DOWN IN THE WORLD.
BY MARY GAUNT.
The day was fine enough in all conscience. A bright, cloudless July day, such as comes upon us occasionally in the depth of winter even in the heart of the hills. The sun was bright and warm ; there was a promise of the coming summer in his midday rays, and the gentle wind was only just keen enough to make those rays appreciated. And Clive Dowling did ap- preciate the waruith thoroughly. Poor fellow, it was, he felt, the only bit of comfort left him. Up and down the broad streets he had paced since day- dawn, carefully keeping on the sunny side, up and down, up and down, and now at midday he was almost worn out, but still what was he to do; Where was he to go? What, in fact, can a man do when he has but half-a-
crown between him and absolute starvation?
And yet six months before he had landed in the colony with five hundred pounds in his pocket, and every hope of making his fortune, and now the certainty of one pound a week would have seemed to him untold wealth. But, looking back, he could not blame himself. He had speculated, rashly perhaps, but he had taken the very best advice, and when his father's old friend, Charles Dixon, who had been out in the colonies nearly all his life, had advised him to invest his capital in the "Star of the North" Gold-mining Company, situated somewhere on the borders of civilisation in the north of Queensland, every share in which was bound to be worth at least twenty pounds before the month was out, who could possibly foresee that those same shares would steadily fall till they, at the present moment, were not worth the paper the scrip was printed on? And his four hundred pounds was gone, utterly gone. He had only invested four hundred pounds and had saved one hun- dred pounds for present necessities, though he had certainly not intended to spend it. He had intended to work for his living, as any other strong and healthy young fellow of five and twenty would do. He had taken a good degree at Cambridge, but it cost him fifty pounds to be called to the bar, and then he entered a solicitor's office in order to gain experience and to make himself thoroughly acquainted with the law as administered at the antipodes.
And for the first few months things prospered with him. He lived on his
pay, looked forward to the time when he should be a barrister in good practice, with a house of his own, and--well--he knew very well whom he hoped would share that home with him. These were his dreams--day- dreams, which he soon hoped to see a reality. Then typhoid laid hold upon him, and his whole energies were absorbed in a struggle for life--a struggle in which he gained the victory indeed, but which left him white, worn, and emaciated, and with an array of bills to face which fairly horrified him. He could not go back to Messrs. Grant, Allen, and Grant's office; his place had long ago been filled. The only thing to be done was to sell out some of his Star of the North shares. He wrote to his broker asking him to do so, and found to his dismay his shares were just so much waste-paper. Then he lost his head and went down to Mr. Dixon's office, asked to see him, and abused him with all the rancour and bitterness of a man who sees his highest hopes--those hopes which he had flattered himself were almost at the point of fruition--utterly blighted.
His illness had cost him a great deal, and all the money he had in hand was more than due. He doubted even if by the sale of all his effects he could raise enough to pay his debts. His books went, his clothes went, and with the very slenderest equipment he turned out of his comfortable rooms in South Yarra, and prepared to begin life afresh in this new world where he made many acquaintances but not a single friend.
And it was not easy--indeed, it was very hard. The little store of money he had left after paying his debts melted rapidly, and yet he could get nothing to do. Possibly at first it was his own fault The lassitude and weakness resulting from his illness weighed heavily upon him; he went about without energy, because he lacked hope. So far off, it seemed to him, was his heart's desire, so little prospect had he of attaining it, that it was but half-heartedly he at first sought work--and work seldom comes to him who does not seek it with all his heart, at least so Clive Dowling found; and at first when he got nothing he simply did not care; it hardly occurred to him in those early days that he could come to actual want. For every vacant post there seemed so many applicants--so many men who were far better fitted by training for it than he--that he was always passed by. He had lost faith in himself for the time being, and the whole world, as the whole world will, followed suit.
