I cursed my negligence in not procuring their address from the officers of the Somersetshire, who no doubt had heard of the Squire’s destination, and were certain to be entertained by him after landing.
As a last resource I thought of the Clubs. Of course—how dull I was not to have known that the Squire must have introductions, which would secure his being at once made an honorary member of the Australian or the Junction.
Driving up to the senior establishment I dashed into the hall, and with an air of anxiety which evidently puzzled the waiter inquired if Mr. Allerton was a member, and, if so, at present in the house?
That seraph in livery replied deliberately, but in accents to me resembling the music of the spheres.
‘Hon’rary member, sir. Mr. Allerton have just gone into the billiard-room, sir. What name shall I say? Please to walk into the strangers’ room, sir.’
I almost tottered as I entered an apartment which conveyed no idea of the proverbial luxuriousness of club upholstery. Seizing a pen, I scribbled ‘Hereward Pole’ upon a sheet of note paper and handed it to the angelic messenger.
I stood before the fireplace bracing my nerves, like one who awaits the dread summons of fate, striving in vain to appear cool and collected. I roused myself after a few seconds with the consciousness that I had done no wrong; nay, had indeed achieved the task which in the pride of my youth I had so lightly set myself to accomplish.
In another moment the quick active step sounded in my ears, which I remembered so well in the corridors of Allerton Court. The door opened, and the Squire stood before me.
He gazed for one moment at me with strange, unrecognising air; then his frank features lighting up with their old kindly expression, he exclaimed—
‘Good God! Hereward, my boy, is it you at last? And to think that I should not have known you. By Jove! though, what a man you have grown.’
He was holding out his hand, which I shook warmly. What memories did that touch evoke. I tried to speak, but no word would come. The tears rolled down my cheeks as if indeed I had been the sensitive boy he remembered at the old Kentish village, against whom he never dreamed of guarding as a suitor for his daughter’s love.
Mr. Allerton looked steadfastly at me with an eye still bright and piercing in its regard. Then his face softened still more, and he turned away his head visibly affected.
‘My dear boy,’ he said at length, ‘there need be but few words between us. That I have doubted, I frankly confess. Appearances were against you. I see before me, in spite of all that has come and gone, the same true-hearted fellow that left old England, and that I was proud to call my son. But come along outside. My heart is too full for talk in a house. Let us have a stroll in this lovely sea-park of yours.’
In a few moments we were passing along the avenue which leads towards the Bay, bordered on the hither side by shining tropical-foliaged trees, comparatively old, through the stately pleasaunce which a former governor reserved for the citizens of the nation yet unborn. Safe from interruption, and shut out from all sounds but the low whispering of the great fern fronds and thick-massed foliage, stirred by the faint ocean breeze, I poured out my heart as to a father, soon convincing the placable and trusting Squire of the falsehood of all aspersions upon my loyalty and truth.
I roughly sketched the circumstances of my mining career, describing my companions and detailing the history from first to last of my friendship with Jane Mangold, fated to so tragic an ending.
‘Poor girl, and poor boy, too,’ said the kind-hearted Squire, ‘you have had a hard time of it; your gold has not been cheaply purchased. I am glad that scoundrel will be hanged at any rate. I am not sure but that you would have done as well to have stuck by old England in the long run. And we, that is poor Ruth and ourselves, should have been spared more misery than I can tell.’
‘Many a time and oft I have repented, Squire, that I ever left the Leys; but youth is rash. The hazards that lead to fortune will never lack volunteers from Britain.’
‘Well, I suppose we mustn’t grumble. It has made a man of you,’ he said, looking admiringly at my broad shoulders and stalwart frame. ‘I hardly thought you would spread out into such a heavy-weight champion. It must be a fine climate. Hard work seems to have agreed with you at all events. I wonder if Ruth will know you?’
‘She did not recognise me at Charlotte Bay yesterday,’ I said, ‘but it was late.’
‘Yesterday—was that you? Good heavens!’ cried out the Squire, deeply moved, ‘what an astonishing, almost incredible, coincidence. I shall believe in dreams all my life after. Did you hear what she said about the house she saw in her dream before she left England?’
‘I did catch something of the sort,’ I answered, ‘but her dear face so enthralled me when she raised her veil that the full sense of her speech was lost upon me.’
