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Title: Down in the World Author: Mary Gaunt * A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1402231h.html Language: English Date first posted: May 2014 Most recent update: May 2014 This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.
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CHAPTER I.—CLIVE DOWLING.
CHAPTER II.—LUCY THORNTON.
CHAPTER III.—LOWER DEEPS.
CHAPTER IV.—"HOW SHE FOUND HIM."
CHAPTER V.—WHAT MR. AND MRS. THORNTON SAID TO IT.
CHAPTER VI.—"WE BESEECH THEE TO HEAR US, GOOD LORD."
CHAPTER VII.—"HEREIN FORTUNE SHOWS HERSELF MORE KIND THAN IS HER CUSTOM."
The day was fine enough in all conscience. A bright, cloudless July day, such as comes upon us occasionally in the depth of winter even in the heart of the hills. The sun was bright and warm; there was a promise of the coming summer in his midday rays, and the gentle wind was only just keen enough to make those rays appreciated. And Clive Dowling did appreciate the warmth thoroughly. Poor fellow, it was, he felt, the only bit of comfort left him. Up and down the broad streets he had paced since day-dawn, carefully keeping on the sunny side, up and down, up and down, and now at midday he was almost worn out, but still what was he to do; Where was he to go? What, in fact, can a man do when he has but half-a-crown between him and absolute starvation?
And yet six months before he had landed in the colony with five hundred pounds in his pocket, and every hope of making his fortune, and now the certainty of one pound a week would have seemed to him untold wealth. But, looking back, he could not blame himself. He had speculated, rashly perhaps, but he had taken the very best advice, and when his father's old friend, Charles Dixon, who had been out in the colonies nearly all his life, had advised him to invest his capital in the "Star of the North" Gold-mining Company, situated somewhere on the borders of civilisation in the north of Queensland, every share in which was bound to be worth at least twenty pounds before the month was out, who could possibly foresee that those same shares would steadily fall till they, at the present moment, were not worth the paper the scrip was printed on? And his four hundred pounds was gone, utterly gone. He had only invested four hundred pounds and had saved one hundred pounds for present necessities, though he had certainly not intended to spend it. He had intended to work for his living, as any other strong and healthy young fellow of five and twenty would do. He had taken a good degree at Cambridge, but it cost him fifty pounds to be called to the bar, and then he entered a solicitor's office in order to gain experience and to make himself thoroughly acquainted with the law as administered at the antipodes.
And for the first few months things prospered with him. He lived on his pay, looked forward to the time when he should be a barrister in good practice, with a house of his own, and—well—he knew very well whom he hoped would share that home with him. These were his dreams—daydreams, which he soon hoped to see a reality. Then typhoid laid hold upon him, and his whole energies were absorbed in a struggle for life—a struggle in which he gained the victory indeed, but which left him white, worn, and emaciated, and with an array of bills to face which fairly horrified him. He could not go back to Messrs. Grant, Allen, and Grant's office; his place had long ago been filled. The only thing to be done was to sell out some of his Star of the North shares. He wrote to his broker asking him to do so, and found to his dismay his shares were just so much waste-paper. Then he lost his head and went down to Mr. Dixon's office, asked to see him, and abused him with all the rancour and bitterness of a man who sees his highest hopes—those hopes which he had flattered himself were almost at the point of fruition—utterly blighted.
His illness had cost him a great deal, and all the money he had in hand was more than due. He doubted even if by the sale of all his effects he could raise enough to pay his debts. His books went, his clothes went, and with the very slenderest equipment he turned out of his comfortable rooms in South Yarra, and prepared to begin life afresh in this new world where he made many acquaintances but not a single friend.
And it was not easy—indeed, it was very hard. The little store of money he had left after paying his debts melted rapidly, and yet he could get nothing to do. Possibly at first it was his own fault. The lassitude and weakness resulting from his illness weighed heavily upon him; he went about without energy, because he lacked hope. So far off, it seemed to him, was his heart's desire, so little prospect had he of attaining it, that it was but half-heartedly he at first sought work—and work seldom comes to him who does not seek it with all his heart, at least so Clive Dowling found; and at first when he got nothing he simply did not care; it hardly occurred to him in those early days that he could come to actual want. For every vacant post there seemed so many applicants—so many men who were far better fitted by training for it than he—that he was always passed by. He had lost faith in himself for the time being, and the whole world, as the whole world will, followed suit.
And each failure only served to plunge him into greater depths of hopelessness. Scantier and scantier grew his resources; the slender stock of clothes he had saved from the general wreck were slowly but surely finding their way to the pawnshop, it was imperatively necessary that he should find work—work of some sort—work of any sort—immediately, and yet he could not rouse himself from his lethargy. He had long ago given up the law; he would take anything gladly, he told himself; but he did not put that eagerness into his manner, and no man cared to employ a man who seemed doubtful of his own powers—so careless whether he was taken or not. A clerk—nobody wanted a clerk—and if they did there were any number of brisk, willing, young fellows ready and waiting, who looked as if work would be a pleasure; it would almost have been an injustice to prefer him before them; he felt it himself, and did not press the matter. So it came to pass, naturally enough, he was passed over. His money dwindled and dwindled, and yet he could not realise the situation. He told himself he must give up trying for a place suitable to a man of his education, and try to earn his daily bread by manual labour, and here the same difficulty met him at the outset. Men would rather employ one to the manner born than this broken-down gentleman, who seemed so careless as to whether he got the work or not. But at length he came to his last pounds and then even he felt he most make a more determined effort if he would not come to absolute starvation. He felt ashamed of himself, too, ashamed that he had fallen so low, that he had despaired and thrown up the sponge at the first buffet of fickle fortune. Then someone suggested, "There's plenty of work, mate, up in Ballarat," and he went there, where his heart had been all the time.
But he had roused himself rather late. Already he had been here four days, he had come to his last half-crown, and yet he had no work or prospect of work. The same difficulties met him at every turn. He was so evidently above the work he asked for that men grew suspicious of this quiet-voiced applicant, whose manner was so depressed and hopeless. No one wanted a gentleman to work for him. All preferred your ordinary labouring man, who was thoroughly to be understood at a glance, and whom there was no mystery about. He had spent five shillings of his precious hoard at a labour office, only to be offered a situation as ploughman. Of course he would have taken it gladly, he was ready now to try his hand at anything; but when the stalwart Irish farmer questioned him he was bound to confess he knew nothing whatever about the work, and had never driven a plough in his life.
"Then, begorra, it's meself's afeard we can't be arrangin' matters at all, at all," said the Irishman, regretfully. "Ye see, 'twas a ploughman I was wantin'."
"I could try," ventured Clive, for he was feeling desperate. But the farmer only shook his head.
"'Tis a deal of practice ploughin' requires," he said, "and the missus she is rale pertickler;" and Dowling, crushed and ashamed, left the office, and resumed his monotonous tramp up and down the streets.
Up and down Sturt-street he walked, and all hope died within him. The wide street, thronged with people, the laden tram-cars, the handsome shops, all spoke to him of wealth and comfort, and yet in all this busy town there seemed no place for him.
"Pepper, Pepper," he said mournfully, snapping his fingers to the little Scotch terrier which had followed him so faithfully through all his varying fortunes, "Poor old Pepper! There's no place in the world for your master, old man," and Pepper, jumping up against him, seemed to say, after the fashion of his kind, that there always was and always would be a very warm place for him in his faithful dog heart. He walked as far as the hospital and then turned back again. Very slowly he walked, for he was very tired, and why should he hurry himself when he had no goal in view, nowhere in the wide world to go to? He looked wistfully at the seats round the trees up the middle of the street. They stood invitingly there asking him to rest his weary limbs; but how could he sit there at midday in the face of the people? It would seem like openly joining that class of idlers and loafers towards which, now, in his bitter awaking, he saw himself hopelessly drifting. An old man dressed in the rough coat and white moleskin trousers which marked him an inmate of the Benevolent Asylum sat on one, leaning heavily forward on his stick, and on another sat a younger man, dirty and unkempt, with his soiled roll of blankets at his feet. He was a swagsman, neither wanting work nor seeking it, content to bask a little in the warm sunshine, sure of a meal at whatever house he chose to call and ask for one. No, Clive felt he could not identify himself with these, not yet—at least not yet—and he passed on slowly.
It was such a pretty town, such a very pretty town, this golden city among the hills. Under any other circumstances he would have appreciated this glorious winter's day thoroughly. As it was, half mechanically he raised his eyes and noted the broad street and the beautiful view from the top of the hill. The lights and shadows on the surrounding ranges caught his eye—dull and gloomy they looked to him accustomed to the more vivid green of the old land. Warrenheip, its fires long since quenched, stood out right ahead, stern and square against the blue sky, and a little to the right was its facsimile, Buninyong, nearly hidden from sight by the intervening houses. Yes, it was a view worth looking at, he thought, even though it was strange, and he was a stranger in a strange land. He passed a butcher's shop, and Pepper's eager sniffs at the great joints of meat hanging against the door attracted his attention. Poor little dog, he was hungry; he had had nothing since yesterday. His master had broken his fast on a penny bun and a draught of water at a street drinking-fountain; but the little dog had had nothing. No wonder he was hungry. Clive put his hand in his pocket and fingered his solitary half-crown. It was all he had—all that stood between him and absolute destitution, and yet he could not see his dog starve. He entered the shop, and spoke to the blue-shirted man behind the counter. It cost him something to do it, too, for he was not yet accustomed to his position, and he did not like to say that he could not afford to spend much on the dog.
"My dog is hungry," he said with an effort.
"So it seems," said the butcher, eyeing Pepper in no friendly manner as he put his fore paws on the meat block.
"Yes, but—couldn't you give you me—sell, I mean—something for him to eat? I don't want—I mean can't afford much."
The butcher looked at him a moment, wondering, perhaps, why this good-looking young man should blush so painfully. Perhaps he divined his story—anyhow, he answered cheerfully—
"Lor, what's a bit of meat? There's plenty o' waste and the dog's welcome. Here pup, pup."
So Pepper was accommodated in a snug corner with a huge bone, and while he ate his dinner the butcher talked to his master, beginning with remarks on the beauty of the day and ending up by taking him into his confidence on the subject of the uselessness of boys in general and of butcher boys in particular. Clive had never contemplated becoming butcher's assistant, but the idea just flashed through his mind that if this man were dissatisfied with his boy, he might offer his services, but further inquiry revealed the fact that the butcher was as satisfied as he ever expected to be, and that he merely grumbled as a matter of form.
"If I was to change," he said; "it 'ud only be the same. Lord bless you, boys will be boys all the world over, and the young fellers is good enough in their way; means well, I dessay, but is plaguey fond of that football."
Pepper had finished now, and came trotting up to his master to say so. Clive turned to the man and thanked him, and again offered to pay.
"Lor, no," said the butcher, "it isn't worth anything. Tell you what, mister, next time your dog's hungry just you bring him here. He's a well bred little beast, and 'tis a fact that I do like a well-bred dog."
"Thank you," said Clive, "thank you. I am very grateful. Good morning."
"Good day to you. You're very welcome; an' bring the pup agen when he's hungry."
They were the first friendly words Clive had heard since he had come to Ballarat, and albeit the kindness was to his dog, he went out into the street again warmed and cheered, and even forgot for the moment that he, too, was hungry. Not for long, though. The clock in the tall town-hall tower struck one, and reminded him that all the town was engaged upon its midday meal. Could he afford a meal, with only half a crown in his pocket, no work or prospect of work yet—and the next day Sunday? He could not afford it, he knew; he had parted with everything he could spare, and when that half-crown was gone he knew he could not by any possibility raise another penny. Opposite the Town-hall a man was grinding out a doleful tune on a wretched hurdy-gurdy; he held his face up, and it needed not the white-lettered placard hung round his neck to tell Clive that he was blind. By his side stood a ragged, degraded-looking woman, who, with a tin-pot in her hand, petitioned the passers-by in one unvarying monotone, "Assist the blind, please assist the blind."
Many as they passed dropped in pennies and small silver coins, and to Clive it seemed a not unprofitable way of gaining a livelihood. Begging must be profitable, he supposed, for they had been in that same place ever since he came to Ballarat; so had the coloured man on the other side of the street, who leaned against the Bank of Australasia, and played on a soundless fiddle; he, too, was blind, and was led about by a black-and-white mongrel, who carried a little tin for alms tied tightly under his neck, and appealed to passers-by with wistful eyes to drown him and put him out of his misery.
"We might as well both drown, his master and I and that couple over there," reflected Clive bitterly. "The dog's a deal more use in the world."
He stood in the sun by the fountain which commemorated the dead Australian explorers, Burke and Wills, opposite the beautiful statue of the poet Burns. Idly he noticed it, and then turned his attention once more to the blind man and his dog. A slight girl in a grey tweed was stooping over the little dog, patting his head and putting some money into the box at his neck. She spoke a word to his master, then turned and crossed. Clive watched her as she came towards him. Surely he knew that face, those brown eyes, and the softly curling rings of dark hair. A month ago what would he not have given to meet her—nay, had not one of the chief attractions in Ballarat lain in the fact that at least he was not far from her, even if he might not make himself known to her, and now he was meeting her face to face. Would she know him? Him—a shabby genteel, broken-down beggar whom she had parted from a young fellow in the first flush of hope? It seemed to him in his painful self-consciousness that his condition must be patent to everyone, more especially to her, who he had once said could read his very soul. Should he speak to her—dared he speak to her? He saw she recognised him—how should she fail to, even though he had grown a beard since last they met, he saw her pale face flush—she was always pale—his darling, her native mountain air had never brought the colour into her cheeks. She stopped, and then some demon possessed him, he put his hand up, raised his hat, and then crossed the street to the post-office with a cruel pain at his heart. What a fool he was—what an utter fool. Surely he was behaving rudely, cruelly, to her. She knew him, and he ought to have spoken to her—ought to have explained everything—she had a right to expect it, and she surely would not despise him for what was not his own fault. Before he reached the post-office steps he had come to that conclusion and turned back. On the top of a tram he caught sight of the grey dress, and just as he turned the car moved up the street. Well, perhaps it was better so; it could make no difference to him and none to her, he thought bitterly—he was glad he had never bound her to him—glad he had only hinted at his love—it was just as well, he could never hope to be anything to her, and now—well, now she would have a right to think all evil of him—she would think evil—how could she help it? And he had so gloried in the knowledge that she had a high opinion of him. Well, that was all over now, he had deliberately killed it himself. All his former life was past and done with, no links bound him to it. He was beginning a new life in a strange land, with not a solitary friend to encourage him, and two and six pence between him and absolute starvation. Slowly he mounted the post office steps, not that he cared much whether he got any letters or not. His parents were both dead and his only near relations were his sisters, both considerably older than he, and both married, and so, though they loved him after a fashion—they were not rich, their lives were full of many cares—their husbands and children came nearest their hearts, and brother Clive, far away in Australia, got a letter once a month, telling him how terribly poor Bob was worried about business, how pretty Baby looked in his new pink frock, and how Cissy was now as tall as the table and still very proud of the baby brother. Pretty, feminine, loving letters, that once he had been glad to get, but which in his present circumstances seemed to mock him with their calm assumption that all things must needs be right with him. There were three letters for him—two of the usual style from his sisters and one from an old college chum—nothing in any of them only a recommendation in the latter to try a certain brand of cigars, which the writer said were excellent but expensive. He sat down on a chair in the office and read them, glad of the chance of a rest. He lingered over the reading, and then read them again. He was loth to leave the chair, but it had to be done, and he rose at last and made his way to the labour office in Mair-street, trying to decide whether he had better spend a shilling of his half-crown in tobacco or whether it would be wiser to save it for food. The keeper of the labour office shook his head when he saw him.
"Nothing in your line," he said. "There's three ploughmen wanted, and a blacksmith for up country, and cooks. Lor, if you could only cook now——"
"I could try," said Clive, earnestly. "Man, I must get work of some sort. I'm getting desperate."
The other looked him up and down.
"You're stout built," he said, "but you look sick. It's no go. It ain't your sort people are after."
"But I must do something. I can't starve. Can't you get me work of any sort? I can dig, at least."
"There's no one wants a gardener as I knows on. Folks don't mostly keep gardeners on Ballarat, ain't rich enough, I guess. Know anything about horses? Yes? Oh, well, I might be able to get you a place at Dr. Macdonald's next week. His groom's going, I know."
