The letter which Caldigate wrote to his father from Ahalala, telling him of the discovery of gold upon their claim, contained the first tidings which reached Folking of the wanderer, and that was not received till seven or eight months had passed by since he left the place. The old Squire, during that time, had lived a very solitary life. In regard to his nephew, whom he had declared his purpose of partially adopting, he had expressed himself willing to pay for his education, but had not proposed to receive him at Folking. And as to that matter of heirship, he gave his brother to understand that it was not to be regarded as a settled thing. Folking was now his own to do what he liked with it, and as such it was to remain. But he would treat his nephew as a son while the nephew seemed to him to merit such treatment. As for the estate, he was not at all sure whether it would not be better for the community at large, and for the Caldigate family in particular, that it should be cut up and sold in small parcels. There was a long correspondence between him and his brother, which was ended by his declaring that he did not wish to see any of the family just at present at Folking. He was low in spirits, and would prefer to be alone.
He was very low in spirits and completely alone. All those who knew anything about him — and they were very few, the tenants, perhaps, and servants, and old Mr. Bolton — were of opinion that he had torn his son out from all place in his heart, had so thoroughly disinherited the sinner, not only from his house and acres, but from his love, that they did not believe him capable of suffering from regret. But even they knew very little of the man. As he wandered about alone among the dikes, as he sat alone among his books, even as he pored over the volumes which were always in his hand, he was ever mourning and moaning over his desolation. His wife and daughters had been taken from him by the hand of God; — but how had it come to pass that he had also lost his son, that son who was all that was left to him? When he had first heard of those dealings with Davis, while John was amusing himself with the frivolities of Babington, he had been full of wrath, and had declared to himself that the young man must be expelled, if not from all affection, yet from all esteem. And he had gone on to tell himself that it would be unprofitable for him to live with a son whom he did not esteem. Then it had come to pass that, arguing it out in his own mind, rationally, as he had thought, but still under the impulse of hot anger, he had determined that it was better that they should part, even though the parting should be for ever. But now he had almost forgotten Davis — had turned the matter over in his mind till he had taught himself to think that the disruption had been altogether his son’s work, and in no degree his own. His son had not loved him. He had not been able to inspire his son with love. He was solitary and wretched because he had been harsh and unforgiving That was his own judgment as to himself. But he never said a word of his feelings to any human being.
John had promised to write. The promise had not been very enthusiastically given; but still, as the months went by it was constantly remembered. The young man, after leaving Cambridgeshire, had remained some weeks at the Shands’ house before he had started; — and from thence he had not written. The request had been that he should write from Australia, and the correspondence between him and his father had always been so slight, that it had not occurred to him to write from Pollington. But Mr. Caldigate had — not expected, but hoped that a letter might come at the last moment. He knew to a day, to an hour, when the vessel would sail from Plymouth. There might have been a letter from Plymouth, but no letter came. And then the months went by slowly, The son did not write from Melbourne, nor from Nobble — nor from Ahalala till gold had been found. So it came to pass that nearly eight months had passed, and that the father had told himself again and again that his son had torn himself altogether away from all remembrance of his home, before the letter came.
It was not a long letter, but it was very satisfactory The finding of the gold was in itself, of course, a great thing; but the manner in which it was told, without triumph or exultation, but with an air of sober, industrious determination, was much more; and then there was a word or two at the end: ‘Dear father — I think of you every day, and am already looking forward to the time when I may return and see you again.’ As he read it, the tears rolled down his cheeks, and unluckily the old housekeeper came into the room at the same time.
‘Is it from Mr. John, sir?’
He had to recover himself, and to get rid of his tears, and to answer the old woman in an unconcerned tone, all in a moment, and it disconcerted him.
‘Yes — yes;’ he said. ‘I’ll tell you all about it another time.’
‘Is he well, sir?’
‘I daresay he is. He doesn’t say. It’s about business. Didn’t you hear me say that I’d tell you another time?’ And so the old woman was turned out of the room, having seen the tear and heard the little gurgle in the throat.
‘He seems to be doing well,’ the Squire said to Mr. Holt. ‘He has got a couple of partners, and they have succeeded in finding gold. He may probably come back some day; but I don’t suppose it will be for the next twenty years.’