And each failure only served to plunge him into greater depths of hope- lessness. Scantier and scantier grew his resources; the slender stock of clothes had saved from the general wreck were slowly but surely finding their way to the pawnshop, it was imperatively necessary that he should find work--work of some sort--work of any sort--immediately, and yet he could not rouse himself from his lethargy. He had long ago given up the law; he would take anything gladly, he told himself; but he did not put that eagerness into his manner, and no man cared to employ a man who seemed doubtful of his own powers--so careless whether he was taken or not. A clerk--nobody wanted a clerk--and if they did there were any number of brisk, willing, young fellows ready and waiting, who looked as if work would be a pleasure; it would almost have been an injustice to prefer him before them; he felt it himself, and did not press the matter. So it came to pass, naturally enough, he was passed over. His money dwindled and dwindled, and yet he could not realise the situation. He told himself he must give up trying for a place suitable to a man of his education, and try to earn his daily bread by manual labour, and here the same difficulty met
him at the outset. Men would rather employ one to the manner born than this broken-down gentleman, who seemed so careless as to whether he got the work or not. But at length he came to his last pounds and then even he felt he most make a more determined effort if he would not come to absolute starvation. He felt ashamed of himself, too, ashamed that he had fallen so
low, that he had despaired and thrown up the sponge at the first buffet of fickle fortune. Then someone suggested," There's plenty of work, mate,
up in Ballarat," and he went there, where his heart had been all the
But he had roused himself rather late. Already he had been here four days, he had come to his last half-crown, and yet he had no work or prospect of work. The same difficulties met him at every turn. He was so evidently above the work he asked for that men grew suspicious of this quiet-voiced applicant, whose manner was so depressed and hopeless. No one wanted a gentleman to work for him. All preferred your ordinary labouring man, who was thoroughly to be understood at a glance, and whom there was no mystery about. He had spent five shillings of his precious hoard at a labour office, only to be offered a situation as ploughman. Of course he would have taken it gladly, he was ready now to try his hand at anything; but when the stalwart Irish farmer questioned him he was bound to confess he knew nothing whatever about the work, and had never driven a plough in
"Then, begorra, it's meself's afeard we can't be arrangin' matters at all, at all," said the Irishman, regretfully. "Ye see, 'twas a ploughman I was
"I could try," ventured Clive, for he was feeling desperate. But the farmer only shook his head.
" 'Tis a deal of practice ploughin' requires," he said, " and the missus she is rale pertickler;" and Dowling, crushed and ashamed, left the office, and resumed his monotonous tramp up and down the streets.
Up and down Sturt-street he walked, and all hope died within him. The wide street, thronged with people, the laden tram-cars, the handsome shops, all spoke to him of wealth and comfort, and yet in all this busy town there seemed no place for him.
"Pepper, Pepper," he said mournfully, snapping his fingers to the little Scotch terrier which had followed him so faithfully through all his varying fortunes, "Poor old Pepper! There's no place in the world for your master, old man," and Pepper, jumping up against him, seemed to say, after the fashion of his kind, that there always was and always would be a very warm place for him in his faithful dog heart. He walked as far as the hos- pital and then turned back again. Very slowly he walked, for he was very tired, and why should he hurry himself when he had no goal in view, nowhere in the wide world to go to? He looked wistfully at the seats round the trees up the middle of the street. They stood invitingly there asking him to rest his weary limbs; but how could he sit there at midday in the face of the people? It would seem like openly joining that class of idlers and loafers towards which, now, in his bitter awaking, he saw himself hopelessly drifting. An old man dressed in the rough coat and white moleskin trousers which marked him an inmate of the Benevolent Asylum sat on one, leaning heavily forward on his stick, and on another sat a younger man, dirty and unkempt, with his soiled roll of blankets at his feet. He swagsman, neither wanting work nor seeking it, content to bask a little in the warm sunshine, sure of a meal at whatever house he chose to call and ask for one. No, Clive felt he could not identify himself with these, not yet--at least not yet--and he passed on slowly.