‘Most strange—passing strange,’ mused the Squire. ‘There is nothing wonderful in her not knowing you yesterday. I had not the remotest idea of you other than as a perfect stranger, though courteous and considerate as we all agreed.’
‘When did the dream occur?’
‘Before we quitted England. We were debating the question of leaving for Australia, a most unlikely thing to have happened, you must confess, when our poor girl, then hardly recovered from a terrible attack of brain fever, informed her mother and myself that she had had a dream of astonishingly clear and circumstantial nature. That she had seen a stately stone mansion, unique and remarkable of appearance, standing on the shore of a southern harbour, embosomed in a strangely beautiful garden; that she had seen you lying on a stone bench under a vast wide-growing shady tree with tropical foliage.’
‘That has been literally true, during every day of the last month,’ I answered. ‘But how almost incredibly strange that the vision should have been so presented to her.’
‘Once I should have classed such a matter,’ said the Squire solemnly, ‘with frivolous fanciful imaginings and harmless delusions; but of late I have learned that there are more things ’twixt heaven and earth than were dreamt of in my philosophy. I am in that respect, perhaps in others also, a changed man.’
‘And what fixed your determination to cross the sea?’ I said. ‘I should never have believed it if I had not seen you all in the flesh. The Dryads at Allerton Court must have wailed audibly.’
‘It was a wrench, God knows,’ said the Squire, ‘but one will do much for life—and our life is bound up in the welfare of our beloved child. She, poor dear, clung to her dream-revelation as though it had been gospel. And as the idea had given her fresh hope, and the doctor counselled change of scene, we made the plunge. And,’ continued the Squire, looking kindly in my face and then at the blue waters of the bay, over which the white-sailed boats were darting before the western breeze, ‘I shall never regret the step. Now I declare I have talked till I am hungry and thirsty both. Come home with me and plead your own cause with Ruth. We are in lodgings.’
‘That accounts for my not finding you. I made so sure you would be at one of the hotels, and was half inclined to go back to the Somersetshire to find out if I had not been dreaming in my turn that I met you at Charlotte Bay.’
‘Why did you not make yourself known then?’ commenced the Squire; but looking at my face he read the answer, and went on. ‘A natural feeling on your part, my boy, quite of a piece with your old self. I see the digging and all that has not changed Hereward Pole much. In poor Ruth’s delicate state—for though she is quite a new creature now, she had to be carried on board ship—the shock might have had ill effects. Still I think you will find her more or less prepared—thanks to this wonderful dream.’
‘And what was your fancy for lodgings? I almost thought you would go to Batty’s where I am staying. Nothing could be more delightful or more luxuriously commodious.’
‘Well, the fact was that one of our fellow-passengers, who hailed from Sydney, recommended our present abode so strongly, the lady being the retired widow of a military officer he knew, and a most estimable person, that we took his advice. So our address is 580 Macquarie Street, where my wife is spoiled and Ruth petted as if Mrs. Pemberton was her great aunt.’
‘I have heard of Mrs. Pemberton,’ I said. ‘You could not be in better quarters, and as dearest Ruth’s health I could see had grievously suffered—’
‘You say truly, my dear boy; nay more, she has been raised up almost from the grave, but by God’s great mercy she has improved in health and strength almost from the very hour we began the voyage; so perhaps from this lovely land, where all things are new and interesting to her, she will return fully renovated. It only needed in my opinion that she should have her faith in you justified. Come and tell her so.’
It was not deemed advisable even now to risk a sudden interview. The Squire confided the important news of my arrival and rehabilitation to his wife, who with prudent limitations imparted it to her daughter. Finally my long-lost, long-loved faithful one was told that I was come, was actually in the house—that I awaited her in the next room.
The door opened, she came forward. One glance was sufficient. No need of careful searching inquiry of feature for love’s swift vision.
‘Oh, Hereward! oh, my love! and do we then meet again? God is indeed merciful,’ were her faltering yet eager words as she sank fainting in my arms. I supported her to a couch, and there, with her head leaning on my shoulder, we sat steeped in bliss so rarely granted to lovers in this changeful world. Sorrow and trial had disappeared; our passion, which had been tried and tested as by fire, was still fervent as ever after the lapse of years. I had wrested from fortune her favours and smiles. Our hopes were about to be crowned with triumphant, if long delayed, fruition.
