IN THE ROARING FIFTIES
EDWARD DYSON 1906
THE night was bright and cool, and the old East Indiaman moved slowly on the heaving bosom of the ocean, under a strong full moon, like a wind-blown ghost to whose wanderings there had been no beginning and could be no end—so small, so helpless she seemed between the two infinities of sea and sky. There was no cloud to break the blue profundity of heaven, no line of horizon, no diversity in the long lazy roll of the green waters to dispel the illusion of an interminable ocean. The great crestless waves rose and fell with pulsing monotony, round, smooth and intolerably silent. It was as if the undulating sea had been stricken motionless, and the ship was damned to the Sisyphean task of surmounting one mysterious hill that eternally reappeared under her prow, and beyond which she might never pass. Suddenly the ghost faltered on the crest of a wave, fluttering her rags in the moonlight, possessed with a vague indecision. Shouting and the noise of hurrying feet broke the silence. There was a startling upheaval of men; they swarmed in the rigging, and faces were piled above the larboard bulwarks. A boat dropped from the ship's side, striking the sea with a muffled sound, and was instantly caught into the quaint lifting and falling motion of the Francis Cadman, as the oily-backed waves slid under. Four men in the boat bent smartly to the oars, a fifth stood erect in the prow, peering under his hand over the waste of waters; another at the tiller encouraged the rowers with cordial and well-meant abuse. A hundred people shouted futile directions from the ship. The gravity of the Indian Ocean was disturbed by the babble of dialects. One voice rose above all the rest, sonorous, masterful, cursing the ship into order with a deliberate flow of invective that had the dignity and force of a judgment.
The boat drew off rapidly. The men, squarely and firmly seated, bent their heavy shoulders with machine-like movements, and when they threw back their faces the rays of the moon glittered and flashed in their dilated eyes and on their bared teeth. The sailor at the tiller swayed in unison, and grunted encouragement, breaking every now and then into bitter speech, spoken as if in reverent accord with the night and their mission, in a low, pleading tone, much as a patient mother might address a wayward child.
'Lift her, lads—lift her, blast you! Oh, my blighted soul, Ellis! I'd get more square-pullin' out of a starved cat with ten kittens—I would, by thunder! Now, men, all together! Huh! Huh! hub!'
The boatswain strained as if tugging a stubborn oar. In the interval of silence that followed all bent attentive ears, but no call came from the sea. The sleek oars dipped into the waves without a sound, and swung noiselessly in the worn rowlocks. The man at the prow remained rigid as a statue, and Coleman resumed his whispered invocation.
'Bend to it, you devils! One! two! three! Morton, don't go to sleep, you swine! Ryan! Tadvers, you herrin'-gutted, boss-eyed son of a barber's ape, are you rowin' or spoonin' up hot soup? Pull, men! Huh! That's a clinker! Huh! Shift her! Huh! May the fiend singe you for a drowsy pack o' sea-cows! Pull!'
The men threw every ounce of power into each stroke, the voice of the boatswain blending with their efforts like an intoned benediction, and the treacly sea foamed under the prow into drifted snow which ran merrily in their wake. For a tense moment the boat hung poised upon a high roller, as if about to be projected into the air, and the man in the prow, electrified, threw out an arm with a dramatic gesture. The instincts of the ex-whaler triumphed in that moment of excitement.
'There she blows!'
Instantly Coleman fell into a condition of profound agitation; he poured out a lava-flow of vituperation upon the heads of his men; he cursed them for weaklings and waster and hissed phrases shameful to them and discreditable to their parents. The crew increased their stroke. Already the perspiration was streaming from their indurated hides; their wet faces and breasts glistened in the night. Every now and again the look-out, discovering a black spot where the moon's rays splashed a smooth-backed wave with silver, uttered an inarticulate cry that struck the men like a spur, and all the time his pointing hand was a finger-post to the steersman.
Meanwhile the object of this chase, a fragile, white-faced girl, had fought with the mammoth waves as with inveterate beasts seeking to stifle her in icy embraces. A mere atom plunged in their depths as in cavernous and boundless darkness, she had struggled with an ocean the whole of the focus of which were leagued against her, possessed all the time with a foolish and trivial remembrance of child hood, the vision of a little gray kitten, with a weight about its neck, striving to beat its way up through clear waters, sending out tiny bubbles of crystal that danced in mockery of its dying.
On the surface she was swung across seeming great distances, till a strong arm out of the night and the vastness of things seized her, and the tension of the struggle passed from her limbs, leaving a sense of appeasement as sweet as sleep. She heard a man's voice directing her, and obeyed without understanding. Now the sea supported her like a soft and pleasant bed, she had no fear and little consciousness. A few stern words buzzed in her head like bees—'Sink your arms! Don't try to breathe when we're under! Keep your mouth shut!' They were very absurd: they could have nothing to do with her; but she had heard them somewhere, and she obeyed.
