Project Gutenberg Australia
a treasure-trove of literature
treasure found hidden with no evidence of ownership

 

Title: The Remittance Man
Author: Ambrose Pratt
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1402851h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  November 2014
Most recent update: November 2014

This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy

Project Gutenberg of Australia eBooks are created from printed editions
which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice
is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular
paper edition.

Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the
copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this
file.

This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions
whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms
of the Project Gutenberg Australia Licence which may be viewed online.

GO TO Project Gutenberg Australia HOME PAGE


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.
Chapter II.—Marion's Friend.
Chapter III.—Feline Amenities.
Chapter IV.—Sister and Brother.
Chapter V.—Marion Crosses the Bar.
Chapter VI.—The Black Squall.
Chapter VII.—The Major Meets his Match.
Chapter VIII.—Concerning a Piece of Leather.
Chapter IX.—Jan Surrenders.
Chapter X.—The Gossips.
Chapter XI.—Jan Finds a Place.
Chapter XII.—The Major's One Practical Joke.
Chapter XIII.—The Friends.
Chapter XIV.—Jan Pays a Visit.
Chapter XV.—And Makes an Enemy.
Chapter XVI.—The Union.
Chapter XVII.—Jan Sends in his Papers.
Chapter XVIII.—The Rendezvous.
Chapter XIX.—Marion's Confession.
Chapter XX.—A Compact.
Chapter XXI.—The Intercepted Letter.
Chapter XXII.—The Conference.
Chapter XXIII.—Jack Returns to Ballina.
Chapter XXIV.—The Ball.
Chapter XXV.—The Strike Commences.
Chapter XXVI.—Jan Breaks Arrest.
Chapter XXVII.—Jan Loses his Best Friend.
Chapter XXVIII.—The Manifesto.
Chapter XXIX.—The Betrothal.
Chapter XXX.—The Punts.
Chapter XXXI.—Alan Laing's Will.
Chapter XXXII.—The Beginning of the End.
Chapter XXXIII.—An Old Soldier's Revenge.
Chapter XXXIV.—A Politician's Revenge.
Chapter XXXV.—Six Months is a Long Time.
Chapter XXXVI.—The Beginning of a New Life.
Chapter XXXVII.—Marion.
Chapter XXXVIII.—The Last.



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.