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Title: The Remittance Man
Author: Ambrose Pratt
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 14
Language: English
Date first posted: November 2014
Date most recently updated: November 2014

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Remittance Man
Author: Ambrose Pratt

*


The Remittance Man,


By


Ambrose Pratt

======================================

Author of "Three Years with Thunderbolt," &c., &c.

======================================

Published in The World's News (Sydney, N.S.W.) in serial form
commencing Saturday 21 October, 1905 (this text), also in book form by
Ward Lock & Co., London, 1907, and also under the title 'Jan Digby' by
Ward Lock & Co., London, in 1907 (but this title appears to have been
dropped for the current one).

======================================




Chapter I.--The Meeting.

The steamer Tomki was signalled "off the bar" at sunrise, but
although everyone knew that she could not enter the river until flood
tide at 10.30 a.m., the inhabitants of Ballina drifted towards the
public wharf as soon as they had breakfasted.

A dark-haired and rather sun-burned young man, who sat upon a flying
pile industriously fishing, observed the crowd grow out of the corners
of his eyes. He was at first indifferent enough. Ballina invariably
assembled to welcome the mail boats. The fisherman, after a time,
however, became aware of some unusual, and therefore noteworthy,
features in the gathering. Major Reay, the richest mill owner and sugar
planter of the district was seated on a camp chair about the centre of
the wharf, nursing a gouty foot upon a stool before him. A score of
gaily costumed young women fluttered attentively about him, each armed
with a huge bouquet of white and crimson roses. The fisherman, having
grasped these phenomena, turned his head in order to consider them more
narrowly. As he did so a well-dressed lad of seventeen detached himself
from the crowd and came forward. The fisherman recognised the boy with
a nod, then, as if ashamed to be caught indulging his curiosity, he
resumed his former attitude, and stared fixedly at the float. The lad
rapidly approached, but, halting half a dozen feet away, he sat down
upon the edge of the wharf and dangled his feet over the water.

"What ho! Jan!" he remarked familiarly.

The fisherman said "Good morning," in cool tones, without raising his
eyes.

"Any luck?" asked the boy.

"No."

"I expect you will have no breakfast, then?"

The fisherman looked at his interlocutor in a fashion that needed no
words to explain his meaning.

"None of my business, eh?" laughed the boy, entirely unabashed.

"I may be wrong," replied the other gently; his voice was soft as
velvet, but it did not invite discussion of the subject.

The boy shifted uneasily for a moment, then he laughed at his thoughts.
"I came over to you because I felt like a fish out of water over
there," he muttered suddenly.

"Is that so?"

"O' course--if you have important business with yourself, I'll move on?"

The fisherman smiled, and his strong, serious face was unexpectedly
illuminated.

"I do not own the wharf," he replied.

"That's better!" laughed the boy. "I hate you solemn! It's unsociable."

The fisherman lifted his rod, and drawing his line from the water,
glanced at the untouched bait.

"They don't seem to be biting this morning," said the boy. "You should
give 'em some burley."

The fisherman shrugged his shoulders and allowed the line to sink again.

"The steamer will bring them about," he remarked. "Why so many ladies
to-day, Jack--and your father, the Major? Are you expecting someone by
the boat?"

"My sister Marion," replied Jack Reay. "She has been in Europe for the
past two years. The dad is pretty nearly off his head with excitement."

"And you?"

The boy blushed. "I've got 'em all on in honor of the occasion. How do
you think I look?" he added artlessly.

The fisherman glanced up and nodded. "A credit to Bond-street," he
answered, smiling.

"Jim Tunks put 'em together," said the boy. "I feel like a--like--a
bloomin' home-made dude. Beastly all over! The chaps have been
chiacking me all the morning. I've promised to give Hal Best a black
eye to-morrow."

"He is more than your match, Jack."

"I know. That's why I put it off till to-morrow. Couldn't meet Marion
with a smashed face, could I?"

"I suppose not."

"She's a good sort, Marion," observed the boy reflectively, "but
peaceful like; she was always lecturing me against fighting."

"Pretty?" inquired the fisherman.

"She never struck me that way," replied the boy, with a judicial air.
"She's nothing like Lena Best."

"No great misfortune," muttered the fisherman.

The boy did not hear. "Lena has a rod in pickle for her, I guess," he
went on, with a grin.

"Indeed."

"Yes, sir, and the other girls as well, though Lena's the leader. She's
president of the Women's League and Social Purity Brigade, you know."

"What is the motive for the rod?"

"Jealousy--I call it, Mr. Digby. They say--it's 'necessary
precautions.' Martha Lang put the show away to me."

"What will they do?"

"I don't know, just. Watch her, I expect, like cats, for a chance to
scratch."

"But why?"

"Well," drawled the lad, "the general feeling seems to be that Marion
is pretty sure to come back superior, don't you know; 'sidey,' and all
that sort of thing."

"Ah!"

"Yes--and the League has formed itself into a sort of vigilance
committee. Martha says they are bound to resent being patronised--and
they're sworn to give Marion a holy time if she puts on airs."

The fisherman's, lips curled. "Charity, thy name is Woman," he sneered.

"They are charitable, though," laughed the boy; "leastways, they think
they are. Martha says they are going to give her every chance, and I
believe Lena made a speech last meeting pluming herself and the others
on their being broad-minded. I suppose it was because they decided to
meet her with flowers."

Jan Digby glanced over his shoulder at the crowd. "They have flowers
enough for a carnival," he remarked.

"False pretences, I call it," sneered the boy. "Marion will be that
grateful to them! Never mind, I'll soon put her fly to the way they've
picked her to pieces."

The fisherman stood up, and began to wind his line around his pole.

"Giving it best?" asked Jack Reay.

Digby nodded. "For the present. I don't want to lose my line. Here
comes the Tomki."

"Where?" cried the boy, springing to his feet.

The man nodded in a certain direction, and beyond a point of mangrove
swamp the boy perceived a pair of gliding masts.

He darted off, flushed and eager, to his father's side, and Jan Digby,
after secreting his rod in a handy niche, climbed slowly to the wharf.
Standing up, he threw out his arms and breathed deeply. He had been
sitting for hours, and felt cramped. He was little short of six feet
in height, and of light yet sinewy build. As he stretched his limbs
he swayed slightly from side to side, and his muscles swelled and
rolled under his threadbare, tightly buttoned coat with an astonishing
oil-like smoothness that irresistibly suggested the movements of some
animal of the cat species.

"If only one could exist without eating," he muttered in confidence
to the air. "Or," he added reflectively, "fast without getting
hungry--life would be worth living."

He heard a sudden clatter of feet, and turned to see the Ballina ladies
coming forward in a body escorting in their midst the stumbling figure
of Major Reay. Digby immediately remembered that he occupied that part
of the wharf nearest the approaching steamer. His first intention was
to slip away, but he subdued it on an impulse of defiance which he
knew was absurd, and which left him undecided and frowning. Swinging
on his heel, he stared at the Tomki and listened acutely to the
conversation behind him.

"Can you see Marion, yet?" demanded Major Reay of all round. His voice
was high pitched and tremulous.

"No, no, not yet," answered the ladles in chorus. "It is too soon yet."

"Jack, Jack. Where is Jack, confound him?" cried the Major.

The steamer whistled, and the Major groaned.

"If only I had someone to lean on," cried the old gentleman.

"Lean on me, dear Major!" said a woman's voice.

"Thank you, dear," growled the Major; "I'd break you! Jack," he
shouted. "Jack!"

But Jack, who had climbed a post at the other end of the wharf, was
frantically waving his kerchief at the Tomki, oblivious of all else.

"I can't stand any longer," said the Major, with a groan of pain. "Take
me back! Oh, my foot, my foot."

Jan Digby turned about, and bowed to the old gentleman with the grace
of a cavalier.

"Permit me to assist you, sir," he suggested gently.

The Major raised his grizzled eyebrows, and surveyed the tattered
fisherman with a somewhat supercilious air. "You, Jan Digby!" he
growled.

"At your service," replied Digby in slow, even tones, giving him look
for look.

"Very well," said the Major, most ungraciously. "Help me to that ledge.
I want my daughter to see me."

Digby smiled, and stepping forward lifted the ponderous old man as
though he were a child, and placed him upon the coping of the wharf.

"You are strong, sir," said the Major.

Digby, still smiling, bent one knee upon the planks, and offered the
other as a stool for his companion.

"If you sit down, sir, it will ease your foot," he remarked.

The Major suppressed a groan, and barely smothered an oath. "It is
giving me the devil," he muttered, his lip trembling.

"Sit down," said Digby.

The Major obeyed, and Digby passed an arm around his waist.

"You are certainly strong, sir," said the Major. "But I am blocking
your view, sir."

"That is of no consequence."

The voice of the boy, Jack Reay, at that moment rose high above the
general babel.

"I see her, there she is!" he yelled. "Marion, Marion. Hurrah!"

The Major, uttering a cry, sprang half erect, then sank back again with
an exclamation of anguish.

"Easy does it, sir," said Digby.

"Can you see her?" stammered the old man. "I can't! I can't!"

"There she is. There she is," chorussed the ladies behind them, and
with shrill shouts they pressed to the coping's edge, fluttering their
handkerchiefs and waving their bouquets.

The steamer's signal bell sounded through the din. Digby could see
nothing, but he knew that the Major's self-control had broken down,
for his right hand was splashed with tears, and the old man's body was
quivering like a blancmange.

A weighted rope, skilfully cast from the Tomki's bows clattered upon
the wharf, to the accompaniment of a chorus of female shrieks. Two
attendants seized the line and pulled ashore a hawser, hand over hand,
whose loop they cast presently over an immense iron stanchion screwed
into the wharf near Jan Digby's feet.

The steamer, forging ahead, was stopped short by the rope, and her
shivering stem swung inwards. A bell rang, and her screws reversing
action, dragged her astern, a manoeuvre which in less than a minute
brought her smooth iron sides in gentle contact with the wharf.

"Help me up!" cried the Major. "Quick man, quick!"

Digby put the old man on his feet, and lifted him down from the coping.

"Where to, sir?" he asked, for the Major clung to him helplessly, his
eyes blinded with tears.

"Take me--to her," stammered the old man. "Be quick, be quick."

Digby shouted, "Way, way for the Major!" and half carrying, half
leading his charge, he forced a path through the press in the direction
of the gangway.

A moment later he paused at the foot of the ladder, wondering if
the Major wished to wait there for his daughter or climb aboard the
steamer. But his doubt was speedily resolved. Glancing up, he saw
a sweet, furbelowed vision looking down at him. A milk-white face,
with big blue shining eyes, and a small crimson mouth whose lips were
tremulously parted--lower, a shape of softly undulating curves, and
lower still, two tiny high-heeled shoes, peeping out of a bewildering
mass of lace and silk and creamy draperies.

"Father!" cried a voice of piercing sweetness.

"Marion!" shouted Major Reay.

Jan Digby witnessed something of a miracle. As the girl ran down the
steps with open arms and eyes aglow, Major Reay, a second since the
weakling dependent on Digby's courtesy, started erect, and forgetting
his gout, sprang up the gangway to meet his daughter with the agile
vigor of a lad.

Digby immediately fell back, and threading his way through the crowd
he returned to his original vantage post. The stern of the Tomki
now lay beside the flying pile, separated by a dozen feet of space;
but there was room to fish, and Digby forthwith recommenced operations
with a hand line. The hook had barely sunk to its limit before he felt
a tug, and with a quick series of gestures, he drew out a black bream,
weighing at least a pound. Digby smacked his lips as he put the fish
into his bag. "Come, come," he muttered, "we shall not starve to-day,
at all events."

In ten minutes he had caught a dozen bream, and had expended all his
bait. He then rolled up his line, and slinging his catch across his
shoulders, got slowly to his feet.

The wharf presented now a very different picture from that which
had obtained upon the arrival of the steamer. The ladles and other
sight-seers had departed, and the whole place was in the charge of
grimy stevedores and hairy-chested lightermen, who ran to and fro in
busy streams between the store sheds and the Tomki's screaming
cranes. Some were trundling trucks of merchandise which the sailors had
discharged from the vessel's hold, others trotted with staggering steps
under bags of flour and grain cast athwart their shoulders.

"Lucky devils," said Jan Digby, with a sigh of envy, as he watched
them. "They have work to do!"




Chapter II.--Marion's Friend.

Major Reay's house, familiarly known all over the river as "The
Folly," was prettily situated at the head of a little sheltered cove
near the river's mouth, within the bar, about two miles from the
township of Ballina. It was so called because the Major, in building
it, had embarked upon a temporary career of extravagance which his
acquaintances had regarded as little short of lunacy.

The house was constructed of finest white marble imported at immense
expense from Italy, and though not really of prodigious size, its
dimensions and beauty of design, rendered contemptible by comparison
every other mansion in the district. The fact was that the Major, who
had been a poor man until comparatively late in years, had cherished
secretly throughout his poverty a dream of one day returning to
England; and repurchasing the home of his fathers--a stately old castle
lost to the family by the prodigality of his ancestors. The time
arrived when he found himself able, financially speaking, to gratify
his wishes, but other considerations intervened; his physicians warned
him that the climate of England would infallibly cut short his life.
Obliged therefore, to abandon an ambition which had become a part of
his being, the old gentleman strove to repair his disappointment by
erecting in the land of his adoption a house which he resolved should
surpass, at least in magnificence, the beloved castle of his dreams.
In that he had probably succeeded, for the "Folly" was a lovely place,
and its natural surroundings were incomparably beautiful; but the Major
looked upon it as a pis aller, and it was long before he became
reconciled to the idea of spending his last days within the marble
halls.

Marion, however, who had paid a lengthy visit to Castle Reay during
her sojourn in England, returned to Ballina with shuddersome memories
of her ancestral home, whose air of gloom and interminable wilderness
of rat-infested rooms and corridors had made the "Folly" seem doubly
bright and sweet by virtue of comparison.

As she sat with her father and brother upon one of the lower
balustraded balconies that faced the sea, after dinner of the evening
of her arrival, she again contrasted the places in her mind, and her
verdict was wholly in favor of the "Folly."

"Ah! but it is good to be home again," she declared, with a deep sigh
of contentment.

"Home is where the heart is, my dear," grumbled the Major; "mine is in
the old country, the dear old country, which I shall never see again."

Marion shook her head. "It is better here," she murmured. "I love
England--but I love this more--the land where I was born."

"I was born in England," said the Major sadly.

"Yes, at Castle Reay, dad; but oh, dad, it is not good to dream, loved
places grow superlatively fine in dreams. If you could see the castle
once more you would never wish to live there--it is sombre and old, and
full of mystery and mould and melancholy; one could not be happy there,
it weighed me down--more than I can tell you. I was glad to leave
it--and oh, I am a thousand times more glad to be here again, where all
is bright and sunshining and sweet smelling."

"I guess 'you're just skiting, aren't you, to cheer us up," said Jack.
"Give me England and Castle Reay every time--eh, dad?"

Marion laughed. "You have never seen either, that is why you think so,
you silly boy," she cried. "Now I have been all over the world, and
have never seen a place that I like one half so well as this."

"Honestly, darling?" asked the Major.

"Honestly, dad," she answered earnestly.

"Well, well," said the old gentleman, "I am glad to know it, dear; it
makes one easier in mind, for to tell you the truth, I was half fearing
that you would come back to us dissatisfied."

"Dad!" cried the girl indignantly, "how dared you think such a thing?"

"It would have been natural, most natural, for you to dislike the idea
of resuming the old life here. Don't think I would have blamed you, my
pet."

Marion stood up, her eyes bright with tears. "I shall never leave you
again, dad," she said quickly, and there was much passion in her voice;
"I was never really happy away from you, and now I can see that you
have been miserable, too--you must have been--to have thought such
things of me."

"It seems that I have been an old fool," said the Major gruffly. "Sit
down, dear, and let us talk of something else."

"Lena Best was responsible," observed Jack. "Cat! Every time she came
here, it was to give you a dig."

"Lena Best!" exclaimed Marion. "Why, she used to be my best friend."

"She didn't mean badly, it's just her way," said the Major hastily.

"Talk of the Dickens," muttered Jack, sotto voce, "here she comes, with
Joyce Templeton; I'm off, by-bye, dad."

"A good riddance, you young imp!" growled the Major, but he followed
the lad's retreating figure with indulgent eyes. "He's a good boy,
Marion!" he said, smiling, "a good boy is Jack, and I'm proud of him!"

"So am I," said Marion, standing up as she spoke to receive her
visitors, who were already half way up the steps.

"We had to come," cried Lena, "we simply could not keep away, we were
just dying to see you, weren't we, Joyce?"

"Just dying," echoed Joyce.

Lena was a tall and slim, rather thin-featured blonde, some twenty-four
years of age, whom most people considered very pretty. She had eyes
of the palest blue imaginable, and elegant taper-fingered hands, of
which she was unaffectedly vain. Her father was a local bank manager,
a widower, and Major Reay's most intimate friend. Joyce Templeton was
a stout and rather stumpy brunette, the eldest of a brood of sixteen
daughters of a sugar planter, who resided at a neighboring village. She
was at that time spending a holiday with Lena Best, who dominated her
in all things, and whose echo and jackal she was.

"It is just sweet of you both," said Marion, and she kissed them
heartily in turn.

The Major stood up and shook hands. "Did you walk?" he inquired.

"Yes, Major," answered Lena. "But father will call for us and drive us
home, he wants to see you about some matter of business."

"Hum," said the Major, "I guess I'll leave you," and he stumbled off
into the house.

"Sit down, dears," said Marion; "how pretty you have grown, Lena. Do
you love me just the same as ever?"

Lena cast down her eyes and blushed. "Everyone says that," she
simpered. "Of course I love you just the same," she added as an
afterthought.

"You are no slouch yourself in looks, Marion," observed Joyce. "Is she,
Lena?"

Miss Best eyed Marion doubtfully. "Distinctly stylish," she commented,
smoothing out her own dress in order to display her hands. "Did you
bring home many frocks like that, Marion?"

"I brought out a lot of gowns," returned Marion smiling; "but this is
only a wrapper--a tea gown."

Lena looked shocked. "Is that real lace?" she demanded, pointing to the
fringe of under-skirt peeping from under Marion's flounces.

"Only Maltese," said Marion apologetically.

"Only Maltese," repeated Lena severely. "My dear Marion, you'll have
all the girls down on you in no time, if you sport your money like
that. The most we can run to here is Torchon or imitation Valenciennes,
and only then on our summer Sunday-go-to-meeting's. Only Maltese,
indeed! why"--(she bent forward suddenly in order to more closely
examine the offending apparel). "Good heavens!" she cried, "it's silk!
silk!"

"Silk!" echoed Joyce. "Good heavens, and on an underskirt!"

"The whole underskirt is silk, too," exclaimed Lena, sitting back and
gasping.

"Are you expecting company to-night?" demanded Joyce, with a suspicious
sniff.

Marion was bewildered, and she felt too surprised to conceal her
feelings. "Surely I may wear what pleases me," she said, not without
indignation.

"Oh, certainly," said Lena stiffly.

"Certainly," echoed Joyce.

"I hope that you will excuse my remark," went on Lena. "If I have
presumed, it was only in consideration of our old friendship. Of
course, if you do not wish to resume that relationship--I----"

Marion frowned, then smiled.

"Don't be a goose, Lena," she interjected brightly. "I am not a
changeable girl--as you ought to know besides, but--but after what you
have said--perhaps----" she paused dramatically.

"Perhaps what?" demanded Lena.

Marion's eyes twinkled. "Apropos of lace," she answered. "You seem to
think that it is wrong to wear it--and--you see, when I was leaving
England, I wanted to make you a present, and I--I--was silly enough to
think you'd like some lace. I brought you out a lot--whole rolls."

Lena started up in her chair, like one galvanised. "You darling!" she
cried. "What sort?"

"Two cards of Maltese--deep, and, let me see----"

"Yes? Yes?"

"Valenciennes--and----"

"Real?"

Marion nodded. "Some Minorca--scarves, two sets of Brussels collars and
gauntlets, and some old Irish fichus."

Miss Best gasped for breath, and, for a moment seemed unable to speak.

"All that for me!" she muttered at last.

"Some Bruges insertion, too," said Marion.

"How utterly lovely!" sighed Joyce.

"Is--is it--have you got it unpacked?" stammered Lena.

"No," answered Marion. "My boxes are not all up from the wharf yet."

"It's too good to be true," cried Lena.

"I feel so disappointed about it," murmured Marion. "I acted for the
best, really, Lena. I made sure you would like it."

"But, Marion, I do." Lena was trembling between excitement and
apprehension.

"But the girls would be down on you in no time, if you wore
it--wouldn't they?" asked Marion innocently.

"Let them try," said Lena. "Do you think I care a fig for them, now I
know you love me. You darling," she cried, "to think of me when you
were so far away. I just adore you for it. My word! won't the other
girls be jealous!"

Marion submitted to the embrace without remark, then turned to Joyce.
"I have a silver purse for you, Joyce," she said quietly. "I brought
out something for every one of my old friends."

"You angel!" cried Joyce. "A silver purse--hurrah! Oh, you darling, I
must kiss you, Marion."

Lena looked on with a discontented frown.

"I'm offended," she declared after Joyce sat down again. "I thought it
was only me, I hate being one of a crowd."

"I brought you the most," said Marion sweetly; "for I never made any
secret that I loved you better than the others; but I could not neglect
the others entirely--could I?"

"You angel," cried Joyce again.

Lena permitted herself to be mollified. "Of course, if you put it in
that way, I forgive you," she said magnanimously.

"Now let's have a nice chat," said Marion. "I want you to tell me all
the news of Ballina, everything about everybody. Dad says nothing
whatever has happened since I went away, but of course there has."

Lena and Joyce at ones drew up their chairs, and sat as close as
possible to their hostess.

"Dad is an old silly," said Lena. "Lots has happened, hasn't it, Joyce?"

"Lots!" echoed Joyce--"lots and lots."

"Then tell me."

"Such fun," began Lena--with a conscious smile and demurely downcast
eyes; "you remember Jack Mappin?"

"Yes, the teller in your father's bank."

"No, the accountant--you know, the one with the brown moustache. You
must remember him?"

"Sandy," corrected Joyce.

"Brown," retorted Lena; "you are color blind, Joyce."

"I'm not," said Joyce rebelliously.

"What of him?" asked Marion quickly.

"I refused him," said Lena, "and he married May Streeton a fortnight
afterwards out of revenge."

"And she had twins last month," cried Joyce, bursting into a laugh.

"Isn't it perfectly awful," said Lena. "But doesn't it serve him right?"

"He was rather a nice boy," said Marion; "I hope that he is happy."

"Happy!" sneered Lena. "I guess not, he never looks at me now--he is
ashamed, I expect."

"But what has he done to be ashamed of, Lena?" asked Marion.

"Twins!"

Joyce laughed loudly, but Marion did not smile.

"Does Mr. Keeling still live at Ballina?" she asked.

"Horace Keeling. Oh, yes," Lena's face changed expression suddenly. It
seemed to stiffen.

"And he is still single?"

Lena was silent, but Joyce guffawed. "He and Lena were engaged for a
bit," she explained, "but he caught her flirting with Will Taylor, and
they haven't spoken since."

"Ah!" said Marion, "and Will Taylor, how is he?"

"He is doing splendidly. He is sub-manager at the big mill now."

"Fat fool!" muttered Lena.

"He is courting Mamie Sinclair," murmured Joyce, giving Marion a
meaning glance.

Marion suppressed a smile.

"Are there any new people?" she asked.

"Was George Griffen here before you left?" demanded Lena.

"No."

"Then he is new," Lena brightened up at once, and preened her ruffled
feathers like a bird in the sunshine.

"What is he, and what is he like?" inquired Marion.

"He is second analyst at the mill, with a real good screw--salary, I
mean. I could have him by raising my little finger."

"Is he nice?"

"Not bad. Awfully good-looking, and very dark, with a perfect duck of a
moustache. He makes love beautifully."

"You ought to know," said Joyce; "what about the Masonic ball?"

Lena giggled and scrouged up her shoulders. "Don't be silly, Joyce,"
she simpered.

"Alan Laing is new," said Joyce suddenly.

"A nice name," commented Marion.

"All the girls are after him," said Joyce; "but he is not taking any."

"Not all the girls," corrected Lena, with a frown. "I never could stand
him, a proud, elderly, stuck-up toad--that's my opinion of him."

"Oh, Lena!" cried Joyce--"he is not a day over forty, and I can't allow
you to call him a toad."

"Just because he rowed you home from Shell Island in the rain, and paid
you a duty call afterwards," she turned to Marion with curling lip;
"Joyce's head is very easily turned," she sneered.

"He saved my life," protested Joyce; "I was caught by the tide, and in
another half hour I should have been washed away and drowned."

"A romance!" cried Marion, her eyes sparkling, "a real romance! how
lovely! tell me all about it, Joyce."

"There is nothing to tell," answered Joyce.

"But it will not end there!"

"It will; we are good friends, but that is all."

"Is he--nice?"

"Yes--and whatever Lena may say, he is a gentleman; his manners are
princely."

Lena sniffed. "I quite agree with you about his manners," she sneered;
"by all accounts, most princes are condescending prigs, that just
describes him; he thinks no end of himself, I can tell you; why, would
you believe it, Marion, he has never attended one of our dances; he
considers us beneath him, I suppose, the snob!"

"What does he do for a living?" asked Marion.

"I think he writes," said Joyce in awe-stricken tones, "they say he is
an author; he is living here for his health's sake, he is consumptive,
I think; but he must be well off, for he has the 'Bungalow,' and he
keeps three servants."

"A bachelor?"

"I dare swear not," said Lena, spitefully. "He is bald, and he looks as
if his hair had been pulled out by the roots."

Marion laughed outright. "Poor fellow," she cried, "he is to be pitied
since he is bald, and has Lena for an enemy. But let us drop him for
the present. Who else new is there, Joyce?"

"No one that I remember, except married ones, and they're not worth
mentioning."

"No one--surely you are mistaken--think!"

"There's no one else," sighed Lena, shaking her head, "I wish there
was."

Marion looked thoughtful. "'That's strange," she murmured, "I saw a
gentleman standing beside father on the wharf this morning, when the
boat came in, and his face was strange to me; can I have been mistaken?"

"You must have been dreaming," said Lena. "We were with your father,
and there was certainly no gentleman with us except Jack."

"It was not Jack."

Lena shook her head. "I saw no one--did you, Joyce?"

"Not a soul," said Joyce.

"I saw him distinctly," said Marion, "and I intended to ask dad who he
is, but I forgot."

"That's curious," said Lena, frowning. "But if you saw him so
distinctly, you should be able to describe him. What was he like?"

Marion half closed her eyes. "Tall, thin, strong-looking, very manly,"
she answered musingly.

"You must have second sight!" cried Lena.

"Oh, my!" gasped Joyce, "not that, it's bad luck."

"Nonsense!" said Marion abruptly. "I don't believe in such absurdities
at all. Besides, I assure you that I saw him quite distinctly, and he
was not a bit unreal."

"Lena!" cried Joyce of a sudden. "I know," she began to giggle
furiously, as though she was being tickled.

"What?" demanded Lena, much vexed. "Don't giggle, you--ninny--tell
us--if you know."

But Joyce could not stop herself. "Oh,--my!" she gasped,
"gentleman!--oh, my!"

"You--you," said Lena, her pale eyes flashing fire. "I hate the
giggler."

"G-g-gentleman," stuttered Joyce, laughing like mad. "She m-m-means
Jan!"

It took Lena some seconds to grasp the idea conveyed, but when she did,
she also dissolved in mirth.

"Jan Digby!" she cried--then "never," and her laughter rippled seaward
in a sudden silver peal.

Marion felt a little irritated. "I should be glad to have amused you,"
she said coldly.

Lena stopped at once. "Forgive me, dear, it was very rude of me. I
know," she said contritely, "but when you know you will laugh, too."

"Indeed," said Marion.

"It's about the--er, the gentleman you saw," explained Lena, tittering
as she spoke. "Was he clean-shaved--and rather dark?"

"Yes."

"And were his clothes shabby?"

"I did not examine his clothes," answered Marion.

"It was Jan Digby!" said Lena. "You confused us by calling him a
gentleman. If you had not said that, we'd have known at once whom you
meant."

"What, then, is Mr. Jan Digby?"

"A remittance man. He hasn't sixpence in the world, beyond a pittance
he receives quarterly, through my father's bank from England--about
10, I think. His relatives allow him that to keep him away from home."

"Oh!" said Marion.

"He is a rank loafer," pursued Lena. "He keeps body and soul together
by fishing, and he lives in that awful little shanty on the beach--that
which old mad Karl built out of kerosene tins years ago; you remember
it, don't you?"

"Yes, I remember the place; but where does the joke come in, Lena?"

"You can't have much of a sense of humor, my dear," replied Lena, with
a patronising smile. "The joke is that you took him for a gentleman."

"Are you sure that he is not?" asked Marion quietly.

Lena pursed up her lips. "Not any of the nice people in Ballina speak
to him," she declared, her manner imparting to the words an air of
absolute finality.

Joyce, however, protested against the implied decree. "Oh, come,
Lena," she said quickly, "you know we saw him walking with Mr. Laing
yesterday."

"Birds of a feather," retorted Lena. "I said not any of the nice
people, with an accent on the nice."

Joyce turned scarlet, but Marion hastened to avert the storm.

"Is he a drunkard?" she inquired.

"No, indeed!" cried Joyce, looking defiantly at Lena, stung at last
into open revolt by the slur cast upon her. "He is nothing of the kind,
and I'm sure he is a gentleman by birth."

"He looks it," said Marion. "Has be been here long?"

"About two months," replied Joyce. "And as for no one speaking to him,"
she went on with increased warmth, "that may be nearly true now, but
when he first came all the fellows were glad enough to win his money at
cards, and eat his dinners and drink his wine at the hotel. He stayed
at the Royal, too," she concluded breathlessly.

Lena curled her lip. "Bah!" she said with frank contempt. "Jan Digby
has a champion at last."

"He is better than a lot of those who speak against him," said Joyce,
very hotly, her face crimson.

"I've heard you run him down yourself," retorted Lena.

Marion looked from one to the other, a puzzled frown upon her face.

"You laughed first, Joyce, when I described him as a gentleman," she
observed.

"So she did," cried Lena, with, an air of triumph, which made her
rebellious satellite long to slap her face.

But instead of doing that, Joyce, driven thus into a corner, lowered
her flag, yet with poor grace. "Well, and if I did," she returned,
"what then? I'm not defending him. He may be all Lena thinks--but what
I say is this--no one knows anything really nasty against him, and I've
always said it was mean of the fellows to cut him just because he lost
his money and had to leave the hotel."

"He had to sell his last stitch to pay his bill," sneered Lena.

Marion experienced a sudden sense of shame to have invited the
revelation of such sordid details. "Let us change the subject," she
said gravely, and with entire frankness. "I am sorry to have brought it
up. Mr. Digby may be a rascal, or he may be a gentleman, but in either
case we have no right to discuss him to such a point. I feel really
mean in knowing what you have told me."

"All Ballina knows it," protested Lena. "You might as well as the rest."

"That is the penalty of living in so small a place," said Marion
disgustedly. "Gossip, gossip! gossip! It was just the same before I
went away. No one had a shred of reputation except on sufferance, and
nothing was too sacred to be sneered at except the art of gossiping."

Lena and Joyce exchanged meaning glances, but Marion, deep in her
subject, did not perceive them.

"Do you know, girls," she went on, "I have an idea. What do you
say if we form a society to fight the spirit of gossip. I don't
suppose we will do much good, but we can't do any harm. This much is
certain--while the evil is permitted to flourish unchecked, it will
never die of its own accord; and if we set our faces publicly against
it we shall at least make the gossips ashamed of their ways, and reduce
them to the necessity of confining their operations to a narrow field.
What do you say?"

Lena gave a superior smile. "You were always a dreamer, Marion," she
began. "I admire your idea tremendously, but do you know what would be
the upshot if you put it into practice?"

"What do you think?"

"Your society would be immediately swamped by all the most notorious
gossips in the neighborhood--that means to say, by the entire female
population. They would have to join in order to save their characters.
Well, the result would be that instead of an art, gossip would
presently become a religion."

Marion frowned, then laughed. "I'm afraid you are right, Lena," she
admitted ruefully. "But how cynical you have become, dear."

"I have had a good deal of experience," explained Lena. "I have been
President of the Ballina Woman's Club for twelve months now. But that
reminds me, Marion--you'll want to be a member, of course, won't you?
Shall I put you up?"

Marion looked thoughtful. "Do you think I had better?" she asked.

"You'll be out of everything if you don't," returned Lena decidedly.
"Besides, I want you to join."

"Very well, then," said Marion. "You may propose me, if you wish. Ah,
there goes the gong. Come in, dears, and take some refreshment, won't
you?"

All arose, but as they moved towards the open door of the house, Lena
caught Marion's arm and pulled her aside. "Is it true, dear," she
whispered, "that you have come back heart-whole? Your father told my
father so--but I simply dared not believe it."

"It is true," said Marion.

"How marvellous," sighed Lena. "And yet they say the ocean boats are
perfect marriage shops. One other thing, darling, your father is going
to give a big ball to honor your return, isn't he?"

"Yes dear."

"Then I want you to let me help you write the invitations--will you
sweetest?"

Marion looked hard at her friend. "Why dear?" she asked.

Lena smiled engagingly, and slipped an arm round Marion's waist.

"It will prove to all the others that you love me best," she pleaded;
"you do, don't you, darling?"

"Yes," said Marion.

"Then you will, won't you, pet?"

"I don't think so, dear," answered Marion, and she turned abruptly to
Joyce. "Forgive me for whispering before you, Joyce, my dear," she said
kindly, "but Lena and I were always chums; you remember that, don't
you?"

"That's all right," replied Joyce, with a good-humored laugh. "Don't
worry about me, I don't mind."




Chapter III.--Feline Amenities.

Lena and Joyce had no opportunity to exchange impressions concerning
Marion until they had returned home and retired for the night. But each
was so anxious to impart her views to the other that they met in the
corridor that joined their rooms, a moment after they had bidden Mr.
Best good-night.

"I was going to you," whispered Lena.

"So was I to you!" exclaimed Joyce. "I'm just dying for a talk. Come to
my room."

"Do you think her pretty?" demanded Lena, sinking upon a lounge and
beginning to unbind her hair.

Joyce squatted Turk-wise on a hearth-rug at the other's feet. "I think
most men would call her pretty," she replied reflectively.

"But yourself?"

Joyce shook her head. "She can't hold a candle to you, Lena."

"Really?"

"Truly."

Lena smiled, then laughed. "She dresses like a dream," she said
enviously. "That frock she wore when she arrived fitted her to
perfection."

"Yes, she knows how to wear a dress," admitted Joyce; "that's a fact."

"Her figure is so good, too, and she carries herself so well," sighed
Lena.

"No better than you, my dear."

"Really?"

"Truly."

Lena rose and stepped before the mirror. "If only I could afford to buy
frocks like her's----" she murmured, gazing sadly at her image.

"You'd cast her utterly in the shade," concluded Joyce.

"I'm glad you think that, darling," said Lena more brightly; "that's
a thing I love in you, Joyce--you are so honest--you always give your
sincere opinion about things."

Joyce glanced keenly at her friend, suspecting her of sarcasm, but Lena
was smiling conceitedly at her reflection in the glass.

She felt annoyed, and a little disgusted. "The worst of it is that
men's ideas of beauty differ generally from women's," she observed.

Lena started and half turned. "You've said that before," she cried.

"Yes--and it's true."

Lena caught her breath. "Do you believe that the men here will prefer
her to me," she demanded.

"New brooms sweep clean," declared Joyce.

"If I thought they would----" said Lena clutching her pretty hands.

"What would you do?"

"I'd fix her," cried Lena viciously.

"How?"

"Never mind. I'd find a way, though."

Joyce began to enjoy herself. She was sincerely attached to Lena, but
she was a plain girl, and she had always been neglected when Lena
was by. She experienced now the cruel joy of knowing that it was
unexpectedly placed in her power to make her pretty friend suffer
certain pangs with which she was long and intimately acquainted, and
for which she had never received any human sympathy. The temptation to
experiment with this power was irresistible.

"Did you see Horace Keeling on the wharf this morning?" she asked
suddenly.

"Yes," replied Lena; "but why----"

"Oh, nothing."

"Nonsense--tell me."

"Nothing, dear--I just asked----"

Lena turned pale. "Joyce, you saw something!" she cried. "I'll never
forgive you if you don't tell me what it was at once."

"I didn't see anything," protested Joyce. "I only heard him speaking to
Jack Mappin about her--that's all."

"What did he say?"

"Jack--said he thought she was not bad looking."

"Yes--yes."

"Horace called him an idiot, and said that anyone with half an eye
could see she was just beautiful."

Lena's pale eyes blazed. "The brute!" she cried--"the brute!"

"That's why I spoke about men's opinions differing from women's,"
murmured Joyce.

"I hate him," said Lena bitterly.

"No man is worth a thought," quoted Joyce, concealing her delight
under a fine show of sympathy. "Don't you bother your head about him,
darling. There are as good fish in the sea as ever came out of it. Let
her have him--he is not much, anyway."

"Rats!" snapped Lena. "He is the nicest man here, and he has the best
position, and you know it."

"You don't mean to say that you care for him?" cried Joyce, with much
innocent surprise.

"I loathe him," flashed Lena; "but I won't let her get him."

"But how will you prevent her, darling; he is bound to run after her,
if only to try to hurt you."

"We'll see about that."

"Oh, yes," murmured Joyce, "and we shan't have to wait long either, he
is bound to show his hand at the ball."

"Ah! the ball! Joyce, would you believe it, Marion refused to let me
help her write the invitations, and she professes to love me!"

"If it was my ball, you should write them all!" cried Joyce; "when I
love a person it is all in all with me."

"You are the only friend I have," said Lena miserably. "Say you will
never go back on me, Joyce."

"Never, darling; never! never!"

"And you'll help me--you'll do all I tell you?"

"To the death," cried Joyce with quite tragic fervor.

Lena began to pace the floor, her face set, her hands tightly clenched;
Joyce watched her out of the corners of her eyes. For several moments
silence reigned, then Lena stopped abruptly and faced her friend.

"I'll put her up at the club to-morrow morning!" she declared.

"Why so soon, darling?"

"To get her into my power."

"Into your power? Whatever can you mean, dearie?"

"I'd die--I couldn't live--If he went after her!" said Lena, her lip
trembling.

"You must not let him," said Joyce; "but I don't quite see how you can
help it, if he wants to."

"I can," cried Lena; "if the worst comes to the worst, there is always
our club's Social Purity Brigade movement to fall back upon."

"How do you mean?" asked Joyce, with a puzzled frown.

"Why--we can put him on the black list and then she will be obliged to
cut him. Isn't our club pledged to cut every man whose name is on the
black list?"

Joyce gasped in her astonishment. "That's w-why you w-want her to join
the club!" she stammered.

Lena nodded, biting her lip.

"But you'd have to cut him, too," cried Joyce.

"Better that than let her get him," grated Lena.

Joyce scrambled to her feet. "By gum! Lena, I do admire you!" she said
warmly, "you are a Spartan--that is what you are! Let me kiss you!"

But Lena's fortitude had been strained beyond endurance. "I may--be--a
Sp-Spartan," she stammered, as she felt her friend's arms about her.
"B--But my heart is just breaking, Joyce!" whereupon, with a big sob,
she burst into a storm of weeping.




Chapter IV.--Sister and Brother.

"Take you for a walk. Hum--I don't know so much about that!" said Jack
Reay, eyeing his sister with a somewhat discontented expression across
the breakfast table.

"And why not, you scamp?" demanded the Major, putting down the
newspaper behind which he had been entrenched. "You ought to feel only
too honored that Marion wishes to accompany you!"

"That's all right," grumbled the boy; "I don't object to taking Marion
about, though she is a girl, but remember my holiday is almost up, and
I have to go back to school in less than a fortnight. Besides, I've
taken her out three days running now--and this morning I did want to go
fishing outside the bar."

"You young cub!" growled the Major. "I'm ashamed of you! Never mind,
Marion, my dear, I have to visit the mill, but I'll hurry back and then
we shall go for a drive."

"Oh no, dad," cried Marion. "I know that your business is important,
and you must not neglect it on my account. I shall stroll into town and
lunch with Lena Best instead."

"As you please, my love," replied the Major. "Jack deserves a
flogging," he added angrily.

Jack looked at Marion with a sheepish smile. "You may come fishing with
me if you're game to go outside the heads in an open boat," he said.

"Isn't it rather dangerous?"

"Dangerous--this weather!" sneered Jack.

"I should like to, if dad will permit," said Marion.

Major Reay glanced doubtfully at his son. "Who else is going with you?"
he demanded.

"Jan Digby."

"Jan Digby!" exclaimed the old gentleman; "you make too much of that
fellow, my boy. You seem to spend half your time with him."

"Well, dad, and what's the matter with him?"

"He is a loafer."

"He is nothing of the kind," retorted Jack, with what seemed to Marion
unnecessary warmth. "He doesn't work because he can't get anything to
do here, and he can't get away because he hasn't a penny."

"He is a gambler," said the Major sternly.

Jack squared his shoulders, and his eyes flashed. "It's not like you,
dad, to condemn a chap on hearsay," he cried indignantly. "You call
him a gambler because he lost his money to Mannix and Raymond and that
crew. But I know all about it. It was they who proposed cards, not
he; and as they were his guests he had to play, and they fleeced him
in one sitting. He had never played poker in his life before. I call
them a pack of 'take-downs,' that's what I do. And they are worse--for
they have been back-biting him and taking away his character ever
since--just to excuse themselves."

The Major lifted his shaggy eyebrows, in astonishment. "If that
is true," he remarked, "Mannix and Raymond should be ashamed of
themselves--but----" and he shrugged his shoulders. "The fellow can't
be much good, whatever you may think my boy, for he is a remittance
man. Mr. Best told me, so I know it to be true."

"I don't know anything about that," said Jack; "but I do know this
much--not a fellow in Ballina can touch him in anything. He played
for Lismore against us when they had a man hurt, and he knocked up a
hundred and thirty runs not out, against our best bowlers here, and
never gave a single chance. He can catch fish a dozen to my one, and
I'm no slouch; and as for shooting, why he can knock Jacky Wintons on
the wing every time, fifty yards off."

"You don't mean to say he shoots those dear little birds!" cried Marion.

"Oh, rats!" said Jack, wagging his head disgustedly; "he's not a girl."

"Well, well," said the Major, rising, "he has a champion in you, my
boy, at all events."

"Another thing," said Jack hastily, "he's a gentleman in his talk. You
know, dad, what the fellows here are. When they are together, they
can't say a dozen words without bringing in an oath '----'. Well, I've
never heard Jan Digby say so much as '----' all the time I've known
him."

Major Reay paused at the door, and turning, earnestly regarded the
excited and hot-faced boy. "How dare you use such an expression before
your sister!" he said sternly. "Apologise to her at once sir."

"I beg your pardon, sis," murmured Jack.

"Granted," said Marion, smiling.

"I'm surprised at you, sir," growled the Major. "If you give me
occasion to speak to you on the subject again, I'll make you bitterly
repent it."

To Marion's surprise, she saw her brother, whose hot temper seldom
remained under control upon rebuke, bite his lips.

"I've apologised, dad," he muttered reproachfully. "I only said that to
give an instance--and anyway, I'm sorry."

The Major's brow cleared like magic. "Spoken like a gentleman!" he
said. "Give me your hand, Jack."

The boy laughed happily, and darting forward, pressed the Major's hand.
Next second he slipped behind his father and set his back against the
door. "Caught!" he cried. "Major Reay, you are my prisoner!"

"Now then, you rascal," growled the old gentleman, swinging quickly
round, "no practical jokes with me. Let me pass, sir."

"Not much, you don't move a step without a ransom, dad!"

The Major looked at his handsome son with a frown which he tried to
render fierce, but it melted into a smile as he met Jack's laughing
eyes. "You'll be the ruin of me yet, you scamp!" he growled. "How much
do you want?" and he put his hand into his pocket.

"It's not money this time, dad," said Jack, his expression becoming on
instant grave and serious. "I want you to do me a favor."

"What is it?"

"Promise first," pleaded the boy.

The Major smiled. "If I can do what you wish, I shall," he said.

"Dear old dad," cried the boy, seizing and squeezing his father's hand.
"I knew you would. I want you to give Jan Digby a chance, dad. Find him
a billet."

"Eh! What!" the Major frowned and started back.

"Most anything would do," cried Jack, with breathless rapidity. "He's
awfully clever, a university man, I think, but he's not a bit proud
where work is concerned. He said to me only the other day that labor,
however lowly, so long as it is honest, ennobles the hand that it
encrusts and scarifies, those were his very words. You could easily
give him a billet, dad, he's starving, really he is, just starving. He
gets nothing to eat but the fish he catches, nothing, and he doesn't
catch many. Why, the day Marion came home he had no luck, and no
breakfast; think of that."

"Jack!" exclaimed Marion suddenly, "are you not exaggerating? One could
not live long on an exclusive diet of fish."

The boy gave his sister an angry look. "He sells a few sometimes to the
navvies on the breakwater," he growled, "and he buys bread with the
money, but I know he hasn't tasted a crumb now for four days. There are
very few fish inside the bar, except those that follow the steamers in,
and he can't go out as he has no boat."

"How do you know that he has not tasted bread for four days?" demanded
the Major.

"Because I go to his cabin every day, and I see everything he gets,"
replied the boy.

"Then if that is the case, how comes it that you have allowed him to
starve in such a fashion? I keep you well supplied with pocket money.
It strikes me that you must be a very mean boy, Jack."

Jack flushed crimson. "It strikes you wrongly, then," he cried
savagely. "He never would accept a cent from me or let me lend him
either. I bought some fish from him once or twice, pretending we wanted
it up at the house, but he soon dropped down to that, and he won't sell
me any more now."

The Major looked astonished. "Oh! that sort of a man," he said, and
appeared to reflect. Presently, however, his lips twisted in a cynical
smile. "I wonder," he muttered musingly. "Hum--Jack is very young! Ha!
Ha! I see, I see!"

"What do you see?" demanded Jack.

The Major regarded the boy with an inscrutable smile. "More than you,
my son; and it is just as well, perhaps, that it is so," he replied.

"You promised, dad," urged Jack.

"True, and I'll keep my promise. Let me see, Barnes tells me that he
wants another stoker for the launch. If your friend, Jan Digby, is
honest in his desire to obtain work, tell him to call and see me here
at ten sharp, to-morrow morning."

"Oh, dad!" cried the boy despairingly. "Can't you do better than that?
A stoker! and Jan is a gentleman!"

The Major raised his hand. "Labor, however lowly, so long as it is
honest, ennobles the hand that it encrusts and scarifies," he repeated
slowly. "His very words, according to yourself. Now, my boy, let me
pass, I have work to do."

Jack fell hack at once, but as the door closed behind his father
he faced Marion with a scowl of rage and disappointment. "He is a
prejudiced, bigoted, narrow-minded old beast!" he declared, with
vicious emphasis.

"You are a wicked boy to say such things," cried Marion, her eyes
ablaze. "Father is perfectly right, and I thoroughly agree with him in
distrusting your paragon."

"Charity--thy name is Woman!" sneered Jack, repeating a speech that his
friend had used in his hearing on a former occasion.

"You little boy!" said Marion with great indignation.

"You girl! Yah!" cried Jack, his rage mastering him. "I despise you!"

Marion smiled suddenly, and laid her hand upon the boy's arm. "You are
quite right, Jack," she said contritely. "I was contemptible to call
you that, and it's not true, either; you are a splendid big fellow."

Jack was disarmed at once, but his wounded dignity forbade him to
unbend.

"You needn't have apologised," he answered stiffly. "You couldn't help
it, I suppose. Good morning."

"Where are you going?"

"To meet Jan Digby and go fishing."

"But I am going with you."

"What!" he cried with elaborate astonishment. "Surely you would not
go out in a boat with a remittance man, a chap you think it right to
distrust?"

"You will be there," said Marion very sweetly. "With you for a
protector--I fear not one!"

"Yah!" was Jack's boorish comment.

"I'll have to change my frock, but I'll not keep you five minutes," she
said, with a bright smile. "You smoke a cigarette, and before it is
finished I shall be down. Now then, Jack, not another word; you have
been quite unkind enough to me for one day."

"I was only going to tell you to put on old things," he called out to
her in grumbling tones as she vanished. "Like a woman," he muttered
when left to himself, "always trying to put a fellow in the wrong."

Strolling out on to the verandah he lighted a cigarette and puffed
clouds of smoke between himself and the landscape, musing aloud the
while with the superb, but unconscious, cynicism of a boy of seventeen.

"Women," he growled, "what they were made for licks me. You never know
when you've got 'em, and when you have got 'em they're not worth the
worry they give you getting 'em. Marion's better than a lot, though
she does scream like mad when you fire a gun, but they are all poor
creatures, anyway!"




Chapter V.--Marion Crosses the Bar.

When Marion reappeared Jack was studying his watch, his lips set in a
contemptuous grin.

"Now you need not be nasty," she hastened to protest; "I haven't been a
minute."

"You haven't, indeed," agreed the boy; "you have been fifteen. That's
no rig for a boat," he added suddenly, looking her up and down. "Heu!
you might be going to a garden party! You'll get it spoiled in half an
hour, every stitch of it!"

"It's only a common washing muslin!" said Marion.

"Come on, then," he cried, "we've wasted enough time already."

During the next few minutes Jack glanced keenly and frequently at his
sister, but without speaking. He seemed to be reflecting.

Marion did not heed him at once; she was lost in pleasant wonder at
the glory of the sunshine and the brilliant beauty of the scene before
them. As they approached the shore of the bay, flocks of gulls arose
and wheeled about high above their heads, chattering, and screaming
their displeasure at having been disturbed. The beach was alive with
myriads of blue backed crabs, which moved slowly in crowded armies
splashing the white sands with broad gleams of vivid color. The sea was
glass still beyond the narrow fringe of surf, save for the distant bank
of foam that marked the tireless swell of the ocean beating on the bar.
A sandy islet half a mile from shore was covered with seabirds, who
squatted with outstretched pinions basking in the sun; gannets, hosts
of molly hawks, a few stately black swans, and a score of fat ungainly
pelicans.

"It's just heavenly," sighed Marion at last, and needing sympathy in
her delight she turned to her brother. "Oh, Jack, isn't it beautiful?"
she exclaimed.

"Heu!" grunted the boy.

"What is the matter now?" she demanded.

"I know why you are dolled out so pretty," he muttered surlily. "You
know Jan Digby is poor and tattered, and you want to crush him!"

"Crush him--I! what do you mean?"

"Play the fine lady and patronise him, and all that sort of thing."

Marion's face turned pink. "You horrid boy!" she cried. "How dare you
accuse me of such meanness. This is the very oldest, plainest and
cheapest dress I own, and it is for that very reason I am wearing it!"

Jack was discomfited, but he stuck to his guns. "Anyway, don't you try
to patronise Jan," he warned her, "or you and me won't play chaineys."

Marion halted. "If you say another word I shall return home!" she
declared.

Jack surrendered at discretion. "You always stick up for your friends,"
he grumbled. "You wouldn't let me say a single word against Lena Best,
and yet you turn on me when I want to stick up for Jan Digby."

"Have I said a word against him?"

"No--but you are prejudiced."

"You are mistaken," replied, Marion. "I never allow what people say of
their neighbors to influence me, one way or another; I prefer to judge
for myself."

"Then you are bound to like Jan," cried Jack, with deep conviction.
"Come on, sis, let's hurry, we are late; are you game to race me round
that point?"

"If you give me a start," said Marion.

"Right oh! you can have to that tree," he pointed to a solitary
mangrove about a hundred yards off.

Marion nodded, and gathering up her skirts she tripped over the hard
smooth sand until she had reached the tree.

"Ready?" shouted Jack.

"Yes," she cried.

"Then, go!"

The point was a full quarter mile away, but Marion was sound in wind
and limb, and the distance did not trouble her. Agile as a fawn, she
sped along the beach with never a backward glance, and though Jack
gained on her all the way she reached the goal an easy winner. Flushed
and triumphant, and still full of energy, she determined to push on.
But as she turned the corner she looked back, and next instant she
collided violently with a man who stood near the water's edge beside a
boat, rapt in contemplation.

This man, although startled and almost overset by the impact, was the
first to recover his wits. Springing forward, he saved her from falling
in the very nick of time.

"I'm sure I beg your pardon, sir!" gasped Marion, stepping back, her
face the color of a peony. "I--I was running--and I looked around as I
turned the corner. That is why I did not see you."

The man lifted his hat. "It is I who should apologise," he answered
courteously. "I was dreaming, and I did not hear you."

"I hope I did not hurt you," panted the girl. The man smiled, and
though Marion was a little dazed and more than a little out of breath,
she knew that she liked his smile--it was so grave and kindly, and she
felt also that the man was a gentleman.

"Be sure of that," he said. "But yourself, madam, are you hurt?"

"Not at all," she replied. "I am only out of breath. I--I was racing my
brother. Ah! there he is."

The man followed her glance and beheld Jack standing at the corner a
dozen feet away, curiously regarding them.

"Lena would call you a forward minx, sis. By gum she would if she could
see you," drawled the boy, leisurely advancing as he spoke. "Morning,
Jan," he added, addressing the man.

"Good morning, Jack," said Digby. "The boat is ready; are you?"

"My sister is coming with us, Jan; do you mind?"

"Perhaps you will be good enough to present me to Miss Reay," replied
Digby.

"Oh certainly," grinned Jack; "I apologise, I'm sure, but I didn't
think an introduction was necessary." He waved his hand. "Mr.
Digby--Miss Reay."

Digby bowed gravely, but Marion bit her lip in bitter indignation.

"You are a rude, insolent boy," she muttered in her brother's ear. "Be
careful, or I shall not forgive you."

"I'm a worm," retorted Jack; "but tread on me, and I'll turn! Come
along, chaps!" he cried aloud. "Be quick, or we'll lose the tide."

Digby unfastened the painter from a rock and approached the boat.
"Allow me to assist you aboard, Miss Reay," he said.

Marion moved towards him without reply, her eyes downcast. She was
extremely embarrassed, nor was her distress relieved when she felt
herself suddenly lifted up and lightly deposited within the boat.

"Be good enough to sit in the stern sheets," said Digby. "Jack, kindly
get a cushion from the locker for your sister."

How Marion arrived at the indicated seat she did not know. Her face was
burning, and she dared not look up, for tears of mortification were in
her eyes. She had never dreamed it possible that she could dislike her
brother, but she came dangerously near detesting him at that moment.
Presently the boat rocked and swayed, and she knew that the others had
got aboard. The wind blew a loose strand of hair about her face, and
she knew that they were off. There followed a long silence, during
which she gradually recovered her self-possession, but it was a great
while before she lost her sense of shame; and even then the silence
continued unbroken. She had been staring at the tips of her shoes so
long that when she was quite restored to good humor, the habit still
shackled her will. It required a pronounced effort to break the spell.
Proceeding inch by inch, her glances stole along the bottom of the boat
until they encountered a footboard. Growing bolder, they surmounted
this obstacle, but were halted, shocked and irresolute by the sight
of a pair of bare muscle-laden shins and two lean strenuous feet that
gripped the footboard with brown prehensile toes.

Marion gasped for breath and closed her eyes, feeling ridiculously
conscious that she had been guilty of some indiscretion.

"Jack might have warned me!" was her indignant reflection; but a little
later struck by the absurdity of her ideas, she smiled. She decided
then to steal a glance at Mr. Digby, but with this reservation--if
he offended her, she resolved to dislike him. She felt sure that he
must be regarding her and wondering at her silence. The idea made her
defiant. "How dare he stare at me like that?" she cried out in her
thoughts.

Of a sudden she raised her eyes and looked him full in the face. Jan
Digby did not heed. He was gazing steadily beyond her at the rapidly
retreating shore, rowing the while with the long, sweeping strokes like
a machine. Behind him in the bows, Jack lay stretched at full length
staring up into the azure sky, and luxuriously puffing at a cigar.

Marion heaved a deep sigh of relief. It was good to be reconciled to
her dignity again, and she felt grateful to Mr. Digby because his
courteous abstraction had served her in her need.

"Jack was right," she reflected. "He is a gentleman."

His continued absorption in his occupation afforded her an opportunity
to observe him, of which she was not slow to take advantage. But
although she studied him attentively for some time, she failed to
arrive at any definite conclusion. His face in repose, as then, was
mask-like and bafflingly expressionless. The chin square and strong,
suggested energy and resolution, the broad and massive brow a no means
despicable intellect.

