Now the great gold discovery of Australia raised its head in a night, startling the world and promising staggering things. It promised new heavens and earths to the destitute in England, who set instantly about small sinnings so that the hulks should carry them by way of Van Diemen's Land to the new mountains of gold. In accordance with unassailable system the hulks took them, swamping the colony's prisons beyond hope of recovery. The free male population had moved almost in a body across the strait, and there were few left to control or employ the swarming convicts, so that down in Hobart Town the distracted councillors had to go hurriedly about the making of new laws.
"Unless we can remove them at once," said James Sorley, Member of the Legislature, "these fellows will destroy the country."
And so clerks and scriveners got to work, with a stroke of the pen turning all ranks into ticket-of-leavers, and handing out free passes on the little sloops and luggers; and hollow-faced men flung Gff the yellow jackets and pulled on the corduroy and went off to dig their salvation out of Bendigo and Ballarat.
When poorest England heard this she redoubled her efforts, sinning and surrendering in shoals until the Government cried: "This is no longer punishment. They have forced our hand."
Forced it was, although for some time they pretended to sit in council, considering this, considering that, considering the League and Solemn Engagement of the Australian Colonies which regularly sent them ultimatums and was influencing even the very governors themselves. The Captain played Rule Britannia on his accordion with the silver stops, after signing a document pledging him to employ no more convicts admitted after a certain date. But James Sorley tore his copy with lean dry hands, and would have had Oliver put it on the fire but that Oliver was over the strait with Mab, at the goldfields.
To Mab the cry of gold came like a terrible light, wakening him and Julia, drunk on dreams. These months they had moved in an unreal world; with people about them like unsure mists in the distance, and with neither to-morrow nor yesterday at page 135their gate. Sometimes Mab thought inertly, "I must go to Berry." But his young drugged limbs carried him to Julia instead. It was a golden season, bright with bright waters, and drowsy with the murmurings of many bees and wandering fragrances. Moonlit nights and a warm magic; and when they two went hand-in-hand down the bush-gullies at dusk they saw fauns and elves. For, protested Julia, brown shadows with prick-ears, too friendly for possums or rabbits, could not be but Pan's children, any more than those white tossing arms could be wild apple trees.
And then they kissed, and after each kiss they were not quite the same.
But the feet of those tramping myriads beat into the dream, and Mab's lusty young life roused suddenly and ached to follow.
"First I will see Berry and then I will go to the gold-fields," he said. Julia was terrified. Never, never. Mab could not leave her at Berry's mercy like that. Where should she go? What do?
"You must stay with me or you must say nothing until you return," said Julia, firm through fear. And in the end they left it so, and Mab rode south for Oliver, with the scent of sweet-briar in his nostrils and words clattering with the horse-hoofs through his head. Thus have I had thee …? How did it go?
"Thus have I had thee as a dream does flatter.
In sleep a king, but waking no such matter."
Aha, but he was a king, and he had her, awake or asleep. And by and by there would be the gold and he'd settle with Berry. He came riding with the dawn into Hobart Town and thrust handfuls of the Sydney Morning Herald on Oliver trying to sleep off the result of a bad night at roulette. "Read that! And that! And that!" cried Mab, standing over him glowing and splendid in a long cinnamon-coloured riding-coat and tilted hat. "Vision it, Noll. All that gold … children scratching the earth with a stick and picking up a bagful. A native digs in the clay with a penknife and pulls out a lump of sixty pounds. It's El Dorado, Noll. It's liberty." … It's Julia, he thought, but page 136could not say so to Noll sitting sulky with bedclothes to his chin. "At Launceston they're packing four hundred apiece into those cockleshell Melbourne boats. Everyone's going, Noll. I'm going. You're going …"