After that he marked the posts, which he knew came from that part of the world by San Francisco, and had resolved not to expect anything by that of the next month — when there came, a day before its time, a much longer letter than the last. In this there was given a detailed description of the ‘claim’ at Ahalala, which had already been named Folking. Much was said of Mick, and much was said of Dick, both of whom were working ‘as steady as rocks.’ The number of ounces extracted were stated, with the amount of profits which had been divided. And something was said as to the nature of their life at Ahalala. They were still living under their original tent, but were meditating the erection of a wooden shanty. Ahalala, the writer said, was not a place at which a prosperous miner could expect to locate himself for many years; but the prospects were good enough to justify some present attention to personal comforts. All this was rational, pleasant, and straightforward. And in the letter there was no tone or touch of the old quarrel. It was full and cordial — such as any son might write to any father. It need hardly be said that there was no mention made in it of Mrs. Smith. It was written after the return of John Caldigate from Sydney to Ahalala, but contained no reference to any matrimonial projects.
Letters then came regularly, month by month, and were always regularly answered — till a chance reader would have thought that no father and no son stood on better terms with each other. There had been misfortunes; but the misfortunes did not seem to touch John Caldigate himself. After three months of hard work and steady conduct Mick Maggott had broken out and had again taken to drinking champagne out of buckets. Efforts were made, with infinite trouble, to reclaim him, which would be successful for a time — and then again he would slip away into the mud. And then Shand would sometimes go into the mud with him; and Shand, when drunk, would be more unmanageable even than Mick. And this went on till Mick had — killed himself, and Dick Shand had disappeared. ‘I grieve for the man as for a dear friend,’ he said in one of his father’s letters; ‘for he has been as true to me as steel in all things, save drink; and I feel that I have learned under him the practical work of a gold-miner as it cannot be learned except by the unwearied attention of the teacher. Could he have kept from spirits, this man would have made a large fortune and would have deserved it; for he was indefatigable and never-ending in resources.’ Such was the history of poor Mick Maggott.
And Shand’s history was told also. Shand strayed away to Queensland, and then returning was again admitted to a certain degree of partnership, and then again fell into drink, and at last, deserting the trade of a miner, tried his hand at various kinds of work, till at last he became a simple shepherd. From time to time Caldigate sent him money when he was in want of it, but they had not again come together as associates in their work.
All this was told in his monthly letters which came to be expected at Folking, till each letter was regarded as the rising of a new sun. There is a style of letter-writing which seems to indicate strength of purpose and a general healthy condition on the part of the writer. In all his letters, the son spoke of himself and his doings with confidence and serenity, somewhat surprising his father after a while by always desiring to be remembered to Mr., Mrs., and Miss Bolton. This went on not only from month to month, but from year to year, till at the end of three years from the date at which the son had left Folking, there had come to be a complete confidence between him and his father. John Caldigate had gone into partnership with Crinkett — who had indeed tried to cheat him wretchedly but had failed — and at that time was the manager of the Polyeuka mine. The claim at Ahalala had been sold, and he had deserted the flashy insecurity of alluvial searchings for the fundamental security of rock-gold. He was deep in the crushing of quartz, and understood well the meaning of two ounces to the ton — that glittering boast by which Crinkett had at first thought to allure him. From time to time he sent money home, paying back to his father and to Bolton’s bank what had been borrowed on the estate. For there had passed between them many communications respecting Folking. The extravagances of the son became almost the delight of the father, when the father had become certain of the son’s reform. There had been even jocular reference to Davis, and a complete understanding as to the amount of money to be given to the nephew in compensation for the blighted hopes as to the reversion of the property.
Why it should have been that these years of absence should have endeared to John Caldigate a place which, while it was his home, had always been distasteful to him, I cannot perhaps explain to those readers who have never strayed far from their original nests; — and to those who have been wanderers I certainly need not explain it. As soon as he felt that he could base the expression of his desires as to Folking on the foundation of substantial remittances, he was not slow to say that he should like to keep the place. He knew that he had no right to the reversion, but perhaps his father would sympathise with his desire to buy back his right. His father, with all his political tenets as to land, with his often-expressed admiration as to the French system, with his loud denunciations of the absurdity of binding a special family to a special fraction of the earth’s surface, did sympathise with him so strongly, that he at once accepted the arrangement. ‘I think that his conduct has given him a right to demand it,’ he said to Mr. Bolton.
‘I don’t quite see that. Money certainly gives a man great powers. If he has money enough he can buy the succession to Folking if you choose to sell it to him.’
‘I mean as my son,’ said the father somewhat proudly. ‘He was the heir.’
‘But he ceased to be so — by his own doing. I advised you to think longer over it before you allowed him to dispossess himself.’
‘It certainly has been all for the best.’
‘I hope so. But when you talk of his right, I am bound to say that he has none. Folking is now yours, without encumbrance, and you can give it to whom you please.’
‘It was he who paid off the mortgage.’