The happy moments lengthened to hours, which fled unheeded, and still we sat hand clasped in hand as she listened with deepest interest to the tale of chequered existence, until, fearful of her failing strength, I commenced to use my newborn authority by vowing that the Dinarzade business must be over for that day.
‘I could listen for ever, love,’ she said. ‘What romance could be half so interesting as Hereward’s real adventures to his poor Ruth. Poor Ruth! Poor Lucy Ashton! How often have I thought of you as my absent Edgar Ravenswood. Never has my heart wavered; but, unlike her, I had the best, the most tender of parents; but for them I should have died. I am not strong now; but oh, if you had seen the shadow I was a year since.’
‘But you will be strong again, my darling,’ I said. ‘In this fair new land the soft airs and bright hues will work a magic charm, which my love will deepen,’ I whispered.
‘Darling,’ she said, clasping my bronzed face with both her delicate lily hands. ‘I know that I shall be restored to my old self. I feel assured of it by some inward feeling. The cloud is for ever lifted from my life. From the morning after I dreamed about that house—it will ever be The House Beautiful to me, I shall love it till I die—I have felt myself a new creature. And now it has come true. My love was there, even while I gazed upon it, and now we are here together—the love of long ago is illumined. I am too happy to die. Death has no power over those whom joy transforms.’
We were aroused at length by Mrs. Allerton, who came to suggest that dinner could not be more than ten minutes’ distant; that the Squire, on learning the hour at which we returned from the domain, had refused on principle to partake of lunch; that, as he was walking up and down on the balcony, frequently consulting his watch, punctuality on this occasion might be judicious.
‘Poor, dear old Pappy!’ said Ruth. ‘It is a long time since he gave me a lecture on punctuality at meals, as he occasionally did at home, for reading up to the last minute, and coming down after the guests had assembled.’
‘It is a good sign,’ said the kind old lady, with a sigh and a tender look at her daughter. ‘I hope you will follow papa’s example at dinner, though I must say you have been a very good girl of late. Your country, Hereward, will have the credit of curing her. I had no idea that you were so civilised, I must say.’
‘Many English people, my dear Mrs. Allerton, think that we Australians are just emerging from barbarism. I hope to show you some things and places which will bear describing when you return.’
‘Oh, I promise you we are not going back till we have seen all that is to be seen,’ said Ruth. ‘I find that I am passionately fond of travelling now that I have fairly commenced; and I love this country for your sake and all the people in it, except the bushrangers, and they might have been worse when one comes to think, poor fellows. I intend to go to the mines to begin with.’
‘You may go anywhere you like, my darling,’ said the Squire, who now entered the room, ‘as long as you eat your three meals a day with a becoming appetite. There goes the dinner bell at last. How any one can be as hungry as I am this moment, with the thermometer at 85° in the shade, is more than I can make out. I should never have believed it in England. I wonder if they have got any of those delicious garfish for us which we had at breakfast?’
Day after day Ruth and I strolled together adown the endlessly varied woodland paths with but the whispering surge-voices for all friendly auditory. We watched the moon rise over the silver lakelets of the harbour, or threaded the mazes of the great garden-park, as the sun drooped low amid the empurpled splendour of the wave. At such moments life seemed distilled into a draught of supernal happiness at which we trembled.
The days, while we gazed, glided. The summer waned, and the long-drawn lingering light insensibly yielded a longer interval to the soft appeals of night. My darling’s strength returned apace, her step regained its elasticity, her voice the fuller rounded tone which, though subdued in ordinary moods, I remembered so well.
Meanwhile the Squire and Mrs. Allerton were not wholly unamused. The former made numerous acquaintances at the Australian Club, and even took short excursions into the country, where he looked with deepest interest upon the highbred herds and flocks and studs of noble horses which bad flourished under scientific culture so far, strange to say, from old England.
‘Most astonishing, truly wonderful country, this Australia of yours, my boy,’ he would say to me on his return from these excursions. ‘Never could have believed that such stock could have been produced out of England—and on grass, nothing but grass, too, that’s what beats me; no roots, no hay, no cake! How they do it I can’t tell. It’s the climate, I suppose, and their being able to run out all the year round. If we had such soil and climate in England our farmers would get too rich.’