It was such a pretty town, such a very pretty town, this golden city among the hills. Under any other circumstances he would have appreciated this glorious winter's day thoroughly. As it was, half mechanically he raised his eyes and noted the broad street and the beautiful view from the top of the hill. The lights and shadows on the surrounding ranges caught his eye--dull and gloomy they looked to him accustomed to the more vivid green of the old land. Warrenheip, its fires long since quenched, stood out right ahead, stern and square against the blue sky, and a little to the right was its fac-simile, Buninyong, nearly hidden from sight by the intervening houses. Yes, it was a view worth looking at, he thought, even though it was strange, and he was a stranger in a strange land. He passed a butcher's shop, and Pepper's eager sniffs at the great joints of meat hanging against the door attracted his attention. Poor little dog, he was hungry; he had had nothing since yesterday. His master had broken his last on a penny bun and a draught of water at a street drinking-fountain; but the little dog had had nothing. No wonder he was hungry. Clive put his hand in his pocket and fingered his solitary half-crown. It was all he had--all that stood between him and absolute destitution, and yet he could not see his dog starve. He entered the shop, and spoke to the blue-shirted man behind the counter. It cost him something to do it, too, for he was not yet accustomed to his position, and he did not like to say that he could not afford to spend much on the dog.
"My dog is hungry," he said with an effort.
"So it seems," said the butcher, eyeing Pepper in no friendly manner as he put his fore paws on the meat block.
"Yes, but--couldn't you give you me--sell, I mean--something for him to eat? I don't want--I mean can't afford much."
The butcher looked at him a moment, wondering, perhaps, why this good looking young man should blush so painfully. Perhaps he divined his story--anyhow, he answered cheerfully
"Lor, what's a bit of meat? There's plenty o' waste and the dog's welcome. Here pup, pup."
So Pepper was accommodated in a snug corner with a huge bone, and while he ate his dinner the butcher talked to his master, beginning with remarks on the beauty of the day and ending up by taking him into his con- fidence on the subject of the uselessness of boys in general and of butcher boys in particular. Clive had never contemplated becoming butcher's assistant, but the idea just flashed through his mind that if this man were dissatisfied with his boy, he might offer his services, but further inquiry revealed the fact that the butcher was as satisfied as he ever expected to be, and that he merely grumbled as a matter of form.
"If I was to change," he said; "it 'ud only be the same. Lord bless yon, boys will be boys all the world over, and the young fellers is good enough in their way; means well, I dessay, but is plaguey fond of that
Pepper had finished now, and came trotting up to his master to say so. Clive turned to the man and thanked him, and again offered to pay.
"Lor, no," said the butcher, " it isn't worth anything. Tell you what, mister, next time your dog's hungry just you bring him here. He's a well bred little beast, and 'tis a fact that I do like a well-bred dog."
"Thank you," said Clive, "thank you. I am very grateful. Good morning."
"Good day to you. You're very welcome; an' bring the pup agen when he's hungry."
They were the first friendly words Clive had heard since he bad come to Ballarat, and albeit the kindness was to his dog, he went out into the street again warmed and cheered, and even forgot for the moment that he, too,
was hungry. Not for long, though. The clock in the tall town-hall tower
struck one, and reminded him that all the town was engaged upon its midday meal. Could he afford a meal, with only.half a crown in his pocket,
no work or prospect of work yet--and the next day Sunday? He could not, afford it, he knew; he had parted with everything he could spare, and when that half-crown was gone he knew he could not by any possibility raise another penny. Opposite the Town-hall a man was grinding out a doleful tune on a wretched hurdy-gurdy; he held his face up, and it needed
not the white-lettered placard hung round his neck to tell Clive that he was blind. By his side stood a ragged, degraded-looking woman, who, with a tin-pot in her hand, petitioned the passers-by in one unvarying monotone, "Assist the blind, please assist the blind."
Many as they passed dropped in pennies and small silver coins, and to Clive it seemed a not unprofitable way of gaining a livelihood. Begging must be profitable, he supposed, for they had been in that same place ever since he came to Ballarat; so had the coloured man on the other side of the street, who leaned against the Bank of Australasia, and played on a soundless fiddle; he, too, was blind, and was led about by a black-and white mongrel, who carried a little tin for alms tied tightly under his neck, and appealed to passers-by with wistful eyes to drown him and put him out of his misery.