The man lay well back in the water, with little more than his chin and lips above the surface, his left hand, twisted in the woman's hair, rested in the nape of her neck, sustaining her with scarcely an effort. An ocean swimmer from his early boyhood, great waters had no terrors for him, and when he found the drowning girl he knew that all would be well, provided the ship's boats were successful in their search.
The girl was very tractable: she lay perfectly still. He looked into her pale face; her eyes were wide open, staring straight up at the feeble stars. Every minute or so he cried aloud, or whistled a shrill call between his teeth, but the action did not disturb the flow of his thoughts. Despite the peculiarity of his position, he had drifted into a strange mood of introspection. Why had he done this thing? What was the girl to him that at the first sight of her danger he should have forgotten his philosophy of self, his pride in his contempt for his kind, and his fine aloofness? She was no more in his life than any other of the four hundred strangers on board. The act of leaping into the sea had been a mere impulse, the prompting of an unsuspected instinct. She might hate his race, but he was still its slave. All his life he had been an Ishmael, feared and disliked; humankind had given him only cause to hate and despise it, and yet blood remained stronger than belief when a human life was in peril. The young man laughed, and the boat's from the Francis Cadman, drawing near, heard the mocking laughter and ceased rowing, chilled with a superstitious terror.
'Good God!' cried the look-out, 'there's two of 'em.'
The sailors turned in their seats, staring in stupid awe at two heads clearly visible in the moonlight that lay like silver gossamer on the dark green sea—two heads where they had expected to find but one. The boatswain, frozen in the forward movement of his swing, glared open-mouthed, speechless; he felt his stiff hair stirring strangely under his hat, a pronounced uneasiness moved in the boat. Only one woman had fallen from the ship, and here, out in the deep trough of the lone sea, they found two creatures, and one laughed eerily. Sailormen believed in many awesome mysteries: ghosts and goblins peopled the ocean like a vast graveyard. The boat held off, and no man spoke, but Ryan shivered under his skin, and fumbled his memory for the name of a potent saint.
'Ahoy, there!' cried the young man impatiently; but winning no response, he swam slowly to meet the boat as she drifted. He raised the girl, and one of the men seized her mechanically, and drew her limp form from the water. No hand was offered to the rescuer, but as the boat lifted he seized her prow, and drew himself aboard. All eyes were upon him, staring dubiously.
'Divil take me if it ain't the Hermit!' gasped Ryan, with an expiration of intense relief.
Coleman's stony expression instantly relaxed, he recovered himself with a jerk of the bead.
'Well,' he murmured bitterly, 'of all the stuck pigs! What the blue fury 're ye all sittin' garpin' at like a lot o' demented damn kelpies? Give way there! How's the young lady, Smith?'
'She don' seem perticler bad,' answered Smith doubtfully. He was struggling to wrap his charge in a length of stiff, crackling sailcloth, puzzled by the white face of the girl.
Coleman looked sharply at the young man, who was seated on the gunwale, but, discovering no encouragement in his set face and careless eyes, repressed his curiosity, and devoted himself to the task of overhauling the Francis Cadman. It was a long and trying job, but he accomplished it without having exhausted his eloquence. Indeed, his terms of endearment had been cautiously selected throughout, out of a heroic respect for the lady passenger. The boatswain's idea of language becoming in the presence of the gentler sex was rather liberal, perhaps; but in any case his nice consideration was wasted upon the girl, who heard never a word. She lay as if in the grip of fever, her distorted mind pursuing quaint visions and trifling and irrelevant ideas. As they drew near, the rescue-party sent out a breathless cheer, which was answered from the ship with a wild yell of exultation, and then a broadside of questions burst from the deck of the Francis Cadman, where every creature on board excitedly awaited the boat's return. The sonorous and masterful voice enforced silence again with a sentence.
'How is it, bo's'n?' called the same voice a moment later.
'Got 'em both, sir,' answered Coleman.
'Ay, ay, sir!'
A tumult of voices surged over the ship again; the heads piled themselves afresh, craning one above the other. Two had gone overboard! Only one had been reported, and one only was missed. Interest was doubled. For four weeks the Francis Cadman had been pottering about the Indian Ocean without discovering a single adventure to break the stupid monotony of sky and sea, and restore the faith of the passengers in their favourite maritime authors; but here, at last, was a sensation and a mystery.
Perhaps, after all, it was no mere accident, but a tragedy. Men and women thronged the deck, thrilling with sympathy, and yet secretly hoping for a complete drama, even though someone must suffer.
The girl was first passed up. When the young man followed she had been carried below. He was barefooted, and clad only in singlet and trousers; his coat and shirt had been discarded in the sea.
Ryan's expression sprang from every tongue.