So far, she was satisfied with her judgment, but further she could
not fathom. The sealed and silent mouth, like that of a graven image,
defied her powers of penetration, the long straight nose conveyed to
her no meaning; while the steady, shoreward gaze of his serene grey
eyes might have been equally attributable to courteous affectation and
indifference. Despairing to read the mind of so grave a sphinx, she
fell to watching him at work, with increasing wonder at the great and
seemingly tireless strength with which he drove the heavy boat along.
The regular unceasing swing backward and forward of his body, and the
long play of his strokes, were managed with such facile precision,
and his breathing was so tranquil and unlabored that no effort in the
exercise was betrayed, except by the boat's resultant progress. His
smooth brown arms, bare beyond the elbows, fascinated Marion by the
rolling, flowing motion of the muscles.

A sudden string of spluttering exclamations issued from the bows.
"Hi-ah! yow! confound it! B-f-f-f! Phew!" shouted Jack, scrambling
erect, and hideously grimacing.

"What is the matter?" cried Marion, alarmed. Digby stopped rowing, and
glanced over his shoulder.

"I was h-h-half asleep--and I put the business end of the cigar in my
mouth!" exclaimed the boy. "Phew! my tongue is raw. Phew. Phew!"

"Rinse your mouth with water," suggested Marion.

Jan Digby glanced about him for a moment, then, shipping the sculls,
arose to his feet. "There is breeze enough for the sail," he remarked;
"kindly see to the fin, Jack, while I step the pole."

"Can't do a thing till my mouth is better," declared Jack, who was now
engaged in following his sister's advice.

"You should be in the nursery," commented Digby. Stooping down he
seized the mast and raised it on high; a second later it shot into its
socket with a snap.

Jack looked up at him admiringly. "I've tried to do that often!" he
observed.

Digby slightly shrugged his shoulders, and bent to fix the iron
centreboard. A moment later he slipped forward, treading like a cat,
and Marion watched him set the jib. Returning, he unspliced the boom
from the mast and allowed the wind to belly out the sail and carry the
spar at a wide angle from the boat. He approached her then, the line in
one hand his hat in the other.

"We are moving," cried Marion.

"Will you take the sheet?" he asked, "the tiller is behind you."

"Haven't you been steering, sis?" demanded Jack.

"No," said Marion; "I never thought to."

Jack burst into laughing. "Girls!" he sneered. "Girls!"

Marion, with pink cheeks, looked up at Mr. Digby. "What do you wish me
to do?" she asked.

"Will you sail the boat?"

"I don't think I can, Mr. Digby."

"I should say not, indeed," cried Jack. "Why, I wouldn't dare to--over
the bar, myself; you take the tiller Jan."

"Yes--do," urged Marion, meeting Digby's eyes for the first time as she
spoke. He looked down at her with a half apologetic smile.

"In that case, I am afraid I must displace you," he said slowly, still
standing bareheaded before her; "but no doubt Jack will make you
comfortable in the bows."

"Nonsense!" shouted Jack, "there is plenty of room there for two--you
are bound to get wet if you come up here, Marion."

"May I not remain?" asked Marion. "See--I can make room," she slipped
aside as she spoke, and invited him with a gesture to be seated.

Digby sat down beside her and replaced his hat. Drawing in the sheet he
put the helm hard down and the boat careened to port. The water flushed
the lower gunwale, and Marion felt affrighted and inclined to scream,
but biting her lips, she restrained the impulse, and a moment later
they were racing seawards like a bird on even pinion.

Marion soon wished to converse, but a covert glance at her companion
showed her a profile cold and hard as chiselled marble. Ten minutes
afterwards his attitude remaining unchanged, the girl began to feel
chilled. "Why does he not speak to me?" she asked herself.

"Is it because he thinks I am like the other Ballina girls, who have
treated him so uncivilly? Or is it that he despises all women?"

With an effort she withdrew all her thoughts and presently forgot
them in a mood of dreams. Ten minutes passed on, but of a sudden, the
boat swerved from its course and revealed a sight which the sail had
hitherto concealed. Straight ahead a few hundred paces distant, ran
a long low-lying line of reef over which the ocean breakers surged
continuously with an intermittent thunderous roar.

Marion had for some time listened to the music of the bar with its
undertone of moaning, and she had half consciously linked her fancies
into the tune with its sorrowful but loud-voiced lamentation.

She was sad, she scarcely knew why, also, she began to feel afraid.
The boat rushed so swiftly towards the breakers, that the bar loomed
increasingly hideous and menacing. She saw sharp needles of rock rise
and glimmer through the foam disappear, then grin out again, like teeth
set between a monster's frothing lips.

"There is no danger," said a voice in her ear, and only then did Marion
realise how great had been her fear.

"Jibe oh!" shouted Digby, "stoop, Miss Reay, stoop."

The boat swung round and paused for a quivering moment in a spumy pool
half a dozen fathoms from the reef. The boom crossed their heads with
a creaking swish. The breeze filled the sail on instant, and the race
recommenced on another tack.

"How pale you are," said Digby. "Had I guessed you were so nervous, I
would not have gone so near the reef."

"I have no nerve at all," she muttered tremulously. "I was terribly
afraid."

"Please forgive me," he said softly. "It was thoughtless in me--very
thoughtless."

Marion looked up, and meeting his eyes, she marvelled at their kindness.

"There is nothing to forgive," she said. "I was foolish, that is all.
Have we crossed the bar?"

"We are in the very act. If you will look over the side, you may see
how shallow the channel is."

Marion shook her head. "I shall take it for granted," she smiled. "I am
still a little shaky. Is it not stupid of me?"

"There is your home!" he said, pointing.

"We seem to be going back," she cried. "Just now it was behind us."

"The channel twists," he explained.

"How well you know it!"

"I helped the pilot to locate it the last time it changed its course.
It is constantly shifting, but may I ask you to stoop again, Miss
Reay--we must go about."

Marion bent low, and rising a moment later, she saw before her nought
but the broad bosom of the ocean.

"We are truly now at sea!" she cried, her mood changed swiftly to
elation.

He nodded gravely.

"How far are we going?"

"To the fishing grounds, about six miles away. We shall anchor off that
headland," he pointed to a distant rocky promontory.

"Are you alright, Jack?" called out Marion.

The boy vouchsafed no answer, and Marion repeated her question, but
again without response. She was beginning to feel alarmed, when Digby
reassured her.

"He is asleep," he explained. "Jack always does that until we are ready
to fish. He is rather a Nabob in his habits."

"How disgustingly lazy!" said Marion. "I wonder you put up with him,
Mr. Digby!"

"We are boon companions," he replied with a smile.

"But surely," she objected, "there can be little companionship between
you if he sleeps all the time."

"Sleep," said Digby, "is almost an equivalent for that precious gift
of silence, which the philosophers are agreed in declaring is the
foundation stone of all congenial human intimacy."

Marion looked thoughtful. "Do you prefer silence to speech?" she asked
at last.

"Not at all times, Miss Reay."

"Now, for instance?" She looked at him defiantly.

He regarded her with a sort of judicial seriousness.

"Must we discuss my preferences?" he asked. "I need scarcely tell you
that I am entirely at your service."

Marion felt nettled. "I asked you a question," she said coldly.

"I am unable to answer it," he returned.

"Why?"

"Because I know nothing of you----"

Marion's lip curled. "I see," she muttered.

Digby smiled. "I wonder if you do," he said reflectively.

"I feel inclined to lay aside the conventions," said Marion, "and--and
accept that challenge."

"It would be quite safe," said Digby. "We are at sea, and practically
alone. Moreover, being a woman, you carry the conventions like a
citadel upon your shoulders, as does a snail his shell. Into that you
may always retire at will for the purpose of defence or chastisement,
and I, being a man, am forbidden to assail you there."

"You assume a great deal."

"Too much?"

"Yes."

"Then I ask your pardon, Miss Reay, and beg you to fix my penance."

"Listen, then," said Marion very coldly. "You mistook my question
for a brazen attempt to extort a compliment, and you punished me
accordingly."'

Digby shook his head. "I did not make that mistake."

"Then you are one of those men who make rigid attention to truth an
affectation."

"That may be," he answered softly.

"I detest a certain form of candor!" said Marion with warmth.

"So do I," replied Digby. "And that is why I prefer silence usually to
speech."

Marion bit her lips. She was irritated. She tried to be silent, but
could not.

"You mean," she began, "that while most people occasionally use speech
in order to conceal their thoughts, you are silent for the same reason."

"That is what I mean."

"Which course is the more dishonest?" she flashed out with an air of
triumph.

Digby smiled. "Is one obliged to take another into his confidence?" he
asked.

"No, but----" Marion paused--confounded.

"If that be so," pursued Digby, "then neither is one obliged to deceive
another by expressing his thoughts dishonestly."

"A distinction without a difference," contended Marion.

Digby bowed, as though accepting her conclusion.

"You agree?" asked the girl, after a moment's silence.

"No," he answered.

"Then why did you not say so?"

"I acted on my principle, Miss Reay, as you did on yours. You are
convinced that I am right, and yet you were not honest enough either to
be silent or admit it."

"Sir----" she exclaimed indignantly,

He held up his hand, but it was scarcely necessary for she stopped
short on meeting his eyes. "Be a generous foe," he pleaded, "you have
retired within your citadel. I have not even an entrenchment to fall
back upon."

"What of your silence?" she flashed.

"I am at your mercy," he returned.

"Then," said Marion, casting down her eyes, "I--I surrender."

"You mean that?"

"Yes," she looked up suddenly, her cheeks a little flushed, and
impulsively extended her hand.

"That in token," she said frankly.

He touched the tips of her fingers with his own. "Thanks!" he murmured.

"I won't use my citadel again to-day," said Marion, with a smile. "Tell
me something of yourself, will you please, Mr. Digby?"

He shook his head. "I would prefer not, if you don't mind," he
answered. "The revelation would disappoint you if you expect to be
interested--and it would weary me. I have so little else to think
about," he added smiling, "that I hate the subject."

"You hate yourself?"

"Almost," he smiled. "You have just returned from England, Miss Reay;
by any chance did you visit Devon?"

"I spent a month at Torquay."

"Indeed, I know it well. Did any of your excursions lead you as far as
Newton Abbot?"

"Oh yes--I spent two days there with friends who live at Mount
Pleasant."

Digby started and glanced up quickly, but Marion did not see.

"The Dacres," she went on, "they have a lovely old house, and such
charming grounds. It was a delightful visit."

Digby gazed steadily to sea; all expression smoothed out of his face.

"I met them on the boat as I was going to England," continued Marion.
"They came aboard at Colombo, and we became great friends. Mrs. Dacre
is a sweet woman, but perhaps you know her----"

Digby bent to arrange the matting at his feet. "The name is familiar to
me," he replied as he resumed his former attitude. "It is probable that
I have met the Dacres. Do you remember the name of their house?"

"Headingely," said Marion.

"Is Mrs. Dacre fair and rather tall, with a slight stoop and a constant
smile?"

"You have described her exactly," cried Marion excitedly. "Isn't it
lovely to think you know?"

"I liked her very well," replied Digby.

"I must tell her of this when I write, and all about you," cried
Marion. "Isn't it extraordinary that we should have a common
acquaintance in England, and we such absolute strangers until this
morning?"

"Unexpected is the word that I would use," said Digby quietly. "But
if you will permit me to advise you, Miss Reay, you will not mention
my name to Mrs. Dacre. I left England under circumstances that have
induced my friends to obliterate it from their memories."

Marion stared at him in frank astonishment.

"I beg your pardon!" she stammered.

"Disgraceful circumstances," said Digby, perfectly unmoved.

Marion was too surprised to speak at once, and yet her instincts rose
in rapid protest at his words. On consideration she was obliged to
admit that she knew very little of the man seated so quietly beside
her, but nevertheless she could not bring herself to imagine him guilty
of anything disgraceful. His personality had impressed her with a
conviction of forces powerful for good, and it seemed treason to her
own judgment to suspect him of evil, although he had invited her to do
so.

She stole a glance at him. His attitude was one of expectation, though
his gaze was fixed before him.

"It is a cruel thing to be unjustly condemned," she murmured.

He turned and looked full into her eyes. "Why should you assume that I
have been unjustly condemned?" he demanded, speaking slowly, as though
considering each word.

She returned his glance with equal honesty. "I cannot explain," she
replied; "women reach most vital conclusions rather by instinct than by
ways of reason."

"So," he said, "you are a woman----"

She smiled in puzzled fashion. "What do you mean?"

"You are so young," he answered. "I thought you--only a girl!"

"I am twenty-two," she returned with dignity.

He bowed gravely. "Forgive me!" he said. "I am glad."

"Why are you glad?"

"Because my mistakes frequently recoil upon myself. A selfish motive,
you see. The fact is, Miss Reay, I nearly always judge people on first
acquaintance more kindly than they deserve. I prefer to do so, although
I often suffer thereby--but occasionally, as in this instance, I am
rewarded beyond my merit."

Marion smiled. "You are not a very thoroughgoing cynic," she remarked.

"Heaven forbid," he answered earnestly. "There is no mental attitude
I regard more pitifully. It argues either an outlook narrow and
deplorable mean, or an affectation indefensible by any legitimate
excuse."

"To know all is to forgive all," quoted Marion. "Do you know, Mr.
Digby, I begin to suspect you of being wise."

"A fair appreciation of my own shortcomings," replied Digby smiling,
"is the only wisdom I lay claim to. But it suffices to prevent me from
abusing the shortcomings of other folk--and that is my only charity."

"Apropos of wisdom," said Marion, "may I know why you informed me that
you left England under painful circumstances? I am still wondering if
it was wise in you."

"Disgraceful, was my expression," he returned. "I made use of it
advisedly. But to answer your question, I mentioned the fact in
order to provide you with a fair excuse to cut me should we by any
chance pass each other in the street. The other ladies of Ballina
were satisfied to know that I am penniless, but I felt that you would
require a more substantial motive."

"You have gone within measurable distance of paying me a compliment,"
laughed Marion.

He nodded, looking into her eyes.

"Were you accused of something very dreadful?" she asked softly.

"I wonder if you would believe me if I told you that I was not in any
way to blame!"

"Yes," said Marion.

He smiled and of a sudden standing up, he allowed the boom to run out
at a wide angle from the boat. "Jack!" he shouted. "Jack!"

"What's up?" replied a drowsy voice from the bows.

"We have arrived," said Digby. "Drop that kellick, Jack, please; and
look sharp about it like a good follow!"

"Right oh!" cried Jack. A sullen splash followed, and a moment later
the boat swung at her moorings, rising and falling with a somewhat
giddy motion at the instance of the swell.




Chapter VI.--The Black Squall.

"I can't understand why it is, Mr. Digby," said Marion, "that you have
caught fourteen schnapper while Jack has only succeeded in hooking
three. Your lines perfectly resemble; the hooks are the same, and the
bait is the same."

"It's my beastly luck," growled Jack. "There, look at him--and I
haven't had a bite for ten minutes!"

Digby swung a fine fish into the boat before the boy had completed his
sentence. Casting it into the basket, he rebaited his hook and allowed
it to fall over the side.

"Is it luck?" demanded Marion.

Digby shook his head. "Very often when several are fishing together
from the same boat, one person will secure the bulk of the fish," he
replied. "It may be luck, but I have noticed that fortune usually
favors the oldest fisherman. I have over Jack the advantage of years."

"I've fished schnapper ever since I was a baby," grumbled Jack; "and
you never saw one until a couple of months back. Confound it!" he
shouted suddenly.

"What is it?" asked Marion.

"I've lost another. May his jaws ache for a month of Sundays! Blow him!"

Digby began to haul up his line.

"Baited?" queried, the boy.

"No, a small one--a 'squire,' I think."

"Weighs two pounds if it weighs an ounce!" said Jack, as the fish
appeared. "Here, Marion, I'm full; take my line, and I'll get the lunch
ready."

"No thank you," replied the girl.

"'Fraid of dirtying your hands?"

"No."

"Don't want to hurt the fish, I suppose," sneered the boy. "Oh Lord,
you ought to go out and lose yourself! What do you think, Jan? I told
her you could shoot 'Jacky Wintons' on the wing, and she nearly fainted
with horror."

Digby glanced up at Marion. "I do not wonder you disapproved," he said;
"they are harmless little creatures, and useless for food. It was a
shame to shoot them."

"Then why did you?" asked the girl, her serious eye fixed upon him with
an expression of surprised remonstrance.

"I was once upon a time in a black mood," answered Digby, "and it
seemed to me that the poor little Jacky Wintons had so much in common
with myself, that I shot one as a protest against the fate which sent
us both into the world. Have you never committed suicide by proxy?"

"Never!" declared Marion. "And I cannot accept your excuse. Wanton
cruelty is a thing I can neither understand nor forgive."

Digby pointed gravely at the fishing basket. "There is murder, too," he
murmured.

The girl looked shocked. "They are needed for food," she cried, "and
besides, they are slimy, cold-blooded creatures--ugh! Their very touch
makes me feel creepy all over."

Digby smiled silently.

"Lots of people say that they cannot feel," protested Marion, who was
nettled by his smile.

Digby made no reply, but he began to roll up his line, and when that
was done, he put Jack's away as well.

"Are you not going to fish any more?" asked Marion.

"No."

"Why not? Are there no more about?"

"Yes--but----" he shrugged his shoulders. "Sufficient unto the day is
the evil thereof. We have enough for our joint requirements, and I am
tired of shedding blood, even cold blood, in cold blood."

"You intended to rebuke me, I know," said Marion musingly. "I suppose
I was inconsequent to blame you for killing a bird, and practically
applaud your indiscriminate slaughter of fish."

"You judged either butchery from the standpoint of household
economics," replied Digby, laughing lightly; "most women do. When I was
a boy my mother used to wink at my playing truant if I brought home a
basket of trout; but she invariably abused me if I employed my holidays
in shooting rabbits. 'How you can find it in your heart to kill those
sweet little pets, I don't know,' was her formula on such occasions.
The fact was that our family shared a gastronomic objection to bunnies,
while they adored trout."

"I call that drawing a herring across the track," asserted Marion
severely. "Yours was the original crime."

"Peccavi!" laughed the man. "You have discovered me. If I could bring
that Jacky Winton to life again I would."

"It would better become you to be sorry that you killed him."

Digby smiled on. "My virtues are countless," he muttered. "Of your
charity permit me to cherish that one small sin."

Marion smiled in spite of herself. "Since I cannot bring you to a sense
of its enormity, I may as well resist; but I am disappointed in you,"
she declared.

"The way of the reformer is always hard," said Digby, with a
hypocritical sigh.

Marion laughed outright. "How absurd you are!" she cried.

"All women are priests at heart," he retorted. "And you have furnished
the latest example of the proverb's wisdom."

"Hot beans, bread and butter," chanted Jack. "Ladies and gentlemen,
come to your supper!"

"Hurrah!" cried Marion. "I am ravenous!"

Digby stood up and surveyed the horizon.

"Like your bread buttered, sis?" demanded Jack, his knife poised in
mid-air above a loaf.

"And cut very thin," replied Marion, rising. "Will you help me forward,
please, Mr. Digby--I am terribly awkward in a boat?"

"Kindly resume your seat," said Digby, in tones of sharp command.
"Jack, put those things away at once. There will be no lunch for any of
us to-day."

"What are you getting at?" cried Jack.

Marion, much startled, sat down and then looked up at Digby with
fearful and inquiring eyes. "What has happened?" she asked.

"A black squall is coming," he replied, and he sprang forward to the
mast.

Marion only half comprehended, but looking to sea she perceived a
long line of purple clouds that had already enclosed the horizon
was reaching shorewards slowly, but without a break in its dark
impenetrable face. She noted, too, that the sea seemed strangely
agitated. The gradual rolling swell of the morning had subsided, and
the breeze had fallen almost still, but here and there without apparent
reason a heavy oily wave would rise at intervals, then sink in tiny
jots of spray.

The surface of the ocean, moreover, was splashed with long parallel
glittering streaks of glass-still water that were interspersed with
lines of ripples.

Marion was curiously regarding a flock of homing sea-birds that seemed
to her to have sprung from the cloud-bank, when she became conscious
that Digby had resumed his seat beside her and that the boat had begun
to move.

"This coast is treacherous," she said. "I remember when a child to have
seen storms arise in an hour and blow fearfully."

"I too;--the more fool I am to be caught unawares."

The hoarse voice that answered her surprised Marion so much that
she turned to observe him. Digby seemed deeply moved, his brow was
disfigured with a frown, and a line of strong white teeth were buried
in his underlip.

"Is there danger?" she asked.

He nodded.

"Much?"

He nodded again, then faced her. "The squall must overtake us before we
could possibly reach the bar!" he said grimly. "But we have one chance
for our lives. I know of a little sandy cove about two miles away; if
we can get there in time I shall beach the boat."

"And if not?"

"The worst, it is my fault, Miss Reay."

"Yes," said Marion, "I suppose it is." She was very pale, but she
contrived to smile. "You might apologise," she murmured.

"I begin to envy the Jacky Winton," said Digby grimly. "I shall never
transact business by proxy again."

"Look out there, Jack! A gust," he shouted presently. "Hold on for your
life."

Marion saw a great wave rise behind them, and the boat seemed to stand
on end. She clung desperately to her seat as with a sickening plunge
the boat slid downwards in the trough and slipped its nose into a dark
green mass of water. Next second it rose again staggering and quivering
throughout its length. Marion shrieked aloud, but the sound was lost in
a sudden roar of wind, and her eyes were blinded by a whirl of spray.
She thought all was over, but the gust passed as suddenly as it had
caught them, and, when her smarting eyes permitted her to see, she
looked forth on a tumbling waste of foam through which they were moving
with increasing speed. Jack was kneeling in a pool of water, at the
bottom of the boat looking up at Digby and stammering excitedly. The
boy's face was white, but his eyes were shining. "I don't believe there
is another man in Ballina who would or could have done it!" he cried
breathlessly.

"What did he do?" gasped Marion.

"He slipped the sheet and jumped overboard when the boat reeled over to
his side, so as to ease her," cried the boy. "If he hadn't, we'd all
have been in Davy Jones's locker now."

"That will do," cut in Digby. "More work, and less talk. We are half
full of water. Bail her out, boy. Bail her out!"

Jack seized a dipper, and set to work forthwith, displaying a feverish
energy that contrasted happily with his former indolence.

Marion watched him for a while trying to collect her thoughts. She was
astonished and a little elated to discover that the worst of her fear
had passed. She felt excited rather than terrified, and yet a glance
to the windward convinced her that the danger was not over. The black
cloud bank was above them now, racing for the sun with alarming speed;
the sea was capped with multitudinous white horses, and the breeze had
already grown to half a gale.

She looked last of all at Digby. He was sitting as far as possible from
her, bent forward in a crouched position. His clothes were saturated
and his wet face, glistened in the sunlight. She noted that his hand
grasped the tiller with his full strength, perhaps unconsciously
exerted. The tendons of his forearm and wrist stood out tautly like
strained whip cords. Momentarily he shot a glance seawards, but his
eyes always returned to their keen and anxious contemplation of the
rocky shore. She was still curiously observing him when a sudden
darkness enveloped the earth. The sun had fallen victim to the clouds.

Marion exclaimed, for the wind blew cold on instant and increased in
vigor. Ten minutes of strained endurance followed, then came a blinding
flash of forked lightning and a terrific crash of thunder.

The air was filled thereafter with a loud moaning howl that seemed to
float far overhead.

"Thank God! It is blowing high!" said Digby.

Marion heard him distinctly and was comforted, but not for long. The
motion of the boat grew labored and uneasy. She could distinguish
nothing except in silhouette, and a drenching whirl of spray shut out
all prospect of the land. She closed her eyes and began to pray. It
seemed to her that an age had passed when she felt herself plucked from
her seat and hurled downwards. Half insensible, she looked up and saw
Digby standing erect fighting fiercely with the boom. The boat seemed
to have stopped. Next moment a crash of thunder deafened her. She felt
the planks on which she lay heave and tumble, and then the boat shot
forward like a thing of life, caught in the grip of the squall. The mad
rush that followed was a thing that she could never forget. Sick and
half swooning, she gazed like one in a dream at the swaying stump of
broken mast from which the sail and boom had been reft as by a giant's
hand, and with every nauseous rise and plunge, she expected death.

A hand fumbled into hers at length and held it fast; Jack, overcome
with terror, had crept to her for comfort, and presently he lay beside
her moaning dismally. Marion forgot the world thenceforward, and if she
prayed, it was only that the end might not be prolonged, for hope had
fled from her and her heart was given over to despair. She had drifted
by degrees into a state of lethargy when a painful shock partially
revived her energies. It was as though she had fallen from a great
height upon hard ground. She was bruised and shaken, and conscious
of pain. She made an effort to rise but fell back weakly, uttering
a groan. A second shock wrung from her lips a shriek, and then she
swooned.

She recovered to find herself reclining on the edge of a small circular
beach beneath the shelter of an overhanging cliff. The greater darkness
of the storm had passed, but the world was curtained with a deluge
of driving rain. Her brother and Jan Digby knelt beside her chafing
her hands between their own. They looked inexpressibly wretched and
bedraggled, but meeting her eyes both smiled, and Jack broke out into a
stream of words.

"The fright you have given us," he cried. "My word, sis, I thought you
were dead, and I was making up my mind to cut my hook and clear out.
Face the governor and tell him I'd lost you--oh, no--not much! How
do you feel, old girl? You look a bit butter-faced, but you'll soon
buck up now. That's right, try and sit up. There's nerve for you, Jan,
though she is a girl. There's nerve!"

Marion, however, fell back again as he spoke. "Water!" she gasped.

Jack thrust the mouth of a spirit flask none too gently between her
lips. Marion swallowed a few mouthfuls with a wry face, but the color
came quickly to her cheeks and presently she sat up unaided.

"How were we saved?" she asked.

"Ask Jan," cried the boy.

Digby met her eyes with a grave smile. "We had reached the mouth of
this cove, the one, in fact, we were making for, when the black squall
struck us," he explained. "It was providentially the case, for we had
lost our sail and mast, and we could have beaten no farther, but the
wind drove us straight in and beached the boat as well as I could have
wished to do it myself."

"Of course you had nothing to do with it," growled Jack. "You let her
drift in on her own--oh--of course!"

Digby laughed outright.

"Where is the boat?" asked Marion, searching with her eyes the foaming
beach.

"Ask of the winds. She was smashed to bits at the first shock," laughed
Jack. "Dad will be furious, he gave forty pounds for her last spring."

Marion looked hard at Digby. "If the boat was smashed, as Jack says,
someone must have taken Jack and me from the water."

"I had the honor to render you that service," he answered, smiling;
"and believe me, Miss Reay, no man ever found a task more grateful to
his hands."

Marion nodded and rose slowly to her feet. "Father will be so anxious
about us," she exclaimed. "Is there a path up those cliffs, Mr. Digby?"

"Yes; but a dangerous one to climb in such rain as this."

The girl laughed lightly. "That word has lost a great deal of its
meaning to me after all we have gone through to-day."

"Better wait till the rain moderates a bit, sis," said Jack. "You
haven't seen the path. It's an ugly one in the finest of weather."

"I am thinking of father," replied Marion. "He must be suffering
agonies. Will you help me, Mr. Digby?"

Digby nodded and offered her his arm. So they moved out into the rain,
followed by the boy, who grumbled ceaselessly in undertones.

The enterprise, however, proved so difficult that Marion more than
once repented of her purpose. The path was narrow, slippery, and
steep. It always overhung a precipice, and their journey was only
rendered possible by the wind, which, blowing a steady gale in the
right direction, sealed their bodies to the cliff's face when perilous
angles had to be negotiated. They arrived at length upon the summit
with bleeding hands and unstrung nerves, and not one of the three cared
to glance back upon the dangers they had passed. Digby led the way in
silence through a tangled maze of scrub to a little hilltop clearing
that was bisected with a white, shell patched road.

At the knees of the hill they entered the scrub again. Half an hour's
walk brought them to a swampy flat where the road was covered ankle
deep in water. Crossing the swamp, Digby halted in the shelter of an
enormous banyan-like fig tree, before whose base the road branched
into two forks. Indicating one with a somewhat weary gesture to his
companions, he bowed to Marion and said, "Our ways divide here, Miss
Reay. Your house is but a quarter mile off by the path, while mine is
yonder."

"But surely you will accompany us home?" said Marion. "My father will
want to thank you--and besides----"

He interrupted her with a movement of his hand. "I must ask you to
excuse me," he replied, his tones courteous but resolved. "Good
afternoon, Miss Reay. Good day, Jack."

"Hold on, Jan," cried the boy. "I want to tell you something."

"Indeed." Digby paused and looked back.

"I spoke to dad this morning about you--and he is willing to give you a
billet if you'll take it."

"Ah!" The man's face lighted up on instant, and he swung on heel, eager
and excited as a lad. "A billet!" he exclaimed. "That's brave news,
Jack; why did you not tell me before?"

"I was too disgusted," Jack answered bitterly. "Stoker on the launch
was all he'd rise to."

Marion watched him keenly, her feelings divided between shame and
curiosity. It seemed to her that Digby ought to treat the proposition
as an insult, but to her surprise he merely smiled.

"When will my duties commence?" he asked. "Soon, I hope?"

"Dad said for you to see him at the house to-morrow morning at ten
sharp," answered the boy.

"You may bet your boots, however, that we'll do our best for you in the
meantime, won't we, Marion?"

The girl flushed painfully. "Why--yes," she stammered, "I am sure that
father, when he knows----"

"Excuse me, Miss Reay," struck in the man, "I need employment badly,
and I trust you will not make it impossible for me to find it in
Ballina. It seems that Major Reay requires a stoker; well, I am
prepared to serve him in that capacity, but in no other. I hope you
comprehend me?"

Marion looked into his eyes, and found them hard as steel. "Yes," she
faltered, "I--I think I do. Good-bye, Mr. Digby." She extended her
hand, but he did not appear to see it.

"Good-bye!" he said, and was off.

Sister and brother watched him until a turn of the path shut his figure
from their view.

"Come on," then said Jack. "No use loafing here. Fine colds we'll have
to-morrow, any way."

When almost at the gate of "The Folly," Marion paused and laid her hand
on the boy's arm. "If I were you, Jack," she murmured, "I would take
your friend some whisky and things--before I changed my clothes. He
doesn't live very far away, does he?"

"Going to," growled Jack. "Didn't want you to give me the office,
either."

"What do you think of him now?" he asked a moment later. "Not such a
bad sort after all's said and done, hey?"

"I think he is a gentleman," answered Marion.

"What did I tell you?" cried Jack, shaking his fist with a savage sneer
in the direction of rain-washed Ballina. "Some of those women would
hang an angel with their magging, if they could get a show. Don't talk
to me of Lena Best again! Paugh!"

"Oh, Jack, what dreadful language you use!" said Marion. "And, indeed,
you have no right to speak of my friends like that."

"Make them leave my pal alone, and I'll let them alone," retorted Jack
as he opened the gate. "Lena Best told dad only the other day that she
was game to bet that Jan was the burglar who broke into Phelan's store,
and dad half believed her. Are you going to defend a cat like that?"

But Marion made no reply.




Chapter VII.--The Major Meets his Match.

Jan Digby entered Major Reay's library as the clocks were chiming ten.
The Major was seated with bent head before a desk that was liberally
strewn with ancient correspondence arranged for the occasion. It was
one of the old gentleman's pet business methods to impress strangers by
affecting to be overwhelmed with affairs; and he kept Jan standing a
full five minutes before he condescended to become officially aware of
his existence.

At the end of that period he glanced up, started and scowled. "Ah! Jan
Digby!" he exclaimed. "What brings you here?"

Digby gravely inclined his head. "You, sir!" he replied, with polite
but laconical abruptness.

"You are looking for a billet?" said the Major.

"Yes."

"Ah! um! so my son informed me. I need a stoker for my launch. That is
all I can offer you."

"Thank you, sir; it will do."

The Major leaned back in his chair, and, after adjusting his
spectacles, he looked at Jan with much the same expression of
countenance as a naturalist might wear in examining an unfamiliar
species brought expectedly before his notice.

"Can you stoke?" he inquired.

"Yes."

"Any previous experience?"

"I worked as stoker aboard the pilot boat for three days last month
when one of the hands was ill."

"Oh! did you like it?"

"No."

"Hum!" The Major began to enjoy himself. He placed the tips of his
fingers together and allowed his wrists to fall upon his chest. "I
don't like my servants to dislike their occupations," he declared.

Jan was silent.

"If I engage you," pursued the old gentleman, after a momentary pause,
"I should require you to do odd jobs about the house when I am not
using the launch. Sometimes I do not use it for as much as a week at a
time."

"Odd jobs?" repeated Jan.

"Yes. Weed the garden, run errands, wait at table at a pinch, and so
forth."

Jan compressed his lips. "I understand you, sir," he said coldly. "You
are looking for a general handy man. Well, if you employ me--I shall do
my best to please you!"

"So!" The Major crossed his legs, watching the other as a cat would a
mouse. "Times are bad just now," he observed, smothering a cough. "I
can't afford to pay big wages--not a penny more than thirty shillings."

"Per week?"

"Certainly not per day!" growled the old gentleman.

Jan bowed. "I should be satisfied," he replied.

The major nodded. "Now about references?" he murmured softly.
"References as to character."

Jan bowed again, and drew a paper from his pocket, which he unfolded
and extended in silence to the other.

The Major had confidently expected an appeal to his generosity. He
was disappointed, but he took the document and read it carefully, his
expression slowly changing to one of unwilling wonder.

"Hum!" he said at last. "It seems you are a paragon. How long have you
known this Mr. Alan Laing?"

"Many years, sir."

"He is a rich man, they say."

"Mr. Laing is neither rich nor poor," said Jan. "He has a sufficient
income to live upon; no more."

The Major gave a suspicious sniff. "How is it that you are seeking a
billet as a stoker from me, when, if what Mr. Laing states in this
letter is true, he is willing to take you into his own employ?"

"Mr. Laing has no real need of my services," replied Jan. "I am not a
beggar, sir."

The old gentleman stroked his silver moustache, frowning thoughtfully.
"I did not say you were," he growled. "I remember an old proverb which
says--'qui s'excuse--s'acuse.' Do you understand French?"

"Yes, sir."

"Well--what have you to say?"

"That you are pre-determined to be displeased with me, Major Reay. The
proverb you quote can have no proper application to my remark."

"The devil!" cried the Major, clambering to his feet, and glaring
savagely at Jan. "The devil! Do you mean to infer, sir, that--that--I,
that I--that I am prejudiced?"

Digby smiled in spite of himself. "That is my impression," he answered
quietly. "I hope I am mistaken."

"You are, sir, you are indeed. Absurd! Ridiculous! Pshaw!" The old
soldier fired off these exclamations like so many cannon, then, as if
restored to calm by his own thunder, he sat down again and scowled at
the offender with somewhat diminished ferocity.

"You will occupy the dwelling-room in the boat house," he declared. "As
for your meals, you may take them in the servants' hall, or get weekly
rations from my butler, Sevenoaks, as you prefer. You had better go now
and report yourself to Burns--the captain of the launch."

"Thank you, sir!" Digby bowed and turned to go, but he was still some
paces from the door when the Major cried out--"Stop!"

"Yes?" asked Jan.

"Come here, sir!"

Jan marched to the desk.

"Confess that you are disappointed!" said the Major.

"I beg your pardon, sir."

"Look me in the eyes, Jan Digby, and deny it if you dare, that you
expected me, in consideration of what happened yesterday, to offer you
something better than a stoker's billet."

Jan a with great effort preserved his countenance. "Your penetration is
remarkable, sir," he returned. "I must admit that you are right."

"Ha!" The Major uttered a satisfied snort, and rubbed his hands
together. "I suppose you are disgusted because I have done nothing of
the kind--hey?"

"On the contrary," answered Jan, "I was pleased, for had you offered me
any other position I must have declined it."

"Why?" demanded the Major.

Jan shrugged his shoulders. "To be frank, sir," he replied, "I despair
of making you appreciate my point of view, and for that reason I will
ask you to forego an explanation."

The Major's eyes kindled. "You seem to be a d----d clever fellow," he
snarled; "but for all you know, I may be a d----d clever fellow, too.
Now answer my question."

Jan bit his lips, and frowned in a fashion that was not good to see.

"As your servant, sir----" he began in tones of ice. But the Major cut
him short.

"As no man's servant," he interrupted angrily. "But as man to man. And
I warn you--justify your position if you can. If you can't--go to the
deuce and be hanged to you. I don't want any man in my service I can't
see through. I'd rather deal with a rogue than a hypocrite, any day."

"You have cleared the ground," said Digby, speaking the more quietly
because he was thoroughly aroused. "For so much I owe thanks to you.
You have them."

"Good!" nodded the Major. "Proceed!"

"I thought it not unlikely," said Digby, "that you might consider
yourself indebted, under Providence, to me for the preservation of your
children's lives."

"I might have," snapped the Major, "if your folly had not in the first
instance endangered them. You were the one man in the boat."

"True."

"Therefore our accounts balance nicely. You put them in a hole and
got them out of it by smashing up a boat that cost me forty guineas.
I don't blame you for that, it was an accident, no doubt; but why in
thunder should I be grateful to you?"

Digby's smile was full of meaning, the more pointed because his frown
did not relax.

"You have stated the case as I adjudged it privately," he said. "In
extenuation of the apparent folly of my expectation, I have only to
plead an imperfect acquaintance with your character. There are parents
who, if placed in your position, would have allowed their sentiment to
cloud their judgment."

"Fools!" asserted the Major. "Fools." He was white with rage.

For a moment Digby silently regarded him, then shrugging his shoulders,
he contrived to smile.

"That is all I think," he said, "that need be mentioned on that score.
Had you been such a fool as we have discussed, sir, I should have
declined to take advantage of your folly for the same reason that I
would return you a purse that you might drop in the street were I to
find it, or hand you back half a sovereign that you might offer me in
mistake for sixpence."

"I've never done such a thing in my life," snapped the Major.

Digby was silent.

"As for your explanation," went on the old gentleman a trifle more
calmly, "a child could understand it. That talk about despair--and
viewpoint--was rot, sir! balderdash--unless----" his eyes
gleamed--"unless you have something else hidden up your sleeve?"

"I have, sir," answered Digby, with sudden and most cutting emphasis.

"What it it? I insist upon knowing."

"A wholesome contempt for your suspicious mind, sir. Major Reay, I have
the honor to wish you good morning."

Digby made the old gentleman an elaborate bow and he stalked forthwith
to the door, tingling from head to heel with the unholy delight of long
suppressed irritation fully gratified, and bearing himself with a mien,
the aggressive dignity of which not even the shabbiness of his apparel
could defeat.

The Major was transfixed with astonishment, and long after the door had
closed upon Jan's retreating figure, he sat gazing at the panels trying
vainly to collect his thoughts.

As he afterwards informed his crony, Mr. Best--he was "flabbergasted."

"Best, old chap!" he declared, "that is the only word to express
my feelings. The fellow had stood there for half an hour before me
answering his catechism--meek as mud, sir, meek as mud! Then without
the least warning he turned on me like a dog, sir, like a dog!"

The Major, however, did not relate to Mr. Best his subsequent
reflections. Having in somewise recovered his scattered senses, he got
to his feet and walked tremulously to a cabinet from which he extracted
a glass and a decanter of whisky. Pouring out a stiff nip, he drank the
spirit raw, and feeling considerably comforted, he addressed his image
in a mirror opposite.

"Reay," said he, "you have met your match this morning--your match,
ay, and something to spare! D----! but I like the fellow. I do--I do
indeed--though he forced my hand and played the joker on me at the
last."

He returned to his desk, sat down and crossed his legs. "What the
dickens shall I tell Jack and Marion?" he muttered, puffing out his
cheeks in earnest thought. "Hum! that's the deuce, the very deuce!
Anyway, by Gad! I'm glad they didn't hear him---'A wholesome contempt
for your suspicious mind sir!' Humph! Humph!"

A sudden itch to laugh possessed him, and a concomitant desire to
restrain his mirth.

He began to chuckle, but the effort to stifle fuller expression of his
hilarity made him half choke and turn purple. Resigning the struggle,
he laughed out at last as he had not laughed for years, until his fat
sides ached, and tears of merriment rolled down his cheeks.




Chapter VIII.--Concerning a Piece of Leather.

Jan marched out of the house in a mood that increased in bitterness
with every step he took, for he quickly realised that he had destroyed
his last chance of obtaining employment in that neighborhood, and he
had been very earnest in the quest. Pride carried him through the outer
door, chin in air, but he called himself a "fool" as he crossed the
verandah, and an "idiot" before he had reached the steps. Ere he had
half traversed the shrubbery all satisfaction in his petty triumph had
evaporated.

He had begun to walk dejectedly, when, on turning an angle in the
path, he perceived Jack and Marion standing by the gate. The encounter
was unescapable, and it seemed to him that it provided the last straw
needed to render his burden intolerable. But he reckoned without his
host. Earlier in the morning before leaving his hut, he had stiffened
the threadbare soles of his shoes with a piece of brown paper, but he
had neglected to consider the forlorn condition of their heels. One of
these now, at the worst possible moment, struck against an obstruction
in the path, and before Marion's eyes, completely parted company with
the sole.

Jan turned pale, then crimson, then pale again. He squared his
shoulders, and strode forward, walking on his toes, his lips compressed
and his eyes fixed on Marion's with an expression of passionate menace,
as though defying her to notice his misfortune.

She met him with outstretched hand. "Good morning, Mr. Digby," she said
brightly, "I do hope that you have taken no harm from your wetting?"

He gave her the shortest possible handshake.

"I need not repeat your question," he replied in tones of ice, "you
look in perfect health."

"Did you fix up all right with dad?" demanded Jack.

"Yes--thank you. Good morning, Miss Reay; good morning, Jack." He swung
off his hat, he had forgotten previously to bow, and passing through
the gate without a glance at either, he strode off towards the town.

Jack, looking thunderstruck, was about to both call out and follow him,
but Marion laid a swift hand on the boy's shoulder.

"Not now, Jack," she whispered earnestly. "Can't you see that he wants
to be alone?"

"I'm blowed!" gasped the boy. "Something must have happened him--but
what?"

"Perhaps father----" began Marion.

"Eh?" cried Jack. "Why--of course. But no! Jan said he had fixed up all
right with dad."

"He did not say what," replied the girl. "Why not go to dad and ask
him?"

Jack eyed her for a moment, then speaking no word, he set off at a
swift run towards the house. Marion followed him, but more leisurely,
and when she arrived at a certain spot she paused for some time looking
at a curious unshapely object that lay upon the gravel. It was a shoe
heel. On the verandah she came face to face with Jack returning from
the the house. "Dad says Jan refused the billet," he exclaimed, "and
went off in a huff."

"Why?" asked Marion.

"Because dad asked him some personal questions."

"Dad says he has a right to know all about his employees, and when I
started to talk, he boxed my ears. He's in a dickens of a scot, I can
tell you. My jaw is just burning."

"He treated you very properly," said Marion. "You are an impertinent
boy to dare argue with your father!"

"I like your cheek," growled Jack. "You are a beautiful specimen, you
are! Why, you never let him have an opinion that you don't like. You
get him down and just worry him till he gives in."

"That is very different," said Marion with dignity. "I am a woman!"

Jack watched her "sail into the house," as he termed it, and then
sat down upon the edge of the verandah to nurse his wounded face, in
forlorn solitude.

"I'll be dashed glad to get back to school," he muttered miserably.
"Dad's getting a regular pig--and as for Marion----" Apparently
his vocabulary fell short of his requirements at that period, for
after vainly seeking to express himself, be concluded with a raucous
exclamation of disgust.




Chapter IX.--Jan Surrenders.

The "Bungalow" was a commodious cottage, surrounded with trellised
creeper-covered verandahs and set in a pretty garden of bright tropical
flowers. It was situated on the main road midway between Ballina and
the "Major's Folly." Its then proprietor, Mr. Alan Laing, was seated
under the front archway listlessly watching the road, when Jan Digby
stalked into view. He had been expecting Jan to bring him good news,
but something in the other's gait and general appearance warned him of
a fruitless mission.

"Poor old Jan," he muttered, and his always sombre eyes deepened
in melancholy expression as he spoke. "He has acquired a bad name
hereabouts, and the proverbial fate is remorselessly attending him."

Digby turned from the road and entered the enclosure without once
looking up. In dejected silence he approached his friend and took a
seat that evidently awaited him. A table stood between them spread with
refreshments. Jan helped himself to some brandy and drank it with a
sigh.

"As usual," he remarked as he put down the glass.

Mr. Laing nodded, and a long silence followed. The pair understood each
other almost perfectly. Jan gazed at his dismantled shoe, Mr. Laing at
a scarlet hibiscus abloom in his garden.

At length Jan took a cigar from the box at his elbow, and struck a
match, glancing in a curious fashion at his friend's averted face. He
drew into his mouth and expelled therefrom two puffs of smoke, then
inadvertently extinguished the match. Choosing another, he scraped it
alight upon the floor and raised it with wavering fingers before his
face. "I surrender!" he said quietly.

Laing started up in his chair like one surprised from a dream. "Eh!" he
exclaimed. "What's that?"

"I surrender," repeated Jan. "The fight has gone out of me."

"Thank goodness!" cried Laing warmly. "Your stinking pride has ached me
for weeks, and sometimes sent me fasting to bed. You know where your
room is--it has been aired for you day by day, and you'll find a purse
under your pillow. You'll stay with me of course."

"Until the next steamer leaves," replied Jan. "I'm sick to death of
Ballina."

Laing arose, and thoughtfully surveyed him. "You'll think better of
that," he declared. "It was the fish diet that spoke then--not you."

Jan shrugged his shoulders. "I hope you have beef for lunch."

"I'll see to it," replied Laing. "Also I'll send for a tailor--you
cannot get out of those rags too soon."

"Facilis descensus Averni," quoted Digby. "You are strewing with
rose-leaves the path to my destruction."

Laing smiled. He was a tall man of a sallow and saturnine countenance.
His features were strongly marked, and his brow and cheeks were
furrowed with deep lines of pain and weariness. He was dying slowly of
an incurable wasting disease of the heart that had already reduced his
frame to a condition of almost ghastly leanness.

Everything about him suggested threatening death, and his smile rather
intensified than relieved his habitual gloom.

"Salvation, I hope," he retorted gently. "You have been worshipping a
false god, my boy."

"A deaf one, at any rate," sighed Jan. "You could not guess how mean I
feel, Alan."

"Let it relieve you, then, to know that you have given me a real
happiness," said Laing, his sombre eyes aglow.

Digby frowned. "I'm not denying that," he answered with a certain
grimness. "You are a good sort, Alan, and you would no doubt find
pleasure in helping any lame dog along--but you must not imagine that
every lame dog allows you to help him on that account. I came to you
because I have discovered that I am not the man I thought I was--not by
half."

"No man ever was," said Laing. "And the probabilities are you flatter
yourself by your present estimate. But that does not matter a bit!"

"Oh! indeed! Doesn't it?"

"The chief thing and the good thing is that you have whipped your nasty
stubborn snarling pride into its kennel. Take my advice, and put on it
the chain before you let it out again."

"Now is your chance," growled Jan. "Kick me again--won't you?"

"With pleasure; what has become of the heel of your right shoe?"

Jan uttered something like a groan. "That was the last straw," he
muttered. "After a disturbing interview with the old Major, which
I wound up by insulting him, I was about to quit the place when I
met--her----"

"Yes----" said Laing. "Yes!"

"I was feeling rocky--and seeing her did me no good. I suppose I must
have kicked against a stone or something. Anyway, the d----d thing came
off right under her very nose."

Laing began to laugh softly to himself. "What did Miss Marion say, or
do?" he murmured.

"Nothing."

"She pretended not to have observed it, eh?"

"Naturally, sir; she is a lady!" growled Jan.

"And you?"

"I acted like a boor. Heaven knows what I said. I got away somehow. I
don't suppose she will ever notice me again."

"I don't know," said Laing gravely. "The sort of woman you described to
me last night would be pretty sure to make allowances. But you say that
you insulted the Major. May I ask why?"

"My nerves are not what they used to be," replied Jan with a
self-derisive smile. "The old chap badgered me with questions all more
or less impertinent, and I lost my patience at last."

"That infernal fish diet," commented Laing. "I must see to it at once.
Excuse me for a while, Jan."

Digby nodded, and Laing went into the house. Relighting his cigar,
Jan crossed his knees and leaned back in his chair with a luxurious
sigh. "I'm a failure," he observed reflectively, "a rank failure--and
the worst of it is I'm too hungry to be properly ashamed of myself. I
wonder what Alan would say if he knew that I had not tasted food for
six and twenty hours."




Chapter X.--The Gossips.

The week following Jan Digby's quarrel with Major Reay, supplied
Ballina with three unusual sensations and consequent topics of public
and private conversation. The memories of the oldest inhabitants
were racked in vain in search of precedent. Old Jimmie du Clos, who
was generally regarded as a centenarian, declared that in the early
sixties a murder had been committed, and the murderer arrested within
seven days, but if true, that was merely a double event and unworthy
of comparison with the present phenomenon. Angus Beale, the manager
of the local saw mill, aged 72, also pretended to remember a black
week of storm, during which two ships had been lost on the bar, and
a man killed in the main street of the town by a thunderbolt. The
public records, however, were at variance with Mr. Beale's contention,
and some suspicious busy-body having turned them up, proved that the
thunderbolt had claimed its victim 24 hours after the week had expired.

Major Reay was intimately concerned with the two more important of the
three sensations first above referred to. The paymaster of his sugar
refining factory disappeared one morning, leaving a deficit in his
accounts of several hundred pounds. The whole town knew at once, and
everyone expected the Major to issue a warrant for the defaulter's
arrest. The same evening, however, the unfortunate man's dead body was
discovered floating in a backwash of the river, in one of his pockets a
lugubrious and repentant letter offering to his late employer his life
in expiation of his crime.

Ballina had barely recovered its faculty of speech, which, to do
the town justice, was only temporarily impaired by the tragic
event, when news flew about from lip to lip that Jan Digby had been
observed strolling about the outskirts of the town dressed in the
very height of fashion. Some of the gossips asserted that as well
as brand new clothes, straw hat, and patent leather boots, he had
sported lavender kid gloves. The more sober-minded considered the
gloves an exaggeration, but the main facts were well authenticated,
and no one ventured to discredit them. As every soul in the place was
perfectly aware that Jan's remittance arrived quarterly, and that it
still lacked a month to the due date of his next instalment, Ballina
wanted to know the ins and outs of the transformation. "Where did he
get the money?" was the question each person asked his neighbor! The
phrase rapidly became a password, with for countersign its answer,
"Ask me something easy!" The tailor was applied to, but all he could
say was that Jan had ordered three suits and several other articles
of attire, for which he had paid in cash. One imaginative old lady on
being informed that Jan was residing with Mr. Laing, suggested that
the latter might be the generous deus ex machina. She was, however,
overwhelmed with such a flood of worldly-wise and cynical advice that
she became speedily ashamed of her opinion. The Major was suspected
for a few hours of having rewarded Jan for saving Jack and Marion,
but he publicly denied the accusation. Mr. Best, the bank manager,
found it necessary to give a similar assurance, lest the town should
think him capable of advancing money on poor security. After that,
Ballina treated the affair with lowered voice, and prefaced all further
exchanges of opinion with the following formulae. "It is with great
reluctance, but----" or--"I hate to think it--but----" To be frank,
the general conclusion was that Jan must have raised the wind by some
nefarious means, and it was whispered as very possible that he had been
a confederate of Major Reay's dead paymaster. Ballina was an adept
at putting two and two together. It was only natural that Alan Laing
should share his friend's disgrace. One half said--"He must be in the
swindle, too, what do you think?" and the other replied, "Why--of
course! I never did like the fellow did you?"

Marion was informed of the current gossip by Lena Best and Joyce
Templeton while taking afternoon tea at the former's house. Both
ladies affected to consider Jan an object more deserving of pity
than condemnation, but none the less they manifestly rejoiced in
depicting the evil repute in which he was held. Marion was at the
same time amused and indignant. The solution of the problem which
had confounded Ballina seemed so patent to her that she unwillingly
convicted her fellow town-folk with having cultivated their natural
spitefulness during her absence in England, at the expense of both
reason and charity. Suspecting, however, that her friends might have
been attempting to impose upon her credulity, a species of practical
joke at all times fashionable in small communities, she took a leaf out
of Jan's book, and played the part of silent listener. Lena and Joyce
had never found a more charming companion; for Marion, being a thorough
woman, liked to hear herself talk as much as any member of her sex.

The subject was only half exhausted, when three fresh visitors were
announced--Mrs. MacFarlane, the wife of the local doctor, a stout,
good-natured looking blonde of 40, was first to enter. She was a woman
whose one ambition in life was to be considered slim; and she never
despaired of ultimate success, although an unkind fate converted into
adipose tissue nearly everything she ate or drank. Having shaken hands
with Lena, she kissed Marion on both cheeks, with a warmth that was
secretly inspired by a desire to advance her husband's practice.

"No tea for me, dearest," she cried, without waiting to be asked. "I
haven't tasted any for five days, and I have lost half a pound already.
I read in a book that it is fattening--and it is."

Lena laughed. "Potatoes, butter, milk, sweeties--and now tea. Poor
darling, you'll starve yourself to death."

"We are always telling her the same thing," chorussed the other
visitors, two spinster sisters, named O'Gorman Flynn. The elder,
Mary, was an angular gawk of 50, whom irreverent small boys in the
streets were continually advising to plaster her shoes with treacle
in order to coax her skirts down. She was a Theosophist and President
of the Ballina section of the Womanhood Suffrage League. Her younger
sister, Margaret, was a very superior person. She squinted, and quoted
Browning. She also boasted a knowledge of botany, and as she had
once cured a neighbor's cow that was sick of quinsy with a decoction
of herbs brewed by herself, many people thought her cleverer than a
physician, and employed her to prescribe for their minor ailments.
When her guests were seated, Lena asked Mrs. MacFarlane the very
latest news, a polite inquiry enjoined upon all Ballina hostesses, and
sanctified by custom as being the proper fashion to start the ball of
gossip rolling.

Mrs. MacFarlane responded to the signal as promptly as a pricked
bladder. "I've seen him!" she cried. "It was just now in Main-street.
And it's all true, except the gloves. He had a cane, too, it looked
like Malacca; but I could not swear that it was silver-topped as he had
his hand over it."

"Jan Digby!" exclaimed Lena and Joyce.

"Yes; and whom do you think he was with? I'll give you three guesses."

"Mr. Laing?" asked Lena.

"No."

"Young Jack Reay?" suggested Joyce.

"No."

"Mr. Keeling?" asked Lena.

"No." Mrs. MacFarlane puffed out her cheeks. "He was talking to Major
Reay," she declared.

Had a bomb-shell exploded in the room it could not have created more
astonishment. Even Marion was surprised.

"My goodness!" cried Lena. "Fancy the Major."

"He ought to be warned," said Mary O'Gorman Flynn, turning up the
whites of her eyes.

"He ought, indeed," affirmed Miss Margaret. "The Major is a sweet,
unsuspicious old gentleman, and it would be a burning shame for him to
be imposed upon by a rascal like--like--him."

"The dear Major!" sighed Mrs. MacFarlane. "He is so unworldly--but I'm
sure if he knew how people are talking about that fellow, he would
not go near him. Really Marion, my dear, you should see to that. Your
father is growing old, and he comes so seldom to town, that he is
rather out of things. You should take him in hand."

"My father is perfectly capable of taking care of himself," replied
Marion coldly. "But kindly enlighten me, if you please, what real
reason is there that he or any other person should decline Mr. Digby's
acquaintance?"

"What!" cried the lady. "Is it possible, my dear, that you have not
heard?"

Lena and Joyce gazed at Marion reproachfully.

"Oh, Marion!" they exclaimed. "Haven't we been telling you?"

"You told me that Mr. Digby is generally suspected of having helped
to rob my father," answered Marion. "But it seems to me that the only
foundation for such a supposition consists in the fact that he has of
late appeared abroad wearing new clothes."

"Pardon me," cut in Miss Margaret in her most superior manner. "Pardon
me, my dear, I am not one of those who permit any reason, however
disreputable, to be lightly condemned. But I must confess that I have
reluctantly come to the conclusion that Jan Digby is no better than he
should be."

"Why?" demanded Marion. "What is the evidence against him?"

The others exchanged glances of compassion.

"You, Mrs. MacFarlane," said Miss Margaret.

"No, my dear--you?"

"Mary?" asked Margaret.

"I should prefer--our dear hostess--Lena, will you?"

Lena sniffed. "I hope I know my proper place," she said. "You are the
eldest, Miss Flynn."

Miss O'Gorman Flynn gave a sour smile, but she squared her narrow
shoulders and assumed her best platform manner.

