there is not gold enough in a mile of it to
buy a peanut."

Bannon couldn't restrain his temper when the creek--his creek--was
disparaged, and at this point always became incoherent between
extravagant predictions as to the fabulous richness of the wash he was
going to cut presently and insulting reflections upon the intelligence of
the maligner, and he would fall to working again more fiercely than ever,
jigging his old head the while, and chummering bitterly.

How he did graft! Little, and skinny, and aged, and ill-fed as he was, he
cheerfully faced mountains of labour, and wore them down by sheer
pertinacity--shifted them by faith and works. What wonders of toil can
one determined man perform in a year! To know you must see the man
struggling amongst the evidences of it, with the work of his hands piled
up about him, and the man's sole master must be a belief, sane or
otherwise.

Humpy's faith in Grim Creek was transcendent. That the creek gave him no
justification mattered not a scrap. He lived in a little bark hut,
comfortless as a mia-mia, on nothing in particular; he dressed at work in
a worn shirt, patched extravagantly, and deplorable trousers and boots,
and he wound lengths of sugee about his shins. His hat, a battered boxer,
a gift from a sympathetic selector, had a big hole fore and aft--driven
to extremes, he had once run a handle through it, and used it for a ladle
when cradling--and the whole costume was cemented and frescoed with the
grit and clay of the unspeakable creek.

The old man never had a mate--he never wanted one. He designed all sorts
of hare-brained, unworkable contrivances in the shape of dumb-waiters,
and cranks, and feed-pipes, and sluices, to overcome the difficulties
that hamper a lone hand, but through disappointments and dangers and
endless tribulation he struggled on, and turned up regularly every
Saturday afternoon at the log store on the Piper road with his pathetic
little packet of gold and his long familiar story of the good day that
was coming for Grim Creek and the surrounding district when he finally
"got on to it."

A few of the farmers and selectors in the district, thinking that
possibly, by reason of an unlooked-for contingency, Humpy might some day
"get on to it" and boom the place a bit, helped with gifts of food and
old clothes that to him were as good as new. One or two, from pure
wooden-headed good nature, visited him at times, especially on Sundays,
and sat with him in the sun or in his smoky hut, and let him talk to them
by the hour about his creek. Next to grafting in the creek like a tiger,
nothing pleased Humpy better than to prattle about his work, and invent,
and lie, and rhapsodize to a sympathetic audience.

Tom Hughes was the old digger's best friend. He had secured a selection
in the locality of Grim Creek within the last six months, built a hut
upon it, and settled down to take life as easily as a selector can who
observes the covenants. Hughes was a hatter--a big, hairy man, physically
slow, mentally alert, with a golden faculty of extracting amusement out
of anything and everything, from the capers of his waddling terrier pup
or the solicitude of a motherly hen to the foibles of his fellows. Hughes
enjoyed Humpy Bannon enormously. He cultivated him. He would sit and
study him by the hour, ponderous and apparently as grave as a fat frog
between meals, but with a soul full of laughter. Humpy reminded him of an
ant that he had once seen attempt to shift Mount Macedon. The ant thought
the mount obstructed its view, or felt that it had a call; anyhow, Tom
kept track of the insect for a week and neglected his duties to watch
progress, and when he left the ant was still going strongly. Now, here
was this other midge ripping up the face of nature and tearing at the
bowels of the earth after something he didn't really want and wouldn't
know how to appreciate. Wifeless, childless, without a taste superior to
mutton and bread or an aspiration above the puddling tub, and with very
few years of life before him, he worked from daylight to dusk, moving
mountains, and grew radiant describing the treasure he must win some day.
Yet ten shillings a week would have satisfied his needs, twelve would
have embarrassed him with riches.

Walking along the creek one day Hughes came upon the old man clambering
out of a prospecting hole on a rise. He was dripping wet, and coated with
mud; clay was in his hair and his ears, and the dirty water ran from him
as he stood. Humpy was too busy for conversation; he seized the windlass
handle and began hauling with terrific energy. There were two buckets on
the rope--one a kerosene tin, the other an ordinary water bucket. Humpy
landed and emptied these, and then, lowering the rope into the shaft
again, began to fish about. Presently he hooked another bucket and
brought it to the surface. After fishing once more he landed a nail keg.
Then he proceeded to let himself down again, sliding on the rope.

"What's the little game, old man?" asked Hughes as the dripping head
disappeared.

"After a bit o' wash here. Tremenjis rich, I think," answered Bannon up
the shaft.

"But it's too wet; you'll never be able to bottom, workin' her alone."

"Bet I will, though!"

Further comment was deferred by the pit-pit of the old man's pick in the
wet hole. Tom Hughes hooked the nail keg, and put in an hour or so at the
windlass, and was rewarded later with Humpy's confidence. As usual, the
little man was on the eve of a discovery that was going to revolutionize
the district, and bring a big town humming about their ears on Grim Creek
in less than no time. Hughes was a better miner than old Bannon, and
thought the latter was fighting after a vain thing, but he offered no
advice, understanding that it would be wasted, and remembering that it
was Humpy's policy to go and find out for himself at whatever cost of
sweat and patience.

Humpy did bottom that hole, and scraped up a prospect that promised about
ten "weights" to the load to a sanguine man, but the water was up within
three feet of the surface next morning, and eight hours' vigorous baling
had no appreciable effect. The claim could not be worked without a
diving-suit and apparatus.

So Humpy went apart and thought. He wasted little time in speculation,
and presently took a bee-line from his shaft to the foot of the rise, 250
yards off, and commenced an open cutting. His idea was to carry this
narrow cutting into the hill on a level as long as he could throw the
dirt, and then, when the sides became too high, to tunnel to the shaft,
and so drain the ground he wished to work. This represented about a
year's labour to an average man working decent hours and in moderation.
It was an utterly fatuous and foolhardy undertaking; as far as it was
possible to judge, the ground would not pay for the working, let alone
compensate for this gigantic "dead horse;" but Bannon did not
calculate--he worked. On the occasion of Hughes's next visit he found
Humpy pegging away industriously in his cutting. He had covered a good
distance in the shallow ground.

"Well, old party, what're you coursin' after now?" asked Tom.

Humpy explained between blows.

"Gee-rusalem, but you do lick 'ell an' all!"

Tom proceeded to explain the difficulties of the job, and the
ridiculousness of it; but the digger's under-hand pick was going busily
all the time, and at last Hughes seated himself upon a log and overlooked
the toiler in silent enjoyment of his wonderful courage, his
dunderheadedness, and the comical little ape-like figure and quaint
tricks and turns of the man. Humpy persisted, and in the weeks wore by
his cutting extended and deepened, and at length he was forced to take on
another contract. It was necessary to get the water away. He felled
trees, and split palings, and laid down a box drain all along the
cutting--a wonderful drain, representing much time and trouble. He
timbered his job where timber was needed, and continued as before eating
his way into the hill, and as he progressed his pride in his work
increased. The cutting was trim and true; Humpy bestowed the most loving
care upon it, and Tom Hughes brought all the strangers he came across to
inspect and admire it as the one spectacle of Grim Creek, and to gaze
upon Humpy and wonder over him. And whilst Tom stood aloft eulogizing the
digger with something of the air of a showman, and amiably explaining his
humours and eccentricities for the pleasure of these strangers, Humpy
hammered away eagerly on the job below.

"He ain't got common-sense about minin'," Hughes would say; "have you,
old man?"

Humpy, with his pick driven to the eye in the wall before him, would turn
up his puckered, tanned, hairy face with the aspect of a venerable
mandril, and damn his friend--hide, bones, and soul--as the selector went
on:--

"But in a tunnel or a drive he'd work any man I ever knew stone-blind
inside a week. Wouldn't you, Humpy?"

More profanity from below.

"See, he's built for it. Them shoulders was built fer pokin' round in low
black drives an' muddy tunnels, but he's wasted fer want of horse sense.
He's a blessed steam-engine whirling away like blazes, but doin' nothin'
that matters a hang. Look at him! He's the only man in Australia that
likes work--he'd rather be workin' than drinkin'--an' he's only happy
when he's clayed up to the ears and sweatin' quarts."

Sometimes a visitor dropped Humpy a half-crown or a shilling, and often a
settler or farmer gave him help; but for all that he was compelled to
leave his cutting now and again and go fossicking in the creek for a
pennyweight or two, and then he was given over to a great discontent.
Whilst he was working in the cutting it preserved its spick-and-span
appearance; when he was away dead leaves accumulated in it, and
Monaghan's sheep sometimes destroyed the symmetry of its edges, and that
affected Humpy as dirt and litter about a room irritate a good housewife.

But as time passed the great work progressed, and at length the tunnel
had been opened out, and was being driven towards the shaft. It was the
most elegant of tunnels, with a beautiful entrance, and carefully squared
throughout, and it went in and in until at length, when Humpy was within
a week of his goal, there came jangling up the creek one day a mounted
policeman. The officer of the law examined Bannon's hut carefully, and
tossed things about and turned the place upside down with the placid
insolence with which power endows most men; and then he rode to Humpy's
cutting, called the little man into the light of day, handcuffed him, and
led him off.

The charge was sheep-stealing. There was no doubt of Bannon's guilt: one
skin with the brand on it was found doing service as a rug on his bunk
another, quite fresh, was tacked up in his shed; and the best part of a
fine lamb was rescued from his pickling-tub, and produced in court. The
spirit of the early squatter still survives in the particular and express
abomination of sheep-stealing manifested by our virtuous and humane
judges. The sentence was two years.

Tom Hughes tried hard to preserve Humpy's cutting from destruction, and
kept a careful eye on his hut, but, walking down the creek one day twenty
months later, he came upon the little old digger standing surveying the
ruins of his great work. The sides of the cutting had tumbled in, the
tunnel was down, and the drained ground was worked out. Humpy was
smaller-looking and more shrunken, and ten years seemed to have been
added to his age; he was bent nearly double, and was bleached a deadly
dough-colour; his limbs trembled as he stood, and he snivelled miserably
like a boy. No greeting passed between the two men.

"'Twas three fellers from Melbourne done it," said Hughes, indicating the
cuttings.

"Damn 'em!" snapped Bannon.

"I tried hard to stop 'em," continued the selector. "I explained it was
your job; I argued, an' pleaded, an' preached, but 'twasn't no good."

Tom had also fought the intruders, singly and in a bunch, and had been
severely manhandled for his kindness and consideration, but he did not
explain this.

"Hows'mever, Wasn't worth a cuss," he added eagerly. "They skursly
knocked out tucker, an' only hung on jest from pure villainy."

This was a lie: the young men had done fairly well out of Humpy's claim,
and had taken to town with them when they left sufficient gold to run a
month-long "bender" of the most virulent and dazzling description.

"Damn 'em!" said Humpy again.

"Better track up to yer hut, old man," Hughes said. "You'll find it in
order. You can spell-oh till you pick up a bit, an' then you can get down
to graft. You'll be all right, you know."

"Yes, yes," grasped Bannon with a feeble return of his old fire, "there's
somethin' above the fork I'm goin' after. I'll have to turn the creek.
B'lieve there's some ten-ounce stuff there."

Hughes had to lead him to his hut, and attend to him for a few days, but
presently Humpy was out and about again, with pick and shovel, pottering
weakly here and there. Once Tom found him struggling to clean out the old
cutting. By-and-by he started making great raids upon the hills, digging
aimless holes, and throwing up heaps of dirt anywhere. Two or three times
he was discovered lying helplessly by his work. At length the same
policeman came trotting up the gully again, and once more Humpy Bannon
was led away. This time he did not come back. He finished his days
performing extraordinary feats of labour with a little wooden shovel at
Yarra Bend Lunatic Asylum, destroyed in mind and body by eighteen months
of comparative peace and rest and comfort in Her Majesty's gaol.

THE ELOPEMENT OF MRS PETERS

SIMON PETERS, irreverently called "The Apostle," returned to the railway
camp late on Sunday night, and found his tent topsy-turvy and his
"missus" gone. On the paling table, weighted with a piece of cheese, was
a scrap of sugar-paper, on which was written in Fan's dog-leg hand:

"I'm sik. I'm goin' to cleer."

Sim swore a muffled oath under his abundant moustache, and looked around
upon the unwonted disorder. The blue blanket and the rug had been
stripped from their bunk; the spare, rough furniture of the big tent lay
about in confusion; and amongst the grey ashes in the wide sod fireplace
was a bunch of reddish hair. Peters fished this out, and examined it with
as much astonishment as the phlegmatic, even-tempered navvy was capable
of feeling. It was his wife's hair, and had evidently been hacked off in
a hurry, regardless of effect. Piled on the bush stool against the wall
were Mrs. Peters's clothes. Nothing of hers that Peters could recall was
missing; even the big quondong ear-rings, of which she was so proud, were
thrown upon the floor. Her hat was on the bed, and her boots were under
the table.

Still clutching the mop of hair in his hand, Sim backed solemnly and
soberly on to a seat, and sat for a few minutes gravely weighing the
evidence. Obviously Fanny had gone off clad only in a blue blanket or a
'possum rug. This was most extraordinary, even for Fanny, but there was
some satisfaction in it, since it should not be difficult to trace a
white woman so attired.

Presently Peters arose and went forth to prosecute inquiries. On
Saturday, before departing for Dunolly, he had asked Rolley's wife to
keep an eye on the missus. As he approached the gaffer's tent, however,
he heard a woman's voice raised in shrill vituperation, and recognised
Mrs. Rolley's strident contralto.

"My poor mother that's in heaven knew you, you ----. She always said you
was a ----."

And poor Rolley was inundated with a torrent of his own choice
blasphemies. Simon Peters knew by experience that when Mrs. Rolley
dragged her sainted mother into little domestic differences, she was at
least two days gone in drink, and quite incapable of recollecting
anything beyond Rolley's shortcomings, so he turned away with a sigh, and
carried his quest into the camp. Half an hour later he returned to his
tent and resumed his thoughtful attitude on the stool. He had secured one
piece of evidence that seemed to throw a good deal of light on the
situation. Late on Saturday night someone had broken into Curly Hunter's
tent and stolen therefrom a grey tweed suit, a black felt hat, and a pair
of light blucher boots. Peters, putting this and that together slowly and
with great mental effort, concluded that Curly Hunter and Fanny were
about the same height. He recollected, too, the explanation his wife
offered when he discovered her back to be seamed and lined with scars.

"Dad done it," said Fanny. "Poor old dad, he was always lickin' me."

"But," gasped Peters, filled with a sudden itch to beat the throat of his
deceased father-in-law, "you don't mean to say the cowardly brute lashed
you like that!"

"Didn't he?" replied she, laughing lightly. "He used to rope me up to the
cow-bail an' hammer me with a horsewhip. Once when I set the grass on
fire, an' burned the stable an' the dairy; another time when I broke
Grasshopper's neck, ridin' him over Coleman's chock-an'-log fence; an'
agen when I dressed up in Tom's clothes, took a swag, and got a job
pickin'-up in M`Kinley's shed."

Early on Monday morning Peters had an interview with Curly Hunter. Hunter
was sympathetic, and readily sold Sim the stolen things at a modest
valuation, promising at the same time to observe a friendly reticence in
the matter; but, for all that, two hours later everybody in the camp knew
that Mrs. Peters had run off, and that "The Apostle" was away hunting for
her. The general opinion, freely and profanely expressed, was that Simon
Peters was a superlative idiot. It was agreed that Peters would have
exhibited common-sense by sitting still under the bereavement, and
casually thanking Providence for the "let off." Since Mrs. Peters started
a couple of ramshackle waggons down the gradient, and nearly smashed up
Ryan's gang, the camp had suddenly grown weary of her "monkey tricks."

Mrs. Simon Peters was a woman of twenty-six, ten or twelve years younger
than her husband, more comely, more decent, and more presentable in every
way than the other wives of the camp. She did not get drunk in the
bedroom end of Wingy Lee's shanty on pay nights, did not use the
picturesque idiom of the gangers in ordinary conversation, and in some
respects had been a good mate to Peters. But it must be admitted that the
camp had further justification in doubting the complete sanity of Simon
Peters's wife. She had an eerie expression that was quaintly accented by
keen, twinkling, black eyes in combination with light red hair and rather
pale brows; and she was possessed of a spirit of mischief that led her
into the wildest extravagances. Her devilment was that of an ungovernable
school-boy, without his preposterous sense of humour. An uncontrollable
yearning for excitement impelled her to the strangest actions. She had
another peculiar characteristic, not unknown to the camp, in her apparent
insensibility to physical pain. Peters had been astounded by the fact
that a burn, a cut, a scald, or a blow provoked no complainings from his
wife and scarcely any regard. This indifference extended to the
sufferings of others. After the blasting accident in the North cutting,
Fanny, of all the women in the camp, was the only one who had the nerve
to approach the mangled body of poor M`Intyre, and she placidly worked
over the shocking mass, still instinct with life, when the strongest men
turned sick at the sight of it.

Sim made no effort to understand his wife, which was well, as he was only
an average man, and she was past finding out. He concluded that her
extraordinary conduct was just the natural unreasonableness and
contrariness of women "coming out strong," and made the best of the
situation in which he found himself. Being an average man, Sim was a
superior navvy; he only got drunk on big occasions, and, drunk or sober,
treated his wife with indulgent fondness, and occasionally Fanny seemed
fond of him in return; but then she had been very warmly attached to that
father who used to bail her up in the cowshed and lash her with a
horsewhip in the hope of converting her to sweet reasonableness.

On the Monday morning Peters first went up the road, seeking his wife,
but no one at White's had seen a slim young fellow in a grey suit pass
that way, so he tried down the road, with better success. Clark, at the
Travellers' Rest, had seen "just sich a feller" as Sim described.

"They had a drink here Sunday, an' left, making for Moliagul, it seemed
t' me," said Clark.

"They?" queried Peters.

"Yes. There was two of 'em. The big feller shouted. A brown-faced chap,
with a black moustache, an' a deep cut in his chin, here."

Simon's grip made a dent in the pewter he held, and a grey hue crept over
his cheeks and into his lips. Never before had he doubted his wife in
this way; never through all her mad escapades had he had reason to
question her fealty as a wife till now. Peters remembered the man
distinctly; he had seen him about the camp, looking for work. The
peculiar cleft chin would serve to identify him amongst ten thousand.
Striding along the road the fugitives had taken, the navvy recollected
hearing Fanny speaking enthusiastically of the tall, brown stranger as a
fine man, and the grey in his cheek deepened to the colour of ashes, and
his jaw hardened meaningly. His quest had suddenly assumed a terrible
significance, and that fierce pallor and grim rigidity of the jaw never
left him until its end.

Peters heard of them again in the afternoon, but got off the trail
towards evening, and it was not till late on the following day that he
picked up the scent. Then he talked with a farmer who had seen them.

"They slep' in an old hut up in my grass paddock las' night," said the
man, "an' went up the road at about seven this mornin'."

"Did both men sleep in the hut?" asked Peters.

"To be sure!"

Sim continued his journey, steadily, and with apparent unconcern, but
cherishing an immovable determination to kill the brown-faced man the
moment they met.

Early on the Wednesday morning Peters came up with the runaway. An old
man watering a horse at a small creek told him, in answer to his
inquiries:

"A tall chap, with a divided chin--name of Sandler, ain't it? He's here.
I let him a bit of ringin'. That's his axe you hear up the paddock."

Following the ring of the axe, Peters soon came upon his man. Sandler
stopped working as he approached, and turned towards him, resting on the
handle of his axe. Sim walked to within a couple of yards of the
stranger, and threw off the light swag he carried.

"You infernal hound!" he said; "where is my wife?"

Sandler started up in extreme amazement. "Keep off!" he cried. "What the
devil do I know about your wife?"

Peters rushed at him with the fury of a brute, and the two men exchanged
heavy blows. Then they closed, and wrestled for a moment, but Simon's
rage lent him a strength that was irresistible, and presently the other
man was sent down with stunning force. As he attempted to rise, shaken
and almost breathless, Peters, who had seized the axe, struck him once
with the head of it, and Sandler fell back again and lay perfectly still,
with a long, gaping wound over his left eye, from which the blood poured
through his hair upon the new chips and the yellow grass. When Peters
looked up his wife stood facing him. She wore blucher boots, a pair of
grey trousers, and a man's shirt, and carried an axe. She gazed
composedly at the fallen man.

"What have you done, Sim?" she asked.

"You ran away with that man?" He pointed at Sandler.

She nodded her head.

"He did not know I was a woman," she said.

DEAD MAN'S LODE

IT was bright and cosy within the pile-getters' hut; outside the night
was wet and stormy, and the wind piped a deep, mournful organ tone in the
gnarled and stunted gums on the hill-side. The three young men had
finished tea, and washed up and squared up--that is to say, Dayton had
stowed the bread and butter and the remains of the salt beef in the
kerosene box that served them as a larder, M`Gill had dipped the tin
plates in hot water and wiped them carefully on a superannuated white
shirt, and Woodhead had raised a tremendous dust under a pretence of
sweeping out the hut with a broom extemporized from a bundle of scrub
ferns; for it was the first principle of their association that every man
should "do his whack" in the matter of attendance to domestic duties.

"Too thunderin' wet to go down to the camp, an' too blessed windy to
climb up to Scrubby's," said Dayton, who was curing himself of an
extraordinary habit of profanity for a wager, and found the task of
filling in the blanks rather a trial. "I s'pose cut-throat's our little
dart," he continued, producing an overworked euchre pack.

M`Gill was fighting his way into a stubborn oil-skin coat that crackled
like tin armour.

"Not cut-throat to-night, boys," he said; "I'm going up the gully a
spell." "Where bound, Mack?" queried Dayton, with quick suspicion. The
young men had discovered a pretty girl at Scrubby Scanlan's settlement,
two miles off, and each thought he had an exclusive right to the
friendship and hospitality of Scanlan and the smiles of his handsome,
hard-working, and very sensible eldest daughter.

M`Gill smiled.

"Not there, old man," he said. "I promised 'The Identity' I'd give him a
look in to-night."

"Well, you ought!" with great derision. "What d'ye want foolin' after
that evil old beast? If he was well to-morrer he'd bang you on the head
for half a quid. That's my straight say-so. I'll be sworn he shook our
crosscut; an' here you are, dancin' attendance same 's if he was clear
white!"

"The poor devil is as harmless as a baby," said M'Gill. "Anyhow, I can't
leave a sick man to take his chances in that miserable hole up there."

Joe M`Gill went out amidst a rush of wind and rain, and left his mates to
their game and the comfort of their warm, watertight hut.

"Off his bloomin' chump!" commented Dayton emphatically, slapping down
the cards.

The philosophical Woodhead, who was smoking placidly, looked up and cut.

"Joe's all right," he drawled. "Always had a weakness for sick things.
I've seen him take more trouble with a lame dog than most men would over
a poor relation. Besides, the old man is real bad, and if Mack didn't
give an eye to him I expect I would have to do it myself. I'm awfully
soft-hearted that way, and I like to see other fellows looking after the
poor and the sick--it saves me the trouble."

Meanwhile M`Gill was boring his way through the storm towards a point of
light showing fitfully amongst the thick, supple saplings that rolled
like a sea in a gale. "The Identity's" hut stood at the head of the
gully, in the centre of a small clearing. It was sheltered on one side by
the abrupt rise of Emu Hill, and exposed on the other (saving for the
intervention of the leafy young peppermints, the growth of recent years)
to the fierce winds that seemed to gather the rains into the narrow
confines of the gully, and drive them pounding up its whole length, in
eddying torrents, to be thrown back in tumbling yellow floods from the
invulnerable side of Emu Hill.

Peter Shaw, variously known as "The Identity," "The Hermit," "Blue
Peter," and "Old Shaw," was a veteran fossicker, a reticent, gruff man,
whose almost complete isolation had recently been broken by the
appearance in the locality of Brown's Patch of a few parties of
sleeper-cutters and pile-getters, driven thitherward by the approach of
the railway to Bunyip.

Peter was living in the same chock-and-log hut at the head of Grasshopper
Gully when the first selector settled in the district, aud when the
reputation of Brown's Patch as an alluvial field had already faded and
been forgotten, and when the fact that the creek, and the hill, and the
gully had once rattled and rung with the clatter of cradle and
puddling-tub, pick and shovel, and windlass-barrel was unknown to all
within the jurisdiction of the Bunyip Shire Council, with the exception
of old Shaw. Even now Peter's settled neighbours were few and far
between, and until the arrival of the timber-getters his beloved
seclusion was but rarely disturbed by man, woman, or child. He lived,
according to the common belief, on the vegetables he grew, eked out with
the supplies he brought from Bunyip at long intervals--supplies bought
with the price of the few "weights" of gold won by fossicking patiently
and laboriously up and down the creek and in the many little blind
gullies running into Emu Hill.

Of course "The Identity" was talked about. Whenever two or more selectors
were met together Peter's character and habits were sure, sooner or
later, to come under discussion, and as he was one of the the stock
themes of the local fabulist, the history attached to him did not lack
romantic interest. He was generally credited with having stolen
everything that went missing in the district, and, amongst the women at
least, there was a profound belief that he and "the old devil" were on
excellent terms and exchanged visits frequently; but for all the
attention Shaw gave these people they might have been merely stumps or
stones by the way.

M`Gill pulled the catch of the old man's door, and entered without
knocking. The remains of a big log were smouldering in the wide sod
chimney, and a slush lamp, manufactured from a sardine tin, guttered on
the bush table, filling the hut with a villainous smoke. On a narrow
bunk, face downward, lay the half-clad figure of a man. "The Identity"
lifted himself upon his hands as the door clanged to, and turned a
haggard face, surrounded by a scrub of iron-grey hair, towards the
intruder. His eyes brightened as he recognized Joe.

"Good on you! Good on you!" he gasped, extending a shaky hand. "I was
hopin' you'd come."

Joe threw open his oilskin, and drew a couple of small parcels from his
shirt.

"Here you are, old party," he said; "I've brought you some stuff for beef
tea, and a bottle of medicine." Shaw took the bottle in his hand and
examined it. It contained a patent medicine then very popular with
bushmen as an infallible remedy for all the physical ills that man is
heir to, from cuts to consumption.

"It's too late, my boy," he said, "I'm a done man; but a dose might ease
me a bit if it's hot enough--gimme a dose."

Joe poured out a quantity of the medicine into a pannikin, and held it
towards him; but the sick man clutched his hand, and a sudden excitement
lit up his deathly face as he whispered:

"Did you do the other thing what I told you?"

M`Gill nodded.

"Put your pegs in an' make your application fer the lease all correct an'
accordin' to law?"

"Yes, yes, just as you told me. Now drink!"

Shaw drained off his medicine, but retained his grip on Joe's arm.

"Certain you didn't let on to no one?" he asked, with a look half
suspicious, half cunning in his eyes--"no p'lice, no doctors--eh?"

"Not a soul; I always keep my word. But for all that I think you should
have a doctor."

"No, no, no!" cried the old man, with fierce energy; "no doctors--no
p'lice! I'm peggin' out--don't I know it?--an' I won't have doctors, damn
em! Can't you let a man die his own way?"

"Right you are," said Joe, soothingly; "you'll buck up again, though,
when you get outside a pint or two of this."

M`Gill threw the wood in the fireplace together, and set about preparing
the beef tea, and Shaw, who had relapsed into his former position, face
downwards upon the bunk, watched every movement with one alert eye.
Presently he spoke again.

"I said I'd tell you the whole yarn t'-night, Joe."

"Not to-night, Peter, you're not equal to it--wait till you are
stronger."

"Stronger! stronger!" The fossicker had started up again, and was glaring
angrily. "Wait till I'm dead an' dumb, you mean. No, it mus' be t'-night.
One of the chaps up at the camp'll be knockin' together a coffin fer me
t'-morrer."

M`Gill admitted to himself, as he looked into the brilliant, deep-set
eyes of the man, and saw the grisly configuration of the skull standing
out under the stark yellow skin of his face, that nothing was more
probable. Shaw looked like a man face to face with death, sustained only
by the feverish excitement that blazed in his restless eyes and
manifested itself in the uneasy motions of his wasted hands. The young
man offered him a pannikin of the beef tea, but Peter put it aside after
trying a couple of mouthfuls.

"No, I can't take it, boy," he said, "I can't take nothin', I don't want
nothin', only to tell you all before I cave in. Sit here on the edge of
the bunk. I'll hold you so you can't go till I'm through. Wait--go round
the hut, see no one's listenin'."

M`Gill, to please him, did as he was directed, and then resumed his
position by the side of the bunk.

"Joe," said "The Identity," "you come here to help me, an' you've took a
lot of trouble with me, 'cause you're a good sort, an' can't help it,
like; but you don't like me. I could see you didn't like me--you
suspicioned me from the first, eh--didn't you?"

This was quite true, but the young man returned no answer. There had
never been anything about Peter Shaw to invite affection; in health he
was sullen, covert, and uncanny, and in sickness evil-tempered and
childish in his wants, and, more particularly, in his fears.

"I knew it--I knew it!" he continued, "but because you are a good sort,
an' because I must out with this load here, here!"--he struck his breast
feebly with his hand--"I'm goin'to tell you somethin' that'll make a rich
man of you, Joseph M`Gill."

Clutching Joe's sleeve with his bony fingers, he went on with his story,
speaking in quick undertones, with a sort of insane energy that sustained
him to the end.

"I came to this district twenty odd years ago, my lad. Brown had just
struck the surfacin' down the gully by the creek, an' we called the rush
Brown's Patch. Two days after campin' I picked up my mate Harry
Foote--Stumpy Foote we named him 'cause he was bumble-footed. He was a
dog, a mean hound, but he didn't look it, an' he was a good miner. We
went to work on the alluvial, an' did fairly, but we both had a great
idea about a good reef in these hills. All the indications pointed to it,
an' presently we slung the wash an' started prospectin'. We trenched, an'
travelled, an' trenched fer weeks without strikin' an ounce of quartz,
an' Stumpy got full of it; but I grew more certain about that lode, an'
hung on. So we agreed that he'd go back to the alluvial again, an' I'd
keep on peggin' away after the reef, an' we'd be mates whatever turned
up. Well, we kep' this up fer a long time, me trustin' Stumpy all the
time, an' intendin' t' do the square thing by him when I lobbed on the
lode, as I was sure I would. I worked like a fiend. I was mad fer gold
then. I hadn't been out on'y a few years, an' strikin' it lucky meant
everythin' t' me; meant--But no matter, that ain't anythin' t' do with
the story. You wouldn't understand how I felt if I told you, an' I
believe I don't understand meself now. Stumpy did poorly, or told me as
much. I got barely enough as my share to pay tucker bills, but he kep'
workin' away, sluicin' the surfacin' down along the creek--a patch he had
hit on himself."

"One night I returned to the tent unexpected. Foote had told me the week
afore that he was goin' to roll up his swag. an' skip, an' I'd bin out on
those hills beyond Scanlan's ever since. A light was burnin' inside, an'
Stumpy didn't hear me till I'd thrown back the flap of the tent. He was
leanin' over the table, an' he looked up at me sudden, an' his face went
milky white. Well it might--I caught him in the act of sweepin' a pile of
gold into a canvas bag. A pile--a heap--hundreds of ounces it looked t'
me--hundreds of ounces in coarse nuggets an' rich specimens. The cur
fumbled it in his hurry t' get it out of sight, an' spilled some of the
finer stuff on the floor."

"I went mad at the sight of all that gold, an' at the thought of the
dirty trick he'd served me. I didn't speak, but jes' grabbed him so, by
the neck, an' dragged him outer the tent. I don't think I meant murder--I
don't know what I meant, but there was a pick handle leanin' agen the sod
chimbley, an' I took it in my right hand. He opened his mouth to yell,
an' I hit him once--jes' once--an' he went over like a wet shirt. I
waited fer him to get up, but he didn't move agen, an' when I come t'
look at him he was dead. The paper-skulled, chicken-hearted cur, he was
dead!

"I didn't funk--I didn't lose my head fer a second. I was never cooler in
my life; my brain was clear, but I saw on'y one thing at a time--on'y one
thing, an' I acted on it. After dousin' the light in the tent, I took
Stumpy up on my shoulder, an' carried him over the hill to the slope
furthest from the camp.

"'Twas a clear, moonlight night, bright enough t' read Bible print by,
but the sides of Emu Hill was well timbered, an' the saplin's was thick
as scrub, so I was not likely t' be seen. I dropped the body in a small
clear space amongst a thick patch of scrub on that spur above the soda
spring. There was a good depth of soft vegetable soil there--a beautiful
quiet place fer a grave.

"Then I went back t' the tent, careless like, case anyone should chance
along; but the camp was a good step down the creek from our tent, an' I
never met a soul. Stumpy had his swag ready fer rollin' up--he meant to
cut and leave me. I took up his things an' a pick an' shovel, an' trudged
back t' the body. It lay sprawlin' in the shadder of the scrub, jest as
I'd dropped it, one hand reachin' out into the light clawin'the grass;
but I on'y thought of my job, an' I set t' work t' dig his grave at once.

"I worked quietly--the pick made no noise in that soft ground--but I
worked hard. I meant t' bury him deep, an' bury him well. A neat hole I
made him, seven by two, an' as plumb as a prospectin' shaft. As I dug an'
shovelled--quite cool in my mind, fer all the body was spread out there
behind me in the shadder--my thoughts went wanderin' over my bad luck,
an' the idea that Stumpy had been on good gold, an' meant to rob me of my
fair half, made me vicious, an' I belted in hard an'fast.

"I had her down 'bout three foot, an' reckoned that'd nearly do. I was
squarin' up the end when my pick struck agen somethin' that made it ring.
I dug away a bit around that somethin', a sudden excitement growin' in
me, an' makin' me ferget I was diggin' a grave--a grave fer a murdered
man. Down in the west corner of the hole I saw the white gleam of quartz.
Stoopin', I lit a match to examine it. By the Lord, Joe! I'd struck
it--struck it thick an' rich!"

Old Peter's agitation became so intense at this stage that Joe was
compelled to put his arms about his attenuated form, and hold him on the
bunk.

"See that fire, boy?" he gasped, pointing an uncertain hand, and glaring
as if in a frenzy. "Well, it was like that--the live embers, the glowin'
red gold in it! Rich! It seemed all gold. I'd struck the cap of the reef,
an' I went a'most mad with joy at the sight of the beautiful, beautiful
gold. I staggered back agen the other end of the hole, starin' at the
reef. I was goin' t' yell an' dance, thinkin' of nothin' but my lovely
luck, when I half turned, an' caught a glimpse of Stumpy's white, dead
face glowerin' et me in the moonlight, an' I funked fer the first time.
The shadder had crep' back, leavin' jest his face showin', an' there it
was, with a spark in each of its big eyes, mouthin' at me--grinnin'
horribly!

"I went dead cold, my legs broke under me. All of a sudden I was
dreadfully afraid. Then I thought: 'Pete, this is a hangin' match--Pete,
they're after you. What's the good of a golden reef to a hanged man?' I
crawled out of the hole, wantin' t' run, but It's devilish eyes followed
me. Oh! I crawled like a worm, crazy with fear--sick with it! The findin'
the gold there in his grave seemed a damned trick of his an' the devil's
t'spite me--t' make me mad. I seemed t' know then, while the horror was
on me, what it all meant--thet I'd cursed meself fer ever--thet, good
luck or bad luck, fer the future 'twas all the same t' me.