"And anything else. Isn't there anything else?"
"Well, I dunno. If I was you I'd go round to the Phoenix Foundry on Monday morning and ask if they want a labourer. They got the Government contract for the engines, and is in fall swing, and they might."
"That's all I can do now," finished the man; "it's Saturday afternoon, and everyone's off to the football. Whatever is the good of looking for work on Saturday afternoon? Any fool could see you don't know nothing about it."
Which, if not strictly grammatical, was certainly true, as Clive felt bitterly.
And he went and laid out a shilling in tobacco, and resumed his tramp up and down the street more hopeless than ever.
"Hallo, Lucy? You back? I thought you were going to stop lunch at the Macmillans'. Why, whatever is the matter with you? You've been crying."
Lucy paid no attention to her younger sister, but gave all her attention to fastening the gate, which somehow seemed more difficult to manage than usual.
"Lucy, I say, Lucy, look here, what a fuss you do make about nothing. There's nothing the matter with that gate. Here, let me. There, goosey, I told you so. Now, whatever is the matter?"
"Nothing. Nothing at all."
"Oh, I daresay, with your eyes all red. Just you tell that to the marines."
"Hilda, don't be so vulgar."
"I shall if I like. Nothing sounds vulgar from a pretty woman."
"Who said you were pretty?"
"Plenty of people say so, my dear child, plenty of people; and Max Macmillan goes to the trouble of telling me so—often. But never mind my looks, they're an established fact, whatever you may say; and as for yours, you've just gone and spoilt them, and, naturally, I want to know the reason why."
Lucy Thornton was the eldest daughter of a solicitor in good practice, in Ballarat. She was just twenty-three, a dark-haired, dainty little thing, whom no one dreamt of calling pretty, but whom everyone acknowledged looked sweet and loveable. Hilda, on the contrary, was universally declared a very pretty girl, and promised to be a handsome woman. She was next in order to Lucy, and the five years between them only served to make the elder girl tenderly loving and tolerant towards the younger. Hilda was spoilt, there was no denying the fact. All Ballarat had united in spoiling her since she came out last May, and had Lucy been any nearer her own age, probably jealousy might have entered in and spoilt her love. As it was, all her life she had been tenderly protective to her baby sister, and felt so even now that the baby sister was a baby no longer, but a big girl a head taller than she was. They were the only daughters, and after them came six sons, who appreciated their sisters—well, just as much as younger brothers do appreciate sisters. Their father and mother had gone to Melbourne for a week's holiday, and Lucy had been left in charge of the household. She had lived at "The Laurels" ever since she could remember, and sometimes admired and loved it immensely, sometimes agreed with her sister it was very slow living so far from town. For "The Laurels" was situated in Wendouree-parade, not very far from Bishopscourt, and consequently over two miles from the post-office. Still Lucy acknowledged to herself always that it was a very pretty place, with pretty peeps of the lake, blue now in the sunshine, through the tall Californian pines that had been planted before she was born. A very pretty place, a very charming home, and yet as she walked up the drive to the house beside her sister she was just wishing either that she was dead or else that she had never been born, and very ardently, too, she wished that her sharp-sighted sister would not question her on the subject of her red eyes.
"I think I have got a cold," she said lamely, when Hilda pressed the point.
"Cold, pooh, look here!"
"Why aren't you at lunch, Dilly?" she asked. "It's twenty minutes past one, and those boys must just be ravenous."
"Probably they are," said Hilda calmly; "but they're not afflicted with shyness; they'll make somebody suffer if they're hungry, you may be sure. But why aren't you at lunch—at the Macmillans? I say—did you ask Max up to dinner?"
"No, I didn't."
They had reached the house now, and Hilda followed her sister into the bedroom they shared between them. In another room two or three boys were shouting at the top of their voices for "lunch," and "Kate," and "Hilda;" but no one paid the smallest attention. Lucy took off her hat and jacket and washed her face, while Hilda, seating herself on the bed, with her hands clasped round her knees, dilated aloud on her sister's unkindness in not asking Max Macmillan to dinner.
"And you know how dull I am, and he'd have liked to come, and wouldn't have minded walking home in the moonlight a bit."
"He wouldn't have minded walking home even if there wasn't any moon," suggested her sister. "Come, Dilly, don't be cross. Go and ask him yourself for to-morrow night, and he can take us to church. I'm sure Dick won't go when father's away."
"But that's just it," pouted Hilda. "You see, I know he wants to come; but I don't want to make a point of asking him. I thought you'd ask him to-night, and then—then—well the other'd come naturally."
"Oh, that's it, is it?" Lucy was combing out her curly fringe at the glass, thinking that her eyes were red—she must have cried a good deal more than she thought—and hoping that the boys would not prove as sharp-sighted as Hilda.
"Yes, that's it," snapped Hilda. "And I suppose you forgot all about me, and never went near the Macmillans at all."
"Well, dear, you never asked me to go."
"Asked you to? Of course not. Anybody who wasn't utterly selfish would have understood it without asking."
"Oh, dear, Hilda, don't you see there're so many things I don't understand?" sighed the elder sadly, thinking of her own trouble.
"Then you ought to make it your business to understand. Don't smash the door in, Dick," for someone was raining blows down on the closed door with all his might. "We'll be there in a minute!"
"It isn't Dick, it's Willie," said a voice outside. "Dick's gone into the kitchen," he added ominously, and went on with the hammering, but neither of the girls paid any attention. Girls with many brothers seldom do.
"Hilda, go down to the Macmillans this afternoon, like a dear," suggested Lucy, thinking she would dearly like to have the afternoon to herself.
"Thank you, I'm not going to run after a young man."
"Who said you were? I promised Mrs. Macmillan this knitting book before Sunday, and like a goose I forgot to give it to her. I do wish you'd take it down for me—besides I want butter and coffee from the grocer's. I'll have to go again unless you go for me. Do, there's a dear. Max won't be at home, he's sure to go to the hunt."
"All right, I'll go," said Hilda with alacrity, feeling that she might go to Mrs. Macmillan's, stop for afternoon tea, meet the returned hunter, and yet save her own dignity. "Come on, Lucy, surely you're ready now. Those boys'll certainly do some damage if we don't feed them at once."
"Now, Willie," she called, opening the door smartly. "Do stop that noise. We're ready now."
Lucy had always to be ready the moment Hilda was satisfied. Spoiled girl as she was, she had no consideration for the elder sister she loved after her own selfish fashion, and now that she had arranged her affairs entirely to her own satisfaction, she forgot all about Lucy's red eyes and the trouble that must have caused them.
And all luncheon time Lucy, endeavouring to keep order among her six turbulent younger brothers, had to put her own sad thoughts into the background. How could she think about Clive Dowling when every second in varying keys of discontent it was:—
"Lucy, I want more beef."
"You know I don't like fat."
"Cross old ting, you's given me colly flower."
"I want raspberry jam."
"Lucy, mustn't Dick give me the toasting-fork? I bagged it first," and so on all through the luncheon.
Mrs. Thornton was one of those fond mothers who liked her children, especially the younger ones, to have their own way as much as possible, the consequence being that, good boys as they were at bottom, when they were all at home during the holidays they, endeavouring to put their mother's theories into practice, were apt to quarrel among themselves to become somewhat unmanageable. Hilda, secure in her good-tempered selfishness, took no notice, but left them alone to fight it out among themselves, while on Lucy, who could not bear to see the younger ones ill-treated, fell not infrequently the fate of the peacemaker, which, good authority to the contrary notwithstanding, is not always blessed. To-day her head ached and her eyes were heavy, there was bitter disappointment at her heart—nay, more than disappointment—and yet she had to smile and look pleasant, to carve the meat, and cut the bread, to pour out the tea—they were regular young Australians, and insisted on tea—and make up the fire so that six pieces of toast might be made at once. She was inclined to rebel against that toast to-day. It took so long to make, and hot toast and butter was so insinuating and seductive when it was made, that it seemed impossible to satisfy appetites fresh from boarding-school fare, and lunch threatened to stretch out over half the afternoon. When Hilda had finished her own lunch she left the table and prepared for her trip into town, and Lucy drew her own conclusions when she saw her start dressed in her best; but it was close on three o'clock before the boys had done, and she was free to go to her own room and think out her own thoughts. She shut the door, and, drawing a chair up to the dressing-table, sat down, and, resting her chin on her hands, looked wistfully at her own pale reflection in the glass, as if, perchance, she might read an answer to the question that was troubling her in her own dark eyes.
Very carefully she went over her love—so simple a story—so matter-of-fact a story as hardly to be worthy of the name of love story at all. It was nearly two years ago now since her rich English aunt, her godmother, had written asking her to come home and spend a year with her and see something more of the world than she was ever likely to see in her Australian birthplace. And she had gone and had seen the world, or at least as much of it as a very worldly-minded old lady could put into twelve calendar months. But somehow the visit had hardly been a success. It had improved Lucy doubtless, it had opened her mind; but she felt a little sadly before the twelve months were up that she had not been a success, and that her aunt was disappointed in her. The old lady had set her heart on her niece making a brilliant match, and to that had given parties and balls and receptions, and had filled her house with eligible men, and behold Lucy had failed to make a single conquest. It was not of that she was not charming and loveable, but her aunt overpowered her. She made her intentions so patent that the girl, shamed and uncomfortable, drew back into her shell, and in her aunt's presence and among her aunt's friends failed to be her own sweet natural self. Neither, perhaps, was sorry when the year was up and Lucy found herself on board R.M.S. Parramatta, in charge of the captain, and bidding farewell to her aunt.
"Good-bye, aunt," she said, more frank and natural now than she had been during all the months of her stay. "I haven't been quite a success, have I? And you have been very good. You ought to ask Hilda. She's tall and very good-looking, and awfully cheeky."
"Cheeky, is she?" repeated Mrs. Mitcham thoughtfully. "Cheeky, and handsome, and an Australian. She ought to go down. Yes, I think I'll ask her. Good-bye, Lucy, my dear," she added, bestowing a peck on either cheek. "You're a good little thing, and I like you very much; but, my dear, the fact of the matter is, you—are—well, what I should never have suspected your mother's daughter of being—you are slow—yes, child, you are really slow."
Slow or not, once free from her aunt's overpowering presence, she had managed with her delicate, sweet, pale face to captivate Clive Dowling. She thought of that voyage now—of how he had always from the very first devoted himself to her; other girls there had been, prettier girls, "faster" girls, but he had eyes for no one but her. Always he had been at her side from the moment they had first struck up an acquaintance in the Royal Albert Docks to the hour when the mail steamer drew alongside Port Melbourne pier, and she had called his attention to her father and mother waiting in the crowd to welcome her home. True, he had not exactly made love to her, but if ever man had led a woman to believe he loved her, he had done so. He had told her his circumstances—he had confided in her all his hopes, all his fears. Very closely they had knitted the bond which each called friendship, but which she fancied had been but the prelude to a tie still closer. Had she been bold and unmaidenly, she wondered, this bright winter's afternoon. Surely not—oh, surely not. The friendship had been none of her seeking, and he had taken such desperate pains to make her care for him. He had asked her to write, and she had written, and he had answered her letters, beginning on the very day they were received, often keeping hers beside him, and adding something day by day, as if she were perpetually in his thoughts. Those long, interesting letters; she had kept them and treasured them away in a drawer, and when she took them out this afternoon, and looked at them, and re-read them, to make sure she had not been deceiving herself too much, they smelled strongly of the pot-pourri that had been put so lovingly among them. Then came the Easter holidays, and he had written to say that he was going to spend them in Ballarat, because he must have a glimpse of her face to cheer him on his way, and when she had answered that they were all going to Queenscliff he had gone to Queenscliff too, and it was just the "Parramatta" over again. Hilda's rich beauty had had no charms for him—he had devoted himself to her pale-faced elder sister. Her life had seemed all roses that sunny Easter time, he had seemed to love her so, even though he had spoken no word of love. He had told her mother, though, that he was working desperately hard because he was in love with the sweetest woman in the world, "and he hoped to be able to ask her to be his wife before the year was out." Her mother had repeated this to her, smiling when she blushed, kissing her tenderly, and saying—"Your father and I both think he's a very nice fellow, Lucy." It was very evident what they thought—very evident, for that matter, what all Adman's Hotel thought. Lucy had got thus far in her backward glances when there came a knock at the door.
"If you please, Miss, Kate says there's the Chinaman at the door, and he ain't got nothin' but cauliflower."
Household affairs must go on even though hearts are breaking, so Lucy, deciding her face was too tear-stained to appear before the servants with dignity, chose what seemed to her the lesser evil, and called through the closed door.
"It's no good, Ann. Master Dick says if we have any more cauliflower he'll throw it out of the window. Get some carrots."
Ann's departing footsteps were heard going down the passage, and Lucy went back to her own sad thoughts again. He had been so thoughtful, so kind, so deferential—how could she help loving him, and he had held her hand so long at parting, he had looked into her eyes and asked her not to forget him, but to write to him and think of him sometimes, and to remember that those letters of hers were the only things he had to look forward to. Was it her fault if he had filled all her thoughts, all her life?
"Lucy, Lucy, Lucy; whatever do you lock your door for! Lucy, we want to make some toffee, and, Ann says, John says you owe him a ha'penny."
It was Dick's voice, and there was no gainsaying Dick, she knew, once he had taken an idea into his head.
"Very, well, make the toffee, then."
"Oh, I daresay, when the butter and sugar's in the store, and you've got the keys and—ugh—mean—robbing a poor Chink of a ha'penny."
There was no help for it, she knew she'd have to face them, though her eyes were red and her face tear-stained.
"I'm coming," she said, beginning a frantic search through a drawer for the necessary coin. So he had written, and she had answered the letter, and there had come a long unaccountable silence extending over two months which had seemed to the waiting girl like two long years. With merciful kindness no one had taken notice of her white and anxious face, but at last, towards the end of June, a letter had come, a short and shaky letter, saying how near death's door he had been, and how he was coming up to Ballarat for change of air, and that was the last she had heard of him—the very last till she had seen him to-day by the Burke and Wills monument. Had she been going to speak to him, she wondered—had she? She knew she had. And had quietly raised his hat and passed on. Oh, the bitter shame of it—what must he have thought of her to do that. What had happened—what had come between them?
"Lucy, I say, Lucy."
"Well, Ted, what is it now?"
"Dick's got the nursery poker red hot, and he says if you don't come quickly he'll bore holes in the store door."
Perhaps it is just as well that the little cares of domestic life should meet us at every turn, irrespective of our joys and our sorrows, but Lucy did feel it hard that she could not even steal an hour to herself.
"Oh, Ted," she sighed, "how naughty he is! Mother'll be so vexed. Run and tell him I'll be there in a minute."
She wondered if those sharp-sighted brothers of hers would notice her red eyes and divine the cause. But they had to be faced, and the sooner the better, so, hastily bathing her face in cold water, she unlocked her door and went bravely down to the storeroom, arriving at the same moment as Dick, who bore the threatened red-hot poker. He flourished it above his head, and began a preliminary war-dance.
"Don't, Dick, don't. I know you'll burn somebody. Do let me alone, and I'll get you the sugar and butter."
"And pay the Chinaman?"
"I say," he said, peering into her face. "What have you been crying for?"
"I've not been crying. I've a headache—and—there, Dick, I told you so. I knew you'd burn somebody, and I'm glad it's yourself."
Dick had burnt his fingers badly, and was exceedingly wroth thereat. And Lucy was so very glad to have general attention called to anything beyond her personal appearance that she could afford to be sympathetic, and tenderly bound up his hand. Then she had to superintend the toffee-making. Dick being incapacitated, and then interview the fishmonger. Kate wanted a new recipe for a cheese pudding, and all the clean linen had to be given out and aired. Hilda came home triumphant, bearing Max Macmillan in her train, and dinner had to be got through somehow. The two youngest boys had to be bathed and put to bed, and at last she found herself free to indulge in her own thoughts again. She drew a chair up to the drawing-room fire, and shading her face with a screen, gazed into the glowing coals. Hilda was at the piano, and Dick and Willie and her devoted adorer, young Macmillan, a young fellow about Lucy's own age, were singing the most sentimental of sentimental songs in anything but a sentimental manner. The two youngest boys were seated at a table in a corner, squabbling over the race game, and she felt she might think without fear of interruption. She seemed to have done everything to-day to a wearying never-ending accompaniment of "Clive Dowling," "Clive Dowling," and now her head was aching and throbbing to the same name. How ill he had looked, how terribly ill. Even in that brief moment of their meeting she had had time to notice how white and tired he looked, and, sad as she was on her own account, her whole heart went out in pity for the man she loved. Like a true woman, she forgot her own wrongs in an intense desire to comfort him, just to say one kindly word of encouragement, to bring a smile of hope on to that pale face. She was necessary to him, she felt sure; but what had come between them? Why should he treat her like that? Why? Why? Why?