"In the first place," she began, "this--ah--person--has evidently come
into sudden possession of er--ah--money," she looked hard at Marion.
"You will allow that, my dear?"

"Yes," said Marion.

"Hum, ah! well. We know that he has not acquired it by lawful means,
for we have taken pains to ascertain the facts."

"Indeed," Marion's voice was satirical.

"Such is the case!" replied Miss Flynn with a severe look at Marion.
"Your tone, my dear, does not become you. As a female, it should be
your ambition to help safeguard the morality of your fellow-beings--for
such is the trust which Heaven has reposed in woman's hands. To
sneer at the efforts of others in that direction is to confess your
unworthiness to engage in woman's chiefest and most sacred mission."

Marion smiled, then sighed. "I think Ballina must be the least sinful
place in the world," she murmured. "It certainly should be--for nowhere
else have I heard of in which gossip is defended as a vital moral
power."

Miss O'Gorman Flynn bit her lips. "You misuse the word," she said
sternly. "In applying it to me you insult a principle that animates the
conduct of my life."

Marion looked her in the eyes, her own grown hard and cold. "I believe
that you are sincere," she replied with much dignity. "You may take
that as an apology, if you choose."

Miss Flynn bowed. "To admit an error," she said loftily, "is to
evidence the possession of a mind capable of being penetrated
by the light of truth. And now to proceed. Since--er--ah--since
this--er--person has not acquired his money by lawful means--we may
legitimately infer--er--ah--hum--that--er--he--er--has acquired it by
unlawful--er! ah! means."

"True," said Marion.

Miss O'Gorman Flynn bowed. "That is the case in a nutshell," she
remarked. "I have only to add that my sister Margaret observed him
talking to Inskip, your father's late paymaster, the night before the
latter's death. My sister had occasion to visit a patient at a late
hour and on passing the wharf she saw them together. Mr. Inskip seemed
to be in an excited and inebriated condition, and she distinctly
heard--the person we are discussing--advise him to go home."

"Yes," said Miss Margaret; "and not only that, I heard Mr. Inskip
declare that he would not go home for Digby or any other man--and he
called Digby many horrible names. It was evident that they had been
quarrelling."

"Doubtless over the division of the spoil," commented Mrs. MacFarlane.

"Is that all?" asked Marion.

"Is it not enough?" demanded Miss Flynn.

"Yes," replied Marion, rising as she spoke. "It is enough, and more
than enough, to make any fair-minded person prefer the society of Mr.
Digby to that of his malicious detractors, however earnest and noble
the purpose may be which they claim to have in view, but which their
malice has distorted."

"Marion!--Marion, dearest!" protested Lena.

But Marion was in a white heat of indignation. "Have you anything to
say?" she demanded, in tones of ice.

"My dear," faltered Lena, "remember that--I am in my own house."

"Exactly!" cried Miss O'Gorman Flynn in a loud, sonorous voice. "And,
therefore, my dear, you cannot rebuke this young woman as she deserves;
but I can. Young woman--I----"

But Marion faced her with flashing eyes. "It is true that you are older
than I," she interrupted cuttingly; "but your conduct has deprived you
of any right to expect respect from me on that account."

"Your insolence, Miss Reay, I shall make it my business to chastise!
If you think that a chit of a girl like you who has been trapezing
unchaperoned over the continent----"

"Stop!" said Marion. "Be silent until I go, then tear my character to
pieces as you will."

"Go, then," cried Miss Flynn, her face almost purple. "Go and enjoy the
society you prefer to ours. Jan Digby and you, a pretty pair!"

Marion swept to the door, then turned. "Thanks for the permission," she
retorted icily. "In wishing you good afternoon, I have only to remark
that if Mr. Digby decides to punish your slanderous attack on his good
name I shall feel it my duty to help him to the utmost of my power,
even should he take the matter into the law courts and call me as a
witness!"

The door closed and she was gone.

The deserted ones stared at each other in a state of blank dismay,
for Marion's Parthian shaft had instilled a poison of terror in the
blood of at least three of her auditors. The Misses O'Gorman Flynn had
both been concerned in a slander action some years before, and the
experience had left scars on their memories. Mrs. MacFarlane trembled
because her husband had instructed her to make friends with Marion
at every hazard, for the Major was his best patient, and his rival
physician had recently made bold efforts to supplant him. Lena and
Joyce were less concerned than the others, for they had not openly
sided with Jan's detractors, but they feared to lose Marion's esteem;
and their friend's bold and generous conduct had also made them feel
somewhat ashamed of themselves.

Mrs. MacFarlane was the first to speak. "Well, I never did!" she
gasped. "Never in all my life. One would imagine that the girl was in
love with the fellow."

Joyce opened her eyes very wide. "I was just thinking that very thing!"
she cried.

"Nonsense!" said Lena. "He saved her life the other day. Besides,
Marion was always that sort of a girl. Even in the old days it was her
fad to stick up for the absent."

"Do you--do you dare to defend her?" demanded Miss O'Gorman Flynn in
tones that trembled in spite of her efforts to speak steadily.

"Rats!" retorted Lena rudely. "That's not my role; but I hate quarrels,
and I think you acted like a fool. I gave you the office to shut up a
dozen times, but you would go on."

"I--I never saw you," stammered Miss Flynn, who was on the verge of
tears.

"Neither did I," said Miss Margaret.

"I did all the same," assented Lena. "I winked till my eyelid ached."

"Do--do you think--she meant that--ab-ab-about telling him--and the
l-law courts?" asked Miss Flynn, now fairly whimpering.

"Bosh!" declared Lena. "That is only her Roland for your Oliver. Marion
couldn't do a mean thing to save her life. But I shouldn't wonder,
Mary, if she cuts your acquaintance, and yours, too, Mrs. Mac."

"I never said a thing," cried Mrs. MacFarlane. "What would she cut me
for?"

Miss O'Gorman Flynn dried her tears with a handkerchief that looked
like a dust cloth, for Lena's assurance had relieved the worst of her
alarm. "It's I who will do the cutting!" she declared, sitting stiffly
upright. "The impertinent chit! I'll make her rue the day she insulted
me--or my name is not Mary O'Gorman Flynn."

"What will you do?" asked Joyce in a hushed, awe-stricken fashion.

"Very few of us are perfect," replied Miss Flynn. "I shall wait and
watch. It may not be to-day nor to-morrow. But----" she paused and
regarded the other with a frown so ominous of mischief, that they
hastily congratulated themselves because they stood in her good graces.

"Poor Marion!" sighed Lena. "I would not be in her place for something!"

Miss O'Gorman Flynn accepted this outspoken tribute to her powers with
a complacent grimace. "I shall show her no mercy," she declared, her
voice suggesting the roll of distant thunder; "and when I say a thing I
mean it. You all know me!"

It was evident that they did; for they nodded abjectly, and even Lena
had no remark to offer.




Chapter XI.--Jan Finds a Place.

Jan Digby had strolled into the main street of Ballina in order to
make a few necessary purchases. He had so long been accustomed to the
unseeing stares of the better class townsfolk that he did not notice
at first a sudden disposition on their part to observe him. But having
intercepted a few incautious glances he anticipated others, and derived
a sort of malicious satisfaction from the pastime; since whenever he
encountered the gaze of a passerby his opponent changed color and
looked shiftily away.

"I might be in an Italian village, fully accredited with possession
of an 'evil eye'!" muttered Jan, with a smile of bitterness. Having
concluded his business, he was about to return to the Bungalow, when on
stepping out of a draper's shop he came face to face with Major Reay,
who stood on the footpath talking to Mr. Best and two other gentlemen.

Jan passed them with a smooth face, but his name was called, and
involuntarily be stopped. He could have bitten out his tongue for his
complaisance next instant; but it was too late to pretend he had not
heard. He turned and looked full at the Major. "Did you address me?" he
asked politely.

The old gentleman gave Jan a bland, almost an ingratiating smile; "I
did, my boy," he answered. "How are you this morning? Well, I hope?"

"Quite, thank you," said Jan.

"A lovely morning! Perfectly lovely!" observed the Major. "On mornings
like this I positively renew my youth, I do, I do indeed!"

Jan guardedly admitted that the meteorological conditions also suited
him. The Major's friendliness made him suspicious; perhaps because the
old gentleman's companions had stepped back a yard and were staring
at the ground in stony silence, but with keenly expectant faces. He
quickly concluded that they had conspired to put some affront upon him,
and he waited for the attack, every nerve on strain, in his heart a
savage resolve to give more than he received.

"I hear that you contemplate leaving us?" said the Major.

"Indeed!" Jan squared his shoulders for the fray.

"Is it true?" demanded the Major.

"Before I answer that question," retorted Jan, "I should like to know
how you acquired your information?"

The old gentleman burst into a laugh. "That's an easy one," he replied.
"One of Mr. Laing's servants overheard you talking to her master. She
told her best friend, Mr. Best's maid, who told Miss Best; Miss Best
told my daughter, who finally mentioned the matter to me."

"Oh!" Jan's lip curled. "Mr. Laing's servants, happily, are not
ubiquitous!" he said grimly.

"Then I gather you have changed your mind?"

"For the present. Mr. Laing is ill; ah! but I beg your pardon. I have
doubtless repeated news that must be ancient history to you."

The Major slightly winced. "You are right," he replied; "but you must
not be too hard upon us, Digby. In a small place like this there never
can be such a thing as privacy."

"I suppose not," conceded Jan.

"Now, even you," cried the Major brightening up again, "even you must
have heard all about my recent misfortune. I refer to that poor fellow
Inskip who swindled me out of a large sum of money, and then committed
suicide."

"True," said Jan. "I have."

The Major's eyes twinkled, and his lips twisted in a curiously cunning
smile. "Lots of people think I am a dreadfully hard nail," he remarked;
"a-ah-ahem--in fact, some of my acquaintances entertain a wholesome
contempt for my suspicious mind, Mr. Digby--but would you believe it--I
took Inskip into my employ without a reference?"

Jan's face flushed, and he looked down, biting his lips, half amused,
half annoyed.

"Indeed!" he observed constrainedly

"I did," sighed the Major. "He was a good fellow, too, and I liked him.
If he had had the courage to come to me and confess his sin, he'd be
alive now, and not in gaol either."

Jan was silent.

"I'm in an awful hole," pursued the Major, "but you can help me out
of it, I think. You see, it's this way. There is never a rush of
applicants for any vacant post hereabouts, we are such a very settled
community. And yet I must get someone to fill Inskip's place. If you
won't take it, I shall have to go to Sydney to procure a man, for the
position is responsible, and I would not dare to trust anyone I did not
know again!"

Jan thought he must be dreaming; he looked around, frowning and
blinking his eyes in order to make sure. His glance encountered Mr.
Best's face, and he saw that the bank manager was transfixed with
astonishment. But still he could not speak!

"I'd hate to go to Sydney," went on the Major in a persuasive voice.
"It would upset all my plans."

Jan looked into the old gentleman's eyes. "Am I to understand," he
gasped, "that--you--that you are offering me--this post?"

"Reay!" cried Mr. Best, starting forward of a sudden and placing his
hand on the Major's shoulder, "be--careful!"

"I know what I am doing, Best," coolly retorted the old gentleman, then
he turned with a smile to Jan. "Yes, my boy," he said. "Understand just
that, and don't reply at once. Take time to consider. Your salary would
be 200 a year to start with, but if you will consent to take charge of
my foreign correspondence as well--I do a considerable business with
the continent--I could afford you another hundred."

Jan half closed his eyes in order the better to combat his
bewilderment. A moment later he clenched his fists and set his teeth
together with a snap. "It is all a preconcerted hoax," he thought; "a
cursed piece of bear-baiting! Well, they shall discover that the bear
has claws!"

One keen glance, however, at the Major's earnest old face induced a
kindlier reflection, and a sudden glow of hope set his nerves athrill.

"Are you serious, sir?" he asked. He scarcely recognised his voice, it
was so shrill.

"Quite," returned the Major. "Take your time, my boy, take your
time,--don't refuse me off-hand."

"If you are serious," said Jan, still doubtful, "I need no time to
reflect! I accept your offer gladly."

The Major clapped his hands together. "Good!" he cried with the delight
of a boy.

"That is fine. I was horribly afraid I should have to go to Sydney.
What are you doing now Jan--busy, eh?"

"No, sir."

"Then spare me your next half hour. Nothing like striking while the
iron is hot. Come down with me to the office and I'll introduce you to
the works manager. I don't want you to begin work to-day unless you
like--but the sooner the better, of course. There, jump up into my
buggy." The old gentleman turned to his companions. "Best, Keeling," he
cried, "you'll excuse me, won't you--I'll see you again later on!"

No reply was vouchsafed him, but seizing his new paymaster's arm the
Major led the bewildered young man to his buggy, and before Jan had
recovered his wits they were whirling down the street at the heels of a
pair of handsome creamy ponies.

As they rounded the first corner, Major Reay glanced behind him.

"Just as I thought!" he exclaimed, and burst into a roar of laughter.

"I beg your pardon," said Jan.

"They are standing there staring after us like stuck pigs, with their
mouths wide open," chuckled the Major. "Best and Keeling, I mean! I
have simply flabbergasted them!"

"I can't believe even yet that you are serious, sir," said Jan gravely.
"If you have been playing a joke on your friends, do not you think it
has gone far enough?"

The Major stopped short in the middle of a chuckle. "Eh! What!" he
growled, with, a change of tone abrupt and disconcertingly complete. "I
have never played a joke upon anyone in my life, sir!"

"Oh!" said Jan.

"And what is more, sir, I hold all practical jokers in abhorrence. They
have primitive minds, sir, primitive minds, which means that they are
natural boors, sir, natural boors!"

"I quite agree with you," said Jan.

"What particularly attracted me to you in the first instance," growled
the Major, "was your serious face. I'm not a gloomy person, sir, but I
hate people who grin at nothing--hate 'em like poison."

Jan had no comment to offer, and the old gentleman was also silent
until they had reached his store, an immense multi-windowed wooden
building which was chiefly remarkable for its grimy front and a sickly
effluvium that issued from its black interior.

Jan entered the place like a sleep-walker, and when an hour later
he emerged, he retained only a confused recollection of what had
transpired in the interim. The works manager, a curly-headed giant, in
a suit of greasy overalls, had spat upon the floor by way of welcome,
and declared his conviction in lurid language that a bad accountant was
better than none, since there had already accumulated a thousand tons
of hides and sugar wanting owners. The workmen had saluted their new
"boss" with nods of frank indifference, and for the rest the Major's
shouting explanations of his duties, mingled with the scream of steam
and the ceaseless rumble of machinery, had completed his bewilderment.
But Jan walked homewards treading on air, his eyes shining with a joy
whose more vociferous expression he found it increasingly difficult to
restrain.

When Alan Laing heard the good news, he called for champagne, and
the friends spent the rest of that day building castles in the air,
and toasting Jan's good luck, coupled with the Major's name at not
infrequent intervals.




Chapter XII.--The Major's One Practical Joke.

Although Major Reay had taken pains to impress Jan with his abomination
of practical jokers, he found himself unable to resist the temptation
of joining a class he professed to detest, when he perceived an
opportunity of enjoying a laugh at the expense of his children.

The idea occurred to him shortly after he had parted with Jan, while
driving homewards, and before he reached the "Folly," he was its abject
victim. Marion had much to say that evening concerning her brush with
the village champion gossip, and she related the affair in detail with
flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes, sure of her father's sympathy. But
the Major, much to her surprise, instead of sharing her indignation,
chuckled throughout the recital, and laughed hilariously when all was
told, nor would he in anywise explain the cause of his mirth. Jack,
however, was loud in his approval of the girl's action, and Marion grew
to like the word "brick" as applied to herself, so evidently did it
convey the boy's ne plus ultra of enthusiastic admiration.

On the following morning the Major breakfasted in bed, and soon
afterwards he sent for his children. They found him reclining, half
dressed upon a couch; his gouty leg, swathed in bandages, rested upon a
pile of cushions on a neighboring chair.

"Tread softly! Confound you!" he hissed as they entered the room. "Have
you no consideration? Oh! Ugh! Ugh!"

"Is it so bad?" sighed Marion, as she bent to kiss him. "You poor
darling, and you were so well last night."

"It is the very devil!" growled the Major, mopping his face with a
flaming silk handkerchief. "The very devil, my dear. And the curse of
it is I can't afford to lay up just now. The store is in a hopeless
muddle, and my new accountant takes charge this morning. I simply must
go in somehow."

"My new accountant!" repeated Marion. "Oh dad! have you filled Mr.
Inskip's place? You never told me."

The old gentleman covered his face with his handkerchief, and gave vent
to a curious strangled groan.

"You must see the doctor at once," said Marion decidedly. "I'll not
allow you to suffer such pain. Jack, go out and send a groom post
haste----"

"Stop!" shouted the Major, uncovering his face abruptly. It was brick
red. "Doctor be hanged!" he growled. "The brute would keep me in bed a
week just to swell his fees. I'm better off without one."

"But, dad----"

"But me no 'buts'!" he snarled. "When I say a thing I mean it. I'll
have no doctor poking his nose round me to-day. I know what to do
better than any of them!"

"Very well, then," said Marion. "But don't you dream for one instant
that I shall permit you to go into town to-day. Here you are, and here
you stay."

"Bosh!" retorted the Major. "Who else is going to show my new
accountant the combination of the safe, and take him the keys? Do you
think I'd trust a servant?"

"I shall," cried Marion. "I know the combination as well as you do
yourself."

"That's all very well," grumbled the old gentleman. "But you can't
explain the books to him."

"I can," retorted the girl. "Didn't I keep your books for two whole
months when Mr. Inskip was ill?"

"That was two years ago and more."

"What does that matter? I haven't forgotten. Why, I'm sure I could do
it as well as most accountants."

"I believe you could, my dear," said the Major admiringly. "You are as
sharp as a needle. But--but I can't put you to all that trouble."

"Trouble! Nonsense!" cried Marion. "Give me your keys, and I shall
start at once."

The Major produced his bunch with suspicious promptitude. "Very
well," he muttered, somewhat doubtfully. "I ought to go myself, but
perhaps----"

Marion took the keys, and stopped further protest by kissing him upon
the lips.

"Jack," said the Major, "you will accompany your sister. Bryan can
drive you over."

"All right, dad," replied the boy. "I was going fishing, but it doesn't
matter."

"I should think not," said Marion.

"By the way, dad, what's the new beggar's name?" demanded Jack.

The Major seemed to experience another paroxysm; he covered his face
with his handkerchief again, and the ponderous bulk of his body heaved
and shook. A moment later he reappeared, his cheeks purple. "The devil!
the devil!" he groaned. "It'll be the death of me!"

"You poor darling," said Marion, her eyes bright with sympathy. "How I
wish I could help you to bear it."

"There, there!" growled the Major. "Be off with you, both. I'm always
better alone with these attacks."

"But you haven't told us the new accountant's name," persisted Jack.

The Major turned crimson. "Curse his name," he shouted. "Ask him
yourself. Clear out with you, and let me be. Oh! my leg! my leg!"

Marion beckoned Jack, and they passed out of the room with anxious
faces and many concerned and lingering backward glances. But the
Major, immediately he heard the door close, fell back and stuffed his
handkerchief into his mouth to smother the roar of laughter that he
could not have restrained another moment to have saved his life.

"Dad's bad to-day, and that's a fact," observed Jack as he took his
seat beside Marion in the buggy. "His leg plays old Harry with his
temper, doesn't it?"

"One can't be sweet when one is suffering agonies," said Marion. "I
think father is a wonderful man to keep up as well as he does. Anyone
else would be a bear always, but dad is a gentleman, even when he
swears."

"He may be a gentleman, but he don't play fair," grumbled Jack. "He'd
cut the hide off me if I swore."

"And quite right, too," said Marion with a smile. "Little boys have no
business to use such words."

"Rats!" remarked the boy. "Say, Bryan," he cried, addressing the
driver, "drive slowly past the Bungalow, will you?"

"Yes, sir."

"Why that?" inquired Marion.

"I want to see if Jan's about. I've scarcely set eyes on him since he
took up with his swell friend, Alan Laing. Have you seen him in his
toffy clobber yet, Marion?"

"His what?" cried Marion.

"His new clothes--as if you didn't know! Garn!"

"You are developing into a thoroughbred larrikin," said Marion
severely. "I wonder you are not ashamed to speak like that."

"Just keep on wondering, then, till you strike a mullock heap! But
answer my question."

Marion shrugged her shoulders. "I've not seen Mr. Digby since the
morning we met him at the gate."

"And he lost his boot-heel!" grinned Jack. "My gum! I wonder how he
felt just then. He went white, then carrots, to his hair. That was
because he knew you saw. He wouldn't have minded if I'd been alone."

"I never felt so sorry for anyone in my life," said Marion softly.

"Dad might have given him a show," said the boy. "I feel mad with him
every time I think about it; but he always had a down on Jan. Beastly
mean, I call it. Don't you think so?--now, honest, sis."

"We have no right to criticise father," replied Marion loyally.

"Huh!" growled Jack. "That may be O.K. for you--but I'm different. Look
at the hole he's put me into. Jan saved our lives, and you know it, and
now every time I run across him I feel ashamed to look him in the eyes.
He must think us a lot of pitiful low downers! He must! What else can
he think?"

"Is that the reason," asked Marion, "that you have not been with him so
much of late?"

Jack nodded.

"I did not think you had so much fine feeling. I have been doing you an
injustice," said Marion very softly. "I beg your pardon, Jack."

Jack shrugged his shoulders. "I'm not exactly a beast," he replied.
"I've been saving up my pocket-money," he added presently. "The day I
go back to school I'm going to post it to him in an anonymous letter."

Marion turned and looked at him with sparkling eyes. "Oh! you dear
boy!" she cried. "I had the very same thought. Let us do it together,
shall we? I have saved ten pounds already."

"Dad always did favor you," growled Jack. "I've had hard work to rake
up a fiver! Never mind, the more the merrier!"

"I'll have my quarter's allowance next week," said Marion, "and I can
spare nearly all of it, for I shan't want a new frock for ever so long."

"How much can you spare?"

"Thirty-five pounds, easily; and with the other that will make fifty."

Jack almost jumped out of his seat with surprise. "Do you mean to say
that dad gives you so much as that?" he shouted. "Why, the crusty old
skinflint cracks that he'll be ruined every time I touch him for a
crown. I call it dashed unfair. That's what I do."

"Hush!" said Marion. "Here we are at the Bungalow."

Jack swung round at once, but not a soul was to be seen, and as the
horses quickened their pace again, he reverted to the subject.

"Thirty-five pounds!" he grumbled. "How much a quarter does he give you
altogether, sis?"

"Forty."

"And me ten!" Jack bit his lips. "Small blame to me if I am in debt!"
he growled. "After this I won't worry, I'll just tell the coves to send
in their bills to him, and if he don't like it he can lump it. Forty
pounds, indeed!"

"But I am over age," protested Marion. "No doubt when you are 21, dad
will make you a handsome allowance."

Jack, however, was not to be consoled. To all seeming, the iron had
entered his soul, and in spite of Marion's efforts to engage him in
conversation he maintained a grumpy silence until the buggy stopped
before the store. In answer then to Marion's last and almost tearful
protest--"You needn't be nasty to me, Jack. It's not my fault," he
partially unbent. Having assisted her with ungracious visage to
descend, he remarked, "I'm not blaming you, I'm only wishing I'd been
born a girl. They're silly chumps, but they collar all the plums."

Marion, with a laugh of amusement, entered the store, Jack marching at
her heels surly as any dog. The men at work in the front rooms nodded
to them familiarly, but did not ask their business, for since children
they had been accustomed to invade the premises at their pleasure. A
long evil-smelling, dim-lit passage led them to a narrow staircase that
shook under the heavy grind of machinery in motion on the floor above.
The offices were situate at the top of the building, and the stairs
were steep and slippery with slime. Jack often paused, fascinated by
the whirl of some huge fan or the ponderous precision of a dripping
stamphead; but Marion, sickened by the stench of the reeking hides and
open tallow casks, pressed on without a halt. A blast or fresh air was
her grateful greeting to the office floor, but even there the noise was
deafening, though the place smelt sweet. Not one of the clerks heard
her pass their desks over which they leaned with pens busily a-scratch.
Peering through the open door of the accountant's office she saw a man
dressed in grey seated before a broad table with his back to her. He
was employed with a formidable sheaf of account slips which he sorted
in a slow and somewhat uncertain fashion on a line of files arranged
before him.

"The new accountant," thought Marion, and she rapped sharply on the
panel with her father's bunch of keys.

The man turned and looked at her, but the girl's eyes were dazzled by
the light that streamed in from an open pane behind him.

"Miss Reay!" cried the man. "You here!" He sprang to his feet, advanced
two rapid steps, then halted as abruptly as he had moved.

Marion recognised the voice on instant. "Not--not Mr. Digby?" she
gasped. "Impossible." She entered the room slowly, her senses awhirl,
but she did not stop until she had reached a point from which she could
see his face. His expression was reserved, but his eyes were pleading.

"You--you are father's--new accountant!" she stammered.

"Yes."

"Oh! I see it all!" she cried. "Oh! the dear old dad; what a joke he
has played on us. Oh, but how mean of him. Jack! Jack!"

"Jan!" shouted Jack, who appeared that moment at the door. "Jan!"

"He is father's new accountant!" cried Marion. "Don't you see?"

Jack's eyes threatened to quit their sockets. "Jan--Jan Digby," he
gasped, approaching them unsteadily like a tipsy man. "You, Jan!"

"Did you not hear of my appointment, Miss Reay?" asked Digby.

"No," she cried, "not a word. Father sent us here this morning with his
keys as he was ill. He told us that he filled the post, but no more. He
has played a merry jest on us--but I forgive him, the surprise is such
a pleasant one."

"Thank, you, Miss Reay," said Jan gratefully. "You are more than kind
to say that."

"Kind!" shouted Jack. "Hip hip, hurrah! Tip us your flipper, Jan. I
have never been so glad in my life. Hurrah! Hurrah!"

Jan wrung the boy's hand and then turned to Marion. "Will you shake
hands with me, too?" he asked; "and forgive me for my boorish curtness
of behaviour when last we met."

"Gladly," said Marion, and she extended her hand with a charming
frankness. The warm pressure it received brought a flood of color to
her cheeks, but although she turned her face away, it was not because
she was offended.

"How long have you been at work?" demanded Jack.

"Two hours."

"Say, can't you stop that dashed machinery a bit? We can't hear
ourselves talk."

Jan strode to the wall and pressed a button. A shrill scream of steam
immediately contended with the thunder of the wheels, but presently
both noises ceased. Jan brought forward a chair for Marion, and she
sat down. "It's almost too good to be true," declared Jack. "Jan, I
can't tell you how glad I am. Only just now I was abusing the old dad
about you as we were coming along. If only I had guessed. It--It's just
lovely!"

"Your father has been goodness personified to me," said Digby gravely.
"He is a strange man, and I am only beginning to understand him, but I
dare aver that no better nor kinder lives."

"He is an angel!" said Marion, her eyes alight. "As for me, I have been
a brute to doubt him; I should have known."

"So should I," agreed Jack. "I feel a regular beast. The way I chivvied
him, too. By gum! He slapped my face once, it's true, but it's a wonder
he didn't knock my head off."

Jan looked from the one to the other of them, his serious face
transfigured with a sort of glow. "I owe you both a great deal," he
said quietly. "Even more, perhaps, than I suspect. But I shall not
forget."

"Bosh!" said Jack.

Marion smiled. "I think we had better get to business," she suggested.
"Your time is valuable, I know. My mission is to explain to you the
combination of the safe, and put you au fait with father's system
of accounts. The latter is very simple, and even if you don't know
much about bookkeeping you will readily understand it. I speak from
experience, for I kept father's accounts for two whole months once, at
a pinch."

"You needn't be in such a hurry," growled Jack. "I have heaps to say."

"And plenty of time in which to say it," retorted Marion. "You must
wait on Mr. Digby's leisure, Jack."

"I am at your service, Miss Reay," said Jan.

"Then I'm off," said Jack. "I've no head for business, and I want to
buy some burley, as I'm going fishing this afternoon. Pick me up at the
oyster man's, sis, will you?"

"Yes."

"And Jan, shall I see you to-night, if I call down at the Bungalow?"

"With great pleasure, Jack."

"Then ta-ta. So long, and hoo-bally-ray!"

Jan met Marion's eyes, and both smiled.

"Is he not a whirlwind?" said Marion.

"He is a splendid fellow!" answered Digby warmly. "He has given me his
friendship unasked, but I would sacrifice much to keep it."

Marion arose and walked leisurely to the door of the great iron
strongroom.

"Have you a good memory?" she inquired.

"I believe so."

"Then attend to me, if you please, for it would not be wise to write
down the directions for opening this lock." She halted suddenly,
looking doubtful. "I think, perhaps, you had better close the door,"
she said; "father is particularly nervous about his strongroom, its
contents are occasionally so valuable."

Jan strode to the office door, shut it quietly, then approached her.

"The word is 'Celci,'" whispered Marion. "C-e-l-c-i. Will you try it?
If you present the indicator to those letters alternately, the key will
turn."

Digby bent over the lock, and a moment later the heavy door swung wide.

"Those are the books," said Marion, pointing to three enormous ledgers.
"If you will place them on the desk, I shall explain how they are kept."

Jan silently did her bidding, then, without asking her permission, he
reopened the office door.

Marion observed his action with a shy, approving smile. "If you will
sit beside me," she murmured, "we will go through a section of each
book column by column. It will prove the best plan, I think."

Jan bowed, and presently they were immersed in figures, or rather, such
was the case with Marion. But Jan's wits wandered, despite his will.
Her low-pitched, earnest voice irresistibly attracted his attention
from word to sound, and the slender, dimpled fingers that emphasised
the points of her discourse defied him to do justice to the page on
which they rested. Happy for him, the system she sought to inculcate
was veritably simple, for Jan acquired nothing from the lecture save a
new and deeper understanding of himself.

The knowledge came to him as do dreams to those who sleep, when
or in what fashion he could not say. It might have been in the
indefinite strange pleasure he experienced in their unexpected close
companionship, an accidental touch of hands, or when her soft hair, as
once it did, by a sweet chance, brushed his cheek. He ceased to play
the hypocrite at last, and resigned his futile efforts to comprehend
her teaching. The moments that followed were the happiest he had ever
known. So engrossed was she in her subject that she took his silence
for attention, and he was well content to let her speak. To him her
words formed a language of musical reflections and psychological
remembrances. The fancy seized him that he was recollecting one whom
in some former life he had well known and loved. The curve of her arm,
the dimple in her cheek, each poise of head, each graceful posture of
her lithe and rounded form--all were mysteriously familiar and subtly
dangerously sweet. He fell to anticipating gestures, and recognising
each as a blessed expectation blessedly fulfilled.

When the dream ended he was as unprepared for realities as any other
dreamer suddenly awakened. A question that she had asked remained for
ever unanswered, but he came to himself when he saw her cheeks flame
into color and a startled expression flash into her eyes. Next instant
they were standing confronting each other with the chairs between them.

"I do believe that you have not been attending to me at all," said
Marion, with a sharply indrawn breath. She paused a moment, expecting
his denial, but Jan was silent, with downcast eyes.

"If you did not require my help, you might have told me," she went on
warmly. "I am not accustomed to be laughed at, Mr. Digby."

He looked up, his expression grave and deprecating. "Forgive me," he
replied. "But, indeed, you mistake; I could not do that, Miss Reay. The
fact is, I--I--forgot----"

"That I was here?" suggested Marion.

"No!" he exclaimed. "Indeed, no!"

"Then appearances were extremely deceptive. I wish you good morning,
Mr. Digby."

Marion was very angry and very human in expressing her emotion. Jan
thought he had never seen a prettier picture than she presented with
her flushed cheeks and sparkling eyes.

He held open the door, gazing at her steadily, almost pleadingly.
But Marion vouchsafed him never a glance. Picking up her flounces,
she swept from the room, chin in air, with the mien of an offended
princess. He murmured something as she passed him, but she did not seem
to hear, and with a sigh he returned slowly to his desk.




Chapter XIII.--The Friends.

Shortly after his appointment Jan had consented, at the earnestly
expressed entreaty of Alan Laing, to take up his permanent residence
at the Bungalow, only stipulating that he should be allowed to pay his
friend a weekly stipend for his board and lodging.

The arrangement was a peculiarly happy one for both, since as
companions they suited each other admirably, and had they separated
each must have resumed his former solitary habits, for neither was
persona grata to Ballina, and in any case neither would have cared
to mix in the society that Ballina afforded.

In some things they were curiously alike. Both were silent men, and
serious, seldom speaking except they had something to advance worth
the trouble of discussing, and neither had much sense of humor. In
most other matters, however, they were opposites. Jan was a resolute
optimist in his views of life, Alan an abandoned cynic. Jan's temper,
when aroused, was fiery and resentful, though he practised over it
a strong control. Alan, on the other hand, had seldom experienced
the fierce joys and keen repentances of rage. His temperament was
singularly placid, and while he remained insensible to the smaller
irritations of existence, the world's contempt or commendation left
him equally indifferent. But incapable of passion though he was, Alan
submitted his soul at intervals to long black moods of sullenness,
the dowry, perhaps, of his disease. Usually a tender-hearted man,
while those sick humors lasted, he was not only cruelly oblivious of
the feelings of others, but he seemed to derive a positive delight
from torturing the sensibilities of those he liked best. Jan's cool
and self-contained behaviour under more than one of such ordeals, had
compelled his admiration and his gratitude, for no other friend that he
had ever made had sufficiently esteemed or understood him to withstand
the strain which his occasional outbreaks imposed upon the bonds of
friendship. His earlier life, however, had been an eminently sad one,
and Jan, who knew his history, pitied the poor fellow too sincerely
to allow his own equanimity to be disturbed by his friend's mordant
attacks, even when, as sometimes was the case, Alan's disease-sharpened
insight enabled him to play the part of inquisitor with almost diabolic
skill.

Returning home one evening about a fortnight after he had commenced his
duties at the Major's store. Jan found Alan Laing in a particularly
depressed and gloomy mood. He recognised the signs at once, and
prepared to spend a melancholy evening. They dined in unbroken silence,
that is to say, Jan dined, for Alan ate nothing. They had fallen into
a habit of repairing after dinner to the verandah with coffee and
cigarettes, where they either chatted or played piquet until far into
the night. When Jan arose however, from the table, Alan did not move,
and not until an hour had passed did he rejoin his friend. When he
finally appeared, Jan wisely made no remark, and the former gloomy
silence repeated itself. The clock struck ten before a word was uttered
by either, and Jan was beginning to congratulate himself on small
mercies, when his hopes were shattered. Alan unexpectedly lighted
a cigar, an action with him that was invariably a preliminary to
conversation.

"Have you lost your tongue?" he asked suddenly, in biting tones.

Jan armed himself for the unescapable encounter by selecting and
lighting a cigarette.

"No," he replied. "No; but I'm not in a social mood."

"Coal to Newcastle," retorted Alan. "You are a cursed poor companion at
all times, but to-night more than ever."

"I am afraid you are right, old chap."

"You lie!"

Jan was silent.

"How is your work progressing?" Alan inquired a moment later. His
voice was appreciably milder, but Jan, from old experience, would have
preferred its rasping accents to continue.

"I am getting into the hang of it," he answered nervously.

"Has there been any more talk of the strike?"

"The men are very dissatisfied, and growing more so every day. They are
underpaid, and they know it; I believe they will strike eventually."

"Ho, they are underpaid, are they! You had better let Major Reay know
your opinion!"

"I have," said Jan.

"What?" Alan started upright in his chair.

"He asked me what I thought, and I told him."

"How did he take it?"

"Very coolly. He did not seem surprised. I have persuaded him to
consent to hold a conference with the men in order to discuss their
grievances. The men are very grateful to me for the service, although I
had to persuade them too."

Alan shrugged his shoulders. "You'd better not get too friendly with
them," he muttered. "Your bread is buttered on the other side. By the
way, has Miss Reay volunteered her help again, eh?"

"No."

"So I guessed." Alan's tones were now of dulcet softness.

"Indeed," said Jan.

"Yes. You did not confide to me the details of your last interview, but
naturally I drew my own conclusions."

"May I know what they are?"

"Oh, certainly! you offended her in some way, probably without being
aware; you are such a dullard."

"Thank you," said Jan. "On what is your opinion based?"

"On a fair acquaintance with your accomplishments, or rather, your lack
of any, and also on the fact that Miss Reay blushed when your name
was mentioned. Blushes may arise from other causes than offence, but
to me she appears far too sensible a girl to be interested to her own
disadvantage in a penniless detrimental."

Jan drew back his chair from the light. He was disconcerted, and he did
not wish the other to observe his agitation.

"You--you have seen her?" he stammered.

"I have. You seem surprised."

"Where?"

"At her father's house."

"Ah!"

"Ah!" repeated Alan, with a sneer.

"You did not tell me this morning that you thought of going!" Jan
exclaimed.

"And am I to ask your permission before I venture to call upon Miss
Reay? What is she to you, or you to her, that you assume an attitude as
impertinent as it is ridiculous?"

Jan, with a great effort, contained his indignation.

"We are the merest acquaintances," he answered quietly. "As for the
rest, I am glad that you have met her at last. Did you see the Major,
too?"

"He was there."

"What do you think of her, Alan?"

"Less than you do, thank God! You have tempted fate to destroy you by
allowing yourself to love that girl, Digby."

Jan's temper leaped into flame, and for a moment master his control.
"How dare you say such a thing!" he cried. "How dare you couple her
name with mine!"

Alan uttered a low grating laugh. "Touche!" he sneered. "Did you
think me blind?"

"No," retorted Jan, "but a gentleman."

"For that jibe, my friend, adieu to mercy. She talks of a ball."

Jan drew a deep breath and felt himself again; he shrugged his
shoulders and puffed silently at his cigarette.

"A ball," repeated Alan. "It appears that her father had intended
to give one some time ago, welcoming her return to Ballina, but she
persuaded him to postpone it until her feast day, which occurs next
week."

"So I have heard," said Jan.

Alan gave an ugly smile. "I have accepted her invitation to attend it,"
he said raspingly.

"Indeed!"

"Yes; I wish to study her male guests. She is so wonderfully excited
in the prospect, don't you know, that I have concluded there must be
some curious physical fascination--it can't be mental--about the native
boors in this district when a woman like Miss Reay can be stirred to
emotional delight by merely anticipating in imagination their rude
embraces."

"Stop!" said Jan commandingly. "Insult me as much as you
please--but----"

"My good fellow," retorted Alan, "I am following out a train of
thought. If you don't wish to listen, go to the devil. As I was about
to remark--I have not been able, so far, to detect the peculiar quality
that apparently is acting upon the mind of the lady in question. But
the mere fact that it has influenced her, presages its existence. My
only recourse, as a scientific investigator, is to observe the boors
themselves at the proper psychological moment. And that is my motive in
going to the ball."

"Have you done?" demanded Jan. He was white to the lips, and his hands
gripped the arms of his chair with savage force.

Alan gave an affected start. "My dear boy," he said with an elaborate
assumption of concern, "I thought you had gone. Naturally it must
be unpleasant for you to contemplate your inamorata cheapening her
divinity by allowing a score of wretched idiots like Taylor and Fanning
and that ilk to maul and fondle her under the flimsy pretext of the
dance."

Jan exerted all his strength, and was silent.

"She says she likes waltzing best," murmured Alan. "Most women do. Nice
cuddlesome pastime, a waltz. Keeling was charmed to hear it. I have
heard that he waltzes divinely. Handsome fellow, Keeling. The Major
thinks a lot of his ability. Did I mention that he was with her when I
called?"

"No." The word was dragged from Jan's lips.

Alan crossed his legs. "He was so, and they were progressing rapidly,
if I know the symptoms. He called her Marion--already."

"They were boy and girl together," muttered Jan.

"So I gathered. Keeling showed her an old photograph in which they were
depicted with his arm round her waist. She seemed quite affected that
he should have treasured it."

Jan for the first time smiled. "I have passed my salad days, Alan," he
said quietly. "You seemed to have forgotten that."

Laing laughed grimly. "You flatter yourself," he retorted. "You are in
love, and must eat the leek to the last straw before you can make that
claim good."

Jan essayed a desperate expedient. "Knowing what you know, I should
have your sympathy," he muttered. "And now for heaven's sake, let us
change the subject."

"Oh! of course; if you don't wish to hear what she said about yourself.
I was just coming to that, but it does not matter. What shall we talk
about--the weather?"

"If you please."

"Humph! I hope it will be fine to-morrow. It is unpleasant walking
in the wet, and besides, I'd hate us to trail muddy boots over the
'Folly's' marble floors."

"I beg your pardon!" gasped Jan.

"Oh, did I not tell you? I am sure I apologise, Digby. The fact is, I
have accepted an informal invitation on your behalf and mine to take
mid-day dinner with the Reay's to-morrow."

"Who gave you the invitation?" demanded Jan.

"The Major."

"Ah!"

"You seem fond of that word," commented Alan.

"Does it offend you?"

"Not particularly. By the way, you'll accompany me, of course?"

"I don't know yet."

"I do, though. You would not miss such a chance to singe your wings for
anything. Where the candle flickers the moth always flies."

"Don't make too sure, my friend."

"She is extremely pretty," murmured Alan. "Better for you though,
Digby, if her face were crooked, with narrow eyes aslant."

Jan got somewhat unsteadily to his feet. "Good night!" he said, and,
swinging on his heel, he strode into the house. But Alan's harsh
laughter followed him, and of all the things that he had heard that
night it was the hardest to endure.

Left alone, Alan stared fixedly at the starlit heavens until the oil
lamp swinging in the open hall behind his chair burned too low to
show the deep care-worn lines of his face and the twisted querulous
expression of his lips.

In the small hours, worn out with musing, he slept, and Jan found him
so next morning.

It had been Jan's intention to work off the humors of a restless night
by strolling to the sea and taking a dip in the breakers, but one
glance at his unconscious friend sufficed to change his purpose.

Sleep had smoothed from Alan's visage all traces of his former bitter
spirit; but, a treacherous sentinel, it betrayed him to the other's
watchful eyes as a man older by grief than years had made him, and
nearer death than Jan's affection cared to recognise.

Jan stood before him for some moments pitiful and irresolute, but at
length, touched with a sort of shame in his occupation, he put his hand
on Alan's shoulder and called on him to wake.

"You--you here! what is it?" cried Alan, starting up.

"You ought to be ashamed of yourself," said Jan severely. "Do you wish
to commit suicide, that you make your bed in open air?"

Alan stretched out his arms and yawned. "I'll take no harm," he said;
"the night was mild. Indeed, I feel better for my folly, if folly it
was."

"I am glad to hear it," replied Jan. "Do you feel well enough for a
swim?"

Alan gave his friend a curiously searching look. "My swimming days are
over," he said curtly; "but do not let me detain you."

Jan stepped to the edge of the verandah. "Were you serious last night,"
he asked, "when you spoke of lunching with the Reays to-day?"

"Perfectly."

"I have decided to accompany you," said Jan.

Alan smiled; yawned, and stood up. "Don't take too long over your bath,
then," he advised. "I have promised to be early at the 'Folly.' By the
way, Jan," he added in a lower key, stooping to examine his boots as he
spoke, "hang yesterday! Do you agree?"

"With all my heart," said Jan, and nodding to his friend he
straight-away departed.

Nothing more closely resembling explanation or apology had ever passed
between the pair, but seemingly each was satisfied. Alan's face wore a
gentle look as he watched the other marching into distance, and Jan's
blithe whistle might have been heard for half a mile around.




Chapter XIV.--Jan Pays a Visit.

Marion received Alan warmly, Jan with a reserve that he alone, perhaps,
appreciated. She was seated in an alcove of the drawing-room when they
arrived between her father and a man of middle age, whose face was
of surpassing ugliness. His eyes were small, grey, and piercing; his
nose was large, but flat rather than prominent; his cheeks were puffed
and flabby, and he possessed the jaw of a brute. At first sight he
resembled a bulldog, but a closer examination irritatingly suggested a
swinish ancestry. Seated at a little distance was Harold Keeling, whose
almost perfect male beauty afforded an eye-pleasing contrast.

Jan nodded to Keeling, whom he knew slightly, but the pig-like man was
a stranger.

Marion almost at once drew Mr. Laing aside, but the Major arose and
touched Jan's arm. "This is Mr. Digby, my new accountant, doctor," he
said, with a somewhat pompous air, turning to his ugly guest. "Digby,
my friend--the Hon. Dr. Culgin."

Dr. Culgin barely returned Jan's bow, but he looked him up and down
with a supercilious stare. Jan had frequently heard of the pig-faced
man. Dr. Culgin was the local M.P., and a Minister of the Crown in the
Central Government. Ballina was proud of him despite his ugliness, for
he was the first representative they had ever sent to Parliament who
had acquired a portfolio.

"I hear that you are a Radical--a supporter of Trades Unionism and what
not," he observed in harsh tones, pointedly addressing Jan.

"Indeed!" replied the young man. "May I ask who told you that?"

"Major Reay is my informant."

Jan looked in surprised fashion at his employer. "Have we ever
discussed politics, sir?" he asked.

The Major squirmed in his chair. "No," he answered in a hesitating
manner, "we have not; but I have heard that such are your views. My
foreman told me that you have subscribed to the funds of the Cane
Workers' Union--a body that has already caused me, and, indeed, all the
other growers on the river a lot of trouble. I have purposely refrained
from speaking to you about the matter in my office; because some of my
clerks belong to the union, and I do not desire my views to be publicly
reported. It would only intensify the animus that already exists on the
part of the men."

"Grasping idiots!" growled Dr. Culgin. "They are overpaid as it is, but
they will never be satisfied. They want the earth!"

"Are you a cane grower, Dr. Culgin?" asked Jan.

"I am, sir."

Jan met his gaze and smiled. "I guessed so," he said quietly.

Dr. Culgin's small eyes glinted. "You sympathise with the men, sir?" he
demanded.

"Partly."

"How far?" inquired the Major.

"Some of their contentions are unreasonable I think; for instance,
their desire to oblige the growers to employ only union men----" Jan
paused.

"Yes, sir; yes," cried Dr. Culgin.

The Major crossed his knees and looked at Jan with an expression of
subdued eagerness.

"Also," proceeded Jan, "I think they are wrong in demanding double pay
for overtime. They are not obliged to work more than eight hours a day,
therefore----"

"Get to the main issue," interrupted Dr. Culgin; rudely, Jan thought.
"Do you consider them underpaid or not? Yes or no?"

"That is not a question which I can answer quite as simple and
straightforwardly as you appear to wish," answered Jan. "You see," he
added, "I am neither a cane grower nor a cane worker."

The Major and Dr. Culgin exchanged glances.

"You are in the employ of a cane grower, though," said the latter, "and
in a capacity which demand that you should identify your interests with
his."

"Yes; but not necessarily my opinions."

Dr. Culgin shrugged his shoulders, and turning, muttered something in
an undertone to his host. The Major frowned, and Jan caught the words
"very young."

"No matter," retorted the doctor; "the fight must come sooner or later,
and it is always best to know your enemies. Those who are not with us
must be against us. You employ 2000 hands, and will suffer most. I
only keep 800 going, but I confess I am nervous of the issue, horribly
nervous. We have treated the brutes too well; half of them have money
saved, and if it comes to a strike they may be able to hang out as long
as we can. I tell you straight, Reay, you are a fool to permit your
upper underlings to have opinions."

"Hush, Jim," said the Major.

"Not I," growled the other; "I'm plain Jim Culgin, and I say what I
mean every time."

Jan eyed him imperturbably. "Your government is kept in power by the
Labor Party," he observed. "As you always say what you mean, and as the
Labor Party is on your side, I presume that the Labor Party has lately
abandoned its patronage of Trades Unionism."

Dr. Culgin's face turned purple, and his eyes flashed. "You may infer
what you like," he cried, snapping his teeth together with a clicking
sound. "You are a young ass who cannot see on which side your bread is
buttered, and yet you want to teach me politics! Pish!"

Jan flushed. "I beg your pardon," he replied; "I have no such ambition.
Indeed, I am anxious to be myself instructed. Forgive me if I err, but
it seems to me that you have two sets of ideas--one for the platform
and one for the parlor. The men whom you have just described as brutes
idolise your name because of your recent great speech in defence of
union privileges. I cannot understand. Will you explain?"

Dr. Culgin haughtily declined the invitation, but he looked thoughtful,
and a moment later he condescended to make a few remarks. "One must
differentiate," he declared; "the principle is all right, but its
application must be restrained. Workers who use their strength to
oppress indulgent masters are no better than criminals."

"I thoroughly agree with you," said Jan.

The Major clapped his hands. "Good, good!" he cried, his eyes beaming.
"I knew that you were on one side, Digby."

Dr. Culgin frowned. "Why the dickens, did you tell me otherwise, then?"
he demanded in irate tones.

"Because I hoped you would convert him, if, as I suspected, he was
leaning towards the men."

The doctor glanced doubtfully at Jan, screwing up his cunning little
eyes until they looked like beads. "The Major is mistaken, eh?" he
murmured. "You think the men are underpaid, don't you?"

Jan was surprised at his penetration, and quite at a loss to understand
the object of the inquisition to which he was subject. He fenced with
the question.

"I think they are paid very well, as compared with workers in many
other trades," he replied.

"Don't bother about comparisons--they are odious," said the doctor.
"Tell me this. Would you consider the cane workers justified in
striking for better wages?"

"I hope they will never have recourse to so violent an expedient."

"Won't you give me a straight answer to a straight question?"

"It is scarcely a straight question, Dr. Culgin; for in propounding
it you have disregarded the men's point of view, which is at least
worthy of consideration. They claim that the growers and manufacturers'
association reaps a profit so enormously in excess of the present total
cost of the production of sugar, that it can well afford to pay its
laborers, whose toil earns that profit, a higher wage than it could be
equitably expected, that less prosperous industries should bear."

"In other words, they demand a share of their employer's profits. But
is there any limit to their insolence? Perhaps they would like to turn
the industry to a co-operative business, and acquire a right to examine
our books and have a voice in the management of our affairs."

"Every business is co-operative at bedrock," said Jan. "It cannot be
otherwise. Capital and labor are indissolubly interdependent, and to me
it would not appear vastly unreasonable if labor were actually to make
the demand you have suggested."

"God bless my soul!" exclaimed the Doctor. "Reay, your accountant is a
full-blown Socialist!"

The Major sat staring at Jan as though he feared to trust the evidence
of his senses. "I had no idea of this," he muttered; "no idea at
all--I--I--you have amazed me, Mr. Digby."

"What is the matter, papa?" asked Marion, coming forward suddenly. "You
are looking dreadfully serious."

"Your father has just ascertained that Mr. Digby is a rabid Trades
Unionist, a declared Socialist, and perhaps an Anarchist in disguise,"
said Dr. Culgin.

Marion glanced smilingly at Jan. "He does not look very dangerous," she
said. "What have you been doing, Mr. Digby?"

Jan slightly shrugged his shoulders. "I have been sacrificing to the
goddess with the scales, Miss Reay, and Dr. Culgin has discovered that
I carry a bomb in each of my waistcoat pockets."

"Oh, do show me one!" cried the girl. "I have never seen a bomb."

A meaning smile turned the edges of the young man's lips. "I am afraid
I cannot oblige you," he replied. "I brought but one with me this
morning, and it has already exploded."

"With effects that will prove disastrous only, I trust, to yourself,
sir," said Dr. Culgin in grating tones.

Jan looked into the Doctor's eyes, and their expression left him no
room to doubt that he had made an enemy. "Thank you," he said coldly.

Marion was vaguely sensible of a spirit of antagonism in the air.
Anxious to create a diversion, she turned to her father. "Will you take
Mr. Laing to the tower, dad? He wishes to see the view."

The Major seemed greatly relieved. "Gladly!" he answered, getting
quickly to his feet. "Will you come, too, Doctor? This way, Mr. Laing."

Jan found himself alone with Marion, for during his encounter with
the doctor, Harold Keeling and Lena Best had strolled into the garden
through the open window. She took a seat upon a couch, and motioned
him to sit beside her. "I am sorry that you have quarrelled with Dr.
Culgin," she began, looking him frankly in the face. "I overheard most
of your conversation, although I pretended to be otherwise engaged.
That is why I came and interrupted you."

Jan could only say "Indeed!" He was greatly surprised.

"The reason," proceeded Marion, "that I am sorry is that the Doctor
has a great deal of influence with papa, and he is a vindictive man--a
terribly vindictive man."

"It is true that he gave me such an impression," conceded Jan.

"Ah! but you do not know him," said the girl. "There are some men
who are content to avoid the people they dislike. Dr. Culgin is more
energetic. When he dislikes he never rests until he has done his enemy
an injury."

"Oh! then you think, Miss Reay, that he will endeavor to injure me with
your father? I am obliged to you for the warning."

Marion lowered her voice. "I dislike him," she murmured; "I dislike
him so thoroughly that I advise you not to place too much faith in
my opinion. But I believe that he will try and persuade my father to
dismiss you."

"I shall be grieved if he succeeds," said Jan; "and all the more
because I fancy that I might be of service to your father in the bad
time that is coming. I have only been a short while among the men, but
strange as it may appear to you, and, indeed, it is even stranger to
me, they like me and trust me. It was at my request that they consented
to the conference which will take place next week."

"Do you really think the men will strike?"

"I am afraid they will, unless your father's association consents. Ah!
but that is impossible."

"And--and are you on their side, Mr. Digby?"

Their eyes met. Jan looked very serious, almost sad. "Yes," he
answered; "I have not openly sided with them, but I sympathise with the
most important of their contentions. They are underpaid. You will think
me a thankless loon?"

"You are honest, at least."

"I wish I could be otherwise," he muttered bitterly. "I have always
been the scapegoat of my own convictions, and I am likely to be again.
But you--what are your opinions?"

"My father's," said Marion, with a touch of haughtiness. "What he
thinks is law to me."

Jan shook his head. "A pity," he said briefly.

"No," retorted Marion. "It is a privilege. I am glad to agree with him
in all things, because he is most often right; but even when he is
wrong I am proud to share his error. There is no man like him in all
the world."

Jan thought who would win her must woo her father first.

"As for our men," continued Marion, after a pause, "I have no words
to express my contempt for them. They have never received anything
but kindness from my father's hands, not one of them. To many he has
behaved like a parent, paying for their treatment in times of sickness
if they were poor, helping them whenever they were in need, caring for
them all. He built the school for their children that is near the mill
at Broadwater, and he made them a gift of the land on which all their
churches are erected. Oh, they are cads to turn on him like this--cads!"

Jan knew that the Major's liberality had kept the men's discontent
for years in chains, but in his way of thinking the Major had merely
given back to his employees a portion of their own. It hurt him to hear
Marion speak so, but fearing to offend her he scarcely knew how to
reply.

"If they appear to you ungrateful," he said slowly, "I can assure you
that their action has not been without wrenching their own feelings; of
that, I am convinced. I have conversed with many of the men, and they
have all expressed a warm personal attachment for your father."

"You can defend them!" Marion exclaimed--"you can defend them!"

Jan colored, but his eyes did not fall. "How strangely we are
constituted," he said gravely, "we who pretend to be honest. Opinions
govern us--we dispute and suffer and die for our ideas. And yet--and
yet, which is the better plan--to swim with the current, or to battle
with the tide? To be sure survivors if hypocrites, or to strive, and
perhaps to sink at the nod of the phantom--duty?"

"I do not know," answered Marion coldly. "But I do think that you owe
some devoir to my father."

Jan nodded. "He shall never have cause to reproach me," he declared
with earnestness; "though it is possible he may reproach me without
cause."

Marion sighed. "I hope----" she began, then stopped herself abruptly.
"What a nice man your friend Mr. Laing is, Mr. Digby," she added in a
brighter tone.

"You like him?" cried Jan. "I am glad of that; he is a splendid fellow."

"He impresses me as a man with a sad history. There is about him an air
of mystery and melancholy that piques curiosity. He suffers from heart
disease, does he not?"

"He is dying," answered Jan. "The doctors say he cannot live another
year."

"How terrible!" exclaimed the girl, her eyes dilating. "Is there no
help for him?"

"None; his heart is almost worn out."

"Does he fear death?"

"No; he is waiting for it like a true philosopher, without hope
and without fear. I have never met a character more powerfully
self-contained."

"But his people? Why do they----Ah, but perhaps they do not know."

"His only relatives are distant cousins; his wife----" Jan paused,
biting his lip.

"His wife!" echoed Marion, looking at him intently.

"I had no right to speak of her," said Jan very gravely; "the word
slipped out. I must ask you, Miss Reay, to forget my indiscretion.
Laing would be inexpressibly mortified if he knew."