"But I was strong enough t' bury him. I turned his face down, an' dragged
the body along, an' flung it into the hole on top of the reef; and when
it was out of sight, under a foot or so of dirt, I began t' feel stronger
an' braver, an' t' reason a bit. I would bury him beautifully there, I
said to meself, an' wait, an' some time I would dig him up again, and
hide him far enough away, an' then I could work the reef, an' by-an' bye
go home to--to--go home a rich man!

"I did bury him, an' then crawled back t' the tent, an' tried t' sleep,
but couldn't. At daylight I was back at the grave again, smoothin' it
with my fingers, rakin' dry leaves, an' grass, an' bark over it t' hide
every trace, shiverin' in my boots all the time. They reckoned me a brave
man once. I'd done some things that made men think me game. But I've been
a cur ever since the night I killed my mate--a coward in the night an' in
the day, before men and before devils.

"Durin' the day I managed to go down among the men an' make inquiries
'bout Stumpy. None of the chaps seemed surprised t' hear he was not
around, an' one or two hinted pretty straight thet I wasn't likely t' see
him agen--thet he'd been doin' pretty well down the creek, an' had
cleared with the gold to do me outer my share.

"Joe, I never dared t' touch Stumpy's grave from thet day t' this. Fer
five years small parties was workin' about the creek off an' on, an' I
kep' tellin' meself that when they'd all gone some day I'd shift Stumpy's
bones. Then the Chows came fossickin', an' time went on, an' as it passed
I grew more an' more of a coward. Once or twice there's bin prospectin'
parties out here after the reef, an' I think I was stark crazy while they
was about. The fear of them strikin' the lode used t' drive me wild, an'
I grew t' hate every man who come near Emu Hill, an' gradually to loathe
the sight of human bein's. I shifted up here t' be further from the
grave, an' 'cause I'd got luny notions that Stumpy was walkin' about o'
nights.

"There was on'y a hundred ounces or so in my mate's bag, after all. It'd
looked five times ez much t' me. It's buried in the ground jest under the
head of my bunk. Onst I sold a few ounces of it in et the township, but
it was coarse stuff, an' the news got 'round, an' the next thing I knew
there was another small rush along the creek, an' diggers was pokin'
about everywhere. That frightened me again. If the reef was struck
Stumpy's bones would be found, an' they'd hang me, sure ez death. Half a
dozen men lived at Wombat who'd remember my mate's disappearance, an'
there was things I'd buried with Stumpy that'd make his bones known. So I
buried the gold, an' never tried t' sell another colour of it.

"Since then I've had scores of chances of shiftin' them bones, but I
wasn't the man t' do it, an' then I begun t' find thet I didn't want
to--thet I didn't want the gold--thet I didn't want any of the things
thet I'd wanted like mad before. But I didn't go away. I was chained
here, an' I always thought thet some day someone would find Stumpy, an' I
would be wanted, an' all these years I've dreaded it, an' waited fer it,
an' hated, an' suffered, an' here I am, an' there, out on the hill, are
Stumpy's bones, an' the gold--the beautiful yellow gold! It's yours,
Joe--all yours. I leave it to you! You know the spot. I planted that
stunted bluegum, with the limb thet turns down to the ground, right on
the top of the grave the mornin' after I buried him. You'll find his
bones in among its roots."

"The Identity" sank back on his bed, cold and exhausted.

"You'll bury them bones decent, Joe?" he murmured in a voice that had
suddenly grown faint.

"Yes, Peter," replied M`Gill, in whose mind the story had created both
amazement and doubt.

"An' you've got the lease, Joe, sure?"

"I've applied for it--the ground is secured."

"Yes, yes, an' you'll stick by me while I last, eh--you won't go? An' no
p'lice, mind--no p'lice!"

It was already daylight when Joe M`Gill awakened his mates stumbling into
the hut.

"Old Shaw is dead," he explained to the indignant Dayton. "You might
dress, Jack, and go and stay by him, for decency's sake, while I have a
few hours' sleep. And, Woodhead, you must go to Bunyip and bring the
police. They will have to take charge of the body."

M`Gill and his mates found the skeleton of Foote exactly as Peter Shaw
had said they would, and the grinning skull rested upon the cap of the
golden reef that was eventually known as "Dead Man's Lode," and which,
before twelve months went by, had enriched the three young men, and had
yielded small fortunes to many dozens beside.

A VAIN SACRIFICE

"A BIG fire down on the flat!"

It was after midnight. Petersen, Manly, Collier, and Grigg had been
playing euchre for the last five hours, and drinking Cody's hand-made,
chain-lightning whisky. They were heavy-eyed and heavy-headed, and did
not seem to realize the significance of the shout for a few moments. Then
they placed their cards carefully on the table, face downwards, and filed
out, blundering along the passage to the hotel verandah.

A fierce red glow burned against the western sky, and far down amongst
the black gum-trees a tongue of flame danced in the darkness.

Petersen, his tall form steadied against the verandah post, gazed for a
moment, and the heaviness passed out of his eyes, succeeded by a keen
interest, the flush in his handsome bearded face, induced by the heat of
the room and the poisonous liquor he had drunk, died out, and his cheeks
became ashen-grey in the dim light reflected from the bar window.
Suddenly a cry burst from his lips:

"It is my house! Oh, God, my wife!"

He sprang off in the darkness, and rushed at full speed along the rough
track leading down the hill in the direction of the fire, and his friends
followed swiftly on his heels.

Petersen had only become even a moderately good customer to Cupid Cody,
the preternaturally ugly landlord of the Wallaby Arms, and patentee and
sole proprietor of the Gehenna brand of whisky, within the last three
months; but of late he had been a very frequent visitor at the hotel, and
had developed an appetite for Cupid's noxious liquors and a fondness for
euchre which Mr. Cody was not slow to encourage.

Bert was a native of the Pea Creek district, and after living a sober and
industrious life to take suddenly to vitriolic whisky and combative
euchre parties two years after marriage was to excite curiosity and
comment. The comment was not complimentary to Mrs. Bert. His few
scattered neighbours seemed to find a sneaking satisfaction in the belief
that Petersen was not happy in his married life. This, they contended,
was only in accord with the fitness of things. In the first place young
Petersen had gone to town for his wife, an action that was considered
extremely unneighbourly, and was accepted as a reflection upon the
marriageable young maidens of Pea Creek and district. In the second place
Mrs. Petersen had shown no disposition to "make up to" her neighbours'
wives and daughters, and consequently had the reputation of being "stuck
up," and that is a sin unpardonable amongst bush people, to whom
sociability means so much.

Bert's married life had not been the happiest. The girl he loved and the
girl he married was quite unsuited to the life his wife was called upon
to lead. She was a small, fair, town-bred girl, fond of gaiety and
admiration, and used to little work and much amusement. He had won her in
his best clothes, in the course of occasional trips to the city, and he
took her to his home out in the silent bush, where the nearest neighbour
was a quarter of a mile off, and then a big, plain, motherly person, with
a great contempt for "Sunday clothes," and few ideas above the dairy.

Lately Mary's discontent had shown itself in petulant outbursts, in fits
of the sulks, and a callous indifference to her husband's feelings, She
grew to despise Petersen in his coloured moleskins and heavy boots. Bert
fought against it good-humouredly, striving to make her life pleasant,
and to retain her affection, but latterly her temper had driven him
almost to despair, and as he still loved her he preferred the savage
delights of Cody's bar parlour to the childish querulousness of the
disappointed woman and her eternal twitching at his heartstrings.

Petersen's house was quite two miles from the Wallaby Arms, and
throughout the long race the fear that had sprung into the man's soul
never left him for a second. A conviction that his wife was in the
burning house possessed him, and endowed him with extraordinary speed and
strength.

He had left his wife at five o'clock in the afternoon, suffering from the
headache that seemed to have become perpetual, and that filled his house
with wailing, and called down upon his head tearful reproaches without
reason and without end.

"What can I do?" he had asked, helplessly.

"At least you can go away," she answered, with fierce petulance.

When Petersen reached his burning home two or three men were running
about hopelessly with buckets of water, and two pale-faced women stood
before the house, watching it burn, stupid with fear. To these Bert
appealed:

"My wife! where is she?"

The women shook their heads dumbly, and one pointed a long, trembling
hand towards the leaping flames.

"No, no, no!" the husband cried, and he called his wife's name again and
again, running wildly from place to place. The men had seen nothing of
Mrs. Petersen--they believed she was in the house.

Distracted with fear and grief, Bert rushed once round the home, seeking
amongst the saplings, crying his wife's name in a voice pregnant with
pain and apprehension, and then the watchers saw him stop at the front
and survey the burning house for a moment. The fire had now seized upon
every part of the building, and threw up great tongues of flame against
the black sky. Only for a second he stood, and then they saw him dash at
the door and drive it in with his shoulder, and presently he disappeared
amidst the flames and smoke.

The people who had now collected about the burning house drew closer and
gazed into the flames, speechless and pale with terror. The moments
dragged by, and they waited, the great fear growing upon them as the
walls trembled, and the long, spiral flames were flung higher and higher
into the windless night. Still they waited, scarcely breathing. The
suspense became intolerable. Men looked into each other's eyes with
fearful meaning, and dry tongues passed over drier lips. At length an
overwrought woman shrieked aloud, and sank upon her knees, hiding her
face in the folds of her dress. And then the roof was seen to rise
upwards and outwards, the whole building vibrated, and, with a roaring
and hissing of flames, collapsed into a glowing ruin, from which the
sparks rose in clouds, and about which the flames ran and curled like
great serpents.

The watchers knew now that Bert Petersen would never come forth again.
The women sobbed, crouching on the ground. The men, white-faced and dumb,
stood gazing stupidly into the fire, paralyzed by the sense of their
impotence.

Not till Ragan, the mounted constable from Magpie, arrived did they find
tongue, and as the tale was told Ragan's face grew grey under its
accustomed bronze.

"Was burned trying to rescue his wife, you say?" he murmured.

"It was a mad attempt," said the now sobered Collier.

"'Twas," continued the constable in a harsh voice; "for his wife wasn't
there."

"Not there!"

"She's eloped with young Arthur Grey, the dude at the post-office, damn
her. They cleared out from Magpie together on the up train!"

Spicer's Courtship

SPICER was a selector. Why he chose to be a selector rather than enjoy
comparative ease and affluence as a corporation day labourer or a
wharf-hand or navvy is inexplicable. He had taken to the wilderness,
built his smart bark hut in the centre of an apparently impenetrable
forest, and was now actively engaged eating his way out again. Along the
bank of the trickling creek he had cleared an acre or so where a few
fruit trees flourished and a methodical little vegetable garden looked
green and encouraging. Dick Spicer was a methodical man; what he did he
did well, and he was always doing. Dick was small, and he looked puny
lifting his pigmy axe to those mighty gums, and patiently hewing
splinters out of the compact bush. Having little or nothing to say to his
scattered neighbours, he exchanged small talk with his hens, and favoured
Griffin, the low-comedy dog-of-all-work, with his opinion of things.

Mr. Spicer was a bachelor, approaching 50, wiry, leathery, deliberative,
and very diffident in company. But, despite his apparent uneasiness when
chance threw him into the society of females, Dick was looking about for
a wife. The stillness of the long evenings and the solitary Sundays
implanted a great yearning for the companionship of a good wife in his
lonely heart. In looking about the selector's view was very limited.
There was not an unmarried woman of suitable years within a radius of
twelve miles. Of all the approachable females, he admired Mrs. Clinton
the most, and his only hope lay in the fact that Clinton was in feeble
health and reported to be sustaining life precariously with one lung.

Clinton held a block about a mile up the creek, and Spicer paid him
occasional abrupt and unceremonious visits there. Sometimes he would lean
against a door-jamb, with not more than his head inside, and pass a few
remarks relative to nothing in particular, in an irresponsible sort of
way; but more frequently he just stood about outside, and criticised the
poultry in audible soliloquy, or reflected aloud upon Clinton's
ridiculous notions about dairy work and vegetable-growing. However, he
always displayed a proper neighbourly concern in inquiring after
Clinton's health before leaving.

"Y'ain't feelin' no better, I s'pose?" he would ask, with an appearance
of anxious interest that quite touched the sick man.

Clinton was always feeling "pretty bad." He said as much in his dull,
heavy manner, and Dick would go off to indulge in contemplation, and
consult his dog.

Spicer did not wish Clinton to die, he did not want to hurry him up; he
was a patient, dispassionate man, and the possibility of his neighbour's
early demise entered into his calculations merely as a probable
circumstance which, however regrettable, could not reasonably be
overlooked.

Clinton substantiated predictions, and obligingly died within a
reasonable time, and Dick rode solemnly in the funeral cortege, behind
the drays, on a lame cart-horse borrowed from Canty for the occasion.

After the funeral he looked in upon the widow and, feeling inspired to
say something consolatory and encouraging, expressed his belief that she
wouldn't mourn much about Peter.

"'Tain't worth while," he said.

Dick's command of language was only sufficient to enable him to say the
thing he meant once in a dozen tries, and on this occasion he was
conscious the moment he had spoken that the sentiment expressed was
hardly appropriate to the occasion. Before he could frame an apology the
disconsolate widow attacked him with a spear-grass broom and stormed him
out of the house. He walked home thoughtfully, afflicted with a
nettle-rash and a vague idea that perhaps he had not made an altogether
satisfactory beginning.

But Spicer was not cast down. He had resolved upon a plan of courtship,
and the object of his first manoeuvre was to break his intentions gently
to the widow. This he thought to accomplish by hanging round the house a
good deal. He would haunt her selection in the cool of the evening, or,
in his more audacious moments, perch himself on the chock-and-log fence
running by the side of the house, and whistle an unmelodious and windy
jig, which was intended to convey some idea of his airy nonchalance and
peace of mind.

It was a long time before Dick progressed from the fence to the
wood-heap, and meanwhile the widow had not seemed to pay any particular
attention to his movements. He sometimes addressed her with a portentous
truth bearing upon the dieting of laying hens, or the proper handling of
cows, or the medical treatment of ailing chickens; but usually satisfied
himself with a significant grin and a queer twist of the head that was
his idea of sheer playfulness and waggery. The neighbours came to notice
him over-looking the selection or perched on the fence supervising the
weather and things generally, and predicted that there would be "a
marryin'" up the creek presently.

Presently! Spicer did nothing hastily, nothing to lead anybody to believe
that he had not all eternity to come and go on. He never considered the
flight of time, and had made many calculations that carried him on to the
end of the next century without discovering any incongruity.

He did arrive at the wood-heap eventually, though. Mrs. Clinton's boy
John was too young to wield an axe with any effect, and one afternoon
Dick lounged over to the logs, took up the axe, and examined it with an
air of abstraction. He weighed it carefully in his hand, and satisfied
his curiosity by trying it on a log. When he had chopped about half a ton
of wood he appeared satisfied that it was a pretty good axe. That evening
he chuckled all the way up the creek, and all the time it took to prepare
his tea, and towards bed-time confided to Griffin, with more chuckles,
his opinion that it was "'bout's good's done."

"She can't go back on that," he said with assurance.

But Spicer lingered at this stage for a long time; he cut all the wood
the widow needed, and did other little things about the selection, and
often sat on the fence, as usual, and gradually grew to be quite at home
there. The widow accepted his services now as a matter of course, and
though she was often betrayed into expressions of great impatience, Dick
remained oblivious, and worked out his courtship in his own ponderous
way.

His next step towards strengthening his position was when he took it upon
himself to put several palings on the roof of Mrs. Clinton's house. This
was a decided advance, and when the buxom little woman thanked him, his
odd screw of the face and sidelong nod clearly conveyed the impression
that he was beginning to regard himself as a "perfect devil amongst the
women." There was more chuckling that evening, and further confidences
for the dog. After this Spicer ceased working seriously on his own
selection, and slowly extended his sphere at the widow's. He did some
gardening, and repaired the fences, and dictated improvements, but it was
not till eighteen months after Clinton's death that he made his great
stroke. It was on Sunday afternoon that Dick discovered Mrs. Clinton in
hot pursuit of the boy John, with one shoe in her hand and one on her
foot. John was in active rebellion, and yelling his contempt for the
maternal authority. Spicer rose to the occasion. He secured boy John,
took off his belt, and proceeded to strap the unfilial youth--to give him
a grave, judicious, and fatherly larruping--under the eye of his mother.
Then the selector drew off to consider and weigh the important step he
had taken, with the result that, half an hour after, he hung his head in
at the kitchen door, and said abruptly:

"Treaser, when's it to be?"

"Meanin' which?" asked the unconscious widow.

"Meanin' marryin'."

The widow thought for a moment, and said, just as if she were
contemplating the sale of a few eggs:

"This day month'll suit me."

"Done," said Spicer.

Then he felt called upon to make some kind of a demonstration, and edged
up to Mrs. Clinton in a fidgeting sort of way, and when near enough made
as if to kiss her, paused half-way in doubt, and then didn't.

"The man's a fool," said the stout little widow composedly.

They were married though, under conditions of great secrecy, at the
parson's house in the township, with the blinds down. It was with great
difficulty Dick was convinced of the necessity of witnesses.

AFTER THE ACCIDENT

ONE man sat upon a heap of broken reef near the face, with his broad
palms supporting his chin. His thin, hollow cheeks showed, between the
out-spread fingers, a sickly yellow in the candle-light. One candle in a
spiked holder burned against the side of the drive. Two billies and two
full crib-bags hung near on dog-hooks driven in an upright leg, and at
the man's feet lay a couple of picks and a shovel. Kyley sat with his
back to the face, staring with glowing, vindictive eyes into the gathered
gloom down the drive, where the passage to the shaft was choked to the
roof with splintered timber and fallen mullock, and where the head of a
second man was dimly visible. Only the head and shoulders of this other
were free; the rest of his body was hidden under the debris. The second
man was thrown face downwards; across his back, pinning his arms, lay the
great cap-piece, which alone seemed heavy enough to have crushed the life
out of him. Beyond this the tumbled reef and splintered slabs were piled
to the roof.

But the buried miner was not dead. The tough red-gum log, forced down by
the mighty pressure, had ploughed its way diagonally down the side of the
drive, and pinched him to the floor, stopping when the pressure of
another inch must have been followed by certain and speedy death. A stout
iron truck was jammed under the log beside him, torn and doubled like a
cardboard box. The young man could lift his chin a few inches from the
floor of the drive, and turn his face from one side to the other, but was
incapable of any other movement.

Presently he spoke. His voice came with an effort, and sounded feebly
shrill, like that of a very old man.

"Dick, Dick! in the name o' God, speak, man! D'ye think there's a chance
fer us?"

Dick Kyley dropped his hands, and there was an expression of grim
satisfaction in his gaunt face as he replied deliberately--"There's a
chance for me, William."

The buried man lifted his clay-smirched face, startled by the other's
tone, and gazed eagerly at his mate, and continued gazing for fully a
minute, puzzled and frightened by the incongruous levity in the face that
confronted him. Then, the position becoming painful, he dropped his cheek
in the wet clay again.

"What d'ye mean?" he asked anxiously. "Why only fer you?"

"Because, William, I don't think you've got a dog's show."

The reply was without a trace of sympathy; there was, in fact, a touch of
malicious banter in the mincing tone of the "William." William Hether had
never been anything but "Hether" or "Bill" to his shift-mate before.

Again Hether looked anxiously into Kyley's face. Its cadaverous hollows
were filled with dark shadows, and the high-lights brought out the
salient features in a grotesque caricature that struck Hether as simply
fiendish. He turned from the sight, with a new horror in his heart.

"This ain't no time to fool a man, Dick," he said humbly. "How can there
be any chance fer you if I ain't in it?"

Kyley arose, plucked the candle from the wall, and advancing close to his
mate held the flame low down and showed him a small pool of water
gathered upon the floor within 18 inches of his face.

"That's why," he said.

Hether understood, and a cry broke from his lips.

"Keep it back, Dick!" he gasped.

"William," said Kyley, calmly replacing the candle and resuming his
former position on the reef, "you're a fool. That water's coming in from
the face, as usual. The fall has dammed the gutters, and it can't get
away; consequently, in less'n five hours the pool will be above your
ears. And you know what that means."

"But you can build a dam around me. Get the shovel-quick! Make a dam with
that loose reef an' the clay off the floor. Dick, Dick! give us a chance,
for God's sake, man!"

Hether stopped short, staring at the other, who sat calmly regarding him.
Presently he spoke again in a quavering whisper:

"You won't see a man drown without lendin' a hand t' help him?"

"No, I won't see it," replied Kyley, "because I'm goin' to douse this
light. A candle burns up the air, an' I'll want all there is here, I
reckon, before the boys reach me."

Driven almost wild with terror, a terror occasioned no less by the grim
significance of Kyley's leering countenance and the brutality of the
words than by the horrors of his position, Hether began to plead
piteously, with tears and moanings. The pain of broken bones and the
sickness of exhaustion had quite unmanned "Big Bill Hether;" but his
agony did not touch the heart of Kyley, who seemed to have forgotten that
death also threatened him in the delight that the young man's sufferings
awakened within his breast.

"Why've you rounded 'on me, Dick? What've I done--what 've I ever done?"
moaned the helpless man.

"I'm not goin' to lift a finger to keep you out of hell," answered the
other, "because of her, William--because of Hannah."

Bill turned his face to the light again, and once more he stared at
Kyley, sharply, inquiringly, reading ever line of his fateful
countenance. Then a groan of despair broke from him.

"I'll go away, Kyley," he said--"true's Christ, if we get out I'll go
away, an' you'll never hear of me again. Only make a dam. Quick, man,
quick--it's comin'! God! this is worse than murder. Dick ----"

The water, having filled the depression at the side of the drive, was now
running down and forming a pool in the hollow under Hether's chin.

Kyley turned and blew out the candle. For a long time Hether continued to
supplicate in the darkness, and Kyley, leaning comfortably against the
face, heard the thin voice, weakening to an almost inarticulate whisper,
beseeching by all that is good on earth and holy in heaven for a little
grace--another poor chance of life--and answered never a word. By a
painful effort the young man continued to keep his mouth above the
gathering water, but gradually the torture that afflicted his extended
neck became unendurable, and now in his last extremity he railed at Kyley
as a murderer, and abused him with curses in weak, childish tones that
were nevertheless pregnant with passion, and sounded distinctly and with
terrifying emphasis in that black chamber of death.

Suddenly there was silence. Dick Kyley listened, and presently heard a
bubbling sound in the water. That ceased, and all was still. He felt now
that his vengeance was complete--that Hether was dead, and at that moment
the fierce emotions of resentment and revenge--hunger that had possessed
and upheld him departed in a breath, and left him weak and cowed. His
limbs trembled, and beads of perspiration gathered about the roots of his
hair and rolled coldly upon his brow and cheeks. He was thinking, too, of
his own wretched case. He heard, fitfully, a distant drumming, the sound
of timber being driven home, and knew that the rescue parties were
working as hard as men may work, but whether theirs would be a job of
hours or days he could not tell, and already he fancied he detected some
taint of vitiation in the air.

Dick Kyley, sitting alone in the blackness of his prison, waiting for
salvation or death, was soon the victim of an ungovernable fear, a
supernatural terror entirely new to him, and the more awful for its
novelty. From the moment he believed Hether dead he began to fear him. He
strove with all the energy of his strong sense to drive him from his
thoughts, but do what he might his mind would revert to the dread
subject, and his eyes turn, staring intently into the darkness, where at
times they seemed to detect a yet blacker form in the pitch-black night
that filled the drive--the shape of the dead man's head. The horror grew,
and with it an agonizing conviction that Hether's dead face was staring
at him with dead but seeing eyes. Imagination had pictured the pallid
cheeks stained with blood and clay, and the wide, accusing eyes, till the
vision became a reality to him. Tortured beyond endurance, Kyley fumbled
in his pocket and found a match, which he struck upon the shovel blade.
As the light filled the chamber a groan of relief broke from the miner's
labouring breast. Only the back of Hether's head was visible; his face
was sunk to the temple in the water. Dick extinguished the match--his
last--and sat down again, only to struggle with another relay of horrors
that presently arose against him.

William Hether still lived. He had discovered that by taking a deep
breath and sinking his face till the forehead rested upon the clay he was
enabled to allay the pain in his neck and to continue the struggle. He
persisted in this course, noiselessly, for the sound of the rescuers at
work had filled him with a glorious hope, and with that hope had come a
fear that Kyley might be moved to murder him if he thought his rescue
possible.

So another hour fled. The water in the drive, which had now found a broad
level, continued to rise slowly. Kyley had lost the power of appreciating
time, and sat huddled against the wall, distraught with fear and despair.
Hether's face was haunting him again, standing forth visibly, threatening
and awful in the tomb-like darkness. His mad fancy stretched every hour
of his imprisonment into a long day, and he believed that it was his fate
to be stifled by the foul gases from his mate's decomposing corpse. Even
now the taint was in his nostrils. Although he was listening all the time
with agonized intensity, he no longer heard the hammering of the miners
beyond; his mind was too full of its unspeakable fear--he awaited the
attack of the inhuman thing that his irresponsible faculties had
fashioned out of the impenetrable gloom at the end of his narrow prison.
At this crisis Hether called again, in a piercing voice, full of the
supreme terror:--

"Help! help! Kyley, you murderer! fiend devil----"

At the first sound of the voice, Kyley sprang back against the end of the
drive, and shrieked, with all the power of his lungs, again and again;
and there he remained, crouched down, pressing his face into the gravel,
clutching his ears, shivering and moaning.

Three hours later the rescuers broke through, and found Hether under the
fall, with his head in a pool of water, dead, and Kyley squatting at the
face, babbling of spectres and devils.

It is still Mr. Richard Kyley's quaint belief that he is a conspicuous
figure in hell.

BENNO'S LITTLE BOSHTER

IT was Monday morning. Benno loitered at the packer's bench. The clerk
was possessed with a great unrest, and his high stool could not hold him
today.

"She's er little boshter!" he said vehemently. "Y' orter seen 'er."

"Fair 'r dark?" asked Feathers, with the intention of showing a friendly
interest in the matter. This was the fifth time Benno had declaimed on
the "boshter" qualities of the unknown, and fraternal sympathy could not
be longer deferred with decency. Feathers delayed the completion of a
knot, and bit off a morsel of tobacco. He solaced business hours with an
occasional quid, smoking on the premises being strictly prohibited by
order of the Czar below.

"Fair," replied Benno, with rapture, "with bloo eyes, 'n' er mouth like
er bloomin' baby. Never saw anythin' like it. She's ther show biscuit,
take it from ther man in ther business--ther top apple, th' 'ole blessed
cake-walk, 'n' straight ez er church. Yeh can see it stickin' out. Bin
well brought up, yeh know--bit shy, 'n' romantic, 'n' all that."

"This gentle little maiden of today," sang Goudy, the town traveller, to
himself, absently, as he reached for twenty-eight of sixes.

"Ah-h-h go'n 'ave er scratch!" retorted the clerk, bitterly. The town
traveller was a Scot, but the insult had no sting for him; he went on
cheerfully sorting out his order. "Some men," said Benno, with cold
despair, "ain't got no more fine feelin' than a hotel cat."

"When she left the village she was shy," hummed the town traveller,
changing his tune.

"It 'appened dead simple," Benno continued, turning a contemptuous
shoulder on Goudy. "Me 'n' Billy King was standin'on ther usual corner,
Satedee night, watchin' ther little toms trippin'it, 'n' sortin' out
samples, y' know; when 'long she comes with 'er cobber, 'n' blessed iv
she don't chance an eye on me noble--jest er little frightened sort iv
look, but, s'elp me, I was fittted."

Goudy put his forefinger to his lip, and dropped a lopsided curtsey. "Oh,
sir, me father's a clergyman," he simpered, "and I used to play the organ
once."

"Her cobber seemed t' be quite took with Billy's lip whisker," said
Benno, his air and attitude insinuating that the town traveller was
offensively dead, "n' yeh know what Bffly is. 'I'll word 'em when they
pass again,' he says, 'n' struth he done it. Billy's ther pure glassey.
'Iv course you know my friend, Percy Chirnside, Miss Fortesque?' ses he
t' ther fair one, havin' took over th' other. She blushed, 'n' smiled,
'n' said somethin' about not having ther pleasure, 'n' in two ticks we
was lifelong cobbers, me 'n' 'er. 'Course, I sees 'er 'ome, 'n' we parts
at ther gate. 'Er father, being 'ead salesman at Gum 'a' Tumbledon's is
er bit stiff on ettiket 'n' all that. But she meets me Sund'y afternoon.
Feathers, there was nothin' on ther grass t' touch 'er. She's er little
boshter--er BOSHTER! 'n' I'm 'er one 'n' only."

Feathers winked hard at Goudy, keeping a smooth and sympathetic cheek to
Benno.

"'Minds me iv er little lady I carried lollies to seven years ago,"
Feathers said, softly. "She had feathery, flaxen 'air, 'n' a neye like
ther grace iv 'Eaven, 'n' she walked about with 'em turned up t'
'allelujah, 'n' a nym-book pressed to 'er 'eart. She died lingerin' iv
some kind iv saintly disease, 'n' I've never bin the same man since."
Here Goudy wiped his own eye, and passed the handkerchief to Feathers,
and the packer mopped up a covert tear. "I took ther teetotal, 'n'
learned some hymns , 'n' cried on her grave every fine Sund'y afternoon
for er week 'r more, 'n' cot lumbago through it, 'n' passed away in er
little white shimmy 'n' er pale-blue light, callin' her name in er low
sweet voice." Feathers broke down, and Goudy, despite his fifty
dishonourable years, uttered a desolate cry, and besought the packer to
come up some evening, and tell that beautiful story to his poor old
bedridden mother.

"Pigs to you!" said Benno, with incredible scorn--"ther pair iv yeh," and
he returned sulkily to his desk.

This was a strange development in Benno the cynic--Benno who had been in
the swarming factory from his boyhood, and who on his high stool had
looked down upon a world of women, and learnt the sex off like a nursery
rhyme. True, his attitude towards girls had always been indulgent, but it
was the indulgence of a superior being. At twenty-one one is no longer
deceived by women, but it does not follow that Benno took no delight in
the human girl. It is pleasant to be appreciated by her; it is pleasant
to give her the rapture one's kindly notice may confer; so that Benno
dressed with many precautions and great difficulty on Saturday evenings,
and loved to walk with a young gentleman friend of kindred tastes where
the girls were thickest in the favourite city street; and, if a fair
percentage looked at him with dawning interest as he passed, he was
happy. Spats' Beauties, as a rule, were ignored, but he did not disdain
to escort the better-dressed pasters in the great mashing march along the
crowded pave. He loved to be seen with women--it helped his reputation as
a young devil.

A Panama hat, a high, white, turn-over collar, a small, gay, mechanical
tie, a dark suit, carefully creased to preserve a fictitious air of
newness, tan boots, a clean shave, and a cigarette, all went to the
making of Benno. For the rest, he had a pimply, thin, somewhat foxy face,
pale with the pallor that belonged to Spats' factory, and his right ear
drooped like a wilted lily. His expression was one of unnatural
precocity, his attitude of mind that of a small and early humorist. He
was artificially funny at the expense of all things on earth below and in
the heavens above; his conversation was supposed to be delightfully light
and sparkling, and consisted mainly of a large collection of street gags
and fanciful phrases. Sometimes the clerk spent sixpence or ninepence,
perhaps even one shilling, on drinks, which expenditure carried with it
the splendid privilege of extending an airy patronage to the barmaid; but
Benno did not like drink, and the fine moment came in the gay roll forth
from the bar, with a flourish of handkerchiefs and a fusillade of
badinage. That, too, was necessary to the part of the young devil.
Really, when "on his own' Benno had no vices, and was of a frugal mind;
his Savings Bank pass book was tattered and limp, and stained with long
service.

And now the cynical and worldly-wise Mr Ben Dickson was raving over the
perfections of a mere girl with yellow hair and the mouth of a baby,
despite the fact that he had seen golden hair come and go on black-browed
Beauties time and again, and in defiance of his knowledge of the guile
that lurks behind little red lips. His yearning for a confidant drove him
back to the packer's bench within an hour. He proudly displayed a
coloured photograph in a rolled-gold locket.

"Present from 'er," he said proudly. "Ain't she ther pick iv ther
peaches? 'N' she never took up with er lad before."

"Neat enough bit iv skirt," said Feathers, critically. "Saucy eye, that."

"Nothin' like it replied Benno, with spirit. "She's ez fresh ez eggs. She
don't know A.B.--ab."

"'N' 'er 'air ez yaller ez all that?"

"It's pure gold."

"All ain't gold that glitters, Benno, my boy. Does it wear well?"

"Ask me! But iv course you can't be expected t' have no idea iv the
points iv er lady in your walk iv life," replied Dickson, with the
superior air of a clerk. "This is somethin' er cut above you, for er
cert."

Feathers beat his parcel square, threw it on the heap, and spread another
sheet of paper. "I know I ain't been movin' much in 'igh society lately,"
he said, accepting the rebuff; "'n' I may be wrong in thinkin' your tom
was tryin' t' mash ther man shootin' off ther camera, but I recollec' er
bloke sayin' at this 'ere bech, Chewsdee last, that he wouldn't trust no
girl with er giggle in her eye."

"But she ain't got er giggle, I tell yeh."

"'N' he also said that most iv these golden 'aired pieces was not
genuine, just dipped."

"Jimmy Jee! She's no fact'ry rat. Do 'ave er bit iv common."

Ellis, the foreman, stopped beside the young men, mumbling plaintively,
hurt by the disregard of his authority shown in their open loafing. Benno
lingered only a minute longer, so that the girls might get no false
impression in respect to Ellis's influence over him.

In the course of the week Benno's infatuation increased alarmingly. The
clerk, hitherto so methodical, became the victim of a devil of
uneasiness. He was up and down his high stool all day long, like a hungry
ape, and he mooned about the room, seeking sympathy from the Beauties. He
even confided in Miss Kruse, the fat, elderly forewoman, and gushed
rapturously and at great length, regardless of the stupid depression that
clung in the flabby folds of her Dutch face. He cornered Ellis himself
behind the guillotines, and poured out his whole soul to him, giving
minute descriptions of Minetta Bird's perfections of character,
appearance, dress, and manner. Minetta Bird was his darling's name.
"Min," he called her, as his confidence grew more confidential. Before a
fortnight had passed he had confided in every girl on the flat; always in
a low, earnest voice, presumably with the impression that the nature of
his communications was unsuspected by the rest; whereas by this time
Benno's "boshter" had become the choice jibe of the factory, the printing
flat, and the warehouse below.

"I'm just crazy gone on 'er," he told Kitty Coudray; "'n' she deserves
it. Innocent!--innocent!"--Benno was simply confounded in the
contemplation of Min's infantile unworldliness, and words failed him.

"Beautiful soft golden 'air," murmured the ecstatic voice from the
folding board.

"Mouth like a bloomin' babby," cried the ex-professional fat girl.

"'N' she didn't know it was loaded," interjected a third voice somewhat
irrelevantly, it would seem.

