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After three days of successful washing, when it became apparent that a shed must be built, and that, if possible, some further labour must be hired, Mick said that he must go. 'I ain't earned nothing,' he said, 'because of that bout, and I ain't going to ask for nothing, but I can't stand this any longer. I hope you'll make your fortins.' Then came the explanation. It was not possible, he said, that a regular miner, such as he was, should be a party to such a grand success without owning a share in it. He was quite aware that nothing belonged to him. He was working for wages and he had forfeited them. But he couldn't see the gold coming out under his hands in pailfuls and feel that none of it belonged to him. Then it was agreed that there should be no more talk of wages, and that each should have a third share in the concern. Very much was said on the matter of drink, in all of which Caldigate was clever enough to impose on his friend Dick the heavy responsibility of a mentor. A man who has once been induced to preach to another against a fault will feel himself somewhat constrained by his own sermons. Mick would make no promises; but declared his intention of trying very hard. 'If anybody'd knock me down as soon as I goes a yard off the claim, that'd be best.' And so they renewed their work, and at the end of six weeks from the commencement of their operations sold nine ounces of gold to the manager of the little branch bank which had already established itself at Ahalala. These were hardly 'pailfuls'; but gold is an article which adds fervour to the imagination and almost creates a power for romance.
Other matters, however, were not running smoothly with John Caldigate at this eventful time. To have found gold so soon after their arrival was no doubt a great triumph, and justified him in writing a long letter to his father, in which he explained what he had done, and declared that he looked forward to success with confidence. But still he was far from being at ease. He could not suffer himself to remain hidden at Ahalala without saying something of his whereabouts to Mrs. Smith. After what had happened between them he would be odious to himself if he omitted to keep the promise which he had made to her. And yet he would so fain have forgotten her,--or rather have wiped away from the reality of his past life that one episode, had it been possible. A month's separation had taught him to see how very silly he had been in regard to this woman,--and had also detracted much from those charms which had delighted him on board ship. She was pretty, she was clever, she had the knack of being a pleasant companion. But how much more than all these was wanted in a wife? And then he knew nothing about her. She might be, or have been, all that was disreputable. If he could not shake himself free from her, she would be a millstone round his neck. He was aware of all that, and as he thought of it he would think also of the face of Hester Bolton, and remember her form as she sat silent in the big house at Chesterton. But nevertheless it was necessary that he should write to Mrs. Smith. He had promised that he would do so, and he must keep his word.
The name of the woman had not been mentioned between him and Dick Shand since they left the ship. Dick had been curious, but had been afraid to inquire, and had in his heart applauded the courage of the man who had thus been able to shake off at once a woman with whom he had amused himself. Caldigate himself was continually meditating as he worked with the windlass in his hand, or with his pick at the bottom of the hole, whether in conformity with the usages of the world he could not simply--drop her. Then he remembered the words which had passed between them on the subject, and he could not do it. He was as yet too young to be at the same time so wise and so hard. 'I shall hold you as engaged to me,' he had said, 'and myself as engaged to you.' And he remembered the tones of her voice as, with her last words, she had said to him, 'My love, my love!' They had been very pleasant to him then, but now they were most unfortunate. They were unfortunate because there had been a power in them from which he was now unable to extricate himself.
Therefore, during one of those leisure periods in which Mick and Dick were at work, he wrote his letter, with the paper on his knees, squatting down just within his tent on a deal case which had contained boxes of sardines, bottles of pickles, and cans of jam. For now, in their prosperity, they had advanced somewhat beyond the simple plenty of the frying-pan. It was a difficult letter to write. Should it be ecstatic and loving, or cold and severe,--or light, and therefore false? 'My own one, here I am. I have struck gold. Come to me and share it.' That would have been ecstatic and loving.' 'Tis a hard life this, and not fit for a woman's weakness. But it must be my life--and therefore let there be an end of all between us.' That would have been cold and severe. 'How are you, and what are you doing? Dick and I are shoving along. It isn't half as nice as on board ship. Hope to see you before long, and am yours,--just the same as ever.' That would have been light and false,--keeping the word of promise to the ear but breaking it to the heart. He could not write either of these. He began by describing what they had done, and had completed two pages before he had said a word of their peculiar circumstances in regard to each other. He felt that his letter was running into mere gossip, and was not such as she would have a right to expect. If any letter were sent at all, there must be something more in it than all this. And so, after much thinking of it, he at last rushed, as it were, into hot words, and ended it as follows: 'I have put off to the last what I have really got to say. Let me know what you are doing and what you wish,--and whether you love me. I have not as yet the power of offering you a home, but I trust that the time may come.' These last words were false. He knew that they were false. But the falseness was not of a nature to cause him to be ashamed. It shames no man to swear that he loves a woman when he has ceased to love her;--but it does shame him to drop off from the love which he has promised. He balanced the matter in his mind for a while before he would send his letter. Then, getting up quickly, he rushed forth, and dropped it into the post-office box.