"I shall try to forget," murmured Marion; "but--but if you could trust
me with more still to forget I should be glad. I cannot tell you how
deeply I am interested; how deeply I pity him. Do you think you can, or
would you break a confidence?"

"No," said Jan, "not that; but Alan came out here to forget her and to
die in peace. I mention that to show you how important it is that you
should be silent."

"I shall remember. Indeed, you may trust me, Mr. Digby. Was she--was
she--unkind to him?"

"He worshipped her," Jan answered simply, "and she left him for another
man."

There fell a little silence between them, then Marion in hushed tones
asked, "Was she--very beautiful?"

"Yes."

"What--did--he--do?"

"He divorced her, so that she might marry her lover," murmured Jan. "It
cost him a thousand deaths."

"Oh! how could she treat him so; she deserves to be flayed alive!" said
Marion indignantly.

Jan winced. "I try not to blame her," he muttered. "I think that love
is at times a mind-deforming curse. I knew her from childhood, and
her nature to me seemed always sweet and wonderfully sensitive. But
from the day she met his enemy, her actions--ah, but I cannot speak of
them--she might have been possessed by a demon of selfishness. But who
am I to judge her? I have not yet been similarly tried. Moreover she is
dead."

"How pale you are," said Marion, looking at him strangely.

His eyes burned into hers. "She was my sister," said Jan, and rising
abruptly he walked with unsteady footsteps to the nearest window. He
was profoundly moved. Nothing had been more remote from his intention
one minute earlier than to make such confidence to Marion. It was
hard to realise that he had made it. In his whirling thoughts regret
and self-contempt struggled for first place. Had he been bewitched to
commit such folly--to voluntarily surrender to another an instrument of
torture, which in his own control was never quite at rest?

Then a soft voice breathed in his ear a message of blessed peace.
"Neither shall I judge her," it whispered; "I pity your friend more
than I can say; but ah! poor thing, no doubt she suffered too."

Jan turned to meet a tremulous sweet face that was upraised to his, and
two bright tear-glistening eyes.

Before, however, he could answer or move to take her wavering
outstretched hands, a sudden peal of satiric laughter rippled out quite
near them.

"For what charade are you rehearsing, Mab?" asked in a mocking voice
the owner of the laugh.

Marion swung round and faced her friend with a change of expression so
rapidly and complete that Jan feared to trust his memory. She seemed
transformed into another woman, and in a second. With smiling lips and
eyes she answered gaily:

"Not a charade, Lena. Do you think I would insult my genius so? No, a
play; and a Shakespearean play at that. But let me present Mr. Digby to
you. Mr. Digby--Miss Best."

Lena gave Jan the shortest possible of nods. "It's one o'clock, Mab,
and I'm as hungry as hunger," she remarked. "Your father sent me to
look for you--all the others are waiting in the dining-room. Did you
not hear the gong?"

"No, indeed; when did it sound? Not long ago, I hope?"

"What flattery, Mab; you grow quite brazen!" said Lena in mocking
tones. "Mr. Digby, you must contrive to spare me a measure of your
conversation; you must indeed. It is years since I have neglected a
meal call for a man."

"I would not for worlds have you risk so great a sacrifice on my
account, Miss Best," replied Jan; but his voice was so even, his manner
so perfect that, although Lena flushed angrily, she feared to resent
the insolent ambiguity of his retort.




Chapter XV.--And Makes an Enemy.

Jan had not expected to be placed near Marion, nor was he; but the
table was round, and he found that he could watch her without straining
his eyes. Joyce Templeton sat at his right hand, Lena at his left.
From the first the latter gave him the cold shoulder, but Joyce's
natural curiosity prompted her to talk, and Jan had much ado to fence
with her questions or answer them, for they were mostly personal, and
some were very nearly impertinent. He had just finished explaining
that his acquaintance with the law's correctional asylums was limited
to their exterior structural peculiarities, when looking up by chance
he encountered Dr. Culgin's eyes. They were bent upon him with an
expression of undisguised hostility. The Doctor was seated at Marion's
right hand. He smiled maliciously on meeting Jan's glance, and Jan knew
that he had been listening to the conversation.

"So you have never seen the inside of a gaol," observed Dr. Culgin.
"I do not know whether to congratulate you or not. I have inspected a
great number in my capacity as Minister, for they are in my department,
but I never liked the business."

The words were innocent of themselves, but his manner was gratingly
offensive, and Jan recognised a need to call upon his powers of
self-control.

"I have never so far wished to visit one," he answered quietly.

"Time enough; time enough," said the Doctor with a grin. "You are a
young man yet. No need to hurry."

Jan contrived to smile, though his blood was boiling. Alan Laing
went to his assistance. "Mr. Digby, I believe, thinks as I do on the
subject," he remarked.

"Indeed!" said the Doctor gruffly. "And what do you think, may I ask?"

"That persons who visit prisons merely for the sake of gratifying their
curiosity deserve imprisonment themselves for their brutal lack of
sensibility. The feelings of even prisoners should be respected."

Lena and Joyce exclaimed aloud; but the Major shook his head, and
uttered a disgusted snort.

"Rubbish!" cried the old gentleman. "There is too much clemency shown
nowadays to criminals and meretricious sentiment talked and written
of their feelings. I don't know what the world is coming to. I hardly
ever open a review that does not contain some penny-a-liner's article
advocating the abolition of capital punishment, the coddling up of
convicted ruffians, or the mitigation of the conditions of their
confinement. When I was a boy, men held saner views, and rascals were
treated as they deserved. If I had my way, I would re-establish the
lash, the pillory, and the stocks!"

"Quite right!" said Dr. Culgin approvingly. "The only way to stop
crime is to make the gaols houses of punishment, rather than hotels.
If criminals have feelings, which I doubt, advantage should be
taken of the fact to lacerate them in the public interest. I have
always held that the people who sympathise with rascals do so from
a fellow-feeling, and are potential criminals themselves. I have no
patience with that class." He concluded his speech by snapping his jaws
together as a terrier might over a bone, and he looked defiantly about
him.

Marion took up the challenge. "According to statistics," she declared,
"crime has steadily declined in every way since the abolition of the
more barbarous forms of punishing offenders. When the pillory was in
vogue the ratio of crime, in proportion to the population, was far
larger than at present. What have you to say to that, Doctor?"

"Merely, my dear young lady, that the decline you speak of has been
due to other influences; the march of civilisation, the compulsory
education of the masses, and the improvement in organisation of the
police. If to these factors there had been added a continuation of the
more rigorous methods of correction, which were unfortunately abrogated
by the soft-hearted folly of our ancestors, in all probability we would
not be troubled with a criminal class at all to-day."

"Bravo!" cried the Major. "A Daniel come to judgment. He has you there,
Mabs, my girl!"

Marion smiled. "Dr. Culgin is a veteran debater," she said sweetly.
"Small wonder that he should triumph over me--and yet even if he is
right in his contentions, I am of the same opinion still. I hate to
think that human beings, however wicked they may have been, should be
cruelly used. Personally, I would rather forgive an injury, than punish
the offender, and I would even rather have the millennium indefinitely
postponed than that crime should be utterly abolished by the influence
of terror and the torturing of unfortunates. You declared just now,
Doctor, that people who sympathise with rascals are potential criminals
themselves. I agree with you, but I think you do not go far enough. We
are all potential criminals if the old maxim is true, and I believe it
is--humanum est errare. Moreover, I can imagine circumstances under
which it would be infinitely nobler for any individual to break the law
than keep it."

"You argue like a true woman," replied the Doctor, gazing admiringly at
the girl's warmly animated face. "You seek to confound me by distorting
to your unassailable advantage the issue on which we fought, and on
which I beat you."

There was a general laugh, and the conversation drifted presently into
other channels, much to Jan's satisfaction.

The young man, however, took little part in it. The knowledge that
he had made a powerful enemy gave him food for reflection, and he
applied himself quietly to the task of observing the Doctor, seeking
to penetrate the mind of a man with whom he would be obliged to cross
swords for greater stakes than then. He soon discovered that Dr.
Culgin, whether in spite of his ugliness, or because he was possessed
of aggressive intellectual vanity, monopolised the attention of all,
and unasked, he related story after story of petty political adventures
in which his sharp wit had confounded his opponents or covered them
with ridicule. In these he displayed and seemed to glory in a delight
in outraging the sensibilities of others that was almost savage. He
expected applause for his anecdotes, and, indeed, his manner extorted
it. Even Jan, though occasionally disgusted, felt unable to deny the
intemperate demand of those fiercely watchful, pig-like eyes. But
though the Doctor was vain, inordinately vain, and though he frankly
gloated over the laughter he occasioned, Jan saw and felt that his
vanity was rather a buttress to his character, than a flaw in its
armor. The man was so quick-brained, so marvellously sensible, that
he appeared to divine, to know by instinct, the exact measure of the
appreciation in which he was held. That Jan's applause and Laing's were
ironical, that Marion's was grudged and deplored as soon as rendered,
that Lena's was unthinking and free from afterthought, and that the
response made by the others was heartily and admiringly spontaneous,
the Doctor knew. In some fashion, to himself inexplicable, Jan learned
this, and he perceived as well that Dr. Culgin keenly enjoyed playing
upon the divided feelings of his audience. His eyes gleamed with
malignant satisfaction whenever Jan laughed, but each such circumstance
pleased without placating him. His antipathy was manifest. "He would
like to crush me," thought the young man. "He is an ogre!" He felt
half hypnotised by the penetrating malice of those steely eyes, and to
avoid their persistent glances he looked at Marion. To his surprise
the girl watched the Doctor with wide open eyes, like one fascinated.
A sudden rage took hold of Jan. He turned and gazed straight at his
enemy. The Doctor did not pause in his speech, he went unwaveringly
on with the relation of his anecdotes, but by some electric species
of communication Jan understood that his thoughts had been divined,
and the Doctor's eyes gratuitously informed him that he, James Culgin,
loved Marion, and that he defied and laughed at Jan's rivalry. The
young man caught his breath and leaned back in his chair. "I am
dreaming," he thought; "dreaming! Oh, the fool I am!" But the Doctor's
gaze was now fastened remorselessly on his, and, in the little pig-like
eyes was a light of such uncanny understanding that Jan felt himself
thrill with sudden cold as though a chill hand had been placed upon his
heart.

The spell was broken by a laugh. Jan awoke as from a trance and
laughed too, not at the story, for of that he had heard nothing, but
at himself. How could such a thought have entered his mind--such
a groundless, fatuous suspicion? Dr. Culgin in love with Marion;
a man twice her age and devoted to politics! He laughed again,
growing rapidly convinced of the absurdity of his reflections. Then
a previously unnoticed circumstance struck him, and he frowned. The
Doctor was telling another story, but his eyes, which had hitherto
pursued Jan, now as resolutely avoided him. A chance word riveted Jan's
attention to the speaker, and thenceforward he listened intently.

"We hated each other like poison," said the Doctor. "But Nosworthy was
as cunning as a rat, and though we bickered at each other throughout
almost every debate, I could not draw him, try how I would. My chance
came at last, however. One evening when the House was pretty full, he
was foolish enough to twit me about my experiments in hypnotism. Now, I
should tell you that Nosworthy is a splendid subject--a highly-strung,
sensitive man, with a natural inclination to hysteria. His jibe raised
a laugh against me, but I laughed louder than the rest, for I knew
I'd got him--got him at last just where I wanted--in the hollow of my
hand." The Doctor gritted his teeth. "The poor idiot did not enjoy
his triumph long," he proceeded. "I tipped the wink of a few friends,
and directly the House adjourned I marched up to him. 'Look here,
Nosworthy,' said I, 'you have ridiculed my professional pretensions and
held me up to public scorn, under privilege. But are you man enough to
back up your words outside the House?'

"The imbecile thought for a moment that I proposed a prize-fight, and
he backed away looking the picture of terror. My friends roared, but
I treated him as if he was a woman. 'I wouldn't hurt you for worlds,'
I assured him, 'but if you really consider me the charlatan that you
have pretended, you should not be afraid to let me try my powers upon
yourself.'

"He did not like it a bit, but the others chaffed him so much that he
simply dared not refuse, and five minutes later I had him seated in a
chair before me in one of the committee rooms."

The Doctor paused and licked his lips, as though desirous of glutting
his palate with the incense of remembrance. Then he looked at Jan.
"He was, as I mentioned before, a good subject, Mr. Digby," he said,
pointedly. "He gave me some trouble at first, for he was on his mettle;
but in the end he went off like a lamb, and within 15 minutes he was at
my mercy."

"What did you do to him, Doctor?" cried Lena in excited tones.

Dr. Culgin licked his lips again. "I suggested to him that he was
intoxicated," he chuckled. "He was, as a fact, a leading light in
temperance circles. Well, we left the House in a body, and he gave
himself up to the first constable we met as a victim of whisky
straight. He slept that night in the cells."

"What a splendid joke," laughed Lena. "Oh! how I should love to have
seen it played."

"What had he to say when you next encountered him?" asked Alan Laing,
who had not laughed at the Doctor's story.

"He lost his temper and attempted to assault me. The Serjeant had to
remove him from the House. It was very funny. Members have called him
ever since the 'whisky-totaler' and the nickname will follow him to his
grave."

"I have always hitherto regarded practical hypnotism as a fable,"
observed Marion, with an air of seriousness.

"It is a science, madam," replied the Doctor. "I might almost say an
exact mechanical science. It is vulgarly discredited merely because it
has been unfortunately associated with charlatanry. I have, however,
spent years in investigating its phenomena, and I have found it
frequently of use in my profession."

"Could you put me into a trance, Doctor?"

"I or any other man, my dear young lady, who is acquainted with the
proper formula." He glanced at her sharply. "Yes, it would be easy."

"And how do you hypnotise people? Do you make passes with your hands?"

The Doctor frowned. "I leave such methods to stage quacks," he replied.
"No. My usual plan is to obtain my patients to fix their gaze upon a
revolving point of reflected light, say in a cut-glass crystal, and in
such a fashion as to slightly strain their eyes. Very little else is
required--indeed, a man may actually hypnotise himself, under proper
conditions."

"Goodness!" Lena exclaimed. "I thought it would be a mysterious
operation requiring wonderful special properties in the
operator--mesmeric powers, and so forth."

"That popular idea!" sneered the Doctor. "It will take a century to
eradicate it."

"But," objected Alan Laing, "does not the personal element intrude at
all? May, for instance, a subject become in turn the operator?"

"Quite easily, sir, to answer your second question first. But I grant
you that certain individuals will always prove better operators than
others. There is a mysterious natural property which human beings
are unequally endowed with, and which scientists, for the want of a
better name, call 'animal magnetism.' Those possessing it in a marked
degree must always, even by its unconscious exercise, influence their
surroundings. This quality scientifically applied, would no doubt be
of great assistance to a practical hypnotist, but it is by no means
indispensable to possess an overplus of it in order to produce the
ordinary phenomena of the hypnotic state."

Jan, who had not lost a word of this discussion, broke his long
silence. "I think that you possess an uncommon share of this animal
magnetism," he quietly observed.

"Yes; I believe that I do," replied the Doctor, with a conceited smile.

"Do you think that you could hypnotise me, Dr. Culgin?"

The Doctor regarded him attentively. "I think not," he answered
slowly. "Our natures are antipathetic, and your temperament is too
self-centred, stolid, and lymphatic. Imaginative, hysterical persons
make the best subjects. You are, I should say, of a rarely unemotional
calibre. Hypnotism is in reality an art of suggestion. It is possible
for a strong man to influence a weak one, even against his desire, but
where two matured wills are opposed the most skilful applied suggestion
must prove futile. I might put you into the hypnotic state if you
subordinated your will to mine, not otherwise."

"I am quite glad to know that," said Jan, with a smile. "It prompts me
to make a confession that otherwise I might be ashamed of. Do you know
that a few moments ago--while you were telling us a story, and while
you were, perhaps unconsciously, looking at me--I experienced a curious
hallucination. It seemed to me that your eyes transmitted a message
to mine. I fear that I explain myself badly, I should have said,
perhaps, that while you were looking at me I received a definite mental
impression of seemingly extraneous origin, for it concerned yourself
most intimately, and it was perfectly foreign both to my ideas and my
experience. As you have discovered, I am a singularly unimaginative
man."

As he concluded Jan found himself the cynosure of all eyes, but to his
surprise Dr. Culgin seemed positively startled. The Doctor was staring
at him with his thick lips open and his jaws slightly agape, a picture
of question and amazement.

"What was this impression?" he demanded gruffly a moment later.

"I could not inform you, except privately, without impertinence,"
replied Jan.

Dr. Culgin appeared to have completely forgotten where he was. With
a sudden crash he pushed his chair backwards and sprang to his feet.
"Come outside then, at once!" he cried, and strode heavily to the door.

Jan looked at the Major and then at Marion, uncertain what to do. The
others were gazing after the doctor in frank astonishment. But the
Major nodded to Jan, and Marion spoke.

"Yes, please go," she said. "This is most interesting, and in any case,
we have all finished lunch, I think."

Jan bowed and at once left the room. Dr. Culgin who was waiting in the
hall, impatiently seized his arm. "Come this way," he muttered, and he
half led, half dragged Jan into a small ante-room at the angle of the
nearest corridor. "Now," said he, as he slammed the door behind them;
"out with this impression of yours, quick!"

Jan detached the Doctor's hand from his sleeve.

"A little patience," he said quietly. "You are a man of quick temper,
Doctor, and I wish to protect myself from a possible assault." He
smiled. "I have said that the impression I received concerned you
intimately."

"Go on!"

"Before I relate it I wish you to absolve me from intention to offend."

"Tut--tut--tut----" clicked the Doctor, smacking his thick lips
together. "How much longer will you make me wait? Don't think you could
offend me!"

"Then listen. Your eyes said to me some such words as these: 'You are
insolent to look at Marion Reay. I love her. She is mine."

"Good God!" Dr. Culgin turned livid and staggered back a pace. It
seemed that the exclamation had been wrung from him against his will.
Jan would have been less surprised had the other struck him in the
face; "Is it possible?" he thought.

The Doctor, however, recovered his faculties with wonderful rapidity.
His face became convulsed with rage. He snapped his teeth together
and started forward, one clenched hand upraised as if to strike. Next
second his whole expression changed; quick as thought he turned, opened
the door, and passed out, filling the place with a volume of hilarious
cachinnations.

Jan stood for a moment speechless and utterly nonplussed. He then
slowly made his way back to the dining-room. The whole party was
grouped near the door about the Doctor's stout but imposing figure. Dr.
Culgin was speaking excitedly, and gesticulating with both hands. "He
calls himself a thought-reader," Jan heard him say as he approached;
"and yet the amusing ninny declares he read in my eyes that I am a
secret supporter of the Cane Workers' Union. He had actually the
impudence to propose that I should send, through him, an encouraging
message to the men, urging them to strike."

The suddenness of the blow paralysed Jan's muscles. He came to an
abrupt halt, and stood gazing at his enemy like a man of stone. But his
mind was awake and active. He knew now why the Doctor had laughed, and
he recognised to the full the evil sprightliness of the other's brain,
which could, even in a moment of passion and consternation, conceive
an ingenious plan for his adversary's undoing. Jan realised, moreover,
the hopelessness of his own position. Who would believe the Doctor
capable of such a lie? Who would not prefer to accept the word of a
Minister of the Crown to that of a remittance man? Truly, he was in a
bad case; for although he might deny, he could not prove, and neither
could he proclaim the truth of his disclosures to the Doctor. The
malignant triumph of the Doctor's little eyes irritated and aroused him
to action. With a gesture of contempt he withdrew his gaze and turned
to the others. They were watching him in silence that was absolute.
The Major wore a pained and startled look, for the old gentleman had
grown fond of Jan, and he was sincerely grieved at what he considered
his protege's rank treachery. Lena and Joyce seemed disdainfully
astonished. Alan Laing's brows were knitted in a frown, and his eyes
imperiously demanded an explanation. Harold Keeling's face was quite
emotionless, but his eyes were opened wide, and his attitude quaintly
suggested that of a runner waiting for a signal. Last of all Jan looked
at Marion. Her expression was passionately expectant. Her lips were
parted, but she seemed to hold her breath. Her eyes burned into his as
though seeking to read his heart and mind. A curious sense of comfort
stole into Jan's veins as he looked at her. He drew a deep breath
and spoke, addressing Marion exclusively. "Dr. Culgin has pleased
to exercise his wit at my expense," he said in tones both firm and
resonant. "There is not one word of truth in his statement."

"Who do you expect to believe that?" growled the Doctor.

Jan heard him, but did not reply, for Marion was smiling at him and he
knew that she believed.

"Who do you expect to believe that?" repeated the Doctor in a savage
voice.

Jan turned and looked him full in the eyes. "One person, at least,
sir--yourself! You have resolved to injure me. We both know why! Well,
you have the advantage now. I admit it. I know when I am beaten, and
I shall not waste time in endeavoring to wrest your triumph from you.
But, for the future, look to yourself. I know you as well, despite the
brevity of our acquaintance, as though we had been enemies for years."

"Of all the insolent----" began the Doctor. But Jan sternly interrupted
him.

"Silence!" he cried. "I am going. Wait!" For an instant their glances
fought, but it was Jan who won that battle. He turned slowly to the
Major. "Under the circumstances, sir, I am sure that you will excuse
me. Miss Reay, I wish you good afternoon."

He bowed, swung on his heel, and marched down the hall, his bearing
erect and proud as that of any soldier.

At the end of 20 steps for one half second he paused. The Doctor's
voice had reached him. "Well, Reay, may I be consumed by fire if that
fellow is not the most consummate and pachydermatous liar I have ever
met."

Jan flushed scarlet, but did not turn his head, and after that one
brief halt he strode in grim silence from the house.

Twenty minutes later Alan Laing found him seated, smoking quietly under
the shade of a mangrove that grew on the bank of a tiny wayside lagoon.
When Jan had told him everything, Alan nodded thoughtfully, but he
offered no remark.

"Of course the Major will dismiss me to-morrow," sighed Jan. "The fates
seem to have decreed that I shall not succeed in Ballina!"

"Do you intend to bow to the fates' decree?" asked Alan.

"No."

"What, then?"

"I scarcely know yet. The Workers' Union would give me a billet, I
think. The men like me, and to be frank, my sympathies are with their
cause. Besides, they need an educated man to lead them and teach them
to be moderate. The weakness of their cause is that they don't know
when to stop. A few small successes have made them over grasping."

"A false step," commented Alan. "If you join the men, you will play
into your enemy's hands. Such an action will be infallibly accounted by
the Major as a confession of Dr. Culgin's charges."

Jan gave his friend a wintry smile. "The Major is a single-minded man,"
he replied. "He believes Dr. Culgin--and nothing I might do or leave
undone would convince him of my innocence."

"I think you are right, Jan," said Alan suddenly. "Not in that, but in
another matter--that of your thought-reading. Dr. Culgin is in love
with Marion."

Jan's face paled. "Ah!" he muttered. "How did you gain that impression?"

"It's rather a memory than an impression," answered Alan with an intent
reflective look. "The man is so gross that any little refinement he
exhibits is remarkable. I remember now that whenever he spoke to Miss
Reay his voice sounded unusually gentle, and twice I noticed that
even in the heat of argument he did not treat her with his ordinary
brutality. Yes, Jan, I think it quite possible that he loves her."

"The only circumstance that makes my doubts persist," said Jan, with a
bitter little laugh, "is the man's evident whole-souled affection for
himself. Can he have room for another genuine attachment? I think not."

Alan shook his head, and neither spoke again until the Bungalow was
reached. Jan had his hand on the latch and was about to fling the gate
wide when Alan caught the rail.

"One moment," he said quietly. "I see strangers on the verandah. I have
a message for you, Jan."

"Yes?" said Jan.

"She wishes you to know that she believes--in you."

Jan did a curious thing. He took off his hat and turned his face away.
"Thanks," he said very softly. "Thanks, old boy."

Alan passed through the gateway and approached the visitors, smiling to
think that Jan had not asked him for a name.




Chapter XVI.--The Union.

Two burly, red-faced men were seated on the verandah, holding their
hats in their hands. They were garbed in immaculate black, but they
wore the broadcloth over their expansive chests with such an air of
apologetic unsuitability that it was easy to place them as workmen
masquerading in their Sunday clothes. On Alan's approach they arose
with nervous haste and looked ludicrously uncomfortable.

"We want to see Mr. Digby, av ye plaze, sorr," said the foremost in a
rich brogue. "Beggin' yer pardon, sorr, for makin' so free wid yer cosy
chairs."

"I hope you will resume them," said Alan genially. "Pray sit down.
Jan!" he shouted over his shoulder.

Jan hurried up. "Ah, Dennis!" he exclaimed, "you have come to see me?"

They shook hands, and the Irishman pointed to his companion. "I've
brought Jim McBean up to have a chat wid yer," he muttered, lowering
his voice; "a private chat. Jim, this is the cove we've been shpakin'
of--Mr. Digby--savin' yer prisince, sorr."

"I am glad to meet you," said Jan.

McBean turned a pair of greenish goggle eyes on the young man. "I've
heard nought but good of you," he said politely. "I'll be glad if you
can spare me a word in private, sir."

Alan smiled at Jan. "Take your friends into my study," he advised. "You
will be free from interruption there."

Jan nodded and led the way into the house. He shut the door and waved
his visitors to chairs, but both remained on foot till he was seated,
and even then only sat down under protest and upon the extreme edges of
the chairs.

"You are, I believe, the secretary of the mill hands, McBean?" began
Jan.

"Thrue for ye, sorr," said Dennis quickly; "an' Gran' Prisident of the
Cane Workers' Union as well."

Jan nodded. "Well what can I do for you?"

Dennis opened his eyes very wide, and scratched his head with a scrubby
forefinger. "Do--is it----" he began, but McBean interrupted him.

"Would you be so kind as to let me ask you a few questions, in the
first place, Mr. Digby?" he inquired.

"With pleasure."

"I'd like to know, sir, what prompted you to help Dennis, here, the
secretary of the Union, to draft the minutes of our grievances that's
going before the conference between the employees and workers next
week?"

Jan looked surprised. "Dennis asked me to help him, Mr. McBean. He
informed me that he had no experience in such matters, and I was glad
to be of use."

McBean nodded twice with the most solemn deliberation. He was a stolid,
heavy-faced man, evidently a slow thinker.

"There's a lot believe you helped him out of sympathy for the cause,"
he said gravely. "It's to find out whether that's so or not that I'm
here to-day. I'd like to know why, if you're not on our side, you took
the bother to persuade our council to a conference at all?"

"Well," replied Jan with a smile, "I should think my conduct on that
occasion should have put all doubts at rest. At the meeting of your
council which I attended I distinctly stated that I was a neutral."

"Yes, that's a fact, sir; but let me read you this minute."

He took a paper from his pocket, folded it out with great care upon his
knee, and then held it up close before his large short-sighted eyes.
"It's a question that was asked, and your own speech in reply, sir," he
said gravely, "as was took down in shorthand at the time. Hum--ha-am!
Mr. O'Flaherty: But, Mr. Digby, can you point out any advantages we can
gain from conferring with the employers' association? It seems to me
that there is a plain issue between them and us. We have made certain
demands--it is for them to grant or refuse them. Conference, to my
mind, spells delay, and we've had too much of that already."

"Mr. Digby: I have advised you to confer with your employers,
gentlemen, because it is my conviction that you should go in your
own interest to all lengths and even suffer manifest injustice
before wielding so violent and dangerous a weapon as a strike. Your
employers have offered to meet you and discuss your demands. If you
decline their proposal you will assume a position that the public will
regard as tyrannical, and if on top of that you decide to strike your
precipitancy will alienate from you the sympathy of a large proportion
of your well-wishers and best friends. The conference may prove
abortive, it is true; but nevertheless you will indirectly benefit, for
you will have displayed your willingness to settle your contentions
amicably, and you will have proved to the public, if afterwards you
strike, that you have done everything that could be expected of
reasonable men to avert so regrettable a calamity. You all appear to
feel very strongly that your employers will concede nothing to you, and
that their proposal to confer is merely a trick to postpone the strike
with which you have threatened them. Well, gentlemen, even if you are
correct in your surmise, I still advise you to meet them. To sum the
matter up in a few words: if you refuse to confer, public opinion will
infallibly condemn you, and you might as well, in that case, sing your
lamentations to the stars, for without the support of public opinion
any action you may decide on is foredoomed by failure."

"I had no idea that I had been so eloquent," muttered Jan as McBean
concluded.

"Eloquence is it!" cried Dennis. "Sure Dan'l O'Connell himself, of
blessed memory, cud not have shpoken better or more fluent like, or
used such a power of tremindous foreign-sounding worrds!"

McBean folded up the paper and returned it to his pocket. "When I first
read that speech, sir, I was more than sorry that I had not been there
to hear it," he said slowly. "Man never uttered truer words, sir, nor
more friendly. There was no call, sir, for you to have said half what
you did if your feelings had been with the other side. I thought that
then, and I'm thinking it now--though I'm no declaring but you've
changed since. I've noted often that gentle folk by birth and education
change their minds as easily as we workers do our clothes." He fingered
his outer garment as he spoke, and shifted uncomfortably on his chair,
then he added solemnly, "I've put the question to you, sir; it's for
you to answer if so be you wish to."

There was an air of conscious dignity about the man that won Jan's
liking, and he could not but respect the straightforward fashion in
which he had reached his point, even though it placed himself in a
quandary. Jan was still Major Reay's paymaster and accountant, and he
felt that until he was relieved of that position he had no right to
confide in the Major's adversaries. On the other hand, he disliked
sending McBean and Dennis away unsatisfied, for he had to consider
his bread and butter, and he shrewdly suspected that the men had
not approached him merely to ascertain his mental attitude. After a
moment's reflection he decided to adopt a middle course.

"I shall be frank with you, Mr. McBean," he said quietly, "that
is to say, as frank as I can be, considering the rather peculiar
circumstances in which I am placed. I am at present employed by Major
Reay, who, as you know, is President of the Cane Growers' Association,
in a capacity that demands the identification of my interests with his.
Having regard to the duties of my position, it is impossible for me,
as an honorable man, at this moment to discuss my opinions with you.
You have seen fit to draw certain deductions from a speech I made to
your council as Major Reay's representative. Well, I am bound to inform
you that my employer considers that I have failed in my duty to him.
Perhaps the first doubt of my integrity was occasioned by the speech
you quoted. However that may be, Major Reay is wrong. I can in all
sincerity declare that during the short time I have been his servant I
have held his interests above my own. Were I to continue in his service
I would continue to uphold and serve him faithfully. Owing, however, to
an unfortunate contretemps that occurred this afternoon, I am about to
quit his employ, and to-morrow I shall be a free man. More now I cannot
say."

Dennis sprang to his feet, his eyes gleaming with excitement.
"Begorra!" he cried. "Be all the powers, but that is right into our
hands. Jim McBean, d'ye moind that? He's leaving the Major to-morrow!"

McBean very deliberately arose and stood before Jan, a puzzled but
portentous mass of flesh and bone. "Why are you leaving?" he demanded.

"Because the Major believes that I am a unionist."

"But you are not!" cried Dennis. "The divil a bit, would you join us at
all, at all, for all my askin'? Would ye now, sorr?"

"No."

"I don't quite understand," said McBean with a frown. "You are no more
his servant than any one of us. What call has he to interfere with your
opinions. More than half of his clerks belong to the union, and he has
never tried to bounce them."

"The Major has not dismissed me," replied Jan. "It is even possible
that he does not intend to. I have resolved, however, to hand him my
resignation to-morrow morning."

The men exchanged meaning glances.

"It's not the loikes o' me as wud throw up six quid a week before I was
obliged," muttered Dennis.

McBean squared his heavy shoulders, and looked anxiously at Jan. "We
are badly in need of an eddicated man, sir, as would take us generally
in hand and represent us as our spokesman at the conference. Dr.
Culgin, our member, has offered to act on our behalf, but he is one of
the other side, though he got into the House on the Labor ticket, and
the men would rather have me than him; in fact, they won't have him at
any price, and I'm not saying they're far wrong. I'm not meaning to
belittle myself either, sir, and I dare say if the pinch comes I'd no
cut such a bad figure, but I'm not such a blitherin' fool, sir, as to
deny the advantages of eddication just because I never had any book
learning myself to crack of. But to put the matter in a nutshell. This
is the first big fight we've had, sir, an' I badly want the men to win.
I'm just a blunt Hielander, a wee bit over apt, maybe, to say straight
what I mean, ye ken, an' that wad na do, I'm thinkin' at the conference
amang a pack o' d----d double-dealing Sassenachs!"

Jan with difficulty suppressed a smile, for towards the end of his
speech McBean became greatly excited and relapsed into the broad
dialect of his native Highlands.

"I'm obliged to you for your confidence," he answered quietly. "At
present, however, I can only promise to respect it."

"Just so," said McBean, looking vastly disappointed.

"I am a Scot, too," proceeded Jan; "and I claim the national privilege
of being blunt upon occasions. I shall, therefore, now ask you to join
me in a glass of whisky, and change the conversation."

McBean was blankly astonished, and even Dennis, who, being an Irishman,
was more quick-witted than his cousin Celt, seemed a little dazed, but
when the decanter and the glasses appeared, a broad grin overspread the
countenance of either.

"It's the roight stuff--the crathur herself," said Dennis, smacking his
lips after a deep draught.

"Fra what part o' bonnie Scotland do you come, sir?" asked McBean, who
was sipping his liquor slowly and with half-closed eyes, the better to
enjoy it.

"I was born in Inverness," said Jan.

McBean nodded dreamily. "I've been there," he muttered. "I come fra
Inverlachy mysel', which is no far deestant. It's a pleasure to meet
ye, sir."

He put down his glass and held out a brawny hand which enclosed
Jan's in a grip of iron. "Good day to you, Mr. Digby; I respect your
scruples, sir, but--we'll find ye at home maybe to-morrow night?"

Jan nodded, and led the way to the verandah, where Alan was seated with
a book for company.

When they had departed, an odd-looking pair in their block hats and
ill-fitting long black coats, the tails of which disdainfully refused
to drape their figures, Alan Laing glanced expectantly at Jan.

"Your future appears to be shaping itself!" he observed.

"Yes."

"What will Marion say?"

"God knows!" said Jan, and with a gloomy frown he stepped from the
boards and sauntered slowly down the gravel path.




Chapter XVII.--Jan Sends in his Papers.

Major Reay was still occupied with his morning correspondence when
Jan's rather tremulous knock sounded on the office door. The machinery
was always silent for an hour after the Major's arrival at the factory,
and the old gentleman had not been seated half that time. He shrank
from answering the summons at once, however, although he heard it
distinctly. He was thinking that an unpleasant interview was before
him, and that he was growing old, very old. With all his heart he
wished that his son Jack were of age to relieve him of at least a share
of his responsibilities. He liked Jan, and he was about to dismiss
him from his service, and Jan was standing just without the door. It
was very hard on him that he should have to lose Jan. The fellow was
an excellent servant who saved him innumerable worries, a man who
loved work for its own sake, and who managed his underlings with rare
address. Why in the name of goodness could not the fellow have acted
sensibly and have suppressed his foolish sympathies? Even if the men
were underpaid--and the Major was inclined to think they were, what did
it matter to Jan? His salary was satisfactory, at all events. What on
earth, then, did the fool expect to gain by his folly? The Major shook
his head and knitted his shaggy brows together. The problem defied
his wits, but a sudden thought flashed into his mind. Perhaps Jan had
repented his offence and was even then waiting to apologise! In that
case he would show the young man that he could forgive, in spite of his
reputation for unbending sternness. Yes, he liked Jan! A light of happy
expectation came into his eyes, and he turned to the door on which the
summons had been impatiently repeated.

"Come in," he said.

Jan entered, on his face a look of respectful resolution. He closed the
door behind him and that action convinced the Major that he had been
inspired.

"Good morning, Jan," he said with a genial smile. "I'll not make it
hard for him--he's a proud young fellow, and we are all liable to make
mistakes," he added in his thoughts.

"Good morning, sir," replied Jan, advancing with a slight bow to the
desk.

"Well, well," began the Major, "you've come, no doubt, to tell me that
you regret your--ah--your--shall we call it--infatuation----"

The Major stopped suddenly, transfixed by a doubt. He had been looking
into Jan's eyes, which, in fact, did not encourage him to proceed.

"I have come," said Jan in tones of sorrowful gravity, "to tender
to you my resignation and to hand you the key of your safe. I have
balanced the books day by day. You will find them exact, and everything
in place. I need hardly say, sir, that I am grieved to leave your
service; I have been very happy here."

The Major discovered with a pang of surprise that he liked Jan more
than he had supposed.

"If you have been happy here, why the devil are you leaving me?" he
demanded gruffly, unthinkingly. A moment before he had been prepared
to accept an apology, he was now willing to overlook Jan's offence
altogether, if only Jan would stay on. "He saved me such a lot of
worry," was his excuse to his conscience, which did not approve his
design at all.

Jan had started with surprise. "Is it possible," he cried, "that you
believe me innocent of the foul charge that Dr. Culgin brought against
me yesterday?"

The Major believed Jan guilty. "I would not call it a foul charge," he
replied, anxious above all things to placate him. "The worst thing the
Doctor accused you of was foolishness, and--and, my boy, you must admit
it was stupid of you to do what you did yesterday. However, I can make
allowances. Because I am an old fogey now, you must not suppose that
I was not a young man once, or that I have forgotten what hot-headed
irrational and generous impulses govern young blood. You sympathise
with the men. Well, well, that is not entirely to your discredit." The
Major lowered his voice. "I don't mind admitting to you in confidence
that I consider them underpaid myself, and if I was not bound to the
employers' association my men would have nothing to complain of long."

Jan saw, but refused to grasp the olive branch. "If I had done what you
suspect, sir, I would be an arrant rascal!" he declared. "Because I am
not, I shall not take advantage of your indulgence. But this is a thing
I cannot understand, that you are willing to trust me further, when in
your heart you consider me untrustworthy."

"No, no," protested the old gentleman. "You make a mistake, which I am
ready to forgive. But do not persist, boy, in pretending what is not
true. Dr. Culgin is the soul of honor. I like you, but I have a duty to
my friend. Let the past bury itself. There--there--go back to your work
now, and we shall never refer to the subject again."

Jan was cut to the quick. He laid the key of the safe upon the Major's
table, swung on his heel and marched to the door. Next instant,
however, he returned, a storm beneath his frowning brows. "Major Reay,"
said he, "you have wronged me, and your kindness is an insult hardly
to be borne; I never asked your charity! You despise me, but I'll be
honest with you to the last. I leave your service to join the Union."

"Dr. Culgin foretold that!" cried the Major in a voice of thunder,
leaping to his feet as he spoke. "He foretold that, and I laughed in
his face. Do you hear me, Digby, I laughed in his face!"

"It showed that you had some belief in me, at least," retorted Jan, his
eyes flashing fire. "But trust me thoroughly or not at all. Dr. Culgin
is a vindictive liar, and he has tried to ruin me--for what purpose I
don't yet know. Laugh at him again, Major, and I shall serve you with
my heart's blood."

The Major's face turned purple. Dr. Culgin was one of his convictions.
He had known him as man and boy for 30 years, and he had received many
favors, political and otherwise, at the Doctor's hands. He had helped
Culgin to enter Parliament, and in spite of obstacles, the Doctor
had since that time faithfully exploited a policy which the pair had
hammered out on the anvils of their brains in the Major's study. The
Doctor was a rough diamond with many faults, granted; but the Major had
seen only the better side of his character, and he would rather have
doubted himself or the goodness of God than the Doctor's honesty.

"I prefer to laugh at you!" he answered with a sneer. "Are you a play
actor that you rhapsodise about your 'heart's blood'! Do I look as if
I need such service as that? As for what you have said about Culgin, I
think you must be mad--or perhaps you fancy that I am in my dotage. But
maybe you are something right in that, since I have been fool enough to
listen to you so long. Be off with you, sir. Be off, before I do you a
damage!"

The Major advanced threateningly on Jan, his face alive and working
with fury. But in proportion as the old gentleman's anger increased
Jan's had diminished, and he was by then cold and perfectly aware of
the mistake in his diplomacy.

It seemed over late to repair it, but he made the effort.

"I regret having attacked your friend before you, sir," he said
contritely. "I shall go as you bid me, but I should like, if it be
possible, to part from you in peace."

He extended his hand but the Major made no move to take it, although he
came to a stop.

"You intend to join the Union," he demanded.

"Yes, sir."

The Major bit his lip, and seemed to have some struggle with himself.
"Very good!" he said at last. "It is your affair. I make no comment.
Kindly shut the door after you."

Jan's hand fell to his side. He bowed and departed in silence, feeling
a most miserable outcast. He would have preferred to have been
dismissed with expletives, for the Major's rage was easier to bear than
his contempt.

The clerks watched him with eager curiosity as he emerged. They had
overheard some of the conversation. He passed down the room, however,
with a countenance so gloomily forbidding that none presumed to stay
him. Anxious faces peered at him from bales and casks and whirling
bowls. Jan paid them no heed, but when he had descended to the ground
floor and was about to quit the building, two burly figures separated
from the darkness and blocked his passage.

"Well, sorr?" cried the voice of Dennis.

"I am free," replied Jan shortly.

"But has the old baste raelly given you the sack?" asked the other, an
Irishman named McGuire.

Jan was in an ugly temper, and the question struck him as indecent in
that place. He faced McGuire with flashing eyes. "Is that the way you
speak of your employer behind his back? You are not fit to clean his
boots," he cried. "Out of the way, you blackguard!"

It has been so frequently remarked of the Celtic blood that it is
quick to take offence, that it is almost superogatory to describe
McGuire's retort. Jan heard an oath and a woman's scream. The latter
surprised him, but all he could see was a huge grimy fist held in vivid
silhouette before his eyes. The invitation, however, delighted his
angry soul, and he put forth much of his uncommon strength in answering
the challenge. There followed a groan, and the sound of a falling body.

"God save yer 'anner!" cried Dennis, who for all his Union principles,
was personally devoted to the Major. "'An old baste,' indade, McGuire,
me man, you've got yer desarts intoirely!"

Jan stepped across the prostrate figure and confronted Marion Reay, who
stood framed in a shaft of sunlight at the doorway.

"She screamed," thought Jan. "Then I need not defend myself, for she
has seen and heard everything."

"Good morning," he said aloud, halting bareheaded before her. "I am
sorry you have caught me in a brawl, Miss Reay, but I had no idea that
you were present."

"Surely you need not apologise," she replied, with a queer little
tremble in her voice. "If I am not mistaken, you chastised a man for
slandering my father."

"I am afraid I lost my temper, Miss Reay. The man used an ill word, but
I believe that he meant little harm."

The girl gave him her hand. "I shall never forget it of you, never,"
she cried, and Jan felt his fingers warmly pressed. They tingled, and a
delightful electric thrill quivered through his frame.

"It is nothing!" he muttered, and in a still lower key, "nothing to
what I would do--for yours--and you--if--if--a chance would offer."

Marion withdrew her hand and colored slightly, for his eyes were
glowing into hers.

"I must go--to father," she murmured. "You are going out--is it not so?"

"For all time," he answered sadly, and he stood aside for her to pass.
But Marion did not move immediately. She continued to look at him, her
eyes round with question.

"But father told me this morning----" she began. "He almost promised
me." She stopped, and it seemed that she found it difficult to breathe,
indeed to do anything but look at him. Her two short broken sentences
had not revealed very much to Jan, but they had shamed herself. She had
not wished to say anything like that. Would he presume to think her
interest too deep and frank--unmaidenly, perhaps? The reflection cost
her a torture of mortification and resentment. The girl was as proud as
Lucifer.

Jan said quietly, "He wished me to stay, Miss Reay, but he does not
believe in me. He will tell you the rest himself when you go up to him.
After that you also will cease to regard me kindly."

"No, no," said Marion.

He gave her a strange smile. "I wonder," he muttered.

"Why?" she demanded.

"Because your father governs your opinions. You informed me so
yourself."

Marion uttered a low, half tender, little laugh.

"Only about things," she answered, "such as politics, and--her cheek
dimpled--labor questions; not about people. The dear old dad is often
wrong about people."

"Then," said he, his eyes on the floor, for he dared not look at her,
"I shall hope that you will bow to me when you pass me on your way
home."

He was proposing an appointment to her. He knew that well enough, and
his audacity almost took his breath away. How would she reply. Reward
his boldness as it merited--or? Of a sudden, his knees began to shake,
and a sharp terror entered his heart to think how poignantly he cared.
He forced himself to look up, and lo--she was smiling at him.

"I was wondering where we should meet again," she said. "Au revoir,
Mr. Digby!"




Chapter XVIII.--The Rendezvous.

A little beyond the village boundary Jan discovered a suitable spot
wherein to wait for Marion. It was in the dry bed of a creek, an
ancient narrow waterway into which the road dipped and disappeared, a
space from view among a pretty grove of weeping willows. Jan plunged
among the second rank of trees and cast himself down under the shade
of a grand old trunk that appeared to have withstood the suns of
centuries. He could even yet hardly realise his good fortune. It
seemed the most marvellous of all strange events he had experienced
that Marion had not disdained him. It is true that she had consented
to the appointment under false pretences, before she was aware that he
intended to join the Union. He knew that, and he fully expected her to
pass him with unrecognising eyes. But the wonderful thing was that she
had not been angry at his request, and that she had not refused it.
Moreover, she had said, "I was wondering where we should meet again!"
What did that mean, if not that she had been governed by an independent
desire for his companionship? Jan turned a little dizzy at the thought.
It was too splendid a conclusion, and he turned to stifle it, but he
could not, and he was glad that he could not. A single cigar lasted
him an hour. He lighted it again and again, but it went out just as
often as though it were a humble rushlight, ashamed to burn before the
sun of his imaginings. He heard her coming while she was yet afar off,
for though her step was light, his senses were awake, and graspingly
acquisitive. He sprang to his feet and darted to the roadway. There he
could no longer hear, for his ears were filled with throbbing blood,
and a great question sang itself over and over in his mind to the time
beats of his pulsing arteries--"Will she stop and smile, or will she
frown and pass?"

Marion appeared at length, walking slowly and meditatively. Her face
was concealed by her sunshade then, but while descending the slope into
the shadows of the trees, she permitted the pretty lace confection
to fall behind her shoulder. She did not perceive him immediately,
for he stood motionless at the road's edge, his back to a willow. As
she appeared he held his breath, so keen was his anxiety. When almost
abreast of him her eyes, as if drawn by his gaze, turned aside to
behold him. She started slightly and stood still.

"Father says that you have resolved to join the Union," she said
quietly. "Will you tell me why?" She closed her sunshade.

Uttering a sigh of relief, Jan removed his hat.

"As it became impossible to remain in your father's service, it
concerns me to look elsewhere for employment."

"Are your motives so sordid, really?" Marion's lips curled as she
looked at him.

"No," Jan replied; "they are not. My sympathies, as I told you once
before, are with the men, and naturally I prefer to fight with the side
that I desire should win. If your father had not believed the calumny
that Dr. Culgin put upon me, I should have continued to uphold his
interests to the best of my ability. I would have been wrong to do so,
I admit, but I am by no means perfect; and I am weak as a reed before
the claims of gratitude. I confess that I deserve on that account the
contempt of any person stronger than myself."

"That is all very well," said Marion; "but I see no reason why you
should fight at all."

"The men need my help."

"And father?"

"He certainly does not! He represents an association of rich and
educated gentlemen who have united to resist the demands--some of which
are patently legitimate--of a large body of poor and ignorant workers,
the bulk of whom can barely sign their own names, and not one of whom
can be described as anything but illiterate."

"In other words, my father is a cruel monster, who is drinking the
blood of the poor and ignorant; and you are a modern Saint George, who
proposes to fight and overcome this dragon!"

Marion's eyes glittered and her cheeks flushed. Her voice rang with
scorn to accentuate the sting of her words.

Jan turned very pale. It seemed to him that he stood upon the very
brink of a precipice. "Your father is a noble and high-minded
gentleman," he answered slowly. "If he were not bound to the
association, I feel sure that he would redress his employees'
grievances at once."

"What right have you to suppose that?" demanded Marion. She watched
him keenly as she spoke, for the Major had informed her of all his
intercourse with Jan, and she knew that the Major had told Jan in
confidence that he considered the men underpaid. With deliberate intent
Marion was testing Jan, and she felt that if he failed she would
despise him.

She saw him hesitate, and her interest grew breathless, almost
passionate. Jan, however, had not dreamed of betraying the Major's
confidence, even to his daughter. His hesitation arose from his
reluctance to terminate the interview--for he thought that Marion would
leave him when he answered.

"None," he muttered at last. "I believe it---that is all." He was
looking at the ground, expecting her to say "Good-bye."

Marion was thinking that she had never met a more honest and admirable
man; how handsome he was, too! She envied him the long straight black
lashes that shaded his downcast eyes. Her lashes were long, but not so
effective, for they curled. She wondered did he think her beautiful.
She thought that perhaps he did. She knew he liked her. What a pity
they must be enemies! But must they? She wondered if they must. What
was he considering, staring so long at that flat, ugly pebble? Perhaps
he fancied that she was really offended with him. Well, she would
remove that impression, at least.

"Of course, I know that you like my dear old dad," she said aloud.

He started and looked up at her, but she avoided his eyes. "I wish that
you would not join the Union," she murmured softly, digging holes in
the ground, as she spoke with the point of her sunshade. "Of course I
know how you feel, but surely they could get someone else to help them
from the city. Must you join them?"

"Will it please you if I do not?"

His voice was so charged with emotion that Marion was startled. His
eyes, too, contained an expression that she had never seen in them
before, and after one quick glance into their grey but glowing depths,
she turned away with a thrill of sudden apprehension. "Can it be that
he----?" There followed a hiatus in her thoughts, and then they cried,
"Impossible--and yet!" Her heart beat very quickly. She scarcely
understood herself or the strange half pleasurable and yet painful
sensations she experienced. Why was it that she wished suddenly to
run away or hide herself? Surely she must be a foolish creature to
dream such things--ay, vain and even wicked! "Will it please you?" she
repeated in an underbreath, as if asking herself the question. She
discovered unexpectedly that it would not, although she did not in the
least know why. Something compelled her to be quite honest with the man.

"No; it would not please me," she replied aloud. "I would not respect
you if you sacrificed what you consider a duty to please anyone. I do
not quite know why I asked you."

They were looking into each other's eyes again. Jan smiled and said.
"That is the most friendly speech that you have ever made to me."

"You would not have consented--to please me?" asked the girl.

"No."

"Then why did you ask me that?"

Jan put temptation resolutely behind him. "I was wondering what might
be the price of your friendship," he returned. "But I did not doubt you
in the least. You could not tolerate without esteem, could you?"

"No."

"Our opinions are opposed," proceeded Jan. "But need we be enemies on
that account?"

"I don't know," replied Marion, with a doubtful look. "I think,
perhaps, we ought to be."

"The Bible teaches us to forgive our enemies, and--and to like them,"
he muttered.

Marion withdrew her eyes, and he watched the color creep into her
averted cheek.

"I have nothing to forgive you for," she said.

"Then," cried he, "how can we be enemies? for neither have I anything
to pardon in you. Nor do I hate you, but--but--perhaps you hate me, do
you?"

Marion shook her head.

"If that is so, what is there to prevent our being friends?" he
demanded boldly.

"I don't know," said Marion.

"There is nothing," declared Jan with emphasis; "absolutely nothing,
except the wish to be wanting in you."

Marion flashed a glance at him. "And if that be wanting?" she asked
with an alluring challengeful smile.

"Let us be enemies," he retorted sharply. "Indifference is the most
hateful thing on earth."

Marion felt a little giddy, and before she could collect her thoughts
for a reply an interruption came. A loud and strident voice was
speaking quite close at hand, and every word it framed was distinctly
heard by both.

"My dear Miss O'Gorman Flynn, I assure you that I could not have put
the matter more clearly myself. It is evident to me that you have an
uncommon talent for debate."

"Good heavens!" cried Marion, turning pale. "Dr. Culgin and Miss Flynn.
They will find us here!"

"There is time," suggested Jan, with a gesture towards the willows.

Marion hesitated for a second, then proudly raised her head, "No!" she
said decidedly. "Not even to save myself from that lady's malice. We
have nothing to be ashamed of."

Jan thanked God in his heart for that "we," but he said nothing, though
he looked at her admiringly.

"She detests me," said Marion, "and she is the meanest gossip in the
neighborhood. But I shall not run away from her."

"But I may," replied Jan, and he turned to go.

"Don't dare move!" cried the girl, in tones of repressed passion.

He stopped. "To save you annoyance, anything. Please allow me!"

"No."

Dr. Culgin's voice reached them again, and this time accompanied with
the sound of footfalls. "Certainly, my dear madam; certainly."

"Two machine guns would fix them, Doctor," piped a thin female treble.
"If I were you, I should send for some at once. Maxims, for choice!"

At that precise instant the Doctor and his companion appeared at the
top of the slope. They stopped short, silent and transfixed, but
neither Marion nor Jan appeared to be aware of their existence.

"Do you want them to speak to you?" asked Jan in a low voice. "Would
you prefer to walk on? We need not let them overtake us."

"To what end? The mischief is done! No, we must brazen it out."

"They are coming," whispered Jan; he added in clearer tones, "Even if
the men decide to strike, Miss Reay, you may be sure of this--they are
too much attached to your father to dream of injuring his property.
Many, moreover, have families to support, and that circumstance will
prove a strong factor to prevent them from committing other deeds of
violence."

Marion caught his meaning, and gave him a look of gratitude. "I hope
that you will exert your influence to restrain them," she replied.

"That is my principal object in joining the Union," said Jan. "I shall
work for that end, should the worst come to the worst, with all the
power I possess."

Dr. Culgin and Miss Flynn were by then at hand, and Marion felt that
she could no longer ignore them.

"Ah, Doctor," she said lightly, "you have been for a stroll into the
town, I see."

Jan lifted his hat in acknowledgment of Miss Flynn's presence, and
stepped back a pace or two. He could see at a glance that Dr. Culgin
was annoyed.

"I have been unfortunate enough to miss you in the village," said the
Doctor. "I called at the factory but you had just gone. I shall now,
however, be glad to escort you home."

"In that case I shall bid you good-bye, Doctor, or rather au
revoir," struck in Miss Flynn. She held out a bony hand, which the
Doctor grasped. "A bientot," he replied. "I shall look forward, my
dear madam, to continuing our argument at an early date."

Miss Flynn smiled sweetly and sailed away, giving Marion the cut direct.

Dr. Culgin looked hard at Marion. "Come!" he said, his tone
proprietorial in the extreme.

In the girl's cheeks two bright pink spots appeared.

"Thank you, Doctor," she said coldly. "I must beg you to excuse me, I
have yet some business to discuss with Mr. Digby."

The Doctor showed his teeth in a grin of angry astonishment. "What
business, my dear young lady, can you possibly have to discuss with
your father's discharged servant?" he demanded.

Marion's eyes sparkled. "If you remain you will no doubt be able to
satisfy your curiosity," she retorted icily.

"I certainly shall remain!" The Doctor snapped his jaws together. "If
only because I am your father's friend, and because on that account I
have a regard for his daughter's reputation. Now for this business."

Marion had never been addressed with insult before, and she found the
experience more painful than her dreams. She wished to reply, but a
hysterical lump arose in her throat, forbidding speech. She turned with
pleading gesture to Jan, tears of mortification in her eyes. Jan Digby
had this trait in his character, he despised words when actions seemed
necessary and were possible. He strode forward and laid his right hand
upon Dr. Culgin's breast.

"Keep off, you scoundrel!" cried the Doctor, but then he met Jan's
eyes, and a curious thing happened. He began to move backwards along
the road without struggling and in perfect silence. It seemed to him
that an iron vice had grasped his shoulder near the collar; he obeyed
its guidance at the direct instance of Jan's eyes, which said plainer
than tongue could speak, "Do you want me to murder you? It would be
very easy for me to gratify such a wish." Fifty yards further on he
began to climb a slight rise of ground, still walking backwards. Having
arrived at the top, he was suddenly spun round. A second later he
uttered a howl of pain, and set off towards the Major's "Folly" at a
run. His pace moderated very soon to a brisk walk, but he did not look
back; for if not the fear of God, that of man was in his heart, and he
desired above all things not to see Jan Digby ever again, unless it
might be with a hempen collar about that young man's neck.

Jan watched him, smiling cruelly. His face was white, but strangely
composed. Not until his enemy was quite a distance away did he return
to Marion.

She was standing where he left her, and her bosom was heaving with
slow, deep sobs.

"He has gone," said Jan very softly.