And then came a chorus like a chant from the four corners of the flat.

"Oh, she's a little boshter!" The expression was repeated three times,
with increasing intensity. This had been adopted as a plan of defence. It
threatened to put an end to Benno's confessions, but the clerk's devotion
dulled his sensibilities and subjugated even his vanity.

It was a good time for the printer's devil. Billy the Boy had some talent
as a caricaturist, and much stolen leisure; he littered he factory with
ribald illustrations of Benno's courtship, in which Min was represented
with a wicked leer and a sliding chin, and giving expression to vulgar
sentiments encased in small balloons. He scattered fictitious love-notes,
addressed to Benno and signed 'The Boshter", all of which represented Min
as a designing creature of the yellowest dye, and he had a most
irritating way of bobbing up above the stair rail at odd moments, and
ejaculating amazedly: "'N' her 'air's ez good ez gold." Mottos casting
ridicule on the innocence and prettiness of Miss Bird were scribbled on
the white-washed walls, and strangers visiting the flat were beset with
questions respecting the character, habits, and appearance of Benno's
boshter.

The humour of the town traveller was particularly offensive. He had a
deep sense of gravity, and his method of attack was to address indirect
conversations to the furthest ends of the flat. His theme was always the
infantile virtues of Min. He had a fresh story every morning, each more
preposterous than the other, and his repertoire of music-hall
ditties--the heroines of which were guileful creatures who hid their
vicious tendencies under golden hair and an ingenious girlishness--was
practically inexhaustible.

But Benno's mental obfuscation pulled him through. His infatuation
survived all attacks, and one morning he came in fatuously radiant

"She--she's promised t' be my wife, ole man," he gasped, grasping the
packer's hand, and shaking it with great heartiness.

Feathers stood it manfully. "Don't surprise yeh much, does it he said.
"Thought yeh was prepared for ther worst."

"You don't understand 'er, Mills. She's er hangel--er bloomin'
hangel--that's what she is," said Dickson, fervently.

"Well, she's goin' cheap," answered the packer.

Benno was beyond insult and above anger. He went through the factory
bubbling. He bubbled all day. He even forgave Goudy everything, and
bubbled to him.

"She's goin' t' marry me, Scotty," he said confidentially.

"Well, 'ou brought it on yourself!" answered the town travellor, washing
his hands of the whole business.

Benno told everybody in the place, bar Spats himself, and for one
portentous moment the flat thought he was even going confide in the boss;
but the clerk recollected himself in time, and pulled up short. For a
year after, the Beauties wondered what would have happened had Benno
actually babbled his rapture to the master. The majority favoured the
opinion that Spats would have burst on the spot.

After this, Dickson's raving took a new form; it was now all of the
little cottage and the furnishing. He was leaving everything to Min,
excepting, of course, the unimportant part of financing the business;
that was his pleasant duty.

"Yeh know, Feathers, she's no bally nark; er bloke kin trust 'er," he
said. "'N' she's got taste, mind yeh. 'Er father was er winder-dresser
once. She took er pretty little cottage, 'n' furnishin' it good 'n' fine.
I'm outer all that; don't even know where ther crib is. When all's
finished, we rings up ther parson, do ther trick, all rights reserved,
'n' I sails inter me little 'ome, all Sir Garney oh. That's er idea. Just
ther thing, eh, what? Oh, yeh can't push er down. She's er boshter!"

The happy date arrived. Benno was allowed two days off on full pay to
celebrate the event. Spats liked his hands to marry; it made them
submissive, he thought; hence the liberality. Benno returned on the third
day, and the Beauties greeted him yell as he mounted the stairs. The yell
died away when Dickson came fully into view. Benno the jaunty was no
more; a grey-faced, pinched, hollow-eyed, broken wretch confronted them.
The clerk almost staggered to the packer's bench, and, leaning upon it,
passed a nervous hand over his eyes. There was an abject piteousness in
his face, his lips trembled, a tear rolled down his cheek.

"I bin done, Feathers," he blurted. "She--she's er speiler." Benno's head
dropped, he cried before them all, sobbing without shame.

"What, ain't yeh married, then?" asked Feathers.

Benno shook his head. "No," he said; "she never turned up. I 'unted fer
ther 'ouse yesterdee 'n' ther day before. I--I found it. It was furnished
beautiful." Benno's feelings overcame him again.

"'N' ther girl?" prompted Feathers, eagerly.

"She'd--she'd married another feller, 'n' he was livin' in my 'ouse!"

Goudy let fall the parcel he had taken up when Benno entered. His face
was set hard, like that of a stone man He walked straight to the stairs,
head erect, and went down past each flat right into the cellar, and at
the far end, in the darkness, among the bales, he sat down and exploded,
and the echoes of his mad subterranean laughter came faintly up to the
factory. But there was no laughing there. Benno was weeping at his desk,
and the Beauties were storming in throes of indignation righteous and
profound. Hours later the factory generously Offered to "deal with" Min
but Benno, with a touch of his old self, said that it didn't matter; he
had consulted his solicitor.

A HOT DAY AT SPAT'S

THE day was hot. The industrious little tin thermometer over packer's
bench registered 103, not out, and the atmosphere of the long flat was
as oppressive as a burden, and heavy with motes. The factory was
low-roofed and ill-ventilated. Through the row of dingy western windows
the afternoon sun shot broad beams that shimmered in the dull interior
like strips of white-hot steel. To many of the sallow girls at the
pasting boards it seemed that they were supporting the ceiling with their
stiff and aching heads. The factory sulked; all brows were lowering, and
lips drooped with a sickly petulance. Several of the piece-workers,
confirmed grafters, toiled with swift fingers, hanging desperately to the
task, but the majority of the Beauties leaned upon their boards
indolently, moving their limbs with slow effort. The flat was gusty with
sighs. It was impossible to hold the paid hands to their tables; the
forewomen kept up a continual whining, and Ellis fluttered about
uneasily, tremulous with apprehension, the paper-dust and the sweat
coagulating into mud in his scattered tufts of whiskers.

"Now, now, girls!" the foreman's timorous expostulation was almost as
insistent as the ticking of the big cloak. "Now, now, girls--now, now!"
The Beauties treated him with full disdain; they had no heart even for
insolence.

That part of the flat which turned to the left, out of the sight of Ellis
at his cutting-machines, was piled to the rafters with stock and bales,
and here were the dressing-rooms. This was the favourite rendezvous of
the impudent shirkers, too, and now and again the foreman made an angry
excursion along the dark passages between the piles of goods, driving the
loafers forth, with pathetic reproaches and threats of dismissal.

From behind one of the stacks an unhealthy-looking girl, of about
eighteen, with a tousled mass of dull red hair, made pantomimic efforts
to attract the packer. Feathers was very sad. He was a man with a thirst
that became an actual infliction under the stress of 103 in the
shade--"Worse 'n' neuralger," he complained--but Odgson, whose office
stock of uncustomed whisky never ran short, was scandalized by anything
like drinking habits in the lower orders, and alcoholic beverages were
strictly prohibited upstairs. Feathers' affliction cut into his earnings.
Already he had gone forth secretly as a passionate pilgrim, but his
limited credit at the Star and Garter was exhausted.

"I wouldn' 'a' b'lieved 'twas in er 'uman woman t' be ez firm ez what
that Mrs Publican is," he told Bruno, bitterly. "Wimmin ain't fit t' keep
pubs; they ain't got no compassion."

Feathers was thinking over these things, with a dull pain at his heart
and a mouth "like a drought-struck bone mill", when his eye fell upon
Linda gesticulating in the distance.

"Yah, get up yer pole!" Feathers hated frivolity at a moment like this.

"What-oh, Feathers," hissed Linda. "Come 'n' 'av' a ----"

The packer was about to descend to the vulgar in his anguish, when an
action of Linda's swept the black thoughts from his soul. The girl had
raised her right hand to her face, her head was tilting slowly backwards,
rhythmical ripples ran along her white threat. Feathers shivered.

"Meanin'?" he pointed to the centre of his breast, and his eyes were
round with inquiry.

"Fair dinkum," telegraphed Linda.

"Right-o, then. In arf er tick." Feathers ran a casual eye over the room,
took up a parcel, and carried it round the bend. In a small space between
a stack and the wall four or five were crowded round a large billy. The
billy had liquor in it. Feathers recognized it at a glance, and half the
misery of a hard life fell from him. It was beer. Linda dipped a cupful
and offered it.

"Oh, come, what sort?" The packer spoke in stern expostulation. But he
took the cup. "This means ther dirty push fer ther lot iv yer copped," he
said.

"Rats," said Carrie Bent. "Ole Spats' rotten fact'ry ain't 'eaven, is it?
Run it in, Jud, I'm fair hungry for another."

"Howdja work it?"

"New cove from the mill smuggled it up the lift."

"It's er fair cop out iv yer cort. Mind, I told yeh." Feathers thought he
was being very firm, but the arm that held the cup was weakening visibly.
The cup moved towards his face as if of its own volition. "'N' it's
rotten bad fer yeh. beer is, this weather," he continued. "It goes t' yer
'ead." What further wisdom the packer might have spoken was stopped by
the arrival of the cup at his lips. He seemed surprised to find it there.
Something like a feat of legerdemain followed, and the beer was swept
away.

Linda took the cup and served one round, Feathers standing over,
moralizing. Then came the sound of Ellis's familiar hobble, and instantly
the billy went out of sight under a sack and behind a bale.

"What rot, girls; why don't yer get er shift on?" cried Feathers
virtuously, making himself right. "'Taint ther mealy pertater, polin' on
the firm like this."

"Come, come, come," spluttered Ellis. "Get to your boards, I'll fine
you--every one of you." A trifling revolt was sufficient to rob Fuzzy of
what little understanding and self-control he possessed. He took every
dereliction to heart as a personal wrong. His voice ran shrill in an
agony of reproach, and, as he stumped after the girls, the timid, nervous
man pitifully asserting himself, he ran blindly into a bale, cannoned on
to a case of white note, and fell into the truck. The foreman fell into,
or over, one or the other of the trucks at least once a day, and the joke
had lost point. The Beauties remained sullen, some sprawling over their
boards, openly loafing, their bare arms hanging down, their figures
sharply outlined in thin skirts and skimpy bodices,

"Dead hookity, I call it," said the packer sympathetically, as he helped
Ellis out of his complication with the truck.

The foreman turned to his machines, whimpering "Now, now, girls; come,
come now!" as he passed the boards. Feathers returned to his bench. He
packed with some little energy for ten minutes, and then the knowledge
that there was illicit beer on the flat began to prey upon his mind. He
sighed frequently; his nagging thirst got at him again. The heat came
through the factory in successive clouds. In answer to some weary
pleasantry that came up the speaking tube, he said distinctly that life
was a "blasted fraud".

"Is that the Union Brewery?" asked the voice, after an sniff.

"Nah,, it's 'ell's stokehole, yer Jack chump."

A few minutes later Feathers paid another urgent visit to the billy. The
beer was tepid, but he returned refreshed. The factory was almost silent
under the heat and burden of the day, saving for the rattle of the cogs
of the guillotines and the whirr of the sewing machines ripping out
leagues of meal bags. The girls had nothing to say for themselves. They
were stripped to the last rag within the requirements of decency. The
ex-professsional fat girl, working hard, was a humid mountain; there was
an uncanny look in her set face. Benno drowsed at his desk. Much latitude
was permitted to the clerk these days, in consideration of a recent
sorrow. The air of the factory was heavy with the tang of humanity. The
curse of Adam brooded in the room.

The printer's devil below sang a line of "Climbing up the Golden Stairs".
It was the "office'. Feathers snatched something from his drawer, bit off
an ample mouthful and chewed. Spats' belltopper loomed above the stairs.
Spats followed. The "guv'-nor's" face was purple with heat and emotion,
and large beads of oil glistened upon his tuberous nose. The machines
whirred with new vigour, the Beauties made a spiritless effort to look
busy, Benno drove his pen with a great show of energy, and the owner
stood and glared over the factory under his clumps of brow. His look was
one of unmeasured hatred. He grunted, and his grunt was expressive of
great loathing. He turned, and shuffled along the flat till he came to
the packer's bench. There he paused and sniffed. He sniffed at Feathers
repeatedly, like an angry dog, and grunted three times--rising grunts of
fathomless disgust-the last almost a snort. Then he passed downstairs
again.

Feathers leaned over the rail. "Pig's Whiskers!" he hissed. The
expression might have lacked point but it relieved him. It was cheese the
packer was eating--very old cheese, and very strong for its age. It was
not nice cheese, but it had the virtue of subordinating the smell of any
beer that might be within an acre at the time of eating.

The whirr of the machines softened again. The cogs clanked no more.
Benno's head sank, and the Beauties abandoned all pretensions. The heated
atmosphere came up the stairways, and grew denser in the top flat;
breathing was a labour, and the packer's head was humming like a mill. He
was thinking of the unguarded beer behind the bale.

Suddenly the factory was disturbed by a thin crying--a low, helpless
crying that had an animal-like agony in it. The fat girl was wailing at
her boards. Her large face shone white; she still worked with deft
fingers, but she wept at her task like an insensate creature. Ellis
understood what it meant; he had heard it before more than once, and
instantly he fell into his familiar condition of terror-stricken
irresponsibility. He scrambled down the room, knocking against all the
boards, throwing tiers of work into confusion.

"Here, here--you stop it!" he cried. "Stop it! Stop it, I tell you."

A little girl at the folding board was making strange gasping noises.
Many of the girls seemed to become suddenly possessed of a bovine fear.
Sarah Eddie ran to Martha Rickards, and put strong arms about her,
whereupon the fat girl flopped upon the floor, and her crying increased
to an agonized scream. The little girl at the folding-board fell back
convulsed. Two other girls started crying, and Ellis ran foolishly from
one to the other, pleading and complaining. Feathers alone remained cool.
He was experienced in all the foolishness of women. The packer leaned
over the stair and called down to the printers:

"Here, er couple iv you blokes len's a 'and. Fat's down."

A couple of printers bounded up from the lower flat, and Feathers took
command.

"Yah-h! go 'n' get hosed!" he said, contemptuously, to the foreman, who
was fussing uselessly. "Grab er 'ead, lads."

The fat girl was now screaming in violent hysterics. Feathers took her
heels, the printers her arms, and, with Sarah's help, they carried their
great burden to the lift.

"Take 'er inter ther cellar an' let 'er bloomin' well 'ave it out there,'
'r she'll 'ave ther 'ole fact'ry 'owlin' mad in 'arf a tick." The fat
girl was promptly lowered, and Feathers turned to his other patients.

Chrissie M'Fadyen, a tall dark girl, had fallen in a huddled heap under
her board, and was making weird, choking noises. Feathers straightened
her out, pillowed her head on a pile of bags and said angrily:

"Shut up'! D' yeh 'ear? We ain't doin' anythin' in fancy fits today."
Then with extreme disdain: "Arr-r-r, ring off, can't yeh! The girl
shivered, stiffened her limbs, and opened a startled eye. "Nah, then,
Mac, that'll do you. Just you take a 'ammerlock holt iv yerself, 'n' 'ave
some dam' consideration fer others." The tone was brutal. Chrissie
struggled with her symptoms, and conquered. "Take 'er away 'n' sprinkle
'er," said Feathers to one of the machinists, and Chrissie M'Fadyen was
led to the taps, weeping quietly.

The packer passed on to Ginger Copin, the foreman dancing at his heels
and stuttering like a cranky monkey. It seemed as if half the girls might
get out of hand at any moment. Many were crying. Feathers took Ginger by
the shoulders in a masterful grip, and shook her to emphazise his biting
rebuke.

"Shine idyit you makin' o' yerself, Copin," he said. "Bli' me, have er
bit iv common. Stow it; stow it, d'ye hear?" Ginger strove against her
racked nerves, and looked surprised and piteous. Feathers was not to be
softened, however. He said further things to Copin, and they were not
tender and soothing things. In short he cursed her from boots to
breakfast; and Copin revived as under cooling showers, and was led away
by the stronger girls.

Feathers swore bitterly at a couple of weeping pasters in passing, and
braced them up wonderfully; delivered a scathing expostulation to Miss
Bentley, the sedate piece-worker, who gave marked indications of going
off; and then addressed himself to the little girl at the folding-board,
who had fallen in a fit. He carried her to the taps in the cooler part of
the building, sothing the factory with bad, masterful words as he passed.

"New one, this, ain't she?" he said. "Wha's she called?"

They told him, and he addressed her by her name; not so sternly as in the
former cases and without bullock-compelling expletives, but with the tone
of a man who was not to be denied. He insisted on her getting well by her
own effort. "It's no use tellin' me yeb carn't, y'know, 'cause I know
better. Come, come, buck-up!" The little girl was slowly reviving, and
although this case took longer than the others, the patient was presently
well enough to go below with the rest.

Feathers went back to the Beauties, bullying manfully here and there. He
picked out three more, cursed them into some sense of decency, and passed
them down to the cellar to cool off; and behold, the factory was in order
again, and clothed in its right mind. The packer had proved himself
master of the situation.

"Never you snivel 'n' whine over wimmen when they're 'avin' 'sterics 'n'
them jiggity fits," he said, wisely, to the printers; "it on'y makes 'em
feel they're pore sufferin' dears, 'n' they'll holler their 'eads off,
'n' kick ther ceilin' in outer dashed sympathy fer themselves. What er
woman wants when she's feelin' like that is a real beast t' boss her. Yiv
gotter work in among 'em here few er few years t' know what er
consolation er reg'lar brute is to er woman now 'n' again."

"Sst--Pig's Whiskers!" hissed Billy the boy. The printers fled
downstairs, and Feathers packed. "Pig's Whiskers" was one of the many pet
names the factory had given Odgson, the Boss.

Half an hour later a south breeze was sweeping the factory, and the
Beauties were barracking noisily at their work. Feathers was in an
amiable mood; he had emptied the billy, and now walked with ostentatious
uprightness. The fact that there was no longer any alcoholic beverage on
the flat, and that the boss had no just cause for complaint, filled him
with genuine and virtuous satisfaction.

THE WOOING OF MINNIE

AFTER years spent in the quest of the perfect boy, Odgson seem satisfied
that the species became extinct when he grew up, and a man was engaged to
assist at the guillotines and do the rouse-about work of the factory.
Chiller Green was about twenty-four and a sinister young man at first
sight. He came on to the flat with the tips of his fingers dipped behind
his belt in front, his chin thrust forward, and his eyes full of
truculence. He surveyed the room and its occupants coldly, and his
expression implied a certain disgust at finding himself in such cheap
company. As he glared, his chin moved in a chewing action, leisurely and
insolent. The movement was purely for effect; Chiller had nothing to
chew. He had dressed in a soft black felt hat, high in the crown--a kind
much effected by jockey-boys; a short, faded coat; trousers very skimped
in the waist, and high-heeled boots.

A facetious clerk called up the tube to Feathers: "Accept delivery of the
new boy. Please forward receipt at your convenience."

The packer grinned. "'R' yow ther new boy?" he said.

Chiller looked sidelong at the packer's feet with contemptuous
casualness, "I'm Chiller Green, amachoor bantim champyin iv ther Port,"
he replied.

"Don' mention it," said Feathers, cordially.

"I'm jest sayin'," continued Chiller, "I'm man enough t' go on with,
s'posin' anyone's wantin' anythin'."

"G'out!" said Feathers; "I'll contract t' bury all your dead with ther
fat-money from er brick-mill. Iv you've come 'ere t' work, sling off yer
coat 'n' move, 'r the fore-woman 'll smack you."

Chiller spat with scientific precision, turned slowly away, and slouched
towards the changing-room.

The impression Chiller Green conveyed during those first few minutes
proved to be quite erroneous. The new hand was really a jaunty,
companionable youth, and demonstrated as much within a week by
inaugurating a boxing class in the lift corner, and fraternally
blackening the packer's eye during the luncheon hour. The boxing-gloves
were extemporized out of pairs of working stockings discarded by the
Beauties. Green was the pride of a suburban "push", and was certainly not
more impudent than was excusable in a man who could "hook" with both
hands and had "done time" because a bush-bred policeman had no more
respect for his head than to leave it in the way when the "push" was
throwing bricks about. Chiller was not backward in publishing his record.
He promised to show Feathers a "boshter knack for passing out gazobs".

"Got on to it when I was 'up'," he said.

"Gar-rn!" said the packer.

"Oh, I done my bit," Chiller went on. "'Tain't nothin' agen me, though.
Jist lined er John with er half-Brunswick, 'n' got four moon. Knocked him
fair off his trolly."

"Iv it gets known here they'll bounce yeh on ther pavement."

"My trubs! I'd have er cut at ole Spats hisself if 'e looked cock-eyed at
me." Chiller titled his truck-load on to its base, put his hands up to
nothing, did a shadowy spar, and then danced a few steps indicative of
his cheerful indifference. "I kin alwez get back to ther trade," he said;
"on'y it's Chinaman's work."

"'N' what's yer trade?" asked Feathers.

"Barrerin' rabbies. They's money in it when meat's riz, but pushin' a
barrer gets er man down, I tell yeh, specially in the winter mon's. I
reckon I'll hang up here 'n' make er name fer mesilf."

"Hope you'll keep us all on when you take over the business," said the
town-traveller.

The "bantim champyin" sparred at Gaudy, feinted and baulked in a highly
decorative way, and tweaked the big man's beard, making at the same time
a plaintive baa-ing. Then he resumed his burden and passed on, singing
something to the effect that he could get a sweetheart any day, but not
another mother. Chiller's taste in songs inclined to the sentimental and
woebegone.

The town traveller's remark was called for. Already Chiller Green had
assumed dominance in the factory. The deprecatory Ellis was most polite
towards his assistant. The foreman's native timidity doomed him to be an
easy victim to the audacity of young Mr Green. Chiller respected nobody.
When Spats visited the factory flat, the Bantam outraged his dignity and
ruined his influence by ridiculing him with audacious effrontery. As a
compliment to Odgson's hairiness, Chiller had christened him Jo-Jo, and
he indulged in doggy pantomime at the heels of the proprietor, or whined
and yapped plaintively for the edification of the pasters, scattering
choice sotto voce reflections on Spats, his appearance and manners, etc.,
reflections that embraced all Odgson's relations, including a purely
hypothetical Aunt Lucy, and it was carried on with bravado that amounted
to insane recklessness in the minds of the girls, whose dislike for the
great man from below was tempered with a becoming awe.

Chiller's manner towards the girls was familiar, and flippant. Even the
superiority of the two or three sedate and somewhat elderly pasters, who
preserved a certain aloofness, had no effect upon the Bantam's
exuberance, and he maintained for their benefit an assumption of close
and intimate friendship that they seem to find extremely galling. Miss
Stevens was the most reserved of all these. The factory had endowed her
with aristocratic antecedents and romantic misfortune, and even the
ragamuffin Beauties called her "Miss". She was thirty and scornful.

"What-oh, Steve! How-de-do-de?" was Chiller's morning greeting. Miss
Stevens treated him as if he were something to which the attention of the
Board of Health should be drawn at the earliest possible moment, and,
addressing a neighbour, the young man would continue brightly: "Great
cobbers, me 'n' Steve. She kin keep nothin' from me, tells me all her
secrets. No end iv conferdence in me, she's got. Used t' be er friend o'
mother's. How's th' indigestion this mornin', Sissy?" Miss Steven's name
was not Sissy; she had no indigestion. Her wrath towards Mr Green was
silent, but very deep.

Benno, the clerk, Mr Green refused to take seriously, at any time or in
any capacity. He called him "Tutsie", and insisted that, despite his
present pretensions, his antecedents were of the lowest.

"How's yer ole pot-'n'-pan, Tutsie?" said Chiller. "When I knew him, he
was head shop-walker on er saverloy-can, 'n' yer mother was carryin'
round babies t' ther poor, 'n' runnin' er 'families supplied' emporium in
Paddy's Alley."

"Le' go me leg," retorted the clerk, smartly.

"'N' 'ere 're you, wearin' made-t'-measure suits, 'n' collars what turn
down all round, 'n' splashin' yerself agin ther verandy posts iv fine
nights, like er young dook."

Mr Green's spirits were guaranteed to keep in any climate. When the
factory was cold it was as inclement as a refrigerating mill, and when it
was hot it was suggestive of a material hell with all the modern
improvements in house-warming; but cold or hot, Green retained his
flippancy, and went about his work with abounding cheerfulness. He
frequently paused by the way to put up a vivacious spar with a stack of
parcels, and every now and then he threw in a "dead flash" scrap of
step-dancing, or sang a couple of lines of a popular music-hall chorus
with original effects.

This was before the Spadger began to get in her work. The Spadger was a
little folder, so called because Feathers had discovered in her a strong
resemblance to a bedraggled sparrow. She was waspish and thin, with a
nose like a cheap wooden doll's, round eyes, and a mouth puckered into an
ineradicable perkiness. Her walk had a confident sort of hop in it. Her
ginger hair was literally dragged into a knot at the back, which was
always misplaced, so that her head had a cunning appearance of being
pulled to one side or the other. She dressed very poorly, and her hats
looked like some few unconsidered trifles collected on a plate. She was
old-maidish at eighteen. Her name was Minnie Silver.

Chiller had been in the factory two months or more before he noticed
Minnie particularly. When he began to offer her little attentions, his
manner was still gaily impertinent, and the small folder ignored him with
elaborate disdain that was a grotesque parody of the arts and graces of
her betters. When she came up the stairs Chiller would make a burlesque
demonstration, dusting the floor, and bustling pasters and parcels out of
the way.

"Hello there, get off th' earth!" cried the Bantam "'Ere comes ther
little Duchess. How's it this mornin', yer Grace?"

Miss Silver's nose would be hoisted into the air, her under-lip would
curl outwards disdainfully, and she would sweep aside her scarp of faded
skirt, and pass on with intense hauteur. Then Chiller to the packer: "Get
on to 'er, Feathers. You see 'ow she treats me--me what never put her
away when she stole ther tutsie, 'n' never will, s'help me." The
reference to the tutsie (vernacular for cat) was provoked by Minnie's
muff--a skimpy moth-eaten muff with bald patches--of which she was rather
proud.

"I 'ope I got too much self-respec' t' have anythink t' say t' them low
larrikins," said Minnie to the nearest paster.

Mr Green continued in this vein for some weeks. He never came near Miss
Silver without favouring her with some trifle of banter, and his remarks
were personal--painfully so, they might have seemed to people of
refinement. One afternoon Minnie remarked, in a high-pitched, thin voice,
addressing nobody in particular:

"If someone don't know better 'n ter sing out after people in the street
they'll find out." The speech was laboriously enigmatic, but Chiller
understood. Strange to say, the young man had no reply.

There was an undercurrent of sadness in the Bantam's greeting to Miss
Silver next morning.

"'Ere she is agin. Ain't she saucy?" he said.

"Phew!" said Miss Silver, disdainfully.

"Oh, mother, she bit me!" Chiller sparred, side-stepped the town
traveller, hit him in the wind, and then danced a shuffle or two; but it
was evident to Feathers that the bloom was passing from the young man's
assurance.

Not long after this the packer came upon Chiller and Miss Silver behind
one of the stacks. Minnie was supercilious; Chiller was protesting almost
pathetically.

"Oh, I say, Min, get off me face. Ain't I sweet with yeh! Ain't-" Chiller
discovered Feathers at this point, and fell into a low-comedy vein. He
feinted at the stack, ducked in, andput in some effective half-arm blows
on a bundle of fruit-bags; but Feathers was not deceived. Miss Silver
went perkily up the room. Certainly the courtship was progressing.

After this there was an unmistakably pathetic appeal in Chiller's banter;
and Miss Silver, understanding her advantage accentuated her haughtiness.
She was weazened, and plain, and miserably dressed, and in all
probability had never had an admirer before, but the most disdainful
beauty could not have assumed more airs towards a hapless suppliant.
Indeed, at this stage Miss Silver's performance was an exquisite piece of
comedy. Despite her disdain, instinct prompted the girl to preen herself
With silly little bits of ribbon and scraps of lace, and a small bunch of
second-hand cherries and a turkey feather were added to the quaint
collection in her battered hat. Her scorn for Chiller was rapidly working
upon what strange sense of humour the Beauties possessed. She put herself
to no little trouble to display it. She went out of her way to meet the
Bantam in order to avoid him with unspeakable disdain. She talked at
Chiller in a loud, reedy voice.

"There's someone what's always follerin' someone about in a way what he
orter be ashamed of hisself, knowin' he ain't wanted," she cried.

"Better lay poison for him," said the Fat Girl.

"It's yer fatal beauty, Spadger," suggested Kitty Coudray "Cut yer 'air
'n' sit in the sun till you freckle up, 'n' then the man might give you a
rest."

Another paster asked if the villain who still pursued her was an
aide-de-camp or a rich squatter.

"Oh, 'e knows what 'e is well enough," answered Minnie shrilly, "'n' 'e
better mind 'isself, that's all."

Chiller had no answer to make to these insinuations. They left him
depressed. He went about his work quietly. He had abandoned the
boxing-class in the lift-corner, and showed a marked dislike for the
society of Feathers, Goudy, and the ribald printers. Even Billy the Boy
was losing respect for him, and cast painful reflections up and down the
stairs.

"Buck up," said Billy, "there's lots better 'n her in ther dust-box."

Chiller declined to buck up. Minnie piped something to the effect that
she would disdain to be "found drowned with a bloke what done up 'is 'air
dead leary"; next morning the elaborate festoons had disappeared from
Chiller's brow, and his hair was parted with the oily precision
characteristic of Sunday-school superintendents and reputable young
barbers.

"They's scrougers what think they's jist the lolly in a red tie," piped
Minnie, "but they ain't respectible if yer arsk me." Chiller abandoned
his red tied He put away the proud bob-tailed coat with the buttons on
it, because Minnie said acridly of all wearers of such coats; "It shows
what they are-lurchers 'n' rats, the lot iv 'em." He lowered his heels
for the same reasons and discarded a black-and-white sweater that he had
prized very highly, because Minnie thought sweaters suggested
disreputable sporting connections. But poor young Mr Green's courtship
was not visibly advanced by these concessions. Minnie Silver remained
supercilious.

"Oh, Min, come off," said Chiller, in sad expostulation.

"Speak ter yer equals!" sniffed the little folder.

"Give's er charnce won't yeh?" persisted Chiller, following her up.

Minnie gathered up her dingy skirt, pointed her nose straight at the
rafters, and to use Chiller's own expressive phrase, "laid him out cold".
Half-an-hour later, speaking from her place at the board, and addressing
the whole factory, Miss Silver cried:

"If people 'angs round other people's 'ouses of nights it's their own
look-out if the police gets spoke to."

Chiller Green actually blushed. A few minutes later, when the Bantam was
busy at the machines, and well within range, Minnie said to Miss
Twentyman:

"Seen me out with Mr Eddie, Sunday, didn't yer, Sis? 'E's a gentleman 'e
is. Knows how t' behave 'isseif. Gets 's quid a week et Goosie's,
solderin' jam-tins, 'n' a rise every year. 'E don't 'ave no truck with no
low fightin' scrougers, 'e don't."

Mr Green did not blush this time, but a light came into his eye that
augured ill for Mr Eddie, of Goosie's jam factory. On the morning of the
second day, Minnie was extremely caustic in her comments on some person
or persons of pugnacious quality.

"Them what 'its them what is too good for them will be made to pay for
it, so they better mind out," she said. Chiller growled a bad expression,
and Miss Silver continued moralizing. "It's somethin' if a young lady
can't walk down the street with a friend what's a gentleman, without 'im
bein' dealt with, an' 'is nose punched. But what I sez is, there's a law
for the likes."

Chiller got a day off to attend his aunt's funeral, and Feathers
discovered in the suburban department of an evening paper an intimation
that one James Green had been fined two pounds, with the alternative of a
week's imprisonment, for a grievous and unprovoked assault on a Mr Henry
Eddie in the public street.

Next evening, Chiller said to Feathers, "I'm slingin' it, blokey, Goin'
back ter ther trade."

"But I thought barrer-pushin' was er game fer gazobs?"

"Oh, ole Spats can't expect me ter go on muckin' round fact'ry fer
seventeen-'n'-a-tizzy. I'm thinking iv gettin' married."

"Gar-rn!"

"Ya-a-a-a-s." Chiller sparred a bit, danced a step or two, and went off
singing. "She's onlee a wuckin' girl, no friends 'as she", but his old
spirit was lacking.

Chiller left. In two months, Minnie left. One Monday morning about a year
later. Feathers said to Benno, the clerk:

"Who'd yeh think I seen, Sundee? Th' Bantam 'n' 'er nibs."

"What! Spadger?"

"Ya-as. They 'ad er pramberlater. There was er pincher in it. Chiller was
pushin' it."

"Good enough for 'im", said the relentless Benno.

THE PACKER'S "LITTLE SILLY"

MR. GEORGE MILLS, packer, was not wholly impervious to the arrows of the
little love god. He had not served, for twelve years or more, on the top
flat at Spats', with girls of all ages, all sorts and sizes, and every
make and shape, gathered about him, without sustaining wounds. But
Feathers was a philosopher.

"Er man learns a bit 'bout women in a crib like this," he said,
ruminating over a quid, "'n' the more he learns, the more he puts his
confidence in beer."

Nobody had ever seen the packer drunk, but he had a deep, abiding
affection for beer, and with the affection was coupled a large respect.

"It's these cheap 'n' easy shickers rollin' round on their ear what
brings discredit on beer. 'Tain't the liquor wot's snide, it's the dead
hookity hides what it gets chuted into, 'n' the grown bloke ez kin take
his little lot in bond, 'n' then go 'ome on his own end 'ithout wakin'
the town, 's got a friend in beer more lovin' than mother. Jimmy Jee!
how'd a man get bumped with worldly trubs if he 'adn't beer t' fall back
on! '0w'd I iv bin many a time if 'twasn't fer the drop iv buck-up? I've
seen me put all my bits on a little silly more'n once 'r twice, 'n'
played fer keeps too-took the teetotal fer 'er sake, 'n' was mother's
bes' boy fer ez much ez a month, 'n' then 'ad t' get back et the pints
agin fer consolation. Now I wouldn't turn it down fer the toffest Dolly
on the block."

The "little silly" Mills had more particularly in his mind when
moralizing thus was Connie Gleeson, an expert paster from a rival
establishment. Miss Gleeson was a revelation to Spats' Beauties-tall and
fair, with large blue eyes, abundant hair, an excellent complexion, and a
decent figure. Sitting quite still, in a plain black dress, with her
mouth shut, Connie was a passable imitation of a lady, but the illusion
vanished the moment she opened her ruby lips. Feathers was well pleased
with her; so was Benno, and, for the matter of that, so was Billy the
Boy, in whom familiarity with the Beauties had bred a quaint precocity.

"My Jimmy! you kin tread on me face, whoever y' are," said the small
devil, when he first confronted Miss Gleeson. "You're the prize bloom,
Sis. Where'd they get yeh? Look 'ere, if you ain't runnin' a bes' boy iv
yer own would y' min' givin' me a little kiss?"