The very next day chance brought to Ahalala one who had been a passenger on board the Goldfinder; and the man, hearing of the success of Shand and Caldigate came to see them. 'Of course you know,' said the man, 'what your fellow-passenger is doing down at Sydney?' Dick Shand, who was present, replied that they had heard nothing of any fellow-passenger. Caldigate understood at once to whom the allusion was made, and was silent. 'Look here,' said the man, bringing a newspaper out of his pocket, and pointing to a special advertisement. 'Who do you think that is?' The advertisement declared that Mademoiselle Cettini would, on such and such a night, sing a certain number of songs, and dance a certain number of dances, and perform a certain number of tableaux, at a certain theatre in Sydney. 'That's your Mrs. Smith,' said the man, turning to Caldigate.
'I am very glad she has got employment,' said Caldigate; 'but she is not my Mrs. Smith.'
'We all thought that you and she were very thick.'
'All the same I beg you to understand that she is not my Mrs. Smith,' repeated Caldigate, endeavouring to appear unconcerned, but hardly able to conceal his anger.
Dancing dances, singing songs, and acting tableaux;--and all under the name of Mademoiselle Cettini! Nothing could be worse,--unless, indeed, it might be of service to him to know that she was earning her bread, and therefore not in distress, and earning it after a fashion of which he would be at liberty to express his disapproval. Nothing more was said at the time about Mrs. Smith, and the man went his way.
Ten days afterwards Caldigate, in the presence both of Mick and Dick, declared his purpose of going down to Sydney. 'Our luggage must be looked after,' said he;--'and I have a friend whom I want to see,' he added, not choosing to lie. At this time all was going successfully with them. Mick Maggott lived in such a manner that no one near him would have thought that he knew what whisky meant. His self-respect had returned to him, and he was manifestly 'boss.' There had come to be necessity for complicated woodwork below the surface, and he had shown himself to be a skilled miner. And it had come to pass that our two friends were as well assured of his honesty as of their own. He had been a veritable godsend to them,--and would remain so, could he be kept away from the drinking-shops.
'If you go away don't you think he'll break out?' Dick asked when they were alone together.
'I hope not. He seems to have been steadied by success. At any rate I must go.'
'Is it to see--Mrs. Smith?' Dick as he asked the question put on his most serious face. He did not utter the name as though he were finding fault. The time that had passed had been sufficient to quench the unpleasantness of their difference on board ship. He was justified in asking his friend such a question, and Caldigate felt that it was so.
'Don't you think, upon the whole,----. I don't like to interfere, but upon my word the thing is so important.'
'You think I had better not see her?'
'And lie to her?'
'All is fair in love and war.'
'That means that no faith is due to a woman. I cannot live by such a doctrine. I do not mind owning to you that I wish I could do as you bid me. I can't. I cannot be so false. I must go, old fellow; but I know all that you would say to me, and I will endeavour to escape honestly from this trouble.' And so he went.
Yes;--to escape honestly from that trouble! But how? It is just that trouble from which there is no honest escape,--unless a man may honestly break his word. He had engaged himself to her so much that, simply to ignore her would be cowardly as well as false. There was but one thing that he could do, but one step that he could take, by which his security and his self-respect might both be maintained. He would tell her the exact truth, and put it to her whether, looking at their joint circumstances, it would not be better that they should--part. Reflecting on this during his three days' journey down to Sydney, it was thus that he resolved,--forgetting altogether in his meditations the renewed force of the woman's charms upon himself.
As he went from the railway station at Sydney to the third-class inn at which he located himself, he saw the hoardings on all sides placarded with the name of Mademoiselle Cettini. And there was a picture on some of these placards of a wonderful female, without much clothes, which was supposed to represent some tragic figure in a tableau. There was the woman whom he was to make his wife. He had travelled all night, and had intended to seek Mrs. Smith immediately after his breakfast. But so unhappy was he, so much disgusted by the tragic figure in the picture, that he postponed his visit and went after his luggage. His luggage was all right in the warehouse, and he arranged that it should be sent down to Nobble. Waggons with stores did make their way to Nobble from the nearest railway station, and hopes were held out that the packages might be there in six weeks' time. He would have been willing to postpone their arrival for twelve months, for twenty-four months, could he, as compensation have been enabled to postpone, with honour, his visit to Mrs. Smith for the same time.