She looked up at him with tear-blinded eyes. "Do you wonder that I
dislike him?" she muttered. "How could he insult me so?"

"He will not again," said Jan with deadly earnestness. "He will not
dare. He is a coward, and he knows that I would kill him if he dared!"

Those words, and the tone in which they were uttered, made Marion's
heart beat and thrill as it had never done in her remembrance. She
began to feel too a warm and grateful sense of a power protecting her.
Every woman, however self-reliant, has an innate instinct of physical
dependence which makes her glad at times to lean upon a strength
obviously greater than her own. Dr. Culgin was a big man, and of much
grosser build than Jan; but Jan had quelled him so easily, so very
easily. How splendidly strong, then, must Jan be! If only Jan might
protect her from the consequence she foresaw--the wagging of the
tongues at Ballina, set in motion by her enemy, Miss Flynn, and her
father's anger--for the Doctor would, without doubt, strive to cause
her trouble at home. But at that thought Marion's tears began to flow
anew, and her dignity broke down altogether.

"He will tell father lies of me," she cried. "I know he will,
and--and--father will believe him. Father wants me to marry him!"

Jan started, and turned rigid. "To marry him!" he gasped. Then he had
divined aright!

"It is true," said Marion.

Jan looked at her and lost his self-control. Her tears so wrung his
breast and so mocked at his resolution to be wise.

"Marion!" he cried. "Marion, for Heaven's sake do not cry!" He was
shaking like a man taken with an ague.

The girl caught her breath, and, as it were, by enchantment her tears
stopped flowing and her countenance grew calm. His voice had quivered
like an echo of magical remembered music through the inmost chambers of
her heart. For a long moment they gazed at each other searchingly, and
then Jan spoke.

"You are the dearest woman on God's earth!" he said softly.

A wonderful expression transfigured the girl's face. She appeared as
one knocking on the door of some exquisite adventure from which might
be expected happiness inconceivable, or woe, or even something still
more mysterious and infinite, and, therefore, terrible. Nothing more
beautiful had Jan seen, and the same feeling of religious awe possessed
him which seizes the sensitive devout in consecrated places.

"I love you!" he said simply. It seemed to him that he prayed, and that
a divine spirit answered him through the girl's eyes.

Marion swayed a little towards him, her lips parted, her hands
tremblingly outstretched. So for an instant, then, with a stifled cry
she drew herself erect, and before he yet had understood her yielding
impulse or could follow the swift change in her mind from self-oblivion
to awakened fearful maidenhood, she turned and fled. Intervening trees
concealed her quickly from his view, but Jan neither moved nor spoke,
and an hour passed before he left the grove.




Chapter XIX.--Marion's Confession.

When it became generally known that Jan Digby, the remittance man, had
left the Major's service and had been appointed Chief Secretary of the
Cane Workers' Union, Ballina was delighted in its soul. The Major was
pitied, of course, but Ballina had warned him of Jan's character, and
since he had deliberately chosen to fly in the face of Providence, it
was really his own fault, and he must not expect not to be laughed
at. "I told you so," became a form of greeting in the streets that
threatened to permanently eclipse older ceremonials such as--"Good
day!" or "How d'ye do!" Ballina was, in fact, so charmed because its
bete noir had apparently justified universal opinion, that it began
to feel almost grateful to Jan and to manifest towards him a sneaking
sort of admiration. It was suddenly ascertained that he was a cunning
fellow who knew quite well how many beans make five. No doubt but that
he had used his position and the Major's confidence to worm out all the
secrets of the sugar business. If that were so, then equally, no doubt,
Jan had discovered some fatal weakness in the Employers' Association
which had induced him to desert and join the Union as the stronger
side. Ballina regarded self-interest as the only factor worthy of
consideration in adjudicating on the acts of man. Ballina, therefore,
began to think it possible that if the men went out on strike, the men
might win. Hitherto Ballina had denounced the workers' grievances as
absurd and their demands as immoral. It straightway adopted a broader
view. Some of the Union's contentions were fanciful, true; but the men
were certainly underpaid. Ballina was intensely human. It hated the
thought of a strike, because of the consequent injury to trade; but if
the strike came, why, then it wished to bark with the top dog.

Dr. Culgin, in his pose as father of the people, went everywhere, and
he kept the family at the "Folly" fully conversant with the trend and
intricacies of local opinion. Particularly savage were his comments
thereon in the Major's private study; the Doctor, however, in public
pretended to be a neutral. His visit to the district had a two-fold
purpose. He had come in the first place to try and avert the strike;
secondly, to persuade the people to promise him their suffrages at
the forthcoming elections. Now, as each member of the Union possessed
a vote, under penalty of committing political suicide he dared not
openly defy the Union. His position was, therefore, difficult, to say
the least of it; for being a large employer of labor and an intensely
selfish man, his sympathies were wedded to his pocket; and although
not a member of the Employers' Association, he was in secret its most
vigorous supporter.

Jan Digby's championship of the worker's cause had first aroused the
Doctor's enmity. This had been converted into absolute hatred by a
suspicion that Jan loved Marion. Dr. Culgin had made the great initial
mistake of despising his enemy. He had thought to easily ruin Jan by
persuading the Major to discharge him. The news that Jan had been
appointed Chief Secretary of the Union came as a shock, for which
he was entirely unprepared. He had confidently relied on persuading
McBean, President of the Union, to appoint himself with full powers to
be the Union's representative at the conference, in which case he would
have cheerfully betrayed the men's interests and have subsequently
cajoled his victims with rhetoric, and with hypocritical promises to
redress their wrongs by legislation.

He perceived at once that he could no longer expect such a facile exit
from his dilemma. Jan would take care to prevent that, but what next?
After their last distressing interview, Dr. Culgin could not think of
Jan without a shiver of repulsion and fear. The scoundrel had dared to
kick the sacred person of him, James Culgin, a Minister of the Crown.
What, then, would the villain not dare? A horrible suspicion seized the
Doctor that Jan might even undermine his influence with the voters and
oppose him as a Labor candidate at the next elections!

Dr. Culgin hardly knew what to do. He resolved at last, for want of a
better plan, to play a waiting game, and in order to relieve the tedium
of inaction, he made a personal canvass of the townspeople day by day,
leaving not a house or cottage unvisited. In this fashion he collected
the information which he retailed at night in private to the Major,
from whom he did not disguise his increasing dread that Jan would
defeat whatever hopes both entertained of victory at the conference.

As Dr. Culgin had not thought it necessary to confide to the Major
the story of the indignity he had suffered at Jan's hands, the old
gentleman often wondered at his friend's rancor. On the evening
preceding the day appointed for the conference, the Doctor felt so
bitter that he ventured to attack Jan at the dinner table before
Marion, an indulgence which he had not permitted himself for several
days, hoping by his magnanimity to please the girl whom he wished to
marry. The Major, however, had just informed him that the Union had
made Jan their official delegate, and at the news his wrath bubbled
over.

"It is a scandalous shame that you should be obliged to meet and
be civil to that ruffianly renegade!" he cried with a scowl, and a
characteristic snapping of his jaws. "This is the last straw with a
vengeance. Mark my words, Major, the conference will prove abortive!"

"Hum!" said the Major. "I don't know but that I would rather argue with
Digby than Jim McBean. Digby is a temperate man, at all events, while
the other is a pig-headed Scotch-man."

"Digby is the scum of the earth--an ill-bred unprincipled, vagabond
adventurer," snorted the Doctor. "McBean may be a fool, but he is an
honest man."

The Major looked surprised. "I'm afraid, my dear James, that you are
not quite just to Digby," he observed in tones of gentle remonstrance;
"I can't see why you should have such a 'down' on him. How has he
offended you?"

"I have no patience with a hypocrite," snapped the Doctor. "Besides,
is he not a remittance man? And is not that prove positive that he is
a rascal? Why should his relatives pay him to keep out of England, if
they are not ashamed of him?"

Marion could no longer remain silent. "Are you sure that his relatives
pay him to keep away from England?" she demanded.

"Certainly! He is a remittance man!" The Doctor's venomous little eyes
pierced the girl. "Everyone knows that; he has never denied it, and the
term has only one meaning that I have ever heard of."

"That you have heard of!" repeated Marion with heightened color. "It is
possible, however, that Mr. Digby, who is a new arrival in the Colony,
is unaware of the opprobrious signification that the expression has
acquired here. It is also possible that his income is not derived from
his relatives at all."

The Doctor shrugged his shoulders. "Possible, perhaps!" he sneered,
"but most unlikely. Believe me, Marion, you will be wise to take no
further interest in this--person. I grant you that he is, physically
speaking, a man whom bread-and-butter missies might be excused for
championing, but his character is detestable--and you are not a
bread-and-butter missy."

"Even at the risk of hazarding the loss of your good opinion, Doctor,"
said Marion, with sarcasm. "I dare assert that Mr. Digby is an
honorable gentleman. I do not regard him as a renegade at all, and
while I am sorry that he has joined the Union, I consider his motives
praiseworthy."

"His motives! His motives! Are you in his confidence?"

"I am."

"Marion!" exclaimed the Major. "How is it that you have not told me
this before?"

Marion looked gravely at her father. "Because we think differently
about him, daddy. You believe him to be dishonest. I do not!"

"It is the first secret you have kept from me," said the Major. He
spoke lightly, but his glance was full of reproach.

Marion flushed painfully. "Not a secret, daddy," she protested.
"Indeed, not that. I began to tell you about it long ago, but you would
not listen; you said you did not want to hear his name."

"What did he pretend his motives were?" asked the Doctor in grating
tones.

Marion smiled. "He pretended nothing, Dr. Culgin."

"What did he say, then?" The Doctor bit his lips in order to contain
his rage.

Marion smiled again. "Did you not hear?" she asked softly. "If I
remember aright, you were quite near us while he was explaining. He
spoke for all the world to hear. Ah, but I forget; you left before he
had quite finished, although I invited you to stay."

Dr. Culgin's face swelled and turned purple. But his fury was so great
that he feared to trust himself. Muttering some excuse, he pushed back
his chair and hurriedly left the room.

The Major looked in astonishment to his daughter for an explanation.

"What ails the man?" he cried.

"Temper!" said Marion with a placid smile.

"But why on earth----"

"It was this way, daddy. I was speaking to Mr. Digby the other day,
when Dr. Culgin came up, and he was very rude to me. He almost ordered
me home----"

"What--my girl?" The Major sat bolt upright on his chair, and his eyes
flashed fire.

"He did, daddy, truly; he was jealous, I suppose."

"Oh! and what did you do?"

"Nothing, but Mr. Digby made him go away. He is very strong."

"Did Digby strike him?"

"I don't know, daddy. My back was turned, but I do not think he did."

The Major looked very thoughtful. "So!" he muttered, "so that is why he
hates Digby, of course. Hum! ah! But, my dear, I am angry with you."

"Why, daddy?" Marion's expression was angelically innocent.

The Major frowned. "It was wrong of James to be rude to you," he
declared; "but, my dear, you had no right to twit him with the affair.
James is a very sensitive man, and as he seems to have cut a poor
figure on that occasion, he will feel your remarks all the more keenly."

"Then I am sorry, dad! Do forgive, me, dearie, won't you?"

"James is the person to whom you should apologise, my dear, and you
must do so at once. I cannot have you quarrelling. Not only is he our
guest, but you know, my dear, that I have destined him to be your
husband."

Marion made a rebellious little moan. "You speak like a dear,
tyrannical old fate personified," she answered, smiling. "I shall
apologise to him if you wish, daddy, for I hate quarrelling myself.
But, daddy----" she paused, and the smile faded from her face.

"Yes, dear."

"I want to get that notion out of your sweet, silly, wise old head,"
she smiled again.

"What notion?" demanded the Major, frowning heavily.

"I would rather die a maid than marry James Culgin," said Marion with
sudden earnestness. "No, please listen to me a moment, dear. You must
not interrupt. I know how wise you are, and that you have arranged this
plan for what you believe is my good. I know, too, how much you respect
and like and trust the Doctor. Indeed, you may be right, and he may
be the best man in the world; and I admit, too, that it would be hard
for me to find a husband of better social position and more brilliant
prospects. But, daddy, I do not care for him, and you wish me to be
happy, don't you, dear?"

"Of course, Mabs; but, my dear girl, can't you see that James possesses
all the substantial advantages upon which permanent happiness
depends--wealth, social position, power, good prospects, and a sterling
honest character. Any woman could be happy with such a man. You are far
too sensible a girl to fret long because he is not handsome. When you
marry him you will soon grow proud of him, because you will see that he
is universally respected; and, besides, he loves you, and will be good
to you. Yes, Mabs, I am sure of that. I would give you to James with
a tranquil heart; I have known him since he was a lad, and though he
has many faults, there is no real harm in him. I can't last many more
years, my girl. Let me see you his wife, and I shall die happy."

Marion's eyes filled with tears, but she shook her head. "I don't love
him, dad," she murmured.

"But you don't love anyone else?" he cried triumphantly. "You told me
so when you came back from England, and I was never so glad in my life
as when I heard it."

"That was--when--I came back from England," said Marion.

Her tones were so curiously restrained and broken that the Major
glanced at her sharply. Her eyes were downcast, but her lips were
quivering, and at the sight a sudden chill of fear, like a premonition
of some incognate evil, entered the Major's breast.

"Good heavens!" he gasped. "Good heavens, girl! don't tell me that you
have a fancy--that you have fallen in love with anyone in Ballina!"

Marion did not look up. She gave a little shiver, and she seemed to
pale under the father's gaze.

"Answer me!" said the Major roughly.

Two tears rolled silently down Marion's cheeks. The Major was almost
beside himself with anxiety and angry consternation, but Marion's tears
were weapons which he could not fight against. He sprang to his feet
and began to walk the room. Twice he went backwards and forwards its
full length when a servant entered. The Major confronted the intruder
with a face of storm. "Go!" he cried, and the man vanished. The old
gentleman resumed his pacing, growing each moment more anxious and
alarmed, for the still figure of the girl, who leaned forward on the
table, her face hidden in her hands, seemed to menace the destruction
of his dearest hopes. His fears at length grew unsupportable. He
approached and put a shaking hand on her shoulder.

"Who is it?" he muttered in a voice he did his best to render calm.

A low sob answered him.

Despair entered the old man's heart, and it gave him strength and
firmness.

"Who is it?" he demanded. "I am your father, Marion, I have a right to
know."

A vision of her dead mother floated before Marion's tear-blinded eyes.
Oh, if she had but lived to give her comfort now! Her father was the
dearest on earth; but ah, she knew that he would never understand, and
already she divined his wrath and sad antagonism. A terrible feeling of
loneliness seized her. In all the wide world there was no one upon whom
she could lean for help and sympathy in this the most poignant crisis
of a woman's life. "Oh, mother! mother!" wailed her heart. Her frame
shook with sudden sobbing.

"Marion! Marion!" cried the Major in a strangled voice. "Is this the
way to treat me? What have I done to deserve this?" In his agitation
and distress he began to push her to and fro with no light hand,
scarcely conscious of what he was doing.

"Father!" she cried, shuddering away from him. "Don't beat me; my heart
is breaking."

"Beat you!" The Major lifted his hand and looked at it, uttering a sort
of groan. Next moment she was in his arms weeping unrestrainedly upon
his breast.

"Don't turn from me, daddy, dear daddy," she sobbed.

He stroked her hair silently awhile. His eyes were closed, and he was
feeling dizzy, he began to rock and sway. With a start he opened his
eyes again and looked about him, like one awakening from a dream. How
very old he was getting, to be sure! said his thoughts.

"There, there; that will do, my darling," he muttered. "Your poor old
father loves you. There, there. Don't cry, my pet. Tell me all about
it. Do you care, then, for--him--then, so very much?"

"I--d-don't k-now," whispered Marion in broken tones. "Indeed, I
d-don't know. I love you best of all," she concluded, with another
burst of tears.

"Who is he?" asked the Major.

"Mis-Mis-ter Digby!"

The Major experienced a curious sensation of mental numbness. He
wondered dully if the unexpectedness of the news had produced that
effect, and if so, would he feel keener surprise and indignation at
some later period? That she should love Jan Digby! The remittance man!
It was almost unthinkable, and yet it had come to pass. He discovered
that he had been expecting her to name Horace Keeling. Keeling was a
good fellow, although no fit match for his daughter. But the other! No
wonder he felt heavy and oppressed! No wonder he felt no inclination to
discuss the matter further now!

He must be alone. It seemed cruel to leave Marion in her distress--but
he must be alone.

He pushed her gently from him, and with much difficulty he spoke.
"There, there, dear; we shall speak of this again. I must leave you
now."

"Are you angry with me, daddy?"

She raised her wet face with a look of passionate entreaty.

The Major forced, a smile. "I am sorry for you, darling," he said
gently.

Marion watched him go, and it seemed to her that his words had set a
tombstone upon the grave of her happiness. A little while ago he had
accused her of a small confidence withheld. She had replied to the
taunt by showing him her heart. And he had left her with an icy threat
for consolation. In utter misery she suddenly arose and hurried to
her chamber. Locking the door, she cast herself upon her bed with the
woman's heart wail--"Mother! Mother!"




Chapter XX.--A Compact.

Dr. Culgin was feeling neglected. He had been alone for two hours in
the library, and he hated solitude. By adroitly questioning a footman
he ascertained that Marion and her father had quarrelled after he left
the dinner table. He thought that the Major had probably censured his
daughter for her treatment of himself. That was a pity, for it would
make the girl dislike him more than ever. Why did she dislike him?
he wondered. He had never done anything that he could remember to
offend her. And yet as far back as he could recall they had not been
friends. When he was a young man and she a tiny toddler she had often
manifested an aversion for him. She would not let him kiss or fondle
her, she would barely accept his presents of toys and sweetmeats.
Later, in her short-frocked period, she had been more civil, but if
possible, more cool and distant. And later still, when a grown-up young
lady--emancipated from both nursery and school, she had continued to
prefer any society to his. The riddle was hard for him to read; for,
on his part, he had always been fond of her; and ever since that day
two years ago, when the Major and he had made a solemn compact for the
future, he had quite honestly believed himself in love with the girl
whom he regarded as his destined wife. Why, then, did she dislike him?
Was it because he was not a pretty man, like that young fop, Horace
Keeling? Perhaps. The Doctor writhed in his chair. He believed that he
possessed an uncommon--indeed, an extraordinary intellect, but no man
has been born of woman who would not rather be loved for the beauties
of his person than the beauties of his mind.

At that point in his reflections the clock chimed ten, and Major Reay
entered the room. Dr. Culgin looked up with an injured expression at
his host.

"Whatever have you been doing?" he questioned irritably. "I have been
two solid hours alone."

The Major closed the door, and with listless steps approached his
friend. His usually rubicund face was pallid and dark rings shrouded
his eyes.

With a heavy sigh he took a chair before the table and leaned his head
upon his hands. "I'm an old man, James; a very old man," he said. "The
least thing knocks me over, and I have had a great shock to-night; a
great shock."

Dr. Culgin was genuinely concerned. He was an extremely selfish man,
but he liked the Major--for the Major's friendship had covered him with
benefits without demanding an exorbitant return.

"By gad, you look it!" he exclaimed. "What was it, sir, not the gout
again?"

"If only it might have been no worse than that!" sighed the Major. "No,
no, it was Marion."

"Marion!"

The Major's hands fell weakly on the table, and his chin sank upon his
chest. "History repeats itself," he muttered dreamily. "Her mother
refused more than one good match for me, for me. I was a subaltern
then, living on my pay. James, it was 15 years before I could marry
her--and she was true to me for all that time. Fifteen years. Good God!
it seems a lifetime--looking back."

Dr. Culgin frowned. "What has that to do with Marion?" he asked.

"She is her mother come to life again. Her mother's girl. I can't be
cruel to her, James; I can't, I can't." The old head began to nod, and
the old eyes looked rheumily forth on space. What visions did they see,
perhaps!

But the Doctor lost patience soon, and his irritable voice broke on the
old man's musings.

"What ails Marion and you?" he cried impatiently. "What has she done?"

The Major looked up like one dazed, and slowly he put away his dreams.
"I am sorry for you, James, my boy," he muttered. "I am sorry for us
both. What we have been hoping for cannot be, it seems. Marion will not
marry you."

"Why not?"

"She tells me that she loves--Jan Digby. It is a pity, James, a great
pity--a terrible pity--but there it is. What can I do? I can't be hard
on my little daughter, my one little daughter, my dead girl's one
little daughter." The old man maundered on at length, but James Culgin
did not heed him. For a moment his faculties were paralysed. When he
recovered he sprang to his feet, a curse upon his lips. The major was
muttering unintelligibly, his mind evidently wandering in the past.

The Doctor shook him by the shoulder. "Wake up, sir; wake up!" he
commanded, with a savage snarl.

"Eh--eh? What is it?" The Major sat erect and blinked his eyes. "Ah,
James! it is you--I--I--was dreaming. I'm getting very old, James; very
old."

"You are good for 20 years yet!" said the Doctor roughly. "But you must
brace up, sir, and pull yourself together. There's work for you to do.
Your daughter's welfare is at stake. You must not give way at such a
time as this--an old soldier like you. What! will you sit and grizzle
like a dotard when a ruffian like Digby, a beggarly remittance man,
threatens to rob you of your child! You can't be cruel to her, you say.
Are you sane, sir? Do you think it would be kind in you to give her at
the asking to a d----d adventurer, a sneaking fortune-hunter like that
rascal?"

Before the last taunt was uttered the Major was perfectly awake. His
face flushed, his eyes began to sparkle. He threw back his head, and
squared his shoulders. As if by magic a dozen years fell from him. He
stood up, erect and soldier-like, and he swore a soldier's oath in a
voice of veteran power. "Give her to him," he roared, shaking with
sudden passion. "Did I say that? I'll see him burned first! God forgive
me for the thought, but so I would."

"That is better," snarled the Doctor. "That is more like your old self."

"I'm not too old to defend my own child, thank God!" cried the Major.
"If the scoundrel were here I'd strangle him with both my hands."

"Major," said the Doctor in tones of concentrated rage, "give me your
hand. There is one compact between us already, but we'll make another."

"Yes--James--yes." They clasped hands.

"We must get rid of that scum--somehow!" said the Doctor fiercely. "By
fair means--if possible--but we must get rid of him, for her sake. For
her best good--it is necessary. You understand?"

"I understand. But how?"

"Leave ways and means to me. I'll find a plan or my name is not Jim
Culgin."

"If he will take money, my purse is at your command. Offer him a
thousand--five--ten. I would pay anything."

"If he will take money--so much the better for him," said the Doctor
grimly. "I think he will, myself. If, however, he refuses----" The
Doctor paused, and in the silence that followed they looked at each
other searchingly.

"If he refuses----" repeated the Major at length.

Dr. Culgin bared his teeth in a dog-like grin. "In that case I think a
strike would prove a blessing in disguise," he said.

"You mean?"

"Jan Digby is Chief Secretary of the Union. The men will be bound to
commit excesses. There are such things as gaols. Let him be ever so
clever, ever so cunning, but I'll lay him by the heels."

"For heaven's sake be careful, James. The fellow is no fool."

Dr. Culgin threw back his head and laughed. "My dear Major," he said in
raucous tones, his eyes agleam with vanity and malice, "I have measured
wits with abler men than the remittance man, and I have yet to meet my
match. I'll crush him--like that!"

His right hand clawed the air and closed up slowly with a rigid,
talon-like movement, inexpressibly suggestive of bestial vindictiveness.

The Major's face clouded a little as he looked. "Scamp as the fellow
is, we must give him fair play!" he muttered. "We must not let our
feelings carry us away, my boy."

"Doting old idiot," sneered the other in his thoughts--but he
permitted them no external expression. On the contrary, he assumed a
sanctimonious air. "I am a Minister of the Crown, and I hope a man of
honor," he answered with offended dignity; his manner, indeed, lacked
little of being perfect.

"Most certainly, most certainly, my dear boy," cried the Major hastily.
"I intended no reflection, upon my word. Well, James, be it so. I shall
leave the conduct of this matter in your hands, and now, if you'll
excuse me, I'll say good-night. I feel better for our chat, my boy,
much better; but to tell you the truth, I'm devilishly shaky still,
and--and I have a field day before me to-morrow. You won't mind, James?"

"Not at all, sir. Good-night!"

They shook hands, and the Major left the room. It was curious to mark
his return to feebleness, the stimulus of rage having worn itself out.
His steps were halting and uncertain, and he tottered as he walked. "A
flash in the pan!" muttered Dr. Culgin as he watched him depart. "I
shall not be able to depend on him for much, that is evident."

The Major laboriously climbed the stairs, and slowly trod the corridor.
At Marion's door he paused and waited long, often holding his breath to
listen, but no sound reached him; and at last, with sadly shaking head,
he went on to his room. This thought was in his mind--"My darling has
given me a bitter cup to drink--and now she sleeps!"

Marion, however, was not asleep. She sat, chin on hand, before her
open window, gazing in wrapt stillness at the star-lit waters of the
bay. She had wept till she could weep no longer, and the peace of
exhaustion came. She was wondering what Jan might be doing then, and
would he feel sorry for her could he know what she had undergone for
him? She knew he loved her, and there was deep conscious satisfaction
in the knowledge. But of her own heart she was not sure. That day when
she had fled from him in the dell, she had not understood herself.
She did not understand herself any better now. His words and eyes had
thrilled her through and through. The remembrance thrilled her now.
But was that love? The thought of seeing him again gave her more of
fear than pleasure. If she loved him, surely she would be longing for
the hour. Her divided feelings filled her with an afflicting sense of
impotence. Of one thing only was she certain--she would know all when
they met again. Let her eyes but rest on him, and she would know her
fate. But whence came that conviction, and was it the reason of her
fear? Why, too, her instinctive unreasoning desire to conceal herself
for all time from his and all men's eyes? She thought of the patient
white nuns in their convent on the hill beyond the town. How kind they
were, how sweet and placid seemed their lives! What a comfort to be one
of them--to undertake their gentle duties and dwell secure from harm
and all disturbing elements in the tranquil sanctity of their abode,
where no man entered, and where peace reigned sacred and supreme! She
longed with all her strength to go to them, and of her longing the
idea was born that perhaps her duty lay with her desire. The Major was
an Anglican, but Marion's mother had been a Catholic, and Marion had
been educated by the nuns. Like all girls so brought up, Catholic or
Protestant alike, she had left her gentle teachers loving them, and she
cherished a romantic admiration of their sweet, unselfish lives. When
Marion, worn out at last, lay down to sleep that night, she was already
half a nun--and her resolve was to perfect the work that her first
great trouble had commenced.




Chapter XXI.--The Intercepted Letter.

The fallible human mind on being presented with the unexpected, almost
always fails to realise the relative importance of substantial facts.
The personal element obtrudes and becomes paramount. Exasperating
details seize the attention and distort the judgment. For that reason,
on the morning after any tragic happening, one's outlook is either
brighter or darker than at first; it is never quite the same. When
Major Reay awoke he found himself more cheerful than he had dared
to hope. On the previous evening the worst part of his misery had
consisted in an exaggerated sense of the fatal finality of Marion's
confession. It had seemed to him that her love for Jan Digby was
an absolutely irremediable disaster. He began to marvel how an old
stager like himself could have imagined anything so absurd! That a
young girl's first fancy should prove her last! Could anything be more
ridiculous? He remembered that when a boy of Marion's age he had fallen
madly in love with a woman old enough to be his mother! "Pshaw!" he
soliloquised, "she is only a baby yet. Let us get the fellow out of the
way, and in six weeks she'll have forgotten his existence!"

He began to whistle cheerily as he dressed, and after a while the noise
awakened Dr. Culgin, who slept in an adjoining chamber.

The Doctor rubbed his eyes and sat up in his bed. "What the dickens is
the Major whistling for?" he muttered with a frown. "He knows I hate
whistling." He had, for the moment, forgotten everything, but when the
irritating sounds had ceased, he remembered. When they started flowing,
the Doctor's ideas travelled in an exactly opposite direction to the
Major's. On the previous evening his whole being had been aroused to
rage against Jan Digby. His fury--though duller now, was not less
remorseless nor sincere. Did not the insolent scoundrel threaten his
happiness--and his pocket? Marion's dowry had been fixed by her father
at 30,000, and that was a circumstance James Culgin never lost sight
of.

Moreover, he still admitted an overwhelming necessity to place a world,
if possible, between Jan and Ballina. He would do that. Nothing could
prevent him. But what then! For the first time he perceived a power in
his path whose might he could not fathom--Marion's love for Jan. Last
night he had not given it a thought, but now it grimly forced itself
upon his consideration. Jan! bah! Jan was a man! he could deal with Jan
quite easily. But Marion! What of her? Even when heart free she had
not liked him well, although she had tacitly assented to her father's
arrangement of her future. He had never asked her, in express terms,
to be his wife. It was an understood thing that he would do so some
day. What a fool he had been to delay so long! He should have visited
Ballina at the time of her return from England, and won her promise
immediately. As it was, she was not bound in any way to him except by
her father's compact, which she had last night refused to ratify.

Dr. Culgin's reflections increased rapidly in gloom, and before the
breakfast gong sounded his mood bordered on the desperate. Feeling too
agitated to meet either Marion or her father at that juncture, and
having no appetite for food, he slipped out of the house as soon as he
had dressed, and strode towards the village--to meet the postman.

For a somewhat different reason Marion partook of breakfast in her
room, and a very healthy meal she made. She awoke from slumber without
experiencing the faintest desire to assume the conventual veil. Her
first thought concerned her birthday ball, for which invitations had
been issued for the following Monday evening. While running over the
names of her prospective guests, it suddenly occurred to her that it
was a pity she could not ask Mr. Digby. Then she remembered, and as she
was still lying down she covered her face with the clothes so that not
even her mirror could witness her beautiful confusion. Had she been fey
last night, she wondered, to tell her father that--that--she----She
was too abashed to complete the expression of that thought, even in
her mind. How could she look her father in the face again! Blushes
burned her. She tingled from crown to sole with shame. The room seemed
full of smiling eyes, and she dared not for a long time to face the
light. Oh, how fatuous she had been, how immodest--how unmaidenly!
And how foolish--for now she knew that she did not love Jan Digby at
all! He was nothing to her. She would not grieve if she never might
see him again. He was a dream-man, a memory, a nice, grave, kindly
gentleman, but yet, only a memory, and even already she was beginning
to forget his image. She could not recall a single feature of his face
distinctly. Truly she must have been mad to have fancied that she loved
him. How shocked the dear father had looked when she told him! It was
cruel and wicked of her to tell him such a story and make him sad.
Never mind, she would soon undo that--but--but--she gave a sudden gasp
and sat up. "In that case daddy will want me to marry Dr. Culgin."
A revulsion of feeling followed on that thought. She did not love
Jan--true--but she detested Dr. Culgin. His personality was repulsive
to hers, pronouncedly repulsive. She was not afraid of him, but when
he came near her, she always experienced a sensation of repugnance and
disgust, and instinct warned her of something coldly cruel in him, a
latent power to make her suffer, granted opportunity. She resolved
that she would never marry him, even if her refusal cost her the dear
father's love.

Major Reay ate a solitary breakfast, but with undiminished cheerfulness
he went up afterwards to his daughter's room to bid her good-bye.

At his knock she bade him enter, thinking him a servant come for her
depleted tray. "Oh, daddy!" she gasped, and her face went crimson.

The Major glanced with a shy smile at her empty plate which half an
hour before he had seen furnished with an egg and more than one rasher.

"You lazy girl!" he exclaimed, with mock severity. "No wonder it is
hard to keep servants at the Folly. And don't dare to tell me you are
ill either. Look at the plate!"

Marion wished that some friendly planet would suddenly eclipse the sun
to hide the blushes that chased each other across her cheeks.

"Are you going to the conference now, daddy?" she asked, with shyly
downcast eyes.

"I am, dearie. Wish me luck!"

He bent to kiss her, and Marion clasped her arms about his neck.

"All good fortune, dear daddy!" she cried.

"Even against--you know whom!" he muttered.

"Against everybody!" she answered with decision.

The Major kissed her again and left the room, as happy as a king. He
found Dr. Culgin waiting for him in the study. The Doctor held two
letters in his hand. After an exchange of greetings, he handed these
to the Major. "I went out to meet the postman," he remarked, "with an
object which possibly has been achieved. Kindly see if you recognise
the calligraphy of those addresses."

The Major glanced carelessly at the letters, which were both directed
to Marion. Presently he let one fall, but the other, with an angry
exclamation, he held up to the light. "It is in his handwriting!" he
cried. "Jan Digby's!"

"As I suspected!" muttered the Doctor. "They are evidently
corresponding. What is to be done?"

The Major's gaiety fell from him like a mask. He stared at the missive
with suddenly lacklustre eyes, turning it over and over in his hands.
"What is to be done?" he repeated with a groan.

"Open it," said Dr. Culgin. "As her father, you have the right. We
shall then know how far this thing has gone, and where we stand."

The Major shook his head. "No," he said. He put the letter on the table
and walked towards the window.

Dr. Culgin, with a savage but silent sneer, caught up the letter and
tore it open. The Major heard the sound and turned. "James!" he cried,
"what the devil are you doing?"

"Your duty for you!" retorted the Doctor. "You are as weak as water,
and it's a good thing for us all that I am not."

"It--it--James, this is outrageous!" cried the old gentleman. "A letter
is a sacred thing!"

"Sacred fiddlesticks!" retorted the Doctor, with a contemptuous
shoulder-shrug. "Listen! 'My dear Miss Reay----'"

The Major stopped, spell-bound. He had moved forward intending to take
another action, but at the first recited words he felt powerless.


"'My dear Miss Reay,'"

repeated the Doctor,

'An Infamous slander has been spread abroad in Ballina concerning you,
the authorship of which I am impelled to assign to Miss O'Gorman Flynn,
because she is the only person, except Dr. Culgin, who can possibly
have witnessed our interview on the road by the Willows of last Monday.
With shame and sincere grief I am obliged to tell you that your name
has been coupled with mine in a manner that you will of necessity
resent. Having had a fair experience of the spirit of gossip which
animates this place, I am convinced that only the extremest measures
can avail to silence the wagging of malicious tongues. Such a measure
will be the immediate termination of our acquaintance. Should we meet
abroad, therefore, by chance at any time hereafter, or be confronted in
assemblies, I shall neither yield nor accept recognition at your hands.
You will not misunderstand me, I am sure; but lest your charity seek to
prevail upon your wisdom, permit to remind you that you are Miss Reay,
an heiress--and I, a penniless adventurer, whom people call hereabout,
with something of a sneer--The remittance man!

I have the honor to be, madam,

your obedient servant,

Jan Digby.'"


Major Reay and Dr. Culgin stared into each other's eyes for a long,
silent moment. Their minds were active, but they worked on different
lines.

"God bless my soul!" said the Major. "The fellow may be a scamp, James,
but he has bowels. That is the letter of an honest and unselfish
gentleman. Aha! but there is an end of all our trouble. Henceforth they
will be complete strangers. What better could we wish for?"

Dr. Culgin showed his teeth in a bitterly derisive grin. "Upon my word,
you grow younger day by day," he muttered gratingly. "Is that the way
you regard it? What a touching faith in human nature! Phew!"

The Major colored. "Eh! what!" he stammered angrily. "You insinuate
that I am an old fool, eh?"

"Not that--unsuspicious, that is all; foolishly unsuspicious, if you
like. Can't you see, my dear Major, that this letter is a blind--a
draw? The scoundrel has expressed himself so cleverly that he has
hoodwinked you!"

"What do you mean?"

"Put yourself in Marion's place. If you received such a letter from a
man you cared for, what would you do?"

"Ah!"

"Would you cut the writer, loving him the while? Would you let him
pass you by disdained, unrecognised? I think not! No--not if your life
depended on it!"

"Ah!" The Major clapped his hands to his head. "Ah!" he said again.

The Doctor smiled triumphantly. "Thank heaven I opened the letter,"
he declared, "if this had reached Marion, the fat would have all been
in the fire; for as we both know, she is a generous little girl, and
unmanageable when aroused. As it is," he paused, and slowly tore the
letter into shreds, "as it is," he proceeded, putting the pieces
carefully into his pocket. "As it is, when next they meet, he will cut
her--he will have to--in order to prove the sincerity of his noble
sentiments! Ah! and she, not dreaming of the reason, will be naturally
offended. She is proud; she will not therefore condescend to ask an
explanation. Thus, that little rift within the lute, which the poets
sing of, will begin; and when on top of that I get the fellow out
of the way--as I shall soon, if I have to hang him--why, Major, we
shall be able to think of wedding bells. To be frank, I am tired of
bachelorhood, and I don't mind how quickly I get married."

The Major's face cleared gradually as he listened. The meanness
involved in opening Marion's letter still weighed on him, but he began
to believe that the end justified the means, for in the Doctor's
argument he could not perceive a flaw.

"Hum!" he said, and as he spoke his cheerfulness returned in full
flood. "I can see that I shall have an able son-in-law. But, James, my
boy, not everybody can grasp a situation and see into the future like
you. You must not call me an old fool again."

"My dear dad," replied the Doctor in unctuous tones, "indeed you
misunderstood me. I would not venture to set myself above the man who
taught me all the politics I know. I have a good head-piece, and I am
not ashamed to declare it, but you are my master and mentor. It is
only in certain trifles that I surpass you--such as reading character,
perhaps, and that is merely because I mix more with our kind than you,
and because it is necessary for my success in life to divine correctly
the motives of those with whom I have to deal."

"Blarney!" growled the Major. "Don't think I cannot see through your
flattery, you rascal!"

But the old gentleman was delighted in reality, and he went off in a
high good humor. When the door closed Dr. Culgin stepped to the mantel
and leisurely surveyed his reflection in the mirror. Before long a
smile of exceeding vanity overspread his features.

"James, my boy," he muttered, "you are an ugly customer, but what do
you want with good looks? You have a brain that Machiavelli would have
envied, or Mephistopheles himself."




Chapter XXII.--The Conference.

It had been arranged to hold the much-talked-of conference in the
commercial travellers' room of the Royal Hotel, before which small
and ugly public house with the pretentious name, Major Reay and his
friend, the Doctor, alighted from the former's buggy some 20 minutes
prior to the appointed hour. They found the Employers' Association
already assembled in the Inn's best parlor drinking milk and whisky,
16 gentlemen all told, most of whom were arrayed as for a funeral. Dr.
Culgin, mindful of the forthcoming elections, shook hands effusively
with each in turn, and insisted upon "shouting" fresh drinks for the
crowd, a disposition which not one of them seriously combated. They
were uninteresting-looking persons for the most part, and like as peas,
with one or two exceptions. McStuart Higgs might have served as a model
for the conventional John Bull. Now a cane farmer, he had formerly been
a Somersetshire yeoman. He tenaciously preserved the traditions of his
class even in matters of dress. He firmly believed that God had made
the land for gentlefolk and the workers for their slaves. He carried
in his hand a hunting whip with which he periodically slashed his top
boots when speaking, in order to emphasise the point of his remarks.
Mr. Theophilus O'Hooligan was a Tipperary peasant who had emigrated
from having been granted a free pardon for a grave political offence.
Although some 50 years had elapsed since then, he was still a bitter
irreconcilable, and he cherished a relentless hatred of England. His
immense stretch of upper lip was clean shaven, but a thin growth of
white beard fringed his chin to the concealment of his collar, and
save for his fine blue eyes, and a certain drily humorous expression
lurking at the corners of his enormous mouth, he might easily have been
mistaken for a venerable gorilla.

The Association toasted Dr. Culgin in silence, whereupon the Major
ordered their glasses to be replenished. Not a word was spoken
until the waiter had departed. Then Mr. Higgs, with deep solemnity,
observed--"Mildness and firmness, Major Reay, sir (he pronounced it
'zur'). As our chairman, let those be your watchwords!"

The Major nodded.

"Have you decided to admit the press?" asked Dr. Culgin.

"We have, Dr. Culgin, sir. The more the merrier. I'm hoping that you'll
not refuse to be present yourself, sir."

"I shall watch your proceedings with pleasure, unless the other side
object."

"If they do," struck in Mr. O'Hooligan, "Oi for wan will retoire
forthwid from the conference."

The assembly relapsed into oppressive but not inactive silence, for
three more rounds of drinks were absorbed before the town clock struck
eleven. At that signal they filed out of the parlor, the Major in the
lead, and sought the travellers' room. Standing in a group beside a
table were Jan Digby and five others; McBean, President of the Workers'
Union; Patrick Dennis, the Under-Secretary; William Husband, the Grand
Treasurer; John Martin and Cornelius Roberts, elected delegates. Two
reporters, pens in hand, were seated before desks at a little distance,
their expressions watchful and expectant.

Jan was dressed in a suit of rough brown tweed. His countenance was
pale, but perfectly impassive. He greeted the Major with a dignified
bow, and begged him choose places for himself and his companions.
The Major rather haughtily inquired if the Union would object to Dr.
Culgin's presence. Jan replied in the negative, and the Employers'
Association, with a murmur of approval, selected chairs. When all were
seated, Jan motioned his followers to a bench in the background, a
piece of modesty which greatly astonished the Doctor. Jan, however,
after a short whispered colloquy with his associates, himself advanced
and took an isolated seat at the table immediately opposite his
adversaries.

"I beg to announce, gentlemen," said he, "that the Cane Workers' Union
has confided its interests into my hands. The Union prefers to have a
single mouthpiece."

The Major cleared his throat. "Are we to understand that you have power
to pledge the Union?" he demanded.

"Absolutely. My president will give you any further assurance on the
point that you may require."

"Mr. Digby stands for us, and we stand by him," said McBean, without
waiting to be asked.

The Major and his friends exchanged glances. "Very good," he muttered
presently. "Hum--ah! Well, the sooner we get to business the better.
What do you say?"

"I am at your service," replied Jan.

The young man's brisk responsiveness seemed to disconcert the Major.
The old gentleman knew nothing of parliamentary procedure, and he had
never attended a debate in his life. He was acutely afraid of appearing
ridiculous, but he was more afraid still that his friends should
perceive how uncomfortable he felt and how little he knew what to do or
say.

"Well," he began, puffing out his cheeks and standing up as he spoke.
"The less formal we make this meeting the better, in my opinion. We've
all come here to talk matters over in a friendly way, and to see if we
can't arrive at some agreement--a modus vivendi that will suit all
parties--isn't that so?"

"Exactly."

"So much for preliminaries, then," said the Major in a relieved tone.
"I hate beating about the bush. I'm a plain, blunt man--not one of your
long-winded orators. I like to put everything in a nutshell. You follow
me?"

"Easily," smiled Jan.

"Good. Now to get to bedrock. Your Union wants us to do three things.
Firstly, to bind ourselves to employ only Union men. Secondly, to give
you double pay for overtime. And thirdly, to increase your wages in
a proportionate scale on the basis of an adult minimum wage of eight
shillings per day. Am I right or wrong?"

"You are right," answered Jan.

"Well," said the Major, "I'll reply categorically to your demands.
Firstly, we have determined to employ whatever men we please, whether
your Union likes it or not. I could give you fifty good reasons for our
resolve, but I'll not waste your time and my own in stating any, since
a child could see that we have a right to choose, as long as we break
no law. Secondly, I'm bound to tell you that we consider your demand
to be paid by the double for overtime to be a piece of high-bound
impudence. You are not obliged to work after hours at all. If you
choose to do so, you must be satisfied to take whatever remuneration
we choose to give you. And now I come to the last and most important
item--your claim to receive a minimum wage of eight shillings per
day. You state in your manifesto that the sugar industry can bear
such a wage and still leave a splendid profit for the producers and
manufacturers. That may be true. I do not say that it is not. But I
say this. Things are coming to a pretty pass when a man's servants
presume to examine their master's banking account and to construe his
surplus into convincing evidence that they themselves are underpaid.
When we took you first into our service, we employed you as servants,
not as partners. We offered you a wage which you were at liberty to
accept or refuse. The conditions have not altered since then, your work
is no harder than before, and yet you have had the conscience to band
together and hold a pistol to our heads. 'Raise our wages, or we shall
strike!' Well, sir, with all due respect for the men you represent, I
have to inform you that we decline to be coerced. That is all I have to
say to you."

The Major sat down amidst a loud hum of approval from his friends.

Jan glanced round the board. "Perhaps some of your colleagues would
care to speak," he suggested.

Mr. Theophilus O'Hooligan sprang to his feet.

"Just a worrud," he exclaimed excitedly. "Just a worrud--on the last
proposition, Mr. Digby, if that is your name."

"As many as you like, sir."

"Only one worrud," repeated the speaker. "And it's a question Oi'm
afther askin' ye, at that. Jist tell me this: What's the differ betwane
the Union's askin' us to increase your wages because you help us to
make the profits that seem to stick in your gizzards so much, and my
woife's servant, Biddy McGrath, wantin' to sit down at the table with
the fambly to dinner because she cooked the joint?"

Mr. Theophilus O'Hooligan looked round with a grin of triumph, and was
answered with a roar of laughter.

He sat down, and McStuart Higgs started up.

"I'll not keep you long, sir," said Higgs in stentorian tones as the
merriment subsided. "Major Reay has stated our case pretty fully, but
he has overlooked one feature which I must ask your Union to consider.
Since you have threatened us with a strike, we have had dozens of
applications from men all over the country who are willing to undertake
your work at a lower rate of wage than you are receiving now!"

"That is gospel truth," declared the Major.

Mr. Higgs resumed his chair, and Jan got slowly to his feet.

"Gentlemen," he said quietly, "on behalf of the Cane Workers' Union
I formally withdraw our two demands first enumerated by Major Reay,
namely that you should agree to employ only Union men and that you
should pay us double rates for overtime. This will narrow the scope of
our contention and leave but one clear-cut issue between us--whether or
not the men are justified in asking for increased pay. Now----"

"Hold on!" interrupted the Major. "I'll write that down."

Jan waited, smiling slightly.

"Very good," said the Major presently. "Continue."

"I think," began Jan, "that I am justified in asserting that the sugar
industry has never been in a more prosperous condition than at present."

"True," conceded the Major.

Jan bowed. "Ten years ago," he proceeded, "the sugar industry, although
even at that time prosperous, was in its infancy. Your capital in
partnership with our labor has in the meanwhile increased a hundredfold
in faculty of wealth production. Large fortunes have been accumulated
by its controlling spirits. We, however, remain in precisely the same
position that we occupied at the outset. The fact is that, although
we have faithfully exercised our industrial ability, both mental and
manual, in co-operation with your capital, we have done so without
reward, for the profit has been appropriated by yourselves. Your profit
has been made between the price of our subsistence and the value of the
product of our labor. We have been too ignorant, hitherto, to perceive
this, and we have been stupidly content to sell you our labor power
for subsistence. But we are waking up at last, and we now perceive
that, although you have under existing laws a legal right to deny us
a participation in the division of your profits, we may oblige you to
distribute them more equally by demanding a higher rate of exchange
for the commodity in which we traffic. Major Reay has stated that when
you took us into your service you offered us a wage which we were at
liberty to accept or refuse. That is true, and the conditions are very
little altered. You wish to buy as then--we are, as then willing to
sell. The only difference is that we know our market better than we
used to do. Our labor is as saleable a commodity as cheese or bread.
But surely we have the right to use our sagacity in obtaining as much
for our 'cheese' as any other vendor, even though like you, sirs, that
vendor may chance to be a capitalist? I can understand that you might
feel very properly aggrieved were we to ask a prohibitive price for
our 'cheese.' But our demands are based upon calculations so carefully
worked out, and are so nicely adjusted to the circumstances of the
sugar industry, that if you condescend to grant them your profits
will not be very sensibly diminished. That such is the case has been
attested by the readiness of many of your brother capitalists in other
districts to assent to similar requests made by Unions affiliated
with our own. You, however, gentlemen, have replied to our demands
by declaring that if we are dissatisfied with our wages, we may quit
work and you will quickly fill our places. Is this or not coercion? It
seems so to me, and that is why I confess surprise that you now accuse
us of holding a pistol at your heads when we threaten to retaliate in
kind--I----"

But Jan was interrupted by a storm of angry exclamations.

When silence was restored he quietly resumed. "Major Reay," said he,
"has scornfully described us as refractory servants presumptuously
pretending to be our masters' partner. Mr. O'Hooligan has compared
us with a cook claiming a share in the family joint. This would be
very funny, gentlemen, were it not a sad evidence of the persistent
exclusiveness of your point of view. The fact is that we are your
partners!"

"Rot!" shouted McStuart Higgs; and "Rot!" chorused the others.

Jan frowned. "The basic principle of every partnership is mutual
interdependence," he declared. "If such a condition is absent here,
you are right and I am wrong. But is it absent? We depend upon
you--granted! But do you not depend also upon us?"

"Not while there are plenty of other men willing and anxious to fill
your places," cried the Major.

"Let them fill our places," retorted Jan. "Will you not immediately
thereafter depend on them? We represent our class as you do yours. You
cannot escape the position, gentlemen. Whether you like it or not--we
are your partners!"

"You are a d---- impertinent fellow!" interrupted McStuart Higgs,
his face crimson with rage. "If you were in my employ I'd soon show
you whether you were my partner or not. Gentlemen," he got suddenly
to his feet, "I beg to move that we decline to listen any longer to
this person's intolerable drivel. He is evidently a Socialist, and it
seems to me he is an Anarchist as well. Such people are dangerous,
and instead of being allowed to go about scattering their pernicious
doctrines broadcast, they should be confined in gaols or lunatic
asylums! Will anyone second me?"

"I!" cried Mr. O'Hooligan. "And I, and I!" shouted the others.

Mr. Higgs' motion was carried by acclamation and the Employers'
Association noisily arose. But at that moment Dr. Culgin, who had been
accommodated with a chair near Major Reay's, stood up and stepped into
the breach.

"Gentlemen!" he cried, "pray consider what you are doing. You have
invited the Union to confer with you, and now you refuse to hear the
views of their chosen representative. As a Minister of the Crown, I
am, of necessity, a neutral, and on the merits of the case I warn you,
gentlemen, that if you persist in your intention, the men will have
every reason to consider themselves ill-used."

"Let them!" shouted Mr. Higgs. "It is not in my flesh and blood to sit
and listen to a muddy string of insults thrown at us by an impudent,
discharged servant! Partners! Forsooth! This conference is at an end
for me. Come, gentlemen, who says whisky?"

Apparently all did. The Major, it is true, protested, but he was seized
and borne off by the crowd, and a moment later Jan was left alone with
the Union officials and Dr. Culgin.

The latter walked straight up to him. "Mr. Digby," he said in a loftily
dignified fashion, "I must tell you that you have my entire sympathy.
You conducted a losing fight with great ability, and I am sorry that
you have been treated with such discourtesy. I hope, however, that
you and your confreres will not allow that circumstance to over-ride
your judgment. I hope that you will still all do your best to avert a
strike."

"I don't see what more we can do, sir," cried McBean. "Mr. Digby spoke
'em fair, and they treated him like a dog. That's how they'd like to
treat us all--always."

"I trust not," said the Doctor; "indeed, I believe not. They were
carried away with temper just now, and I shall make it my business to
see that they acknowledge their error. Well, gentlemen, I must leave
you now, but I want you to remember that I am, whatever happens, your
friend. Good-bye, Mr. McBean."

"Good-bye, sir," said McBean.

"Good-bye, Mr. Digby." To Jan's astonishment the Doctor offered him
his hand. He was about unthinkingly to grasp it, when in a flash he
perceived the cunning prompting motive of the professional politician,
concealed behind his plausible affection of generosity. He determined
on instant to defeat it. He looked the Doctor in the face, and said,
"Many thanks, Doctor; but I'll not shake hands with you. You call
yourself our friend, and yet a neutral; which means, if you speak
truth, that you are neither fish nor flesh, but--well, shall we say a
frog, sir? Our Union has no use for frogs of any sort, and you'll find,
sir, at the next elections that neither have we any votes to spare for
frogs!"

Dr. Culgin's little eyes blazed with passion. "Very good, sir," he
answered heatedly. "You have had your chance, you'll not get another.
Let your Union look to itself. I'll no longer try to help men who are
so blind to their own interests as to be led by an insolent blackguard
like yourself."

"I'll forgive that expression," retorted Jan, "in view of the fact that
for once in your life you have spoken honestly. We know you now for
what you are--our enemy!"

The Doctor thought of the election and turned pale. "That is an
infamous falsehood!" he exclaimed. "No man living bears the Union's
interests closer to his breast than I."

"Then be our friend, sir, openly, and I'll apologise in dust and ashes."

"What you ask is impossible, and well you know it. I am a Minister of
the Crown!"

Jan's lip curled. "The old contemptible excuse!" He turned to his
companions. "Men," he cried in a ringing voice, "here is a Minister
of the Crown, but he is a man as well, and just for the present your
servant, inasmuch as your votes have made him so. As man to man, tell
him what you think of him, bearing well in mind that an open enemy is
easier to fight than a treacherous pretended friend!"

Patrick Dennis led the van.

"Dr. Culgin," he said quickly, "in my opinion, you are a skulkin' toad,
sir."

"A darned hypocrite!" cried William Husband.

"A cowardly hypocrite!" chorused the delegates.

McBean, a slow thinker, raised his hand at last and spoke. "Just a
frog!" he declared.

Dr. Culgin tried to reply, but passion choked him. Murder was in his
heart, but he was impotent. "You'll have to pay for this, Jan Digby;
you'll pay!" he gasped out hoarsely; then turning, he fled from the
room as though pursued by furies.




Chapter XXIII.--Jack Returns to Ballina.

"Peace or war?" asked Alan Laing of his friend, two evenings later.

Jan dropped wearily into a chair. "War!" he replied. "The men knock off
work at nightfall next Monday."

"The evening of Marion's ball," commented Alan. "What bad luck you
have, Jan. It will spoil her pleasure, and she will naturally send the
account to you."

Jan quietly shrugged his shoulders. "Did a letter come for me to-day?"
he asked.

"No. She cannot intend to reply. It is two days since you wrote to her."

Jan nodded. "So much the better," he muttered. "She has evidently
agreed to my proposal. Silence gives consent."

"Your Spartan soul should rejoice."

"My Spartan soul is past rejoicing," Jan answered gloomily. "Just now I
am puzzled; a curious thing happened me to-day, Alan."

"That so?" Alan assumed a bored expression. He wanted Jan to talk, and
he knew better than appear interested.

"Yes. Harold Keeling, our Solicitor Adonis, came along and offered me,
on behalf of some nameless client, a thousand pounds, cash down, if I
would leave Ballina at once and promise never to return."

Alan Laing started up and put aside all affectation of indifference.
"The dickens!" he exclaimed. "Who is he acting for--Culgin, or the
Employers' Association?"

"That is what I want to know," said Jan. "I think myself the latter.
Culgin has no cause to fear me as a rival. I am out of the running.
And yet it is a mystery. Why should the Employers' Association be so
anxious to get rid of me? The strike is inevitable in any case, and the
men, although ignorant, are no fools. They could get along without me.
I am befogged, Alan; clean befogged."

"How did you answer Keeling?"

"I told him that I might possibly do business with his principal."

"And he?"

"He went away and returned in an hour with a fresh proposal. Two
thousand--go, and ask no questions!"

"Well, well?" cried Alan with impatience.

Jan began to roll a cigarette. "I was rather short with him," he said.
"Two hours later, back he came again. Did I want five thousand, or
what?"

"Incredible!" gasped Alan.

"I, too," drawled Jan. "He got little change out of me, however. I told
him I did not pretend not to have a price, but I fancied my price was
beyond him. I fixed it at twenty thousand. He permitted himself to be
so very unpleasant that I no longer suspected him of trying to have a
jest at my expense. What do you make of it, Alan?"

Laing shook his head. "Miss Reay?" he suggested.

Jan put the cigarette to his lips and very deliberately struck a match.

"I think not," he observed between puffs. "It is true"--puff--"that
out of gratitude"--puff--"she might offer me money in"--puff--"some
such a fashion"--puff. "She believes I saved her life, you
know"--puff--"and"--puff--"I'm not sure but that she'd be glad to see
the last of me after the gruelling that infernal Flynn woman seems to
have given her on my account. But"--several puffs--"there is a fatal
flaw in that theory, Alan. She has no money."

"She might obtain it from her father?"

"A hundred! or two, perhaps; no more. Be sensible. Alan. The Major is
not close-fisted, but he is no spendthrift."

"Then, Jan, I give it up."

"So do I--for the present--but I can't get it out of my head. The thing
worries me. Tell me something distracting."

"Grieves was here to-day."

"Ah! Little animal! What had he to say?"

"The old, old story, the usual bag of gossip."

"Anything fresh of the Flynn woman?"

"Only what might be expected. Her venom has over-reached itself. People
are sympathising with a certain pair of putative lovers, and wishing
them all sorts of good luck. In a little while you will be quite a
popular favorite, my boy."