Hilda shut up the song-book with a bang, and swung round on the music-stool.
"I say, Lucy, I believe I saw your friend, Clive Dowling, to-day."
"Yes. He was walking along Ripon-street, smoking a horrid little black pipe. I was on top of the tram, so I didn't speak; and I don't think he saw me, but I'm sure it was him, because I knew Pepper at once. I say, though, he looked awfully shabby. I believe he's travelling on his uppers."
"Well, my dear, that's the most graphic way I know of expressing it," and Hilda swung round to the piano again, while her sister counted the minutes till bedtime came.
Clive stood wearily on the post-office steps, looking up and down the street. The shadows of night had fallen; but it was Saturday night. All the shops were open and brilliantly lighted, and the wide street was full of people moving to and fro, busily bent on the business of the hour, and giving no thought to the wretched man alone in their midst. Pepper lay curled up on the pavement, close beside him. Happy dog; he had been well fed once to-day, and could sleep anywhere, though perhaps in his mind there was a wonder that his master should choose to walk the streets so perpetually. That master was in the very depths of despair. He had touched nothing since morning. He was hungrier than he had ever been in his life before. He had only eighteen pence left now, and all Sunday must intervene before there was even a possibility of his getting work, and the possibility was so small—so pitifully small—he dare not count on it. And yet he dare not look forward to what would happen if he did not get it. He lighted his pipe—at least, he thought, it would deaden the hunger—and strolled on down the hill into Bridge-street, where the crowd was close and so densely packed that no vehicle could possibly pass down the street. He spoke to a cabman at the corner, and asked him the meaning of it all.
"A fine night," said the man, nodding cheerfully; "just a fine night. They comes out to do their marketing an' to look at the shops, an' the girls come out to meet their lads—and, oh, well, it's neighbourly like, an' its pleasant to meet a mate. You'll be a stranger here."
"Yes; I know no one."
"That'll be lonesome, now; but, bless you, you'll soon know plenty," he said, looking at him curiously as he stood directly in the light of the big Sugg lamp. "Folks is very friendly like. It's different from the old country."
"Yes," said Clive, thoughtfully, and then added, why he could hardly have told himself, "but what I want badly is work."
The other laughed.
"There's lots wanting that," he said; "but times is bad. And what might your trade be?"
"I have none."
"That's bad—very bad," said the man thoughtfully, and seeing he was disposed to be friendly, Clive might have told him his exact circumstances; but at that moment another man came up and clapped his new friend on the shoulder.
"Hallo, Hal, old boy, where have you been hiding this long while?"
The opportunity was gone, and he turned away.
"Good night," he said, moving off.
"Good night, mate," called out the other man after him; "better luck next week."
It was heartily said, and he felt cheered for a moment as he threaded his way through the crowd. He paused opposite a confectioner's and baker's, attracted, as he acknowledged to himself, by the warm and savoury odours that gushed out of the brilliantly-lighted shop. How tempting the pastry and buns and other sweet things looked spread out in the window! Had he come to this—he—Clive Dowling? Many a time in London he had seen hungry children—ay, and men and women, too—pressing their faces eagerly against the panes, hugging themselves in the scanty warmth that found its way out from the glow within. Many a time he had taken them in and fed them; but many and many a time—he thought of it now with a sort of shame—he had passed by unthinking and uncaring, and now he had come down to that himself.
Not quite though—he still had money in his pocket, and, walking in, he asked for a loaf of bread—not only because he was hungry and bread the cheapest thing he could buy, but also to rid himself of that horrible feeling of fellowship with the wretched ones of the earth, to wipe away the pictures which he had himself conjured up.
The girl behind the counter glanced at him, and asked brusquely:—
"Fresh or stale? Stale's half-price."
"Stale then, please," said Clive, feeling bitterly that she saw exactly the state of affairs, and yet hardly sorry for it, since it emboldened him to ask another question. "Can you tell me where I can get a bed for the night?"
The girl looked at him. She held his evident poverty in supreme contempt, but he was a good-looking young fellow, fair-haired and blue-eyed, with a cultivated, soft-toned voice, and his pale face and thin hands moved her to pity.
"There's the Earl of Zetland, nearly opposite," she said. "The beds are good and clean, and cheap—only a shilling."
What man likes to confess his poverty, and such pitiful poverty? Clive looked down and blushed, and hesitated. Perhaps the girl guessed his plight. Anyhow she went on:—
"Perhaps that's too much. Here's Mrs. McManus here," turning to a woman who was buying scones, "she'll give you a bed for sixpence, won't you, if she ain't full?"
"Oh, I ain't full!" said the woman, "an' it's good an' cheap at the price, though I says it as shouldn't. But my rules is pay in advance, young man. There's a many as comes in an' sleeps comferble, an' in the mornin' hasn't a cent, an' there's no gettin' blood out of a stone, yer know. So there's my rule, like it or lump it—pay in advance!"
"I'll pay in advance if it's not far off," said Clive. He was so weary he felt he must rest somewhere, anywhere, and he followed the woman thankfully.
She lived in a lane off Peel-street, and her house looked dirty and tumble-down, even under the softening rays of the moonlight, and the skillion into which she showed him was more uninviting still. But he could not afford to choose. He put his hand into his pocket, intending to pay the money, and then found to his consternation it was not there. He searched each pocket eagerly, anxiously—it was so little, and yet it was all has in the wide world—while the woman stood looking on with impassive face. Her bonnet was pushed back from her forehead and she had a mop of dirty towsly grey hair. She looked an uninviting old hag as she stood there, holding in her hand a guttering candle, and he wondered he had not noticed before what an evil face she had.
"Come," she said at last, "don't be all night."
His pipe and tobacco were gone, as well as the money, and he knew she had taken it; he was as certain of it as if he had seen her do it, but how could he prove it? He had come through a dense crowd, and any one of those people might have robbed him. And what could he do? He could have seized her and searched her certainly, but even if he did find a pipe and tobacco on her, who was to say it was his? A shilling, a threepenny bit, and a penny, anyone in the world might possess those coins. If he abused her, he felt certain she would be more than his match. He looked at her blankly a moment, and then, when she remarked again that she couldn't wait all night, he said dully, "Some one has robbed me." Then she opened her mouth and poured out on him as vile a torrent of abuse as he had ever heard from any lips. Did he suspect her—her—her—with many explanatory adjectives which may not be written. Was he trying to impose on a lone widow woman, whose character all Ballarat knew for spotlessness? If he was, she would soon let him know that——
And then Clive, seeing remonstrance was useless, took up the loaf he had bought, pushed her roughly aside—he was desperate and not disposed to be gentle—and went out of the place, closely followed by his little dog. It was so little—so very little—but it was his all. What could he do now? He might get through Sunday on the loaf he had; but after that—he must get work on Monday—work of any sort, and he began feverishly to enter each shop on his way up the street, and to ask not for food or money or help of any sort, but merely for work, and as was only to be expected, he always received the same answer—they had none to give him. In the first place every man was busy with his own affairs, and hardly likely to engage a man haphazard even if he was not, and in the next Clive rarely saw the master at all; he generally made his application to the nearest assistant, who, seeing he was easily rebuffed—that was plainly to be read in his anxious face and hesitating manner—promptly said "No," and so got rid of him. He was so conscious of his own inferiority, his own unfitness for the style of work he sought, that instinctively he communicated the feeling to all to whom he spoke, and it was not to be wondered at that he went the whole length of the street, and no man gave him the smallest hope. By the time he reached Sturt-street again, it seemed to him he had passed through so much, had been so cruelly insulted and ignored, that he would rather have died a thousand deaths than have asked for work again that night. Sturt-street was not so full, and he walked slowly up and down between Lydiard-street and the hospital, backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards, for the shops were brilliantly lighted, and made the cold street look—if it did not feel—warm and cheery. One by one, though, the shutters were put up, the lights extinguished, and the street began to grow empty and deserted. As the town clock struck midnight the light went out from behind its four round faces, and then indeed Clive felt that the night had begun for him. Where was he to go? Where could he go? He turned and walked back up Sturt-street again. Pepper was tired, but followed him dutifully, protesting now and again with a pitiful little whimper against this merciless tramp. Straight up the deserted street, he went, meeting no one save a solitary policeman, and when he reached Ripon-street he turned off towards the lake. He hardly knew what object he had in view, for surely by the lake it would be bitterly cold on this sharp winter's night. He paused at one of the steam-boat sheds, and walking on to the little pier, sat himself down on one of the seats, and, cold as he was, almost before he realised the fact he had fallen into an uneasy doze. His uncomfortable posture and the cold soon awakened him, and then he stretched himself out on the seat, and pillowing his head on his arm, slept again, slept on heavily and dreamlessly the sleep of utter overpowering weariness.
When he awoke the moon low, down in the west, had sent her beams right into the shed, and the whole place was light as day. He was stiff and cramped and bitterly cold, and felt as if he must get up at once if he ever expected to move again. Every movement sent a thrill of pain through his body, but he rose up and walked on slowly at first, and then briskly, hoping to warm himself. The whole place was very still and silent, not a creature stirred, not a sound was heard, and the pretty little lake lay before him in the moonlight like a great silver shield, dotted here and there with dark blotches where the rushes grew in clumps. He walked on round it, first by the water's edge and then outside in the road, for he remembered that the Thorntons lived here, and a longing came over him to see the house that held the woman he loved. He soon came upon it—a very comfortable, commonplace house, just the house of an ordinary well-to-do, middle-class man, with white palings enclosing the green lawns and tall pines and willows. "The Laurels" was painted in gold letters on the white gate posts, and Clive read it carefully as a man will do who has too much time on his hands. Then he opened the gate softly, and going up the drive stood in front of the sleeping house. What he had expected, what he had hoped for, he could not himself have told, but there came a bitter feeling of disappointment into his heart as he stood there alone and unnoticed, an outcast and a waif, before the house he had hoped to enter as a son and a lover. They were sleeping there quietly and peacefully, he thought, and no one gave one thought to him. He was alone in the world, starving and homeless, and no one cared—not one soul. And yet, behind that drawn blind, if he had only known it, a girl was lying wakeful on her bed, with her face buried in the pillows, praying as only a woman can pray, and only does pray when she feels all other hope is denied her, that no evil might befall the man who had won her heart. But there was a wall between them—there very often is in this world, in more senses than one—and he did not know it, and a dog beginning to bark furiously from somewhere behind the house, he turned and went slowly out of the gate, his whole energies devoted to the task of keeping his little dog quiet, for Pepper was a pugnacious animal, and had replied to the challenge of the Thornton house-guardian with several short sharp barks which had terrified his master with a fear of discovery.
Outside once more he made made his way to the gardens, and entering the big rotunda, lay down on the hard wooden seat and slept again till the sun was high in the heavens. He was cold and stiff when he wakened, and had that feeling of unrest and discomfort which necessarily attaches to sleeping in one's clothes all night. He was hungry, too, very hungry, but he knew he could hope for nothing to-day, so he forbore to touch the bread he still had left till he had been down to the margin of the lake and washed in its cold waters. He laughed bitterly to himself at the extreme simplicity of his toilet, but at least, he thought, he might make himself presentable, even if he must die to-morrow.. He didn't suppose he should die, of course—no one ever does—but he did wonder anxiously, as he sat there on a seat under the bare willow trees, eating his frugal breakfast of dry bread, what would become of him should he fail to get work to-morrow. How could he tell anyone of his straits—how appeal to the charity of strangers, and yet he saw inevitably it must come to that, and his whole soul revolted against it. Weary as he was, he found himself walking up and down the deserted gardens, feverishly trying to rid himself of his thoughts, and then he sat down again, remembering that he was only wearing out his boots for nothing, that at the present rate they certainly would not last another week, and that he had not the wherewithal to buy another pair. But he could not rest, and soon found himself travelling down towards town again. It was a bright sunny day, but a Sabbath, calm was over everything. From within the high brick convent walls came a sound of feminine voices, softly singing morning hymns—here and there a church bell, earlier than the rest, rang out, and again a buggy load of pleasure-seekers bent on spending their Sunday in the country passed along. But for the most part the streets were quiet and deserted, and the few people who met him took no notice whatever of the lonely man. Then, as the clock chimed half-past 10, the bells in the Town-hall tower rang out a merry peal, joyfully inviting all creeds and all denominations to join in celebrating this day of peace and rest. And on a sudden, as it seemed to Clive, the sunny side of Sturt-street was thronged with people wending their way to church and chapel and meeting-house. A train passed down the street—a horse tram, not to be compared to the magnificent cable trams of Melbourne, and on top he saw, with an indefinable feeling of mingled pleasure and pain, Lucy Thornton, her sister, and two or three younger brothers. Had they seen him? He hoped not, and he shrank back among the little knot of men who always stand at Cobb's corner and watched them descend, cross the road, and pass him so close that by stretching out his hand he could have touched their dresses. Hilda was scolding one of her brothers, and Lucy kept her eyes on the ground, and so they passed on, and, instead of being thankful, he was disappointed, and felt more lonely than ever. He watched them up the street till they entered the church, and then followed in their footsteps. Why should he not go to church, too? That was open to him, at any rate, and at least he might have one more look at Lucy Thornton; might sit somewhere near her; might even hear her voice. So, he went on, and stood in the doorway with the strangers who invariably stand there waiting for a seat.
Presently the verger came, and ushered him into one near the end of the church, and the organ pealed out as the white-robed choir came in in procession. S. Alphius' Church is old and dingy—it is certainly uncomfortable—and the choir, after the manner of choirs, is much given to high-flown chants and conceited pieces, which are far above the heads of the suffering congregation, but, luckily for S. Alphius', its vicar is one of the most eloquent men in the colony, and Sunday after Sunday crowds are drawn there to listen spell-bound by his eloquence. It has been fondly hoped by the vicar himself, who is a modest man, that the congregations are drawn together by some higher motive than merely to listen to his words, but the fact remains that when he is absent, and the curate—a kind, good, earnest little man, who models himself on his vicar, and produces a mild imitation of the other's fiery eloquence with all the fire gone out of it—preaches, he preaches to comparatively empty benches.
But Clive was not in a mood to think of these things. He wanted rest, and found the seats narrow and cramped; and he wanted to see Lucy Thornton, and could only now and then catch a glimpse of the top of her hat. The words of the Church of England's beautiful liturgy fell soothingly on his ears, and brought him some vague comfort. Surely the Litany—that pitiful entreaty of the cast-down and heart-broken—must have been written for such as he. He hardly felt so hopeless when he rose from his knees, though he was a man but little given to prayers; and then came the sermon—a sermon which stirred him to the depths. It might have been preached at him, so exactly did it suit his case, and his heart went out in gratitude to this stranger in the pulpit, who seemed to understand him and sympathise with him so thoroughly. He had half a mind to go to him after church, and lay his case before him—to ask his help and his sympathy, but it was only half a mind, and even as the idea flashed through his brain he knew he would never have the courage to carry it out, for he had learned already to admire this man. He would like to stand well in his eyes. How could he go before him and ask his help as a tramp and beggar? He would rather, he thought, ask it of Lucy herself, and that he felt was impossible—so impossible that when she turned to leave the church he was overwhelmed by a nervous terror lest she should see and recognise him, and, hiding himself as best he could, made his way out by another door, and when he looked for her again she was away down the street, hastening to catch the tram home. She had looked sad and white, he thought, in the one glimpse he had caught of her, and then he wondered had he had anything to do with bringing that look of sorrow into her face. He had done his best to make her care for him. Had she cared, and had she cared more than he thought? Would she come to church again to-night? He hardly thought so. It was so far off, but at least he would be there to see. Pepper danced about at his side, pleased to see his master again; but Clive gave him but scant attention, his life's problem was so all-absorbing he had no time to give to the dog. There was only a crust or two remaining of the loaf he had bought the night before, and he cursed himself bitterly for a fool to be thinking on a woman's sad looks when starvation stared him in the face. And yet Lucy—poor little Lucy—the little, trusting, bright-faced, happy girl, had he brought that look on to her face—had he? And he cursed himself more bitterly than ever. He thought, and thought, and thought, but could come to no conclusion. He ate a crust of bread walking up a by-street, he drank a draught of water at a street drinking-fountain, and by three o'clock found himself outside S. Alphius' again.