"Cheeky boy," said Miss Gleeson. "Get goin' 'r I'll hit y' in the
squint."
She threatened him pleasantly with her brush.

Billy the Boy stood back for a better view. "What's a bonzer like you
doin' spreadin' sour paste fer yer daily?" said the wise child. "You
outer be in the sixp'ny bar, spangled with di'monds, dishin' up drinks t'
lots iv squatters." To Billy's young idea, a barmaid's position in a
sixpenny bar was the ultimate height in the way of social elevation.

"Wa's that?" exclaimed Miss Gleeson, struck with the idea. "D'yeh think
I'd do fer a barmaid?"

"Do I what? Take it from the teller, you'd slap the town. You'd have
firs' pull ermong the doods, 'n' cud pick one t' suit."

Feathers came softly behind the printer's devil, took him by the ear, led
him to the top of the stairs, and prompted him with a kick. Billy went
down. The packer already had other views for Miss Gleeson, and he did not
like the turn the conversation had taken.

"Gar-rt!" cried Connic. "Le' the boy be. 'E's a fair treat."

Billy's head bobbed up the stairs again. "'Andle him tender, Sis," he
piped, "he's li'ble t' boils. That what yeh notice 'bout 'im's free-lunch
onyins. Cud chip it with a chisel, cudn't yeh?"

The packer's usual weapon, the twine ball, missed, and knocked in the
belltopper of the junior partner in the cellar below. Billy the Boy was
absent from the subsequent explanations. He was very happy. Later in the
day he presented Miss Gleeson with a caricature of the packer in three
inks. Bill's caricatures were always atrociously broad, and yet held some
strange, loathly resemblance to the victim that made them a joy to
everybody else.

Feathers' love for Connie Gleeson was a sudden infection. In the words of
Benno, he took it "ez the kitten took the brick." Miss Twentyman
introduced the stranger with grave formalities, and the packer was glad
he had kept his collar on that morning, and pleased that his well-oiled
hair was truly parted, and that the branching arabesques on his forehead
were as accurate as a printer's bracket. These reflections flowed in upon
him, despite the fact that it was "a fair knock-out." Connie had large
eyes, into which she could infuse at will a touching shyness quite
infantile. She rolled them at Mills, and she smiled at him through moist,
red lips. She had a trick of moistening her lips when she wished to be
particularly bewitching. Feathers was stunned. Ten minutes later Benno
found him, fifty two-pound fruit bags in his inert hands, his jaws
suspended, and his unseeing eyes fixed on the whitewashed wall beyond his
packing-board, dead to the world.

"'Ello! 'ello, there!" cried the clerk, dropping a fourteen pound weight
on the scales. "Get a move on, 'r you'll get the shoot. Hoggy's comin' up
with his gun."

The packer sprung into action as if a button had been touched. "Hev y'
taken er inven'try iv the new goods?" he said presently, finding it was a
false alarm.

"What-ho! " said the little clerk, giving his lapels a tug. "Have I not!"

"Isn't she?" commented Mills, with something like enthusiasm.

"She is,'n' more," replied Benno. "Me 'n' me worldly goods 're all hers."

"Pity t' waste yeh!" sneered Feathers.

Miss Gleeson discovered herself to be the object of interest, and
moistened her lips, dropped her face, and smiled up shyly at them through
her nimbus of fair hair. It was a very pretty action, and most effective,
but it drew a long, moaning sound from Harrerbeller Harte, followed by a
lot of irrelevant baby-talk, addressed to nobody and nothing.

"Oo's mummy's ickle sly-boots, oo is-oo is! Baby's a baddy baddy'icky
bubb-bubb to goo-goo the wicked mans!" said the lank and homely Miss
Harte, and she kept at it till Feathers got angry and advised her to get
back to the madhouse.

"S'pose it's in the fam'ily," he said. "Y'orter be seen to. How d'we know
y' ain't dangerous?"

For answer Harrerbeller gave a grotesque parody of Miss Gleeson's timid
droop and moist, shy smile that set half the pasters squealing. Already
the Beauties had decided that Connie was "as ratty as rabbits," and their
hasty judgment was confirmed by wider experience, although no man in the
house could be brought to admit that there was anything the matter with
Connie beyond an excess of girlish sweetness.

It is a foolish girl indeed who has not some kind of an eye to the main
chance in her dealings with man, and it is not likely that Connie
regarded Feathers as her main chance at any time. There is no doubt,
however, that the packer was very serious. After the first month he gave
up beer and other little self indulgences, in order to have it in his
power to shout the young lady to 2s. seats at the Royal, and to suppers
of fried whiting, chips, and coffee at the fish-shops. Feathers was not a
demonstrative lover, but his affection for Miss Gleeson was soon common
knowledge. He built a stack of sugar-bags near her board as a cover for
little flirtations, and if anybody in authority came to the flat while he
was making himself sweet with the paster, he adroitly shifted his
interest, and was found to be busy at that stack, either taking parcels
off or building them on.

Benno brought to Goudy the news that Mills had been seen at large in a
flogger coat, and wearing a turn-over collar five inches high, and a
little bow tie of tender pink. The facts were communicated in George's
hearing.

"Strike me, you'd iv thought it had ten thousan' er year from aunty t' do
what it liked with," said Benno.

A little pink bow tie," said the town traveller, with exaggerated
interest. "How coy!"
"'N a new grey felt 'at tucked in by mother," said Benno.

"And a pure white collar and a clean shave," added Goudy. "It must have
looked like 'The Maiden's Prayer.' How did the women seem to bear up,
poor things?"

Feathers arranged fourteen pound of sugar bags with great attention to
detail.

"But you've gotter overlook it." Benno went on. "It ain't responsible.
It's doin' a dote on a little silly, 'n' it's took t' walkin' in its
sleep."

"Takes her to sixpenny shows, and shouts cough drops," said the town
traveller. "The man's mad!"

Feathers began to soliloquise aloud. "Once knew a Scotchman give an ounce
iv liver t' bribe a tom cat, 'n' then, after frettin' erbout it fer a
month, he ate the cat t' get his own back." Then, discovering Goudy and
the clerk, he said pleasantly: "'Ello! is that you? Thort it was the
cockroaches." Taking up his parcel, the packer crossed to Connie's board,
and held playful conversation with the paster merely to demonstrate his
superiority to criticism. While his back was turned, the town traveller
filled his drawer with dodgers and cuttings from furnishing
warehousemen's advertisements, all addressed to those about to marry, and
all undertaking to furnish a home for two at a cost the ridiculous
smallness of which absolutely filled the advertisers with amazement.
Later, Goudy led Miss Gleeson to the packer's bench, and, pulling out the
drawer, revealed to her the many cuttings.

"Keep at him, my girl. You've got him thinking," he said.

"Yar, go'n chase yerself, why don't yeh?" said Miss Gleeson, pleasantly
confused. Then, as a bright afterthought, she added, "Yer fair up the
pole!"

Mills had become very spruce these mornings. He shaved every day. He wore
white collars and gay ties at his bench, and kept a bit of broken mirror
in the lift corner, to which he repaired several times a day to refresh
himself and re-arrange his hair. Billy the Boy noticed these things, and
commented on them.

"He's bin mendin' his hair agin, Sis," said the small boy. "He parts it
with a plumb-bob. I say, ain't he one fer keepin' hisself clean? I ain't
bin able t' rekernize him lately."

Billy lurked behind stacks of bales, with his retreat always open. The
packer placed a hard twine ball handy, and trusted in Providence. Billy
the Boy resented the packer's courtship of Connie. He thought she should
aim higher, and he brought her affectionate messages, mostly mythical,
from superior persons in the warehouse. Billy's messages from the junior
partner once removed, "Our Mr. Duff," were particularly ardent. Miss
Gleeson was inclined to think there was something in them, but everybody
else knew them to be preposterous.

"Suety's bin tellin'me he's seen nothin' t' touch yeh 'tween here 'n'
world's end, Sis," said Billy, soberly.

"Oh, go on, get off me face," answered Connie.

"Sez yer a knock-out, 'n' if anyone 'ud poison his wife he'd be on'y too
'appy t' track with yeh. He sez yer'air's the goldenest he knows, 'n'
you've got a neye like a tram lamp, 'N' 'ere are yow dodgin' round with a
waster like Feathers, what gets a matter iv three bob a day, 'n' couldn't
afford t' keep white mice after he's paid fer the brilliantine what he
glues his 'air with."

Judge the amazement of the factory when one afternoon Mr. Duff, the
junior partner once removed, approached Connie Gleeson's board, and,
under a thin and miserable pretence of examining her work, entered into
serious conversation, which soon developed a flippancy of which his wife
would certainly not have approved. Connie was greatly flustered and
flattered. Her moist, red lips, her large, infantile eye, and her girlish
airs were all overworked in a distressing way. A strange silence fell
upon the Beauties. Feathers worked stolidly. His back betrayed nothing,
but it would have pleased him to have been in a position to command a
special thunderbolt for the junior partner that day.

In the course of a week Mr. Duff came twenty times to the factory flat
and he never left without exchanging a little airy badinage with Miss
Gleeson. On each succeeding occasion the conversation was a little more
familiar, and Connie moistened her lips, giggled ingenuously, and,
glancing up through her hair, said again and again: "Oh, Mr. Duff, you
are a one!" Feathers grew murderous. Harrerbeller Harte's little
burlesques of the meetings convulsed the factory.

"Popsey-wopsey mustn't play with the wicked gentleman," cautioned
Harrerbeller. "Wicked gentleman steal mummy's ickle sweetie away, and
then bub cry her pretty blue eyes out, she will. Popsey's a teeny weeny
sillikin; nice gentleman eat her all up!" In concluding, Harrerbeller
aped a cow-like coquetry, and squealed with affected rapture: "Oh, Mr.
Duff, you are a one!" And then the Beauties gave the chorus: "Oh, Mr.
Duff, you are a one!" But Connie was not distressed by this by-play. She
merely giggled, and wriggled, and rolled her blue eyes, and said,
mincingly, with her most ladylike air: "Stop it off, y' lot iv wasters. I
wouldn't 'ave him on me mind."

Feathers was the real sufferer. In his own language, he was "off the
Dolly." Connie passed his bench now with her mouth pursed, her nose up,
and her eyes half-closed, usually trilling a popular tune with a most
elaborate assumption of preoccupation. The packer gave no sign, but his
soul was a seething geyser of emotion, waiting for a chance to spout.

It was a pleasant afternoon. The sunshine poured in through the western
windows, and a droning calmness was upon the factory. Mills packed
steadily, apparently unconscious of everything but duty, really alert
from his ear-tips to his ankles. Benno came to him from the lift end,
touched him on the shoulder, winked three times, and jerked his thumb in
the direction of the stacks.

"Get back t' yer barrel!" said Feathers, with concentrated
vindictiveness.

As if Feathers did not know that the junior partner had just met Connie
as she was coming back from the boilers, and that round the turn of the
room a flighty flirtation was going on. The packer could hear the sound
of playful slapping, and Connie's irritating titter scalded his ears. The
two were under cover of a high stack of hat bags in parcels of five
hundred, built twelve on, and almost reaching the roof. Hat bags are
extremely light, the whole stack would not weigh anything considerable,
and it had caved, and had a big list. It overhung the philanderer and
Miss Gleeson like the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

Billy the Boy came up the stairs on a special mission.

"Mister Duff 'ere?" he asked. "His missus wants him pertickler." Billy
looked back. "She's comin' up," he said.

A blinding inspiration struck Mills. He ceased packing. His vengeance was
at hand.

"Comin' up, is she?" He looked over the stair, and lied calmly. "Suety's
jist gone down t' the printer's flat. Get after him on the front stairs."

Billy fled, and Feathers looked over the balusters again. He wished to
time his little tableau precisely. There came to his mind rumors of Mr.
Duff's domestic infelicities. He had heard Mrs. Duff referred to as "the
Duchess." She was large and stout, and she had followed her husband to
the top flat on previous occasions.

The packer bent over a few reams of confectionery paper by the stack of
hat bags. His shoulder was against the stack. He lifted deliberately, and
with a great heave, and slowly, silently, like a snow-drift, over went
the stack, burying Connie and the junior partner in an avalanche of bags.
One shrill scream from Connie, and for a moment all was still. Then there
was a clamorous rush of Beauties. Mrs. Duff and Feathers were first upon
the scene of the disaster. Feathers was particularly careful that Mrs.
Duff should have a front place and a full view.

On the floor lay a mound of hat bags. Nothing of humanity was visible.
Feathers set to work, hurling the parcels aside. He worked with energy,
but wisely too, and presently a pair of boots came into view. They were
the junior partner's. Mrs. Duff recognised them with an ejaculation of
terror. Feathers tossed aside a dozen more bundles, and another pair of
boots and ankles were revealed. They were Connie Gleeson's. Mrs. Duff
uttered a second ejaculation, but this time it was not terror that
impelled it. Feathers grinned inwardly.

"Get a jig on, can't yeh?" he cried, and the dumbfounded pasters fell
upon the bundles.
A minute later Mr. Duff struggled up out of the wreckage, and shook
himself. He was unhurt, and seemed rather amused. The next moment Connie
was pulled from under, and she, too, stood erect.

"By Jove, that was a queer experience," cried Mr. Duff. "I hope you're
not hurt, my dear." Then he discovered his wife, and caught her awful
eye.

"'E didn't faint," said Feathers to Goudy next morning. "'E didn't
scream. 'E jist faded away. 'E turned the tint iv a young Chow, 'n' the
smile went dead on his face, 'n' he was struck that way. His wife took a
firm 'n' masterly grip iv his arm, 'n' she said: 'Come, Mister Duff!
Come, Mister Duff!' That was all, but y' ortiv 'eard it. S'elp me, Jimmy
Jee, 'twas like a sentence iv death! I watched 'em down stairs. She never
eased her grip iv him all the way. I don't believe she's let go yet."

"Mighty curious how that stack came to topple over just then," said the
town traveller, scratching his lip in a troubled way.

"Yes," said the packer. " 'Twas what the papers call a dispensation iv
Providence."

The following Saturday was Connie's last day at the factory. A fortnight
later Billy the Boy had news of her.

"Gleeson took the tip from one what knows, after all," he said. "She's in
a bar up town. A sixpenny bar."

"My troubs!" answered the packer. He was unshaven, uncollared, and
disreputable, and there was a taint of beer in his atmosphere, but, all
the same, when Billy had gone, he heaved a great sigh. She was indeed
lost to him, for to Feathers a sixpenny bar seemed as remote as the North
Pole, and not more desirable of attainment.

A SATURDAY AT SPAT'S

HERE was a sort of dress parade on the top flat at Spats' every Saturday.
On ordinary days the Beauties came in their second best, which was
changed on the premises for paste-stiffened skirts and bedraggled
blouses, any old thing being considered good enough to work in. But on
Saturday the pasters and folders sported their glad rags, forgetting
nothing that would impress their enemies; and in the bitter rivalry of
dress there were no friendships. On this day the new hat was flashed upon
the factory like a smack in the face, the unexpected frock shocked the
Beauties with its insolent beauty, the nine-carat brooch or the
glittering ring, set profusely with precious stones, "quite as good as
diamonds", was displayed for the first time with a disregard for the
feelings of others that was simply vindictive. Every girl did her utmost
on Saturday, and, excepting in a few special cases, always with the fear
that her best possible would be out-done by a special effort on the part
of some more fortunate sister.

On this particular Saturday morning Kitty Coudray had no misgivings. She
was wearing the whole of her new summer's goods for the first time, and
went up the front stairs, so that she might have to walk the length of
the flat to the dressing-room. Every woman in an astonishing frock is at
heart a stage-manager. Kitty's entrance was a great success, her march
down the stage a triumph. She was radiant in blue and white muslin, and a
saucy little black hat with white lace and feathers. The girls who had
gone before sighed over their little faded glories, and meekly abandoned
all pretensions for the time being.

"Oh my, what a turn you've give me!" cried the clerk, having fallen off
his stool in blind wonder.

Benno's amazement, if facetious, was flattering, and Kitty smiled on him
very sweetly.

The packer barred her way. "Break it t' me gently," he said in an awed
voice. "Have y' killed yer rich old uncle 'r embezzled ther fain'ly
di'monds?"

Kitty blushingly insisted that it was only a simple bit of a dress for
second best--nothing to speak of.

"Yer er fair blaze iv glory," Mills continued. "Y' kin do what y' like
with me. I'm done. I'll never get over this, I know." He was walking
round her, humbly inspecting.

"Yah-h-h," cried a derisive voice from a distant board, "stick 'er in the
bloomin' winder, 'n' give ther town er charnce!"

Kitty stiffened at once, her nose went up, and she walked on with an
increase of dignity, but not really displeased. That cry had come from a
stricken soul. It was really a tribute. She would not have been wholly
satisfied had the girls taken it all quite kindly.

The Salvation Army lass at the machine began to sing a plaintive little
hymn. The Army had had a revival in the cheap suburbs lately, and had
been getting in some good work amongst the factory hands. There were two
or three converts in the room. They joined in the hymn. It was the
protest of the saints against the vanities of the flesh. Spotty Corbet,
the machinist, was intensely "saved". She came to work in shabby
regimentals, and spoke a three minutes' grace over a "crib" of bread and
jam that it took her two minutes to eat. She was a squat, sallow girl of
about sixteen, sullen and slovenly, and had a guilty secret. When not
observed, she oiled her greasy dark hair with the machine lubricators.

Kitty Coudray had changed and taken her place at the board, when Billy
the Boy charged upstairs crimson with information.

"Wipe yer nose 'n' pull down yer pinny, Mills," gasped the devil, "here's
her Excellency makin' er mornin' call."

Up the stairs came a faint frou-frou. Feathers cocked his ear. There was
no mistaking it. It was the musical rattle of silk. The packer ventured
to look over the rail. He blew a long, faint whistle, expressive of
profound emotion. He beckoned to Goudy in the manner of a man bereft of
speech. There was an apprehensive hush, and the sibilant call of a silk
underskirt stole through the factory. All eyes turned to the stairs.

"You've done yer dash," cried Billy, addressing the Beauties. "You kin
all git orf ther earth. Twentyman's got yeh beat."

"Jimmy Jee!" whispered Mills. "it's Bland 'Olt's wicked woman straight
from ther halls of gilded vice, with all her clobber on."

Feathers and the town traveller stood back reverently, giving the
newcomer a clear stage, and as Sis Twentyman stepped on to the flat the
silence of the factory broke in a long gasp. Nothing like this had ever
before been seen at Spats'. The most riotous imagination there had never
dreamed of such magnificence in a mere "fact'ry 'and". Sis was profusely
clad in pink silk, billows and billows of it, trimmed with cream lace,
and she wore a great black picture hat foaming with feathers, and new
glazed shoes with steel buckles. Kitty Coudray, her brush clutched in her
frozen hand, gazed at this overwhelming spectacle, her eyes wide, her
mouth gaping, transfixed. It was a form of paralysis, and she did not
recover consciousness for three minutes.

Sis remained talking with Feathers. It was his duty to keep a record of
late arrivals, who were fined according to the length of their
transgression. Miss Twentyman made a pretty show of excusing herself, but
her late arrival was premeditated malice and Feathers understood the
situation. Sis was not merely completing her triumph--she was "rubbing it
in".

"Won thirty thousan' quid in Tatt's, 'aven't yeh?" said the packer,
affecting the meekness of the poor and lowly.

"If you had let us know you were coming we'd have had the stair carpet
down and the walls decorated," said the to traveller.

"Excuse yourself, Mister Cloudy," replied Sis, with a ladylike air of
hauteur.

"Who're yeh ruinin', Sis?" asked Feathers.

"Not so familiar, Mister Mills, please."

Sis gathered up her profuse skirt and swept away, and half a dozen of the
Beauties, driven from their usual refuge of seeming indifference by such
splendour, forsook their work, and clattered after her, shrill with
admiration. After these went the anguished foreman, with his feeble but
insistent:

"Come, come! Come, come, there. What's this? What's this?"

The girls buzzed about Sis, deaf to Fuzzy's orders and his threats, and
Spotty Corbet drove her machine fiercely, and piped her hymn of protest
once more.

Mills aired his philosophy of clothes to Goudy. "Take it from the man
under the bed, Spotty, wimmin's mostly clothes, an' ther rest rings an'
things. Man's what he drinks; woman's what she wears. Size up this bunch.
On ther ordin'ry mornin's in their secon' best baggin', they're sort iv
subdood 'n' moderate perlite, 'n' you don't see 'em buckin' up, or
playin' ther frivolous ox. Look at ther difference when they get inter
ther rags. Then they gets down to it-they're cobbers with ther rats; 'n'
yer needn't put much apast 'em. But watch out fer Saturdees when ther
latest season's goods is out fer the air; 'n' they're ther real pink, 'n'
yer mustn't touch 'em with er prop if yer don't wanter get it cold.
Blime, y'd think Spats' was er select seminary fer young lydies iv gentle
birth, 'n' that ther dorters iv ther aristocracy here t' get made fit in
French, dancin', haccomplishments, 'n' perlite conversation. Mop up
what's goin' when Twentyman comes along in her old stuff."

When Sis came again, dressed for work, and carying her tub of paste, the
packer said:

"S'elp me shicker, Twenty, you was the on'y pebble. F1emin'ton on Cup
Day!--don' mention. Ther Mayor's ball!--a blessed marine store. Lovely,
y' was, straight!"

"Gar'n! Ic' go me leg!" retorted Miss Twentyman, saucily

"What'd I tell yeh?" said Mills to Goudy.

The Beauties got down to work slowly and reluctantly that morning. There
was a still later arrival. Bell Olliver came in quite half an hour behind
time, wearing a new blue blouse, a blouse that would have created some
little stir on ordinary occasions, but which was received with absolute
indifference, coming after the extravagance of Kitty and the magnificence
of Sis.

Bell came by the front stairs, radiant with expectation, smiling a
self-conscious smile, and blushing brightly. By the time she reached the
packer's board the smile had fled, and Bell's face had assumed the colour
of old dough. She turned down the wing to the dressing-rooms, and as she
did not re-appear in the course of a quarter of an hour, the foreman went
ambling down the flat, full of zeal, and tripping over his own feet every
few yards as usual, in the agonies preceding an encounter with a Beauty
of Bell's argumentative power and uncertain temper.

Fuzzy found Miss Oliver seated behind a stack of straw-boards, wearing
her drab working apparel, her little tub of paste between her feet,
weeping like a wet day.

"Come, come!" he cried, with tremulous valour. "Come, come! Out o' this!"

"Gar'n scratch!" retorted the young lady, drearily.

"What's this? What's this? This won't do, you know. Get to work, 'r I'll
fine you a shillin'."

Miss Olliver jumped up and confronted Fuzzy, suddenly ablaze.

"You tork t' me!" she screamed. "You, 'r fat old Pig's Whiskers
downstairs, 'r any iv yer rats. Do it! Tork t' me, monkey face, 'n'
I'll--"

The foreman recognized the symptoms He retreated precipitately, but Miss
Olliver's tub of paste took him between the shoulders as he fled, and
made his back view absurd for the rest of the day. Saturday morning was a
trying time for Fuzzy in many ways.

Bell came to her board when it pleased her. She was an expert paster, and
rival firms would have been glad of her services. Fuzzy had to rule her
and many like her by a system of judicious submission. For three hours
order and industry prevailed on the flat. Bell was in a fit of black
sulks; Kitty Coudray was sour and insolent; the other girls had a
thoughtful and depressed air. Sis Twentyman alone was gay. She was
particularly affectionate towards Kitty, and seemed quite stupidly blind
and deaf to Miss Coudray's coldness and contempt.

Naturally Sis Twentyman was the first in the dressing-room at knock-off
time. Her arrival there was signalled by a series of shrieks that stirred
the establishment to its lowest depths, galvanized the factory, and
brought the printers streaming upstairs. Shrieking was not uncommon on
the top flat, but never had such poignant yells pierced its walls. Sis
performed like a woman in mortal agony. Feathers, heading the rush,
discovered her standing in her petticoats, holding the pink silk skirt
out before her, and screaming with all her energies in a stupid, blind,
settled way suggestive of madness.

"'Struth, Twenty, what bit yeh?" gasped Mills. He shook her as if
expecting to rearrange a disorganized apparatus. "'Ere, 'ere," he cried,
"take er grip on yerself if yeh ain't fair off yer almond." But Sis only
screamed again, and shook the pink silk skirt, and now the situation
became comprehensible. The skirt was an utter ruin; it was torn this way
and that, and the frills and the lace hung from it in rags.

At this moment Sis Twentyman's eyes fell upon Kitty Coudray, in whose
face was something like a light of elation.

"You!" she shrieked. "You--you--you-" Her passion choked her on the
suitable epithet, and she dashed at Kitty with hooked claws, like a
ravening lioness. But Feathers and Don clung to the fury and averted
manslaughter.

The light of elation had fled suddenly from the eyes of Kitty Coudray. It
was succeeded by a poignant apprehension. She darted into the
dressing-room, and the next moment her cries added to the general
confusion. She came forth carrying her new blue skirt. It was split from
waistband to hem, six or seven times and was a hopeless wreck. Kitty
glared at Sis in dumb rage for a moment, and all a woman could possibly
feel of spite and anguish was in her face.

"She did it!" she cried. "She did it, the devil!" and it took two
printers to keep her from Sis Twentyrnan. The Salvation girl was singing
"Sound the loud timbrel o'er Egypt's dark sea, Jehovah hath triumphed,
His people are free." Spats himself and other authorities had arrived on
the scene, but their influence was as nothing in the face of a
catastrophe like this. The Beauties swarmed: their indignation was
virtuous but virulent. They cried aloud for vengeance on the destroyer. A
rush for the dressing-room revealed the fact that no further damage had
been done, and slowly the factory simmered down. Sis and Kitty,
surrounded by guards, sat apart, and sorrowed over their tattered
garments, soaking themselves in tears.

It was Feathers suggested the cat: "Ther Tutsie's erbout arf ez big ez er
bar'l," he said, "'n' when he gets out after himself in high pressure
hysterics, he fair digs bricks outer ther buildin'. I've seen him kick
ther hessian off er bale iv paper afore t' day, 'n' he 'ad er fit this
mornin'. I 'eard him doin 'an' springs 'n' fizzin' like er soda factory
back er ther lift."

The authorities retired to the depths, and slowly the girls dressed and
drifted downstairs. Sis and Kitty had come together, mutually forgiving,
as sisters in misfortune should be, and they mingled their tears, pending
the conclusion of a consultation being held in the boss's office.
Feathers brought the news. The foreman had gone under cover behind his
guillotines, overwhelmed by the catastrophe, and knowing that blame,
unplaceable elsewhere, invariably fell upon him.

"It's rybuck, girls," said Feathers. "Yer on velvet. Ther firm's willin'
t' accept responsibility fer ther actions iv it's dooly accredited cat,
'n' pays compensation. Yer on'y 'ave t' put in a claim fer damages 'n'
ther quids is yours."

Sis and Kitty brightened up wonderfully at this, but not sufficiently to
imply that they had wholly parted with their grievance.

"Spats has sent fer er 'ansom, 'n' yer to be wheeled 'ome et ther firm's
expense," continued Feathers. Then he cried to Spotty Corbet, the
Salvation girl, whom he had requested to stay, pending orders, and who
was stealing from behind the bales towards the stairs. "Yeh don't do er
guy jes' yet, Spot. This is where yer trouble comes. Back in yer cart. I
want ter chat yeh."

The girl came slowly towards them, lowering under her battered Army
bonnet, her sallow face smeared with tears and dust, her brief, shabby
skirt falling short of its duty. She was an absurd and pitiful figure.
Feathers took her by the shoulder:

"Now," he said, "cough it up. Why'd yeh tear them dresses?"

Sis and Kitty sprang to their feet, their eyes blazed, and they made at
Spotty Corbet with bared talons. " Ere, 'ere," cried the packer, "keep
good. Enough iv it." He put them back, and addressed Spotty again. "I
don't hear y' talkin'," he said. "Y' know yeh tore them skirts, y' can't
jolly me. Why'd yeh do it?"

Spotty dug a finger in her mouth, and squirmed for a moment, and then her
eyes gleamed and she stood erect for a fine effort.

"They was offensive in the sight of the Lord!' she said. Then she
collapsed again, her finger went back into her mouth, she began to cry,
and kicking her old skirt out with her knee, she said with stupid
bitterness, "'N' mine is sich rags."

"Hum," said Feathers, philosophically, "I thought I'd fitted Yeh. Now de
er bunk."

The packer held the two pasters while Spotty shuffled to the stairs, and
went down, snivelling all the way. She did not reappear at Spats'.

"Why didn't yer let me at her?" said Sis fiercely. "I'd a' scraped her
bones."

"Garn, Twenty, ain't yeh got er bit of sav? Make a bustle with her 'n'
'ave it orl over ther shop she done it, 'n' ther cat's been wrongly
accused, 'n' how does yer compensation come in?"

"Oh-o-o-o-!" breathed Sis and Kitty in chorus, very softly.

"Oh-o-o-o!" breathed the packer in mockery, more softly still.

Feathers was a true diplomat, and had a fine contempt for accuracy.
"'Onesty," he said, "is the bust policy."

THE FICKLE DOLLY HOPGOOD

MISS DOLLY HOPGOOD was commonly called "Ginge", an abbreviation of
Ginger, and a polite allusion to her prevailing tint. She was a saucy
young lady of about sixteen, and lived in a push-ridden suburb. Her hair
was worn turned in a hard pad all round her head, so that from a little
distance it looked very much as if she were wearing the pneumatic cushion
from Odgson's office chair, as a sort of halo.

The dress in which Miss Hopgood came to business was of light-coloured,
limp material, ribbed with cheap black lace, like the hoops on a barrel.
Her hat was a wide-rimmed "gem", skewered so far forward that in her
walks it preceded her by about half a yard; the high-heeled boots she
affected accentuated the apparent precipitation of Dolly's top-hamper.

Dolly was a plump and cheerful rapscallion, but her face had a certain
granite quality characteristic of the daughters of slum families--a
quality devised by an all-wise Providence, no doubt, as a provision
against injury in contact with the bluchers of husbands and lovers, the
ardour of whose affection, when accelerated by beer, is apt to express
itself in kicks.

On the first appearance of Miss Hopgood the packer greeted her with
breezy familiarity.

"'Ow is it, Sis?" he said. "Here, ain't I seen you proppin' the door at
Crilly's Assembly Toosday nights?"

Benno grinned approvingly. "Strike me, Feathers, you've fitted her in
one!" he chortled.

Ginge certainly did suggest a larrikin hop.

"Gart! git back t'yer lorndry!" retorted the young lady. The remark
conveyed a playful insinuation that Feathers and the clerk were of
ignominious Asiatic origin.

There was usually some little diffidence about novitiates on the factory
flat, but Miss Hopgood betrayed not the smallest Concern.

"Yow, there, Tilly! Scratchin' a livin' 'ere, are yeh?" she cried
shrilly, shaking her crib basket at a distant paster. The ex-professional
fat girl caught her eye. Miss Pilcher was wearing a superior expression.
Ginge raised her hand, and wagged playful fingers at Martha. "Buck up,
puds," she said, "you're all right. They're payin' quids a bar'l fer your
sort at Stonkie Watson's." Watson's was the soap-boiling establishment
that gave rank to a river-side suburb. The fat girl resented the
insinuation with a loathly sneer, and Ginge passed by in triumph.

Ginge Hopgood was just as gaily impertinent with the comps and machine
hands on the printers' flat, and hailed them from the stairs with frank
familiarity. Clinker Gill, one of the freeders, was Sophie Oddie's boy,
but Miss Hopgood assumed possession without a trace of compunction.
Clinker, greatly flattered to find himself the chief object of her
somewhat personal back-street flippancies, succumbed instantly, and
Sophie ceased to be an item in his daily life.

Possibly Clinker lived to repent his perfidy. Sometimes he might have
looked as if he did, but he never admitted it. Master Gill was about
seventeen, a round-headed lad with closely-mown black hair, and a
countenance the utter commonplaceness of which beggared criticism. On the
morning of the fifth day after Miss Hopgood's arrival, Clinker came to
work with a damaged eye, and all day his manner was subdued, not to say
penitent.

"How'd it 'appen, Ned?" asked Feathers, when Gill came up with a bundle
of printed tea papers.

"Bit iv a dust-up with a bloke down ar way," said Clinker.

Feathers had all a woman's curiosity about details.

"S'pose th' other lad won't be leavin' his bed this side Christmas?" he
said.

"Oh, I dunno." Clinker was becomingly modest. "There ain't nothin' much
wrong with him, barrin' two teeth out 'n' a thick ear."

"Give us the strength iv it, Ned. Did yeh hand him the pass out?"

Clinker Gill grew confidential. His opponent was a rival claimant for
Ginge's favours. Miss Hopgood had had another boy for some months, a boy
who was prepared to assert his prior rights on the gory battlefield, and
who had already done so on two occasions, to Clinker's great discomfort.
The claimant's name was Holland. He was a stiff-built youth, with large
freckles and a fair down all over his face. Also, he was an impetuous and
unscrupulous fighter, and lurked at corners to intercept Clinker and
Dolly, charging down upon the former, and commencing hostilities without
fair and sufficient warning.

In the course of the following fortnight Clinker had four scraps with
Tommy Holland--wholly unsatisfactory Street "scrims" that were
interrupted by the appearance of a John, or the intervention of some
benevolently-disposed old lady or gentleman; but the feeder always
sustained more or less damage, and he burned to fight a conclusive
engagement with his hated rival.

Apparently there was no peaceful way of settling the matter in dispute,
since Ginge could not be brought to see that she was called upon to
accept any responsibility. The girl would not give a decision. She might
walk home with Clinker in the evening but she would stroll out with Tommy
at night, and Gill was the occasion of a most unusual pleasant Sunday
afternoon in the Botanical Gardens. He had discovered Holland reposing by
Miss Hopgood on the sward. It took three gardeners and a whole revival
meeting to stop the fight.

Truth to tell, neither young gentleman seemed to expect Dolly to express
any partiality, but the packer sometimes reproached her in a frivolous
spirit. "Ain't yeh announced yer choice yet, Ginge?" he asked. "'Strewth,
if yeh can't make up yer mind which is the prettiest, why not toss 'em
for it--double or quits?"

"Not me," said Dolly. "I ain't took on either of 'em fer keeps. I ain't
one fer tyin' meself down."

"Then this 'ere bloodshed is t' continue to the bitter end?"

"My oath it is! While these blokes is fightin' each other they ain't
fightin' me--see?" It was a specimen of slum philosophy that tickled the
packer immensely.

"Jimmy Jee! You're a bird," he said delightedly. "What you don't know
ain't in the books."

Clinker Gill came to Feathers' board a few days after this, with an air
of great importance.

"It's all fixed up, Mills," he said.

"What," cried the packer, "has she given yeh brusher?"

Clinker wagged his round head confidently. "No blinded fear," he said.
"Ginge knows when she's got a good thing. The fight's arranged 'tween me
'n' th' other bloke. We fight the prelim. to the Bull Green 'n' Coffee
Hogan scrap et the Smithers Street Hathletic Club's room on Monday night
fortnight, catch-weights, fer harf-a-Jim 'n' a five-bob side wager--eight
rounds, one t' win."