Jan writhed in his chair. "It's an abominable shame!" he growled. "What
they say of me matters nothing. But when I think of what her feelings
must be on being talked about like that I feel inclined to strangle
somebody."

"Hallo!" exclaimed Alan. "There goes the gate. Who can be our visitor?"

Brisk footsteps sounded on the gravel path, and both men peered into
the gloom, but without immediate success. Of a sudden, however, they
heard a shout, and a second later a boyish figure leaped into the light
and rushed at Jan.

"Jan! Jan Digby! Hurrah! how are you, old chap?" it cried.

"Jack! Jack Reay!" said Digby, springing to his feet. "What brings you
here, my boy?"

"I guessed I'd surprise you," cried the lad, his eyes beaming. "Never
dreamed you'd see me here to-night, eh? Tip us your flipper, old pal!"

Jan wrung the boy's hand. "I'm delighted, anyway," he answered
earnestly. "You are a sight for sore eyes, Jack. But don't you know Mr.
Laing, my boy?"

"Rather! How are you, Laing? Going strong, I hope."

Alan smilingly extended his hand. "Like a house afire," he replied.

"Now sit down and give an account of yourself," commanded Jan. "How
came you to leave school in the middle of a term?"

Jack took a seat and thrust both hands into his trouser's pockets. "The
Sydney papers were full of this here strike," he explained. "They tried
to keep 'em from me; but I got hold of one, and here I am."

"You ran away!"

"Struck it in one!" Jack puffed out his cheeks. "If anyone thinks I'm
a sort of machine to sit down and stew over a lot of stupid rubbishy
books while there's fun going on at home, they're jolly well mistaken!"
he declared in injured tones. "As for you, Jan, I've a bone to pick
with you. You might have let me know. You owe me a letter, besides!"

"Have you seen your father?" asked Jan.

Jack closed one eye and bent forward. "He says he'll cut me off without
a bob," he muttered. "There's the dickens to play up at the house. He
ordered me to my room, and I'm supposed to be supping on bread and
water. I tied a sheet to my bedpost and slung my hook through the
window to feed up. Have you dined yet, Jan?"

"No. You'll join us, I hope."

"Rather. I've had no lunch to-day, only some fruit that Marion smuggled
up to me. I could eat a horse!"

Alan arose. "I'll have one killed at once," he said gravely. "Pray
excuse me."

Jack laughed his approbation, but when Alan had gone he turned and
looked curiously at Jan.

"You're a nice one," he remarked. "Marion has been telling me about you
all the afternoon."

"Ah!" Jan smoothed his face into an expressionless mask. "Well, my boy?"

"It's not well at all," retorted Jack. "You might have stuck to the
governor." He squared his shoulders. "We'll be fighting on opposite
sides, now. I hate the thought of it."

"I am sorry, too, Jack, but I could not help myself."

"So Marion said. Oh, I know you think you're right, old chap; but you
are wrong all the same."

"I may be, Jack," replied Jan, with unwonted humility. "I may be wrong,
my boy. But I acted for the best, and what is done cannot be helped.
I am glad, at all events, that you are broad-minded enough not to look
upon me as an enemy."

Jack laughed. "Oh, Lord!" he cried. "I couldn't do that if I tried.
Neither could Marion."

"Your sister!"

"Mabs thinks no end of you," confided Jack. "She says that, right
or wrong, you have a right to be proud of yourself, for you have
sacrificed self-interest to conviction."

"Did she say that?" Jan's face flushed warmly, and his eyes began to
glow.

"She did," replied Jack; "and she said it right in Jim Culgin's teeth.
The ugly beast had just been making out that you are the biggest living
villain, too! You should have seen his phiz! He looked as if he'd like
to eat her. He shut his teeth like that----!"

"I know," smiled Jan. "It's a favorite trick of his."

"Reminds me of a fox terrier chawing a rat," said Jack with a
reflective air. "He is a regular animal and no mistake."

"You don't seem to like him particularly, Jack?"

"He's got me into no end of rows with the governor," replied the boy.
"I've paid him off though, pretty well. He has no call to crow. What
did he get his knife into you for, Jan?"

"He disliked me on sight."

"Hum, yes--but why did he spin that yarn about the thought-reading
business that cooked you with dad?"

"I told him a home truth, Jack, and not liking it, he lied about me in
revenge."

"What did you tell him, Jan?"

"It concerns another person, Jack, so I am not at liberty to tell you."

Jack gave his friend a penetrating look.

"May I guess?" he demanded.

"No, Jack."

The lad shrugged his shoulders. "All right," he said disgustedly, "if
you won't, you won't. But keep your eyes skinned, Jan. He is pretty mad
to-day, and he may not have meant what he said. But I'm sure he will
harm you if he can."

"What did he say, Jack?"

"Some rubbish about lagging you over the strike."

Jan looked thoughtful. "So that is his game!" he muttered. "Well,
forewarned is forearmed. We shall see." Aloud he said, "Thanks, Jack; I
believe you have done me a service."

"Rats!" said Jack. "Say, Jan, how will the strike end?"

"The men will win, I think."

"Nonsense! Impossible! They will cut their own throats, I guess. Dad's
association has thousands ready to fill their places. We have the
money, too!"

Jan smiled. "Time will prove," he replied. "But I hear the gong. Mr.
Laing has killed and cooked that horse in good time, eh, Jack? Come
along, and fulfil your part of the bargain."

"I'm ready!" cried Jack with hungry enthusiasm. "I'll eat it, bones,
hide, and hooves. In you get."

The meal was a very merry one, and all three enjoyed themselves
amazingly. As Jack's appetite became satisfied, however, his high
spirits gradually diminished, for he began to think what might happen
if his flight should be discovered. Visions of the paternal wrath
disturbed his soul, and often his laughter stopped suddenly, or he
broke off in the midst of some racy school narrative to listen. Alan
solemnly advised him that he might as well be hanged for a sheep as
a lamb, but Jack, remembering a certain horsewhip and its power of
punishment, shivered. Jan took pity on him at last, and ordered him to
go.

"I'd stay, and blow the consequences," said the boy, rising with a look
of commingled shamefacedness and relief; "but I'm in a blue funk lest
the dad sends me back to school. No, don't get up, Mr. Laing; I can
find my way out all right. Ta-ta." He went, but Jan did not move.

"You might see the guest off the premises," grumbled Alan.

"Hush!" muttered Jan. "A boy's pride is more touchy than a man's. What
do you think Jack is doing now?"

"Fumbling with the gate latch, I expect."

"Not much. He has leaped the gate, and he is running like a hare
towards the 'Folly.' He'd rather die than have us watch him."

And Jan was right. Jack reached home and gained his room in perfect
safety. His last thought was this--"Mr. Laing's a nice cove, though he
likes taking a rise out of a fellow. But Jan's a thorough good sort,
a---good sort. He never laughs at a chap." If there was one thing that
Jack knew more of than another it was slang.




Chapter XXIV.--The Ball.

Jan had done a hard day's work, and was feeling run down. He had
addressed and posted hundreds of circulars to Unions all over the
country, imploring financial assistance for his Union. He had between
whiles interviewed his fellow-officials more times than might be
counted, and finally he had exhaustively harangued some thousand
workers who had on the stroke of six thrown down their tools and
departed from the Major's mill and workshops, perhaps never to enter
them again. The strike was an accomplished fact. Jan ate a late dinner
in unbroken silence, for Alan, observing his condition, forebore to ask
him any questions, although he was intensely curious. Later, they took
their accustomed chairs on the verandah, and Alan smoked. But Jan was
listless; and he dreamed. An hour passed, and a movement on the road
began to make itself felt. Lights flashed by in the darkness, and the
thud of steel-shod hooves was heard with ever increasing frequency.
Twenty carriages passed in the direction of the "Folly." Alan counted
them while Jan dreamed. At about nine Alan went silently into the house
and dressed for the ball. "I am going, Jan," he said as he emerged. "Au
revoir, old chap!" Jan did not hear nor heed. Alan slowly shook his
head and went upon his way. Twenty more vehicles passed. Jan perceived
the last of them; he watched it vanish into the darkness, and then
he took a cigarette case from his pocket. A clock chimed in the hall
behind him. He counted 10 strokes.

"Alan!" he shouted, "you will be late."

No one answered. Some minutes later Jan helped himself to a liqueur
from the decanter on the table at his elbow. He noticed as he raised
the glass to his lips that his hand was trembling. "To her present
partner, whoever he may be," he muttered, "and may he never know how
bitterly I hate him for his privilege and my misfortune."

At that moment Marion was dancing with Harold Keeling, and for the
second time. Marion did not know what had come over her that evening.
A demon of unrest was in her blood, a vexing malicious spirit had
seized her which dominated and bore her where it pleased. Of all the
men who had come to pay her homage and enjoy her hospitality, there
was not one for whom she cared a straw. But one man there was, a guest
in her father's house, who very poignantly set her nerves on edge, and
that man wished her to be his wife, even against her will. He did not
dance, but he stood in a doorway and watched her. Whenever opportunity
occurred he sought her out and paid her attentions, which at any time
would have irritated her, with a lordly proprietorial air that now made
her rage. His intention was transparent. He wished to intimate to the
world that although he allowed Marion to dance with whom she would, she
belonged to him; she was his promised bride. Marion wished ardently
to chastise his assumption, and while looking for an instrument, she
encountered the eyes of Harold Keeling. They were full of admiration,
and a deep, unspoken prayer. Harold Keeling was a vapid young man,
somewhat empty-headed, but extremely handsome. Marion had always rather
despised him, but her need was desperate, and she beckoned with her
fan. Half an hour later, while in the mazes of a waltz, she caught Lena
Best's glance bent upon her with a look of passionate malignity. She
remembered that Lena loved Keeling, and she immediately repented of
her purpose, for she liked Lena too well to wish to hurt her feelings.
She resolved not to dance with Keeling again, and she dismissed him
abruptly when the waltz was over. But Dr. Culgin was ignorant of her
mind, and Dr. Culgin was already furiously jealous. He approached
her at once and led her imperiously aside. "You are making a show of
yourself and me;" he informed her hotly. "You have given Keeling four
dances. People are talking about it. What can you be thinking of?"

"Of Mr. Keeling," replied Marion. Her heart was aflame, but she looked
as calm as ice. "Is he not divinely handsome?" she continued. "There is
not a man in the room to compare with him. Au revoir, Dr. Culgin."

She tripped away, leaving the Doctor clenching and unclenching his
hands, half choked with rage. Marion next encountered Lena. "Enjoying
yourself, dear?" she asked, then added in a hurried whisper, "Don't
be angry with me about Mr. Keeling, dear. I'll tell you about it
afterwards."

Lena drew herself up like a tragedy queen. "You flatter yourself!" she
retorted icily. Marion, being human, crimsoned to the eyes, and before
the flush passed away her compunctions concerning Lena were no more. A
moment later she was being guided round the ball-room in Mr. Keeling's
arms, and that devoted young man wore upon his face a look of fatuous
bliss. In his thinking the beautiful heiress was making a "dead set" at
him, and in the gay strains of the band, he thought, he could hear the
sounds of distant muffled wedding bells, and the merry chink of gold.

Mr. Keeling's hopes received their quietus a little while before the
supper dance. The hall-room was so hot that she allowed him to lead her
out into the night towards a rustic seat that encompassed a shady tree
which Keeling had chosen, because the particular Chinese lantern which
should have lighted up that spot had been extinguished by the breeze.
Mr. Keeling's experience with girls of Marion's age had taught him that
his charms were all but invincible, and that very few women objected to
being kissed by him immediately after a round dance. He had, moreover,
that very morning read a novel whose author declared that all women
liked a bold wooer. He felt strong enough to storm a forlorn hope.
Fate so ordained that Lena Best, and a gentleman whose name is of no
importance, occupied a portion of the seat which Keeling had selected.
They could see without being seen, for they were in absolute gloom.
Lena's partner wished to warn the approaching couple, but Lena put a
trembling hand upon his lips, which he kissed, as in duty bound.

Marion had scarcely sat down, when Keeling slipping an arm around her
waist.

"I love you madly!" he muttered. Drawing her close to him, he tried to
press his lips to hers. But Marion, although dazed with the suddenness
of the attack, struggled backwards. Lena and her partner heard the
sound of a stinging slap. They saw Marion speed like a white fairy
across the lawn and Keeling emerged a few seconds later from their
common shadow into the colored glow of the Chinese lanterns. The young
man held one hand to his cheek, and he looked incomparably foolish.
Lena's feelings were curiously divided. She was vindictively rejoiced
because her old lover had been punished for what she considered his
falseness to her, and she was unspeakably relieved to learn that Marion
did not care for Keeling; but at the same time she resented Marion's
ability to flout the man whom she herself secretly loved in spite
of all. She would almost have preferred to have seen Marion accept
and return Keeling's kisses. Her partner uttered a low amused laugh,
and she turned on him like an adder. "Have you no fine feeling," she
whispered fiercely. "How would you like anyone to see and sneer at your
confusion?"

The man was too astonished to reply at once, and ever afterwards he
entertained a deep respect for Lena's kindliness of heart. But Lena
cried herself to sleep that night, or rather in the morning, and from
the bottom of her soul she hated the giver of the ball.

Dr. Culgin was not to be seen when Marion entered the house, and not
even at supper time did he appear again. He had watched Keeling escort
Marion into the garden, and had then retired straightway to his room.
Marion welcomed his absence, but it soon was borne to her that with him
had departed the potential elements of excitement whose development she
had previously mistaken for enjoyment. She played her part as hostess
with religious attention to detail that earned her golden opinions,
and she danced with every bore who asked her; but though her face was
bright her heart ached, and the pity was that why, she did not know.
Alan Laing was one of the last to go. He had a purpose, and he had
waited all the evening for an opportunity to exploit it. An indomitably
patient man, he would have waited for ever. His chance came after she
had said good-bye to Lena. She was standing in the porch looking sadly
after the departing carriage, which contained her former friend and
new-made enemy.

"Everything passes, Miss Reay," said Alan softly. "The ball is over,
and I must go."

She started and forced a smile. "Yes," she murmured, "everything
passes. Good night, Mr. Laing. Come soon again."

He retained her hand and looked into her eyes. "I have been observing
you," he said, "to see if you were happy. You are not."

She withdrew her hand and proudly raised her head. "You mistake," she
retorted; "I have had a golden time."

He smiled in her face, but so wistfully that she could not feel
offended. "A glittering time, perhaps," he said. "This life is nothing
without the one thing that makes it worth the while. Good night, Miss
Reay."

She turned frowningly away, wondering what he meant; but later, in the
silence of her chamber, she purchased understanding with tears. It
seemed to her then that Jan Digby had done her a grievous wrong. He had
awakened in her heart a knowledge of its emptiness, and a prescience
of its power to love. He had held a light before her darkened eyes and
made them see a mystery in herself, and he had pretended to possess the
key to solve that mystery. He had said, "I love you," and he had seemed
Prince Charming for awhile. It was cruel of him to so pretend and
trifle with her ignorance. "Life can never be again the same to me,"
she moaned, and even in her dreams she thought of him with bitterness.




Chapter XXV.--The Strike Commences.

The cane cutters were coming to Ballina. Two hours before dawn the
first of them arrived, a brawny giant, the skin of whose face and
hands was tanned by the sun to a rich copper hue. He tramped on foot
beside a pack-horse, which poor, patient brute was loaded from tail to
forelock with a miscellaneous burden of household goods. Indeed, the
cutter's tent pole extended beyond the beast's head and tail alike. It
was wrapped about with a cloud of dirty white or yellow canvas, from
whose corners several stray rope ends draggled on the road. About it,
and over the region of the horse's withers, towered two sacks of chaff
fixed pannier wise, superimposed with a roll of blankets, an axe,
and a heavy bag of flour. A gridiron and half a dozen pots and pans
dangled from the beast's mane, to which they were securely fastened.
These made strange music with every step the horse took, music that
a Chinaman might have taken delight in. The cane cutter did not like
it particularly, but he did not care to stop a clatter which had been
his only company, through the dark for nearly 20 miles. The lights
of Ballina gleamed with a joyous welcome as he passed the "Folly's"
gate. He was glad to have reached his journey's end, and taking his
pipe from his mouth, he swore good-humoredly at his horse in order to
express his satisfaction. Half a mile further on he struck aside from
the road and entered the waste common land, a low-lying level plain
extending from the Major's house to the township. It had been used from
time immemorial for the depasturing of the common stock; for any other
purpose it was valueless, since the least rise in the river converted
it into a sea of muddy water.

The cane cutter, having selected a place which appeared suitable to his
design, halted and began to unload his horse. From long custom he could
see in the dark almost as well as a cat, but before he started to erect
his tent, he lighted a kerosene flare contained in an old ginger-beer
bottle, which he set upon the ground. This cast a lurid yellow glare
across the plain, and attracted in the course of half an hour a dozen
new arrivals to the spot. All led pack-horses, and all were smoking
short-stemmed briar wood pipes. They exchanged greetings in true bush
fashion.

"Night, Tom."

"Night, Bill."

"How's the road? Full?"

"Ay! Packed!"

"See many?"

"Passed a few. Got a blanky fine pitch for yer camp here, Bill."

"First come, first served, Tom!"

"Yers! That's so!"

Five minutes later 13 kerosene flares gave the plain an inhabited
appearance, but mysterious all the same, for those curious flames at
a little distance cast uncanny shadows, and, tortured by the wind,
they shone in and out like witch lights. The cane cutters were drawn
to Ballina by a shared gregarious instinct without premeditation or
official encouragement of any kind. If they had been asked for a
reason, they would have replied, "Living's cheaper there," or, "Wanted
to see the fun. A strike don't happen every day. What do you think!"

They were a curious nomad class, the cane cutters, and numerous;
indeed, they comprised a large majority of the Union men. They earned
good wages because their work was extremely hard, and required not
only great strength, but enormous physical endurance. In most parts
of the world it is performed exclusively by blacks, who can better
than Europeans withstand the fierce rays of the tropical sun. In and
about Ballina, however, it was confined by law to the whites at the
instance of a paternal government which, rightly or wrongly, wished
to restrict a colored influx into the country, and at the same time
prevent the cheapening of labor. As may be conceived, the cane cutters
were men of fine physique. But they were also for the most part men who
were naturally unfitted for other and preferable occupations, densely
ignorant, slow witted, or else derelicts of fortune. Many were mental
imbeciles. As a class, however, they were curiously free from vice.
Drunkenness was a common failing, it is true; but like most big men,
they were gentle as sheep even when intoxicated, and kindly hearted to
a fault. Thriftlessness was their besetting sin. Each time the cane
cutting season ended they drifted all over the country in search of
other employment, begging when they could find none, or starving as
chance might rule. But immediately the season recommenced, back they
came in swarms like homing bees, to toil like negroes through the week,
and drink themselves into a lethal state on Sundays. Passing from
plantation to plantation as their services were needed, they lived in
tents, and like Arabs, led a ceaselessly wandering existence, reckless
of the future, heedless of the past. It has been said of them with
more than a modicum of justice, that when their hats were upon their
heads, their houses were roofed. But, incurably improvident and foolish
gipsies though they were, they had this virtue, they were honest as
the sun. They worked for their wages as faithfully without as with
a gangman chief, and a few of them had ever been known to steal so
much as an egg from the most isolated and undefended farm. To women,
moreover, they were invariably most kind and courteous, and no cane
farmer's wife, however far from help her homestead, even in the absence
of her husband, dreamed of dreading their approach.

When morning came Marion looked from her window and saw the plain
snow-scattered with a hundred tents. She thought at first she must be
dreaming, but even as she watched their numbers grew.

Jan smiled when his eyes rested on that tented army, for each tent
increased his power. By noon their number could not easily be counted,
and 4000 burly cutters lounged about the town. The public-house
keepers and the tradesmen generally were intensely gratified, for
the bars were always full, and every shopman in the village drove a
roaring trade. It is an ill wind that blows nobody any good. Ballina
began to bless the strike, and the more because the crowd was orderly
and interfered with no one. Pickets were set, it is true, about the
mills and factories, but so far their duties were not obvious, since
those places were deserted by their owners. Dr. Culgin spent the day
travelling backwards and forwards between the telegraph office and the
"Folly" in the Major's buggy. Towards evening a whisper got abroad
that he had wired to the capital, ordering a large force of police to
be immediately despatched to Ballina. On his next appearance he was
greeted with derisive jeers. Popularity was as the breath of life to
Dr. Culgin, and the hootings wrung his heart. But he had been forced to
adopt a course, and he dared not go back, since his public reputation
was involved, and as a Minister of the Crown it behoved him to take
every possible precaution for the maintenance of law and order. Two
mounted constables, sword in hand, escorted him out of the town. The
crowd observed his disposition silently. The Doctor thought them cowed
by the display of force, and his heart rejoiced. The men, however, were
silent because they were dumb-stricken at his pusillanimous admission
of fear and offended at his want of trust in their sense of fair play.
It was as bad as accusing them of being cowards. When he had gone they
growled, and that murmur from 4000 lips sounded like muffled thunder at
a little distance. The Doctor heard it and he whipped up his horses.
He did not leave the "Folly" on the following day. The Major, however,
drove into his office with Marion, and he was greeted with cheers, for
he was respected by all and loved by many. A dozen men lounged without
his factory door. Others were posted in pairs at intervals of 50 yards
or so, in a line leading to the door of the building in which was Jan's
office, some quarter mile away.

The Major handed the reins to Marion and sprang to the ground. "What
are you fellows doing here?" he demanded, walking up to the loungers.

One man touched his cap. "Picketing, Major," he answered civilly enough.

"I see. I suppose you intend to try and prevent anyone from working in
the factory!"

"Only blacklegs, sir. Blacklegs is goin' to have a bad time if they
show their noses hereabouts, I reckon."

"We'll see," growled the Major. He inserted a key in the door and
entered the building. "I'll not be long, Marion," he shouted as he
vanished.

Marion was struggling with an idea. She looked questioningly at the
loungers; they were attentively regarding her. She hesitated awhile and
spoke.

"Men!" she called out softly, and beckoned with her hand.

They came forward with alacrity.

"Men," said Marion, "don't hurt any of the poor fellows who are coming
to work in the factory to-morrow. It would be cruel of you. They have
never hurt you, and they are only trying to make a living for their
wives and children."

The men exchanged curious glances.

"To-morrow!" muttered one.

"Must be by the Tomki," said another. "She's expected."

"Please promise me that you won't hurt them," pleaded Marion.

"Bless your pretty face, missie," replied their leader, "we won't touch
a hair of their heads!"

"Thank you," said Marion earnestly. "You have made me very happy."

The men retreated, whispering together. A moment later they seemed to
have come to some agreement, for they all nodded and one of them strode
off. Marion watched him approach the nearest outpost. He spoke to the
men there, one of whom marched to the next outpost, and so on. She
understood that some message had been sent to the strike headquarters,
and she felt vaguely troubled. She wondered did it concern her request
and the men's promise to her. Next evening she knew that she had been
innocently responsible for her father's first defeat. On the Tomki's
arrival with 300 artisans aboard, 2000 strikers had immediately
surrounded the new-comers and marched them, willy nilly, to the plain
beyond the village. There, in full view of the town, and in the
presence of the assembled and much terrified police force of Ballina,
300 artisans joined the ranks of the striking Union, and in the midst
of an outburst of cheering that might have been heard five miles away,
they were promptly re-escorted to the waiting steamer.

The Major's rage was terrible to witness. The old gentleman had plotted
a brilliant coup d'etat. At great trouble and expense he had, in
anticipation of the strike, secretly engaged the men in Sydney, and he
had arranged with the steamship authorities to land them at his private
wharf, whence they might easily have slipped into the factory and have
been safe from all oppression by the Union. The secret of their coming,
however, having leaked out, it was easy for the strikers to defeat his
intention. Jan had, as a matter of fact, divided his forces, and 2000
men had waited at both wharves since daylight.

The Major felt that he had been first betrayed and then outwitted.
He suspected his son, and stormily accused him of having told the
secret to Jan. Jack replied with almost equal vigor, and Marion rushed
in between the angry pair, weepingly accusing herself. The Major,
livid with passion, raised his hand and cursed her. The servants fled
screaming from that scene, and Jack, himself almost fainting, carried
his swooning sister to her room.

Marion's misery was infinite, and her despair so great that she
wished to die. For two days she lay in a sort of torpor on her bed,
tasting no food and scarcely conscious of Jack's passionate appeals
for recognition. Jack guarded her unceasingly. He hardly left her
side, and would admit no one to the chamber. During all that time the
Major's remorse waged fierce warfare with his pride, but at last love
triumphed, and one evening he tottered a tremulous and pitiable object,
to his daughter's room, and cast himself on his knees beside her still
impassive figure. What passed between them may not be related, but
Marion forgave her father, and both found peace.

That night Jan Digby was arrested in his bedroom at the Bungalow by
two Sydney detectives, and conveyed gagged in a closed carriage to the
Ballina lock-up, which was guarded by a cordon of police, armed to the
teeth, who had just arrived from Sydney.

There arrived, he was formally charged with having conspired with
others to prevent by force certain citizens from entering upon a lawful
occupation.

Jan asked to see the information, and was not surprised to discover
that it was signed by James Culgin. But he did not sleep the less
peacefully because iron bars enclosed him and his bed was not of down.




Chapter XXVI.--Jan Breaks Arrest.

Although his enemy was safe in prison, Dr. Culgin was by no means
satisfied. It was true that the whole town believed Jan guilty of the
offence with which he had been charged, but in order to convict him
and keep him in gaol the law required evidence, and of that essential
commodity the Doctor and his satellites possessed not a tittle. Nor was
there any likelihood of obtaining any. It would have been necessary in
that behalf to procure some or one of Jan's fellow-officials in the
Union to turn informer and betray Jan. But try as he would, the Doctor
could not discover a spy nor a traitor in the Union, and he gritted his
teeth as he realised the hopelessness of his desires. He determined,
nevertheless, to keep Jan imprisoned as long as possible, and for that
purpose he instructed the prosecuting sergeant to apply for a remand.

Two days later Jan was escorted by 50 mounted troopers from the station
to the court-house. The police rode through the strikers with cocked
revolvers in their hands. Jan walked in their midst with handcuffs on
his wrists. The men groaned as they saw him, but made no move. It was
a terrible sound, that groan, more terrible to the ears of those who
heard it than the thunder of the bar when the storm-driven ocean beat
upon the sounding rocks. It rose and fell in threatening reverberations
along a double line of swarthy lowering faces that fringed a crowd
a hundred deep, which stretched without a break from the lock-up to
Jan's point of destination. Jan smiled to hear it, but his guardians
shivered, and they grasped the hilts of their revolvers as soldiers
might on riding into battle.

But the strikers, well drilled by Jan himself and by Jan's pupils, kept
their ranks and opposed no hindrance to the law. The court-house was
reached, and Jan was motioned to enter by the sergeant. The troopers
thereon wheeled about and faced the gloomy crowd, silently displaying
their ready weapons. The sergeant said, "Let no man pass!"

He disappeared, and the crowd groaned again.

Jan was forced into the dock. He looked up, and saw seated on the bench
the cane farmer, Mr. McStuart Higgs, who had so grossly insulted him at
the conference.

The sergeant read the charge, and Jan was asked to plead.

"I refuse to plead," he answered firmly. "This is a trumped-up charge,
and I believe my arrest is illegal."

"Not guilty," said the magistrate.

"I ask your worship for a week's remand without bail," said the
sergeant.

"Granted!" cried Mr. Higgs. "Clear the court!"

Jan, greatly indignant, began to protest, but a hand was clapped over
his mouth and he was dragged to the door. With a great effort he kept
his temper, and when he appeared in the open air his face, though pale,
was calm.

"Discharged!" yelled the crowd.

Jan shook his head. "I am remanded for a week!" he shouted. "Be quiet,
men, and on your lives don't interfere with the police; they are only
doing their duty. See that you do yours!"

"Thank you for those words," muttered the sergeant in Jan's ear.
"You're a good sort, Mr. Digby, and I'll not forget you for it."

Jan made no reply, and the return to the lock-up began. It was
accomplished without incident. The men did not even groan; they seemed
to be thinking. Jan was cast into a cell, where he passed a lonely
forenoon. The sergeant then came, and having removed his manacles,
invited Jan to lunch. "While you're here, sir," said he, "I'll do my
best to make you comfortable."

He led the way to a table, where half a score of constables were seated
before a substantial meal.

They nodded respectfully as Jan took a seat. "Good luck to you, sir,"
said one. "You saved a few lives this morning, I reckon; perhaps mine
among the number. Every man here wishes you well."

"Yes," added the sergeant. "That crowd would have eaten us up at a
word, for all our pistols. Have some beer, Mr. Digby?"

"Thanks," Jan smiled. "Any news from outside?"

"News that ought to make you glad you are safe in here," replied the
sergeant. "After we left the court-house some of the crowd waited
against our expectation and caught Mr. Higgs, the magistrate, as he
came out."

Jan started. "They did not injure him, I hope?"

"Just tarred and feathered him, and rode him on a rail. Oh, no, he's
not hurt; but he won't sit on your case again, I'm thinking."

"Where is he now?"

"Trying to save his homestead. It's afire. Most of my men have gone to
help him, and to try to catch the scoundrels who did the mischief. This
strike is going to cost somebody dear, Mr. Digby."

Jan was horrified. "Were they mad to arrest me?" he cried. "I am
their best friend if they only knew it, the fools? But for me, the
mills--ah!" He stopped abruptly and looked about him with a frown.

The constables exchanged glances. "It's all right, sir," said the
sergeant quietly. "This is unofficial. Men, not a word."

The others nodded. "Very good!" they muttered. "We're heard nothing."

Jan shrugged his shoulders and began to eat; but the sergeant was
loquacious. "Another five score police with two machine guns will be
here the day after to-morrow, sir," he said. "When they come, we won't
care a fig for all the Unions in the country."

Jan laughed contemptuously. "Will your machine guns save the sugar crop
from spoiling?"

"No, but the blacklegs will. As you are 'dead wood' now, sir, so to
speak, I don't mind giving you a bit of information."

"Well?" said Jan.

"Well," said the sergeant with a look of triumph, "the Government is
sending up along with the guns about 500 men from the unemployed bureau
to cut the cane, and 200 engineers to work the mills. Every man Jack
of them is sworn in as a special constable, and they are armed with
truncheons, too. This strike won't last another week."

"How are they coming?" demanded Jan.

"By two specially chartered steamboats. They are due here the day after
to-morrow. Well, sir, what do you think of it?"

"The outlook is becoming serious," Jan answered gravely. "Seven hundred
men cannot hope to do the work of 6000, and the Union has little to
fear from their rivalry in reality. But what I am afraid of is that the
strikers in my absence will not consider the matter soberly. A mob is
easily enraged. If the men once become desperate, God help them, and
you."

The sergeant laughed. "God help them, if you like, sir," he retorted.
"But once the guns come, we shall know how to look after ourselves."

Jan's lips curled. "A pin for your guns!" he sneered. "If they were
here now, and I a free man, in ten minutes you would find them useless."

"How? What would you do?"

Jan uttered a low amused laugh. "How long do you expect to keep me here
a prisoner?" he demanded.

"A week, at least."

"So; then I shall answer your question when that period expires."

The sergeant regarded Jan with a puzzled frown. "You are not thinking
of escape?" he asked. "I'd advise you not to try and break the law,
sir."

"Sergeant!" retorted Jan, "you know as well as I do that my arrest was
absolutely illegal. What crime would I commit, then, if I broke out of
this gaol?"

The sergeant shook his head. "You're here, however you got here," he
replied; "and it's my business to keep you here."

"Dead or alive?"

"Dead or alive!"

Jan got up abruptly from the table. "Lock me up again in my cell at
once," he said; "I have no desire to be shot by mistake or otherwise."

"Eh!" cried the sergeant. "What are you getting at, man? Sit down and
finish your lunch."

"I like you, sergeant," replied Jan. "You have treated me like a
gentleman. Accept some advice from me."

"Have you not thought that I might be rescued? Order your men into the
street at once. It is ten to two now. In five minutes you may be too
late. As for you, take me to my cell and lock me up. I shall tell you
the rest on our way."

The constables sprang to their feet like men galvanised, and revolvers
appeared as if by magic.

The sergeant was carried away by the suddenness of Jan's suggestion.

"To the street!" he shouted. "As for you, sir, come this way."

The men hurried pell-mell from the room. The sergeant seized Jan's arm
and dragged him into the passage leading to the cells. "Easy does it,"
protested Jan. "I'm not trying to escape yet."

"What's this you have to tell me?" demanded the sergeant, stopping at
Jan's cell.

"Open the door first, quick!"

The sergeant threw the door wide. "Hurry up!" he cried.

"Very well," replied Jan; "I'm sorry for you, sergeant; but----" His
open right hand shot out and stabbed the other's throat. The burly
policeman staggered back, uttering a loud sighing gasp that expended
all his breath. Jan caught him in an iron grip, and with one great
heave sent his opponent flying into the cell, where he sank a huddled
heap upon the floor. Jan shut the door to with a clang and turned the
lock. Withdrawing the key, he ran down the passage and regained the
eating-room. Crouching behind the table he began to wait.

Hardly was he concealed when the sergeant's yells for help resounded
through the building. The police outside heard those cries, and guessed
their meaning; for, strange to say, the street was practically deserted
except for themselves. Uttering growls of rage at the trick which
they suspected had been played upon them, they dashed back into the
station-house, and Jan heard them rushing down the corridor towards the
cell in which their leader was imprisoned. He waited for no more, but
slipping from his hiding place, tip-toed through the door and out into
the street, no one opposing him.

"It was not harder than that!" he thought contemptuously.

Taking to his heels he sped down the road and turned the first corner
in perfect safety. Five minutes later he was closeted in his office
with McBean and Patrick Dennis, whose joy in welcoming him reached
fever heat when he explained the manner of his escape.

Jan had just finished relating his adventure a second time to an
audience of a thousand strikers assembled before his balcony window,
when he observed some 20 mounted police approaching the outskirts of
the frantically delighted crowd. He at once made a sign for silence,
and the idolising crowd obeyed.

"I don't see the sergeant with you," shouted Jan to the police. "Have
you come for the key of his cell? Here it is!" He tossed it down, and
the crowd, shouting with laughter, passed it on from hand to hand until
it reached the troopers. The one who received it looked angrily across
the sea of heads at Jan.

"We have come for you," he called out grimly. "Will you give yourself
up, or must we take you?"

Jan laughed mockingly. "I can't get to you without wings," he cried.
"But I'll go with you, if you come and take me. I promise I shall make
no resistance!"

The crowd raised a mighty laugh, but threatening yells mingled with the
merriment. "Yes! go and take him!" they shouted.

The troopers looked at the mob and then at each other. They had neither
orders nor a leader, and their heart failed them.

Muttering together, they wheeled in line and rode off presently,
followed by a storm of jeers. Jan was escorted to the Bungalow that
evening by two thousand men, and a great section of the strikers, the
better to secure his safety, pitched their tents about Alan Laing's
house.

Six hours previously Jan had been but a name to the majority of those
men, but the events of the morning had endeared him to their hearts,
and now there was not one to be found who would not have followed him
to the death.




Chapter XXVII.--Jan Loses his Best Friend.

Jan found Alan lying dangerously ill in bed, a doctor and a nurse
in close attendance. On the preceding evening he had been seized
with a sudden faintness, which proved but a prelude to a long series
of swooning fits from which he seemed unable to rally. The doctor
explained to Jan that Alan's diseased heart, unable to perfectly fulfil
its functions, had suffered a quantity of blood to accumulate in the
lungs; which had gradually effused the tissues and now threatened him
with suffocation. Three times already had the doctor tapped his lungs
and procured him momentary relief. But the evil as constantly recurred,
and Alan grew weaker every hour.

"Tell me the worst," said Jan. "Can he recover?"

"He will not last the night," said the physician sadly. "His heart
is like a beaten horse. It can do no more. For 20 hours I have been
spurring it with stimulants but its strength is gone, and for some time
now it has not answered to the spur."

"Is he in pain?"

"That is the only comfort I can give you. He is insensible. Indeed, I
do not think that he will wake again."

Jan walked slowly to the bed. Alan's eyes were closed. He was breathing
heavily, and his face was of a ghastly bluish grey. His hands were
folded before him on the coverlid. Jan stood gazing down at him, his
heart aching at the thought of impending separation from one who had
loved him as a brother. The memory of a nameless sorrow shared between
them and a thousand sympathies and kindnesses interchanged, overcame
him at last. His breast heaved and an anguished cry broke from his lips.

"Alan! Dear old friend! Don't leave me!"

Alan heard that cry. His spirit wandering dreamily like a bird lost in
a sea of mist fluttered homewards at the call. His eyes slowly opened,
and they saw Jan's eyes.

Jan caught one of his wan, feeble hands, and pressed it tightly between
his own. There was a wild hope in him to infuse through that pressure
some of his own brimming energy into the other's frail and wasted frame.

"Get well, old boy," he pleaded in a voice of agony.

Alan's eyes smiled at him, Jan thought, and then they seemed to glaze
and very slowly the lids covered their staring pupils.

At six in the morning Alan ceased to breathe, and Jan, overcome with
grief, was led by the doctor from the chamber of death. Already the
camp was stirring. The smokes of a thousand little fires climbed in
lazy spirals through the motionless air. The strikers were busily
preparing their modest breakfasts, cooking dampers in the ashes, and
coaxing their grimy "billy" pots to boil. The few married men in that
great crowd were notable from their lounging attitudes. They slouched
apart in scattered groups, smoking their pipes and watching their less
indolent wives at work.

Absorbed in his sorrow, Jan stood upon the verandah a listless,
drooping figure, with wide unseeing eyes.

After a long while, a man picking his way among the tents opened the
gate and strode up to Jan. "I'm glad to find you dressed, Mr. Digby,"
he said heartily. "I've come to clinch the plan we fixed on yesterday."

"My friend, Mr. Alan Laing, died last night," said Jan. "You won't find
me up to much to-day, McBean, I'm afraid."

"Good Lord!" cried the Union President. "You don't mean to say he is
dead! It's not two days since I was speaking to him. He'd just been
to Dr. Culgin to try and bail you out. He was very angry about your
arrest."

Jan bit his lips in order to suppress a groan. He had been rash enough
to think some reproaches of his friend while be had been in gaol. And
Alan, after all, had tried to help him, and Alan was dead.

"Let's talk of something else," he muttered; "our work. Have you
consulted the others?"

"About the blacklegs and the guns?"

"Yes."

"I have, sir. They agreed to everything, and, like me, they're
perfectly willing to put 'emselves in your hands. We look upon you as
our captain, sir. Please God, you'll fix us soon, sir. A lot of the
cutters are crying out for help already, and before long we'll have to
feed them all."

"I'll do my best. What of the manifesto?"

"It's already in the printer's hands, sir, just as you wrote it. It
will be posted all over the town before six o'clock to-night. Anything
else you want done, sir?"

"Yes. Pass word round that not a soul must go into town to-day, and,
McBean----"

"Yes, sir."

"Bid them be as quiet as they can." Jan's voice shook.

"Guid save us, sir, I shall. Ah, the puir chiel, the puir chiel!"

"That's all now, McBean."

"Will there be a funeral to-day, sir?"

"The doctor has promised to make arrangements. It will take place this
afternoon. Good-bye."

"Pardon me," persisted McBean, "but you'll be attending it, may be?"

"Why, certainly."

"Not without the men," said McBean. "We can't afford to run the risk of
your capture now."

"Very good, McBean. My friend would like it if he could know. He was
one of us at heart."

"I know that, sir, and I'll let the boys know, too."

They shook hands silently, and McBean strode away.

Jan entered the house, and with noiseless footfalls sought his room.
A tray set with food, supplied by the forethought of some kindly
maid, stood upon the table. He tried to eat, but the first mouthful
almost choked him. With a groan he cast himself upon the bed and tried
to think how he could render his existence in Ballina endurable now
that his best friend on earth had gone into the unknown. He chided
himself that his grief was pure selfishness, remembering how often and
sincerely poor Alan had sighed for death. But his loneliness was a pain
that defied the stings of irony, and which only exhausted nature could
relieve. Sleep, soft and dreamless, wrapped his weary soul at last,
but he was not permitted to rest for many hours. In that sub-tropical
place undertakers were of necessity men of brisk action. Awakened by
the tramp of feet, Jan went out into the passage and saw a coffin being
carried into Alan's chamber by two black-coated fellows.

Half dazed by the suddenness of it all, he caught at a curtain for
support, and standing so with half-closed eyes, he listened like one in
a dream to padded sounds which heralded the conduct of a ghastly hidden
business. A gliding servant came and touched his arm. "Would you like
to see him once more before he is screwed down, sir?" she whispered.

Jan shuddered violently. "No, no!" he panted. "Let me be!" and he
staggered back into his room. There followed a hiatus in his reckoning
of time. He had not taken food or drink for 20 hours, and he was
weaker than he knew. Two hours passed before the servants found him,
and even then it was long before he understood their kindly offices.
Revived, however, by a cup of champagne, he forced himself to eat the
things they pressed upon him. On mention of guests he strode into his
dead friend's library, and came face to face with Major Reay and a
white-beaded clergyman.

"This is kind of you," Jan muttered; "more than kind."'

"I liked him, Jan," said the Major simply. "Won't you shake hands with
me, my boy?"

Jan could not speak, but he wrung the Major's hand, and afterwards he
seemed to listen to the aged minister's professional remarks. A little
later he was walking with bowed head behind the hearse on his way
to the cemetery on a distant hilltop clearing. He was dressed as he
had been on the previous day, in a suit of rough grey tweed, but not
one in the vast silent procession that followed, blamed unkindly his
forgetfulness.

The Major wished to drive him home, when the burial was over, and
gently urged his invitation more than once, even suggesting the
discussion of business. But Jan was absorbed and desolate, and nothing
seemed good to him except to be alone.

He waited by the grave till all had gone, and he was still standing
bareheaded, staring at the dank sods that covered poor Alan's remains,
when the sun set upon his misery.

As he passed through the cemetery gate a boyish figure that had been
lurking in the shadows of the wall started out on the road and stepped
into stride beside him. Jan knew without looking that Jack Reay was his
companion, but neither spoke until the camp lights twinkled into sight.
Jan felt really grateful to the boy, for his silent comradeship had
been an unexpected comfort, and it had broken up the blacker gloom of
his imaginings.

"You'll be late for dinner, Jack," he said at last.

Jack shook his head. "We've had our meals at all hours lately," he
replied. "Marion has been ill."

"Not seriously, I hope, Jack?"

"She is better now. She made me go to you this afternoon. I have been
nursing her, you know. That's why I haven't been to see you before. I
haven't been into town once since I came home."

Half a mile further on Jack stopped and held out his hand. "I'll leave
you now, Jan, if you don't mind," he said abruptly. "The employers'
crowd are meeting at our house to-night, and I promised dad to help
entertain them. Otherwise I'd have stayed with you."

"Thank you, Jack. Good-bye."

"Jan, I must tell you something."

"Well, Jack."

"They'd eat me if they knew--but I don't care a hang. I like you better
than the lot of them."

"Don't tell me anything you should not, Jack," said Jan.

"They are going to try and arrest you again to-morrow, Jan," the boy
blurted out. "Dad tried all he could to persuade them to let you alone,
but they won't. That beast Culgin leads 'em all by the nose."

Jan nodded. "I expected this, my boy," he answered gravely.

"You'll clear out at once, won't you? You'll have a night's start."

"I think not, Jack. Between ourselves, they are playing into my hands.
I cannot tell you any more now, but rest easy about me. I shall come to
no harm."

"I hoped you'd clear out," said Jack in disappointed tones. "So did
Marian. There will be a big fight now, I suppose, won't there?"

"If I were to resist, Jack, but I shall not. Did------" he hesitated.
"Did your sister advise you to warn me?"

"She knows."

"God bless you both," said Jan, and abruptly swinging on his heel he
strode away.




Chapter XXVIII.--The Manifesto.

Sixteen gentlemen were seated in the Majors smoking-room. For mutual
protection they had ridden in a body to the "Folly" from Ballina
through the strikers' camp. They were dressed in bush riding costume,
and all were belted with revolvers. They had left the town perfectly
quiet and almost empty, no one had offered to molest them on their
journey, and yet each of them wore a gloomy and discontented look.
Some of them smoked, but none spoke. They were awaiting the arrival of
Dr. Culgin, who was closeted in another chamber with Major Reay and a
sergeant of police. The sergeant had just arrived with a copy of the
strikers' latest manifesto which he had torn from a hoarding a few
minutes earlier while the paste upon its back surface was yet moist.
He reported that within half an hour of falling dark a hundred similar
placards had been billed about the town by mounted men who had vanished
at the sign of interruption.

The Employers' Association was becoming impatient as well as
discontented when of a sudden the door opened, and Dr. Culgin, followed
by the Major, stalked into the room. The Doctor held a scroll between
his hands which smelt strongly of old paste. It was covered with large
flame-colored printed characters.

"Gentlemen," said he, "please give me your attention while I read to
you this manifesto. Listen! Ah'm!" He cleared his throat.


"Whereas, it having come to our knowledge that the Government, at the
solicitation of the Sugar Cane Employers' Association of Ballina, has
despatched to this place a further force of 100 police and two machine
guns with a view, presumably, to intimidate the Cane Workers' Union, we
feel it incumbent upon us to assure our fellow-citizens and the country
generally that we are not the desperadoes which the aforesaid action
taken by the Government would have us appear. True it is that the
homestead of Mr. McStuart Higgs, a member of our opponent association,
has lately been committed to the flames. We, however, indignantly
repudiate any criminal acquaintance with that lawless deed, and we
protest our abhorrence of the unknown ruffians responsible therefor.
It was accomplished after the police reinforcements had set out upon
their journey hitherwards, and before we could possibly have heard of
the Government's intention. It cannot, therefore, be laid to our blame,
even by those who will discredit this our assurance, as an act of
revenge.

"In order the better to evidence our desire to prove ourselves unworthy
of the aspersion cast upon us by the Government's recourse to a display
of force, we have resolved to abandon the methods usually employed by
striking unions, wishing to obtain a redress of grievances. Henceforth
there will be no picketing, nor will any attempt be made by us to
interfere with those whose labor our employers may seek to substitute
for ours. Confident in the inherent justness of our cause, we appeal to
the arbitrament of public opinion which we feel sure cannot but support
us, and cannot but obtain us justice when the facts pertaining to our
past and present course of action are calmly and leisurely reviewed.
We attach hereto a plain and unexaggerated statement of the matters
leading up to the strike. We challenge our opponents to similarly state
their case, and we await the judgment to which we have appealed.

"(Signed) for the Cane Workers' Union,

"JAMES McBEAN, President.

"JAN DIGBY, Secretary."


Dr. Culgin laid down the paper and glanced about him.

"Gentlemen," said he, "the point of this manifesto seems to be that the
men have decided to let us fill their places without resistance."

"Whether they resist or not, we cannot do that," grumbled Higgs. "It
would take us a year to get 5000 new men together, and we can't do with
one less."

"Their appeal to public opinion is all rubbish," cried another. "Public
opinion cannot hurt us. Money talks!"

"I shall be pretty well ruined unless my crop is cut soon," said a
third. "It's all right for the Major and a few others of you. But I am
sick of the strike already."

"Me too," said Mr. O'Hooligan. "If we could give in gracefully Oi'd
vote for just that. Oi have a 1000 acres just croying to be cut."

"If we give in," said Dr. Culgin sternly, "they'll be striking next
year for a further increase. Talk sense, gentlemen!"

Mr. O'Hooligan shrugged his shoulders. "We've lost more already than
we'd have paid in three years of increased wages," he retorted.

"We cannot go back now," said the Major firmly.

"I'm not saying we can. But what Oi want to say to this. Their cursed
manifesto shows that they know their strength better than we can teach
them."

"What!" snapped the Doctor, "you don't take them seriously, do you?
There is some deep scheme in their new move."

"P'r'aps," said Mr. O'Hooligan, with a scowl, "your gaynial gaynius
will explain what the scheme is."

The Doctor gave a scornful sniff and raised his hand.

"What have we been most fearing since the strike began? Will anyone
tell me that?"

"The destruction of our property!" snorted Mr. Higgs. "I, for one,
however, don't fear that any longer."

"Poor Higgs," muttered the others.

"Exactly; the destruction of property!" said Dr. Culgin. "And for our
safeguard I, as Minister for Justice, have ordered up police and guns.
The strikers know that as well as we do. They could have forestalled
us, and they have not done so. Why? They can, if they wished, set
all our mills on fire to-night. They will not do so. Why? They have
almost absolute possession of our property, and they are nearly 5000
strong. Had they chosen to fight, or even offer us passive resistance,
we should be powerless. We might shoot them down, it is true, and we
should be right to do so; but if we did, the whole country would be up
in arms. And now they have given us back our own and retired from the
field. They have given up picketing! Why? Can anyone tell me?"

His auditors exchanged troubled glances, but none ventured an opinion.

"No men in their senses," proceeded the Doctor, "would retire
voluntarily from a strong position except in order to take up a
stronger. Their challenge to us in this manifesto to refer the issues
between us to the arbitrament of public opinion is intended to throw
dust in our eyes; indeed, the more I consider the matter the more
convinced of that I become; and, gentlemen, I tell you plainly, I don't
like the look of things. I feel sure that this d----d scoundrel, Digby,
is up to some deep move or other. He to a cunning rascal, and it was a
bad day for us when he got out of gaol. I won't feel easy until I have
him by the heels again."

"But what can he do?" demanded the Major testily. "You may be right,
Culgin, but in my opinion you have found a mare's nest. To-morrow we
shall have the mills at work again, and strong protection to keep
them working. The manifesto may have been intended to deceive us, but
already the men have fulfilled some of their promises. The pickets have
been withdrawn, and the town has been empty all day."

"I believe what I believe," returned the Doctor doggedly, "I don't
know what Digby's game is yet, but I'll know to-morrow. I'll have him
arrested if it costs 50 lives to get him."

"Your dislike of him has affected your judgment, Jim."

The Doctor's jaws snapped together. "We'll see who is in the right in
the end," he grated out. "The question now is, shall we or not reply to
this manifesto? I move that we treat it with contempt."

"I second that," said Mr. Higgs.

"Aye! Aye! Aye!" chorused the others.

"The 'ayes' have it," said the Major.

"I move," said the Doctor suddenly, "that we send the cutters who are
coming up with the police to the smaller holdings first. By doing that,
we shall help those of us who can least afford to lose or to keep up
the fight."

The majority of the assembly received the proposal with acclamation,
being small holders; but there were some darkly frowning faces all the
same. The fact was that every member of the Association had already
felt the pinch, and some there were to whom an indefinite continuance
of the strike meant ruin.

The motion was assented to upon the voices, but five at least of those
present did not speak.

Another meeting was appointed for the following evening, whereupon
the gathering sullenly broke up, nor could all the Major's warmly
hospitable suggestions induce his guests to linger.

Jan would have smiled had he been able to witness their gloomy
expressions as they departed. But at that moment Jan was closeted
with Jim McBean and some 20 delegates, to whom he was giving final
instructions with the air of a prophet.

"In 60 hours or less," said he, "the employers will send for you to
discuss the terms of their surrender. I shall then be in gaol. Do you,
on receiving their message, refuse to meet them until I am released.
Make that an absolute condition of a conference, and they will yield.
As I shall be in gaol in the happening of that event for which we
have just provided, they cannot accuse me of having had a hand in it.
I shall, therefore, be the best person to represent your interests.
That is all I have to say to you, my friends. Go now, and fulfil your
several duties."

The men filed out, their faces beaming, and each man wrung Jan's hand
as he passed.

Twenty minutes later a dozen men on horseback left the camp and set of
at a slow trot on the road to Wyallah, a tiny hamlet situated a few
miles off on the north bank of the river. Strange to say, the faces of
all were masked. Scarcely had they disappeared when two other horsemen,
also masked, and riding barebacked departed towards Ballina. These, on
reaching the outskirts of the town, struck aside and trotted silently
down a lane that led to the water's edge. Dismounting hastily, they
unbridled their steeds and turned them loose. A moment afterwards they
waded into the dark stream, and swam out towards a small unlighted
steamer that swung at her moorings a 100ft. from shore. One man,
perhaps the stronger, hauled himself aboard by the anchor rope and then
assisted his companion from the water. Both immediately hastened to
the engine cuddy, whereabouts they disappeared. An interested watcher
might have observed sparks and smoke issue in increasing volume from
the funnel of the steamer during the next two hours. But of watchers,
interested or otherwise, there were none. Soon after the stroke of
two o'clock the steamer began to move. Her nose pointed up stream,
and thitherward she glided without noise, and save for a yellow glare
exuding from her funnel, without sign of guiding life. At half-past
three she reached Wyallah, whereupon, close to the bank a plank was
run ashore, and 12 masked, silent figures stepped shadow-like aboard.
Before daylight, the steamer had vanished from the river's face; but
various red-billed water-fowl, peering from their leafy nesting places,
watched her anxiously from dawn to dusk, where she lay in a sergy
backwash, screened from the land by a dense growth of sugarcane, and
from the water by the thickly interlacing branches of some fine old
weeping willows.




Chapter XXIX.--The Betrothal.

Two small ocean steamers were sighted from the heads soon after
daylight, and Jan, seated on the Bungalow's verandah, watched them
cross the bar as he ate his breakfast. He guessed their mission without
difficulty, and his suspicion was presently confirmed by the appearance
of an approaching cavalcade upon the road, travelling townwards from
the "Folly." First, in a cloud of dust, trotted six troopers trailing
carbines across their saddle bows. Then came a double-seated buggy,
and lastly, six more troopers bringing up the rear, accompanied with
a dozen cavaliers, whom Jan recognised as members of the Employers'
Association. The buggy contained Major Reay and his son Jack, Dr.
Culgin, and Mr. McStuart Higgs.

Jan half expected the troopers to stop and arrest him, but they swept
by without seeming to perceive him, and Jack's wave of greeting was
the only sign of recognition he received. The camp took no notice
of the cavalcade. Well drilled in their new duties overnight, the
strikers squatted before their tent flaps, sucking silently at their
pipes, their faces stolid and expressionless. They might have been so
many statues. The day was brilliantly fine. Not a cloud marred the
sky's unbroken reach of blue; a big golden sun gave every shade a
purple cast, and fringed the distant mangrove swamps with a haze of
yellow glitter. The sea called to Jan. He thought of his inevitable
forthcoming imprisonment, and his soul within him grew restless and
impatient. Like all true lovers of solitude, Jan never felt alone
within call or sight of human beings, and though the sea has voices for
all such, its companionship is spiritual and not intrusive. "I shall be
a better man for my last long stroll," he muttered, and stood up. No
one spoke to him or sought to stay him as he wandered through the camp,
but gulls and mollyhawks accosted him with streaming welcomes when he
reached the shore. He chose a path along the beach, fresh made by the
lapping waters as they left the sands. There a space was firm under
foot, and though gleaming wet, more pleasant to walk upon than any
road. His mind was curiously blank that morning, and yet so receptive
of impressions that he was vaguely glad he could not think.

The rocks showed him faces in their rugged outlines that he had never
seen before, some beautiful, some sad. The sea murmured songs of
tranquil, half-detected meaning, which was not only melancholy. The
breeze was full of gentle incense-bearing spirits. The cries of the
sea-birds were piercing, yet sweet. All the elements of Nature appeared
to have conspired to charm him; even the summer sun preferred to
beam than burn. Without being aware of it, he passed the wall of the
"Folly," and came out at length, after a lazy ramble that had lasted
hours, to a certain tiny amphitheatre of stone which convicts had
hewn in ancient days for the amusement of some artistic taskmaster.
It faced the bay and was defended from the land by a sudden towering
cliff. Marion was seated on the bottom tier of steps at the mid arch of
the circus. It was doubtful which of them beheld the other first. To
Marion, it seemed the most natural thing in life that he should find
her there, an event certainly not premeditated, but, nevertheless,
entirety wanting in factors creative of surprise. Jan had a different
thought. He had solemnly determined never to speak to her again for
innumerable reasons, each of which was vital, sound, and good. But
as he looked he knew that he was not quite the captain of his soul.
He doffed his cap, and very slowly he approached her; her compelling
charm grew stronger with each step. What strange fancies came to
Marion then! She had considered him quite calmly for so long, and now,
at every sight of him, her emotions surged into a flood that already
threatened her control of self. What was it, too, that held her rapt,
and still, and speechless? He was yet far away. She knew she did not
love him. She had assured herself of that a thousand times. He came
nearer. Her eyes dilated and grew bigger, as though swelling to receive
a message sent by his. She began to doubt her previous conviction, and
her heart began to wildly beat. She pressed her hand to her side, but
she could not still its throbbings. Always he came nearer. In his eyes
she read an understanding which was absolute, and by the light of that
understanding she comprehended all that was mysterious in herself.
She had stood once on the threshold of that mystery, but fear had
overwhelmed her, and she had fled. Now she felt no fear at all--only a
sense of expectation so sharp and thrilling as to constitute a pain.
Jan passed between her and the sun; his whole heart was in her eyes,
but she could no longer see. He had forgotten everything in the world
except himself and Marion. "My poor girl," he muttered in a trembling
voice, "you are so pale. You have been ill, they tell me." She gave
him her hand. He took it, and sat down beside her, holding it still.
A period of silence followed. Marion closed her eyes. Her expectation
had become an agony. From her hand, so passive in his grasp, strange
electric thrills passed into and quivered through her frame.