‘But the labour, you forget that, Squire,’ said I mischievously. ‘You don’t pay your ploughmen and hinds a pound a week, with board and lodging, and fuel thrown in.’
‘Ah,’ said the Squire meditatively, ‘there’s something in that. The weekly wages bill at Allerton Court would mount up if we paid at such rates. But it’s a splendid country, a magnificent country. If I was a young man and hadn’t my bread and butter ready cut and spread for me, like some folks, I’d emigrate. It’s the only career for a youngster of spirit, I can see that now.’
‘So poor Hereward did the right thing after all, daddy?’ said Ruth, putting her hand into the Squire’s, and nestling her head against his shoulder. ‘And yet I know some people who said he was so foolish to leave England.’
‘Of course he did, pussy, and so did we do right in coming here to hunt him up. There’s no knowing what might have happened else. And I know one obstinate young lady whose cheeks are beginning to look very much rounder than they did. It must be the fish or the fresh bread and butter, or—’
‘Happiness, my dear old father, pure happiness,’ said Ruth, blushing and throwing her arms around that most indulgent of men. ‘The doctor in England, you know, said if my mind could be at rest, that health would certainly follow. And here,’ she continued, taking my hands with both of hers, ‘I have found peace and happiness, if such are permitted on earth.’
‘To that God, who in His infinite mercy has brought this to pass, and to whom our prayers have ever been raised, even in our deepest anguish, be all the praise,’ said the soft loving voice of Mrs. Allerton, who had joined us noiselessly.
And from every heart, as from every voice, in tones of deepest gratitude and sincerity, rose to heaven the prayer of thanksgiving.
It was arranged that the whole party should remain in Sydney until the approach of the mild Australian winter, when by quitting these southern shores for England, we should reach home either in the merry month of May, or when leafy June had summoned the full glory of a northern summer.
To employ a portion of that interval, and at the ardent entreaty of Ruth, I finally consented to guide the whole party to the Oxley diggings, where their full comprehension of one section of Australian enterprise would certainly be effected.
For several reasons, it may well be imagined, I had no great liking for the arrangement. I had quitted the scene of my labours ostensibly for ever. Customary, even exceptionally farewell rites had been performed. There would be a species of awkwardness in re-appearing upon the scene after my social demise.
I was to play also the new character of a gentleman at large in the company of distinguished visitors from Europe, one of whom would be speedily known to be my affianced bride.
Such difficulties and awkwardnesses as there were in the way, I had full confidence that I should surmount. But there were difficulties, even probable embarrassments, which the unrelieved dolce far niente of my recent life disinclined me to encounter.
I made more than one attempt to dissuade my wilful princess from the enterprise. I exaggerated the discomforts. I used the customary English arguments: ‘it was a rough place, and not, perhaps, exactly fitted for people of her delicate nature,’ etc.
But she turned the tables upon me by saying—
‘Oh, now you are untrue to your good comrades and friends. I am ashamed of you. Besides, you told me that there were quantities of such very nice people there. I want to see the Commissioner, and Mr. Merlin, and Mr. Bright, besides that delightful Major, and my old acquaintances Jack and Joe Bulder. I remember Joe quite well, frightening the rooks at sixpence a week for farmer Giles. In a word, I want to see the romance of the goldfields before I leave Australia, and sce it I will.’
Here my future proprietress stamped her foot, and looked so deliciously incongruously fierce that we all laughed.
‘Who would have thought that this was the little pale girl that was carried on board ship?’ said the Squire, patting her cheek with intense pride and satisfaction. ‘My darling, you must not take us to the South Pole, because it is as cold as the North one, though you might not think so; but we will go with you to the end of the world if you will only keep strong enough to order us about. Hereward, my boy, you’ll have to take out three more Miner’s Rights, I see.’
This joke, in which the Squire with pardonable exultation displayed his knowledge of Australian institutions, brought down the house, so to speak, and for the first time, half-seriously, realising the fact that feminine steadfastness of character may demonstrate itself in more directions than one, I surrendered unconditionally, and prepared mentally for a newly-flavoured experience of goldfields’ life.