It was only three o'clock, but the church door was open, and so he entered, leaving Pepper outside, and wandered up to the pew where the girl he loved had sat in the morning. It was comfortably cushioned, and he sat down wearily—he had nowhere to go, and the church at least was more homelike than the street. Reverently he touched the prayer-book, though the majority were dog-eared and untidy, and evidently belonged to schoolboys, yet one with a little gold cross on the front he recognised as belonging to Lucy—a dainty little Russia leather book somewhat worn by much use; he had seen it in her hands often. He opened it, and a white rosebud, dried and pressed, fell out—just such a bud he had given her last Easter. He remembered it well; for the boys had covered her with confusion saying that a white rosebud meant "I love you," and she had blushed.
How pretty she had looked with the hot colour in her cheeks. So she had kept his flower. Ah! well. He put down the book, and stamped his foot angrily. What right had he, an outcast and a vagrant, to soil this fair woman by thoughts of her? Then he flung himself down full length on the cushioned seat, and lay with his hands under his head staring up into the dim recesses of the roof, listening to the drowsy singing of the children in the Sunday-school close at hand, and at last, almost in spite of himself, sleep came upon him, and he slept heavily till the bells again rang out their call to evening church.
Clive started up in affright, rubbing his eyes, and wondering where he was. Then, as consciousness returned, came the fear of being discovered, and, like some wrong-doer, he slunk out of church, and waited about in the grounds till the increasing crowd at the door offered him a fair cover, and then he joined them, and, standing just outside the light that poured out of the door, watched the worshippers go in. He felt faint and ill, for he had had very little to eat for the last few days, and yet he could be half-sadly amused at finding how glad he was when the ever-shifting restless people moved him up till he found himself close against the ivy-covered wall. He accepted the support it offered gratefully, and presently, also to his astonishment, found himself bitterly jealous because into the gaslight had come Lucy Thornton and her sister Hilda, accompanied by a good-looking young fellow who carried their wraps, and seemed in some indefinable manner to constitute them his property. Yes, she did look sad—sad and pale—even when she smiled, he thought, as they passed him; and this time, in his anxiety to see more of her, he persuaded the verger to put him in a seat exactly in a line with the Thorntons, and then spent the rest of church time in an agony of terror lest either of the girls should see him. And they did see him, of course. The habitues in a church easily pick out the strangers, and in the middle of the second lesson Hilda's wandering eyes caught sight of him, and he felt rather than saw that she pointed him out to her sister. After that, though he kept his eyes steadily fixed on the reader, the rest of the service was like a dream to him; he rose up and knelt down mechanically, the choir sang an anthem, and there were the usual prayers for the Queen and the Royal Family, bishops and curates, and all sorts and conditions of men; there was an eloquent sermon, but though he felt that the man beside him was strongly moved, the impassioned words of the speaker conveyed no meaning to his dulled ears; for ever before him he seemed to see a pale young face with sad brown eyes, and the reproach in those eyes was more than he could bear. Could he meet her after church and tell her the truth—but then how could he—how could he? Better let things be as they were. It could not very much matter to any one if she did think ill of him, and she would soon forget. She was a proud woman, he knew, and he had treated her shamefully. The sermon came to an end, and the collection was taken up, and then the congregation, as with one voice, sang "Abide with Me." The grand evening hymn echoed and rolled among the wooden rafters, and filled the whole church with a volume of mingled prayer and praise which touched the lonely man's heart as no concerted piece or chant could ever have touched it, and he ventured to steal another look at the girl in the seat opposite. She had her eyes on the hymn-book, and was throwing her whole soul into the singing. Already she had forgotten him. Good-bye, Lucy—good-bye, good-bye—it was not likely their paths in life would ever cross again. Then came the blessing—the tender, all-embracing blessing which Sunday after Sunday calls down peace on troubled hearts, and then the crowded congregation moved slowly out. He lingered behind and watched the Thorntons leave. Once, in the doorway, Lucy turned round and their eyes met, but he made no sign, though he saw the blood rush to her face, and she turned away quietly, and was soon lost in the crowd outside.
As for Clive, he felt utterly worn out. His last scanty crust was gone, he was tired, hungry, cold, and heart-brokenly weary of life, yet there was still the long night to be got through, and it threatened to rain, he felt hardly equal to going up to the lake and seeking out his last night's refuge in the steamboat-house, and yet he knew of no other place. He went and sat down on one of the seats in Sturt-street and watched the church-goers wending their way homeward, Pepper, as if in reproach for having been left so long, came and curled himself up beside him, and Clive lifted him on to his knee in a vain hope that he might derive some little warmth from the dog's warm body. Ten, eleven, twelve; the night passed so slowly he walked up and down sometimes to warm himself, and then it began to rain, a bitter cold rain from the south-west, which drove him beneath the verandahs for refuge. Now and then some one passed him and looked wonderingly at him, but to none did it occur that this decently-dressed man was houseless and homeless. He fell asleep on a doorstep towards morning, and was awakened by a hand on his shoulder and Pepper barking furiously.
"Come, come," said a voice, and looking up he saw the shiny cape and helmet of a policeman wet with rain. "Come, come, this'll never do."
Clive rose up and muttered something inaudible, quieted the dog, and moved slowly up the street and the policeman looking after him said that it was a rum start, a rum start, and went on and thought no more about it, for he was busily considering whether he hadn't a chance of being made senior-constable at Christmas, and if so whether he mightn't venture to pop the question to the pretty housemaid at the doctor's, just one block down, with whom he had been keeping company for the last three months. He rather feared the sergeant had a leaning in that direction, and if so—well, the sergeant was still a personable man, though he was over forty. So you see Policeman X22 had a good deal on his mind, and had no time to spare to think about decent-looking strangers who chose to sleep on doorsteps and who bore no resemblance whatever to the professional burglar, and therefore, offered no chance of working up a big case. If he had questioned him—and Clive was so wretchedly miserable, he would have been glad to speak to anyone, he might have discovered his destitute condition, and told him where he could get some stonebreaking, and so this story would not have been written; but, having these weighty matters on his mind, he did not speak, and Clive wandered on up the street again, and sat down on another seat, and, in spite of the cold and rain, dozed again, till at last the late Winter's dawn began to break, and the silent-sleeping city awoke.
He brushed himself up as best he could, and, breakfastless as he was, made his way straight to the Phoenix Foundry, in Armstrong-street. His heartbeat high with hope; he was so eager for work, so anxious to do his best, that he could hardly persuade himself he must needs fail, and yet he knew it was more than probable, for his was unskilled labour, and must be worth at best so very little, and yet it was his only chance—his only chance—and with feverish anxiety he watched the big doors open, and the men pouring in to their work. At last he ventured to enter the office and ask for work. The man behind the counter looked at him, not unkindly, but not very hopefully.
"Work?" he said. "Well, my man, I'm afraid you're hardly the sort. What can you do?"
"I am willing, sir," said Clive, eagerly feeling pitifully how low he had fallen, "to do my best, and try my hand at anything."
"Hardly the sort, hardly the sort," said the other, shaking his head. "However—here, Wilson, send one of the foremen here."
The foreman came—a tall, strapping young fellow, dressed in a blue dungaree suit, somewhat soiled by engine oil, and shook his head.
"This isn't a labourer, sir," he said somewhat brusquely. "I can lay my hands on the exact man that'll suit us," and he turned away and went back to his work.
"I thought so—I told you so," said the man Clive had first addressed, somewhat regretfully. "I knew how it would be—better luck next time, mate."
It was kindly said and kindly meant, but it was neither food nor money, and Clive could only wonder how on earth he was to get through the day without either.
"Thank you, sir, good morning," he said dully, as he turned away, and then he made his way down to the offices of the Star and Courier, and looked up the advertisement columns. Half the town wanted Cooks and housemaids, general servants and nursegirls, as far as he could see, but the only thing that was at all likely for him was an advertisement for a man to groom and make himself generally useful, apply H. Smithson, Wendouree-parade. It seemed a terrible long way off, but he knew he must not neglect this chance, so he set off at once through the drizzling mist and rain, merely calling at the labour office in Mair-street to ask if they had heard of anything that would suit him. No, there was nothing yet, it was too early; and so he went on to H. Smithson's, and found, much to his dismay, that he lived next door to "The Laurels." Still, as he told himself bitterly, beggars must not be choosers, and he presented himself at the door of the man he now had no choice but to hope would be his future master.
Mr. Smithson was at his breakfast, and came out wiping his beard with his napkin. He listened to all Clive had to say, looked him curiously up and down, questioned him closely, opined it was rather early for him to make a decision, and finally told him to call again at eleven, when he would give him a decisive answer.
What was Clive to do? He could not tell him he was almost starving, that he was not in a condition to walk down to town and back again without having any food, and yet that by stopping where he was he might risk losing something more suitable in town. Still for the last six days he had been seeking work without finding it, was it likely he should lose anything by staying about here now? He turned away and entered the reserve round the lake. He was morbidly afraid of meeting any of the Thorntons, but the day was so cold, wet, and forbidding he felt he might safely risk it. He was terribly hungry, and he could not help speculating on his chances of being engaged, wondering if he could go to work at once, and whether he might hope for a meal at midday. If they only knew the pitiful straits he was in, he thought, sitting down on a seat where a tall pine tree gave some shelter from the pitiless rain—surely they would not grudge him a meal.
He would not have been grudged a meal had he been the veriest impostor under the sun, and had he but dared to make his straits known the whole street would have been eager and anxious to help him. That a man should be starving in their midst—such things they had heard of in the old world—they were far away, and but dimly realised: but is this new land—here close at their doors—it would have been a shock to many a kindly Australian heart, and this Clive more than half understood, but he could not beg—not yet, not yet. So he sat there drearily watching the dull grey water and the thick growing dark rushes, and the fine driving rain which bounded his horizon in a dull, grey mist, wondering how much longer he could bear the gnawing hunger and the biting cold. Many a time in the old country he had seen men sitting as he was sitting now, and like the Levite of the old parable had looked on them a little curiously, and then had passed them by on the other side. Had they felt as hopeless—as despairing—as he did now? Perhaps the best thing he could do with the life he had made such a failure of was to end it there and then—to make a hole in that muddy-looking water; and then he laughed bitterly as he remembered that he had heard the lake was not more than three feet deep there.
A gate just behind him opened, and someone came down the gravelled path. Pepper, who had been sleeping between his master's feet, sat bolt upright, keenly on the alert, listening to the advancing footsteps, but Clive took no notice. Right opposite to him they came, and Pepper, as if he could stand it no longer, gave one joyous bark and dashed forward.
"Why, Pepper—poor Pepper!" said a woman's voice he knew right well, and he sprang to his feet and found himself face to face with Lucy Thornton. She had no umbrella, but was wrapped up in a long waterproof cloak; a tweed cap was on her head. The excitement of meeting him had brought a faint colour into her cheeks, and the raindrops glittered on her dark hair and on her long boa. For a moment they stood face to face, speechless, then, with sudden recollection, she bowed slightly and was passing on, when something perhaps in his forlorn aspect struck her and she paused.
"Mr. Dowling," she spoke bravely and coldly, though Clive thought he detected a quiver in her voice—"I—I thought you promised to come and see us when you came to Ballarat?"
The tones were so cold, so indifferent, that had it not been for that slight quiver he would have felt it best to turn away with some trivial excuse and let her think what she liked of him. As it was, however, there came back the longing he had felt the night before, when he had first seen those reproachful brown eyes, and with it an intense desire to set himself straight with her.
"I——" he paused, he did not know what to say—how could he tell her the bare unvarnished ugly truth, and yet how make any other excuse? He must say something, the brown eyes were looking at him so gravely. "The truth is, Miss Thornton—I dared not—a man in my position has no right to intrude himself on you."
"Nonsense!" there was more warmth in her tones now, "nonsense! You know how glad we were to see you at Easter, and—and—it was unkind of you not to come. Why, what is your position?"
"A very poor one." There was another pause—he felt faint and ill, and did not know how to go on, and she, knowing in her own heart how anxious she was that this man should clear himself, was afraid of betraying herself, and stooped and caressed the dog.
"Poor Pepper, poor old Pepper; you don't go away and forget old friends, do you, Pepper?"
"Miss Thornton,"—there was an appealing ring in his voice not to be mistaken even by the most obdurate, and Lucy was not by any means obdurate; she knew herself she was only too anxious to be convinced. "Miss Thornton—please don't think that of me; only—only—don't you see," he added, desperately, "that I've come down in the world, come down with a run, and come down a long way?"
She forgot the dog in a moment, she was cold no longer, she was all gentleness and kindness, mingled, perhaps, with a little reproach.
"Oh, Mr. Dowling," she cried, holding out her hand—she had not offered to shake hands with him before. "Oh, Mr. Dowling, how could you think so unkindly—so badly of us? It's as if we hadn't been friends—as if I shouldn't be just as glad to see you whether you're rich or poor."
It was almost too much for Clive. He was weak and ill and starving; for weeks no one had spoken a kindly, friendly word to him—he had been so terribly lonely, and now the woman he loved was standing before him, evidently glad to see him, and unfeignedly anxious that he should understand that no change of fortune could make any difference to her.
"You are good to me," he murmured, trying to steady his voice. "You have always been good to me; but—but you don't understand. I have been very ill. I have come a regular cropper. I—I am stone broke." And it almost seemed to Lucy that he stopped because he daren't trust his voice to say more, and, true loving little girl as she was, her heart was filled with pity for him.
"Stone broke!" she repeated after him. She had come to his side now, and was looking up in his face with pitiful eyes. "I'm so sorry—so very sorry; but still I don't see why you should have kept away just because you were poor."
"Don't you?" he asked bitterly; "don't you? Miss Lucy, you have a great many things to learn yet."
"Of course," she assented; "but there's some I don't ever intend to learn. One is to keep away from my friends just because they've lost their money. That may be English ways, Mr. Dowling, but it isn't Australian yet, I'm glad to say."
He looked down on her, and blessed her in his heart. Brave little girl—good little girl; but still he saw she did not thoroughly understand the situation, and he could not make up his mind to explain it, so he said nothing, and Lucy went on——
"We are silly to stand here in the rain. I'm all right, but, oh dear, you've got no coat on, and you'll be wet through. Come back home with me. See now, aren't I nice and forgiving?"
"But you are going into town. I will walk a little way with you if I may."
"In the rain. There's no fun in that. Much better come in and tell us all about yourself over a cosy fire, Mr. Dowling," with a fresh access of coldness, for it suddenly struck her she was being too civil to this man. She had not heard from him for a month. Perhaps, after all, he was regretting his former devotion to her. "Mr. Dowling, perhaps, after all, you'd rather not have met me. You never answered my last letter, and——and——"
"There has not been a moment," he interrupted passionately, "when you have been absent from my thoughts," and feeling that his strength was rapidly deserting him, he sat down on the seat again.
"Then, why?—why?" Lucy looked at him wonderingly—he was in earnest now, she felt sure—yet how explain his strange conduct "Are you ill? You look so white and ill."
"No, no! not now. Only a little—tired."
"Tired? Indeed you look so. Is that why you're sitting on that seat in the rain? You must come up home and rest at once." If she hadn't been absent from his thoughts a moment, and if he had only stayed away because he was poor, she felt she might safely be as hospitable as she pleased. "Whatever made you come out on such a day?"
Still he made no answer, but sat staring at her with weary, haggard eyes. If she would only go away and leave him, he thought—now that he had explained things—if she would but leave him to fight it out by himself, for how could she help him, how could he accept help at her hands, how confess himself a starving beggar? But Lucy had not the slightest intention of going—she was a determined little girl in her own way—she knew she loved this man, though she hoped he didn't know it. She thought she saw that her love was returned, and she would have had the greatest contempt for herself had she gone away without clearing up this misunderstanding between them. Besides all this, he looked so ill, and wretched, and miserable; his hand, when he had taken hers for a brief moment, felt stone cold even through her thick glove, and her heart was stirred with deepest pity.
"You were foolish to come out," she went on, "when you look so ill. Where are you staying?"
Clive put his hands over his face and groaned aloud.
