The others picked up their companion out of the gutter, and the whole lot rolled merrily down the street.
‘And this,’ said the gentleman, lifting up his face to the sky in mute appeal to heaven, ’this is the generation which is to carry on Australia. Oh, Father Adam, what a dissipated family you have got— ah!—good for a comedy, I think.’
‘Oh!’ cried Kitty, recognising a familiar remark, ‘it’s Mr Wopples.’
‘The same,’ said the airy Theodore, laying his hand on his heart, ‘and you, my dear—why, bless me,’ looking closely at her, ’it is the pretty girl I met in Ballarat—dear, dear—surely you have not come to this.’
‘No, no,’ said Kitty, quickly, laying her hand on his arm, ’I will tell you all about it, Mr Wopples; but you must be a friend to me, for I sadly need one.’
‘I will be your friend,’ said the actor, emphatically, taking her arm and walking slowly down the street; ’tell me how I find you thus.’
‘You won’t tell anyone if I do?’ said Kitty, imploringly.
‘On the honour of a gentleman,’ answered Wopples, with grave dignity.
Kitty told him how she had left Ballarat, but suppressed the name of her lover, as she did not want any blame to fall on him. But all the rest she told freely, and when Mr Wopples heard how on that night she had left the man who had ruined her, he swore a mighty oath.
‘Oh, vile human nature,’ he said, in a sonorous tone, ’to thus betray a confiding infant! Where,’ he continued, looking inquiringly at the serene sky, ’where are the thunderbolts of Heaven that they fall not on such?’
No thunderbolt making its appearance to answer the question, Mr Wopples told Kitty he would take her home to the family, and as they were just starting out on tour again, she could come with them.
‘But will Mrs Wopples receive me?’ asked Kitty, timidly.
‘My dear,’ said the actor, gravely, ’my wife is a good woman, and a mother herself, so she can feel for a poor child like you, who has been betrayed through sheer innocence.’
‘You do not despise me?’ said Kitty, in a low voice.
‘My dear,’ answered Wopples, quietly, ’am I so pure myself that I can judge others? Who am I,’ with an oratorical wave of the hand, ’that I should cast the first stone?—ahem!—from Holy Writ. In future I will be your father; Mrs Wopples, your mother, and you will have ten brothers and sisters—all star artistes.’
‘How kind you are,’ sobbed Kitty, clinging trustfully to him as they went along.
‘I only do unto others as I would be done by,’ said Mr Wopples, solemnly. ‘That sentiment,’ continued the actor, taking off his hat, ‘was uttered by One who, tho’ we may believe or disbelieve in His divinity as a God, will always remain the sublimest type of perfect manhood the world has ever seen.’
Kitty did not answer, and they walked quickly along; and surely this one good deed more than compensated for the rest of the actor’s failings.