‘You have told me that he sent you part of the money; — but that’s between you and him. I am very glad, Caldigate, that your son has done so well; — and the more so perhaps because the early promise was not good. But it may be doubted whether a successful gold-digger will settle down quietly as an English country gentleman.’
There can be no doubt that old Mr. Bolton was a little jealous, and, perhaps, in some degree incredulous as to the success of John Caldigate. His sons had worked hard from the very beginning of their lives. With them there had been no period of Newmarket Davis, and disreputation. On the basis of capital, combined with conduct, they had gradually risen to high success. But here was a young man, who, having by his self-indulgence thrown away all the prospects of his youth, had rehabilitated himself by the luck of finding gold in a gully. To Mr. Bolton it was no better than had he found a box of treasure at the bottom of a well. Mr. Bolton had himself been a seeker of money all his life, but he had his prejudices as to the way in which money was to be sought. It should be done in a gradual, industrious manner, and in accordance with recognised forms. A digger who might by chance find a lump of gold as big as his head, or might work for three months without finding any, was to him only one degree better than Davis, and therefore he did not receive his old friend’s statements as to the young man’s success with all the encouragement which his old friend would have liked.
But his father was very enthusiastic in his return letter to the miner. The matter as to the estate had been arranged. The nephew, who, after all, had not shown himself to be very praiseworthy, had already been — compensated. His own will had already been made — of course in his son’s favour. As there had been so much success — and as continued success must always be doubtful — would it not be well that he should come back as soon as possible? There would be enough now for them all. Then he expressed an opinion that such a place as Nobble could not be very nice for a permanent residence.
Nobble was not very nice. Over and beside his professional success, there was not much in his present life which endeared itself to John Caldigate But the acquisition of gold is a difficult thing to leave. There is a curse about it, or a blessing — it is hard to decide which — that makes it almost impossible for a man to tear himself away from its pursuit when it is coming in freely. And the absolute gold — not the money, not the balance at one’s banker’s, not the plentiful so much per annum — but the absolute metal clinging about the palm of one’s hands like small gravel, or welded together in a lump too heavy to be lifted, has a peculiar charm of its own. I have heard of a man who, having his pocket full of diamonds, declared, as he let them run through his fingers, that human bliss could not go beyond that sensation. John Caldigate did not shoe his horse with gold; but he liked to feel that he had enough gold by him to shoe a whole team. He could not return home quite as yet. His affairs were too complicated to be left quite at a moment’s notice. If, as he hoped, he should find himself able to leave the colony within four years of the day on which he had begun work, and could then do so with an adequate fortune, he believed that he should have done better than any other Englishman who had set himself to the task of gold-finding. In none of his letters did he say anything special about Hester Bolton; but his inquiries about the family generally were so frequent as to make his father wonder why such questions should be asked. The squire himself, who was living hardly a dozen miles from Mr. Bolton’s house, did not see the old banker above once a quarter perhaps and the ladies of the family certainly not oftener than once a year. Very little was said in answer to any of John’s inquiries. ‘Mr. and Mrs. and Miss Bolton are, I believe, quite well.’ So much was declared in one of the old squire’s letters; and even that little served to make known that at any rate, so far, no tidings as to marriage on the part of Hester had reached the ear of her father’s old friend. Perhaps this was all that John Caldigate wanted to learn.
At last there came word that John intended to come home with the next month’s mail. This letter arrived about midsummer, when the miner had been absent three years and a half. He had not settled all his affairs so completely but that it might be necessary that he should return; but he thought that he would be able to remain at least twelve months in England. And in England he intended to make his home. Gold, he said, was certainly very attractive; but he did not like New South Wales as a country in which to live. He had now contracted his ventures to the one enterprise of the Polyeuka mine, from which he was receiving large monthly dividends. If that went on prosperously, perhaps he need not return to the colony at all. ‘Poor Dick Shand!’ he said. ‘He is a shepherd far away in the west, hardly earning better wages than an English ploughman, and I am coming home with a pocket full of money! A few glasses of whisky have made all the difference!’
The squire when he received this felt more of exultation than he had ever known in his life. It seemed as though something of those throbbings of delight which are common to most of us when we are young, had come to him for the first time in his old age. He could not bring himself to care in the least for Dick Shand. At last — at last — he was going to have near him a companion that he could love.
‘Well, yes; I suppose he has put together a little money,’ he said to Farmer Holt, when that worthy tenant asked enthusiastically as to the truth of the rumours which were spread about as to the young squire’s success. ‘I rather think he’ll settle down and live in the old place after all.’
‘That’s what he ought to do, squoire — that’s what he ought to do,’ said Mr. Holt, almost choked by the energy of his own utterances.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01