"Oh, child, child, don't you understand?—don't you see how hard it is to tell you? I haven't a red cent in the world. I'm just a penniless, broken man, houseless and homeless, who can't get work of any sort. Last night I walked the streets; the night before I slept on the steam-boat pier. Now do you understand, Miss Thornton, that I am not a fit person for you to associate with—why I avoided you on Saturday, and have tried to keep out of your way ever since. I oughtn't to have come here, perhaps, but I thought the day was too bad for any of you to be out; and I am trying for the groom's place next door, and as Mr. Smithson told me to come back at eleven I felt it was easier to wait here than to tramp down town again. It must be nearly eleven now, so I had better go, and—and—good-bye, Miss Thornton. Thank you for all your kindness. If ever I should get up in the world again——"
What he intended to say—what he expected her to do—he hardly knew. He had told her the truth somewhat defiantly, once he had started, and she stood looking at him spell-bound. Her wildest imaginings had never pictured this. Houseless, homeless, walking the streets all night! Perhaps he was even starving—he looked like it—and yet he had recovered his voice, and was bidding her good-bye in the calmest, coldest manner. How could she let him go, and yet how could she keep him when he talked like that? She did not know what to say.
"Don't, don't," she began, and then a sob choked her, and sitting down beside him she burst into tears that would not be kept back. She felt herself they were foolish, unavailing tears; she was betraying herself shamefully, and yet just at that moment nothing could have touched Clive more. The world had been so hard, so cruelly hard to him lately, and now this woman was crying unaffectedly, weeping over his troubles. He loved her already: it endeared her to him tenfold.
"Don't cry, Miss Lucy," he said; "don't cry; indeed, I am not worth it. Things will right themselves, I daresay. It is so kind of you to care what becomes of me, and—and, perhaps, I shall get this place."
But Lucy, following out her own train of thought, paid no heed to his words. Suddenly she raised her face, all tear-stained as it was, and asked:—
"Did you have any breakfast this morning?"
Clive hesitated. A man does not like to tell his lady-love he is starving in the most prosaic and an romantic manner.
"Did you?" she asked again, stamping her foot.
"Nor any tea last night?"
"Nor any dinner? When did you last have anything to eat?"
Clive turned his face away.
"I bought a loaf on Saturday night, and that lasted some time, you know," he said constrainedly, so constrainedly that it occurred to Lucy she was questioning him as if he had been a beggar at her door.
"Oh, dear! oh, dear!" she sobbed, putting a hand on his arm, "that was rude of me; I know it was. I had no right to ask that, but you will let me help you now, won't you? You ought to have come before. We have been friends, haven't we! If I'd been a man you'd have come to me at once, wouldn't you now? Why can't you let me help you, even though I am only a woman?"
She was so distressed, so sympathetic, so tender that Clive blessed her again and again in his heart.
He took her hand in his and held it a moment, and she did not resent the liberty.
"My dear little girl," he said, "how could I come sponging on you or your father, for that's what it would come to. If I'm such a helpless beggar as not to be able to get work in this land of plenty, why then I must starve, that's all."
Lucy drew her hand away, and began wiping her eyes determinedly.
"Don't talk nonsense," she said severely, the more severely that she was afraid of crying again. "Do give me credit for a little common sense, even if you haven't got any yourself. The idea of waiting here in the rain when there's a comfortable cosy fire over the way, where you might sit and smoke and chat with friends who would be glad to see you. I am hurt to think that you have such a bad opinion of us."
"But Miss Lucy——"
"And I thought you'd got to know us so well at Easter!" she went on reproachfully, paying no heed to him. "You told me you liked my people. Come," she said; "you must come. It's only half-past ten now. There's still half an hour before you see Mr. Smithson. Of course you'll be a groom, I know that, but what difference can that make to me? It's not nice for you, and you'll soon get something better, but I didn't like you only because you were a lawyer, you know."
It was such a tempting prospect, her warm and ready sympathy was so sweet to him, and yet it seemed so mean a thing to come to her for help. She rose to her feet, and he perforce was obliged to rise too.
"Miss Thornton, you make feel—feel——"
She looked up in his face and smiled cheerily through her tears.
"I owe you something," she said, speaking the truth straight out. "And I must pay you out. You have hurt me very much by your conduct on Saturday and Sunday. Do you want to be forgiven—do you really? Well just do what I tell you for the next half hour."
Clive felt that his life was beyond his guiding, and was thankful in spite of his protests to resign it into other hands.
"Thank you," he said, "thank you, indeed; I will try and thank you some day."
And they left the reserve together, entered the gate of "The Laurels," and walked side by side up the gravelled walk, Lucy, in a frantic effort to regain her composure, chatting away industriously and recalling to his recollection various incidents of the voyage out, to all of which he answered in monosyllables. At the hall door she produced a latchkey, and the next moment he found himself in a cosy warm sitting-room—strewn somewhat untidily with feminine work—shaking hands with Hilda. That young lady regarded them both with such evident wonder in her eyes that Lucy hastened to explain that she had met Mr. Dowling outside, and had insisted on his coming in to call. She stirred the fire into a ruddy blaze, drew up a chair for him, and then murmuring something about breakfast, hastily left the room, followed by Hilda, whom he heard asking outside in an audible whisper:—
"Now, Lucy, what on earth's the meaning of this?"
Clive sat over the fire, stretching his hands out to the cheerful blaze, and watched the neat white-capped housemaid as she came in and out, busily laying the table. Outside Lucy had gone into the kitchen to see about a breakfast, and was trying to satisfy her sister's curiosity without letting the cook know what they were talking about. Hurriedly she told all she knew, dwelling particularly on Clive's reluctance to accept help at her hands, and on the fact that he had had nothing to eat but a loaf of bread since last Saturday.
"Poor beggar!" said Hilda, "poor beggar!" And Lucy forbore to reprove the slang in consideration of the sympathy her tones expressed. "It's awfully hard lines on him, isn't it? Send in the breakfast quick, Lucy. Here, I'll make the coffee. We won't go in till he's half way through, will we? Send in Ann to say we hope he'll excuse us, but will he mind beginning without us, as we have to see about the dinner, eh?"
Accordingly Clive was already seated at the table when the two girls entered, and he rose up blushing and stammering, but Hilda soon set him at his ease. She was the least concerned of all three, and, unlike Lucy, had a great belief in herself. What she said or did she felt certain must be right, and could not understand anyone being uncomfortable in her society. To tell truth, no one, as a rule, was so long, and Clive was no exception. Lucy poured out his coffee and looked quietly sympathetic, and Hilda, drawing her chair up to the table, scolded him well for not coming to see them, rallied him on thinking that his poverty could make any difference, made him relate to them the history of his misfortunes, and, in fact, did all that Lucy could not bring herself to do. So it happened that by eleven o'clock all three were chatting merrily together, and when Clive still expressed his intention of trying for the place next door, Hilda made him promise faithfully that whether he got it or not he would come back and tell them all about it.
"There's nothing to be ashamed of in being poor, you know," she reiterated for the twentieth time. "Father's coming up by the midday train, and he'll easily get you something to do, provided you're not too proud."
"I'm not proud, God knows, Miss Hilda," he answered; "that's all been knocked out of me long ago."
"A very good thing, too," laughed Hilda. "Pride's a very uncomfortable parcel to carry—at least, pride of that sort. Anyhow, you must come and talk things over with the governor, and he'll soon set you straight. Now, it just wants two minutes to eleven, so you'd better go, and I do hope you won't get the place. We can easily find you something better than that, can't we, Lucy?"
And she had her wish, for Clive found, greatly to his disappointment, that the place was already filled up. But the good meal, the friendly chat, the cosy room, the bright, girlish faces that looked so kindly on him had revived fresh hope in him, given him fresh courage; and when Mr. Smithson told him that he had taken on another man he took heart of grace, told him he was very hard up, and, referring to Mr. Thornton for a character for honesty and sobriety, asked him if he could give him anything else to do.
Mr. Smithson rubbed his chin thoughtfully.
"Well," he said, "well, you see there's a big pool of water collecting on the lawn there, and this rain's making it worse. I do want a drain cutting down to the fence there. It wouldn't take above half a day, and I'd give a man five shillings for the job. But there, it's too wet; you wouldn't care to do it to-day."
"By Jove!" said Clive, his spirits rising at the prospect—it seemed such a poor little thing, but still it might be the forerunner of better things; "by Jove, just try me, sir;" and when Hilda and Lucy came and looked over the fence half an hour later he was hard at it with pick and shovel in the pouring rain. Lucy sighed over his white face and thin hands; but Hilda laughed cheerfully, and he smiled back at her.
"I'm hard at it, you see," he said, "earning an honest living at last."
"Mind you come in to lunch," said Lucy; but he shook his head.
"I've just had breakfast, and I don't suppose my master'd like me to knock off so soon."
"Very well, then; come in when you've done. Father'll be home. Come to afternoon tea, and consult with him;" and he promised gratefully that he would.
It was very hard work. He found it very hard, for he was unaccustomed to it, and weak and ill besides. Still he stuck to it manfully, and by half past five had earned his five shillings and returned to "The Laurels," according to his promise. Mr. and Mrs. Thornton had both come home, and the girls had spent the hour and a half since their arrival in talking over Clive Dowling's case, Hilda, as usual, taking the lead, and Lucy supplementing where, as she thought, her sister had forgotten some important item. And their listeners were not unsympathetic. Both had taken a fancy to the young fellow who had made himself so pleasant to them at Easter. And John Thornton had been one of the pioneers of early goldfields days, had known what it was to be penniless, friendless, and alone in a strange land, and was inclined to think his daughters' story of Clive's sufferings more than probable, and when he heard his step on the verandah went and opened the door himself, wrung the young fellow's hand, and greeted him with so warm and hearty a welcome that it brought the hot tears smarting to his eyes.
As for Mrs. Thornton, she too made much of him. She had sons of her own—they would be out in the world some day, and, as she said, how thankful she would be to anyone who should help and succour them, besides which there was that unspoken love story which lay between him and her eldest daughter. She had liked him so much, she had seen it all and had approved with all her warm motherly heart; and, now that it must be a thing of the past, that it was all over and done for, yet none the less did she like Clive Dowling. She fully intended to keep him out of Lucy's way—she would see to that even if he didn't see it for himself—and yet, perhaps because of that very reason, she petted and made much of him and listened with the deepest interest while her husband discussed his affairs. There was only one thing to be done, to get work immediately, and Clive declared himself not over particular what that work was so long as it was within his power to do it and it earned him bread and butter.
"Well, well, well!" said John Thornton. "I think you're right not to be too particular; things 'll right themselves in time, and at any rate I could get you work in one of the mines here, in the Sultan Pasha, for instance, old Smithson's one of the directors, and he'll speak to the manager for you if I ask him. Will that do you?"
"Thank you very much," said Clive gratefully.
"Just for the present, you know. We'll get you something better before the month's out, and you're quite right to be doing something." So it was all settled. That night Dowling spent at the Thorntons', surrounded by all the little luxuries of a well-to-do household, and the next day he got work in the Sultan Pasha mine. Old Smithson had cordially recommended him on the strength of the drain he had dug the day before and he found himself engaged as a trucker at six shillings a day. He looked out for humble lodgings near the claim, and bravely set to work. After all the anxiety and weary waiting of the last few weeks he was thankful indeed for a settled position, humble as it was; and as for his earnings, well, it was over ninety pounds a year, and many a man has lived and kept up the appearance of a gentleman on less than that. As everyone knows, the mines are worked in three shifts of eight hours each, so that Clive found he had plenty of spare time on his hands—far more, indeed, than when he had been Messrs. Grant, Allen, and Grant's offices—and this time he would have found hang heavily on his hands had it not been for the Thorntons.
"Mind," Hilda had said, when he had come up to tell them he had got work in the Sultan Pasha, "you're not to drop us now you're a respectable working miner. You're to come up every Sunday to have your manners properly looked after, and come every other night in the week you care to. Do you hear now?"
"Yes, Miss Hilda, and I cannot tell you how grateful I am," he answered, looking across at Lucy, whose eyes were giving him the same invitation.
"All right, Dowling; all right, my lad," said their father; "you come up whenever you please, and whenever you can spare time, and the girls 'll cheer you up a bit. I've known what it is to be down in the world myself; and, you see, I pulled through all right. So 'll you; never fear. This is only the beginning, and I'll be on the look out for something better."
Mrs. Thornton said nothing in the face of the family hospitality. She even went so far as to nod and smile encouragingly at him, and Clive may be forgiven if he construed that into an invitation to come as often as he pleased; but when she got her husband alone she took him to task.
"John, dear, how could you be so foolish?"
"How, my dear?" he asked innocently, though it is to be feared that this respectable, middle-aged gentleman was prevaricating, and knew well enough what she was referring to. "Asking that young man here. John, I'm surprised at you."
"My dear," said her husband, "there are so many young men come here, what difference can one more make? That daughter of yours, Hilda, always has two or three dangling round her. She takes an interest in them, or they take an interest in her. I'm sure I don't know which it is."
"I wasn't thinking of Hilda," said Mrs. Thornton primly.
"Oh, Lucy! Well, what of her? She always liked young Dowling; in fact—why, of course—they came out in the same ship together."
"John, you're just enough to provoke a saint." Mrs. Thornton was unbuttoning her boot, and she took it off and flung it on the floor as some relief to her overcharged feelings. "As if you didn't know that's just the reason why."
"How? I don't understand."
"Why, John, it's as plain as—as——"
"The nose on your face, my dear."
"Nonsense, don't be vulgar. But it is quite plainly to be seen that Lucy's in love with him, and if I'm not very much mistaken he's head over ears in love with her, and they've not got a penny in the world to bless themselves with, nor a prospect of any."
Now it is somewhat the fashion to depict fathers and mothers as desperately anxious that their daughters should make good matches, and having no sympathy whatever for the penniless lover who stands horribly in the way, yet John Thornton lifted his head out of the rough towel with which he was scrubbing himself, and looking into his wife's concerned face said:—
"Poor young thing! Do you really think, Lil, it's gone as far as that?"
"Yes, I do. He hasn't spoken to her, of course, but he as good as told me last Easter he intended to as soon as he had started practising on his own account."
"Well, he's a nice young fellow," said Mr. Thornton, beginning to wash his hands with an air of conviction. "I don't know when I've felt more drawn to a young fellow."
"Yes, John, that's all very well," said the wife of his bosom with asperity. She was perplexed, and she felt she must be cross with somebody. "He is a nice taking young fellow, and that's just why I'm afraid of him."
"Why, bless my soul, the man can't make love to her under the present circumstances. It wouldn't be honourable or right."
"Fiddlesticks!" said his wife; "what nonsense you do talk! You throw two people together whom you know are in love with each other. He is good-looking and taking, and she is a sweet girl—yes, she is—far sweeter than Hilda, for all her handsome face. Now what do you suppose 'll happen?" She asked it with so tragic an air that her husband merely nodded solemnly, as if to say the case was really beyond him, and she went on:—
"He'll resist temptation as long as he can, and then some day he'll tell her all about it. Yes, he will, John—don't talk to me about honour or anything else, he can't help himself, and—and—then what's to be done? It'll be all your fault; you shouldn't have asked him here."
John Thornton carefully wiped his hands, paying most particular attention to each individual finger, and then, having thoroughly satisfied himself that they were dry, he crossed the room and laid a loving hand on his wife's shoulder.
"Lil, darling," he said, "do you remember the trooper you fell in love with over thirty years ago? He hadn't got anything but his pay, and I believe you waited five years before you married him. Have you ever repented it?"
"Oh, John, John," she said, returning his caress, "you know I haven't, but—but—how do you know? How can we tell? I don't want our daughter to be unhappy."
"No, no; best let things alone, dear. He's a nice young fellow, very nice, and we'll get him something better to do by-and-by. Let them climb the hill together, like we did. You're sure you never repented, dear?"
"Never," she said, earnestly, "never."
And so Clive's fate was settled for him, had he only known it; but he did not know it. And what he did know gave him great uneasiness, for he knew he had fallen desperately in love with Lucy Thornton, and was getting worse and worse every day. How dared he, a poor labourer, who but for her father's charity would have starved, look at her; and yet how could he stay away, as he thought he ought. He tried the experiment once for five whole days, and at the end of that time felt so miserable that he ventured into Wendouree-parade, and walked up and down in front of the house. Here he was discovered by Dick, who loudly reproached him with his absence, and insisted on his coming in to "see the girls." Hilda taunted him with ingratitude, and though Lucy said nothing, her brown eyes spoke such volumes that he never tried it again. He would love her, he told himself, and no one need know it; he would keep it to himself, and yet be her friend, and the consequence was he was her slave, and all the household was aware of his carefully hidden secret.