The young man stood with his shoulders to the gunwale, facing the crowd. There was something resentful in his attitude. His face was that of a man about twenty-two, beardless and boyish, but the firm, straight mouth, with its compressed, slightly protuberant lips, and the thick line of dark brows, throwing the eyes into shadows, imparted an appearance of sullen reserve that belonged to an older face. His scrutiny condemned men and repelled them. His figure, about three inches above middle height, was that of a labourer whose strength was diffused through the limbs by swift and subtle exercise. There was nothing rugged in his powerful outline, and every attitude had an architectural suggestion of strength.
Captain Evan peered at the youth closely, and not without a hint of suspicion. 'Your name's Done, isn't it?' he said.
The Hermit nodded shortly.
'How did all this happen, my man?'
'I was leaning on the gunnel by the main-chains when I heard a cry and a splash, and saw the girl's body past. I dropped in after her.'
'You saved her life, then?'
'I helped her to keep afloat till the boat reached us.'
'Good boy!' Captain Evan put out his hand as if with the intention of giving Done an approving pat on the shoulder, but the young man turned away abruptly, thrusting himself through the men, who had clustered around him muttering diffident compliments, and endeavouring to shake him by the hand.
'Blast it all, don't maul a man about!' said the hero sulkily, and the crowd made way for him.
Below Jim Done stripped hastily, wrung out his wet clothes upon the littered floors and climbed into his bunk, threatening to tear down a whole terrace of the crazy structures as he did so.
The Francis Cadman was not ordinarily a passenger boat: she was commissioned to carry two hundred and fifty sailors to the ships left helpless in Corio Bay and Hobson's Bay, deserted by their crews, who, in spite of official strategies, had fled to the diggings immediately after anchors were dropped in Victorian waters.
The accommodation for the men was the roughest imaginable. Bunks of unplaned timber were strung up in tiers under the forecastle, and wherever space could be found for them in the dark and musty depths of the ship. A few second-class male passengers shared these delectable quarters with the sailors, and the Francis Cadman had secured a complement of first-class patrons willing to pay exorbitant prices for the dubious comforts and plain fare of the 'cabin' passage.
The gold lust was burning in the blood of Europe. Fabulous stories of Australian treasures were flying about the nations; greedy ears drank them in, and the wildest yarns were never doubted. In their frantic eagerness to share in the golden harvests being reaped at Buninyong, Clunes, Bendigo, and Ballarat, the people wasted no thought on the hardships of the journey; there was not a ship too crazy or a doghole too dark to carry the desperate adventurers.
Jim Done's bunk was in a third story. The den it was built in was like a steam-warm pest-house in the hot latitudes, and in the cold a clammy tomb; but he had no thought of complaints. A new country and a new life lay before him; he cared little for the troubles and privations by the way. To-night his mind was given over to reflections arising out of the incidents of the last few hours. They were not pleasant reflections. The adventure loomed like a misfortune. He hated the idea of the notoriety it would bring him; and, picturing himself the object of the sentimental admiration of a score of simpering busybodies of both sexes, fumed fiercely, and framed biting invectives. A voice close to his ear startled him. Turning sharply, he saw the head of Phil Ryan on a level with his own. Phil was standing on the lowermost bunk, offering the first tribute, a pint pannikin of steaming hot grog.
''Tis the thing the docthor orthered,' said Ryan, with timorous humour, fearing an ungenerous response.
It was Jim's first impulse to refuse the offer with out compliments, but at that moment the greasy ship's lantern swinging above them on a rope's end illumined the Irishman's face, and Done saw his mark upon it—a long purple wheal under the left eye, a week old yesterday, but still conspicuous. For a reason he could not have explained even to himself, that changed the young man's mind. He drank the liquor, and returned the pannikin with a 'Thank you!' not over-cordial.
'Yer a proper man, Done,' said Ryan, 'an' I'm proud I fought wid ye, an' mighty glad ye bate me. Good-night!'
'Good-night,' answered Done coldly. He had been too long at variance with men to take kindly to popularity now.
NEXT morning Done lingered below till the day was well advanced, but the darkness and the heavy atmosphere 'tween decks drove him into the open. It was a fair day, a big placid sun was shining, and the breeze followed them with a crisp suggestion of glittering ice-fields far down in the south. The sailors and passengers were grouped in small parties of six or seven, lounging about the deck in lazy abandonment, leaning over the side, smoking comfortably, and spitting with a certain dreamy satisfaction into the sweet, clean sea, or sitting in rings on improvised seats, alert, and loud in argument.
Jim's youthful face was even more than usually forbidding that morning as he stepped amongst the men to his favourite position on one of the guns. He feared an attempt to break through his reserve, some demonstration arising out of last night's adventure, that might be taken advantage of by the men to force their society and friendship upon him. He looked at none of the faces turned curiously in his direction, and his expression of stubborn enmity killed the cheer that sprang from a few of the forecastle passengers, and it tailed into a feeble absurdity. Leaning upon the old wooden gun-carriage, with his arms supporting his chin; he stared at the cleavage of the green sea and the swelling foam, feeling at his back all the time the cackle of criticism, like an irritation of the spinal marrow, chafing fretfully at this further proof of the failure of his long endeavour to school himself into complete indifference.