"Go on," ejaculated Feathers in proud appreciation.

"Yes, Markis o' Queensbee rules, four-ounce gloves, 'n' regerlation
trunks. Prelimery starts punctual et eight; prices two, one, 'n' a
tizzie. We've both signed harticles."

"Good e-nough cried the packer. "I must 'ave a deener's worth iv that."

During the following fortnight Clinker Gill was the hero of Spats'
factory. He trained industriously night and morning, and at lunch time he
boxed vigorously on a full stomach in the lift-corner with any good
friend who would oblige him with a generous hiding.

Clinker got punching enough in twelve days to have made him indifferent
to anything short of a mad bull-camel. The bigger fellows nearly belted
the head off him in the kindliest spirit imaginable, believing they were
doing him a great favour, and everybody offered him advice and gave him
useful hints to beginners, especially Benno the clerk. Mr Dickson
insisted with great wisdom on the necessity of keeping a straight left.
He committed himself no further, but he impressed that one point on Gill
at least twenty times a day.

"I sticks my left into 'em," said Benno. "Never do nothin' else, but jab
'em with a straight left ez they come in, savin'me right fer a finisher."

Mr Dickson had never fought a round in his life, but he was very
impressive, and Clinker accepted his advice with proper respect.

Master Gill bought a shilling book on boxing, and started to learn it off
by heart, from cover to cover, but he was a poor study, and had only
mastered about three chapters relating to rules, training and attitudes,
when the eventful night arrived.

The room of the Smithers Street Athletic Club was over a threepenny
hair-cut saloon in a cheap, crowded suburb. It was a small, low, dark
apartment, with a tiny ring in the centre, and just space enough between
the ropes and one wall for the high-priced patrons to creep to the
cramped gallery rising abruptly from the ringside to the roof. The cheap
"sports" were packed in a space twelve feet by twelve on the other side
of roped the enclosure, and a third set of supporters gathered on the
roof on the occasion of a really popular engagement, and looked on the
warfare through the broken shingles. In the course of the battle the
proprietor of the threepenny saloon went among these latter with a
collection box, and any spectator refusing to contribute was summarily
chucked off. The chucking entailed a fall of six feet to an adjoining
roof.

Feathers, Benno, the Don and several comps from the factory occupied
seats in the shilling reserve, the top half of the gallery close to the
roof, where the smoke accumulated and the heat of perdition assailed
them. For it was a summer night, and the room was packed as tight as it
could hold with baking humanity, half of whom tugged at pipes which
sizzled like frying-pans and stank like future punishment. The other half
smoked cigarettes.

Benno took immediate steps to let it be known that he was a personal
friend of one of the boxers, and in all probability had taught the lad
all he knew, and then, finding nobody disposed to bet on the preliminary,
he offered five to four on Clinker Gill.

"Five t' four in quids," said the clerk, addressing a "tough" who was
nursing a brindle bulldog with a face like a Japanese nightmare. Putting
a trace of pleading in his voice, he added:

"Come on, Ned, be a sport. I'll lay six t' four the Clinker outs him
inside iv five rounds."

The tough answered hoarsely that he hadn't four warts, and the dog
growled in a venomous way, so Benno did not press his point.

At twenty past eight Tommy Holland came into the ring, followed a few
minutes later by Clinker Gill and his seconds, two lads from a racing
stable with which Clinker was acquainted. Tommy Holland looked strong and
confident, but Clinker was pale and very nervous. He trembled visibly,
his knees knocked as he sat in his chair. One of the seconds noticed
this, and kicked the lad disgustedly.

"See 'ere, Clink,' he said, "drop yer bundle, 'n' make a guy iv me, 'n'
I'll pelt yeh a few meself.'

Clinker's lip trembled, and a tear rolled down his cheek, which he wiped
with his glove.

The MC. and official announcer was in the ring. He was a retired
lightweight run to flesh, and sported a face like a freak potato.

"Gents," he said, addressing the dress circle, "I'll ask yez kindly t'
put out yet smokes 'n' give the boys a charnce. Youse," be added, turning
with some fierceness on the sixpenny patrons, "stop smokin' 'r ye'll land
in the fat. A let me 'ave ter talk t' yer agin. Gents," he repeated,
softening his voice, "this 'ere's a perliminry iv eight rounds, 'tween a
pair iv unknowns. I may tell yeh it all erbout a bit iv skirt, 'n' I
think I can promise yeh a dead willin' go. Nar then, lads, get ready."

The announcer then joined the seconds, and there was some argument over
the appointment of a referee. During the discussion Clinker's nervousness
increased to such an extent that he began to whimper piteously, mopping
up his tears with his gloves.

The announcer stepped forward again. "Is Mr Peter Nickie present in th'
'all?" he cried.

Mr Nicklde was present. He arose with dignity. He was a fat and florid
bookmaker, with a reputation for paying successful backers with stoush.

"Both parties is willin' t' 'ave you referee this 'ere, Pete," said the
announcer, and Peter obligingly rolled through the ropes, and swayed into
a corner.

Mr Nickie was now seen to be lamentably drunk. He propped himself
securely against a post.

"Is yez all ready?" he said. "Shake 'an's!"

The boys advanced into the centre, Clinker pushed behind by his second,
and touched gloves. They returned to their corners, and the timekeeper
smote the gong, a superannuated dinner tray.

"Box On!" gurgled the referee, and Clinker Gill faced his enemy.

Clinker was snivelling; his face was very white; there was a wild look in
his eye. The boys circled round and round, moving their hands
mechanically. For a whole minute there was no attempt to strike a blow;
then Tommy rushed furiously, whirling his arms, and Clinker went down. He
rose again, still weeping and Holland rushed him again, and again Gill,
was prostrated by the impact. On his hands and knees, his face
pathetically contorted, and tears streaming down his cheeks, Clinker
seemed, to be looking for a way of escape, but all exits were blocked. It
seemed as if the whole world was screaming derision at him.

Gill arose, and Tommy charged him. Utterly demoralized, Clinker turned
and ran. He ran three times round the ring, hotly pursued by Tommy
Holland, and the onlookers roared with laughter. After the third lap,
Tommy overtook Gill, and hit him in the small of the back, and Clinker
fell again. While he was down the gong sounded, and the pride of Spats'
factory was dragged into his corner, and sat there, blubbering dismally,
while his seconds fanned him, and covered him with scoffing and curses.

Tommy Holland came straight from his corner at the sound of the gong, and
hit Clinker hard on the nose, and Clinker went to the floor. Clinker got
up and Tommy hit him again.

"Yeh blinded cow!" squealed Gill, and he whirled a glove on to Tommy's
ear. He hurled his left, and hit Tommy on the mark. The crowd applauded.
Clinker's blubbering was loud no, but there was a note of anger in it. He
charged at his opponent, head down, and pounded with both hands.
Clinching, he got Holland's head under his arm, and punched him five
times on the nose, while Tommy's seconds howled for a foul and the
referee nodded in his corner, swaying on the ropes.

When the gong clashed the boxers continued fiercely fighting, and
Clinker's seconds had to tear him off. Benno was applauding like a
madman, and yelling advice. The crowd was delighted. Clinker made a dash
out of his chair to get at the foe again, and had to be carried
struggling to the seat.

Gill was no longer pale, and his nervousness had evaporated. The third
round was full of fight. Clinker waded in. He forgot all he had learned,
and utterly ignored Benno's wise advice. He hit in holds, he hit anyhow;
he butted, and palmed, and screwed, and broke every known rule. Tommy had
a cut lip, a bleeding ear, and a mouse on one eye. Again the pride of
Spat? had to be torn from his opponent.

The boys spent the greater part of the fourth round on the floor, but
time was not wasted. They fought there just as well as anywhere else,
pasting each other desperately. Clinker bumped Tommy's nose against the
boards, and while the crowd roared and laughed, the master of ceremonies
woke up the referee, and expostulated profanely. Mr Nickie blinked about
vaguely, realized where he was, and murmured:

"Sh all ready? Shake 'an's."

When the two minutes were up the seconds had to disentangle the boys, and
drag them to their corners.

"Yiv got 'im done in, Clinker!" yelled the passionate Benno. "He's your
mutton. Keep that left goin' how I told yeh. 'n' it's a moral."

But Clinker was deaf and blind to everything but his mighty wrath. He
charged Tommy, and felled him, he smote him on the chin as he was rising,
and Tommy clung to his legs, and climbed up by them, and punched Clinker
in the left eye, putting that organ completely out of action.

In the sixth they were both tired, but continued to fight like terriers.
In the seventh Clinker had Holland down three times, but in the eighth
and last Tommy freshened up, and made it very willing. They finished on
the floor, punching, clawing, and even kicking.

The lads were carried to their chairs, and once more the referee was
shaken up.

"Hello! what's matter?" said Mr Nickie.

"A decision--give a decision, blarst it!" hissed the master of ceremonies
behind his hand.

Mr Peter Nickie bucked up, he moved into the centre of the ring, and held
aloft an impressive palm.

"Gen'lemen," he said--"Smith the winner!"

"'Ere, 'ere," hissed the M.C., "there ain't no Smith in the fight!"

"Wha's that?" said the referee, staggering to the ropes.

"I say they ain't no Smith in the fight. Which lad are yeh givin' it to?"

"Smith the winner!" repeated Mr Nickie, with the air of a man of marked
integrity.

"But, dammitall, they ain't no Smith!"

"Look 'ere, Spud Malone," said Mr Nickie with great dignity, "are you
refereein' thish fight, 'r 'm I?"

"But I tell yeh they ain't no Smith."

"Wha' th' 'ell I care? Smith the winner!" Then the referee rolled out of
the ring and fell into his seat, and the battered boys were led away to
the changing room downstairs, while the over-joyed crowd, more delighted
with the fight than it would have been with a pantomime, simmered down
for the serious business of the evening.

The error of Mr Nickie left things practically as they were with Clinker
Gill and Tommy Holland; and Dolly, who had spent he night of the fight in
full enjoyment of a "darnce at the Six-penny Quadrille, remained
perfectly impartial, so far as they were concerned. This was fair, since
it could be demonstrated quite satisfactorily that Clinker had won on
points and Tommy had won on a foul.

On the Saturday night twelve days later, two young gentlemen were leaning
in fraternal sympathy against the front of a cobbler's shop in the
push-ridden suburb. The were Clinker Gill and Tommy Holland. Some traces
of their battle lingered on the countenances of both, but they were now
bosom friends, drawn together by a common sorrow.

A young lady passed, walking daintily on high-heeled shoes, with a
characteristic projection of the figure, and wearing a large hat
liberally feathered. By her side walked a young man, his thumbs in the
arm-holes of his vest, his hat hung precariously on the back of his head,
a blazer screaming the local football colours tossed about his neck, his
cold grey eye defying creation.

Clinker nudged Tommy Holland. "There she goes," he whispered.

"Let 'er," growled, Holland, "the nark!"

The passing fair was Ginge Hopgood. The young gentleman in charge was
"Nigger" Tish, a promising welterweight.

Clinker and Tommy have now resigned all pretensions to Dolly's favour,
knowing themselves hopelessly outclassed.

AT A BOXING BOUT

THE big building was crowded. Below in the five shilling and ten shilling
reserves, was a flood of human faces. In the balcony opposite, the two
shilling push piled itself against the railing. The atmosphere was one of
blue smoke, and through this the stout, bald, purple M.C. in the ring
shouted the names, weights, and colours of the competitors in the
preliminary tournament, his voice like that of a very old crow.

"Struth, his jibs wouldn't earn peanuts ez gripman on a mussel barrer,"
said the youth next Benno, sociably.

The clerk looked wise "That's right, Ned," he said. "But Dinny's a good
ernough spruicher. Givin' chat t' aujinces this size jiggers up the 'uman
organ, I tell yeh"

Feathers, on a seat behind, touched the lad on the shoulder, and edged
him away from Benno with a sidelong motion of the head. "Knows a bit
erbout elercutlon, he does," he said confidentially behind his hand,
"somethin' iv a horater 'imseif. Fam'ly's in Parlymint."

"Gar-rn?" said the lad.

"'S truth," Feathers assured him. "Mother's got the contrac' fer
scrubbin' 'n' dustin'."

"Get yer ear out, Ned, 'r he'll bite it," said Benno sourly to the
stranger, suspecting mischief.

Benno had been to a couple of fights before this, and felt entitled to be
regarded as an authority. Down in his heart he cherished an idea on the
strength of the experience thus acquired, that, should occasion arise, he
could give an excellent account of himself. He had never hit a man, but
it seemed easy, and he had magnificent dreams of outing fourteen-stone
foes with a right cross which he had frequently tried on a bed bolster
with success. This visionary feat always took place under the eyes of
astonished and admiring multitudes.

Two featherweights were scrambling in the ring, exchanging wild swings,
and the referee was dodging about, looking for points in a pointless
exhibition, Benno watched closely, making a little critical "tut-tut-tut"
now and again.

During the rests the clerk instructed the lad next him with a wise old
air. The lad chewed gravely, and said little. Occasionally he jerked a
quaint grimace at an acquaintance on the off side, but nothing in his
attitude was intended to disturb the clerk's pleasing faith in himself.
The lad had a thick ear.

"O'Brien 'll out 'im this round," said Benno with calm confidence, when
the gong sounded. "He'll get that crool right iv his ercross, 'n'
Scorcher'll go t'bunk, you take it frim the prefessor."

"Bin in the game yerself, Ned," said the lad, with a touch of mock
reverence.

Benno lowered his voice. He had an uneasy consciousness of the proximity
of Feathers and Nicholas Don, the driver. "Oh, nothin' t' speak of," he
said in the way of a man deliberately hiding his light. "Matter ev a
scrap 'er two."

"Perfeshional?" asked the lad.

"No-o," said Benno, "not yet."

O'Brien aimed a blind swing at Scorcher; Scorcher took it on his glove,
and prodded his man a straight left flush. "Ha-ha cried Benno, starting
up excitedly. "What'd I tell you? O'Brien'll out 'im; O'Brien's got 'im
goin'! He's got 'im goin'! Five t' O'Brien! I bet five t' one O'Brien!"

"In cherry-bobs!" said a derisive voice.

Before the clerk could frame an apt rejoinder, the Scorcher planted a
left on O'Brien's mark, and a right on his chin, and O'Brien went down.
Eleven seconds later he was carried to his corner, as limp as a dead eel.

"A quitter!" said Benno, disgustedly. "The Scorcher never touched 'im.
That's often the way with clever sparrers, they,ve got science, but no
'eart."

Then Benno went on to explain to the lad with the thick ear how O'Brien
must have beaten the Scorcher to dough if he had kept at him. The lad
seemed quite grateful for the polite attention.

"If 'e'd on'y kep' that left iv 'is goin', " said Benno regretfully.

A youth in front rounded on the clerk with vociferous disgust. "Garn, get
work!" he said. "O'Brien never had a possible. 'E ain't got a left 'and,
and 'e ain't got a right. 'E's a gander. 'E don't know enough to win a
tombstone novice tournament up in the 'Ome for Incurables."

"Oh," said Benno, composedly, "p'raps I know somethin' erbout the game.
It's just possible. Then again, o' course, I may be little Georgie, the
gazob, 'n' maybe I'm goat ernough t' gnaw the posters off the 'oardin if
I ain't watched." He looked about to note the effect of this preposterous
supposition, and then warmed up. "But, all the same, Ned, I'm bettin'
twenty t' five in quids O'Brien does Scorcher up inside seven rounds with
two-ounce gloves. Come, now!"

"G' out," snorted the other; "you don't know boxin' from dominoes. Get
back t' the socks."

Benno grew rash. Money was nothing to him. "I'll make it a 'undred t'
twenty," he said, "'n' arrange the match meseif. A 'undred t' twenty in
Jimmy O'Gobs. Say what?" He even plunged his hand in his trousers pocket,
where lurked three and fourpence and a bone stud. "Is it a bet?" he
asked, defiantly.

"My name ain't Chirnside," growled the youth, quite over-whelmed. "I
ain't got twenty ticks."

"Then get 'em 'n' pull the string," retorted the clerk. He looked about
him magnificently. Several people were regarding him with marked respect.
Benno exulted. He felt that he was being mistaken for a bookmaker.
"Listen t' the oof bird twitter," he said "How does it talk 'em down." He
slapped his pocket.

"What do yo' think of Brophy's chance in the big fight, young gentleman?"
asked the greybeard on Benno's left, with proper diffidence.

Benno looked him over slowly, somewhat superciliously, took out a
cigar-case, and drew out a cigar. It was a somewhat worn and ragged
cigar, and Benno, who was no smoker, had once taken it for a threepenny
shout. It came in handy now. He lit it like a millionaire. Then he
condescended to speak. "If yet wantin' t' pick up good money dirt cheap,
Whiskers," he said, "back Brophy."

"Fer a win or a place?" asked the derisive voice.

Young Mr Dickson felt he could afford to ignore the interjection. "Put
yer plate on Brophy," he repeated, "his chances 're all right. He's got
the quids ez good ez in 'is 'and. Hark to the prophet. I admit the big
feller's strong 'n' game, but what's 'e done?' He looked hard at the old
gentleman, toying daintily with his ragged cigar the while, and repeated,
"What's 'e done?'

"Yes, yes, that's the point," said the greybeard.

"Whereas, look at Brophy," continued Benno for the benefit of the
company, "he's bin through 'em all. He's a bit small fer this, but he's
got the science. He's used t' handlin' big blokes, too, 'n' you just
watch out 'n' see him quilt Mr Rocker Dodd from gong t' beddy-bye. Dodd
won't 'it 'im, he's too shifty. He'll just pelt 'em inter Rocker's
biscuit barrel, 'n' slide out every time the 'eavyweight offers t' pass
'im one."

"Ever seen either of 'em fight?" asked the unbeliever in front.

For a moment Benno was taken back. As a matter of fact, he had not. He
rallied quickly. Have I seen 'em! Have I what?" he retorted. "Brophy's ez
quick ez dam' it, 'n' gets erbout a bit, I'm tellin' yeh."

"I ain't seen Brophy," growled the other, "but this Dodd can shift. He
ain't as slow as a hearse."

"You're comin' on all right, Ned," said Benno soothingly. "When you're
growed up you'll know a bit, I promise yeh, but just now I wouldn't open
me head too wide erbout boxin' iv I was you."

Benno was very excitable and very demonstrative during the other
preliminary bouts. He brandished a notebook and talked in hundreds with
the glibness of a King of the Ring. He even shouted directions to the
combatants, using their Christian names familiarly.

Feathers and the Don, sitting behind, were enjoying themselves immensely.
They refrained from interfering for fear of spoiling "our Mr Dickson's"
flow of skite, and the clerk, in his great exultation, had forgotten
their existence.

But it was when the fight of the night came on that Benno excelled
himself. While the men were in their corners his enthusiasm in the cause
of Brophy manifested itself in a reckless offering of the odds to all and
sundry. He stood on his chair gesticulating over the heads of the
standing crowd, till those behind him howled him down.

Mr Dickson's cheap, dry cigar burst into flame at this point, but that
did not disconcert him. Threats of personal violence he treated with a
cold scornful smile. He hoped he was looking as if he could fight a bit.

In his calmer moments our hero invited the lad with the thick ear to call
on him at his hotel--Benno, it must not be forgotten, lived in a humble
five-roomed cottage with his ma and his sister Amelia--and he would teach
him a few hits that might be useful to him in his dealings with a cruel
world.

In the first round Mike Brophy showed himself a flash fighter, and very
fanciful in his movements. He had a fine figure and feline grace, and was
anxious to display himself in the limelight, and, while he was pouting
his chest and striking attitudes for the benefit of his artistic
minority, Rocker Dodd, who was a hard-headed, lumbering pug with no eye
for the beautiful, swung in a punch a punch that lifted the smaller man
up off his two feet, and dropped him like a bag of scraps.

"On'y a slip!" cried Benno. "He's up agin all right." And so he was, but
looking like a man full of warm whisky suddenly ejected into the cold
night.

Rocker sprang at Mike again, and Mike ducked by instinct into safety
under his enemy's wing.

"What'd I tell you squealed the clerk. "See that? What'd I tell yeh?
Ain't 'e a beaut? Rocker can't 'it 'im. He can' 'it 'im, that's what."
Rocker shook his man off, and punched with right and left, putting a
lop-sided head on Brophy, and then the gong sounded, and a thankful
fighter sank into Mike's corner.

"Ain't 'e a beaut?" vociferated Benno. "Good man, Brophy! It's twenty t'
one on yeh! Twenty t' one Brophy!" cried the clerk, raising his voice.
"Twenty t' one Brophy."

A red-faced, pimply man bobbed up out of the crowd, and pinned Benno with
a fat forefinger. "Done!" he said, "I'll take that, Ned."

"Twenty t' one in quids erbout Brophy!" repeated Benno, flourishing his
pocket-book.

"Same fer me, mister," said a sport with a broken nose, tugging at
Benno's coat.

Several others were anxious to do business with Mr Dickson. "I'll have a
dollar worth in that," said the lad with the thick ear. "Referee's
decision."

Benno was too elated to heed them. He was shouting expert advice to
Brophy's corner, "Give 'im the tow'l!" he cried, disgustedly. "He don't
want no sermons frim you. Wag the washin', blarst yeh!" He turned to the
lad with the thick ear. "Wish I was in his corner," he said.

"Bitter bad mozzle fer Brophy yeh ain't," said the other. "He'd be glad
t' know all you don't."

In the second round Brophy was more anxious to keep out of trouble than
to show his elegant shape, and he sprinted about the ring with Rocker
lumbering after him, punching anyhow and anywhere. Twice Mike was down,
thinking, but that did not damp Benno's ardour.

The clerk was now offering thirty to one Brophy with splendid
prodigality, and there were many takers whom he didn't even notice.

"He'll let the big bloke wear 'imself out, 'n' then he'll dish 'im up on
the arf shell with a taste iv lemon," said "our Mr Dickson".

Presently Brophy was bleeding from a cut over the eye, and had a numbed
nose and a split lip, and Rocker Dodd was wishing the fight would begin
in earnest.

During the next interval Benno was more confident than ever. He said it
was picking up money backing Brophy. He casually offered to lay two
hundred to ten about it, He addressed Brophy like an old and valued
friend, advising him to keep cool and fight his own hand.

Mike tried to make the third round a foot-race, but Mr Dodd was there,
and wouldn't hear of it. He blocked Brophy in the corners, and punched
him, and his punches had all the nervous energy that is in the heels of
an exuberant young pack mule. When they reached Mike. Mike's feet sprang
up, and he struck the boards with the back of his head.

For the fifth time in two minutes Mike was down, and now his better
judgement prevailed, and he pretended to be asleep in order to evade the
responsibility of getting up again. The seconds called him early, the
ten-seconds-check reminded him it was time to be up and doing, but Mike
slept on. It was all over. The referee, in a few terse, epigrammatic
words declared Rocker Dodd the winner.

"Yaha-h, a schlinter!" cried Benno. "A schlinter! A schlinter!"

The red-faced man was working his way towards Benno through the press,
pinning the clerk with that imperious forefinger. He took Benno by a
button. "That's a matter o' twenty jim you're owin' me, Ned," he said.

"Ah, scratch!" retorted the clerk. "That wasn't no bet."

The sport with the perverted nose and the lad with the thick ear were
clamouring for an immediate settlement of their claims. Several others,
thinking the bluff might be worth it, put in large demands. The red-faced
man was furious and threatening. He recited terrible things that would
happen to "our Mr Dickson" if he did not instantly hand out twenty
pounds.

The painful nature of the situation flashed upon Benno. He had been taken
too seriously. He went chalk white, his legs wobbled foolishly.

"Bli'me, 'twas on'y a joke," he protested. "I was just talkin'. I ain't
got a bean."

"A blessed welsher!" yelled the red-faced man.

"An infernal gun!" cried the sport.

Twenty hands fell upon Benno. He went down into dark night that was full
of arms and feet and broken chairs, and his only sensation was of being a
mere scrap of himself whirling in the blackness, in which the arms, the
chairs, and the feet continually multiplied themselves.

The packer and Nicholas Don, ably assisted by six policemen, effected a
rescue, and what they rescued was a weary fragment. Very reluctant were
the police to give Feathers charge of it, for it was ragged, dusty,
blood-stained, hatless and battered, and would have been a striking
object lesson in the dock next morning.

However, the packer's eloquence prevailed, and he and Nick took the weary
fragment away with them, wrapped in Nick's over-coat. Without that coat
it would not have been possible to introduce the clerk into mixed company
on a tram, what remained of his clothes being hardly sufficient to
establish identification.

"Well, you're the king cop-out," said the packer, having delivered Benno
into his sister's hands at his own door "If yeh was t' go t' church the
boiler 'ud bust."

Benno answered never a word. His splendid spirit was broken.

SUSIE GANNON'S YOUNG MAN

MISS GANNON made rapid strides in the bag factory. She came to the flat
fresh from the country, a tall, bony girl of sixteen, very angular, all
legs and wings with strangely obtrusive feet, large freckles, and a face
like that of a patient horse. At this time, too, Susie Gannon's apparel
was markedly inadequate. She had grown out of everything, and the
abruptness of her skirts, and the strain upon her jackets, and the
brevity of her sleeves, showed how her parents had been distanced in
their well-meant efforts to keep pace with their daughter's startling
development. The whole effect made an irresistible appeal to the strong
sense of humour in the women of the world dominant on the top flat, and
Susie provoked much merriment for many days.

"Blime, she looks like a shillin' ling wrapped in a penny stamp!" cried
Harrerbeller Harte.

"See yeh got yer old brown--brown, brown--see yeh got yer old brown 'at
on," piped the ex-professional fat girl every morning, when Susie's
bizarre felt headdress appeared above the stairs.

The girls at Spats' were not over-burdened with sensibilities. They did
not scruple to make merry at the expense of the smaller misfortunes and
the little idiosyncrasies of their weaker sisters. The factory had a
peculiar spirit of hoydenish frivolity; it helped to ward off weariness
and break the tedium of a set task. Susie served her time as the common
butt. It was everybody's lot.

In those earlier days Susie was gaunt and timid. She stole into the
factory like a furtive cat. She loved to creep into cover of any kind, to
get anything between her and the ribald pasters--a stack of bags or a
heap of envelopes on a board. She was grateful even for a gas bracket
that she could hang a strip of paper on. But marvellous is the sex's
adaptability; its power of development is wonderful. In two months Susie
was as pert and as self-assertive as the best of them.

Miss Gannon had not been at Spats' many days when she told Kitty Coudray,
who was posing as a sympathetic soul, that she had left a lover behind
her in the country, and Kitty, with a shocking lack of respect for the
confidence reposed in her, instantly communicated the information to the
whole factory.

"What-oh, girls!" she cried, "little Gannon's got a John iv her own."

"What!" cried Harrerbeller Harte in mock wonder. "T' do ez she likes
with?"

"Yes," said Kitty, "'or very own--'ers for keeps. He's a squatter 'r
somethin', 'n' his name's Oliver Thripny, 'n' he'll call fer her with the
fam'ly carriage 'n' pair when he comes into own, 'n' she's goin' t' be
married in white satin shoes 'n' hon blossom. She sez Oliver's got a
noble bearin'."

"So he has," cried Susie defiantly.

"There," said Miss Harte to the pasters, "that's up agen' yeh. There
ain't one iv yeh got a bloke with a noble bearin'."

"He writ her a love letter," continued Kitty when the yells of derision
had subsided, fluttering a slip of paper in the air. "Would yeh like t'
hear it? No, iv course not."

A dozen girls scampered to Kitty's board, and danced about her with
shrill clamour; but Fuzzy Ellis went hopping among them, protesting
bitterly, spluttering threats of fines and dismissal and with the help of
the sullen forewoman he drove the girls back to their boards again.

Kitty Coudray retained the letter, however, and read it to a large
audience at lunch time. It was the love letter of an uncultured youth,
written with dire pains, wonderfully spelt and quaintly worded. Evidently
the opening passage had been borrowed from a tradesman's circular. The
document began: "Dear sir or madam, this is to inform you how I'm still
lovin' you with all me hart." And it concluded: "I have the honour to
remain, yours obedient to command, Oliver Thripny."

Of course the Beauties revelled in the outpourings of Oliver's simple
soul, and Susie whose sense of the ridiculous was as yet but poorly
developed, filled with triumph in the face of the loudly expressed envy
of the girls.

Susie's squatter was adopted by the factory. It expressed unlimited faith
in him. It endowed him with great wealth and superlative personal
attractions, and affected to believe that his love for Miss Gannon, as
expressed in his letters, was a consuming passion beside which the torrid
affection of the ducal hero for the simple heroine in penny fiction was
pale and cold and weak.

George Mills, alias Feathers, entered into the spirit of the comedy with
unaffected joy. He pretended to find in Miss Gannon's equine cast of
countenance a marked resemblance to a popular racehorse, and rechristened
her accordingly.

"'Ella, Carbine," he said, "half a mo'. I want t' whisper. Will yeh put
in a word with the squatter fer me nibs? I'm sick iv this grip; it don't
suit me style. I'm hambitious, 'n' a bloke don't get no charnce t'
improve his social position snatching bags in a measly city crib. What
I'd like would be the management iv a big cattle run where I could spread
meself 'n' develop, 'n' I s'poSc iv yeh was t' put in a kind word with Mr
Thripny it ud be ez good ez done."

"Oh, he ain't got that much land," said Susie dubiously.

"So yeh twitter!" answered the unbelieving Feathers. "Fair dinkum yeh
might use yer influence, Miss Gannon. 'Tain't ez iv I didn't know the
game. I managed a milk run onst, 'n' I've sheared all our own cows fer
years past."

Miss Gannon promised to see about it, raking up the while an abbreviated
stocking, much of the leg of which had been worn out, doing service at
foot.

Harrerbeller bespoke the position of house-keeper, and the
ex-professional fat girl thought she would like to be nursery governess.

The situation was almost forced upon poor Susie, but she certainly made a
game effort to live up to it, and every day her young man in the country
increased in importance, wealth, and manly beauty. Kitty Coudray, who had
Susie's confidence, never failed to inform the factory of the latest
development.

The packer introduced a highly decorative oleograph of a member of the
royal family--a picture of astounding beauty which he hung on the factory
wall, decorated with a frame of tinted papers, and labelled "Oliver".

The Oliver Thripny legend spread through the establishment. Susie met
with elaborate courtesy from the clerks downstairs, and the compositors
were painfully polite. Billy, the printer's devil, was humble, almost
piteous, pleading, cap in hand, for the position of lady's companion for
his dear mother. His mother, he said, had been lady's companion and
confidential friend to all the best families in Paddy's Alley, and if
Susie would engage her in some ladylike office at a prodigious salary
when she married wealth and station, he would be, oh, so grateful. Billy
the Boy wiped his eyes with his cap when he mentioned his mother

Meanwhile Miss Gannon was steadily improving. She was taken from the
folding board and put on to piecework, and she made great progress as a
paster. Her comical, out-of-date garments fell from her, replaced by more
stylish and appropriate articles.

Susie was earning good money, and she made a corresponding development in
her ambition. Oliver grew and expanded. Susie was picking up town ideas,
and she grafted city traits on to her country lover. His letters began to
display some literary pretension. They lost their quaint and captivating
stupidity, and became ponderously correct and stilted. They were full of
fine expressions of love and devotion, wordy protestations, and formal
offers of service. Harrerbeller was quick to note the change.

"Blime, that ain't a love letter," she said. "That's a bit iv parsing."

"Oh. he's 'ighly edjicated, Holiver is," said Susie.

"'N' the 'andwritin's different," said Feathers. "But I he's had 'em writ
be his privit secretary."

The letters became more numerous. Then one morning the ex-professional
fat girl brought in a copy of somebody's "Ready Letter Writer for Young
Lovers", and huddled away in a corner at lunch-time, the packer and
half-a-dozen of the Beauties went through it, and discovered the source
of Oliver's eloquence. Susie was up to page thirteen, and had used every
letter so far. Obviously she had been writing love letters to herself,
and evidently it was her intention to go straight through the book, There
had long been a suspicion that Oliver Thripny had no existence in fact,
and now that suspicion was held to be confirmed; but the conspirators
swore secrecy, and Susie was encouraged to further flights

Susie produced more letters, and eventually a cabinet photograph of
Oliver. She showed the picture first to sympathetic Mr. Mills, and the
packer went into ecstasies with Benno, the clerk, at his elbow, and a lot
of pasters crowded about him, craning to get a glimpse.

"A bloke with arf a neye kin see he's nobly born," said Mills, "'n' iv
yeh don't believe he's a gentleman iv means, there's the di'mond studs t'
prove it, 'n' look at his proud, cold manner, his mock kids, 'n' his 'air
caught back like Padder Whosths, pianner scratcher's."

"'Ow beautiful the man is!" moaned the scandalous Harrerbeller.

"'N' such breedin'!" said Benno. "But what iv the down droopin' yaller
mo?"

"He's 'ad it pulled, yeh chump," retorted the packer.

Mills begged the photograph, and it was hung on the wall with the other
trophies.

"It's a photo iv one iv them beauty actors," the packer told
Harrerbeller, in confidence, some minutes later. "They're a bob a quart
at the fancy-goods up town. Ain't yeh noticed it?"

Miss Harte threw her pasty hessian apron over her head, and squealed with
rapture. "Love a duck! Susie's a treat," she gasped "This is better'n the
wicked lady in the drammer. I'm wonderin' what's next."

The next came one afternoon, when a young man arrived on the top flat
from the front stairs. He was a very diffident young man, and plainly
fresh from the wilds. He took off his hat a he entered, and stood with it
in his hand, with the reverent irresolution some strangers display in
church. He had very large feet, and his trousers were hung too high. So
large were his feet and so heavy his boots that he looked like an
immovable object
standing there before the gaping factory. His hands were large too, and
heavy and very red. His hair was profuse, and his face was covered with a
fluffy down that caught a strange radiance from the sunbeams sloping
through the windows.

The strange young man's clothes were new but curiously cut, and so small
for him that each piece had an appearance of being semi-detached. He had
adopted a tall white collar for this occasion only, and it rode high up
above his coat at the back. His countenance was honest but not
intellectual, and his neck very long. He gazed sheepishly about the
place, wearing an uncomfortable grin, and the Beauties gazed on him in
strained silence, awaiting developments.

"Get on t' it," said Benno. "It's lost its mother."

Feathers looked with great interest. "Looks a bit like a goose with ears,
don't 'e?" he said.

The stranger found tongue. "Please, does Miss Gannon work here?" he
asked.

A whoop of delight welled from the pasters, and a dozen brushes pointed
to Susie's board, but Harrerbeller Harte intervened. She confronted the
young man, and bobbed with a ridiculous curtsey.

"What name, if yeh please, sir?" she said.

"Oliver Thripny."

There was another whoop, louder, longer, more ecstatic than the first,
but Harrerbeller disregarded it. "Yes, sir," she said. "Walk this way, if
you please sir!" She led him between the boards, with a ridiculous
affectation of the manners of a shopwalker. "Nice weather we're 'avin',
sir," she simpered.