The old folks looked on silently, though more than once the mother's heart misgave her. Every man was not like John, she thought, and how could she tell that this young fellow would do well and would make her daughter happy. Still she followed her husband's lead, and neither aided nor hindered by word or deed. Indeed, it would have been difficult to see what she could have done, so she waited and watched things drifting towards the inevitable end. Lucy was so happy and so unconscious, and Clive was just her shadow. Almost every day he found his way up to "The Laurels" on one excuse or another. They had a large garden, but he always managed to bring some flowers that did not grow there. He found the first wattle-blossoms out on the ranges. He brought Lucy a new book to read. Little offerings such as any man might offer, any girl accept, and yet they were inexpressibly sweet to Lucy, and the days when she did not see him were dull and dreary to her. And the days passed swiftly by. July and August had gone and September had come, bringing with it, even in cold Ballarat, the first faint promise of summer. Clive had been working for six weeks at his uncongenial labours, the first flush of thankfulness for work of any sort had worn off, and he was beginning to feel bitterly that his labours were leading to nothing, and that at the present rate of progress he could not hope to win the woman he loved in the next twenty years.
It was Sunday afternoon, a pouring wet Sunday, though it was the first in September. The rain poured down steadily on to the soaked and sodden garden. The yellow jonquils and narcissus hung down their drenched heads, the wallflowers and mignonette were beaten flat to the ground. They had had more than enough rain, said everybody, and yet the rain still came as it always does come in Ballarat, and the summer was as far off as ever. In the school-room at "The Laurels," Clive Dowling leant disconsolately against the window, and looked out with unseeing eyes on the wet garden and the dull grey lake beyond. His pipe was between his lips, but it had gone out, and he was in the deepest, brownest study. Over the fire, with her feet on the fender, sat Lucy, turning over carelessly the leaves of the latest Graphic. The school-room was the smoking-room at "The Laurels"—a room, indeed, that was used for all manner of occupations. Here the girls kept their work and did their sewing. Hilda's painting was done here, and the boys did their lessons, and smoking, which Mrs. Thornton forebade in the other rooms, was freely allowed in the school-room. In fact, it was, as Hilda said, "the jolliest, cosiest room in all the house, for all it's so untidy;" and, it must be confessed, it was rather untidy, and Hilda helped to make it so. At present Clive and Lucy were the only occupants of the room. The three eldest boys were away at boarding-school; the three youngest were making toffee in the kitchen, under the superintendence of a good-natured cook, and Hilda had gone to the drawing-room, where she had announced to her father and mother:—
"You'll have to put up with my sweet society, mother, for no one but Clive Dowling has been such a lunatic as to turn up this afternoon, and I learnt the rule of three early in life."
"What's that, my dear?" asked her mother, sleepily.
Sunday afternoon and a cosy fire has a soporific effect on many people, undoubtedly.
"Don't you know the rule of three, mother?" asked Hilda, demurely.
"Well, my dear, I daresay I learnt it at school, but——"
"Oh, mother, fie! What a school! They never taught me such things at school. The rule of three is—third party clears out."
"Hilda!" said her mother; but her father suppressed a chuckle, and Hilda went on, unabashed.
"Well, it is, mother. Really, I'm quite sick of this sort of thing. What on earth is the good of Clive Dowling mooning about here? Anyone can see he's head over ears in love with Lucy, but what's the good of it—six shillings a day, and a mere labourer? Why——"
"Hilda!" interrupted her mother, displeasure in her tones. Hilda was but repeating almost her own views on the subject, but she reproved her all the same. Mothers have a way of doing that sometimes. "Hilda, I'm surprised at you—surprised that any child of mine should talk like that. If a young man can't come here—a lonely young fellow, too, who has nowhere else to go—if he can't come here and pay you two girls a little ordinary attention without filling your heads with all sorts of nonsense about love and marriage, why, I shall take care for the future that no young men do come here."
"But——" began Hilda, the irrepressible, when her father cut her short—
"Hold your tongue, Hilda," he said, more because he felt bound to say something than because he disagreed with her views. "Hold your tongue, and listen to what your mother says to you. Besides, young Dowling won't always be poor. Only yesterday I wrote down to town about a billet for him. Allender and Young, I hear, want a managing clerk, and I daresay they'll take him on my recommendation. I didn't say anything to him for fear of disappointment; but expect this week 'll see the end of his career as a miner."
"Oh!" said Hilda, and that shrewd young lady nodded her head, smiling to herself, and thought she was not as much out in her notions as her parents would have had her suppose.
Meanwhile Clive Dowling, all unknowing of these benevolent plans for his welfare, felt very disconsolate indeed. He couldn't go on like this much longer, and yet how could he keep away? In all honour he was bound not to make love to this girl, and yet each day he found it more difficult to keep silence. When he discovered that Hilda did not immediately return he turned his back on the wintry prospect outside, and transferred his attentions to the dainty little figure in the red dress sitting over the fire. The Graphic had fallen to the floor, and, with hands clasped on her knees, Lucy sat staring into the bright fire. Clive was so often there, so much at home, that she felt him no stranger, and did not feel obliged to keep up a conversation and entertain him as she would an ordinary visitor. Indeed, she hardly seemed to notice when he crossed the room and, leaning on the mantelpiece, stood looking down on her. She was very fair in his eyes, very fair indeed. The shadows were drawing in, the room was growing dark, and her dress made a brilliant patch of colour in the firelight, which played and danced among the rings on her pretty white hands; the warmth had put a faint glow on her cheeks, and brought out the rich scent of the boronia at her breast.
"How silent you are!" said Clive at last. "What do you see in the fire?"
Lucy looked up in his face and smiled.
"Was I silent?" she said. "And you were wanting to be talked to. How very rude I am."
"No, I wasn't. I'm quite satisfied to look at you."
The glow on Lucy's cheeks deepened, and Clive felt it was a dangerous thing to say, so went on hastily:—
"What did you see in the fire?"
"Nothing much. I've got beyond that, I'm afraid; but when we were children we used to be very fond of telling fortunes in the fire, I and my sister Lily—the one who died, you know. We used to tell each other's fortunes and Hilda's, and I really think we half believed them. Hilda was always married to a prince because she was so pretty."
"You haven't given up the amusement yet."
"Oh, only for the little boys. I see all sorts of nice things in the fire for them."
"See something nice for me?" he asked.
"Well,"—the great black log had just fallen in; beneath it were a mass of glowing red coals, and the yellow flames which danced and flickered above flung all sorts of quaint dancing shadows on the ceilings and in the darkening corners. It is a dangerous thing, a very dangerous thing, when two young people who—well, who take an interest in one another, tell fortunes in the twilight! and if Mrs. Thornton had guessed that the little boys were still engaged on the toffee she would probably have packed off Hilda there and then; but she did not know, so the two went on to their destruction.
"Well," said Lucy, "well—it's a lovely fire, and I see it's a good fortune, only, of course you know it's a true one, and I must be believed—Eric always believes me firmly."
"Oh yes, of course I'll believe," said Clive, and Lucy went on and painted his future in glowing colours. Such success was to be his—such happiness. She had made him Chief Justice of the colony of Victoria, and given him wealth untold before she had done. Then she looked at him for approval, and he smiled.
"Yes, it is very good; but even if it comes true you have forgotten one very essential thing."
Did she know what he meant, he wondered. At any rate, she blushed a little and turned her face away.
"Oh, you're as bad as Eric," she pouted. "I give him all the riches the world contains and marry him to a princess, and then, I declare, the young monkey wants his son's fortune and his grandson's."
"But I'm not as bad as that—only—you see," sinking his voice a little, for he was treading on dangerous ground, "you see—you left out my princess altogether. Am I not to have one?"
"Why, of course; but you know she's understood; for when you're rich and powerful you can choose whom you please, don't you see?"
"Yes, I see," he answered sadly. "Meanwhile, since that good time is far in the clouds, perhaps you'll tell me what my princess is like."
"Now, how can I? How do I know what style you like? Must she be tall, or short; dark, or fair? What sort do you want? I'll give you your choice of all the world."
"Oh!" burst out Clive, "don't you know—you must know—in all the world I only want you. You are my love—my princess; and I, what am I? A labouring man, with as much chance of winning you as—as——"
Words failed him, and feeling he had gone too far, he put his folded arms on the mantel-shelf, hid his face on them, and waited with beating heart to hear what she would say next.
And she—well, perhaps, startled as she was—she was hardly astonished. She had known—how could she fail to know?—that Clive was in love with her; but yet the mere putting that love into words seemed to treble its value in her eyes, and open before her a long vista of delight such as she had never dreamt of before. Love him! Of course she loved him. She had loved him from the very first week of their acquaintanceship; and yet, as she sat there in the flickering firelight shadows, looking into the fire, wondering what she could say to comfort him, she almost wished for the moment he had not spoken.
It was very difficult to command her voice at all, she found, once she tried to speak.
"I—I—I," she began, vaguely. "I mean—I think—do you really think it would make any difference to me whether you were a labouring man or Chief Justice?"
Decidedly a vague speech, and capable of having more interpretations than one put upon it; but there was a little tender trembling in her voice that made Clive raise his head, and though her face was averted, she stretched out her hands to him with a half-shy, half-tender gesture that brought him to her side in an instant.
"Lucy—child—dear one—you don't mean—you——"
But apparently Lucy did mean something, though she had no words to express her meaning. She turned her blushing face towards him, and then there was no need of words, for he had taken her in his arms, and was smothering her with kisses—hands, face, hair, even the sweet-scented boronia at her breast.
How swiftly the minutes flew by in the deepening twilight! Clive thought no more of the dreary prospect out-of-doors, the pouring rain and the sodden garden, and the cold, grey lake beyond. On the hearth was the cheerful fire, and its ruddy glow promised them hope and happiness. Only for a brief space, though. How could he shut his eyes to his poverty and his position?
"Oh, Lucy, Lucy," he groaned; "I have done so wrong. I thought I had more command over myself. I ought to have remembered——"
She put her hand on his lips.
"If you love me, you ought to have told me so, and I'm very glad you did," she said.
He ran his fingers through her dark curls.
"What will your father say? I'm as poor as a church mouse."
"So am I," said Lucy, contentedly; "so there's a pair of us."
"Yes, but——Oh, Lucy, Lucy, it was mean of me. I had no right to win your heart."
"You won't be always a labouring man," said his comforter. "You know your fortune says you're to be Chief Justice some day."
He smiled sadly.
"Yes, but meanwhile—meanwhile——"
"Meanwhile I love you," she said bravely, "and I will wait for you, and you—you must work for me."
They talked it over there in the twilight, as many another couple have done before. Clive was to work on steadily at his present employment, and hope for better things, and Lucy cheered him by telling him how much her father liked him, and how often he spoke of his prospects, and how she felt sure he was doing his best to get him something better, and then ventured to hint that they had better confide in her mother.
"I'll tell her, dear," she said. "She won't be very cross, it would be unkind not to. I know she won't be very cross, because when she fell in love with father he was only a trooper, and so—and so——"
"History repeats itself," said Clive, somewhat comforted by the suggestion.
"Well, I hope it won't in this case, because grandfather was very cross about it, and wouldn't let them see each other—for a whole year. There, surely you have had enough," for Clive felt even the contemplation of such a prospect required an unlimited amount of kisses to make it bearable. "You know, Clive,"—she said his name very shyly—"it's quite dark; oughtn't we to go back to the drawing-room?"
"Not yet, not yet. When shall you and I be together and alone again, my sweetheart?"
So Lucy, nothing loth, was persuaded to linger and linger till Hilda, coming in suddenly, caught them, Lucy with her head on his shoulder and his arm round her waist.
"Oh my gracious!" said that young lady, letting the door bang behind her in her astonishment; "so I was right after all. Third party clears out."
Clive and Lucy had started guiltily apart as she came up to them, and as usual the woman found her tongue first.
"Hilda, you shouldn't bang doors so."
"Come, I like that. What have you been doing, I should like to know? Mr. Dowling, I believe you kissed her."
"I believe I did," said Clive meekly.
"Oh—oh—oh! Well, what are you going to give me to swear secrecy. No, look here though, really and truly, you know, you two shouldn't go on like that. I wouldn't have seen it if I could have helped—but really, you know, you wouldn't have believed I was blind, even if I had pretended, would you?"
"Well no, hardly, seeing it was you," said Clive, and then added to Lucy, "I think we ought to tell her all about it."
"Yes, tell me," said Hilda, seating herself with a judicial aspect between the two. "Make a virtue of necessity and tell me; I may be able to help you with some valuable advice."
So they told her—not very clearly or very explicitly, for no man likes to tell his love, even when it is a happy one, but Hilda was not very exacting, was deeply interested in this, the first love story that had come under her personal observation, and helped them out with many suggestions and keen observations.
"So you want to get married and live happy ever afterwards?" she said. "Well, I give my consent; bless you, my children—bless you."
"Your father?" suggested Clive.
"Exactly, my father," repeated Hilda. "Oh, well, I don't see how you're to tell him quite, but somehow I don't think he'll be so very angry. Do as Lucy says. Let her confide in mother and leave the rest to—to—Providence. And now, my children, you may not have noticed it, perhaps, but the rain has cleared off, and I have come to know if you won't go to church. We'll be awfully late, of course; but, bless you, what does that matter? We don't get engaged every day of our lives, do we?"
And so they went to church together, and Clive did not have another chance of speaking to Lucy alone again. Only after supper, when he was going away, she slipped outside on to the verandah, and in the darkness he felt her soft little hand in his.
"And you won't worry," she whispered shyly. "You'll try and believe things are going to be all right."
"Yes, yes," he drew her towards him and kissed her, and would have prolonged the interview indefinitely, but Lucy drew back firmly.
"Indeed, I must go in now; but you'll be here to-morrow night, won't you? You have to bring me that book, you know." And though he protested she was gone.
He went back to his lodgings in the seventh heaven of delight, but morning brought him face to face with stern reality again, and his little sweetheart seemed very far removed, indeed, from him as he donned his rough miner's clothes and made his way to his daily work. The morning was bright and warm after the cold and wet of the day before. It seemed a pity, he thought, as he stepped on to the cage, to extinguish himself and pass the best hours of that glorious day down that deep, dark, uninviting-looking hole toiling at uncongenial labour. After all, it was only eight hours, and the evening would see him with Lucy once more, and he whistled cheerily as he followed his mate, Ben Harker—Surly Ben, as the other men called him—along the long, narrow drive which led to the scene of their labours. The drive was on the lowest level, eight hundred feet beneath the surface of the ground, and their work lay at the far end. Here there was only room for two to work, Harker blocking out the wash-dirt and Clive shovelling it into the truck and pushing it along the rails into the main drive. It was monotonous and uninteresting; it was only a means to an end, and he had no interest whatever in his work. The air was pure enough, for the mine was well ventilated and the drive was not very long, so that they were not far from the shaft. It was very damp, however; the water oozed between the timbers and ran in a little stream between the rails—dirty water, heavy with the yellow clay which stained their clothes, and though it in no way interfered with their work, made the whole place damp and uncomfortable. Clive carried his candle stuck in his hat, whilst his mate's was fastened with clay against the wall of the little hollow he was scooping out beyond the timbering of the drive. He was a man about forty, a stern, silent man as a rule, hence his name, Surly Ben; but to-day, for a wonder, he was whistling and singing at his work in a fashion that fairly astonished Clive. He was rather inclined to whistle and sing himself, so thoroughly sympathised with his mate's mood, and when Harker struck up "Queen of My Heart," joined in with a will and an energy that fairly astonished his usually taciturn mate.
"Well, lad, well!" he growled out, as the echoes died away in the narrow underground passages, "I never heard you do that before."
"Nor I you," laughed Clive. "I didn't know you could sing. You never were tunefully inclined before."
"Well, well, well!" Harker paused in his labour and wiped his hot forehead. "I haven't had much occasion to sing in my time, but yesterday I heard a bit of good news, and, thank God, I'm free at last."
"Free?" repeated Clive wonderingly.
"Ay, lad—free! There's a woman at the bottom of all our troubles, I'm thinking."