Jan was thinking. "She is so weak yet from her illness, and that is why
she does not immediately repulse me."

He lifted her hand and let it fall into her lap. She looked up at him
with so reproachful a question in her glance that Jan shook with sudden
passion.

"My darling," he cried out brokenly, "is it possible that you can care
for me?"

A delicious sensation of yielding and being glad to yield almost
overpowered the girl. She wished to give him all the world and then
to die for him; no less a sacrifice seemed adequate to recompense the
bliss she now experienced. Jan must be a god, she thought, for a little
while ago and she had not cared for him nor any man; and then he came,
and now she knew that she could not live without him, and the knowledge
was a happiness inexpressible of speech. It seemed right to worship
him. With a swift writhing movement she slipped to her knees upon the
ground before him, and softly, reverently, she kissed his hand. Jan had
been too dazed to intercept her purpose. He uttered a cry, and stooping
quickly, raised her in his arms. Her cheeks were crimson; her eyes,
gazing into his, glowed brilliantly. The sunbeams turned her hair to
living gold. Slowly he bent his face to hers; he was trembling like a
leaf, but she was still. "My darling!" he panted. "My darling!" She
waited without motion, expectant of some transcendant joy, and thinking
that the world might well end then. Only she gave a little shiver as
the shadow of his head shut out the sun, and her eyes half closed as
their lips met in the long, first kiss of love. She almost swooned, but
his caresses called her back to burning life. Frightened at she knew
not what, she clung to him and hid her face upon his shoulder. He felt
her heart beating against his own, and the sweetness of possession came
upon him as a second revelation, more splendid even than that of her
surrender.

"Whatever happens, I can never give you up," he said. His tones were as
defiant as the idea prompting his speech was sudden.

Marion heard, but did not understand. It could not enter her mind to
give Jan up. She put both her hands upon his breast and drew back as
far as his clasp would permit. Her eyes were tightly shut. "Let me look
at you," she whispered, "but do not look at me. Tell me when I may."

"Now," he answered smiling.

She examined his face inch by inch, feature by feature, with a sort of
passionate curiosity.

"Why, sweetheart?" he asked at length.

She quivered at the word, and blushed divinely. "I was wondering," she
murmured, but she did not say at what.

"Will you marry me?" he demanded, turning his head to meet her eyes.

She hid her face again on instant. "Some day, if daddy will let me,"
she whispered.

Of a sudden she started back and forced herself apart from him; her
cheeks had grown ashen pale.

"Oh, my Heaven!" she cried, "they are going to arrest you--to put you
in prison! You must not let them. I could not bear it now! You must go
away, quickly, quickly!"

"Listen, dear," said Jan. "They will arrest me even though I were to
run away. But you must not be alarmed. They cannot keep me in gaol
long. They can prove nothing against me. Soon they will release me, and
it will be better so. Will you believe me, sweetheart, and trust me to
act for the best?"

The color rushed back into her face. "I cannot bear to think of--you in
prison!" she panted.

"It will not hurt me, darling. It is only for a very little while."

"How long?"

"Three days, at most. The strike will be over then, too, Marion."

"Will it, really?"

"Yes. But all that is nothing--I can think now only of you--of you."
He put his arm about her waist, and with his left hand raised her
glowing face to his. "Tell me that you love me," he said gently, but
imperiously. "You have not said it yet--in words."

"You know it," she muttered. "But since you command, I obey--I love
you--are you satisfied?"

It seemed that some fatality was always destined to attend Jan's
wooing. As Marion uttered the words, and as Jan stooped to caress them
as they issued from her lips, Major Reay and Dr. Culgin turned the
corner of the circus. Their approach had been soundless on the sand.
For a moment both stood dumb-stricken, then one darted forward.

"Marion!" shouted the Major. He had not moved.

"You cursed scoundrel, you gaol-bird!" howled the Doctor, whom fury had
made reckless.

Jan was hurled backward by the first rush and almost overborne. The
Doctor, well-nigh mad with jealous rage, tried to push his advantage
home. His fists hammered on Jan's face, and a stream of blood quickly
trickled from the lips that Marion's kiss had sanctified. In another
moment, however, their positions were reversed. Jan stood erect,
panting, desperate, and Dr. Culgin lay sprawling at his feet, but so
sensible of defeat that he dared not try to rise.

Marion sprang to her lover's side. "How dared he touch you!" she cried
passionately. "The coward! He struck you unprepared. Oh! Jan--you are
bleeding, are you badly hurt?"

"Not at all dear," muttered Jan. "But look! Your father! go to him,
dear, quickly!"

The Major was swaying to and fro. He held his hat in one hand, the
other clutched at his collar; his face was livid, and his forehead was
covered with beads of perspiration that sparkled like diamonds in the
sunlight.

Marion uttered a cry and ran towards him. Jan followed almost as
quickly.

"I--I--don't touch me!" gasped the Major in a choking voice. He seemed
almost to fall. Jan caught the old man in his arms and made him lie
down upon the first stone bench. Dr. Culgin, observing a path clear
for his escape, got to his feet and crept stealthily away. A moment
later three loud shrill whistles pierced the air. The sound appeared to
revive the Major. He sat up and looked dazedly about him, seeing first
Marion and then Jan.

"Father, dear father!" cried the girl.

"Marion," he mumbled. "Marion, how could you be so shameless? This will
be the death of me. As for you, Jan Digby----"

Jan raised his hand. "We are neither to blame, sir," he interrupted
gravely. "We came together by the will of One greater than us all!"

The Major staggered to his feet, his face scarlet. "Don't preach to me,
you infernal fortune-hunter!" he cried bitterly.

"You are wrong, Major," retorted the young man. "I love your daughter
as a Parsee loves the sun. Give her to me, sir, with your blessing;
nay, give me but the hope of winning her, and I swear to you by all I
hold most sacred I will make her a place she will be proud to occupy,
and never ask nor accept a penny of your money, sir."

The Major opened his lips to reply, but a loud triumphant voice without
the circus cut short his intention.

"This way, sergeant, this way," shouted Dr. Culgin. "Hurry, or he will
fly like the rat he is."

All three turned to see enter the circus a sergeant of police, two
constables, and behind them, James Culgin.

"Catch him," snarled the latter; "clap the bracelets on him, sergeant!"

The police stalked up to Jan. "Better not resist, sir," said the
sergeant warningly. Jan smiled, and held out his wrists for the
handcuffs. He wanted Marion to see him in irons, for he was a very
human lover, and his rival was responsible for the indignity. Marion
seemed turned into stone. Despair had frozen all her faculties, and for
a moment she was unable to realise any possibility of future better
fortune. The most cruel part in every crisis consists in the inherent
power of tragic happenings to impress the mind with a deceitful
affectation of finality. To Marion the end of all things had come. Jan
was a prisoner. He was going from her for ever, and in a malefactor's
guise. She had no hope, and she felt that she wished to die.

The clasp of the handcuffs clicked sharply.

"Off with him, sergeant!" cried the Doctor, "and see that you keep him
this time, or, by Heaven, it will go hard with you!"

A constable stepped on either side of Jan and urged him forward. Jan
was tempted, and he fell. For the first time in his life he played
the hypocrite. Instead of comforting her as he might and should have
done, he gave Marian a look of anguished farewell and strode like an
actor from the place. His punishment was sudden and severe. He heard
her scream, and he heard her fall, and he was powerless to assist her.
He turned to go back, and looked into the muzzle of a revolver. Beyond
that he saw Dr. Culgin bending over Marion's unconscious figure.

"I deserve this," muttered Jan, "aye, and more! The heartless brute I
am!"

"March!" said the sergeant grimly.

Jan obeyed.




Chapter XXX.--The Punts.

A dozen mounted troopers were waiting, drawn up in a line in the
avenue before the "Folly." When Jan arrived, the sergeant gave a sharp
order, and two of the men rode off at a gallop towards the town. Jan
was obliged to mount a horse, and his feet were strapped together
underneath the belly of his steed. The troopers curiously examined him,
but he withstood their stares with a moveless visage. The sergeant
climbed a bench on the loggia of the "Folly," and shading his eyes with
his hand, steadily watched the town road and the strikers' camp. He
looked so anxious that Jan guessed that he disliked the weight of his
responsibility.

"You need be under no apprehension, sergeant," he called out. "The
strikers are expecting me to be arrested to-day. They will not venture
to resist you, nor attempt a rescue."

"You fooled me once," retorted the sergeant; "I'll run no risks with
you again!"

In the silence that followed Jan strained his ears to listen for
any sound that might assure him of Marion's recovery and return to
the house. None came, however, and during the next hour he made
acquaintance with the mordant humors of remorse and jealousy. Of the
two, perhaps the latter caused him keener pain. He knew that Marion
disliked Dr. Culgin, but he had seen her lying insensible, and his
rival had been bending over her. It was a torture to fancy that Dr.
Culgin should enjoy the office of restoring her to consciousness, and
yet he had to suffer it and know it for his fault. He raged and hated
more than he had ever done before; but sensible of his helplessness, he
waited with an iron patience, his face set like stone.

An inspector of police, riding at the head of 60 troopers, all armed
to the teeth, came to Jan like Providence-sent visitors. They placed
him in their midst, and set off without a moment's delay, leaving the
sergeant and his men to guard the Major's house. The inspector halted
the cavalcade before they reached the camp, and coldly informed Jan
that if he ventured to promote a riot or attempted to escape he would
in all likelihood be shot.

Without awaiting a reply the Journey recommenced and a moment later
they were riding through the tents. Jan watched his captors' anxious
faces with an inscrutable smile. They held their carbines ready for
instant use, and their expressions were resolved and desperate. Many of
them showed their teeth in fixed expectant grins. Not a soul, however,
was to be seen. The plain was as silent as a graveyard. The smoke of
occasional camp fires ascended here and there, but the strikers had
disappeared. The inspector, distracted by this phenomenon, began to
fear an ambush. At his word the cavalcade slackened speed, and scouts
pushed forward with exceeding care. Jan uttered a low laugh of sheer
amusement. "The strikers are in their tents," he explained.

"Silence!" snapped the inspector, and he cocked his revolver.

The scouts returned and reported the road entirely clear.

Fifty gasping sighs were heard as one. The inspector frowned heavily,
and in a low voice ordered his men to trot.

Near the dell where the road dipped into the creek, the spot where
Jan had first told his love to Marion, the party halted. Several
constables dismounted, and pushing their cocked carbines before them,
crept crouching into the maze of willows. They came back with blank
astonished faces.

The inspector shook his head and shrugged his shoulders.

"Look back!" said Jan.

Every head turned, and every trooper beheld a sight he would not easily
forget. A scattered body of several thousand men stood about the tents
facing the cavalcade, and each man silently executed that insulting
manoeuvre which the French call the "Salut a l'Anglais."

The police crimsoned with rage and mortification. The inspector,
stirred to fury, shook his fist at the immense assembly. He was
answered with a mighty outburst of derisive laughter.

"Forward!" he shouted hoarsely. "Trot! Gallop!"

They thundered into Ballina enveloped in a cloud of smoking white
dust. Jan was pulled rudely from his horse and thrust by no gentle
hands into the strongest cell of the station-house. His dinner that
evening consisted of a piece of dry bread and a plate of skilly. The
inspector still feared a rescue, and every policeman in Ballina who was
not guarding the already working sugar-mill, stood in arms that night
before the lock-up behind the carriage of a grinning Maxim gun. In the
grey dawn they exchanged puzzled sheepish glances. The street was empty
save for themselves, and no alarm had come.

"We might as well have slept in our beds," said one corporal to another.

"What sort of cowards are these strikers!" sneered the one addressed.
"They let their leader be captured, and raise not a hand in his
defence."

"Except to insult us," muttered a third.

A snarling sound issued from the listening ranks, and individuals began
to boast of what they would have done and still might do if certain
events had happened or would happen.

But nothing happened. At eight o'clock the mill whistles shrieked their
defiance to the strikers, and the machinery began to move.

The inhabitants of the township went about their ordinary avocations,
and from time to time little knots collected to gaze in awe-struck
fashion at the guns, but not a striker came near the place. At nine
a tug-boat started up the river with a load of blackleg cane cutters
aboard, bound for a distant farm. Not a soul opposed their embarkation.
At ten, Major Reay and Dr. Culgin drove in with an escort to the
factory, and later visited the bank. During the next hour various
members of the Employers' Association arrived by water or on horseback,
and collected on the verandah of the Royal Hotel. The leading
townspeople assembled to welcome them, and a moderate drinking bout
commenced. Everybody seemed joyous and hopeful. "The strike is over,"
they repeatedly assured each other. The expectation was universal that
the strikers would presently tender their submission to the employers.
Dr. Culgin everywhere was warmly praised. "We owe it all to him,"
they said. "He has backbone, the Doctor! He knows how to treat the
scoundrels! No giving way with him! No, sir! Not much! Guns are his
persuaders, Maxim gnus! And see how effective they are! Why, not a
striker dares to show his nose inside the town!"

The tradesfolk were particularly loud-voiced in their delight, for
this reason--they had reaped a rich harvest out of the strike, but the
harvest was over. The majority of the cane cutters, being a thriftless
class, had already squandered their money and were beginning to ask for
credit. Now, it is a difficult thing for a shopkeeper to refuse credit
to men who are able and perhaps willing to shipwreck his establishment.
The tradesmen, therefore, rejoiced to think that their first
easily-earned profits might remain in their possession. Major Reay and
Dr. Culgin strolled up to the hotel about noon and were accorded a
cheer of welcome by the crowd. Both gentlemen looked as though sleep
and they had long been strangers. The Major, however, made a brave
show of cheerfulness, although his companion muttered in his ear--"The
fools! The purblind idiots!" Dr. Culgin was in a black mood. A cursory
examination of the mills at work again had convinced his expert eyes
that five times the number of men at their disposal were needed in
order to carry on the business with any prospect of success. He had,
moreover, just received a telegram from the metropolis informing him
that the supply of skilled labor was strictly limited. He was unable
to rid himself of the suspicion that the strikers were playing some
deep underhanded game designed for his discomfiture, and not even the
knowledge that Jan Digby was, past redemption, his prisoner, gave him
comfort. The crowd called upon him for a speech, and his biting humor
prompted him to accept the invitation. He thought, with grim pleasure
that he would hunt all smiles from the faces of those noisy fools.

"Gentlemen," said he, "I am sure that you will be glad to learn that in
my sincere opinion this strike cannot last longer than another month."

With one sentence he had achieved his end.

"A month!" shouted the crowd, staring at him in amazement. "A month!"

"Let as say--six weeks, then, at the outside," said the Doctor, his
eyes twinkling malignantly.

"Six weeks!" The crowd began to frown.

"Six weeks, at the outside," he repeated grimly. "I do not believe that
the funds of the Union will survive six weeks----"

"But the mills are working again!" shouted an angry voice.

"What about the cutters you brought up from Sydney yesterday?" yelled
another.

The Doctor waved his hand for silence. "I was just about to explain,"
he replied. "It is true that we have the mills at work again. It
is also true that we have some five hundred cutters starting work
to-day. The mills, however, are short-handed, and we cannot obtain
an immediate adequate supply of engineers to run then properly. As
for the cutters--he shrugged his shoulders--well, you will admit that
five hundred men are a poor substitute for five thousand. You see,
gentlemen, therefore, the strike is not, as you fancied, at an end.
We have no reason to complain on that account, however. The town is
safe. We have sufficient of police and guns to protect our lives and
property. It is merely a question of endurance, a question of which
party can outlast the other. I think, gentlemen, without boasting, that
I may venture to predict a victory for the Employers' Association. The
strikers, however, are fools; they cannot see a week ahead of them.
They will, therefore, continue the struggle until they are starved into
submission. To compute that period is a matter of simple arithmetic. My
own calculations, gentlemen----"

He stopped abruptly and turned round. A hand was tugging at his
coat-tails.

"What is it?" he demanded.

The crowd heard the Major reply in a tragic voice, "A telegram--cut
your speech short, Jim, and come inside."

"Excuse me, gentlemen," said the Doctor. "Important business."

He hurried into the hotel, and the Employers' Association, although not
invited, followed him pell-mell.

The Major was sitting on a sofa in the inn parlor. He was shaking like
a leaf, and his face was white as death.

Dr. Culgin forced him to drink a glass of spirit. "Confound it! What
the deuce ails you?" he asked again and again.

The old gentleman staggered to his feet, waving a square of yellow
paper in his hand.

"Read that," he spluttered. "Jim, the strike is over!"

For one wild moment the others thought that the strikers had submitted.
Dr. Culgin with the rest. On the next he snatched the paper from the
Major's hand and read aloud:--


"Lismore, 11.45. Started full speed, morning, daylight, collect punts
according to order. None to be found. Bray, farmer, of Cluthie, and
Betts, dairyman, Gundurimba, report steamer passed those points
midnight towing punts without lights. Found your yacht Watersprite
empty, mud-bound near Coraki, 9 o'clock. Suspect strikers' work.
Feel sure punts all sunk. Inform police. Telegraph instructions. G.
Balgarnie, master tug-boat Splendid."


In the ensuing silence a fallen pin would have sounded like a hammer.
The gentlemen looked at each other in horrified dismay.

The Doctor was the first to recover. "What did I say when I read their
cursed manifesto?" he grated out. "Did I not tell you all that it was a
blind to cover some infernal business?"

The Major turned on him like an adder. "Was that any use, you conceited
owl?" he snarled. "If you were clever enough to suspect, why the deuce
didn't you make sure?"

"Major, you forget yourself."

"So do you. To the devil with your 'I told you so's.' It is bad enough
for me to lose 30,000 at a blow, without being obliged to listen to
your jibes."

Never in his experience had the Doctor been addressed in such language
by Major Reay. He felt upset, almost ill. He sunk heavily into his
chair.

"Who could have dreamed that the villains would do such a thing?" he
muttered in a tearful voice. "My dear Major, I never intended to jibe
at you; your loss is terrible."

"But--but," stammered Mr. Higgs, "it is surely not irreparable."

"It kills the strike," said the Major bitterly. "How can we get the
cane we cut to the mills without punts? Yes, the strike is over!"

"But we may be able to recover them. We have tugs and divers. We can
drag the river if need be."

"Bosh!" snorted the Major. "Who is going to drag seventy-five miles of
deep water? It would take a year." Of a sudden he stamped his foot and
clapped his hands together. His face was purple with passion. "Half of
them are new," he stormed, "and not one of then cost me less than a
hundred pounds."

"Did you have so many as three hundred punts?"

"Aye, and more." He began to pace the room, spitting out words at
intervals as an infuriated beast might spit out snarls. "I'm not a
sneer--no, not like Culgin. But I can be wise--after the event. Hang
every mother's son of them! I see their game. Now! (He thrust his angry
face within a foot of Dr. Culgin.) Now! Do you hear? Know all! They
have sunk my punts. They have us by the wool. We shall have to crawl to
them--on our bellies and say--Take what you like, only--give us back
our punts!"

"Can they give them back?" interrupted a voice.

"Oh, be sure of that," hissed the Major. "They are not fools, like us.
They know where the punts are sunk, at any rate. Gentlemen, the strike
is over!"

"Not yet," cried Dr. Culgin suddenly. "We can starve them out--starve
them till they tell us when the punts are!"

"At my expense!" howled the Major. "No thank you, sir. Every hour the
punts are under water lessens their value. In a week they would be
rotten with worms."

"What shall we do, then?" asked a voice.

The Major stopped still, and rising on his toes fixed the speaker with
his eye. "I know what I shall do," he snarled. "The strike is over for
me--unless the police capture the miscreants who sunk my punts before
to-night!"

"Ah!" cried Dr. Culgin. "The police! The police!" He sprang to his
feet, and simply flung himself out of the room. The Major followed him,
and the meeting silently broke up.

Outside the crowd still waited, but not a member of the Employers'
Association deigned to satisfy its curiosity. There was a hurried
mounting of horses, and all rode off in the wake of the Major to the
station-house. The Doctor was already there when they arrived, stormily
dictating orders to the officer in charge. Ten minutes later 50 mounted
troopers were racing for the strikers' camp, and a dozen more were
galloping towards Coraki.




Chapter XXXI.--Alan Laing's Will.

The police were not over generous to their recaptured prisoner. His
confinement was purely solitary, and all his meals consisted of
bread and skilly. Jan, however, was not cast down by the treatment
he received, because he did not believe that he could be very long
detained. He had just finished his uninviting lunch when the door of
his cell was thrown open and the inspector, accompanied by Mr. Harold
Keeling, appeared at the threshold.

The beauty solicitor was the last person in the world whom Jan expected
to visit him. He looked surprised, but nodded civilly.

Harold Keeling replied with a curiously respectful bow.

"Good day, Mr. Digby," he said gravely. "I have come here at the
request of a common friend to consult with you in regard to your
defence."

Jan raised his eyebrows in astonishment. "A common friend," he
repeated; "really, Mr. Keeling----"

"A lady," interrupted Keeling hastily.

"Oh!"

Mr. Keeling indicated the Inspector with his eyes. "If you consent to
accept me as your counsel," he declared, "the inspector will allow us
to converse in private. Is that not so, Mr. Begbie?"

"Certainly," replied the Inspector.

Jan shrugged his shoulders. "Very good," he said ungraciously.

"In a quarter of an hour, then," said the Inspector, and he withdrew,
locking the door behind him.

Jan pointed to a chair, and sat down himself upon his rolled-up straw
mattress.

"I referred to Miss Reay," began Keeling. "I received a letter from her
by the mid-day post, and came to you at once."

Jan's face ominously clouded. "Miss Reay, in her kindness of heart,
has evidently exaggerated the danger of my position," he said coldly.
"As a fact, my present confinement is illegal. I have been arrested on
the merest suspicion, and the police have not one tittle of evidence
against me."

"Pardon me," returned the other, "circumstances have occurred since
your arrest that will tend, I think, to complicate matters."

"Indeed!"

"Yes. An hour or two ago Major Reay received news by telegraph that all
his punts were abstracted from their moorings and sunk in the river
last night by some of the Union men."

Jan's expression did not change, though he was secretly delighted at
the news.

"How can that affect me?" he demanded. "I was arrested yesterday
afternoon, and I have been in this cell ever since."

"Everyone believes, Mr. Digby, that you are responsible for the
outrage."

Jan smiled. "What proof has anyone to support the opinion?"

"None as yet. But the police are out, and they hope to catch the
miscreants. Your president, Mr. McBean, has been already arrested. He
is in the neighboring cell."

"Mr. Keeling," said Jan suddenly, "will you let me see Miss Reay's
letter to you?"

The young man flushed. "You doubt my good faith," he cried.
"But you are wrong. I am incapable of playing such a trick on
anyone, and besides, I have a strong motive to assist you; to be
frank--self-interest. I am hoping that you will appoint me your
solicitor in another matter. But here is the letter."

Jan opened the letter and read it. His suspicions died at once.

"You must forgive me," he said gravely; "but you will probably admit
that my idea was natural. I have few friends in Ballina."

"I hope you will enrol me in the number henceforth," said Keeling in
eager tones. "Mr. Digby, I am the bearer of good news to you."

"Indeed!"

"Pray give me your full attention. Some six months ago, the late Mr.
Alan Laing came one day into my office and asked me to take charge of
a sealed packet, which he instructed me to open only after his death.
Strange as it may appear, I absolutely forgot that circumstance until
this morning, when happening to look for some deeds in my strong room,
I came across the package itself." He paused impressively.

Jan was unable to conceal his interest. "You opened it?" he cried.

"Yes, Mr. Digby, I opened it; and I discovered that its contests
principally concern yourself. The package contained a number of
bonds and Government securities, and Mr. Laing's will. Mr. Laing has
appointed you his sole executor and devisee, sir."

Jan drew a deep breath, and got slowly to his feet. His thoughts were
in a whirl. Since Alan's death, events concerning the strike and other
matters had crowded so closely upon each other that he had forgotten
that Alan possessed a little fortune to dispose of. But in no case,
perhaps, would the idea of inheriting that fortune have entered his
mind at all. The friendship between them had been a peculiar tie,
arising in spite of rather than because of circumstance, and it did not
constitute a claim. Alan had married Jan's sister; she had betrayed
him, and she was dead. A great wonder filled Jan's mind, and a sudden
realisation of the fact that, although he had known Alan well, he had
never comprehended to the full his dead friend's generosity. It had
seemed a thing sufficiently marvellous that Alan had been able to
bestow on him his friendship. But now----

Keeling's voice spun through his musings like a thread of silver
through a cloth of sable.

"As far as I have as yet been able to ascertain from the documents
at my disposal, sir, Mr. Laing's estate consists almost entirely of
Government debentures, which appear to have yielded him a yearly income
of 800. There is also the house he died in--the Bungalow--which he
purchased when he came to Ballina, but the deeds of that are not in my
hands. I am sincerely rejoiced at your good fortune, Mr. Digby, and I
heartily congratulate you."

Jan felt his hand seized and warmly pressed.

"I hope that you will allow me to take out probate for you, sir?"
proceeded Mr. Keeling.

Jan nodded; he was still unable to speak.

"Thank you, thank you, sir," cried the other delightedly. "And now for
this other matter, your present imprisonment. As you have truly said,
Mr. Digby, they have no evidence against you. Let us hope they will
obtain none. You will be brought before a magistrate to-morrow, and
I shall appear to defend you. The police will apply for a remand, of
course, but I shall strongly oppose them--and perhaps I may procure
your immediate discharge. In the meanwhile I shall spread abroad the
news of your good fortune, which will be bound to influence all minds
in your favor; I may say----"

Jan started and looked keenly at the speaker. "Excuse me," he
interrupted sharply, "please do nothing of the kind. I particularly
wish that no one should know of Mr. Laing's will until the strike is at
an end. No one! Do you understand?"

"Of course. If you desire it, sir----"

"I do desire it."

"Then I shall not breathe a word."

"Thank you, Mr. Keeling. Now, what of McBean? You say that he has been
arrested."

"He has; but like you, merely on suspicion."

"I see; then you will kindly act for him as well as for myself. I shall
be responsible for your fees."

"Gladly; and thank you, Mr. Digby."

The door opened at the word, and the Inspector reappeared.

"Time is up, sir," he announced.

"Very well, Mr. Begbie," said Keeling. "Our business is finished.
Good-bye, Mr. Digby, or rather, au revoir!"

The young men shook hands, and a few seconds later Jan was alone
again. But not as before were his thoughts of the future, gloomy and
recklessly disjointed. A golden hope had been infused into his mind.
He was now a man of means--in that young country, of means which would
almost universally be looked upon as affluent; and no longer could it
be said of him with sneering eyes and lips--"the adventurer!" "the
fortune-hunter!" "the remittance man!"

"Marion! Marion!" he cried ecstatically aloud. "My Marion!" A vision of
her sweet face floated before his eyes. Once a bright but unattainable
dream of bliss, marriage with her had seemed, but now his mind leaped
into the maze of years to come, and nothing appeared too bright or
impossible to happen of all the splendid happiness his fancy painted
there. Only when he remembered Alan and Alan's goodness his mood
melted, his heart expanded with deep unspoken gratitude, and his eyes
grew dim.




Chapter XXXII.--The Beginning of the End.

The troopers whom Dr. Culgin had despatched in search of those
mischievous persons who had scuttled Major Reay's cane punts, did not
dare venture within the precincts of the striker's camp. Making a wide
detour in order to escape the tents, they spread themselves out in a
fan and scoured the countryside. Their object was to intercept and
capture their quarry while returning to the camp. Their labor, however,
was wasted; for the wreckers, after completing their appropriately
midnight task, had grounded their borrowed steamer at Coraki and
slipped ashore. Stolen horses waited them at an appointed hiding-place
in a neighboring scrub, mounted upon which they had reached Ballina
several hours before the account of their misdeeds was made known to
their victims.

At dusk, the police, weary and disgusted, abandoned their fruitless
mission and rode back towards the township, stopping at the "Folly" on
their way to acquaint the Major with their failure. His rage may be
better imagined than described. His last lingering hope was over, and
he gave way to furious despair. The other members of the Employers'
Association were with him, and the sympathy they offered was genuine
enough, but the Major would have none of it. For a long while he
stamped up and down the room storming and gesticulating, suffering
none to address him and behaving otherwise like one bereft of reason.
Suddenly recovering his self-control, however, he turned upon his
startled auditors and spoke as coolly as though nothing remarkable had
occurred.

"There only remains for us, gentlemen," said he, "to eat our gruel as
gracefully as possible. I propose to send for the officers of the Union
without delay."

"Two leaders are in gaol," said Mr. Higgs. They regarded each other
with thoughtful frowns. Their acceptation of defeat was seemingly
unanimous; at any rate, none suggested to continue the struggle.

Dr. Culgin's thoughts ran only on revenge. "With a little luck we shall
be able to get them ten years apiece," he muttered grimly. "I intend to
offer to-morrow a free pardon and two hundred pounds reward to anyone
who will come forward and turn Queen's evidence against them!"

"You'll have half the camp claiming that reward," sneered Mr. Higgs.
"I'll engage to buy every bubble of the scum for five pounds a head."

The Major impatiently interrupted. "Let us get to business!" he
growled. "You seem to forget, gentlemen, that my punts are rotting in
the mud at the bottom of the river, which said mud is alive with cobra."

"Very well," replied the Doctor, "I see no reason to waste time in
talk. We have, as a fact, nothing to discuss, except terms."

"Who will take a message to the camp?" asked the Major. For some time
no one moved, but at last Mr. Theophilus O'Hooligan got slowly to his
feet.

"Oi'm born to be hanged, Oi bilave; at laste, so they inform me," he
said drily. "What shall I tell them, Major?"

"My buggy is waiting at the door," returned the Major. "Drive down and
tell them that we are willing to receive a deputation."

"Shall Oi mintion that we are----" he made an expressive gesture.

"Anything you please--only hurry!"

"Oi'll bring them back with me if Oi can, sorr."

Mr. O'Hooligan disappeared, and the others began to mutter in
undertones, the Major alone sitting disconsolately apart, apparently
sunk in meditation. At the end of a bad quarter of an hour a knock
sounded on the door, and Jack Reay entered the room.

"Busy, dad?" he inquired.

The Major looked up. "What is the matter?" he returned.

"I've just been for a stroll," replied Jack. "The strikers are dancing
round a big bonfire, and they are burning Dr. Culgin in effigy."

Dr. Culgin turned pale--either through anger or fear. "The hounds!" he
cried, snapping his jaws together.

"Insult to injury, what does it matter?" said the Major gloomily.
"Where is Marion, Jack?"

"In her room, writing, I think."

The Major passed a hand over his eyes and stood up. "Stay here, Jack,
and play the host till I come back," he said. "See that everyone has
plenty to smoke and drink. Excuse me, gentlemen, I'll not be long."

Jack nodded and took his father's chair. The old gentleman passed out
of the room, followed by many inquiring glances. He went directly to
his daughter's room, and entered without pausing or remembering to
knock.

Marion was seated before her desk, writing. Her face was pale, and she
seemed to have been crying; for her lashes glistened in the lamplight.
She looked up with an affrighted start to gaze into a pair of eyes that
were hard as flint.

"I promised you that I would consider a certain matter," said the
Major, his tones as determinedly passionless as his glance. "I have
considered it. Jan Digby, as you know, has engineered this strike from
first to last. Whatever were his motives does not concern me. They
may have been high-minded, they may have been dastardly. It does not
matter. The effect of his work is this. He has cost me a mint of money,
and he has made me a laughing stock to the world. I have just sent to
the strikers to ask them to return to work on their own terms. I am
beaten. One man has done it. One man only!"

"Father!" gasped Marion. "Father!"

"If Jan Digby were a millionaire," went on the old man icily, "and I
a pauper, begging my bread from door to door, I would rather see you
dead at my feet than allow you to become his wife. You are over age, my
girl, and in a sense your own mistress; you may do as you please, but
if you ever to my knowledge see or communicate with that man again, I
shall cast you off from that moment--from that moment!"

"Father!" cried Marion again.

"Such is my unalterable resolution!" said the Major grimly. "You have
been warned. Beware!"

He bowed to her with a certain cold, old-fashioned stateliness, swung
on his heels like a soldier executing a full turn on parade, and
matched from the room. He was so thoroughly aroused and resolute that
he seemed to have acquired a second youth. To Marion, he appeared some
stranger, harsh, unfeeling, and unheard of. She watched him, dumb with
misery, but when he had gone, her tears flowed anew, and her body was
racked with a storm of breathless sobs.

The Major returned to the smoking-room with the alert springing step of
a much younger man. He was in a glow. He experienced neither remorse
nor exultation--but a curious steely sense of power and purpose
possessed and sustained his being. He had not felt so well for many
years, so clear-headed, nor so perfectly self-confident. He knew that
he had left his daughter in an agony of suffering, but no sorrow
touched him for her pain--not even sympathy. She had chosen to love
his enemy. Good! his love for her was forfeited. He felt strangely
withdrawn from his kind. It seemed to him that henceforth he would be
able to act without concern for the feelings of others, to be stern
without compassion; to manage men roughly without blaming or commending
them.

Mr. O'Hooligan appeared at the doorway before the Major had crossed the
room. The homely Irishman's face wore a startled, intensely bewildered
expression. His mouth opened and shut. His goatee moved backwards and
forwards, and more than ever did he resemble a surprised gorilla.

"Back already?" said the Major--"and unaccompanied! Well?"

Mr. O'Hooligan scratched his forehead with the forefinger of one hand
and twirled his hat with the other. "Oi'll be domned!" he ejaculated.

"Ultimately, no doubt," said the Major; "but why immediately?"

"They, Major, sorr--they--won't come anoigh us, sorr not a yarrud,
sorr, until we let those rapscallions out o' gaol. Oi refer to Jim
McBean and Jan Digby, sorr!"

"What!" thundered the Major.

The assembly, with a rasping crash of chairs, got afoot.

"What!" they chorused.

"Yez naident ate me," gasped Mr. O'Hooligan. "Oi'm afther spakin' yez
the naked thruth!"

"Did--did--did you tell them," began Dr. Culgin in stuttering tones,
"that--that--we--that we--are willing to agree to--their terms?"

"Terrms, is it," said Mr. O'Hooligan scornfully. "Sure Oi told 'em we'd
give 'em any terrms at all, at all, intoirely--an' sorra a d-----'d
they move--except to tell me to go to the devil and shake meself. Be
the powers, Oi was niver so insulted in me loife!"

Major Reay turned to his son. "Jack!" said he, "be good enough to ask
the sergeant to step this way."

Jack departed.

"What do you want with the sergeant?" demanded Dr. Culgin.

"When I am obliged to eat the leek, I dislike the operation to be
unnecessarily protracted," replied the Major. "I shall ask the sergeant
to arrange for the immediate release of the Union leaders."

Dr. Culgin turned scarlet. "I am the only man who can do that," he
stammered wrathfully, "and--and--I tell you frankly, I'll die first."

The light of battle flashed into the old soldier's eyes.

"You'll do as I bid you, Jim," he muttered in tones of iron meaning,
"or, by Heaven, you'll repent it. The men must be released, and at
once, to save my punts."

Their eyes met, and their wills tempestuously but silently contended.

"There is always an afterwards," grated the Major. "Don't forget that."

Dr. Culgin was beaten, and he knew it. He grasped eagerly to the
proffered straw.

"Of course, so there is," he cried. "We'll release them now, and deal
with them later on."

The Major smiled. "You may do as you please afterwards," he said.

The sergeant entered the room.

"Sergeant," began the Major, "there is no law against holding a court
after nightfall, is there?"

"None that I know of, sir."

"Then kindly send word to the lock-up, and ask the inspector in
charge to have Jan Digby and James McBean taken immediately to the
court-house. Inform the inspector that the Honorable Dr. Culgin orders
this to be done. In the meanwhile the Doctor and I shall drive to
the court-house under your escort. I am a magistrate, and I shall
adjudicate."

The sergeant's mouth opened wide with astonishment. "I beg your pardon,
sir," he stammered, "but this is a most irregular proceeding, sir. What
will the public say, if you convict the men in such a fashion, sir?"

"I intend, on the contrary, to discharge them from custody," said the
Major drily. "Be good enough to make haste."

The sergeant saluted and hurriedly left the room, his face a veritable
picture of amazement.

An hour later Jan Digby and James McBean left the court-house and
walked out to the camp, free men, having promised the Major to call
at the "Folly" at ten o'clock upon the following morning in order to
settle the terms of the ending of the strike.

Jan had scarcely expected so rapid a development of his plans, and he
was at first keenly elated at his victory. But before his midnight
stroll was over, in spite of his companions unceasing flow of admiring
congratulations, he had fallen into a mood of black depression. His
appearance at the camp was greeted with tremendous cheering. The men,
almost frantic with delight, pressed about him in vast throngs, yelling
like madmen. Those sounds, however, made Jan thrill with sensations
that were by no means pleasant. He knew that the Major would hear
them and writhe as he heard. As soon as possible he procured silence,
whereupon, mounting a hastily constructed rostrum he addressed his
followers in language so stern and uncompromisingly contemptuous that
his rough unlettered auditors began to feel that in expressing their
enthusiasm they had committed the meanest of crimes.

"Are you men?" cried Jan, in tones of piercing irony, "or are you
barbarians that you shriek your triumph into the ears of those whom
good fortune has enabled you to overcome? Reverse your positions, and
behold more clearly the miserable meanness of your conduct. What if the
Employers' Association had beaten you! Would you think of your victors
if they taunted you with your defeat? Would you wish to rend them limb
from limb, or not?"

Under the lash of his tongue that great crowd heaved and shrank and
murmured, but Jan went on unfearing, and pitilessly he made them
witnesses against their own behaviour. Passing from that theme, he
counselled them in milder tones how they should bear themselves upon
the morrow and succeeding days; and if he did not teach them to be
mild and generous, there was not a man who heard him but shivered to
incur his subsequent displeasure. Jan was no practised orator, but he
had eloquence of no mean sort, and the incomparable gift of forceful
earnestness. He spoke always from his heart, and so simply that he
never failed to stamp his exact meaning in the minds of those who
listened.

It is probable that he had never made a greater impression on any
audience than he achieved that night. When he stepped down from the
platform a long deep sigh was heard, but no man spoke. The crowd looked
shame-faced and abashed. A way was made for him between the ranks, and
as he passed the eyes of all were downcast. The strikers forgot their
triumph until long after he had vanished, and when they remembered,
they were alone in their separate tents, into which they had slunk
silently like beaten dogs into their kennels.

Jan arrived at the Bungalow in a mood that bordered on despair.
In chastising his followers he had sown the seeds of his own
self-punishment, and already he was reaping a crop of bitterest fruit.
Victory was his, but at what a cost! He had ardently believed in
the justice of the strikers' cause, he believed in it still. But he
perceived now that his desire to make justice triumph had temporarily
confused his sense of right and wrong. The first sharp doubt had
entered his mind while walking homewards from the court with Jim
McBean. Now he had ceased to doubt; he was sure. Had he been mad, he
wondered, to dream that the end could justify the means! It was some
comfort to reflect that he had planned and ordered the monstrous scheme
of stealing and sinking Major Reay's punts while firmly convinced of
his moral right to do so. But he now recognised that he had possessed
no right, moral or legal. What, then? He had been guilty of crime.
He was, therefore, dishonored! What remained for him to do? Should
he repair his fault as well as he might, by admitting it, and make
immediate restitution?

The chart of the river, marked with the spots where the punts lay
hidden in slime, was in his pocket. A man had thrust it into his hands
the moment that he reached the camp. His duty, having recognised the
full extent of his fault, was to take that plan straightway to the
Major! Nothing could be clearer. But in that case, he would betray the
strikers, for whose sake he had sinned. The strike would be resumed
with double bitterness on both sides. The men, rendered furious by
the snatching of the cup from their lips, would probably be goaded to
extremes. Blood might flow. But the end was sure. The strikers would
be infallibly ruined--the men who trusted him. They would execrate
his memory. They would believe that he had betrayed them for his
own advantage. Moreover, the other side as well would inevitably
misunderstand his action and despise him--unless--of a sudden a
frightful temptation seized him. A devil sat upon his shoulders and
whispered in his ear these words--"You are now a man of property. Why
further concern yourself, therefore, with a pack of starving workers?
You have the chart of the river in your pocket. Go, take it to the
Major, put it in his hands and say to him--'Major Reay, your enemies
are now mine, because I am an honest man. The strikers gave me this
chart as a weapon to coerce you. But I was horrified on learning that
which they had done--and no longer can I serve wretches who are capable
of crimes so infamous.' Do this, Jan Digby, and the Major will open to
you his arms and his heart. He will, moreover, be so grateful that he
will listen gently to you when you ask for his daughter's hand!"

It would be idle to declare that Jan strangled this temptation easily.
It would be equally idle to deny that under conceivable circumstances
he might have succumbed to its subtle and most damnable suggestioning.
Jan was a good man in a full sense of the term. His notions of honor
were firm and sensitive, and all his life he had been accustomed to
depend absolutely on his conscience for self-government. He possessed
also a strong will. But after all, Jan was only a man, and he had his
weaknesses. It has already been shown how easily an ardent desire
to help those for whom he strove, aided by a Jesuitical course of
reasoning, had clouded his judgment and betrayed him into the error
responsible for his present hideous dilemma. It was, however, Jan's
good fortune that in this sharpest crisis of his career the choice of
ways stretched plainly before him. Either road possessed a finger-post.
One was marked in characters of fire--"To Hell." The other in vaguer
lettering--"To the moderate but certain blessing of self-esteem!"

Jan read those directions without difficulty, and all the splendid
prospects glimmering in the early vista of the former route failed to
prevent him seeing in the dimmer distance the black lurking phantoms of
remorse and of despair. Nor could all the whisperings of love pleading
for its satisfaction stifle the clear voice of his conscience. His
struggle was prolonged and infinitely painful. Dawn found him sleepless
and undecided still. From where he sat he watched the eastern sky flush
with rosy tints, the sun rise, and the camp awaken. The figures of
men began to appear moving about among their tents. For those men had
become criminals. His decision was finally arrived at in a fit of sheer
listlessness. The forces which had so long contended seemed to have
declared a truce. He felt extremely weary. In the gloom of night tragic
possibilities were rampant. In the light of the sun realities were
paramount. His weariness made the scene before him almost repellently
real. In the same sense he recognised his duty, and he said aloud, in
order to banish doubt and gain resolution:--

"I shall do my duty."

"What!" came a flashing thought. "Betray the men!"

He answered aloud. "No. I may be wrong, but I cannot believe that to be
my duty." He asked himself no more questions. He had a vague prescience
of what he would do when the time came; but the idea irritated and
dismayed him. With a sudden effort he put aside thought, and got to his
feet. He was cramped and stiff from his long moveless vigil. "I shall
go for a bathe," he said; "a bathe in the sea."

A little later he was swimming in the breakers, at a spot where several
men had been caught by sharks. Jan knew that well. He was deliberately
tempting Fate. But Fate smiled at his reckless offering and refused the
gift.

Jan came from the water with his last shred of vanity in tatters. He
thought himself a subject meet only for contempt and loathing. "I am
not even fit to feed sharks with," he muttered in gloomy self-derision.




Chapter XXXIII.--An Old Soldier's Revenge.

Stern and lowering were the faces that greeted Jan and James McBean
when the pair were ushered into the Major's smoking-room. None replied
to Jan's grave bow, and although the Major arose to receive him, he sat
down immediately again, and he did not invite his visitors to chairs.

"You sent for us," said Jan. "We are here."

"You well know why," returned the Major.

Jan inclined his head. "I shall not pretend to misunderstand you,
sir," he said quietly. He took two large sheets of closely-written
foolscap from his pocket and placed them upon the table. "The men are
prepared to resume work immediately this document is executed. It
is an agreement by which you and all the members of the Employers'
Association covenant with Mr. James McBean as representing the Cane
Workers' Union to take back into your employ without distinction every
member of the Union formerly in your service, except myself, and at the
minimum wage of eight shillings per day." The Major took up one sheet
of paper and began to read its provisions aloud for the benefit of his
friends. The recital occupied some 20 minutes. When it was over the
Major turned with a frown to Jan.

"There is no mention here of returning to me my punts," he angrily
declared.

"Sir," replied Jan, "our Union knows nothing of your punts. Whoever
sunk them did so upon their sole responsibility. We recognise, however,
that it is impracticable to carry on the sugar business without punts,
and as it seems probable that some misguided members of our Union
caused their disappearance, and for the further reason that the whole
Union benefits from that act, we are prepared to guarantee the cost of
their recovery. You will find such a provision in the deed, which has
been signed already by Mr. Goggan, and which it is intended that you
should retain."

"How can we recover them if we do not know where they are?" said Dr.
Culgin suddenly.

Jan shook his head. "As the Union's representative I am unable to
answer that question," he replied. "I repeat that the Union repudiates
all knowledge of the punts."

The Major leaned back in his chair and screwed up his eyes. "You have
the impudence to propose that we shall sign the document upon trust?"
he demanded, tapping the agreement with his finger.

"Five thousand men have deputed me to inform you that the strike can
only be ended on those terms."

The employers exchanged meaning glances.

"Ridiculous! Monstrous! Absurd!" they muttered.

"I beg you to remember," said Jan, "that without the punts the sugar
business cannot proceed."

The Major slowly nodded his head.

"Mr. Digby speaks truly, gentlemen," he declared. "Unless the punts are
returned to us, this agreement, if executed fifty times over, would
still be valueless!"

"There can be no doubt of that," said Jan.

The Major stretched forward, seized a pen, and scrawled his name across
the paper. "I deliver this by my act and deed," he muttered, placing
his finger tip upon the seal as he spoke. "Now, gentlemen, it is your
turn."

The others signed the agreement without further hesitation. Dr. Culgin
last of all.

Major Reay took up the paper, examined it for a moment in thoughtful
silence, then handed it to Jan. "It is over," he said.

Jan folded up the document and gave it to his companion. "The strike is
ended, Mr. McBean," he said softly. "Will you be kind enough to accept
my resignation as Secretary for your Union? My work is finished."

"What!" cried McBean starting back. "You'll not leave us now?"

The employers stared at the pair before them in mute astonishment.

Jan looked his companion steadily in the eye. "Yes," he replied.
"Later, I shall explain. But now I wish you and the world to understand
that I am no longer a member of your Union."

"I don't understand--I----"

Jan put his hand on McBean's shoulder. "It is not necessary that you
should just yet," he interrupted with a weary smile. "But your work
here is done. Go, my friend, and carry the news to the men."

"But--but--aren't you coming with me?"

"No; I have business here to do. For the present, good-bye."

Jan gave the bewildered man a little push, and McBean, accustomed to
the other's domination, though sorely puzzled, obeyed his direction.

Jan watched him go, then with a little sign he turned and faced the
table.

"What is the meaning of this comedy?" demanded the Major with a frown,
"and why do you stay? You have got all you asked for. What more do you
want? I can tell you that we shall not weep to see the last of you."

"Major Reay," said Jan, "I beg you to grant me the privilege of a short
private interview. It is true that my business with your Association is
finished, but I have an important matter to reveal to you."

In the silent pause that followed, Dr. Culgin ate Jan with his eyes.
His chin was thrust forward, his brows were drawn together, and his
mouth had fallen open. He looked the personification of surprised
interrogation. He appeared to be trying to peer into Jan's mind.

The Major broke the startled silence. "A private interview!" he
growled. "I want no further business with you, Jan Digby, private or
otherwise."

Dr. Culgin got of a sudden to his feet, and stepping behind the Major's
chair whispered something in the Major's ear. The Major started and
frowned heavily. "Impossible!" he muttered. He looked fiercely at
Jan. "You have an important matter to reveal," he said. "Whom does it
concern?"

"Yourself and me," replied Jan.

Dr. Culgin snapped his jaws together, and walked quietly but quickly
from the room.

Jan paid no heed; he was steadily regarding the Major, who as steadily
regarded the opposite wall.

The old gentleman appeared to be reflecting.

"I shall not keep you long," said Jan, "and I can wait upon your
leisure."

The Major flashed a glance around the silent table. "Gentlemen," he
said abruptly, "with your permission, I shall adjourn this meeting sine
die. I shall immediately inform you when any news of my punts comes
to hand. You will be served with refreshments in the dining-room. I
think you know your way. For the present, kindly excuse me."

He stood up and looked hard at Jan. "Come this way!" he said
ungraciously. Jan followed the old gentleman at a respectful distance
to the Major's study. The Major motioned him to step inside, entered
himself, and then in leisurely fashion locked the door. He crossed to
his desk and sat down. "Take a seat," he said.

"I prefer to stand," replied Jan.

"Well?" sneered the Major, "now for this important revelation."

Jan took out his pocket-book, opened it, and extracted a folded paper.

"This," said he, "is a chart of the river. It is marked with scarlet
crosses to show the places where your punts are sunk. No damage has
been done to the punts whatever. Their sluice valves have been merely
blocked ajar so that they might fill and sink. They may be lifted with
ease, and whatever expense you are put to by that operation will be
immediately refunded to you by the Union. I have made provision for
that purpose."

The Major accepted the chart with a puzzled frown. "Why the deuce
could not you have told me all this out there, before the others?" he
demanded.

"Because, sir, I should thereby have compromised myself with people
who have no real stake at issue in this matter as compared with yours.
The punts belong solely to yourself. Whatever crime was committed,
therefore, by the man who is responsible for their sinking, was
committed against you. In my opinion, the man deserves punishment. But
I think that you should be the one to decide whether or not he should
be punished."

"I see," said the Major; his eyes began to light up. "You propose to
turn informer, eh?"

"Yes, sir."

The Major's lip curled.

"Upon conditions, of course?" he asked.

"Naturally, sir."

"State them."

"I require your promise, sir, that you will faithfully relate all that
I may tell you to your daughter, Miss Marion Reay, within the next four
and twenty hours."

The Major's eyes glinted and his frown grew fierce. He made as if to
speak, but quickly altered his mind, and a little silence fell. "What
else?" he asked at last in a harsh voice.

"That is my sole condition, sir."

"It is granted. You have my word."

Jan bowed. "I must ask you for a moment's patient hearing," he began.
"I would also like to ask you to believe my story, but that must be
as you will. The man who planned to end the strike by sinking your
punts, conceived the crime with no original criminal intent. He was so
deeply impressed with a belief in the justice of the Union's cause that
he found it easy to persuade himself during the heat of the struggle
that no moral sin could be involved in any bloodless course of action
which might speedily bring the strike to an end, and at the same time
procure justice to triumph. His reasoning was bad, Major Reay, but he
did not perceive his error until too late. The punts were then lying
at the bottom of the river. Had the man been perfect in honor, sir,
he would no doubt even then have gone forthwith to you and have given
you the chart that you are holding in your hand. He was, however, not
strong enough to do this; he wished to, but could not. He preferred to
complete his crime. He is now, however, more than willing to make you
any personal reparation that you may demand."

"His name?" said the Major in grating tones.

"His name, sir, is Jan Digby."

The Major had more than half expected the answer he received,
nevertheless he found himself too surprised to speak at once--to do
anything, indeed, but gaze dumbly at the young man before him.

When he recovered his wits, he passed his right hand somewhat shakily
across his brows as though to brush away an unwelcome or perplexing
thought.

"Jan Digby!" he gasped. "You!"

"I, sir," replied the other. Jan's cheeks had become pale beneath their
bronze, and his lips twitched at the corners. Otherwise his visage was
impassive and might have defied the most practised observer to detect
the anxiety that was inwardly consuming him.

The Major shook himself as a dog might on emerging from the water.
He sat upright in his chair and frowned terribly, his pointed white
moustaches working up and down under his eyes.

"Are you aware that I can get you half a dozen years for this?" he
demanded. His tones tokened a mind irritated with doubt, and yet
a little awe-stricken. The Major was, in truth, dismayed. He was
beginning to realise that he was the arbiter of another man's fate,
a position full of grave responsibilities. His ideas were still
unsettled, and he did not know what to do. But the power that had been
voluntarily consigned into his hands less pleased than frightened him,
and Jan's answer increased his perplexity.

"Will you, Major?"

The Major wondered if he would. He looked into Jan's eyes, and the
wonder deepened. Until quite recently he had liked Jan Digby, and
in spite of the fact that he did not believe that the young man had
treated him well. That liking had been destroyed by circumstances and
by Jan's own acts, aye, and converted into hatred. Well, here was a
fine chance to feed his hatred, and glut it to the full. What better
revenge, too, could he enjoy for his defeat than to make a felon of
the man who had occasioned it. The Major was not an introspective man,
but as those thoughts passed through his mind, he could not help being
astonished because they neither lingered nor gave him any satisfaction.
The riddle was inexplicable to him because, like most men of impulsive
action, he did not in the least understand himself. He would have
scorned, indeed, to admit that he had ever allowed an impulse to govern
his conduct. He loved to think himself a cold, calculating schemer, and
yet his decisions were usually instantaneously arrived at. But now he
entirely lacked a guiding impulse, and he floundered. He felt intensely
irritated at his vacillation, but he could not alter it.

"Will you, Major?" Jan repeated. The tones were a little less even, a
fraction more unsteady.

The Major noted, and he understood that Jan was suffering. The impulse
came at last. The old soldier's heart in his bosom awoke of a sudden
and taught him what to do. Here was a foeman come to him, compelled
by honor, sword in hand, indeed, but holding that sword by the blade,
point to breast and hilt extended. Could he look any gallant gentleman
in the eyes again if he plunged the offered weapon into the body of his
defenceless adversary? Perish the thought! A second later it occurred
to him that it would be a wise thing in forgiving Jan at the same time
to make a bargain with, to force him, as it were, at the pistol point,
to give up Marion and to quit Ballina for ever. The idea flashed like
lightning, and like lightning blasted in its path. The old gentleman
winced with shame at his imagining. He grew fierce with self-contempt.
"Here is a case," he said to himself, "where generosity must be met by
generosity overwhelming. By no cursed huckstering; for whatever fools
may say, the age of chivalry is not yet dead!" The chart, which Jan had
given to him had fallen to the floor. The Major stooped and picked it
up.

"Jan Digby," said he, "take this chart and post it me to-night. But in
writing the address have a care that you disguise your hand. There are
people in this house who would be glad to obtain some evidence against
you."

As he spoke, the Major looked ten years a younger man. No longer did he
frown. His brow was smoothed. His eyes glowed brilliantly, and a warm
flush suffused his withered cheeks. He drew himself up to his utmost
height with a gesture full of dignity, and he looked every inch a
noble, self-respecting gentleman.

Jan heaved a sigh that was almost a sob. His relief was so great that
he felt his limbs tremble to support him. He received the chart and
began to speak in tones of deep emotion.

"Will you permit me to say that I am profoundly grieved----"

"Say nothing," interrupted the Major. "You have injured me, but you
have apologised in the only fashion I could possibly respect or accept.
I am satisfied."

"But--but--in the future--perhaps----"

"There can be no future between us," said the Major grandly. "Our
interview is at an end. You may go."

Jan bowed as he had bowed to no man in his life before, humbly, almost
reverently. He was overwhelmed; his pride was in the dust. He had
foreseen another ending of his adventure; indeed, he had scarcely dared
to hope that he would not leave that room a handcuffed prisoner. He
was, on the contrary, leaving it pardoned--a free man--and yet with
all his heart he wished now that the other fate had overtaken him.
With slow and lagging steps he crossed the room, his chin sunk upon
his chest. He was beginning to turn the key in the lock when a rasping
voice cried--"Stop!"




Chapter XXXIV.--A Politician's Revenge.

Jan turned quickly about, animated with a sudden hope. The Major,
however, had evidently not uttered the arresting word. He was staring
with an expression of questioning astonishment, at some object at the
further end of the room. Jan followed his glance and beheld Dr. Culgin,
who stood between the parted curtains of an alcove, in which the Major
usually kept screened from public gaze the couch chair he used when his
enemy, the gout, had laid him low.

Dr. Culgin's pig-like little eyes were glinting wickedly. His cheeks
were screwed up and supported with a hundred wrinkles. His lips were
parted in a determined snarl, showing his long narrow teeth set like
fangs in his upper jaw.