"Beautiful, Miss, thank you, and how's yourself?" stammered Oliver.

This broke up Harrerbeller's gravity and she had only strength to point
Miss Cannon out before collapsing. But the factory had hurriedly composed
itself to enjoy the encounter between Susie Cannon and her young man.

Susie had been almost petrified on the discovery of Oliver standing hat
in hand in the gangway. Now she was working at top-speed, with averted
eyes and her face scarlet with the conflict of many emotions. Evidently
she was taken wholly by surprise, and the drop from the ideal to the real
left her in a state of utter confusion. Oliver came awkwardly to her
board, hat in hand still.

"Hello, Suze," he said, "how're you doin'?"

Susie turned up her Roman nose and closed her eyes in an expression of
scorn, and continued her work. Oliver raised his voice, "How are you,
Suze?" he said. "I said I'd conic after you."

Susie, with eyes still closed and nose still elevated, turned to him for
a moment, and said contemptuously: "What yeh givin' us? I don't know yeh
from a ding-bat!"

The young man was astounded. "Don't ' know me, Suze?" he gasped.

"Why, I'm Oliver--Oliver Thripny."

'Phew!" said Susie, intensifying her scorn.

Oliver's situation was a very painful one. He gazed piteously about the
room, as if seeking corroboration.

"Oh, go on, you know me all right," he pleaded. "I on'y come down lars'
night, 'n' I thought you'd be glad t' see me."

"Phew!" repeated Susie, accenting her contempt to the utmost.

"Well, I'm bloomin' well jiggered!" said Mr. Thripny, helplessly.

The Beauties were moved by some small promptings of compassion.

"Garn, 'ive the lad a show!" said the fat girl.

"It's Oliver the squatter come t' claim his bride," pleaded Kitty
Coudray. "Kiss him pretty."

"'Tisn't!" squealed Miss Gannon, with a sudden access of fury. "'Tisn't!
'Tisn't! 'Tisn't!"

"Oh, crikey," murmured the astounded bushman, "that'll tell you. Says I
ain't Oliver Thripny. Crikey!"

"You ain't," cried Susie, "you know you ain't. You're a himposter. It's
forgery, that's what it is. The p'lice orter be sent fer."

"Crikey,!" said the helpless Oliver, "I wouldn't 'a' believed it. Oh, I
say, Suze, have a good look at me."

"I won't," said Susie. "Go away. You ain't a bit like."

Then Oliver invited the bursting of the storm. Appealing to Harrerbeller
in his amazement he blurted: "There, that'll tell you the difference good
clothes makes in a bloke."

The shriek that followed welled from thirty throats, and befoe the
beauties had recovered from their paroxysm of mirth Oliver had fled down
the stairs. In the language of the flat Susie "got nothing" for the next
hour or two. As the pasters worked they exercised their ingenuity in
reminding Miss Gannon of what a had lost.

"No more garding parties et Gov'ment 'Ouse fer you, me lady," said the
fat girl.

"Wot price th' opera 'n' the fam'ly jewels?" said Hareerbeller. "They've
a blue duck fer Susie."

"Now, who'll drive yeh in a brougham 'n' pair, 'n' spatter yeh with
di'monds?" asked Kitty.

"Fame, fortune, lux'ry, 'igh society, all gone," said the packer. "She
might iv 'ad mullingatawney soup 'n' hice cream fer dinn every day. 'n'
swelled it with the best, but she done in her chances in a fit iv pick."
Feathers meant "pique".

But the factory had not seen the last of Oliver. He came up the stairs
again at about five o'clock, and turned to pull something after him. He
helped a short, fat, red-faced female to the flat. She was about
forty-five, and she cuddled a large umbrella, and faced the pasters like
a startled horse.

"Now,' cried the bushie, "I am Oliver Thripny, and here's mother to prove
it!"

The "hoy" that greeted this announcement disturbed the whole
establishment. Mid the laughter and badinage Susie escaped, and
entrenched herself in the dressing-room.

Boldly Mrs. Thripny confronted the storm. The climb had robbed her of
breath, but she brandished her brolly in the face of the factory. The
pasters' demonstration was regarded by her as one of open enmity,
whereas, as with most outbreaks amongst the hands, it was mere devilment,
without a shadow of malice. A scampish craving for diversion inspired
such displays. The Beauties were not tender souls themselves, and did not
look for supersitiveness in others.

Mrs. Thripny grew redder. Her redness merged into purple. She hurled
thunderbolts at the laughing hoydens from the end of her fat gamp.

Oliver retired before the storm, and stood trembling at the head of the
stairs. Not so his nuggety mother. She advanced, gasping, full of heroic
wrath, and then she burst into language. It was a torrent, a Niagara. The
woman tumbled great lexicons on the heads of the girls. Her shrill voice
penetrated to the offices. It brought Spats and the junior partner to the
top flat. They found Mrs. Thripny "going strong", and the dusty foreman
nervously skipping round just beyond the orbit of her umbrella, excitedly
but piteously pleading for peace.

The lordly proprietor thundered orders, but Mrs. Thripny lunged at him
angrily, gripping his belltopper, and continued her speech.

Exactly what the woman said nobody knew, but she said a tremendous deal,
and nothing was complimentary to Spats or the staring hussies, stunned by
the downpour they had precipitated.

Mr. Duff, the junior partner, intervened, and it was quaint to see his
timid overtures, but a prod in the ear from the raging gamp put him out
of action.

Then the diplomatic Feathers took a hand. Feathers was a mere packer and
something of a larrikin, perhaps, but in an emergency he was the wise man
of that establishment.

"Garn!" he cried, addressing the factory generally, "le' the poor woman
be, carn't yeh? 'Ave a bit iv manners if y' are fact'ry rats. It's dead
hookety if a decent married woman's t' be abused 'n' hinsulted 'n'
treated no better 'n' a Chow. Switch off, carn't yeh? Yeh might be decent
people yerselves some day."

Mrs. Thripny, who was now breathless, fell back beside her ally.

"Don't ye know a lady when yeh see one?" asked Feathers indignantly.
Then, addressing Oliver's mother, he said: "You put it down t' their
ignorance 'n' bad bringin' up, Mrs Thripny."

He soothed her with deferential words, and an air of vast respect, and in
three minutes she was under perfect control. Before she left she invited
Feathers to tea on Sunday.

The packer assured Oliver's ma that nobody doubted the authenticity of
Oliver, and there was no intention to question his legitimacy. This was
Mrs. Thripny's sore point. He said he would send her a written apology,
signed by the proprietor and all the employees, and she departed after
the boy, quite satisfied. Feathers called innocently over the stairs:

"Mrs. Thripny, may I bring mother with me on Sunday?"

Six months later, when Susie's squatter was almost forgotten, Susie
startled the factory with the announcement of her forthcoming marriage to
Mr. Thripny.

"He's sold out his selection 'n' bought sand drays. He's makin' his five
quid a week," said Susie, proudly.

"What!" ejaculated Feathers; "are yeh his special agin, 'n' after the way
yeh dogged on him?"

"Oh," said Miss Gannon, "he could see all along that was on'y my joke."

"Could he?" answered the packer. "A wise gazob is Oliver--yeh can't kid 'im!"

THE RIVALS

JINNY BITT-known as Thripny-was going on for sixteen, too tall for her
age and her width and her wearing apparel. Her shins were so thin they
seemed to have a cutting edge, and there was too much of them visible,
although the frayed, stained and faded skirt was let down so far in the
hope of covering the deficiency that a wide gap existed between it and
the skimpy body part of her costume, where a quantity of dun-coloured
underclothing protruded. Her arms, too, were long and thin; so was her
neck. The long, thin arms came far out of her tight sleeves, always worn
at the elbow and torn in the armpit. The long, thin neck was surmounted
by a very small head decorated with pale, drab-tinted hair that had been
cropped within the year, and was now about a span in length, and amenable
to no kind of treatment. It writhed like shrivelled pea-pods, and Miss
Bitt thought it was curly.

Jinny wore a bit of stale red ribbon awkwardly knotted in the middle of
her swan-like neck, but she was not a girl who put forth any pretensions
to style. Her boots were heelless, and their symmetry had been destroyed
by bigger feet. Her stockings had many holes. The hat she wore had been a
"gem" in its day and generation, but most of the rim was nibbled off by
the rats and cockroaches abounding on the factory flat, and its only
ornaments were a bootlace and a large brass button. Miss Bitt might have
picked up a better hat any day anywhere, but she seemed cheerfully
unconscious of this one's imperfections.

"Thripny looks ez if she was painted on elastic, 'n' then stretched,"
said the packer. The description was apt.

Coffee Morgan was Miss Bitt's cobber. She was a girl of about the same
age, shorter, and fleshy in an unhealthy way. She owed her nick-name to
her prevailing tone. Her hair might have been bright red under more
favourable conditions, but she oiled it liberally, and it collected the
factory dust and assumed the tint of ground coffee. Her complexion was
like coffee milked, and her disposition was morose.

Miss Morgan dressed rather better than Miss Bitt, but the Beauties soon
discovered that her new dresses were always made of second-hand material,
and her latest hats were at least a generation too old for the girl, and
had evidently come down to her after seeing long service. From the fact
that all her dresses were coffee-coloured, the Beauties rashly concluded
that her grandmother was a "Beardie," a brown sect closely allied to
Quakers.

Nearly all the Beauties paired off. Their mateships were close,
affectionate, and to some extent secretive. Once the alliance was formed,
and while it lasted, the two friends seemed to cherish identical tastes,
appetites, and desires. The characteristic is not peculiar to factory
hands; it is noticeable in a young ladies' seminary. This intimacy of
Thripny and Coffee Morgan was more quaint than another, because of
Thripny's length and leanness, and Miss Morgan's shortness and
shapelessness, and for the reason that Thripny had the ungainly
sprightliness of a half-grown Newfoundland pup, while her cobber was
slow, weighty, and depressed in manner. Miss Bitt was shrill and voluble;
Miss Morgan talked little, and then in a low, mumbling tone, and with an
aggrieved air, as if resenting the task.

The two were typical of the younger hands from the slum suburbs. They
served in the lower branches of the game, and were still novices. With
experience and increase of income would come something like a sense of
decorum, and a passion for fine raiment and brass bangles; but as yet
Thripny was an undisciplined rapscallion of a girl, street-bred,
unconscious, and with no more restraint than the unowned, shambling,
jubilant mongrel you may see brazenly claiming acquaintance with elegant
young ladies in public places.

Turned loose from Spats's, Thripny tore down Egg Lane, her bony knees
tossing up her sparse petticoats, her left hand hitching some detached or
displaced portion of apparel, her right clutching her battered sugee crib
basket, her scrap of a hat dangling from the bootlace, one end of which
she always chewed as a precaution against high winds or casual mishaps.
Now and again she might look back in her wild career and shout: "Come
'long, Mordie, here's er jinker!" And Miss Morgan, a bad second, would
paddle behind, displaying no manner of interest in anything.

The grease-grimed lads at the egg, ham, and butter market looked out for
Thripny, and whooped at her as she passed. The grimier young men in the
potato depot assailed her with joyful badinage. Miss Bitt's troubles-she
was bent on catching the first jinker or lorry for home at the Port and
had time only for a breathless "Ga-an, get work!" which was no more than
the civilities demanded.

If it happened to be a timber jinker Thripny dashed at the protruding
beam and scrambled astride, excited and voluble, shouting encouragement
to Miss Morgan as the stout girl made clumsy efforts to follow suit. At
the rope works they were joined by four or five congenial spirits of
their own age, sex and station, and so, triumphantly, with legs a-swing,
squealing jubilant impudence at all sorts and conditions of men, the
Pagans rode home.
The way to work in the morning was enlivened by frequent encounters with
jocose young milkmen, raucous sand carters, and whimsical butcher's
assistants. Strange though it may seem, it is nevertheless true that no
driver of a milk-cart could pass Jinny and Maud without shouting at them
some terse sentiment, the humour of which lay in its gratuitous
insolence. Thripny usually responded for both with a shrill yell:
"A-a-a-h, 'ave it stitched!" or, "Hi, where yer goin' wi' the bones?"

The uninitiated might have thought the greeting and the response bitter,
even vindictive. They were nothing of the kind. Often they were the
preliminaries to an amorous friendship, and led to votive plates of hot
peas and sociable rides in the swing-boats at the gay market on
Saturdays.

Coffee Morgan and Thripny worked close together at the same board, and
when not working they were linked together in an awkward embrace. They
were the closest cobbers the factory had known, and yet Maud was never
anything but sullen and depressed, whereas the factory often revolted
against Jinny's joyful melodies because of their "damnable iteration." It
needed Maud's warning growl: "Chuck it, Thripny!" a dozen times a day to
repress her musical exuberance.

Then, one morning, Miss Bitt came in alone. "Gor bli!" said the packer,
in amazement, "bin a funeral in the family, er what?"

"Speak t'cher equals!" said Thripny, with none of her usual vivacity.

Coffee Morgan came later, looking more morose than ever.

"Split partners, hev yeh, Corfee?" said the packer. "S'pose the dark
man's come between yer?"

"Give yeh swipe cross the jore!" mumbled Miss Morgan.

At their board the pair worked in silence, as far apart as possible.
Thripny had no inclination to sing; she was ill at case. Maud's face was
set sourly over her work, and she never raised her eyes. The Beauties
were inquiring and derisive, and Jinny, who had hitherto done all the
barracking for herself and Maud, and had always been effective in retort,
was silent now. So matters remained till the afternoon, when Feathers
intervened.

"It's like this," said the packer addressing the factory, "Mord saw 'im
first, 'n' Thripny's bin 'n' pinched him. No wonder Morgan's givin' 'er
brusher-he's the pride iv the habbattoirs, ain't he, Mordie?"

Coffee Morgan was slapping paste all over her work, and her small,
"greenery-yallery" eyes were turned up vindictively.

"Don't have him on yer thinker, little sister," continued Mills, with
much sympathy, "he ain't th' on'y sardine in the tin. Put on yer spring
millin'ry, 'n' get out after a squatter, why don't yeh?"

At this point Coffee Morgan's feelings became too many for her. She
uttered a piggish scream of fury, and darted at Thripny. Clutching her
bunch of short hair with one hand Maud smote her cobber of yesterday
about the face and head with her paste brush, and then, dropping the
brush, got at her with the Beauties' favourite weapons, and scratched
like a burrowing terrier.

Borne back against the board, slightly off her perpendicular, Thripny was
quite helpless against the fury of her small enemy. She seemed overcome
with a great amazement, and stared with wide-eyed, stupid surprise, while
Miss Morgan scratched, and tore, and punched. Jinny Bitt's astonishment
was so comical that, tragic as the incident was, the unfeeling Beauties
laughed aloud.

The packer went to the rescue, and struggled with Coffee Morgan, while
the lean foreman, in his excitement, endeavoured to walk through two
pasting boards, and fell three times in ten yards, hastening to quell the
riot.

Jinny and Maud were put to work at separate boards. The former did not
recover from her surprise for twenty minutes, and then she started to
cry, and wept long and bitterly, and her tears ran down the furrows Miss
Morgan's nails had made.

During the following three days Jinny continued silent, and Maud
vindictive. There was something of triumph in Jinny's air, however, that
excited Maud beyond bearing. Five times she rushed Jinny with the
intention of inflicting liberal bodily harm, but Maud was nowhere in a
race with Thripny.

The factory was enjoying itself, but the lean foreman was thrown into
pathetic distress of mind. Spats's was short-handed. If Fuzzy Ellis
sacked a girl the authorities below would bound on him, and break his
heart with duplicated abuse; and, on the other hand, if knowledge of the
disturbance above came to the powers below, they would unite to abase and
abuse him. That was what he was there for. Several stout pasters were
posted between the foes to intercept and overcome Coffee Morgan when
wrought too far by silent contemplation of her wrongs.

On Monday morning there was a new development. Maud came upstairs
smiling, actually smiling. The Beauties squealed, Feathers cried "Wow!"
and the town traveller collapsed on a stack of bags. Maud had not been
known to smile even in the old happy days.

Jinny Bitt came up a few minutes later. Her eyes were red and swollen,
and she was the picture of misery. The Beauties greeted her with a shout
that broke her up, and, mopping her tears with the front of her jacket,
she bellowed dismally on her way round to the changing-room.

There was a silence of seven minutes, and then a yell announced the
outbreak of hostilities. The packer rushed, but was just too late.
Thripny had struck Maud on the head with the hot, iron pasteladle, and
Maud was thinking it over on the floor.

Now, the difficulty was to keep Jinny Bitt off Coffee Morgan. Jinny, as
the turned worm, was much more ferocious than Maud had been. She had a
tongue, too, and before noon the factory had Maud's history, and the
history of Maud's mother, who, it appeared, once cleaned skins at a
sausage mill, and of Maud's father, who had to be treated in gaol for a
morbid habit of gathering bags of hens from other people's roosts at
unseemly hours.

"'N' she cracks she's someone, 'n' wears asylum 'and-me-downs!" squealed
Jinny. "What price pauper 'ats frim the Ladies' Beneverlent? Anyone kin
put on dog when they cadges their rags frim a bloomin' institoot."

Coffee Morgan plied her nimble fingers, mumbling sourly all the time,
only an occasional word or two like "scrougers," "sooer rats," and "low
commonies" being articulate.

"I'll fight yeh," yelled Thripny defiantly. "I'll take it outer yeh, any
day. Come 'n' 'it me now, 'n' y'll cop yer doss in the Morgue."

Maud mumbled on, but kept out of range. Thripny's demonstrations had
cowed her.

"So yeh loored him back with yer pretty ways?" said the packer to Coffee
Morgan at lunch-time.

"How yer talk!" growled Maud.

"The Pride's true t' yeh after all. 'Come back,' sez you, ''n' all will
be fergot 'n' forgave, 'n' no questions arst'; 'n' now he's yours for
keeps."

"The lad what's keepin' co. with me ain't got no use fer scrags, if
that's what yer song's erbout," said Miss Morgan, almost pertly.

Maud paid dearly for her triumph. Jinny harried her in the factory with
hard blows and bitter speech, and she hunted her all the way home in
pursuit of her vengeance. The sight of Thripny tearing down Egg Lane
after her enemy was a new joy for the lads at the butter mart and the
potato depot, and the "hoys" that resulted startled the town.

But another change came within a week. Jinny bobbed up on Friday,
radiant.

"'Twiz all a mistook," she said joyfully to Feathers. "He's true t' me.
Coffee's gone t' the tip."

"Bli' me," said the packer, "Ned's a bit shifty, ain't he?"

"Oh, we're pets now, me 'n' him. He's arst me t' Snadger Halligan's
darnce nex' month."

For four days Maud was terribly depressed, and Jinny crowed over her
without pity. Once Miss Morgan threw a ladle of hot paste over Thripny,
and once the pair fought a destructive two-minute round in the lift
corner, but there were many changes before Snadger Halligan's dance came
off. Coffee Morgan came into her own again, and was deposed again. The
fluctuations of feeling wrought by the mysterious unknown awakened a
hilarious interest amongst the Beauties, and the first question every day
was "Who's got him this mornin', Thripny?" Through it all Maud and Jinny
remained bitterest enemies.

Thripny was in possession of the vagrant fancy of the much beloved, and
Snadger Halligan's dance was only two nights off. Which would have him
for the "darnce"? The Beauties were much concerned, and betting was rife.
Feathers was making a book on the event.

It was at lunch time. Feathers was sitting on his own bench, finishing
his bundle, when an unknown came up the stairs. He was an under-sized,
bullet-headed youth of about twenty-four, "ez plain ez a bottle iv
pickled mussels," said the packer to his friend, the town traveller, "'n'
look-in' like the cockie talker from a tuppeny push. He was jist erbout
class ernough t' be a roustabout et a trainin' stable fer dogs, 'n' he
'ad the sting-proof cheek iv a Scotch auctioneer."

The stranger stopped at the top of the stairs, put his hands to his
mouth, and uttered the familiar call of the early morning milkman. That
identified him. Then he turned to the packer, and said:

"Got a tom name iv Bitt workin' 'ere erbart, ain't yeh?"

"Supposin'?" said the packer, with his mouth full.

"Oh, she's one of mine, tha's all."

"What-o, Billy-be-dam'd, are you it?" said the packer.

"Come orf, I'm no it," answered the lad. "I'm somethink."

"Yer dreamin'," scoffed Feathers.

Thripny had heard the call. She approached diffidently.

"Ello, Danny," she said. "Who'd' 'a' thort?"

"'Ere's ther bit o' stick," said Danny to Feathers, and then he took
Jinny aside, and for a few moments they talked in low voices, but with
increasing feeling, and from over bales and round stacks the Beauties
tittered and giggled at the prize boy who had kept Thripny Bitt and
Coffee Morgan at deadly enmity for a month past. Maud stood at a little
distance and glowered. It was presently seen that Danny and Miss Bitt
were not agreeing too well.

"It's orf," said Danny; "I thort I'd tell yeh it's 0 double F orf. This
is the chuck fer yow, Sticks. I'm otherwise engaged fer the future. Yeh
got smoogin' up ter Gopher Eddie at the Blondin, Chewsdee, 'n' that's the
last quarter. It's me takin' Little Bilk-street ter the darnce at
Snadger's-Bilk-street! Put it in yer book. No more fact'ry rats for
Danno." This was hurled at Maud, who was edging up. Dan threw out his
hand, edge on, and wreathed lip and nose contemptuously. "No more rats,
d' y' 'car? Both o' yeh, when yer meets me next, 'll get brusher. "

Dan had turned at the top of the stairs to deliver the last salute, and a
tornado of discarded lunch struck him, and blotted him out. The Beauties
considered "fact'ry rats" an offensive phrase.

"Bilk-street!" gasped Thripny.

"It's Liz Bricky," mumbled Miss Morgan.

Thripny flew to the balusters, and yelled abuse after Danny. Danny
responded in kind as he passed down in a shower of scraps. Mills gave him
"the order" most offensively.

"Gar-r-ut, cat's milk," cried Miss Bitt. Wouldn't be seen with your sort
at a bottle-oh's garding party."

"Scrouger! Scrouger!" mumbled Coffee Morgan, spitting after the
retreating lad. "Who bit the pig?"

"Ever speak t' me agin 'n' y'll cop out," said Jinny. "I'll put the John
on ter yeh, that's what."

"Cat's milk! Cat's milk!" said Maud, sullenly. She was not audible five
yards off, but wished to keep her end up.

Jinny had the last words, a triumphant yell covering Dan with odium as a
stealer of door mats.

"Now yiv done yerselves in, both iv yeh," said the packer. "Hensforth,
Danno's on'y a cherished mem'ry. Bilk-street's got him clinched."
"Our trubs!" answered Thripny, with terrible scorn. She wound a long,
thin arm affectionately around Maud. Maud responded in kind.

"Don' want nothink t' do with low larrikins like Danno, we don't,"
mumbled Miss Morgan, and the two went down the room, linked lovingly. The
entente cordiale was restored.

THE MAN-EATER

FEATHERS christened her the Man-Eater. The implication was that Porline
was the counterpart of the devilish adventuress in the popular melodrama,
who consumes men with undiminishable appetite. Porline was small, and so
thin that her whole osseous structure stood out like a skeleton in a bran
sack; she was ugly, and no longer young; her mere wisp of hair was drawn
tight into a tiny knot at the top, augmented with scraps of black ribbon;
she had deeply-sunken beady, black eyes, and her complexion, indeed, her
whole binding, was leathery.

There was a painful cheerfulness about Porline, an inexcusable
skittishness that might have hurt finer sensibilities than those common
in the bag factory. She made an affectation of being a devil of a fellow,
which, taken in conjunction with her manifest disabilities, was quite
pitiful, but the hands did not see it in that light.

Her name, Pauline Streeton, would have been a jarring note in the factory
if it had been used there, but to Spats' Beatties she was always Porline
or The Man-Eater, and Porline took no exception to the nickname; on the
contrary, she accepted it as a compliment to her fatal powers of
fascination, and even strained a point to live up to it. Although she had
been in the factory some years, nothing was known of Porline's home life,
but because she had little slang, and spoke fairly correct English--a
thing generally condemned by the Beauties as a beastly affectation--it
was whispered to all new-corners that the Man-Eater's family had been
somebodies. One romancer in a burst of recklessness asserted positively
that Porline's father was an Inspector of Police, but the factory held
that there was a medium in all things, and the idea perished of
inanition.

Porline affected a youthful style in frocks, and her hats had always a
misplaced jauntiness; her feathers were higher than any other girl's, and
particularly vivid, and even at work, when the Beauties discarded sleeves
and collars, and all adornment, she loved to flutter bits of cardinal
ribbon, and generally wore a wilted artificial rose of extreme redness in
her sparse hair.

George H. Mills, alias Jud, alias Feathers, the packer, was supposed to
cherish a hopeless passion for Porline. It was part of the poor comedy.
Feathers maintained the pose without loss of interest for some years, and
Porline's archness towards the young man, according to the opinion of the
judicial Benno, was "the sort iv thing t' make er dorg 'owl." She hung
upon him, and turned saucy eyes up into his face, and giggled
heartlessly, remembering her part as the slayer. Feathers had a formula.

"Look at 'er," he would say appealingly to anybody or nobody, "ain't she
ther sort what's fillin' ther river? It's them eyes what does it. S'elp
me Jimmy Jee she's rooned my life! Straight--she's draggin' me down.

Then Porline would laugh coquettishly, and skip away to her work. But she
was lavish of her attentions, and wasted no little time at Benno's desk,
trying to bewitch him too.

"What I wonder when I see you is that there ain't more unhappy homes,"
said Benno. "Porline, I'd 'a' bin er better man iv I'd never set eyes on
yeh."

Billy the Boy, on the next flat, murmured with deep feeling: "Oh you
little devil!" as Porline went gaily downstairs. The printers cried:
"Chase me, Charley!" or affected a great concern about mythical
appointments, and the clerks in the warehouse, if the eagle eye of Spats
was not upon them, sighed deeply as she pranced in or out, and addressed
poetical raptures to the rafters Whereat Porline smiled roguishly upon
all, and accented her girlishness of manner. She did everything with a
girly air that became grim burlesque in comparison with her years and
infirmities. Porline even tried her kittenish graces on the foreman, and
had once looked bewitchingly at the fat proprietor himself. Spats backed
before the glance like a man menaced by a python, pulled the lift rope
with a perk, and shot into the depth, whence he almost immediately sent
an order demanding Porline's instant dismissal. She was saved by Ellis,
who assured the "gov'ner" of her harmlessness, and the more cogent fact
that she was one of the most profitable hands in the factory.

Tim Moore came to the flat one morning in the capacity of assistant
packer. He was a shy young exile of Erin, new to Australia, and the
Beauties overwhelmed him. He worked with his back to them in a state of
nervous apprehension, and it was noticed that he had not lifted his eyes
to the ribald hussies at the pasting boards in a whole week. Porline
showed no respect for Tim's native reserve, however, but beset him with
artful wheedling, like the sly minx she affected to be, and poor Tim
cowered before her attacks. The woman's audacity, her boniness, her
desiccated charms, and her ridiculous pretensions in the matter of hair,
threw him into a sort of helpless amazement.

Feathers was the first to offer a kindly word of warning.

"Yer a young man," he said, "n' yeh ain't got no mother to advise yeh.
Take my tip--pluck her out iv yer 'eart." Tim cast a look of alarm
towards Porline's board, and the packer dropped his voice to an
impressive whisper. "We call her ther Man-Eater," he said. "She'll bring
yeh sorrer 'n' disgrace. Buck up--tear her himage from yer breast."

An hour or two later Benno, primed by the packer, drifted from the room,
and loitered at Tim's bench.

"So," he said gloomily, "you're to be her new victim. That's like her,
castin' her devilish wiles over ther young an' ther fair. We've all
yielded to her fatal fascination; her path is strooed with ruined lives.
Well, well, iv ther worst comes t' ther worst, don't say I never done me
juty by yeh."

Tim's uneasiness developed into a sort of superstitious awe. He watched
Porline's comings and goings out of the corner of his eyes, with a
pathetic trepidation. In the afternoon, Goudy the town traveller, when
upstairs picking out an order, led Moore behind a stack of ba1es His
manner was full of mystery.

"She's a siren," he said. Moore did not know what a siren was, but he was
impressed. "I've got sons of my own, and think it only right to speak ere
it is too late. Let her get a hold upon you, and--"Goudy left the rest to
Tim's imagination, but his gesture was eloquent of desolation and
despair.

Two hours later Tim stole over to Feathers. "D'ye mind tellin' me what's
a sireen, at all?" he said.

"It's one iv them things that sings and sucks yer blood," answered the
packer, with the readiness of an expert.

"An' I t'ought 'twas nothin' more'n a bit iv a whistle." Tim allowed his
eyes to turn cautiously in Porline's direction. "Goudy sez she's wan iv
them sireens."

Feathers nodded gloomily. "She's bin the blight iv me young life," he
said.

The joke ended there, for when Tim was missed from the flat half an hour
later, it was found that he had taken his hat and coat, and stolen off.
He did not even return for his pay, and Goudy heard that he shipped West
by a boat that left on the following day. The flight was a triumph for
Porline. "He told me another week iv it, 'n' he'd 'a' bin yours body 'n'
soul," said the veracious Feathers. Benno confided to her that he had
seen Tim passionately kissing an artificial rose she had tossed to him.
Porline's middle-aged diablerie increased, and this success prompted her
crowning audacity. She came to the factory the on following Saturday,
dressed in her gayest, and leading by the hand a child of about three
years of age, a little girl, pretty and fresh as a flower, and
caparisoned like the daughter of a duchess. Spats' Beauties were very
partial to kiddies; they deserted their paste boards in a body, and
swarmed about the child, gushing rapturously, praising its beauty with
longing ecstasies, finding wonders in the tiniest details of its dress,
the blueness of its eyes, and the gold of its hair. Porline lifted the
little girl to the bench, that all might see, and her own weird sapless
ugliness, was in hurtful contrast with the sweetness of the child, but
her little, spotty eyes shone with joy.

"Whose kiddy is it?" asked Martha, the fat girl.

Porline looked round upon them all. "Whose should she be?" she said.
"Mine, of course. She's mine!"

The Beauties, if not particularly keen on morals, were on the side of
conventions in their initial impulses. They drew off a step or two.

"But who's its mother, I mean?" said Martha.

"I'm its mother," answered Porline defiantly. "Pooh!"--she snapped her
fingers like the bad female in the drama--"what do I care who knows? Why
shouldn't I acknowledge my child? I don't give that for your
respectables."

Feathers pursed his mouth and whistled a long tremolo. "Well, iv she
ain't a fair take-down!" gasped Benno. The Beauties did not seem to know
what to do in the circumstances, so they laughed, and drifted back to
their boards, where they made calculations and compared dates.
Circumstantial evidence supported the claim of Porline; amazement
possessed the factory. Nobody would have believed it possible--everybody
said so.

For a time there was some little inclination to hold off from Porline's
kiddy, but the child's winsomeness dissipated all pruderies, and the
hands would have killed it with kindness had not Porline shown herself as
alert and scrupulous as a mothering hen; but the pride she felt in her
child lit her up like an inward light, and she paraded the proof of her
paganism with a flaunting audacity. The news went through the
establishment in a matter of minutes. The printers came up in a
procession to see Porline's "illegim"; the clerks, one after another,
found excuse for a visit to the top flat. The fat, bald ledger-keeper,
bowed his head upon a stack of nine-pound browns, and sobs shook his
frame. The fat ledger-keeper was an instinctive comedian. He had given it
out far and wide that Porline was his secret sorrow. All the men
reproached Porline, mutely, or with the speech of desolated hearts.
Ellis, the dusty foreman, was stunned; hours later he stopped to whisper
to Feathers, with the air of a man who's missed the point of a story.

"Does she mean the young un's really hers?" he said.

"Sure pop," answered the packer. "Hers fer keeps."

The foreman clicked his tongue for half a minute, looking like a mazed
hen. "I been in the thick of 'em here fer more'n twenty-five year," he
said, "an' my opinion is girls is mad more 'r less most times by reason
of the nature of 'em, but I'd never 'a' suspected anythin' o' the like o'
that of 'er."

"I'd never 'a' suspected it iv any man said Feathers.

Having recovered from his great wonder, the packer resumed the thread of
his long joke.

"Yeh might 'a' broke it to er bloke gently, Porline," he murmured
dolefully. "Iv yeh, can't return ther haffections iv one what worships
ther very old slippers yeh work in, there's no call t' go laceratin' his
'eart. Girl, girl, ain't yeh got no 'uman instincts?"

"Oh, fritters!" cried Porline vivaciously.

"Can't yeh be true t' one what loves yeh fer yerself alone?"

"To a dozen," said Porline.

Feathers wiped away the tears with which he had sprinkled hisface in
preparation for the scene. "Leave me t' me grief," he "Let me sorrer make
me sacred."

Porline went off jauntily in her character of the heartless foreign
female out of the third act, and Feathers stole down for his daily beer
like a man driven to it.

After that Porline often brought little Kitty to the factory. The
Beauties made a toy of the pretty child, and presently the astonishment
passed, and Porline's motherhood was accepted without remark. The woman
was an Ishmaelite, she had no relatives to consider, and keeping no
society, was bound to no social observances. How she behaved within the
law was own affair; the factory at least pressed no demands.

One week, about two months after the first appearance of the child at
Spats', Porline absented herself from work three days running. She
returned on the Friday, coming in late, and the factory gasped at the
sight of her. She was changed as if by a visitation, all her jauntiness
was gone, she was hopelessly old and withered, the leathery tan had gone
from her cheeks, and the folded skin was yellow and blotched, her
red-lidded eyes were rimmed with purple--she looked like death in a
feathered hat.

She passed through the girls, without a word, deaf to their inquiries.
The packer's joke died on his lips. At her board she worked fiercely,
wrapping herself up in the task, and the Beauties looked at her and at
each other, and whispered conjectures. Fat Martha worked at the same
table, but it was not till an hour and a half had passed that she dared
put the question that had. been on her lips all along.

"Is--is it somethin' wrong with Kitty, Porline?" she said.

Porline turned on her savagely, raising her brush to strike. "Shut up,
you fool!" she cried shrilly. Her voice sank almost to a whisper.
"Can't--can't you see I'm dying?" Her head fell amongst the paper before
her, and then she slid to the floor, and lay grovelling, and the sobs
that convulsed her beat her face upon the boards until it bled.

The girls rushed about her. Some tried to lift her from the floor, but
she boat them off, and lay there writhing in a passion of grief.

"It's Kitty," she said presently. "My Kitty, my baby, my beautiful Kitty.
They have taken her from me."

"Who, dear?" asked the fat girl, sobbing in sympathy.

"Her mother. I took her when she was a tiny mite, and her own mother was
afraid to have her, and she said I could keep her always, and I paid to
have her nursed, and I dressed her in all the prettiest things I could
buy, and I loved her--I loved her, and she is gone. They have taken
her--my baby! my baby!"

Porline struck her bare hands upon the floor, and lying upon her face in
the dust, abandoned herself to a grief that was tragic--profound as the
human heart--and the Beauties, who caught up emotions as the trees take
the winds, cried over her in a woeful chorus.