"And our joys."
"Um—well—I don't know. I remember the day I thought so; but that's nigh on twenty years ago now. And I've had cause enough to rue the day ever I set eyes on one woman. However, it's over now, thank God. We'll wipe the slate and start again, though I'm rather old for that. Why, what made you fling dirt down between the rails?"
"I didn't," said Clive, who had been shovelling away while his mate talked, and was now prepared to take away the truck; "it's coming from the roof."
"From the roof, is it? By Jove we must see about that," and Harker came forward and examined the timbers that supported the roof and walls of the drive.
"Something a bit shaky here," he said. "Hand us that spade, mate, will you? It's there in the corner, under the candle."
How it happened Clive never knew; but as he stepped back it seemed to him the roof of the drive fell in—timbers, earth, rocks fell with a crash. The air was thick with dust. A rush of wind put the candles out. Out of the thick black darkness that was all around him—darkness so dense he was almost able to feel it, he heard his mate give one great cry, and then all was still. He leaned helplessly against the wall for a moment, the spade in his hand, and then, searching for a match, lighted his candle again. It flickered and guttered at first, but as its light grew steady and his eyes became accustomed to it he saw dimly through the dust-laden atmosphere that all the drive had fallen in. Stones, earth, timber, all had gone to form what looked like an impenetrable wall not eight feet from the other wall, against which he was leaning. He was walled up in a living tomb, and yet the full horror of the situation did not burst on him at once. His first thought was one of thankfulness that he had escaped, his next for his mate. The candle's dim light showed every corner of the little chamber hewn out of the earth—the wall of loose earth that closed it in; but nowhere was he to be seen. Clive placed the candle on a ledge of earth, and began carefully digging at the place where, as nearly as he could remember, he had last seen Harker. The earth was soft and loose, and not hard to dig; but that was rather against him, for it kept falling back as quickly as he cleared it away; but at last he came on a miner's cap, and at length uncovered his mate's face. Very softly he brushed the earth away, and found, to his intense delight, that he was still warm and breathing. Even as he bent over him he wondered at his gladness. Had this man really taken a firm hold on him or was it simply his loneliness—his intense desire for human companionship in this dire strait, that made him so thankful for Harker's life. Very carefully he moved the earth aside, banking it up as he had learned how in his brief apprenticeship, and gradually cleared his mate's head and shoulders only to find that right across his chest lay a huge beam which had been one of the supports of the drive, and which now appeared to be the keystone that supported the earth and rock above. Any attempt to move it, Clive saw at once, would be useless, and would only succeed in overwhelming both men, and entirely filling up the little hollow space which was still left to them. A great pity was in his heart—a pity which left no room for the contemplation of his own situation. Why should he try and rouse him to consciousness? Should he not rather hope that he would never come to a sense of his sufferings—that he would drift away into that unknown land without ever coming back to this life at all? He reached over for the billy of cold tea which still stood unharmed on a ledge, and knelt thoughtfully with it in his hand. It was the only remedy he had; should he moisten his face and lips with it or should he leave him alone? Would it not be cruel kindness to bring him back? And as he looked at him Harker opened his eyes.
"Hallo, mate," he said faintly, "what's the meaning of this?"
Clive moistened his lips with the cold tea, and answered briefly, "The drive's fallen in."
"Ay," said Harker, as if he had not suffered by it at all. "I always said it was shaky. The ground's that rotten hereabouts it's no good to drive through it," and he closed his eyes again wearily.
Clive hardly knew what to think. It was a relief to him—a great relief to see how quietly his mate took it. Unconsciously even to ourselves we shrink from the sight of a great agony which it is beyond our power to believe, and Clive began to hope now that perhaps his mate might not be as much hurt as he had at first feared!—might, perhaps, with his practical miner's knowledge, suggest some way in which he might extricate him, so he bent over him, and moistened his lips again with the tea.
Harker opened his eyes, and looked straight into the face bending over him.
"Well, lad," he said, quietly. "I'm done for, I'm thinking."
"No, no, no," cried his mate. "For God's sake don't give in, man. I could get you out if I only dared move this beam."
"Better leave it alone," said the other. How could he speak so quietly when his life hung in the balance? "Better leave it alone; I'm done for, and the beam—if you touch it—the stuff 'll come down, and smother us both."
Clive bent over him, and, gently as a woman, brushed the dirt out of his hair and off his face.
"Are you in pain?" he asked, anxiously.
"No, lad, no. It's heavy—that beam—and my breath's bad, but—but—my back must be broke, and the life's crushed most out of me, I think."
He closed his eyes again, and the man bending over him saw that what he had said was true. He drew his breath heavily, and with labour. It was evident he was not long for this world, and yet he spoke in his ordinary tones, with, as Clive had noticed this morning, just the usual surliness gone out of them.
"They will come and help us," he said. "They will never leave us to die here alone."
"Ay, lad, ay; I hope so for your sake, but it will be too late for me." And he closed his eyes again, and there was silence between them—a silence only broken by the dying man's laboured breathing and the soft rustling sound of the earth settling down into its new place. It was too terrible that silence. Clive felt he could not kneel there inactive and see a man die before his eyes without making some effort to help him, and he rose to his feet and with his spade attacked the wall in front. It was soft and rotten, like working in sand, and the hole filled up as fast as he made it, and little rills of earth trickled down like small streamlets on to his mate's upturned face.
"Don't," he murmured. "Don't. Let it alone, lad, can't you? You'll have us smothered, else—God knows," he added bitterly, though it cost him an effort now to speak at all. "It won't make much difference to me."
Clive knelt down beside him again, wringing his hands like a woman as he felt his utter helplessness.
"I can't help you," he groaned. "I can't help you."
"You're needing help yourself," said Harker. "You seem to have forgotten that." He paused, struggling for breath, and then went on again. "And I thought I was straight at last. It is—hard—hard—hard. God! where is the good of it? My life has been a hell—and—now—now——"
It was the old bitter cry of the suffering—the cry which has gone up since the days of Adam. Why?
Harker could only move his head, great beads of sweat stood out on his forehead, and Clive, bending over him, wiped them gently away, but could find no word of comfort. If only Lucy were there, he thought, she would know what to do—a sweet, gentle woman with tender pity in her face, but he—what could he do? His thoughts went back to the Sunday when, lonely, friendless, and forlorn, he had wandered into S. Alphius', and had listened to the Church's solemn litany. It had not made much impression on him then, but it had soothed him, and it came back to him now:—"That it may please thee to succour, help, and comfort all that are in danger, necessity, and tribulation." Half mechanically he repeated it, and Harker asked eagerly:—
"What's that? What that you're saying, lad?"
It is the fashion of our church—perhaps not a bad fashion, on the whole that its members but rarely speak of their religion, even in the most solemn moments, and so, half diffidently, Clive repeated the words.
"We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord," gasped the dying man. "Lord, Lord," he added, "I have been praying that all my life—and I haven't been heard, and now I am going—where? God help my unbelief."
And then, after a pause, during which he seemed to be fighting for every breath. "Soon—soon—I can't stand this much longer." And in Clive's brain kept beating like a mournful refrain—"All those in danger, necessity, and tribulation"—"All those in danger, necessity, and tribulation"—till the words seemed to be but dull meaningless sounds with no life in them whatever. "Danger and tribulation—danger and tribulation." Harker was dying—dying fast.
"Mate," he asked, "mate, is there no one—no one belonging to you above you want to send a message to?"
"No one, no one. Have you?"
"Yes," and then, and not till then, did Clive realise that he was shut out from the world; that his chances of life were as nothing to the chances against him.
"Wife or sister—or sweetheart?" asked the other man.
"Sweetheart—my sweetheart," said Clive, using the pretty old-fashioned word and turning his face away.
"Ah!" gasped the dying man between his deep-drawn breaths, "and I thanked God this morning my wife was dead. Sixteen year ago—she was my sweetheart—and I loved—her—and for fifteen year—she made my life a hell—and I'm free—now free—at last—better die—while you love her, lad."
And then again silence fell on them, for what comfort could Clive give? He could only kneel there and moisten his mate's lips with the tea, and wait and pray and hope for the end; for every breath the man drew with pain and difficulty, and it was very evident death could not be far off. "Soon—soon," he had prayed; and Clive said "Amen," for he felt that this was too terrible to be borne long.
Danger and tribulation—danger and tribulation. They were shut out from the world, and there was no help in man.
"They will tunnel through," said Clive, speaking his thoughts aloud. "They will never leave us here."
"Maybe, maybe; but 'twill be too late for me." Then, with another effort, he added, "Stop here quiet, lad, till they come. Don't dig, or you'll be smothered."
He was much exhausted, his breathing was worse than ever, and Clive felt grateful for the thoughtful kindness that made him look forward for his mate's sake. He had known so little of him—so very little; had always thought of him as a surly, ill-tempered, silent man, to be avoided if possible, and yet, in his dire extremity, in his dying moments, this man thought of him. Surely our poor human nature has some touch of the divine in it after all.
"Is there no one—no one you have a message for if I get through?" asked Clive again earnestly.
The other laughed—a hollow, bitter laugh, more shocking than tears.
"There was a girl—a pretty girl—God bless her happy face; but she's nothing to me. No, there's no one—no one;" and he closed his eyes as if exhausted.
By-and-by he opened them again wearily.
"The light?" he asked; "the light. How dark it is!"
The candle was still burning on the ledge, feebly illumining the little hollow, and Clive answered, "The light is there, mate."
"Ah, I'm in the dark; I'm going, lad—going—fast. Can ye say—a—bit of a prayer? No—no—where's the use? It's too late; and—maybe—the Lord—will—be merciful." There was another pause, and he lay so still Clive thought he was gone; but he roused himself once more, and for the first time made a desperate effort to free himself from the mass that weighed him down.
"Polly!—Polly!" he cried. "Oh, my girl. Free at last." And then his jaw dropped, and his companion saw that he was alone.
Clive had known his mate must die—had even prayed for his death as the only relief possible, and yet now that he was gone he felt he would give all he possessed—all he was ever likely to possess—to hear his voice again. Should he ever hear any human voice again, or should he die a long, lingering, terrible death shut out from all human sympathy—from all human companionship? Hitherto his mate's sufferings had at least served one purpose—they had kept his thoughts away from the contemplation of his own perilous position, but now it rushed upon him with all its dangers, all its terrible possibilities, and, leaning up against the damp wall, he covered his face with his hands and cried like a child.
"Oh Lucy—Lucy! oh my love, my love!" Should he ever see her again, or was it not much more likely he should die here, in this hole—die of hunger and thirst and want of air, hundreds of feet beneath the surface of the bright earth? It was so short a time since he had seen her—had held her in his arms, and listened to her shy confession of love—had allowed himself to cherish such high hopes for the future—and now—now, what would be the end? There lay his mate, dead—crushed to death, and only two hours before he had been hale and hearty, and, full of hope. Two hours before—he drew out his watch, a cheap Waterbury, purchased with some of his first earnings—and looked at the time. Half past ten. Why, half-an-hour ago they had both been safe. Was it possible it was only half-an-hour ago? It seemed to him that it might be twelve hours ago, and the watch hands might have gone all round the dial; and it required a moment's reflection before he was convinced it was not so. Only half-an-hour, only half-an-hour. Why, very likely they didn't know of the accident above yet. How long would they take to tunnel through and rescue him? He sat down and tried to think it out quietly. How much of the drive had fallen in, he wondered. Perhaps only a little—perhaps the whole length, and, if so, then it would take weeks to get to him. How long could he live in that confined space? How long would the air last? How long the bread and meat he had brought with him for crib time? How long his billy of tea? Half of that was gone already.
He looked at the candle-end guttering out now, and reflected that he had only two more left. Could he brave the horror of great darkness, and save them for food? His mate's dying face would haunt him, he knew; but still he made up his mind when that candle burnt out he would light no other, and like a miser he watched the inch of candle sink lower and lower. Another half-hour and he would be in darkness, perhaps never to see the light again in this world. Then an idea came to him—even though he remembered his mate's warning—that at least he would take advantage of the light while he had it, and seizing his spade he set to work on the earth that had filled up the mouth of the drive. But almost at once he saw that Harker's warning had been right; the earth was soft and rotten; he could no more hope to get through it than he could hope to tunnel a way through the wall on the other side. He gave it up, and covering over the dead man's face from his sight with his coat, sat down and watched the little candle flicker out.
Then when the darkness came on him, he turned his face to the wall and tried to sleep. But sleep would not come. All his life seemed to pass before him as he sat there walled up, shut out from the world above. He was a boy again—at school—and things came to his mind that he had not thought of for years. He remembered, as clearly as if it had been yesterday, how keenly he had felt the loss of the Latin prose prize. He had worked so hard for it—had given up so much; and yet Timms had won it—Timms, who had never worked at all. It had been a cruel disappointment, for he had made so sure of the Latin prose prize. Then he remembered the first time he had played with the school eleven. They were twenty runs behind, he was the last man in, and the match was as good as lost, they said, but he had made the twenty runs and one besides, and he could hear now the deafening cheers with which his school greeted him as he walked proudly off the field, his bat across his shoulder. That had been a moment worth living for, he thought. It was that night, too, he first ventured to kiss the house-master's daughter, pretty fair-haired Lucy Graham—she had been a Lucy, too. All the boys adored her, it was the fashion, but Parkyns had been first favourite. And she had always made him button-hole bouquets, but though she had pouted and boxed his ears when he, Clive, the hero of the day, kissed her, she had not looked exactly angry, and from that time forth Clive had the bouquets, and poor Parkyns went without. Pretty little Lucy—he found himself idly wondering what had become of her. And then there was that other Lucy—the dark-haired Australian girl whom he loved with all his soul—what was she doing now?
She did not know of his plight. He hoped and prayed she would not know till all was over one way or the other. He did not want his darling to suffer; he knew she loved him, was more certain of it than of anything else in heaven or earth, and he would not have her suffer if he could help it. How sweet she had been yesterday afternoon, how sweet, and tender, and loving; how good she had always been to him. The day she had found him, sitting lonely, and heartsore, and starving by the lakeside—could any other woman have been as tenderly kind and thoughtful? He doubted it, he doubted it. "Better die while you love her, lad." His mate's cynical words rang in his ears—"Better die while you love her." Ah, but she would never change—never, and if he had not cared to live for his own sake he cared for hers. It haunted him, that dead man's face, the knowledge that the dead man was so close, that any moment he might touch him in the darkness was a horrible and terrible dread to him, that kept him crouched up in one corner till every limb felt stiff and cramped. He ate sparingly of his bread and meat. He drank sparingly of his tea, and then, exhausted by his emotions, fell asleep, still in a sitting posture, in a corner as far as possible from the corpse.
He awoke with a start after some hours, and at first could not imagine where he was. Then the situation flashed across him with a bitterness no words can describe. Entombed—already entombed—with a corpse close beside him. How long had he been there? How long had he slept? He struck a match and looked at his watch. Ten minutes to five. The shifts had been changed nearly an hour ago. Already, then, the rescuers must be at work, if they had not started hours ago. The thought cheered him somewhat, and he drew out his pipe and lighted it, thinking grimly to himself that he had starved once before, and then he had had no tobacco; he had not much now, only what he had thought would last him the day. How long would the rescuers be? How long?
"In danger and tribulation; in danger and tribulation"—the words came back to him again; and when his pipe was done he tried to carve them with his knife on the wall against which he was leaning. But he could not guide his knife properly in the dark, and it was difficult to make a smooth enough place, and when he did get a place he wrote "Lucy" in large enough letters to attract attention. If he were not alive when they found him, at least she would know his last thoughts had been of her. The night came on, though it was all night to him. Seven o'clock—he should have been at "The Laurels" now. What was Lucy thinking of him? Was she wondering why he did not come? Again and again he struck a match to look at his watch, only to find it but ten minutes since he had looked before. His stock of matches grew low and he husbanded them—what for he hardly knew—and opening the case felt for the hands with his fingers. He tried walking up and down his narrow prison, but fear of touching the dead man deterred him. Then at last when he could keep still no longer, he walked up and down with his hand on the wall, so as to keep away as far as possible from the fallen earth and the dead man. Up and down, up and down ten times, twenty times, fifty times, a hundred times. He counted them carefully, and then, leaning up against the wall, made a calculation—why he could hardly have told himself. His promenade was about eight feet long—he had been up and down it a hundred times. That was eight hundred feet—not a sixth of a mile. He walked the mile steadily. He did another mile, and then flung himself down despairing. What was the use of it all? What was the good of it all? It had not occupied three quarters of an hour. He had not yet been in the mine twenty-four hours.