Soon after noon, however, his time was vacant, and he rushed to his fate. She had sent him her address, and he found her living in very decent lodgings overlooking the public park. He was at once shown up to her room, where he found her at breakfast. 'So you have come,' she said. Then, when the door was shut, she flung herself into his arms.
He was dressed as a miner might be dressed who was off work and out for a holiday;--clean, rough, and arranged with a studied intention to look as little like a gentleman as possible. The main figure and manner were so completely those of a gentleman that the disguise was not perfect; but yet he was rough. She was dressed with all the pretty care which a woman can use when she expects her lover to see her in morning costume. Anything more unlike the Mrs. Smith of the ship could not be imagined. If she had been attractive then, what was she now? If her woman's charms sufficed to overcome his prudence while they were so clouded, what effect would they have upon him now? And she was in his arms! Here there was no quartermaster to look after the proprieties;--no Mrs. Crompton, no Mrs. Callander, no Miss Green to watch with a hundred eyes for the exchange of a chance kiss in some moment of bliss. 'So you have come! Oh, my darling oh, my love!' No doubt it was all just as it should be. If a lady may not call the man to whom she is engaged her love and her darling, what proper use can there be for such words? And into whose arms is she to jump, if not into his? As he pressed her to his heart, and pressed his lips to hers, he told himself that he ought to have arranged it all by letter.
'Why Cettini?' he asked. But he smiled as he put the question. It was intended to be serious, but still he could not be hard upon her all at once.
'Why fifty thousand fools?'
'I don't understand.'
'Supposing there to be fifty thousand people in Sydney,--as to which I know nothing. Or why ever so many million fools in London? If I called myself Mrs. Smith nobody would come and see me. If I called myself Madame Cettini, not nearly so many would come. You have got to inculcate into the minds of the people an idea that a pure young girl is going to jump about for their diversion. They know it isn't so. But there must be a flavour of the idea. It isn't nice, but one has to live.'
'Were you ever Cettini before?'
'Yes,--when I was on the stage as a girl.' Then he thought he remembered that she had once told him some particular in regard to her early life, which was incompatible with this, unless indeed she had gone under more than one name before she was married. 'I used as a child to dance and sing under that name.'
'Was it your father's name?'
She smiled as she answered, 'You want to discover all the little mean secrets of my life at once, and do not reflect that, in so far as they were mean, they are disagreeable as subjects of conversation. I was not mean myself.'
'I am sure of that.'
'If you are sure of it, is not that enough? Of course I have been among low people. If not, why should I have been a singer on the stage at so early an age, why a dancer, why should I have married such a one as Mr. Smith?'
'I do not know of what sort he was,' said Caldigate.
'This is not the time to ask, when you have just come to see me;--when I am so delighted to see you! Oh, it is such a pleasure! I have not had a nice word spoken to me since I left the Goldfinder. Come and take a walk in the gardens? Nobody knows me off the stage yet, and nobody knows you. So we can do just as we like. Come and tell me about the gold.'
He did go, and did tell her about the gold, and before he had been with her an hour, sitting about on the benches in that loveliest of all places, the public gardens at Sydney, he was almost happy with her. It was now late in the autumn, in May; but the end of the autumn in Sydney is the most charming time of the year. He spent the whole day with her, dining with her in her lodgings at five in order that he might take her to the theatre at seven. She had said a great deal to him about her performances, declaring that he would find them to be neither vulgar nor disagreeable. She told him that she had no friend in Sydney, but that she had been able to get an engagement for a fortnight at Melbourne, and had been very shortly afterwards pressed to come on to Sydney. She listened not only with patience, but apparently with the greatest pleasure, to all that he could tell her of Dick Shand, and Mr. Crinkett, and Mick Maggott, arousing herself quite to enthusiasm when he came to the finding of the gold. But there was not a word said the whole day as to their future combined prospects. Nor was there any more outspoken allusion to loves and darlings, or any repetition of that throwing herself into his arms. For once it was natural. If she were wanted thus again, the action must be his,--not hers. She was clever enough to know that.
'What do you think of it?' she said, when he waited to take her home.
'It is the only good dancing I ever saw in my life. But----'
'I will tell you to-morrow.'
'Tell me whatever you think and you will see that I will attend to you. Come about eleven,--not sooner, as I shall not be dressed. Now good-night.'
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