Feathers broke away, and staring at Benno, and pushing his hands before
him, he said brokenly: "I'm beat! I'm beat! Fer God's sake come 'n' 'ave
er drink I'm fair beat!"

A QUESTION OF PROPRIETY

THERE was something amiss; the crowded factory room was quick with the
sense of it. A stranger coming up the stairs might have been visited with
a consciousness of the fact that the spirit of mischief was stirring on
the top flat. Spats' Beauties, girls of a kind commonly given to
rebellious and frivolous practices, had preserved for over an hour the
decorum of a superior young ladies' seminary under a Presbyterian regime.

The foreman clawed his fuzzy hair, and showed a cowering back. The quiet
was ominous. Nothing was heard but the whir and whiz of the machines, the
fluttering of busy hands in paper, and a sibilant whispering peculiarly
viperish. Spats' girls did not usually whisper; their ordinary
conversation was shrill and over-bearing, and there were at least eighty
of them, young and old. Factory girls, like those of the ballet, remain
"girls" in defiance of time and the ravages thereof.

"Wha' 's wrong, Feathers?" Billy the Boy, the juvenile rouseabout from
the printers' flat, who had crept up the stairs, thrust an inky stub of a
nose through the battens, and cocked an anxious eye.

"Get t' 'ell outer this!" said the packer, throwing a ball of twine. The
day was oppressive, and the packer's attempt to steal out for a pint of
consolation had been stalled off at the lift door by the boss, and he was
feeling wronged and vindictive.

Billy whipped down on a banister at the peril of his neck, and called
softly upwards:

"Oh, yer love me, Carrie, donteher, spite o' me boil?"

The tone had a tender pathos touched with passion. It stirred the packer
to black wrath. Leaning over the open space by the stairs, he promised
Billy death with barbaric effects. Feathers was liable to boils, and was
also a man of a philandering temperament. The printer's devils were in
the habit of deliberately hearing things in the cellar among the bales
when the girls were being let out after over-time.


Billy was deeply moved; he smeared ink on the rope with which Feathers
swung parcels to the shop flat, and resumed the ordinary evasion of his
duties as a devil.

The majority of the girls worked at square boards on trestles. There was
a heap of paste in the centre of each board, and the piece-workers stood
to their task, pasting and folding at the terraced stacks of stationery
with the dexterity of machines, bare-armed, bare-necked, in slovenly
gowns caked with dirt-colored dough, their tousled hair powdered with the
fibre of the paper. One girl worked alone. There was a drift from her
neighbourhood, but sidelong glances assailed her with accusations; the
tittering that occasionally broke out was all for her ears, and it was
suppressed with a malicious understanding that she would recognise the
suppression to be a measure of consideration extended to a transgressor.

The creature apart was a sallow, freckled girl, with pale hair and sharp
features. She was fully conscious of what was going on-had felt some
symptoms of it working for weeks, but to-day the devilment was pointed
and deliberate. The hot oppression of the top flat had wrought upon the
Beauties, and Annie Mack was sacrificed to the necessity for diversion.
From a purely moral point of view the factory had no particular qualms
about Miss Mack's weaknesses.

There was a sullen stupidity in Annie's face; she raced her work; her
hands flashed along the automatic movements of a set task; the
perspiration ran down her long neck. This energetic action was the only
relief, and the girl's consolation would come in a fat packet on
Saturday, she being a piece-worker.

Benno loitered at the packer's bench for a word. Our Mr. Dickson, it must
not be forgotten, was a superior creature-he reigned on a high stool at a
desk in a top corner near the cutters, piling figures on figures all day
long. He came at nine, after the others, and left at half-past five,
before the others, and had become shockingly lop-eared as a result of his
practice of carrying a long pen behind his ear to assert his dignity.
Benno as a clerk should have held status with the young gentlemen down in
the warehouse if people had their rights.

"They're settin' her nibs t'-day," said Benno, with a sportsman's
keenness, a sidewise convulsion of his features indicating Annie.

Feathers finished a knot with some deliberation.

"Dunno what they're gettin' at," he said. His air was that of a man with
a mild grievance.

"G'out, man! mean t' say yeh ain't took a tumble?" Benno had his own
opinion of such mental denseness.

"No, iv you?"

"Course-weeks ago. Ain't yeh got eyes in yer 'ead?"

A harsh voice barked behind them. Benno fled to his high stool. Feathers
banged his ream industriously, and Odgson, the Gov'ner, otherwise Spats,
snarled and glowered for a few minutes, like an angry dog. Spats was
rarely articulate. After scrutinising his Beauties under the rim of his
belltopper, overlooking the room in the attitude of an avenging Fate, the
Gov'ner drifted down stairs again. He had been disturbed in his den below
by the ominous silence aloft.

Billy the Boy reappeared under the banister, grinning maliciously.


"Copped out that trip, didn't yeh? Up to yeh, too, fer a dead nark." The
"office" should have come from Billy the Boy. Feathers took him on the
nose with a treacherous jerk of the twine ball, and the devil retreated
to the first landing, whence he sent up shrill whisperings to remind the
packer of his lowly birth, and his many defects of character and
education. "Anyhow, thank Gawd, 'twasn't my old mother stole the boots!"
said Billy.

The hush imposed by the great man's presence passed, the voices hissed
again; and Annie bent to her task. Her face was to her enemies. She
increased her pace. She had listened so long, and at such a strain that
now the whole room buzzed in her head like a big bee.

Miss Kruse, the ever depressed elderly maiden, nominally forewoman, felt
the electrical condition of the atmosphere, and, knowing her helplessness
in the face of a combination of the bigger girls, devoted herself to the
kids at the folding-boards, casting sulky, underhand glances at the
others, and wearing the piteous expression of an ill-used woman on her
flat face. Ellis, boss of the flat, who had retired behind his
guillotines, shot his head over the machines every now and again, and
nervously surveyed the room. Being mortally afraid of the girls, anything
like a display of insubordination threw the lathy man into a state of
imbecile distress.

The long day wore on to half-past four, and there was no outbreak. Ellis
prayed for 6 o'clock. With marvellous cunning he had approached Miss
Mack, hinting at illness, and mildly advising bed and a brand of pills
much appreciated in the factory. Diplomacy was Fuzzy's strong point.

"Set a trap in yer 'at, you've got rats!" responded the young lady,
bitterly, and though the foreman revolved for a few minutes agitatedly
expostulating, after that she treated him as something extinct.

Work had been Annie's safety-valve. While running at high pressure she
could contain herself, but now came a break. Her paste was used up, and
to get more she must turn her back to the foe and pass down a long flat
to the corner where the coppers were. She went with resolution.
Simultaneously with her disappearance, there was a burst of uproar in the
factory, loud conversation, calls, badinage, and laughter; the flat
roared with its characteristic babel.

The moment Annie reappeared the racket sank to a sibilant murmuring once
more. The girl walked erect, with tight drawn lips and fiery eyes,
carrying the dipper of steaming paste in her hand. She came to the
packer's bench, where Benno stood talking business.

"Fifty-six iv nine pound brown," said Feathers.

Annie saw the heads together, and suddenly her restraint collapsed. She
turned upon the men, her whole person animate with passion.

"You're a lyin' 'ound!" she yelled.

Feathers got the whole dipper of hot paste full in his face. The stuff
half choked him; it clung in his hair, it rolled down his neck, it
deluged him. He slid down into a pool of it, and blinked up at his
assailant in pitiable amazement, a ludicrous object smoking on the floor,
no longer a man, but a clammy mass.

"An' I never said a word!" he protested weakly. "S' 'elp me, I never said
a word!"

But Annie Mack was otherwise engaged. She flamed upon the factory. Rage
possessed her. She was crammed with hatred, and it flew from her in
language that shot terror into her enemies.

"I leave it t' Benno, there. Now, come, what 'd I say?" cried Feathers,
virtuously pathetic.

"Flamin', blazin' liars!" cried Annie. "You tork about me-you-you! You
orter! A pack o' rats. What're yer gotter say 'bout me? Spit it out!" She
stood with up lifted hands and screamed at them, and then her eye picked
out an individual. "You, Kitty Conroy, call me things, will yeh?"

She dashed at Kitty, and fastened on her like a fury, all claws. "Fight
me, yeh waster!" she shrieked, tearing at the other's hair.

Kitty fought back with spirit. Crash went her board and on it rolled the
combatants, fighting like tykes amongst the paste and the papers. They
clawed, and tore, and punched, screaming incessantly, turning over and
over in the mess. Annie arose from the fray half-blinded, pasted from
head to foot, and garnished with fruit-bags. She rushed into the thick of
her enemies. The girls screamed, and broke before her in terror, and
havoc followed in her wake. She tore down the tables, she filled the air
with paste and myriads of envelopes, storms of stationery broke out
whenever she paused a moment, and the unhappy girl that fell into her
hands was reft of hair and draperies, and blackened with bruises. The
distracted foreman danced on the outskirts of the riot, shedding real
tears, and appealing in heart-rending accents alternately to Annie and to
high heaven.

"Miss Mack! Miss Mack, for pity's sake!" He became valiant in his great
perturbation, and threw himself in Annie's way.

Snatching up a small tub of paste, she smashed it over the foreman's
head, leaving him with a necklace of hoops, and in a smother of his own
composition. In that awful moment, Ellis bitterly regretted his attempts
to improve the consistency of good flour paste with common glue.

Sis Twentyman was the next victim, but she escaped, leaving a wisp of
hair in Annie's hands, and took refuge behind her table, and Miss Mack
chased her round it five times.

"I'll give yeh whisperin' an' tisperin'," cried Annie. "I'll tear the
eyes out of yer monkey face, you pig's sister. What 're you, to go
whisperin' about people? What 're you, more'n a half Chow?" She paused
for breath, and a fierce resolution shone in her eyes. "I'll do yeh,
though! I'll do yeh!"

Annie darted to the dressing-room, and presently reappeared, brandishing
something with the triumph of a scalp-hunting savage. It was Sis
Twentyman's new hat she held aloft-the beautiful confection Sis had
introduced only that morning-the most precious thing in all the world.
"See," cried Annie-"See, you dirty stop-out!" She placed the hat on the
floor and danced wildly amongst the feathers.

Sis uttered a yell of mortal agony, and, heedless of danger, dashed in to
the rescue; but with her foot still upon the crown, Annie tore the hat to
fragments, and flung them in Sis's face, and the two girls fastened on
each other after the manner of cats.

A number of the printers had come to Benno's assistance by this time.
They parted the combatants, and Annie relapsed into hysterics. She was
carried to the dressing-room, and Fuzzy followed after with the Gov'ner,
who had just arrived on the scene, snapping orders.

A quarter of an hour later Annie Mack came forth, clothed in her right
mind, and stole down the stairs. It was understood that she had been
discharged, and her foes were appeased, but order was not restored in the
factory that day, nor the next.

One afternoon, some nine weeks later, Annie re-visited the top flat,
proudly carrying a long-coated baby about three weeks of age. Annie was
gaily dressed, and the infant's gown was worked to a point of
extravagance. The girl smiled cheerfully on all, just as if nothing had
happened, sailing through the room, a vision of happiness. She bore no
malice for the mischief she had wrought. Annie submitted her baby to Miss
Kruse's approval with beaming confidence. Curiosity overcame the others,
and they gathered round to inspect and applaud.

"Ain't he a bute?" said Annie.

"A little love!" said Kitty Conroy.

"The darlin'!" gasped Bell Oliver.

The girls flattered and gushed. Sis Twentyman kissed the baby.

"Course you know I'm married?" said Annie.

"Go on!" cried Bell. "Was that lately?"

"Bless yeh, no!" answered Annie-"a week ago!"

THE HAUNTED CORNER

THE packer was entertaining Pepper Ned, from Whimble's pickle mill, in
the Wharf-side bar. There were threepenny beers and spring-onions lunch,
and the talk had taken a scientific turn, it bore upon molecular
disturbances of the atmosphere, set up by the popular esculent, and the
carrying power of certain breeds of onions, on all of which matters
Pepper discoursed oracularly as an expert. The young man from the pickle
mill was reminded of the pathetic case of one Attic Coutts, a sensitive
soul who had been driven by stress of circumstances and the unfortunate
remissness of his people at Home in the matter of remittances, to take
service at Whimbles and who had become obsessed by onions in the course
of a few weeks. It seemed that Artie was a man whose natural refinement
had survived a demoralizing weakness that sacrificed everything else for
whisky of Scotch extraction, and fate threw him into that department of
the factory where the onions were flayed.

"'N' me lord juke fair stooed in atter iv onyins," said Ned. "Ev'ry one
else got 'ardened t' ther hum iv onyins, but Artie he never cud. It fair
turned him up, 'n' he'd go er pale pea-green when er bunch iv busy girls
got er rush on er ton iv young uns', 'n' th' ink-pink began t' rattle
ther windows, 'n' push ther slates off ther roof. Youse don't know what
ther little pickle onyin's capable of till yev met er ton of 'em stripped
fer bizness in a 'ot room. Artie began t' look like er man with er
settled sorrer after er week of it. 'My Gord! my Gord!' he used t' say,
slappin' his bald 'ead with his two 'ands, 'what's t' become iv me?' 'N'
then he'd sneak er gulp of whisky, 'n' face it agin like a 'ero. I 'eard
afterwards that he got a sort iv idea how he was 'aunted by ther
concentrated hodor iv Whimble's onyin branch. He took it 'ome with him.
It follered him everywhere. He couldn't shake it. He took 't sprintin' in
ther streets, thinkin' t' outrun it 'n' 'ide where it couldn't find him,
'n' twice he was run in fer gallopin wild through ther city without his
'at, 'n' with ther light iv madness in his eye, thinkin' in his addled
'ead how he was makin' er break from ther orful smell iv Whimble's. Then
he took t' shriekin' out iv nights when he woke 'n' found th' 'orrid
hodor in his room, 'n' flier people 'ud find him crouched down in one
corner in his nightie, tremblin' all over, 'n' moanin' erbout ther purple
'n' green smells what was comin' at him down ther chimbley.

"He said they was some nine foot high," continued Ned, "'n' they was
breathin' pestilent fumes on him, 'n' he couldn't get no sleep fer ther
noise they made trampin' erbout in ther 'obnailed boots. Then came a
Sunday when he went out on ther roof in his shirt, explodin' the
lan'lord's gun, 'n' when ther p'lice pulled 'im down, he said he was
shootin' ther big, red onions with livid eyes, what was comin' down in
millyins 'n' millyins t' stifle ther town. They put poor Artie in er
padded cell, but ther smell gave him no peace, 'n he died of it eventual,
sayin' he was--t' 'ell, 'n' 'eli was er pickle fact'ry, jist like
Whinible's, where the scent iv onions without end rolled over ther souls
iv ther damned fer ever 'n' ever, amen!"

Feathers was deeply impressed by the story of Artie. He sipped his beer
with a thoughtful air. "Yes," he said, "I kin understan' that lad bein'
'aunted by a nodor. I've known ther time when I've thort there was
somethin' spooky 'n' soopernatural erbout er pertickler weird 'n'
unaccountable erfluvium, 'n' wasn't ther on'y one, ther whole bloomin'
fact'ry got er bit ratty erbout it, 'n' was thinkin' iv givin' ther grip
brusher, 'n' going' inter Co. with ther unemployed."

The wharf-labourers, and the sailor-men, and the hands from Egg Lane drew
their beer about the packer. Feathers had some reputation as a yarn
spinner. His low-comedy style was popular and it was admitted that with
education and opportunity he might have become eminent--he might even
have aspired to bean an auctioneer.

"Spats' fact'ry's got er bend in it, yeh know, 'n' 'twas round in ther
west corner be ther lift well we first got up agin that 'whoof',"
continued the packer. "'Twas er mos' curious ink:pink sorter
unearthly--ther kinder thing yeh might expect t' biff yeh in ther
feelin's when ther trap lid iv ther bottomless is lifted t' hadmit one
more dead 'ead t' ther pit. For er few days it loitered round there,
gatherin' force, 'n' preparin' fer ther attack, 'n' that part iv ther
buildin' became very unpop'lar. Fuzzy, ther foreman, went down with
reports ev'ry arf hour 'r so, 'n' ther new smell created er good deal iv
talk. His gills would come battlin' down ther flat, full iv bisness 'n'
good intentions, ez he always is, 'n' butt up agin ther new flavour, what
was takin' on fresh developments each day, 'n' he'd fetch up, 'n' sniff
round 'n' round, like er startled terrier, with er new idear erbout rats.
Then he'd claw up his bunch iv cobwebs, 'n' sample her agin. Then he'd
say: 'Seems t' me they's somethin' a bit queer, George 'Enery'; 'n' he'd
paw erbout, 'n' scratch 'n' dig ermong ther stacks iv bags 'n' ther
cuttin's 'n' stuff, more like er terrier 'n' ever. Lummie! I used t'
wonder ther beggar didn't bark."

Feathers moistened his lips with two-thirds of a long-sleever, and Pepper
Ned leaned on his pint, and sighed heavily. The interval between drinks
promised to be protracted.

"Well, them hatmospheric 'ints grew more pointed. 'n' presently they
began t' clamour. They crep' down on ther pasters, 'n' eventual they
raided Fuzzy's end, 'n' drifted out into ther street t' disturb ther
traffic. It was midsummer, 'n' she raised her voice to er yell, 'n' ther
whole fam'ly iv hodors jined in ther chorus. By'n bye she was screamin'
perlice 'n' blue murder, 'n' you couldn't hear a bloomin' iron tank drop
above ther general din 'n' hodoref'rousness. Down comes Fuzzy, 'n' whacks
into it agin, 'n' he gives er sad cry, 'n' drops his bundle, 'n' goes
pluckin' et his 'air, 'n' bedevillin' his whisks, 'n' barkin' his
bleedin' shins over things, 'n' comin' up out iv ther tangle presently,
wet 'n' dusty, 'n' pale ez death, with one 'and pressed on his 'Darby
Kell'. 'n' the other holdin' himself down, 'n', 'George 'Enery,' he sez,
petulant like, 'they must be a leak,' sez he. Er leak! Mother iv Moses!
'twas more like er Niagarer or er barrel iv litherfracture bustin' in er
condemned graveyard.

"'Er leak!' I sez, 'I think 'er whale's gone bad on ther firm's 'ands.'

"'Can't yeh do somethin'?' wails he, more in sorrow than in anger.

"I asked t' be excused fer me old mother's sake, me not havin' a sound
'eart. 'Send fer ther Board iv Health 'n' ther corporation shifters iv
detestable objects,' I sez; 'I ain't no dealer in remains.'

"'Somethin' must be done,' whimpers Fuzzy, very pitiful. 'Somethin' mus'
be done;' 'n' he makes ernother break, 'n' spills over er tub iv paste,
'n' nex' minit he's giggin round ermong ther Beauts, tryin' t' bustle 'em
inter takin' on ther job iv searchin' fer ther disturbin' element, 'n'
removin' it beyond ther city limits. Ther toms bucked like mules. Kitty
Coudray said she was wanted 'ome, th' 'ouse being afire, 'n' Rickards 'n'
nine others guv him er week's notice with their compliments, but some iv
ther wages 'ands took it on; 'n' presently there was er procession iv
pale, sick girls on ther stairs goin' 'ome t' bed.

"Meanwhile, that strange, houtlandish smell was reachin' out 'n'
developin', same ez Goatie's candle mill with ther lid off, 'n' our
foreman was gettin' so worked up he couldn't sleep iv nights. Ther
toadstools 'n' things was growin' on that pale blue hodour in ther
'aunted corner like mussels on er mudbarge, 'n' et this point up comes
his gills, ther junior partner, Duff, come on er voyage iv discovery 'n'
in er spirit iv scientific inquiry. 'Twas his juty t' hinvestergate 'n'
draw up er report. He tried samples from nine points iv view, 'n' then he
looked tired, 'n' withdrew frim ther commission, holdin' affectionately
to his wishbone, 'n' mutterin' like er man in er dream.

"Ther respected proprietor, His Whiskers, was disgusted with what he
called this heffeminate weakness on ther part iv Suety. 'n' he 'eaded fer
ther shockin' outbreak on his own. Bizness was suspended on ther spot,
every eye was on Odgson. He passed me with his 'ead up, 'n' his nose
high, 'n' his cady balanced on ther bridge iv it. He came into collision
with ther thick end iv ther distressin' event unexpected, 'n' it took his
breath erway. He sorter bounced off it. But ther boss is Scotch and
stubborn. He put his 'ead down, 'n' ducked in, 'n' fer arf er minit there
was er catch-ez-cats-can contest 'tween him 'n' ther reek iv after
judgement, 'n' His Whiskers was beat. He come up out iv it, lookin' white
'n' weak, leavin' his bell-topper in ther possession iv th' enemy, 'n' he
leaned 'eavily on my board 'n' breathed hard. Presently he called t'
Ellis in er weak voice, 'n' Fuzzy come stumpin down ther aisle, cryin'
'Yessir! Yessir!' every stride.

"'Huh, dammit all, man, what's yonder?' sez Odgson, speakin' like er man
who's jist done his 'undred yards in ten secs.

'I'm erfraid it's er leak, sir,' stammers Fuzzy.

"'Er leak, yeh idjit!' yells Spats 'Are none iv ther girls missin'? Then
he turns t' me. 'Come back t'night, Mills,' sez he, 'you 'n' Don, ther
carter, 'n' shift those bales. 'Unt it out! 'Unt it out!' I had t' do it
'r resign me grip on ther spot, 'n' blime if he didn't send me in fer his
'at.

"Wot er night we 'ad--Jimmy Jee, wot er night! Fuzzy pegged out after
ther first hour, 'n' ther Don 'n' me shifted bales 'n' stacks, 'n' ate
dust, 'n tainted our himmortal bloomin' souls with the hum of old Tophet,
'n' nothin' come iv it 'septin' ther discovery iv er mysterfyin' noise
wot cud be 'eard when leaned up agin ther wall in ther 'aunted corner. Er
creepy. unaccountable kinder noise, like ther faint, far off tickin' iv
er clock shop. We tried t' track it down, but couldn't. It seemed t' come
outer ther bricks. That was more ghostly than ther smell, 'n' it started
my thatch walkin' tiptoe all over me napper, though I ain't ther man t'
take long odds erbout ghosts happenin' up anywheres 'r anyhow.

"When ther Beauts got onter that mystery tickin' erway in the wall then
ther plot thickened. You couldn't get one iv 'em back, fer night work fer
gold 'n' di'monds, 'n' they shied from ther 'aunted corner in ther shades
iv evenin', 'n' still ther odour grew, so et life wasn't worth livin' up
on ther top flat. There was talks iv er general strike, 'n' er bunch iv
ther pasters interviewed Odgson, 'n' pointed out how they'd wanter be
paid time 'n' er half t' carry on ther firm's bizness in ther
supernatural hatmosphere what was prevailin' upstairs. Neighbourin' firms
was complainin' bitterly, 'n' people was cryin' out in the street, sayin'
Spats' biz otter come under ther head iv noxious trades, 'n' be shifted
out inter ther tannery 'n' glue mill district. This stirred the boss up,
'n' he got in workmen t' punch er hole in ther wall 'n' locate that spook
odour, imaginin' ther queer tickin' might be ther furious smell gnawin'
its way inter ther buildin'.

"Er gang was on ther job for four days, goin' inter ther hinfected arear
in shifts iv short dooration, one man down th' other come on, but, blime,
they discovered nothink. They broke 'oles in ther wall, but ther mystery
never shifted, ther tickin' went on just ther same, 'a' ther erfluvium
become more 'n' more denser. The Board lv 'Ealth was warned be this, 'n'
it come down, 'n' stood round, wearin' little patent respirators, 'n'
lookin' wise, but it couldn't do nothin' towards solvin' ther problem. so
after measurin' ther density iv ther smell with scientific hinstruments,
'n' takin' its longertude 'n lattertude, 'n' selectin' some samples fer
analysis, it went down, 'n' gave Spats legal notice t' have ther tincture
iv fiends removed frim his premises within three days, 'r suffer ther
hextreme penalty iv ther law.

"Well, that smell got inter ther papers. Ther evenin' organ was quite
excited erbout it, 'n' spoke iv it ez er marvellous fernomenon, goin' on
t' say how Spats was evidently ther centre iv some new manifestation iv
natural forces, 'n' callin' on ther Govment t' pass er Act iv Parliament
without delay. Er perfessor writ er wonderful letter, sayin' proberly the
eruption was due t' er earth fissure under ther buildin', what was
lettin' ther fumes iv er suppressed volcaner leak out He said it was er
most curious 'n' interestin' subject, but gor blime. he didn't 'ave t'
live in it!

"Erbout here 'n' now, Apps 'n' Winterbee, ther plumbers, had their
perfeshional curiosity excited, 'n' they come erlong with er offer iv
ther loan iv their boy Sniff et er quid er time. It seems this 'ere boy
Sniff 'ad er gift. He was a hexpert smeller out iv things, 'n' was ther
firm's greatest treasure. Spats was asked t' take pertickler care iv him.
When Apps 'n' Winterbee was called in ter ferrit out er gas leak what 'ad
defied all ther other firms in town, it put Sniff on ther job, 'n' Sniff
was never known t' fail. He was sent inter all sorts iv dark 'n' dusty
places, over ceilin's, 'tween walls, under floors, up channels,
anywheres, 'n' he went gaily enough, like er bally foxie after er rat,
'cause it was his speciality, 'n' he was proud iv his great erbility.
Sniff was what yeh'd call or hinfant progidy, sniffin' out mysteries was
his big hit. 'E was a genius at it, but he didn't look it.

"T' see Sniff, you wouldn' think he was er champion in his class. He was
erbout fourteen, 'n' very small for his age. They kep' him small with gin
'a' 'ard trainin', I think, so's he could creep inter any kind iv er rat
'ole in pursuit iv his callin'. He had er dull eye, 'n' er vacant face,
'n' no chin, his face jist slippin' off where his chin should iv come in,
but 'e had er bonzer nose. He'd fair run t' nose. You never see such er
nose on er 'uman face. 'Twas habnormally over-developed, so t' speak.
Lookin' et that nose, you was sure Sniff wouldn't live long. 'Twasn't in
ther nature iv things he could go on sustainin' sich a snich.

"Sniff was turned loose on ther fact'ry flat, 'n' 'e went over it like er
tradesman. Other folks was turned end on be one gust iv it, but I think
Sniff was 'appy. He was in his helement. He sorter prowled erbout all
ther mormn', gettin' ther lay 'n' drift iv ther varyis currents 'n'
odours, 'n' makin' his plans; but after lunch he got goin', 'n' how did
he 'unt! Nothin' could 'old 'im. He was full iv er sort iv artistic
frenzy, 'n' 'e chased trails with his long nose feelin' ther way before
him fer all ther world like er 'ound after er 'erring. In two hours he'd
run down four gas leaks, three old rats, 'n' two escapes frim ther pickle
mill nex' door. Then 'e got out after ther King odour, but that puzzled
him. He'd come up agin ther brick wall with er bunt every time, then he'd
listen t' ther tick-tackin' fer er bit, 'n' get back on his tracks, 'n'
chase her agin. No use, she alwiz brought him up short agin ther bricks
in ther 'aunted corner.

"After ther fifth run he stayed there, studyin'. He went down ther wall,
'n' up ther wall, 'n' then er glad light broke over him

"'Bring er ladder!' he sez.

"Ther ladder was brought, 'n' Sniff went up it, hot on ther trail. Ther
top iv that wall was jist er wide, flat shelf iv brick, on which ther big
tye-beams rested. Ther roof over-shot it. On this shelf, back agin one iv
ther rafters, was er parcel what couldn't be seen frim below. 'Twas
erbout ther size iv er candle box 'n' ther wrapper was ther tin lining
out iv er case, 'n' this tin was polished like silver with ther paws iv
ther ten thousan' famished rats what had been spendin' ther brightest
years iv their lives, tryin' t' get in. Would yeh believe it, that tin
was tickin' like forty watches, 'n' when Sniff stirred it, you'd think it
was full iv live dried peas, 'n' was rattlin' on its ace.

"Sniff pulled ther tin parcel out, 'n' he let her drop, 'n' she bust open
on ther floor. Boys, I'm done! Here's where I fail. Mother iv Murphy! how
did that parcel fogue! Ther volume iv smell smashed ther winders, it
rattled ther town, clocks stopped, 'n' trams bolted, fire brigades was
called out, 'n' perlice were sent fer in all directions. Ther
hinstruments up et ther hobservatory recorded er earthquake iv great
vi'lence, ther Lord Mare resigned his office, 'n' all ther cats left
town. Shrieks 'n' cries was heard in ther streets 'n' people ran 'n' hid
in ther cellars, thinkin' ther end iv ther world was come. Benno fell
down in er fit, 'n' I had ter drag him frim under be ther legs. I was a
bit ratty meself fer seven days, 'n' beer ain't never tasted ther same
ter me since.

"'N' after all 'twas on'y er cheese, er good-sized, fat, New Zealan'
cream cheese, what some one 'ad pinched frim ther produce stores in Egg
Lane, 'n' wrapped up in tin ter keep ther rats off, 'n' hid on ther top
iv flier wall, till er good charnce come t' mooch with it. I suspect er
lad name iv Creegan--Nipper Creegan--what got ther sudden jerk fer
punchin' ther boss er clinker in ther whiskers. He got fired so prompt he
'adn't time t' shift his cheese, 'n' it was lef' there t' ripen 'n' rot,
'n' set up er storm centre iv cyclonic odorif'rousness what knocked ther
street out iv plumb, 'n' redooced unimproved land values t' nex' t'
nixie.

"Oh, ther tickin'? That was ther cheese mites what bred 'n' mustered in
that cheese, on'y these wasn't mites, they was monsters, 'n' it was ther
tin wrapper what we'd bin hearin' fer weeks. When ther package broke
loose on ther floor, ther ball iv mites bust, 'n' went skippin' erbout
ther flat like er flight iv ole man kangeroos. They was fearsome things
t' meet in ther dark, I'm tellin' yeh, pale, dreadful grubs ez big ez
concertinas, with long grey hair, 'n' no features exceptin' two dead
black eyes. They could jump five yards, 'n' had er 'ide on 'em like er
blonde pig. They was turnin' up, fright'nin' ther paint off ther girls
fer weeks after, 'n' we 'ad t' set rabbit traps 'n' lay poisoned bate for
'em all over ther place.

"Ther remains iv ther cheese was removed be divers in full dress, 'n'
Sniff got ther Ryle Humane Society's medal fer 'erosim, 'n' was rewarded
with er public subscription. There's still er flavor iv that cheese
lingerin' in ther fact'ry t' prove what I've bin tellin' yeh's gorspel."

Feathers lifted up his empty pewter, looked into it, knocked it on the
counter in an inverted position, as if to shake out the dust of dry days,
and then said reproachfully to the Aberdeen engineer off the donkey
engine on the wharf, whose turn it was to "spring": "Blime, cobber, er
yer givin' ther barmaid er per petual 'oliday 'r what?"

A LITTLE LOVE AFFAIR

FEATHERS, the packer, owed his name to a strange set of side-whiskers he
once grew. Over these the feathery paper-dust collected till they looked
like the wings of an adolescent gosling. He soon wearied of the
nick-name, and shaved off his fluff, thinking the insult would pass with
it. He was mistaken. The sobriquet of the foreman, Fuzzy Ellis, had a
similar origin. His dead-looking, reddish hair was as fine as tow; it was
always distracted, and in it the fibrous dust gathered so thickly that
every jerk of his head produced a miniature dust storm.

Fuzzy was a queer bird. Besides being long and lank, he had a prematurely
withered appearance. The white apron that enveloped him gave him
something of the aspect of a wilted candle. His eye had a hunted look
that corresponded with the distraction of his hair; his pinched face
might have been put on his bones with a palette-knife and had the sallow
livery of Spats' factory. It was always moist, as with trepidation, and
from it oozed driblets of whiskers. He was the dustiest man in the world,
and gaunt with everlasting worry. Fuzzy could not be imagined apart from
the factory. He was first to come in the morning, last to leave at night.
Nobody in the firm recollected his beginning. It was vaguely surmised
that he was born in the factory and nourished on its insidious dust and
the paste and gum that over-ran the place and caked on everything. He was
regarded as a fixture; that he had friends or relations was never dreamed
of-he was hardly credited with a soul.

So rooted was this conception of Fuzzy as an inseparable adjunct of the
factory, that Feathers, having proof to the contrary, went to Benno, the
clerk, one Monday morning, feeling like a man about to endanger a
hard-earned reputation.

"Who jer think I seen at the Zoo yes'dee afternoon?" he said.

"Give it up," answered Benno, ruling a line with insolent elaboration.

"Fuzzy!" said the packer.

Benno revolved on his high stool and faced his friend. "Knock it off,
George Henry," he said, appealingly. "You'd be all right iv it wasn't for
the drink. Knock it off, ther's a good feller. You warn't at no Zoo, yeh
know." Then, with a change of tone, he continued: "D' yeh mean t' say yeh
saw Fuzzy out on his own-prowlin' round in th' open like a'uman bein'?"

Feathers assured him of it on his honor as a man and his faith as a
Christian. "S'elp me cat! I did," he said.

Benno surveyed the foreman with a new interest. "After all, I s'pose the
beggar must be somewhere when we're shut down," he said thoughtfully.

Feathers carried the story to the girls, but it seemed probable to them
that he was lying, particularly as Sarah Eddie had been to the Zoo on
Sunday and had seen nothing of the foreman there. And yet the tale was
true. Moreover, Fuzzy, having heard Miss Eddie declare her intention of
visiting the Zoological Gardens, had gone there with the deliberate idea
of exhibiting himself to that young lady in his Sunday clothes, but had
been too timid to carry out his purpose. In the marvellous workings of
Providence it was allotted to Sarah Eddie's destiny to awaken a tender
passion in the dusty heart of Fuzzy Ellis.

Sarah was a large, fair young woman of thirty, stoutly framed, with a
mouth extended beyond all reason and human necessity, good teeth, and a
gummy smile. She had been in the factory some months, and Fuzzy's love
was the mysterious and unhallowed growth of a moment. Sarah, with the
mercenary object of securing the most profitable work, had beguiled him
with her Ethiopian grin and glances of matured coyness, and when the
foreman's hand pressed hers, as he placed the work on her board, she
giggled affectedly.

"Oh, Mr. Ellis, you are a one!" she said.

In the words of Benno the wise, "It took like a vaccination." Fuzzy came
up the room with a stunned look in his eyes, and the expression of a man
who had committed himself irretrievably. He offered no more advances for
some days, and then, after hovering about Miss Eddie's board a dozen
times during the morning, he made a rally, and, placing a small packet on
the table beside her paste, fled to cover behind his cutting-machines,
tripping over the truck and barking his shins by the way.

The packet contained three penn'orth of cheap jujubes.