Two o'clock—three o'clock—four o'clock—five o'clock. It was beginning to get light now up above. Would he ever see the dawn again? He had eaten his last morsel—drank his last drop of tea—and now there only remained to him the two candles and a small modicum of tobacco. Was it worth while to save it, or should he smoke it then? He fell asleep trying to decide, and when he awoke three or four hours later his horror of the darkness was so great that he lighted one of his candles for a moment just to see if the place looked exactly the same. It looked so small by the flickering light—so small—an irregular square, about eight feet between each wall, with an arched roof so low, it seemed about to fall upon him, and there, right in the centre, lay his coat, covering, he knew, the face of his dead mate. There was the "Lucy" he had cut on the wall—large, irregular letters, quite big enough to attract attention, his poor little girl—his dear little girl!—and he kissed the rough clay on which he had traced her name, as if it might by any chance convey the message he was longing to send. Then he blew the candle out, and the darkness pressed him in more closely than ever.
The air was becoming heavy and vitiated, he fancied; could he live long in it? His mouth was dry, and he was overpowered with thirst, but, though the walls were damp, and every now and then a drop of muddy water trickled down on to the floor, it was difficult to catch it. He managed to fix up his billy at last, and then listened to the water dropping, drop by drop, slowly and at long intervals, into it. By twelve o'clock in the day there was about a cupful in the billy, and he drank it eagerly and thirstily. He would not die of thirst at this rate. But how slowly the time passed. He had been entombed but little over the twenty-four hours, and yet from his sensations it might have been years and years? Why had he not died, like his mate? Why not have been killed outright? But this lingering death, this death in life, was cruel. He had starved once before—actually starved, not so very long ago. But then at least he was not shut out from his fellows. He knew he had but to state his necessities, to humble himself to ask, and he would have received abundantly. It was curious how that Sunday at St Alphius' haunted him. He had been to church frequently since with Lucy and her sister, but that Sunday when he had first seen her stood out clear and distinct in his memory. All that afternoon—the afternoon which was deepest, darkest night to him—he thought of that Sunday, and went over in his mind each little event as if it were a matter of the deepest importance. He had been despairing then, but next day had brought him comfort. Would it be the same this time? The only comfort he dared hope for was death—death that would come quickly,
"Oh, Death, where is thy sting?
Oh, Grave, thy victory."
the congregation had sung in triumphal chorus; but he did not want death; he was not resigned to die. His whole desire was for life—life with the woman he had won only yesterday. Was it only yesterday? No. Good Heavens! it was two days ago now. And yet how slowly the time passed. He could hardly think this was only Tuesday night. He began to fancy he must have made a mistake in his calculations, and counted one twelve hours over twice. If it had not been for the evidence of his watch he would have thought he had been there a week at least.
And the second night wore away—how he could hardly have told. Sometimes he was wildly despairing, sometimes strangely hopeful, listening with intense eagerness when any sound broke the stillness. Once he had started up certain that the rescuers were at hand, only to find that the noise was caused by a slight settlement of the fallen earth, and so keen was the disappointment that he flung himself down in his corner, sobbing and moaning in agony. He could not walk up and down now. His head was dizzy, and he could not trust himself to keep straight. His horror of the dead man was as great as ever; he feared lest he might touch him—might even trample on his face. Sometimes he was smitten with the fancy that he had gone blind, and he struck a match in order to convince himself it was not so; but by midday on Wednesday all his matches were gone, his tobacco was gone, and he had eaten the last scrap of candle. It was but little over forty-eight hours since the drive had fallen in, but it might have been forty years to judge by his feelings. He seemed to have lived through so much, he wondered if he ever got out whether his hair would be grey and his face wrinkled. Such things had happened, he had read. But somehow this third day passed more quietly than its predecessors. He was worn out with the violence of his emotions, he had alternated between the wildest hopes and the deepest despair, and now there had mercifully fallen on him a stupor—a stupor born of weariness and hunger—and bad water and bad air, and he lay, waiting patiently either death or deliverance.
He dozed sometimes and dreamed, but his waking and his sleeping thoughts were so closely allied he could not tell which was which. Lucy seemed to be just opposite to him, standing there where he had carved her name, but the dead man lay between them, and though she stretched out her hands to him she dared not come, and he could not go to her. Then he heard her voice in the Litany, her voice instead of the priest's.
"That it may please Thee to succour, help, and comfort all that are in danger, necessity, and tribulation." And when he tried to take up the answering refrain it seemed to him he was not himself, but Ben Harker crushed under the cruel beams and falling earth, and thanking God that Lucy, his wife and sweetheart, was dead, and he was a free man at last. He made a desperate effort to recover himself, he rose to his feet, stretched out his hand for the billy, and eagerly drank the muddy water it contained—he never forgot to fix the billy so that it would catch the water that was his last hope—then he felt for the time, and found it was twelve o'clock, but whether on Wednesday night or Thursday morning he could not remember.
There was a ringing and a whining in his ears, and he sat down again to see if it would wear off, and when next he took out his watch it had stopped, and he lost count of the time entirely. After that the time passed like a hideous nightmare. Sometimes he knew he was awake, sometimes he knew he was only dreaming, but always there was with him the consciousness that he was buried alive, and that less and less and less became the chances of rescue. He tried, as he had tried many a time, to picture Lucy mourning him; but the dizziness in his head was too great now; besides, she was so close at hand, only on the other side of this tiny chamber he could hear her soft breathing, and as soon as he could overcome his repugnance to pass the dead man he would go to her. Faintly to his nostrils seemed to come the scent of the boronia she had worn. Why did he not go to her and lay his head on her breast, and let her comfort him as she only knew how? He put out his hand for his billy, and found for the first time it was gone. Of course he thought she had taken it—that was only fair; he would go to her in a moment—as soon as his head felt better—in a moment—in a moment—in danger—necessity—in—in—in what came—next—danger—danger—danger. How, sweet the boronia smelt—how sweet! Surely Lucy had come to him—she had come, and held him in her arms. There was a light—a little light—light at last—was it only a candle—or was it—was it—what could it be? The sunlight—oh, surely not.
"Hold on a bit, Bill," said a rough, kindly voice in his ear. "That's enough brandy for the present. The poor beggar's most done for, ain't he? But he's comin' round now. There, you hold up his head, sir. Poor chap, he had a bad time! Tom, send for the doctor—send now—send. He's in that cottage there. Now—now—he's openin' his eyes."
And Clive opened his eyes—opened them, and saw above him the deep blue sky flecked with fleecy clouds, the poppet-heads of the claim, and close at hand the kindly anxious faces of Mr. Thornton and Wilson, the underground manager, and the scent of the boronia was stronger than ever.
"Lucy—boronia," he muttered, hardly knowing what he said, and wondering if this too were part of his dreaming.
"All right, my lad, it's in my coat—and Lucy'll be all right once she hears you're safe. A little more brandy, Wilson. Thank Heaven! here's the doctor."
The doctor came, but could do no more than they had done already, and in a few moments Clive found himself able to sit up and look round on the sympathising little crowd of men who clustered round. They were all miners, a like fate might be theirs any day, and they were eager for the tale he had to tell.
"Harker," he asked anxiously; "he is dead?" For the thought came to him that he might have dreamed of his mate's death. All those days were like a hideous dream.
"Ay, poor chap!" said Wilson, "they're getting him out now. He couldn't have lived above a minute or so with that weight on him."
"Twenty," sighed Clive, "twenty awful minutes." And there came a murmur of pity and sympathy from those standing round. Then Clive asked. "What day? How long?"
"Friday afternoon, my sonny," said the underground manager, clapping him on the shoulder. "We hadn't much hope of finding you alive, I can tell you. But the ground was so rotten—that though we worked like niggers we couldn't get there a bit sooner."
He was weak from his long fast, but once they had fed him with broth and brandy there was not much else the matter with him.
"I've a cab here," said Mr. Thornton. "We'll drive to your lodgings and get some clean things, then I must take you home. Lucy'll be wild to see you. I've sent on a message to say you're all right."
It was like a dream still to Clive—the bright, sunny afternoon, with the shadows growing longer and longer, the clusters of people, the poppet-heads, the whirr and crash of the engines, after the darkness and the silence of the mine. He had thought never to see the bright and sunny earth again "We beseech Thee to hear us, good Lord."
He had thought the prayer a useless mockery, and behold God had heard and had delivered him. But what of his mate—he had prayed too.
"Harker?" he asked. "Harker? What of Harker? I should like to see Harker."
"My dear fellow," remonstrated Mr. Thornton. "Where would be the good? He died days ago, his sufferings are over, and besides——"
"It'll take us another day to get out the body," added Wilson. "Poor chap, it was hard on him. I thought he was going to have a bit of chance now his wife was dead."
"What was her name?" asked Clive, thinking of his mate's last words.
"Alice—leastways, he called her Ally, or Sally, or something," answered the underground manager, evidently wondering why he was interested. But Clive said nothing. Why should he betray the dead man's secrets? It was better to hold his tongue, if only for the sake of the Polly he had called on so tenderly in his last moments.
Then he got into the cab with his friend as in a dream. He heard the men cheer as they drove off, and mechanically smiled and nodded back to them. As in a dream he went to his lodging and changed his things. It seemed so long since he had been there, it was surprising to find everything just the same, only little Pepper wildly excited at seeing his master again, and behaving like a dog demented. It was like a dream, too, driving up to "The Laurels." He could hardly believe it was real, and spoke more than once to the man beside him, in order to reassure himself. Hanging over the gate were three youthful scions of the house of Thornton, and there certainly ought to have been little doubt about their reality.
"Cabby, cabby, cabby!" they shouted in chorus; "is that dad and Clive Dowling?"
"Yes," called back the cabman. "Will you open the gate for me."
So Eric opened the gate, and the other two, accompanied by Pepper, flew as fast as their little legs could carry them up to the house. The drive was too long and winding for their eagerness, and the well-dug beds next day bore evident marks of their flying feet.
"Mother! Lucy! Hilda!" Clive heard them shouting, "he's here! he's here! he's here!"
In the doorway stood Mrs. Thornton and Hilda, and a little behind he saw Lucy.
They were rejoicing over him as one of their own, and he could find no words as he stood opposite to Mrs. Thornton and looked down into her kindly face.
"My dear boy!" she said, taking his hand in both of hers and patting it fondly; "my dear boy!"
Hilda was hanging on to his arm in true sisterly fashion, tears in her bright eyes, and the three little boys were dancing a regular war dance around him.
"Now," said Hilda, "we're going to hand you over to Lucy. She's been breaking her heart about you for the last five days, and you must promise—never—never—never—to go down a mine any more."
Life ceased to be a dream to Clive when he found himself alone in the school-room once more, his sweetheart in his arms, kissing him and crying over him.
"Oh, dear! oh dear!" she sobbed, "and I thought you were dead, and I'd never see you again."
He stroked her dark hair fondly. She looked white and worn, as if indeed life had gone hardly with her during the last few days, so different she was from the happy girl he had parted with on Sunday.
What need was there for words between those two? By-and-by he would tell her his story, by-and-by she would listen to it eagerly, but at present he was content to hold her in his arms—she was content to be there, and to know that he was safe.
It seemed to them but a very short time before Hilda, with much preliminary humming and ha-ing and shaking of the door-handle, came in.
"Mr. Dowling," she began. "There, then—I don't see why I shouldn't call you Clive—you're going to marry my sister, aren't you? Well, Clive, then, mother thinks it's really time you had something to eat, and I may mention that the dinner gong went ten minutes ago, though neither of you appear to have noticed it."
"I said the dinner gong," remarked Hilda demurely; "it's so loud that the people on the other side of the gardens consider it a public nuisance but——"
"Don't be sarcastic, Dilly," said Lucy.
"Well, are you coming to dinner? Clive, are you well enough to come to dinner?"
"Yes, of course; I'm a little shaken, that's all."
And Hilda marshalled them into the dining-room, where the others were patiently waiting their arrival. Clive apologised.
"Never mind, never mind," laughed Thornton. "You may be half an hour late if you make Lucy look like that. She has wandered about like a restless ghost the last four days. It was well she took her mother into her confidence on Monday, or I don't know what we should have thought."
"I think we should have known pretty well," smiled her mother, patting her daughter's hand. "But we were very much surprised you didn't come on Monday night."
"I thought of that," murmured Clive. "I kept thinking of it all night, but I couldn't help it. I haven't yet thanked you for coming down to the mine for me."
"Pooh! pooh! That was the least I could do, if only for my daughter's sake. My wife told me—no secrets between husband and wife, you know—" he laughed and nodded in a way that made both Clive and Lucy blush—"of Lucy's confidence; and we were both astonished when you did not turn up in the evening. Then next morning Hilda read in the Star that two miners had been buried beneath a fall of earth in the Sultan Pasha, and that there was but little hope of getting them out alive. Of course I told Hilda to hold her tongue, and went down to see who it was. Well—well—well—that was nice news to bring home with me, wasn't it. Don't cry, Lucy"—for two great tears had stolen down Lucy's white cheeks at the very remembrance of it—"don't cry. You've been a brave girl all through—for God knows it is a very hard thing to sit with folded hands and wait."
"Yes," said Clive, "yes, I know it is. And," he added, "sir, you are very kind to let a penniless man like me even hope for your daughter."
"Well—well—I don't pretend to control my daughters; the ways of women folk were always beyond me. Hilda, do you want any stuffing? More gravy? Now, are you all helped? Very well." He laid down the carving knife and fork and appeared to entirely forget his own dinner. "Now, I have an announcement to make. I was fool enough to agree to this engagement when you were penniless, and buried deep under ground; but things have changed since then. You're quite a well-to-do young man this evening, Dowling. It's a little like a fairy tale, but things came to pass in the ordinary course of nature."
"Now don't get excited. You're, not strong enough yet. I concluded you didn't want to be a trucker all your life, so I have just kept my eyes open on your behalf. I heard last Saturday Allender and Young wanted a managing clerk. I wrote, recommending you. They made all inquiries, and now—well, here's the letter—it came this morning—offering you the place if you care to take it."
"Take it—of course—I——"
"Now—now—now—don't be so impatient; take it, of course; but there's something more. What about 'Star of the North' shares?"
"They're not worth——"
"The paper they're printed on. Aren't they, though. How many have you?"
"And this morning's Argus quotes them at £15 a share, and still rising—£6,000. What do you think of that, my lad? Allender and Young will give you a good screw, too."
"Why—why——" Clive was dumbfounded before his amazing good fortune, and could find no words to express his thankfulness. "Why—we can be married at once, I suppose."
"Oh, is that all you think about, and you haven't been engaged a week? Well, well, you must settle that with Lucy and her mother. You certainly are in a position to please yourself. Why, nobody's having any dinner! Come, there's no need to starve, even if we are in luck. Sell your shares to-morrow, Dowling. Take my advice and sell."
Clive took his advice and sold, and repented a week later, when he found they were worth £30; but rejoiced again when they went down with a run, and were worth just nothing at all. Mining was a risky game, he told Lucy, and he vowed he was content with his success, and would never again tempt Providence.
But my story is all but done, for Clive is no longer "down in the world." He is managing clerk in Allender and Young's, and intends very soon to start practice on his own account, for, as everybody knows, there is an excellent opening for a barrister in Ballarat. He stuck to his point about an early marriage, and, by dint of much persuasion, managed to get the wedding day fixed for the first week in November.
He was off to town next day, and would not be able to see much of her before they were married.
"It is strange, Lucy, awfully strange," he said, as they walked up and down a shady path together; "but, then, life is strange. Look at the two of us working there in the mine. Literally one was taken and the other left. Harker was as good a man as I. Why should it not have been the other way around? He died close beside me, and—I am here to tell the tale."
"I am glad, glad, glad; too thankful for words," and Lucy leaned her dark head against his arm.
"Yes, darling; but why? It was so hard on him—so hard."
"Ah, dear, how can I tell? Perhaps because I wanted you so."
Only a woman's reason, but, as he put his arm round her, he felt she was none the less dear to him. He was none the less dear to her, because she believed so firmly he had been given back in answer to her prayers. A woman's reason—good or bad who shall say? But if it help knit two lives firmly together, who will say it was not a good one?
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