"We might as well both drown, his master and I and that couple over there," reflected Clive bitterly. "The dog's a deal more use in the
He stood in the sun by the fountain which commemorated the dead Aus- tralian explorers, Burke arid Wills, opposite the beautiful statue of the poet Burns. Idly he noticed it, and then turned his attention once more to the blind man and his dog. A slight girl in a grey tweed was stooping over the little dog, patting his head and putting some money into the box at his neck. She spoke a word to his master, then turned and crossed. Clive watched her as she came towards him. Surely he knew that face, those brown eyes, and the softly curling rings of dark hair. A month ago what would he not have given to meet her--nay, had not one of the chief attractions in Ballarat lain in the fact that at least he was not far from her, even if he might not make himself known to her, and now he was meeting her face to face. Would she know him? Him--a shabby genteel, broken-down beggar whom she had parted from a young fellow in the first flush of hope? It seemed to him in his painful self-consciousness that his condition must be patent to everyone, more especially to her, who he had once said could read his very soul. Should he speak to her--dared he speak to her? He saw she recognised him--how should she fail to, even though he had grown a beard since last they met, he saw her pale face flush --she was always pale--his darling, her native mountain air had never brought the colour into her cheeks. She stopped, and then some demon possessed him, he put his hand up, raised his hat, and then crossed tbe street to the post-office with a cruel pain at his heart. What a fool he was what an utter fool. Surely he was behaving rudely, cruelly, to her. She knew him, and he ought to have spoken to her--ought to have explained everything--she had a right to expect it, and she surely would not despise him for what was not his own fault. Before he reached the post-oflice steps he had come to that conclusion and turned back. On the top of a tram he caught sight of the grey dress, and just as he turned the car moved up the street. Well, perhaps it was better so; it could make no difference to him and none to her, he thought bitterly--he was glad he had never bound her to him--glad he had only hinted at his love--it was just as well, he could never hope to be anything to her, and
now--well, now she would have a right to think all evil of him--she would
think evil--how could she help it? And he had so gloried in the knowledge that she had a high opinion of him. Well, that was all over now, he had deliberately killed it himself. All his former life was past and done with, no links bound him to it. He was beginning a new life in a strange land, with not a solitary friend to encourage him, and two and six pence between him and absolute starvation. Slowly he mounted the post office steps, not that he cared much whether he got any letters or not. His parents were both dead and his only near relations were his sisters, both considerably older than he, and both married, and so, though they loved him after a fashion--they were not rich, their lives were full of many cares their husbands and children came nearest their hearts, and brother Clive, far away in Australia, got a letter once a month, telling him how terribly poor Bob was worried about business, how pretty Baby looked in his new pink frock, and how Cissy was now as tall as the table and still very proud of the baby brother. Pretty, feminine, loving letters, that once he had been glad to get, but which in his present circumstances seemed to mock him with their calm assumption that all things must needs be right with him. There were three letters for him two of the usual style from his sisters and one from an old college chum nothing in any of them only a recommendation in the latter to try a certain brand of cigars, which the writer said were excellent but expensive. He sat down on a chair in the office and read them, glad of the chance of a rest. He lingered over the reading, and then read them again. He was loth to leave the chair, but it had to be done, and he rose at last and made his way to the labour office in Mair-street, trying to decide whether he had better spend a shilling of his half-crown in tobacco or whether it would be wiser to save it for food. The keeper of the labour office shook his head when he saw him.
"Nothing in your line," he said. "There's three ploughmen wanted, and a blacksmith for up country, and cooks. Lor, if you could only cook now----"
"I could try," said Clive, earnestly. "Man, I must get work of some sort. I'm getting desperate."
The other looked him up and down.
"You're stout built," he said, "but you look sick. It's no go. It ain't your sort people are after."
"But I must do something. I can't starve. Can't you get me work of any sort? I can dig, at least."
"There's no one wants a gardener as I knows on. Folks don't mostly keep gardeners on Ballarat, ain't rich enough, I guess. Know anything about horses? Yes? Oh, well, I might be able to get you a place at Dr. Mac- donald's next week. His groom's going, I know."
"And anything else. Isn't there anything else?" "Well, I dunno. If I was you I'd go round to the Phoenix Foundry on Monday morning and ask if they want a labourer. They got the Govern- ment contract for the engines, and is in fall swing, and they might." "But--but--"
"That's all I can do now," finished the man; "it's Saturday afternoon, and everyone's off to the football. Whatever is the good of looking for
work on Saturday afternoon? Any fool could see you don't know nothing
Which, if not strictly grammatical, was certainly true, as Clive felt bitterly.
And he went and laid out a shilling in tobacco, and resumed his tramp up and down the street more hopeless than ever.