During the afternoon the hands saw Fuzzy's small sheep-like head shoot up
above his machines on a stalk of neck, transfixed. Fuzzy's eyes were
turned upon Sarah with a tender and absorbed expression. Heaven knows
what blissful emotions were stirring softly in his bony breast, but he
was "dead to the world." Girls at the top benches discovered him, and
"passed the office" along. The intelligence drifted down the flat; work
was suspended; silence fell upon the factory. The girls stared at Fuzzy,
and Fuzzy gloated upon the object of his affection with a fatuous ardor.
He suggested an amorous adjutant-bird. A titter ran through the factory.
It swelled to a yell of laughter; and Ellis, recalled to a sense of his
position, ducked, spun the guillotine wildly, and, in his great
agitation, nearly cut off the tip of his index finger.

The idea of Fuzzy as a lover was the acme of the incongruous; he was so
arid, so nervous, so thin, and so unhuman. No one had any idea of his
age, but he looked like a man who had dried up at the age of thirty-six,
and had since been free of all human infirmities. His little love-affair
was to the factory a mad joke; news of it spread to the printers, it was
discussed in the warehouse, it was talked of in the street; but the
foreman, unconscious of all this, continued to steal to Miss Eddie's
board with love-tokens-a pound of grapes, a bag of buns, a bottle of
ginger-ale; once it was a pork-pie. Miss Eddie was involved in the
comedy, and there were jokes at her expense, but she took them all in
very good part, and continued to ogle Fuzzy with a cow-like playfulness.

Feathers, the humorist, affected the airs of a desolate man, and
encouraged Fuzzy with descriptions of his own hopeless love of Sarah and
pitiable accounts of her recent cruelties. He hinted at suicide.

"Someone's come between us," sighed the packer, wiping away a tear. Benno
swore that the foreman almost smiled at this. "'Twas touch 'n' go," said
Benno. The clerk was of opinion that Sarah Eddie had a "bit iv splosh."
He declared he had seen her smuggle a bank-book out of her bag. That
afternoon Fuzzy gave Sarah a brooch. It was of an ancient device, and had
lost a stone, but was large and had some value as old gold.

It was several days before the girls quite understood Sarah, but when
they did there was a sudden revulsion of feeling. Fuzzy's courtship was
no longer a joke-it was an outrage. All the easy work was going to
Sarah's board. She was given the pleasant and profitable jobs. The
special stuff that had hitherto been distributed fairly among the
piece-workers all brought extra money to Sarah, and her earnings went up
with a jump. This was not to be borne. Spats' Beauties began to murmur,
murmurs swelled to open complaint, cries of bitterness and insult
followed, and then the Beauties began to throw things. Blobs of
half-caked paste assailed the foreman and clung in his hair; balls of
sodden paper fell about him; a recently-emptied flour-sack turned
inside-out was dropped on him down the lift-well; an unknown hand knocked
him headlong off the stairs with a bundle of waste. Fuzzy's hunted look
deepened to one of terror. He moved gingerly, but his infatuation made
him strong to endure, and Sarah continued to score.

An act of flagrant favoritism precipitated a strike. The piece-workers
threw their brushes into the paste, and, seating themselves on their
boards, swung their heels, and yelled defiance at Fuzzy. A dozen of them
went downstairs as a deputation to Spats, and the foreman, after
stumbling about the room in a fit of nervous irresponsibility, retreated
behind the guillotines to await developments.

The deputation charged into the office of the boss. Twelve voices raised
in vociferous complaint. Spats drove them up stairs again with angry
snarls and snappings, and sent for Fuzzy. Ellis returned from that
interview looking a complete wreck, and Miss Kruse informed the girls
that for the future there would be a fair division of the better-class
work.

The foreman could still do his adored many favors, and he was her humble
servant. Her paste was brought for her, he carried her work to her hand,
and although she did not scrape her board on Saturday like the others, it
was white and clean when she came to work on Monday; so that it was still
worth Sarah's while to shed shy glances on Samuel.

"You do so grow on a body," she whispered one morning, and this excited
Fuzzy to such a degree that he was bumping into things three hours later.

But the termination of Fuzzy's love-affair was sudden and dramatic. Early
one Saturday morning, a bulky, black-browed man came lumbering up the
back stairs.

"'S your name Ellis?" he said to Feathers. The packer directed him along
the room with a nod of the head, and the bulky stranger moved in that
direction. To the surprise of everyone, Sarah Eddie flew out, and
intercepted him, brandishing a threatening brush.

"If yeh do, Jim!" she cried in great agitation. "Mind, if yeh do!" Jim
seemed prepared to chance it, and, thrusting her aside, passed on. "Your
name Ellis, Mister?" he asked Benno. The clerk pointed out the foreman
with his pen, and the intruder faced Fuzzy.

"They tell me you're Ellis!" he said. The tone was threatening, the man's
air distinctly dangerous. It was obviously unwise to be Ellis. Fuzzy
hedged.

"Well, er-it depends," he said, and retreated timidly.

"If so happens you are Ellis, I mean to punch your damn' head off." It
was the tone of an earnest man, one who had resolved on a course of
conduct, and had no use for argument.

Fuzzy fled behind the folding board, and the bulky man dashed after him.
The pursuer was not a man to stick at trifles; he carried the long board
off its trestles in his rush, but fell among the ruins, and Fuzzy went
down too. The foreman extricated himself first, and darted for another
table, Jim after him. They raced round twice, and then faced each other
across the board.

Jim controlled himself for a moment and shook a terrible fist at his
destined victim, and then thumped the board determinedly.

"Wha'-wha'-what is it?" gasped Ellis.

"I'll tell yer what it is," he said. "That there's my girl." He pointed
to Sarah Eddie. "She's been goin' to marry me, more 'r less, fer a year,
an' now you've chipped-in. Well, I don't allow it! D'yer hear? I don't
allow it!"

"Police!" piped Fuzzy.

Smash went another board before the impetuous Jim, and Fuzzy fled again,
under the tables, around the packing-benches, and then down the long
flat, with Jim at his heels. It was a sensational scramble, and
choke-full of interest to the Beauties. They clambered on to their
boards, and screamed encouragement to Jim. The stranger made a grab at
Ellis, and it seemed that all was over with the foreman, but a parcel of
bags tripped his rival, and he fell headlong. This was Samuel's chance;
he raced for the ladder at the opening in the ceiling, straddled up it
like a distracted spider, and crawled into the darkness above. He was
making a desperate effort to haul the ladder up after him when Jim
snatched at the bottom-rung, and, swinging his great weight brought the
ladder down with a crash on top of himself, and plucked Fuzzy on to his
face at the opening, clutching wildly at the edges to avert a disaster.
Jim reared the ladder again, and, racing up it, scrambled into the loft,
and those below heard muffled sounds of running feet, bumpings, and
curses, coming from above the ceiling.

The loft was a spacious place, hot and black as the pit, and the strange,
volatile dust characteristic of Spats' factory lay a foot deep on its
floor, and clung thickly to the weird festoons of cobweb that spanned the
rafters. A rat-fight up there was sufficient to convert the atmosphere
into a feathery mass. There was silence in the factory-all ears were
strained to mark the progress of the race overheard. Every bump sent a
blast of dust out of the manholes, and it billowed along the factory
ceiling, and poured out of the windows like smoke. A shrill cry indicated
that Fuzzy had fallen into the clutches of the enemy. A confusion of
yells, much swearing, and a great trampling and bumping, during which the
dust rolled from the openings in dense masses, told of a bitter,
hand-to-hand contest. Then a body was dragged along the ceiling, and
presently Jim's boots came into view on the ladder; his legs followed,
but slowly, and after his legs came his body, and then came Fuzzy. Jim,
backing down the ladder, reckless of consequences, dragged Ellis out with
a run on top of himself, and the two fell in a tangle on a heap of stock.

The identity of the men had to be taken for granted; they were now
monstrous objects, with few human attributes, swathed round with clinging
rags of black cobweb, their features blotted out, masses of web hanging
from their limbs like elfin wings. But Jim had not lost sight of his
mission. He seized on the foreman again, and dragged him through the
factory, seeking Sarah Eddie; and when he found her he dumped Fuzzy at
her feet. He tried to spit, but his mouth was like a dust-bin; he opened
it, but was inarticulate. Then he sneezed five times, and speech returned
to him.

"Now, we'll settle this matter," he said. He shook Fuzzy up, and they
were obscured in the dust. "Here, you," he went on, "is this here your
girl, 'r is she mine?"

Fuzzy made a gesture of complete abandonment.

"You give her up?" Fuzzy nodded supinely. Jim was still holding him.

"You gives it to her straight that all's over atween yer, that you ain't
havin' any truck with her whatsomever, savin' in the way o' business?"
The wretched foreman signified his assent. "Very well," said Jim, "that
bein' so, I ain't got nothin' more agin yer." And he dropped Ellis on the
floor.

The trouble being ended, two policemen, who had been hastily summoned
under the impression that murder was being done on the top flat, came up
the stairs and seized upon Jim. He was fined five pounds, with the
alternative of three weeks' gaol, and took the alternative with a good
grace. To show he had no ill-feeling towards anybody, he put ninepence in
the poor-box.

Three weeks and two days later, Sarah was married to a wharf-lumper, who,
there is every reason to believe, was identical with Jim, and Fuzzy's
dream of love was over.

THE MORBID BOY

THE truculent boy had been summarily dismissed, and the morbid boy was
introduced late on the following Monday morning. Billy, the devil, hit
him with the cake off a tin of ink as he lumbered wearily up the stairs.
The morbid boy was very broad and extremely meaty. His head was large and
almost square; nose, ears, cheeks, and lips were puffy, and he had a fat
forehead. His color was pasty, and his average expression vacuous. This
morning its vacuity was relieved by a dull wonder as he stood at the head
of the stair, his arms hanging limply, gazing at the pack of girls. It
dawned on him presently that he had been deceived, that life would not be
worth living in this ruck of heathens, and he started downstairs again.

The packer recaptured him on the printers' flat.

"It's all right, Mumps," said Feathers. "You're the new boy, I reckon."

"'M orf it," answered the boy, sullenly.

"Rats!" said the packer. "This is dead easy. Yer got nothin' t' do 'ere
but tickle the pianer 'n' blow the dust off the chandeliers."

Feathers towed the lad back to the flat, and away to the changing room,
where he superintended the removal of his coat and the donning of a
hessian apron with a large pocket across the middle, a relic of the
truculent boy. Then he led Mumps to the busy half of the long room, and
started him up the track to the foreman's retreat. But a couple of
minutes after resuming work the packer saw that Mumps was standing where
he had left him, in the middle of the gangway, gazing straight before
him, like something petrified. Mumps had no initiative; this was
discovered before he had been in the factory an hour. A girl's glance had
the effect of striking him motionless in the middle of a job, and he
would stand inert, with a lolling tongue and a dead eye. Fuzzy, the
foreman, gave him a fresh start.

"Nice, bright, active, lovable lad that," said the clerk to Feathers.
"Wonder where they gathered him?"

"He come over th' 'sylum wall," said the packer. "Already he's brought
the best knife in the big machine down on a spanner, cut two reams iv
cartridge t' waste, 'n' spilt a quart iv ink inter Fuzzy's lunch."

"'N' he hums like a little bone mill," said Benno, "bless him!"

It was his capacity as a "hummer" that conquered the factory. Where he
passed went consternation, and even Fuzzy, who was supposed to be
superior to little prejudices, put Mumps from him, and regarded him with
a thoughtful and troubled air. The Beauties were not hampered by the
niceties of polite convention; they rarely strained the point at which
forbearance ceases to be a virtue; and when Mumps passed them by the
injured did not stifle their cries, but yelled like devils.

Martha, the ex-professional fat girl, when Mumps brought work to her
table, cried "Wow!" threw her apron over her head, and sat down on the
floor in an imitation fit.

"Give it Christian burial," squealed the thin machinist.

"Scrap fat!"

"Shift that tannery!" The whole flat was giving tongue.

"Yah, dry it, can't yeh," said Benno, "The lad was reared in a soap
foundry 'n' can't help hisself."

Mumps did not show that he was conscious of the impression he was making;
the scorn of the girls failed to deepen the heavy imbecility of his
manner. It was late in the afternoon, when all hope of an abatement of
the nuisance had been abandoned, that Feathers attacked the new boy.

"In the name o' Jimmy Jee, wha's the matter with yeh?" he cried,
brutally. "Bli me, you're 'ummin' somethin' awful."

"'Taint me, neither," growled Mumps.

Feathers pulled at the pocket of the apron. "What yeh got 'ere?" he said.
"Pooh! Strike me dead! She's a corker. Take it out!" he yelled.

Mumps dipped into the pocket and produced a dead rat on a string, the
identical rat with which the truculent boy had stampeded the factory.
Being unable to escape from the folded apron, the beast had perished
miserably, and Mumps had carried its remains with him all day.

"Well, you're a shine idyit," commented Feathers. "Why didn't yer throw
the thing away?"

"How wiz I t'know?" whined the morbid boy.

This was characteristic of Mumps; the rat might have remained there a
month before he would have taken upon himself the responsibility of
dislodging it.

Feathers had some felicity in the selection of nicknames, and although
the new boy was officially entered as John Robey, the room refused to
recognize him as anything but Mumps. Strange to say, Ellis contracted a
liking for John; possibly because the youngster was never impudent. John,
who seemed to be in a perpetual state of moral hibernation, hadn't
sufficient impulse to be insolent, and the foreman had had a large and
varied experience of boys with impulse. As a rule, the boys treated Fuzzy
brutally. The truculent boy-4ft. 9in. and 13 next birthday-had once
clamored violently for three rounds with his boss, being anxious to prove
in the eyes of the whole world which was "best man." True, Mumps was dull
and needed close watching, and had to be started and stopped like a
machine, and could never learn what was to be done next, and was liable
to fall into a condition of open-mouthed inanimation in the middle of a
job, but he never gave back-talk, and there was something respectful in
his stupid awe.

Three mornings running a very ponderous woman, who was taken to be his
mother, lugged Mumps up the stairs and drove him to his work, but after
that John accepted the inevitable and came regularly at eight. He brought
enormous lunches in a rush basket, and sat alone amongst the bales to eat
them. When work started again, his distress was painful to behold, and he
was often heard to groan pitiably during the hour that followed. Then
Benno would tell him that he ought to have his lunch made to measure and
not go trying to fit a No. 3 stomach on a No. 9 meal; and Feathers would
gravely advise him to have it pulled.

One morning Mumps fell into a state of dreamy inaction over a truck of
grey sugar paper, just where the front stairs cut into the flat. A yap at
his back jerked him into consciousness, and, looking round, he discovered
the imposing figure of the boss at his heels. Instantly John Robey was
thrown into a condition of fatuous irresponsibility; he seized on his
truck, heaved up the great burden, made a blind stagger, and rushed the
whole box of tricks straight down the stairs. The truck bounded, threw a
dazzling revolution, and its handles crashed through the floor of the
first landing. Great reams of paper leaped down the remaining stairs,
shooting in all directions into the printing room, and the crashes told
of ravage and disaster. Mumps stared after his lost load for seven
terrible seconds, and then turned, and fled for the men's dressing-room.
He reappeared with his hat in his hand, dragging his coat after him, and
darted down the back stairs.

Feathers overtook John, and he was given another trial after the foreman
had interceded on his behalf, but the printers' devil never forgave him.
One of the reams having jumped into a tub of lye, and deluged Billy with
the awful mixture, the boy felt called upon to subject John to monotonous
persecution as long as he remained in the place. Mumps was a child of
persecution, but he dulled the point of practical jokes by preserving a
Chinese unconsciousness. The packer dropped all subterfuge, and treated
him as an open and unabashed idiot, telling him twenty times a day
exactly how much of an ass he was, in language calculated to appeal to
the lowest intelligence, but always with a well-intentioned and
benevolent air as of one imparting useful knowledge. Benno, however,
adopted a tone of biting irony, and it must be credited to Mumps'
penetration that one day, after surveying the clerk heavily for five
minutes or so, he said: "I hate you, Dickson!" Although the tone was
phlegmatic, this, coming from Mumps, was regarded as an amazing burst of
confidence.

At about this time there began a frequent disappearance of lunches, and
although John Robey was known as a monument of gluttony it did not occur
to anybody that he had degenerated into a crib thief. For over a week
suspicion rested upon the rats, which were frequent in the factory,
though during all that time Mumps' painful indispositions might have
enlightened the dullest minds. One day when three lunches were missed,
Mumps remained curled up on a big bag of waste for some time after the
lunch hour, sweating and groaning. He told Feathers that it was
"apendickitis" he had. Later the crib thief grew discriminating, and
stole only the choicest morsels from the lunches, spoiling no less than
nine in one morning. But it was not till Miss Kruse sent John out for
sixpenn'orth of mixed pastry, and he came back with the empty bag and
explained dully that he had eaten the stuff "by accident," that the
elucidation of the mystery was whispered about.

Next morning at about a quarter to twelve, while Mumps was depositing
work on Martha Pilcher's board, the fat girl called across the room:

"Say, youse, I've fixed up them rats proper this trip. They nicked some
'am sandwiches from my lunch this mornin'. Them sandwiches was poisoned!"

Mumps dropped the goods he had in his hands, and stared at Martha, and
his pallor took a faint greenish tinge.

"I poisoned 'em myself," said Martha, "with ninepenn'orth o' arsenic."

Mumps doubled his arms across his stomach, bent like a man in agony, and
uttered a long, anguished howl.

"They's enough poison in 'em to kill a norse," continued the fat girl,
remorselessly.

The boy scrambled under the bench, and rushed for the stairs. He was
heard to fall down the last flight. He raced through the warehouse,
colliding blindly with the boss in the doorway, and a few minutes later
the people in the main street of the city saw a white-faced, despairing
Mumps, wild-eyed, bare-headed, and wearing a bag apron, racing along the
road like something frantic. Mumps clamored at the door of the most
expensive doctor in town, kicking the panels, pulling the bell, and
shrieking simultaneously; and when the door was opened to him he fell in,
crying:

"I'm poisoned. Quick! quick! do something-they've poisoned me!"

About an hour later, a tall, grave constable brought John Robey back to
us, and John was a woeful thing to see-pale and clammy, and so limp that
the policeman had to hold him up, like exhibit A, while he explained to
the company:

"He swore he was poisoned. The doctor said 'twas nothing of the kind, but
the b'y was so set on it, the gentleman gave him a bit iv an emetic to
satisfy him. Bechune me 'n' youse, things iv happened sinst."

"He looks it," said the packer.

Mumps was dropped on a bag of waste, where he groaned so fearfully that
Fuzzy endeavoured to reassure him by explaining that whatever had
happened to Martha's sandwiches they were free of poison, and fit for
human consumption.

"'Tain't that, mister," said Mumps, weakly. "I'm starvin'. They ain't
nothin' left inside o' me, an' I'm starvin' to death."

There was no denying that the possibility had real terrors for him, so
Ellis took pity on his emptiness, and Mumps was sent home to re-stock.

THE TOUCHER

HE was a jobbing hand from the printers' flat. His name was Raymond Cab,
but he acquired "Toucher" as a complimentary title when we knew him
better. He was tall, sallow, languid and distressingly impecunious. I put
it that way because Mr Cato's impecuniosity was more a trait of character
than the result of misfortune. He was the sort of young man who would
have been impecunious had he been born to ten thousand a year. He was
slovenly in his dress, and his trousers were always worn to strings at
the heels, and this fringe collected various foreign bodies, which
dragged after him as be walked, Raymond being too languid or too
indifferent to shake them off. You got to know when Toucher was coming by
the clatter of vagrant articles attached to his trousers fringe. He once
towed a disused fish-tin after him through a whole hot afternoon. That
will give you an idea of the sort of person Raymond Cato was. But this
depraved young man, while apparently sleeping against a case, could paw
type with miraculous speed and precision, and he handled the most
intricate jobs with absolute certainty when under the influence of two
buckets of very bad beer.

Mr Cato had only been ten days in the factory when be came to the
packer's board and leaned there. There were two peach-nuts, a metal rule,
and the rind off a tin of red ink dangling at his fetlock. He passed his
hand wearily over his brow, brushing back his long, black hair, and
rested his eyes on the packer. Raymond's eyes were large and dark, and
suffused with an overwhelming sadness. The Toucher owed his success
largely to those appealing eyes.

"S'pose we do a break, Mills." he said, joylessly.

Feathers looked at him with bitter reproach. The remark was an invitation
to execute a strategic exit by the lift door, and drink pints, and
Feathers was up to his ears in work.

"'Ow th'ell can I" he said, pointing at the long list of orders, "'nt'
the whole flamin' warehouse whoopin' fer goods?"

"Oh, well," said Cam, resignedly. "I had a tizzie, my last and it's so
lonely I reckoned I'd let it go." He took the coin out, turned it over in
his fingers, and sighed. "Left blooming alone," he said.

"Down to it, are yeh?" asked the packer with sympathy. "There've been
times when I've 'ad t' run by ther pub with me eyes shut meself, 'n' I
know what it is."

"Fair on my knuckle-bone," said the printer. "But a man doesn't care on
his own account. It's the old lady."

Feathers looked sidelong. Feathers's class is always suspicious of
sentiment; but there was no snivelling in Raymond's tone. His expression
was that of a strong man who bears his troubles bravely, and his accent
hinted at a profound emotion kept well in hand.

"Tribulation in thor 'appy 'ome?" queried Feathers, warily.

"Slathers, Mills, old man." Raymond Cato turned his shoulder, but the
strong composed voice continued presently: "The mother, you know. Seen
better days, George; good family. Dreadfully ill, and"--here the voice
was almost cold--"and I haven't the half-crown to pay for her medicine
tonight."

"Jimmy Jee!" murmured Feathers. He fingered a solitary coin in his pocket
lovingly, drew it out, and laid it on the bench.

"'Ere's arf er dollar you can have ther use of," he said.

There was just the faintest suggestion of a start, the most momentary
hint of eagerness, in Raymond's descent upon the money. The thing had
been easier than he expected. Mills noticed the start, and a pang of
repentance shot through him. Cato realized his mistake instantly. He
placed a firm retainer on the half-crown, and slid it back towards the
packer.

"No, no, old man," he said, "you can't spare this."

"Garn!" retorted the packer, with simulated indifference, "get a
'ammerlock on it." With a flash of diplomacy, he added; "It's on'y till
Saterdee, anyhow."

"Oh, all right, Geordie--till Saturday. You're a good sort." Cato's tone
implied that the time might soon come when he would show his gratitude by
dying for the packer. He took up the half-crown slowly, reluctantly, and
went gently downstairs.

For a minute Feathers gazed fixedly at the blank wall before him,
forgetting his work.

"I've been stabbed," he whispered. "That's it, er clean stab. 'N' I was
beginnin' t' think I was grown up. Geordie Mills, you ain't fit t' be
allowed out without yer aunt."

Feathers was not a man to show his wounds. He said nothing, and in the
course of a day or so the town traveller came to him with his trouble.

"What of young Cato, the comp with the fatal beauty of a consumptive
nun," said Goudy; "is he a confidence trick or what?"

"He's ther pride iv ther fam'ly, 'n' ther sole support iv all his
bed-ridden relations," replied the packer.

"Well, he's touched me three times in a week, and I'm as Scotch as most
people."

"How'd he plead? Was it corf drops for his sick sister, 'r fun'ral
expenses fer his dead brother-in-law left over from last week consequence
iv thor 'ard 'earted undertaker ref usin' delivery at ther graveside?"

"I don't know how he did it," mused Goudy, scratching his whiskers. "He
must have used laughing gas. 'Twas absolutely painless extraction."

"'E's er hartist--got er touch like velvet 'E put's ther acid on so't yeh
think it's ther milk iv 'uman kindness."

"Hello," cried Goudy, "he's dipped up something of yours then, has he?"

Feathers almost blushed. "Come off," he said, with a shade less than his
usual confidence. "Ther gay deceivers don't twitter t' me. I've bin too
long out iv th' egg."

"Oh, yes, yes, yes, yes. I was forgetting," chortled the town traveller,
softly. "You are Abdul the Wise and Wonderful. You are the great
Take-Down. The bad men go home by the back streets to escape your
machinations, and you've brought hundreds of spielers to destitution."
And Goudy went about his business, whistling absently the offensive
refrain of "Muggins the Juggins".

Feathers pasted a label, and attached it to a parcel with unwonted
precision. He hated Goudy when he used big words. "Any'ow," said Mills,
"I'm not er soft thing for beginners. I'm not sich er snag fer sharpers
that ther boys practise on me."

This little disputation rendered it unnecessary for Feathers to breathe a
word about the manner in which the Toucher had stabbed him. The town
traveller, too, concluded that his reputation as a business man would not
be enhanced by further discussion, and so Raymond Cato was free to play
upon the tender buds of human sympathy in the lean and dusty breast of
Samuel Ellis, foreman of the flat.

Ellis was cutting a ream of tinfoil for which Toucher was waiting, and
Toucher's sadness was dramatic. He sighed heavily, and a tear fell on the
polished platform of the guillotine. Raymond gently wiped it off with a
piece of waste.

"Aren't you well, then, Mr Cato?" said Ellis. The woeful foreman even
ministered Billy, the personal devil from the printing flat.

Raymond Cato started like a guilty thing, moved away a few steps, changed
his mind, as if convinced that Fuzzy was the kind of man in whom any
stricken soul might confide, returned, and placed the photograph of a
baby boy on the platform. The baby was taken on the half-shell, and
looked like one of those remarkably fine children who earn an excellent
living by posing as examples of the results of feeding on Somebody s
infants' Condition Mixture. The young man had found the photograph in a
drawer downstairs that afternoon.

"You are a father yourself?" he asked.

"No" said Ellis, "but I have a sister what is. Five she has." And then,
with a lugubrious effort to show interest, "What's he, a boy or a girl?"

"You wouldn't know him now," Raymond said, huskily. "Skin and bone--skin
and bone. And he cries to me so pitifully; and what can I do?"

"Have you tried castor oil?" asked Ellis, vaguely.

"My God!" said the young man, in a low, terrible voice "if that boy dies,
I don't care what becomes of me."

"Go on!" murmured the foreman, deeply touched.

"And what's a man to do?--what can a man do? They order expensive
things--chicken in champagne. I tell you, I feel sometimes that I could
commit murder to procure the money that might be the saving of my boy."

"I wouldn't if I was you," Ellis said. He was quite agitated. He looked
at Cato with pitiful eyes. "I really wouldn't you know."

Raymond snatched up the tinfoil and walked away, stopped, and came back,
looked Ellis square in the eye, steadily, for nearly half a minute, and
then he said deliberately, emphatically, as if putting the foreman to the
test of his life.

"Would you lend me half-a-sovereign?"

"Yes, yes; of course," stammered Fuzzy. He went to his vest pocket for
the money. His hands quite trembled with eagerness as he handed it to
Cato.

"But mind, now, no murders," he said.

"Don't speak to me or I shall break down," faltered Raymond Cato, in the
character of one unaccustomed to such great kindness and he fled from the
flat.

Benno's turn came later. Be also went to Feathers with the tale. He tried
to speak as one with unshaken confidence in the Toucher, but there were
subtle doubts hovering at the back of his head.

"Got ther luck iv er lame cat, Cato has," he said, fiddling with the
packer's scales. "D'jer hear about him?"

Feathers fanned out a ream, and knocked it up like a second Cinquevalli;
then he sought a hiding place for the incriminating tobacco juice, and
spat with judgement.

"Benno," he Said, with aggravating conviction, "yet comin' t' me with
ther story iv yet shame?"

"Give's er charnce," retorted the clerk.

"Ther lad below been nibblin' yet ear, 'n thinkin' iv doin' er mag erbout
sheddin' yer beans in ther sacred cause iv charity, but it don't go."

"You're one what knows," sneered Benno.

"Well, er bloke's lived er bit," admitted the oracle. "Chat aloud,
Benjamin, I'm waitin' fer ther 'arrowin' details. Was it his pore ole
father, what was er Dook once, crying all night with dried peas in his
appendicitis, him bein' er victim to 'em 'r his lady mother who's li'ble
t' become sober at any moment if ther charitably inclined don't come to
'er assistance in 'er hour iv need? 'Cause I may tell yeh, Benno ther
seraph, that Cato's parents 'ye both bin missin' for years. They saw what
he was comin' to when he was five, 'n' did er guy, leavin' him t' ther
mercy iv er crool world on er pub doorstep."

"Nothin' like it," said the clerek. "He had a naxident--swallered er
thick-un. I was workin' a bit late day before yes'day, 'n' 'long erbout
art past six who should come sprintin' upstairs but me nibs, pale's er
blessed egg, hair on end--fair dilly. The bums was in his house fer rent,
'n' he was hurryin' 'ome with ther quid he'd got advanced stuck in his
tooth box, when he butted into some gazob in ther street, 'n' down went
ther thick-un. He was tearin' ratty t' raise another jim. Er bloke he
knows promised him four half dollars, 'n' he come t' me fer ther rest,
seein' I was a cobber in er way, 'n' his 'ome sweet 'ome was goin' t'
pieces on his 'ands. Acourse, I parted me arf jim--couldn't have ther
brick face t' do less under ther circs. 'Twas on'y fer er day, he said,
cause he was goin' under er operation yes'day ter recover then lost
goblin."

"'N' was ther operation er triumph iv surgical skill?" asked Feathers. "I
know--they recovered ten sovs 'n' er gold watch, 'n' Cato's payin' two
'undred per cent dividends t' ther share holders. Yer goin' t' hinvite me
out t' ther parlour bar, 'n' plaster me in 'n' out with sixpenny drinks."

"You ain't bettin' on that." Benno was gloomy now. "No; his nibs come t'
me yes'day 'n' said he'd seen his medical adviser, 'if the blessed
operation 'ud cost one 'n' a 'arf, 'n' that he'd go on with it if I'd
contribit another dollar."

"N' yeh did it, yeh did it!" yelled Feathers in ecstasy. "Yeh sank
another five shillin' in yer wild cat. Oh, here's Bertie off ther boat,
here's Little Willie. Some kind gentleman hold his purse while he gets
his 'ead read. Yeh did it!"

'Tain't possible," retorted Benno.

"Oh, ain't it? Well, y' orter wear ear muffs this bitin' weather, silly
boy." Feathers slapped at Benno with feminine affectation. "Why, Cato
never had no 'ome that it 'ud pay to put er bailiff in at tuppence er
day. He's got er leaky room at mother Spargo's, in Williamson Street, fer
which 'e owes regular every Fridee, 'n' he dosses on er two-feather bed,
weather permittin'."

Evidently it was Mr Cato's intention to try the acid on Feathers again.
He approached the packer a few days after Benno's confession, and he had
the air of one patient under great provocation. The packer's hand went to
his ear instinctively.

"How would you take a good thing for the Handicap tomorrow. Feathers?"
said the comp. "You're the straightest man here, and the only one I'd let
into this with me."

The packer did not reply for a few moments. He lingered for effect,
chewing absently.

"This ther one yeh worked on Billy?" He spoke without interest.

Raymond looked at Mills with the reproachful eyes of a starved dog.

"You don't trust me, George," he said.

"Chattin' iv good things," continued Feathers, "what's gone wrong with
that beautiful arf-dollar iv mine?"

"Did you lend me half-a-dollar? Of course-of course, you did, Oh, that's
all right, old fellow."

"That's er weight off me mind," sighed Feathers. "I've bin expectin' that
two 'n' er tanner home. I've bin sittin' up iv nights waitin' fer it
comin', 'n' I got t' thinkin' yeh was neglectin' me. Ray, 'n' devotin'
all yer money t' good works."

The comp's sadness was intensified by Mills' sarcasm. "Surely a miserable
half dollar wouldn't hurt you," he said.

"It 'urts me pride," answered Feathers. "It 'urts me t' think I've bin
done on ther grid. The hagony's somethin' awful, 'n' I've gotter get that
'arf-bull 'r sometin' dangerous may set in."

"Oh, very well, you shall have it immediately."

"Don't get runnin' me down with it, Ray--gi' me time t' break ther glad
tidin's t' me fam'ly."

Raymond Cato spent the dinner-hour discussing the drama and kindred arts
with Martha Pilcher, and in the afternoon he sent the half-crown to Mills
in an envelope inscribed, "With R.C.'s compliments."

By this time the Toucher had almost exhausted the male employees. There
were many aching victims downstairs, and his title was recognized all
through the factory. He paid a pressing creditor when he could borrow the
necessary sum from another subject, but that did not happen often.
Strangers were continually asking for him at the door in the lane, and
people would await his coming for an hour after he had gone home over the
adjoining roofs, and down via an accommodating tea warehouse with an
open-air staircase. Raymond borrowed only small sums from the Beauties,
but he was very successful with them. The other young men always
approached the girls in a mood of artful and distressing levity, but the
Toucher was very grave with them, and always sympathetic whatever the
complaint might be, and there was scarcely a Beauty who hadn't a
complaint of some kind by her, if only as a convenient theme of
conversation. Half-a-dozen of them would have died for the bibulous comp
despite the bottle-oh's stock garnered in the trouser fringe at his boot
heels, and every paster but one seemed good for a shilling in exchange
for a sigh or two and a pathetic glance from his soulful eyes. Those eyes
were irresistible when Raymond was really thirsty.

The one girl whom Raymond had not been seen to approach for a little loan
was Miss Eva Magill. Miss Eva was not as young as some, and she had no
"cobbers" amongst the Beauties. She was demure and steadfast, came softly
into the factory with down cast eyes, worked quietly and persistently in
an out-of-the-way corner, with drooping lids, and passed out again,
noiselessly, with eyes unlifted, and was wholly unknown. She was disliked
and respected by the whole factory.

Toucher's finish was sudden and dramatic. One afternoon faint echoes of a
warm debate came up from the warehouse. Presently Miss Magill was sent
for. She went down, with her apron over her face, weeping. She returned
in a quarter of an hour, still weeping, went to the dressing-room corner,
and had a fit of hysterics, concluding with a dead faint.

Billy the Boy bobbed up a few moments later. "Er fair ole beano!" he
gasped. "They ye dumped Toucher in ther dust-box for immedjit removal.
Spats wanted t' send fer the Johns, He's done Magill in fer 'er little
bit."

A voice of authority roared below, and Billy ducked down again, but
Feathers had the whole story before evening.

"'E bin givin' Magill guff erbout marriage," Mills explained to the town
traveller, "n' ther spiel was good fer fifteen jim ther savin's iv er
lifetime, which ther dear boy was goin' t risk in ther comfits of a 'ome,
but which 'e's bounced down et ther two-up."

"That pale maiden lady with the little lisp?" exclaimed Goudy, in
amazement. "Why, the very thoughts of man gave her all the unfavourable
symptoms mentioned in a quack advertisement."

"G'out, that sort's sweet 'n' easy t' ther lad that ain't punched off
with a frown," retorted Feathers. "Her brother took er tumble, 'n' he's
bin here, wantin' t' hit Cato clean out, 'n' put him away over ther
'olidays for false pretensions, 'r larceny ez er bailiff, 'r somethin',
only th' girl wouldn't hear iv it. She's bin squealin' roun' all ther
afternoon that Raymond's true to 'er, true ez true--she don't care."

"The infernal scoundrel," snorted Goudy. "He ought to be hanged!"

"'E's er naughty tease," Mills soliloquized, "'n' 'e did Scotty fer er
tray-bit--'angin's too good fer him!'



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