Stepping out into the room, he stalked to the nearest chair, the back
of which he seized in his hands and swung before him, as though for
purposes of defence.

"I have heard everything!" he announced. "Major Reay, I congratulate
you upon your simplicity. This scoundrel has again imposed upon you,
but thank Heaven, I am again at hand to save you from his cunning--and
save you, moreover, from the crime involved in compounding a felony."

Jan looked at the Major. The old gentleman seemed a little dazed. He
opened his mouth to speak but shut it again, and he began to blink his
eyes and wrinkle his brows in a curiously bewildered fashion.

The Doctor leaned his elbows on the back of the chair before him and
rubbed his hands together. "I've got you just where I want now, Jan
Digby," he chuckled. "You weren't prepared for this, heh? Quite a
dramatic appearance, mine--heh?"

"Was it pre-arranged?" asked Jan.

The Doctor's grin broadened. "I'm a bit of a mind-reader, like
yourself," he chuckled. "I dropped down to your little game at once.
Thought you'd fool the old man easily, heh. Work on his feelings, and
make a friend of him, heh? Pave the way to become his son-in-law, heh?
I give you every credit! You played your cards like an artist. But--he!
he! he! I was in the alcove."

"What next?" asked Jan.

"Penal servitude!" snapped the Doctor, the smile fading swiftly from
his face. "Ten years of it, I hope! Stand away from that door, will
you."

The Doctor drew himself erect, and slipped his right hand into his
inner breast pocket.

"Wait!" said Jan.

"Not an instant." Dr. Culgin produced a revolver, and levelled it at
Jan's head. "Stand aside!" he commanded grimly.

Jan smiled slightly, and contemptuously regarding the pistol, turned to
the Major.

"Have you nothing to say, sir?" he demanded.

The Major, however, scarcely heard him, and did not reply. He was
moving across the room to Dr. Culgin, his shaggy white brows almost
meeting above his eyes.

"Jim," he said, "enough of this jest. Enough, I say."

Their eyes met. The Doctor replied through his clenched teeth. "It's no
joke, Major; I was never more earnest in my life."

"Let him go!" cried the other. "Do you hear me, let him go!"

"Only to gaol!"

The Major seized him by the left shoulder and began to pull him to and
fro. "You must, I say, you must; do you bear me?" he muttered in a
strangled voice. "I've said he should go free, and he shall."

Dr. Culgin shook off the Major's clutch. "Bosh!" he retorted. "He is a
criminal. I know my duty, if you do not. I am Minister for Justice. Do
you fancy I shall compound a felony to please you or anyone? You must
be mad. Besides--think of Marion."

"I'm thinking of my honor. I've said he shall go free, and go he shall!"

"He shall not!"

For a space they gazed into each other's eyes. The Major gradually
realised that the other was implacably determined. The knowledge seemed
at first to freeze but later to infuriate him. He turned ashen white
for a moment, and then brick-red.

"You dare to defy me--only dare!" he stuttered wrathfully.

"I'll do my duty! By God, I shall!" grated the other.

"You will prosecute him?"

"Yes."

"If you do----" The Major threw out his hands, his eyes had grown
bloodshot. "If you do, I'll oppose you at the next elections. So I warn
you!"

"You'll be a little saner to-morrow, I hope," sneered the Doctor.

"Let that man go free."

"No."

"Refuse again--and, by the God above us, our friendship is at an
end--Spy!"

"Major!" The Doctor's little eyes flashed furiously. "You forget
yourself," he snarled. "I a spy--I?"

"Refuse me, dishonor me--and--and----" The Major lowered his voice and
whispered something in the Doctor's ear.

Dr. Culgin turned scarlet. "Would you? Would you?" he cried starting
back; he was perfectly beside himself with rage.

"I give you my word!"

"Then let me tell you this, old fool that you are! Mine has been the
graciousness in not long ago withdrawing from the match. I'm not going
to have my revenge now, because--because----" he shook his fist in
the Major's face. "Did we not find her in that ruffian's arms? She is
damaged goods! Paugh! You wanted it--you have it!"

The Major staggered backwards half a dozen steps. There was a look upon
his face terrible to see. It was the hue of chalk, and corpse-like,
save for his eyes, in whose blazing depths some nameless horror fought
with a nascent murderous desire. He advanced a second later with a
hoarse, muffled cry, his old hands outstretched like claws to seize.

"You villain--you pitiful, mean villain!" he panted. But even as he
moved the weakness of age prevailed upon his passion. Clutching wildly
at the air he pitched forward on his face and fell at length on the
floor.

Jan hurried to his side and kneeled to raise him. Dr. Culgin, livid to
the lips, rushed to the door, unlocked it, and with shaking fingers
removed the key. Passing out he closed it silently, and locked it from
without.

Jan thought of nothing but the Major. Raising him up on a lounge, he
glanced anxiously about the room. The cabinet in which the Major kept
his cigars and liqueur-stand luckily stood open. Jan seized a glass,
half filled it with spirit, and returned quickly to the patient's side.
The Major's teeth were clenched, but Jan forced them apart with a
penknife and poured some brandy down his throat. He then unfastened the
old gentleman's collar and began vigorously to chafe his hands.

After a few anxious minutes, the Major sighed and opened his eyes.
Inexpressibly relieved, Jan helped him to sit up.

"Where--where is he?" gasped the Major.

"Gone!" replied Jan. "Take a little more brandy, sir."

The Major drained the glass with eagerness, and the blood returned into
his ashen cheeks. "I--I am better," he said, and stood up. "I must
follow him." He strode to the door and tried, but, failed to open it.
"He has locked us in!" he cried. "Curse him--ha--the bell!" He ran to
the wall, but Jan intercepted his arm outstretched to seize the bell
rope.

"Major," said he, "what is the good? It will but cause a scandal with
the servants. Dr. Culgin, I am sure, will not be long. I believe that
he has only gone for the police."

The old gentleman's hand fell to his side. "Oh! oh!" he groaned. "Oh!
oh! What will you think of me?"

Jan smiled, but answered nothing.

"I had no Idea that he was there, upon my honor," stammered the Major.

"I know that," Jan said quietly.

The Major sunk into a chair. "If--if he puts me into the witness-box,
I shall lie--lie like a gentleman!" he cried. "More than that, I shall
buy the best barrister in the country to defend you and pay your costs
myself."

"No, indeed, sir," smiled Jan. "I shall plead guilty."

"What?"

"I am guilty."

"Don't be a fool!" cried the Major, starting up. "Guilty--guilty of
what? Guilty be hanged!"

"I sank your punts."

"What if you did! Aren't they mine? I had the right to punish you if I
wished to--not he. Curse him!"

Jan shrugged his shoulders.

"In any case, you were not to blame," went on the Major stormily. "We
did not treat you fairly. We arrested you to gratify our spite, you
only paid us back in kind. Besides, the men were underpaid. I have
always said so--always."

"I was wrong, sir," said Jan. "I deserve to suffer. In a way, I am
almost glad that Culgin spied upon us."

"The unspeakable cad!" groaned the Major. "Oh! good Heavens! what a
fool I have been! Jan Digby, I have known the fellow since he was that
high." He spread out his hand and looked up, fitfully quivering. "I
have treated him like a son. Did--did you hear what he said--of--of--my
daughter?" he muttered huskily.

Jan nodded, biting his lips; he could not speak.

"Oh, for the old days!" groaned the Major; "the good old days when men
were permitted to behave like men! An insult like that cries for blood!
My little girl--my Marion!"

Jan abruptly crossed the room. When he returned his face was white, but
calm.

"Major," said he, "I hear steps on the gravel. The police are coming
for me. I intend to plead guilty. Very soon I shall be a prisoner
serving sentence. I shall never probably see your daughter again.
But--but she--she will feel it very much, at first, I think. Be--be
kind to her. Will you?"

The Major stood up. He was trembling like a leaf. "My daughter is wiser
than her old fool of a father," he muttered hoarsely. "She knows a
gallant gentleman when she meets one. Digby, give me your hand."

"Try to forgive me--for all--the pain I have--brought upon you,"
stammered Jan, who was trembling too.

Their hands met in earnest pressure. "I should have known you before,"
said the Major in tones of grief. "But never mind, my lad. Cheer up, we
are not beaten yet. I'll not prosecute--if they hang me, and I don't
know who else can!"

Jan shook his head, and pointed to the door. The lock shot back, and
presently it opened to show the face of Inspector Begbie.

He nodded on sight of Jan, and was followed by a pair of troopers into
the room. "I arrest you in the Queen's name," he said briskly. "Clap
the bracelets on this fellow, Martin."

Jan held out his wrists. "What charge?" he demanded.

"Sinking punts. As if you didn't know?" The inspector turned with a
sneer still on his lips to Major Reay. "Sir," said he, "the Honorable
Dr. Culgin sends his compliments to you by me, and he wishes you to be
good enough to forward his trunks to the Royal Hotel at your earliest
convenience."

"Very good," replied the Major.

The Inspector saluted, and then looked at his prisoner. "Men," said he,
"right about turn. March!"

"Mr. Begbie!" cried the Major suddenly. "I wish to speak to you a
moment."

The Inspector gave a strange smile. "Exactly as Dr. Culgin foretold!"
he muttered under his breath. "Another time, sir, if you please," he
said aloud. "I am on the Queen's service. Good day to you."

He saluted again, swung on his heel, and left the room.

As Jan approached the Bungalow on his journey to the station, he looked
around him and thought he must be dreaming. The plain which he left
earlier that morning, snow-dotted with a thousand cone-shaped canvas
houses, was now brown and level and almost lone. The nomad cane cutters
had folded their tents like Arabs and silently stolen away. Scarce half
a hundred loiterers remained, and those were scattered wide afar. Each
intent upon departing was busy collecting his chattels to load upon
his patient pack-horse. Net one wasted a thought upon the troopers and
their prisoner.




Chapter XXXV.--Six Months is a Long Time.

Against his solicitor's advice, and despite the entreaties of Major
Reay and James McBean, Jan pleaded guilty when brought before the
magistrate. It seemed to him impossible to do otherwise and remain an
honest man. He was committed to stand his trial at the next quarter
sessions, and bail was refused.

Jan smiled gaily to his friends in the court-house as he was led
from the dock, but his heart was like lead in his breast. He had no
illusions concerning his fate.

The next few weeks composed a book of days in which most of the pages
were blank. He dreamed his time away, and all his dreams were sad. The
inscribed pages were melancholy reading, and would furnish him with
few but bitter memories for all time to come. The Major came to see
him once. Jack Reay twice, McBean as frequently as the prison rules
allowed. All bade him hope. A petition had been prepared, they said,
which each day was subscribed to by increasing numbers of his well
wishers.

Jan wondered what blindness had come upon his friends. He knew that the
petition could effect no good, since it must pass ultimately into the
hands of his enemy, the Minister for Justice, for report. But he made
no comment, and he waited very patiently.

When the day of his trial arrived, he dressed himself with
extraordinary care, and very handsome he appeared as he entered the
packed court-house at a sergeant's heels. Ballina admitted his good
looks with scarcely a dissentient voice. Female Ballina declared,
moreover, in hushed murmurs to each other, that he was a hero and a
martyr. Lena Best was there, and Joyce Templeton. At a little distance
sat Mrs. Dr. MacFarlane and the two Misses O'Gorman Flynn. These
ladies, being friends and occasional entertainers of the presiding
judge, were accommodated with chairs in the body of the court. The
galleries were densely crowded with other ladies and gentlemen of
less social importance. The counsel's table was packed with lawyers
and those honorary magistrates who had overflowed from the bench,
which was so uncomfortably over full that the judge was obliged to
keep his elbows to his sides. It must not be supposed that Ballina
thronged to witness Jan's downfall from unkindly motives. Ballina was
now aware that Jan had inherited Alan Laing's fortune, and it wished
him well. The story of the voluntary confession to the Major had also
got abroad, and a somewhat garbled version was current of how Dr.
Culgin's remorseless vindictiveness had nullified the Major's desire
to be generous. Ballina regarded Jan in its secret heart as a quixotic
fool, an incomprehensible sort of madman, but it spoke openly, and
perhaps sincerely, of his noble-minded sacrifice of self on the altar
of Duty. It also reviled Dr. Culgin as a pitiless modern Shylock.
Ballina, however, dearly loved sensation, and there was not a man or
woman in the court who would have missed seeing the trial for quite a
respectable sum of money.

When Jan mounted the steps and faced them from behind the bars of the
dock, a long deep sigh was heard. "How pale!" thought the men. "How
proud!" whispered the women. Lena Best confided to Joyce that for two
pins she would fall in love with him. Joyce replied that she was in
love with him already.

Jan grasped the rail of the dock firmly with both hands. Setting his
teeth he threw back his head with a gesture of defiant dignity and
looked around the room. He was seeking for someone. Everyone knew it
at once. Everyone followed his eyes. They saw his glance rest for one
instant on Dr. Culgin's averted face. They saw a sneer curl his lip,
and then his search continued. It was soon over. A relieved expression
crossed his face, his eyes fell, and his countenance became rigidly
impassive. The people exchanged glances of intelligence. "He was
looking for Marion, and he is glad she is not here," whispered Lena and
Joyce. "In my opinion he is in love with her." Joyce nodded, and the
court usher cried in a loud voice for silence.

The names of the jurymen were called, and gradually their seats were
filled by 12 "good men and true." The Crown challenged many; Jan did
not open his mouth. The indictment was recited by the Crown Prosecutor,
and Jan was required by the Judge to plead. He replied in a firm voice.
"I am guilty, your Honor." The Judge nodded his head again and looked
hard at Jan; he slowly repeated the verdict, and made the usual formal
demand.

"I have nothing to say, your Honor," replied Jan.

The Judge shrugged his shoulders. He was a pleasure-loving man, who
enjoyed some fame as an after-dinner speaker. On the bench, however,
he was by no means eloquent, and he detested exacting and protracted
trials. Jan was a criminal after his own heart, who had pleaded guilty
and had not even appealed for mercy. There was no reason, therefore,
why he should make a long speech to explain why he could not be
merciful. He felt quite grateful to Jan for having saved him so much
trouble, and he was disposed to be lenient.

"Two years hard labor in Darlinghurst Gaol!" he announced in quiet
tones. "Gentlemen of the jury, you are discharged."

Jan bowed gravely, and was immediately removed from the dock. The whole
affair had not taken ten minutes. Ballina was disgusted, and a little
shocked. Such speed seemed indecent in some subtle fashion.

The next case was called--a Chinaman who had been indicted for
ham-stringing a neighbor's horse; but before the accused appeared the
court-house was empty.

The people watched for Jan in the street without the building, and when
he emerged they thronged about him with outstretched hands and warm
assurances of sympathy. Many of the ladies sobbed aloud, but Lena Best
surpassed all the others in daring. Oblivious of the frowns of Jan's
blue-coated guardians, she thrust herself upon the young man, and with
tears streaming down her cheeks the while, she pinned a red rose in
his buttonhole. "I gathered it this morning in Marion's garden," she
muttered in his ear. She did not speak the truth, but she meant the
falsehood kindly, and perhaps it was not recorded against her as a sin.

The next landmark in his recollections of those dismal days was Jan's
departure from Ballina. A large crowd of Unionists collected on the
wharf to see him go aboard the steamer, and as he stepped from the
police van to the wharf and climbed the plank between his gaolers, they
gave three mighty cheers. He was taken forthwith to his cabin, locked
in, and left alone. Some friend had purchased him that privilege at
great cost, having had to bribe two greedy minions of the law. Jan
looked up, his eyes at once attracted by a flash of color. Swinging
in a rack above his head was a bunch of roses and forget-me-nots. He
seized the flowers and pressed them passionately to his lips, not
doubting for an instant who might be the sender. For an hour Jan was
happy.

Six months passed without an incident. All those pages in Jan's book
of days were blank. His work was oakum-picking. His companions were
thieves and rascals, who came to think him deaf and dumb, for Jan did
not speak to them. No one came to visit him; it was his only comfort,
for he was called by a number, and he wore felon's clothes. He began to
believe at last, however, that his friends had forgotten him, and he
passed his time in a ceaseless struggle to prevent himself from growing
misanthropically morbid and embittered.

One morning his cell door opened at an unusually early hour, and a
warder entered, bearing in his arms the suit of clothes which Jan had
worn at the trial.

"Dress!" he said laconically, throwing down the bundle as he spoke.

Jan asked no questions; he obeyed.

The warder conducted him to the governor's office, where awaited him
a stout, coarse-featured man, who wore a tightly-fitting frock coat
and a tall hat, at least a size too small for his bulging head. In
that burly, incongruously attired figure, Jan had some difficulty in
recognising James McBean; but the other knew him at a glance, and
uttering a glad cry, rushed forward to seize his hand.

"It's the proud day for me, sir, the proud day," he stammered hoarsely.
"Thank the Lord Mr. Digby, you are free at last!"

"It's Jim McBean!" gasped Jan. "I suppose I have been pardoned," he
added, gazing hard at his friend.

"Ay, ay, sir. The paper was signed last night."

"But how came you here?" asked Jan. "It's against all the rules. Why,
it can't be more than six o'clock."

"I'm a member of Parliament now," responded McBean in pompous tones.
"It's more than rules that'd keep me out. But it's a long story, Mr.
Digby; wait till we get away. I don't seem able to breathe here, sir,"
he added artlessly.

Half an hour later the pair were seated in a private room of a
comfortable hotel at least a mile from the gaol, to which they had
driven swiftly, but at snail's pace it seemed to Jan.

The young man had restrained his curiosity to that point, but when
the door closed his reserve gave way entirely. The slow and stolidly
characteristic movements of the other were a torture. "Man, man," he
cried excitedly, "be quick; tell me everything at once--I am burning,
burning!"

"You'll mind me for a slow thinker," replied McBean. "You'll need maun
ask me questions, if you're anxious, Mr. Digby!"

Jan wished to ask of Marion, but he could not trust himself to utter
her name. With a great effort he regained his patience. McBean's
owl-like face looked so stupid and imperturbable that patience was
necessary if he wished to get quickly to the heart of things.

"The general elections were held while I was in gaol?" he inquired
after a moment's reflection.

"Yes, sir."

"You opposed Dr. Culgin?"

"Ay, sir, and beat him by seven hundred votes." McBean's eyes of a
sudden lighted up. "It was the only chance we had of getting you out of
gaol, sir. While he was in power there was no hope. We moved heaven and
earth, petitioned the Premier, the Governor, and everybody. But it was
no good. The Union made me stand, and Major Reay gave me his support.
That was a month ago. Every hour since almost I've been slaving to make
them release you, me and the Major. He's been a good friend to you,
sir!"

"What has become of Dr. Culgin?"

McBean scowled. "He got so unpopular on the river, sir, that the very
week after the elections he sold his property and cleared out for good
to Sydney. The Government has made him a member of the Upper House. I
fought against his appointment tooth and nail, sir, and the Labor Party
backed me up. But it was no use. He was one too many for us, sir."

Jan shrugged his shoulders. "How do you like being a politician,
McBean?"

"I hate it, sir. Thank God you're out, for now I'll be able to get back
to my work and my wife and bairns again."

"What on earth do you mean?"

"I only stood, sir, to get you out of gaol and to save the seat for
you. The Union knows that, and they expect you to stand at once. I sent
in my resignation yesterday, five minutes after the Minister promised
to release you."

Jan sprang to his feet. "But, McBean, this is madness!" he cried
excitedly. "I can't stand for Ballina. I--a criminal just out of gaol!"

"Why can't you, sir? Everyone knows why you went to gaol, and they
honor you for it all the more. Why, dang it, sir, if justice was done,
I and every man Jack in the Union ought to have gone to prison with
you. You took all our blame on your own shoulders, and you was the one
that kept up our end of the stick in the strike and got us our dues.
But even outside the Union everyone's friendly to you now. Everyone's
expecting you to stand; and take my word for it, sir, you'll top the
pole, whoever goes against you."

Jan rubbed his eyes; he felt a little dazed. "Is--is this true?" he
gasped.

"It's gospel I'm telling you," replied McBean.

"But--but--yourself, Jim. You are member now, and doubtless a good
member, too--I cannot consent to oust you."

"Oust me, is it!" cried the other scornfully. "Between ourselves, sir,
it'll be a happy day for me to see the last of Sydney. I'm no denying
but what the salary has been useful, sir; I never made six quid a week
at work. But the corresponding disadvantages are overwhelming--just
overwhelming. I've never sat in the Assembly, but I felt like a fish
out of water, sir. As for doing any good for the men, sir, I tell you
straight I'm not just fit for it. I can speak to the boys voluble
enough, sir, but make a speech in the Assembly! Na! na!"--he slowly
shook his head--"besides, sir, the guid wife is just married to our
little bit o' ground and the cabin, sir, outside o' Ballina. Ye ken
the plot. She wunna leave it, an' I've been miserable without her. I
haven't seen her forbye this four weeks--and I'm dying to get hame. She
canna write, ye ken, and she's a proud bit lassie--she wadna witness
her messfortune to a frien'. I've not had line nor word frae her the
while--she be dead for all of me. Hech, sir, I'm deeing to gang hame!"

Broader and broader grew the Highland dialect as McBean approached the
conclusion of his speech, and his voice so rang with feeling that Jan
knew he spoke the truth.

"Ah, well," he replied, "we'll speak of this again, Jim, when we get to
Ballina--but----"

"A boat leaves to-night, sir," interrupted McBean. "I've taken the
liberty of securing passage for us two, and my trunks are all aboard
her now. You'll come with me, sir?"

Jan nodded. "Tell me of our friends," he said. "The men are back to
work, and satisfied, I hope?"

"Busy as bees, sir, and happy as hornets in their nest."

"The punts--were they recovered easily?"

"The work was done in three days--but it cost the Union nigh 300."

"You paid without demur, of course?"

"Ay, sir."

"And Major Reay--what of him? How is he?"

"In high fettle, sir. Guid Lord, the fool I am! O' course you would na
ken. The Major's leaving business, sir!"

"What?"

"Two months come next Thursday he gave over his mills and factory and
all to a public company--but keeping shares, ye ken. Hech! sir, you'll
find big changes in Ballina!"

"What possessed him?" cried Jan, in great astonishment.

"Years, sir. He's ower old to manage properly, and he had the wit to
recognise yon fact. His Jack has left school and gone into the office
of the company, taking your old place, sir. They say he will be manager
anon. The men swear by him already. He's a bright lad, and has a word
and joke for everyone."

"Have you a cigar, Jim?" asked Jan suddenly.

"My head, my head!" groaned McBean. "Me forgettin' that now--and
remembering beforehand, and you just aching for a smoke! You ought to
kick me, sir."

He plunged his hand into his pocket and produced a box of Turkish
cigarettes.

"No cigar," he muttered apologetically. "I always did be seeing you
a-smoking these infernal paper weeds!"

"You are a true friend," said Jan laughing. "I prefer these infernal
paper weeds to anything. By the way," he added with elaborate
carelessness as he struck a light. "Miss Reay is well, I hope?"

"Fine, sir, the last I saw of her."

"Is she married yet?" Jan's face was now wreathed with thick clouds of
smoke.

"Not yet, sir. People did think she'd make a match of it with Mr.
Keeling, the Solicitor; but the banns were read at church for him and
Miss Best, the daughter of the bank manager, you'll remember, the
Sunday before I left."

"Ah! Any guests at the 'Folly' now?"

McBean shook his head. "A school friend of Master Jack's, sir, was
staying with him when I came away."

"A boy, I suppose!"

"About 22 or 23, sir. A braw young chap--name o' Neale. A fine duck
shot, so they say."

To McBean's surprise Jan abruptly arose and pitched his cigarette into
the fire-place.

"Six months is a long time," he muttered with a heavy frown. "A long
time, McBean."

The other nodded stupidly.

Jan caught up his hat. "I'm hungry, Jim," he said. "Will you be my
banker and treat me to breakfast?"




Chapter XXXVI.--The Beginning of a New Life.

When Jan set foot upon the wharf at Ballina, he was accorded an ovation
that exceeded in warm-heartedness his most sanguine hopes. The whole
town had come to meet him, and their ranks were swelled with some
thousands of Union men, who had taken holiday and travelled from all
parts of the river to pay their champion homage. Jan's ears were
deafened with the cheers that greeted him, while his hands and arms
ached for days afterwards from the hearty treatment they received.

A buggy stood in waiting on the road from which the horses had been
removed. Into this he and McBean were lifted upon the shoulders of the
crowd, whereupon a dozen brawny cane cutters rushed to the shafts and
drew the carriage amid yells and mighty cheering to the Royal Hotel.

The Mayor of the town was standing among his councillors upon the
verandah. He immediately advanced, and taking Jan by the hand, welcomed
him formally to Ballina as a candidate for Parliamentary honors. Jan
was stupefied, and before he could collect his wits, McBean was in the
midst of a speech, in the course of which he publicly renounced his
seat and nominated Jan for election in his place.

Until that moment Jan had hesitated to take advantage of McBean's
generosity, and even when he stood forth to reply, he was still dazed
and undecided, but such a tremendous outburst of enthusiasm preluded
his address, that he had not the heart to retreat from the position
into which he had been entrapped. When silence fell, he uttered a
few stammering words of thanks, and then, almost overcome with the
friendliness of his reception, he retreated hastily into the hotel.
McBean followed him triumphantly, at the head of a train of prominent
townsmen. Harold Keeling was among the number, and the young solicitor
informed Jan in an underbreath that he was now the master of his little
fortune, and that the Bungalow was ready to receive him.

Jan passed a trying day, for he found that he could not escape his
new-made friends. He was already regarded as a public character, since
his election was considered a certainty. Every would-be politician
in the place came to see him and invite him to drink, the better to
envelop him with views advanced or otherwise.

Darkness falling brought him a welcome relief from this persecution. As
soon as his last visitor had gone, he stole away from the inn and set
out on foot for the Bungalow. His head ached violently, he was wearied
to death, and, to tell the truth, he was a little ashamed of himself.
He was haunted with an idea that he had been foolish in consenting
to his nomination, for he believed in his heart that he could not
satisfy the people of Ballina. One day's experience had proved that in
an electorate of but a few thousand souls there were almost as many
diverse opinions of government; and the people seemed to unite only for
one object--self-seeking. His brain buzzed to remember the number of
roads and bridges and other public works, the undertaking of which he
had been already requested to advance. It had always been his sincere
conviction that the good local member was more or less his country's
thief. Jan fiercely resolved that if he was returned to Parliament he
would not be elected for his promises. He would soon let the people
know that he disdained to buy votes, and yet he had been so confused
all day that he had permitted them to form their own conclusions. It
had been so easy to slide--to agree; so hard to protest and deny. He
despised himself for his weakness, but was consoled with the sure hope
of future opportunities to right himself. On the whole, he did not
think he would be elected. He felt, however, that defeat would be a
grievous blow, since his election would provide a fine retort to give
the world, should the world be disposed to remember his imprisonment
with sneers. "Ah, me!" sighed Jan, "strive as I may, do what I will,
at every turn of my life I am confronted with this difficulty--my
interests march always in a path where honesty dare not follow."

Of a sudden he stood still, charmed by a well-known sound to purely
physical remembrances. He was in the dell where he had first told his
love to Marion Reay. The breeze wandering through the willows had
set them mournfully a-whispering. He could see their rounded tops in
silhouette against the sky, but lower down the darkness was profound,
and their shapes were indistinguishable. A wistful mood possessed him,
and he paused there long, wondering, doubting, dreaming. He said at
last aloud--"Six months is a lifetime!" and he pressed on again.

The Bungalow was aglow with welcoming lights. The servants met him
with effusive greetings. But Jan was lonely. After a solitary dinner,
he resumed his old habit of cigarettes and coffee in a deep verandah
chair. He expected a visitor--Jack Reay. But hours passed, and none
disturbed his solitude. At the stroke of midnight he gave up his
expectation and retired to his room a listless, disappointed man.

On the morrow his first act was to write a long letter to the local
paper in which he set forth his somewhat socialistic ideas of
legislation, and uncompromisingly informed the district that he must
be elected unfettered or not at all. He concluded his epistle as
follows:--"I am well aware, gentlemen, that it has long been the custom
of country legislators to please their constituents, and thereby retain
for themselves their seats in Parliament by pledging their attachment
to venal governments in exchange for expensive and oftentimes
unnecessary public works, such as ridiculously splendid bridges,
post-offices, and the like. I venture to express my abhorrence of this
system, which more than anything else is responsible for the abyss of
debt into which the State is plunged. Should you decide to elect me as
your representative I shall strive by precept and example to abolish
so grievous an ill, and to establish a party devoted to economy and
reform."

Jan read it over a second time and smiled. "The death-warrant of my
candidature," he muttered. "Well, what must be, will." He called a
servant and despatched him with the letter to the newspaper office. An
hour later he sauntered into the town. Almost the first person he met
was Jack Reay.

The lad flushed when he perceived Jan, and came forward with visible
reluctance.

Jan noted, and wasted no time. "What is the matter, Jack?" he demanded.
"I expected you to visit me last evening. How have I offended you?"

"I'd rather not say," said Jack, glancing uneasily about him.

"Are you ashamed to be seen speaking to me?" asked Jan.

The boy turned scarlet. "No!" he answered hotly. "You ought to know me
better than that! But we can't speak in the street; someone might hear
us."

"I see. Come down this lane, then."

A hundred yards from the main road Jan stopped and faced about.

"Now, Jack, out with it!" he said. "I note that you have not even
offered me your hand; it must be something serious."

Jack again glanced around him as if searching for observers; but
presently reassured, he looked defiantly into the other's eyes.

"It's Marion!" he muttered angrily. "Marion! Do you hear?"

Jan nodded. "Yes, I hear. Well, what of her? She is well, I hope?"

"Nothing to do with you, what she is. Keep your hopes to yourself."

Jan bit his lips confounded. "What are you thinking of?" he gasped.

"I'm thinking that it's like your darned cheek to make up to her!"
cried the boy, his eyes flashing like his father's. "Don't try to do it
again! That's all. She is not for you!"

"Who is she for, Jack?"

"That's our business--not yours!"

"What has changed you, Jack? We used to be friends."

The boy looked a little disconcerted. "We can be still--if you--if you
be sensible," he stammered.

"That is to say--if I agree to----"

"Yes," interrupted Jack. "I must be going," he added.

Their eyes met. "Is it--the gaol?" asked Jan in a low voice.

"No; I don't blame you for that."

"What, then?"

"Oh, dash it all!" cried the boy exasperatedly. "You ought to know
without asking. You're not so blooming dull!"

"Tell me! I insist!"

Jack shrugged his shoulders. "It's the whole beastly business," he
snapped. "You were a remittance man when you came here, whatever you
are now. I like you, and all that sort of thing--but surely a fellow
can be pals with a man and not want him to marry his sister, can't he?"

Jan nodded. "I perceive that you have grown up," he said gravely; "I
have been thinking of you as a boy--the generous, unworldly-minded boy
I used to know, and when, I am afraid, I used to somewhat impose upon.
Ah, well, don't let me detain you, Jack."

He began to walk towards the street, and the lad, after a moment's
hesitation, fell into step beside him. Jan's face was thoughtful;
Jack's, a picture of eager and puzzled concern.

"What are you going to do?" demanded Jack, as they approached the
corner.

"Enter Parliament, if I can."

"Oh, rats! About her, I mean? Are we to be friends, or not?"

Jan turned, a grave smile upon his face. "Fate will decide," he
answered. "Good-bye, Jack." He nodded courteously, and went off up the
road.

Jack thrust his hands deep into his trouser pockets, and watched him
go--gnawing at his lips in angry bewilderment. "Fate be Blowed!" he
muttered under his breath at last. "Hasn't he often told me that every
man makes his own fate. He's a good sort, Jan Digby, but I'm darned if
he gets Marion!"

Jan received during the course of that day so many invitations to
dinner from prominent citizens that he could no longer doubt but that
Ballina had taken him to its heart of hearts. He accepted all, in the
interests of his election.

The next week passed in a round of festivities and speech-making. He
worked very hard, riding about the district and making, as far as he
could, a personal canvass of the electorate, which was a very scattered
one. The Crown warrant was issued for the election in the meanwhile,
and the polling day fixed for a month ahead. Jan's plain-spoken letter,
to his own astonishment, when published, effected nothing but good. The
explanation was that Dr. Culgin had been an ideal local member. He had
deluged the district with court-houses, post-offices, and roads and
bridges, to such an extent, that those which remained to be built were
needed only by individuals anxious to improve the value of isolated
bits of private property. Such people read Jan's letter with disgust,
but they numbered not many dozens, and being afraid to stem the tide
of popular opinion, they pretended to be satisfied, and much to Jan's
delight, ceased to bore him with solicitations. The rest of Ballina,
having all they wanted, could afford to be really virtuous, and Jan was
universally commended for his patriotic spirit. His political platform
captivated the public with its sound common sense. His planks were
liberal in tendency without being over radical. They were, however,
described so clearly and defiantly that Ballina perceived at once
that Jan was an earnest, steadfast man, and that he would not recede
from his independent standpoint. Having very few serious convictions
to boast about themselves, they adopted his, and Jan so far flattered
them as to allow them to suppose that the cases were reversed, and he
their chosen mouthpiece. When some few days later a Government emissary
visited the place with intent to study the chances of a Ministerial
candidate, he wired back to his chief such a gloomy prophecy that the
Cabinet declined to court defeat. After that, Jan had nothing to fear,
except possible opposition from the Parliamentary Labor Party. They,
however, being well advised of the strength of his position with the
Cane Workers' Union, decided to remain quiescent, although they were
not entirely pleased with his attitude of independence. It came to
pass, therefore, that when the polling day arrived, not a vote was
recorded for or against him, and Jan was declared to have been returned
unopposed to Parliament.

There was, perhaps, no more lonely man than he in Ballina that night.
Having escaped at an early hour in the afternoon from his enthusiastic
supporters, he dined at the Bungalow, and later took his accustomed
chair on the verandah. His success had gratified his pride without
satisfying the cravings of his heart. He had been in Ballina for nearly
six weeks, and had not set eyes on Marion. The thought of her was a
dull, but constant, pain. Jack he had several times met in the streets,
but the boy had ostentatiously avoided him. Major Reay, report said,
was undergoing a protracted struggle with his old enemy, the gout; he
also had given no sign that be was aware of Jan's existence. Jan had
sometimes been tempted to visit the "Folly" in order to thank the Major
for his kind efforts to rescue him from prison. The memory, however, of
his one interview with Jack prevented him from yielding. He persuaded
himself that he would have been refused admission, and his pride would
not brook the risk of such dignity. His love for Marion was as strong
as ever, but he had resigned hope of winning her. He believed that she
had ceased to care for him. Had it been otherwise, she who knew him so
well would have sent or contrived to meet him, for how could he go to
her--he, a convict fresh from prison? He had waited--waited! But day by
day his expectation lessened, while his loneliness and longing grew.
It was natural, of course, that she should have stifled her love. He
admitted that, nor did he respect her an atom less because of it.

But--he shrugged his shoulders wearily--life was empty, and it might
have been so full. That she was well he knew. People sometimes spoke
of her to him. Once or twice he had entered a room in the house of
some common acquaintance which she had quitted a moment previously.
With Lena Best (then Mrs. Keeling) he had established a sort of
friendship, and Lena had occasionally given him maliciously-assorted
grains of news. Marion had gone for a fishing excursion with Jack's
friend, Mr. Angus Neale. She had entertained a card party last night
at the "Folly." She had organised the surprise visit and ball to
Joyce Templeton's house at Wyallah. She had appeared at the public
tennis-court or the cricket ground in a costume from Worths', which
must have cost the Major thirty guineas, and so on.

These items had hurt Jan's vanity, but they could not disturb his love.
That burned with a steady flame which he scarcely dared to hope that
time would finally extinguish. Some pains are precious things. Jan
hugged his to his breast. But when he heard men call her beautiful, or
describe her triumphs at her little social gatherings, like the Spartan
boy with the fox, while he smiled he longed vainly to be relieved of
his burden.

It seemed a wonderful circumstance that they had not met. Gazing
through smoke wreaths at the "Folly," whose lights twinkled dimly
through the dark intervening distance, he asked himself if chance was
alone responsible, or had Marion deliberately avoided him. Why had she
always been absent from the functions which he attended? The reflection
inspired a new and keenly jarring idea of her regard for him. "Surely
she ought to know," he muttered, "that I would not reproach or force
myself upon her. She might at least trust me to be generous."

In a few days, at farthest, he must leave Ballina for the capital, in
order to assume his new official duties. Well, the sooner the better.
He would then be spared altogether the pain of meeting her, and she the
risk of an encounter, the idea of which she either dreaded or disliked.
But in that case, why not at once? By travelling some hundred and fifty
miles on horseback he could reach the town of Tenterfield, and proceed
to Sydney overland by rail. He got slowly to his feet and moved to the
door. Alan's old Chippendale clock in the hall struck 9 as he watched
it. Before the last stroke sounded, he had made up his mind. Jan rode
out of Ballina next morning before Marion had awakened from her first
sleep. Looking back in after years, it always seemed to him that he had
spent the most miserable moment of his life while passing the "Folly's"
bronze gates on his ride to Lismore. Those gates were of great size
and strength. They had been wrought by some unknown master of craft
to represent two giants clasping hands across the path. Usually
they stood open, and the giant figures pointed towards the "Folly,"
extending thereby a mute invitation to wayfarers to seek the Major's
old-fashioned open-handed hospitality. As Jan approached them the dawn
was breaking. The lamp set above the arch shone feebly, paled by the
morning glow. The "Folly's" roof was bathed in a soft radiance of rose.
But the gates were shut, and the giants stared at Jan forbiddingly.




Chapter XXXVII.--Marion.

Major Reay had kept his promise to Jan Digby. He had faithfully
related, to his daughter all that had passed on the eventful morning
of Jan's third and last arrest. But he had not withdrawn his interdict
upon their loves, and even while fulfilling his promise to Jan, he had
sternly bidden Marion remember his former warning. For a while the
girl had been prostrated with grief, and her father had been terribly
anxious concerning her. On the morning of Jan's trial she had remained
for hours in a death-like swoon. She awoke from it to weep in a silent
despairing fashion that wrung the Major's heart. But not once did she
complain, nor did she even ask him to relent. The days that followed
were dismal beyond compare. Marion was always in her room; not ill, but
sorely pining. She grew pale and thin, a veritable shadow of her former
self. She seemed always to wish to be alone.

The Major found the silence of the house intolerable after Jack
returned to school. He used to pace the floor of his study hour by
hour, sunk in bitter meditation. His great fear was that Marion would
contract consumption, the disease which had killed her mother; or
perhaps fade into gradual decline from grief. There were times when,
tortured by the sight of her white thin face and big sorrowful eyes,
sitting opposite to him at meals, their only rendezvous, he would in
sheer despair have been glad to give her in marriage to the worst
of criminals, if only he might thereby call back the color to her
cheeks, and to her lips the old glad smile. The poor old gentleman,
torn between duty and affection, and his whole nature crying out with
loneliness, at last began to drink more brandy than was good for him.
It made him forget.

Marion, wrapped in her own sorrow, perceived nothing. But the servants
saw, and one there was, an old retainer of the family, who had the
courage to open the girl's eyes. From that moment Marion was a woman,
with her girlhood behind her, and her love.

The Major rejoiced and marvelled at the change. He was at first unable
to understand it, but he soon became assured that she had ceased to
care for Jan. She gave him all her time and care, and surrounded him
with sweet, mother-like attentions. No longer could he complain of
loneliness. She was always by his side, always ready to accompany him
abroad; to converse, or if he preferred it, to play for him on her
piano the sweet old-fashioned tunes he loved most to hear. Best of
all, she rapidly improved in health. The Major recovered his vanished
spirits and waxed fat, pluming himself upon his sagacious firmness and
his deep understanding of women.

With conscious cunning he refrained from mentioning Jan's name before
her. She had evidently forgotten Jan. Best, thought he, to let sleeping
dogs lie. Instead of committing that mistake, he kept open house at
the "Folly," and filled it with the careless chatter of young people.
Marion entertained them like a princess. Her social gifts expanded with
experience, and the whole town came to love her. She appeared to like
her life so well that in time even Lena Best ceased to suspect her of
wearing the willow. Her manner lost its former unconscious charm of
merry spontaneity, but it acquired a grace of wonderful tranquility,
and her smile, though rarer, was more fascinating than of old, because
of its sweet manifest desire to please. In her eyes was seen an abiding
peace of soul that nothing seemed able to disturb.

Whether she still loved Jan or not, she only knew. She had no
confidant, but everybody was her friend. When Jan returned to Ballina
after his release from gaol she carefully avoided him. He had guessed
aright in that. But she had not feared to meet him as he fancied. Had
they been confronted by some freak of chance, she would have passed him
by without a glance, as her father had commanded her to do. For that
reason she was glad when Jan departed from the town, for her heart was
kind and more sensitive to other's pain by far than to her own.

She devoted herself absolutely to her father. The Major grew more happy
with the passing of each day; so happy, that he wished to live for
ever. But in truth he was very, very old.




Chapter XXXVIII.--The Last.

Jan's romantic history opened to his path the doors of many great
houses in Sydney, which remained for all time welcomingly ajar for
him when their owners discovered that, although a labor member and a
late inmate of Darlinghurst Gaol, he was also a well-bred and handsome
gentleman. In Parliament his peculiar gift of earnestness was speedily
recognised, and although no great orator, he was looked upon within a
year by both press and people as one of the most influential members in
the House. Attached to no party, and wedded to no policy, except the
honest furtherance of the public interest, his forceful pronouncements
on heated questions of the day created discussions themselves. The
Government then in power worked upon a majority so narrow that it
retained office merely at the nod of the Labor Party, a body of some 18
gentlemen who were pledged to vote in caucus on all occasions, whatever
the convictions of their own minority might be. Their solidarity gave
them incalculable power. With a venal Government anxious above all
things to retain office, and the opposition just as venally hungry
for the advantages of office, this could hardly fail to be the case.
In fact, the Labor Party had only to express their wishes in order to
have them hastily satisfied. Jan's sympathies were entirely with labor,
and he heartily approved of most of the legislation which the Labor
members introduced. But he regarded their caucus pledged vote as an
immoral instrument of power, and his final refusal to join their ranks
was couched in a letter that was published in a fit of pique by those
to whom it was addressed, and which to their surprise, and his own,
made him famous. "I cannot consent," wrote Jan, "to incorporate myself
with a society which has the power to impose upon any minority, however
small, of its adherents the duty of subordinating private principle to
party purposes. In my opinion, the man who votes against his conscience
votes against his country!"

His sturdy independence was at first mistaken by his critics for
cupidity, but when several lucrative appointments delicately offered
him by those in power were contemptuously declined, both sides of the
House began to watch him with suspicion, and to perceive in him a new
force ultimately to be reckoned with.

Jan, however, went quietly upon his way, and he was not disturbed
because his honest actions were frequently construed as deep and
brilliant scheming. His vote by gradual degrees began to exercise
an influence and acquire a following. But he was too clear sighted
to be misled by either flattery or fame into fatuous attempts at
self-aggrandisement. He wished to reform Parliament if he could, but
he perfectly appreciated the tenacious vitality of vicious customs,
and he did not expect to accomplish his task in less than a dozen
years of constant effort. His ideal was fixed and sure, and although
he sometimes lost heart, Jan was an extraordinarily patient man. He
always regained hope, and he waited. He had developed, indeed, a
perfect genius for waiting. His private life was extremely simple.
He resided in a little cottage a few miles out of the city, which
fronted the South Pacific Ocean. There he spent most of his leisure
hours, entertaining a few literary intimates at well-chosen dinners,
or indulging in his old passion for the sea in long solitary rambles.
His ventures into society were neither frequent nor promiscuous. He
visited only at the houses of those who interested him on account of
their intelligence or beauty. Jan loved to watch beautiful women or
converse with clever men. But he permitted himself few friendships, and
no flirtations. Most women thought him courteous but a little dull--a
confirmed old bachelor, in short. Serious men found him a versatile and
sympathetic companion; they liked even more than they admired him. The
flippant despised him as a good man, because, for one reason, he was
frankly contemptuous of cant and cynicism, and for another, because
his reverence for the sex of men's mothers occasionally inspired him
to remarks which sadly soured the flavor of many a smoking-room smart
story. In the course of two years Jan visited Ballina three times in
order to render an account of his doings to his constituents. Having
leased the Bungalow for a term of years to Harold Keeling, he always
put up at the Royal Hotel. On each of his visits he met Jack Reay, but
no other member of the family at the "Folly." Jack was becoming quite
a man, and already he sported a moustache. He treated Jan with a lofty
air of condescension which gave Jan many a quiet smile. On the whole,
however, they were fairly good friends, for Jack had come at length to
believe that Jan was quite cured of his former infatuation.

Upon the latter's third visit to the town, Jack informed him, in a
burst of confidence while Jan's guest at dinner, that he could not
understand his sister. "She is so cursed hard to please!" he declared.
"Would you believe it, old chap? I've had up some of the finest chaps
you could meet in a mouth's walk--had 'em up especially--old college
chums, and so on. Well, they all fell head over ears in love with
her--but she wouldn't take on one of them!"

"She must be hard to please, indeed," Jan answered smilingly.

"Not as if she was a chicken, either," proceeded Jack impatiently,
twirling the down on his upper lip. "She is nearly 25."

"Oh, time enough," said Jan.

"The dad's worried to death about it!" growled the boy. "He's breaking
up fast, the poor old dad. I don't think he'll last much longer."

"Is he able to get about still?"

"Yes, but he's got frightfully stout. The doctor is afraid of apoplexy.
The least excitement might knock him over. That's why I don't like
asking you up to the 'Folly.'"

"Indeed!"

"Yes. From the moment you got out of gaol the old dad didn't seem able
to bear your name mentioned near him. And he fought like a tiger to get
you out, too. Curious, wasn't it?"

"You forget," smiled Jan. "I was supposed at that time to be in love
with your sister."

Jack looked up suddenly. He was still the same impulsive youth as ever.
"We've sometimes thought," he blurted out, "that she must be shook on
someone all along. I hope to God it's not on you."

"I think not," answered Jan with a sigh. "Such faithfulness is not in
human nature. Make your mind easy, Jack."

"You've not married?" said Jack, with a suspicious frown.

Jan laughed heartily. "Oh, come!" he cried, "you credit me beyond my
merits, Jack. I am not a marrying man. I don't claim to be a paragon
of constancy at all. Why, bless my soul, I would hardly recognise Miss
Reay were I to see her! But this is too absurd, let us change the
conversation."

And Jan was quite sincere in what he said. Marion occupied even yet a
shrine in his mind before which he sacrificed when he remembered her.
But for long past that shrine's image had been melting into mist. The
process had been very gradual. He had forgotten her features one by
one. In the first few bitter months, he used to read the morning's
papers in trembling apprehension lest he should find an announcement of
her marriage with some unknown rival. That fear faded, with time, into
indifference. He schooled himself to think of her as another man's wife
without emotion, it was difficult but he succeeded. His love which had
survived loss, survived also the decay of passion. It became a calm,
abiding sentiment which resembled a principle, inasmuch as it gave his
nobler nature sustenance and kept him true to an ideal, and--to Marion.
He had cared for her so much that in loving her his power of loving was
exhausted. He was incapable of being moved by any other woman, however
beautiful, even though he was a sincere worshipper of beauty. For that
reason he had determined never to marry. It was his deepest conviction
that marriage without love constituted the most infamous crime which
might be perpetrated against the laws of Nature. When he saw other men
happy with their wives and children, a pang at times shot through his
breast, for he was formed as they were formed, and he did not wish his
race to die. But conscious of his disability, he tried to think of what
might have been without regret, and resigned himself with dignity to
the inevitable.

His conversation with Marion's brother, above recorded, recurred to him
often during the months that followed. Jack's fugitive idea that Marion
might possibly have remained single from attachment to his memory did
not awaken one responsive echo in his mind.

Nevertheless, he was unable to comprehend his apparent obstinate
disregard of her adored father's wishes, and he began to wonder what
might be his animating purpose. He decided at last that she must be
hard to please. He liked the thought, for it soothed what was left
of his vanity. That she had loved him once was his dearest and most
treasured recollection.

One morning he received a telegram from Jack, announcing Major Reay's
sudden death. Jan was greatly shocked. He spent that day in solitude,
remembering the past. As it would have been impossible for him to reach
Ballina in time to attend the funeral, he merely sent a wreath of
flowers for the grave and a formal letter of sympathy to both Jack and
Marion. His answer was a printed mourning card.

Three months later Jan helped to carry a vote of censure against
the Government for a particularly flagrant breach of constitutional
principle. The leader of the Opposition was invited to form a Ministry,
but having failed to satisfy the Labor Party of his devotion to their
interests, he lacked a majority, and Parliament was immediately
dissolved.

Jan thereupon returned to Ballina in order to seek re-election. Jack
Reay was amongst those who welcomed his arrival at the wharf. He
followed Jan to the hotel, and so persistently outstayed the others
that Jan guessed he had some private matter to discuss. Luncheon hour
was at hand, however, before Jan was free. He asked Jack to share
the meal, but the boy refused. "I--I have something to tell you," he
muttered in curious shambling fashion.

"I knew it," said Jan.

Jack, however, seemed unable to proceed. With flushed cheeks and
downcast eyes he hesitated, hummed and hahed for so long that Jan
became impatient.

"It must be something terrible indeed," he observed with quiet
sarcasm. "I remember a few years ago, you found no trouble in throwing
'remittance man' in my teeth. Is it worse than that?"

Jack gave a start and looked up, his eyes dilating with astonishment.

"My God!" he cried, "are you a mind-reader, Jan? That is just it!"

"What do you mean?" demanded Jan, in his turn surprised.

"It's the remittance business I wanted to speak to you about."

"Well?"

"I owe--I owe you an apology," stammered the boy.

"Please explain."

"When--when I said that to you--I--thought--the others said--we all
thought--except Marion----" He broke down in a pitiful confusion.

"I know," Jan nodded, smiling gravely. "You thought I was someone's
younger scape-grace son, a sad sort of rascal sent out here and paid so
much a quarter on condition that I never set foot in the country I had
disgraced. Well, Jack, how did you discover your mistake?"

"The dad--wrote home before his death--to a friend--to make inquiries
about you," muttered Jack. "The answer came the very day he died."

"Why did he do that?"

"I don't know; Marion does. She had something to do with it."

Jan looked very thoughtful. "What answer did he receive?" he asked
presently.

Jack flushed crimson. "I--I--you know," he protested.

"I know the truth, Jack, but I'd like to discover if you do also."

"The letter said that--that you had been brought up as--as Lord
------'s son--but that when he died you cleared out suddenly,
and--and--afterwards----"

"Go on, Jack."

"It came out that--that he had married your mother--after you were
born."

Jan was pale as a sheet. "He told me so on his death-bed," he said in
deep, low tones. "Jack, that was a bitter day for me, my lad."

Jack gulped down a sob, big, manly fellow though he was, and his eyes
dimmed with tears.

"Oh, the brute I was!" he groaned. "But, Jan, I didn't know, I didn't
know!"

"Have I blamed you, Jack?"

The boy did not seem to hear. "If I'd known," he muttered in a raucous
voice, "you might have married Marion, and welcome, for me!"

Jan slowly shook his head. "You think that now, Jack, because you are
in a generous mood; and you have persuaded yourself that you have in
some measure wronged me."

"No, no!" cried the boy, two big tears trickling down his cheeks. "I'm
serious, Jan, so help me, God! I am. I'd have loved it."

"Everything happens for the best, Jack. How is your sister, may I ask?"

Jack dashed his hand across his eyes. "She--she wants to see you this
afternoon," he blurted out. "Go to her, old chap!" Turning suddenly, he
simply rushed out of the room.

Jan sank into a chair, almost nerveless with astonishment. Marion
wished to see him after all these years! Why? What had she to say
to him? What could she have to say? Should he go--or not? The calm,
well-ordered current of his life was suddenly disorganised. A surging
flood of troubled thoughts swept through his mind, and overwhelmed
his faculty of reasoning. Memories and desires that had long ago been
hushed to sleep by time awoke on instant, rekindled and resplendent,
and clamored for attention. Ere he knew it he was in the little
sea-girt amphitheatre again, exchanging with the woman he loved his
first betrothed kiss. His heart beat furiously in his breast. The
blood rushed pulsing and singing through his arteries. Distracting
visions arose before his eyes and completed his confusion, for they
all seemed real, and wildly, sweetly possible. He thought he must be
losing his senses. Exerting every atom of his strength, he fought for
self-mastery, and obtained it at the expense of trembling frame and
shaking limb. It was pleasant to hail his will still paramount, but
the victory had been dearly bought and he dared not look back, for all
his nature was crying out to him. "I shall go to her to-morrow," he
muttered, "to-day I am a fool."

But Jan went to her that day. He could not wait. At three o'clock he
broke away from a garrulous throng of his political supporters, who
had never appeared so empty-headed as then, and striding to the hotel
stables he procured a groom to saddle a horse for him. Fifteen minutes
later he was standing in the "Folly's" once seen but well-remembered
drawing-room, waiting for Marion.

She did not keep him long. She entered very softly, very slowly. Jan
lived a thousand years as she advanced. When last he saw her she had
been a slender girl. She was now a woman--graceful, more graceful
than before, but of ampler form and far more splendid bearing. There
was a grand, yet simple dignity in her demeanor. While yet at a
little distance she paused, and they surveyed each ether with full
reserveless glances. She was wonderfully beautiful. Her lips were
slightly parted, her cheeks were softly flushed, and in her eyes was
a dazzling light, exquisite but inexplicable. Her white skin and her
flashing glory of golden hair were cast into high relief by the solemn
blackness of her mourning robe. To Jan it seemed that he stood in the
presence of an angel. He discerned her to possess a quiet peace of
patience, a benedictive calmness of soul which might only have been
gained by treading ways of pain under absolutely perfect guidance. He
was afflicted with a sense of powerful inferiority as he gazed at her,
and general unworthiness. She moved him profoundly--brain, and heart,
and mind. Her slow smile stirred an old pain in his breast. Her eyes
discussed him with a gentleness that did not conceal their penetration.
Jan felt that he stood before a tribunal which he vainly wished had
only the power to affect his life or death. They spoke of eternity,
and they were judging him. With a proud and characteristic gesture
which the girl loved to recognise, Jan, who had grown deadly pale, drew
himself erect and silently implored her to pass sentence.

"You have altered much," she said. Her voice was a rich contralto, low
pitched, and silken toned. Its accents were inexpressibly caressing.

"Yes," said Jan.

"You are grey about the temples, and you have forgotten me."

"Yes," said Jan. "But I have not ceased to love you." He was speaking
from his soul.

Marion knew it, and her smile grew very lovely. "Were you not sure of
me?" she asked.

"No."

"That seems strange." She paused and sighed. "I cannot understand
quite, yet. You will explain, perhaps. You see--I gave myself to
you--but I could not leave my father while he lived. I did not dream to
doubt your faith. Why was it that you doubted mine?"

Jan closed his eyes in a cowardly endeavor to escape her glance.
He thought that his reply would exclude him from the paradise so
blissfully and unexpectedly revealed to him. His voice shook as he
answered her. "I thought you just a woman, Marion!"

He forced himself to look up. Her face had grown cold, her eyes
condemned him. He felt his heart gripped by a hand of ice. He bent his
head and waited for his fate. "I deserve your scorn," he said.

Marion watched him for a moment, glorying in her manifest power over
the being she worshipped. She had waited so long, so very long, and
since she was human, she had had her hours of agonising fear for the
future, although she had not ever doubted him. But now all was over,
and it was good to be sure, so very sure, that he loved her still.
There was nothing cruel in her exultation. Her delay in terminating his
suspenses was cruel, perhaps, but also it was purely womanly. She could
have prolonged that moment for ever, but that her heart melted into
tenderness as she noted the quivering of his lips.

"You thought me a woman," she murmured, then cried out in accents of
sudden passion. "But, Jan, I am--I am--I have no wish to be anything
else. And, oh, I am glad that I am a woman--because you love me!"

And so Jan came into his happiness.

Marion's bridal gift to her husband was surely one of the most curious
presents ever made by a woman to a man. It consisted of the heel of a
shoe which had apparently departed in the fullness of time from its
mated sole, for one surface was much worn, and the other was prickly
with brass nail points, many of which were bent awry. It came to Jan
encompassed in a band of gold, upon which a date was inscribed. But its
character, despite its setting, was unmistakable. When he received it,
Jan uttered a cry that seemed partially of recognition, and if Marion
could have seen him then, she must have wept in sheer delight to know
that so trifling a gift from her could confer such benediction as her
lover's countenance expressed.



The End.


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