Absolute serenity in the teeth of public opinion—good, bad, or indifferent—that was an ideal frame of mind, to the attainment of which he had set himself when still a mere boy; but men and women remained powerful to hurt and to auger him. He had acquired from his long moral exercise a certain power of restraint up to the point at which his fierce temper blazed; he reached the stage of ignition without those displays of sparks and smoke that are usual preliminaries to a 'flare-up.' He had learned, too, in the course of his schooling, to simulate an imposing unconcern under commonplace trials and tribulations, when it so pleased him, and between the satisfaction to be felt in being able successfully to assume a given virtue and in having actual possession of that virtue the distinction is too delicate for unregenerate minds.
The young man did not envelop himself in his spare skin of imperturbability at this crisis, because he felt that some show of active resentment was necessary to repel effusive admirers and maintain the barrier he had set up between himself and his fellow-travellers. When Jim Done set foot on board the Francis Cadman he was flying from an intolerable life, seeking to escape from despair. This he did not admit to himself, for he had the indomitable pride of a lonely man who gave to thought the time that should have been gloriously wasted on boon companions and young love.
Done was a sensitive man, who had been some thing of a pariah since his knickerbocker period, and was first the butt and later the bane of the narrow, convention-governed public of a small English village. A fierce defiance of the people amongst whom he had lived his life kept him in his native place till after his twenty-first birthday. He rebelled with all his soul against the animal unreason of these men, women, and children, puzzling over the fanatical stupidity of their prejudice, and, striving to beat it down, intensified it and kept it active long years after all might have been forgotten had he bowed meekly to 'the workings of Providence,' as manifested in the thinkings and doings of the Godfearing people of Chisley.
When James Done was five years old the only murder that had been committed in Chisley district within the memory of the oldest inhabitant was done by a member of little Jim's family. The murderer was tried, found guilty, and sentenced accordingly.
The murder had a romantic plot and melodramatic tableaux, and was incorporated in the history of Chisley—in fact, it was the history of Chisley.
The murderer passed out, but his family remained, and upon them fell the horror of his deed, the disgrace of his punishment. They became creatures apart. With all Chisley understood of the terror in those dread words, 'Thou shalt not kill,' it invested the unhappy family, and they bowed as if to the will of God.
Jim's mother, a thin, sensitive woman, with a patient face, put on a black veil, and was never afterwards seen abroad without it. She helped her boy a few weary miles along the road of life, and then one evening went quietly to her room and died. Jim's sister, ten years older than himself, took up the struggle where the mother dropped it, and sustained it until the boy could go into the fields and earn a mean living for himself, at which point she drowned herself, leaving a quaint note in which she stated that life was too dreadful, but she hoped 'God and Jimmy would forgive her—especially Jimmy.'
At this stage Chisley might have forgiven Jimmy, and condescended to forget, and even indulge itself in some sentimental compassion for the poor orphan, had the boy shown any disposition to accept these advances kindly and with proper gratitude; but for years Jim had been reasoning things out in a direct, childish way, and in his loneliness he was filled with an inveterate hatred. He chose to live on as he had lived, accepting no concessions, disguising nothing, and Chisley quite conscientiously discovered in his sullen exclusiveness and his vicious dislike of worthy men the workings of homicidal blood, and accepted him as an enemy of society.
Early in his teens Jim recognised the value of brute strength and human guile in his dealings with the youth of Chisley, and set himself to work to cultivate his physical qualities. All that the pugilists and wrestlers could teach him he picked up with extraordinary quickness, and to the arts thus acquired he added cunning tricks of offence and defence of his own contriving. He had a peculiar aptitude for wrestling and pugilism, delighted secretly in his strength and swiftness, and would walk five miles to plunge like a porpoise in the stormy sea.
He had submitted to much in his joyless youth, but now, conscious of his strength and expertness in battle, he set himself deliberately to defy his enemies and resent with force of arms every encroachment upon his liberty, every insolence. There was a sudden epidemic of black eyes amongst the youth of the village; cut faces, broken ribs, and noses of abnormal size served the heirs of Chisley as stinging reminders of the old shame and the new courage and power of Jim o' Mill End, that being the name given to the boy in accordance with an awkward provincial custom of identifying a man with his property, the situation of his residence, or some peculiarity of manner.
On one occasion the lad fell upon a hobbledehoy who had just given a highly diverting pantomime representing the hanging of a man, with realistic details, and, having beaten him in fair fight, broke his collar-bone with an atrocious fall. For this outrage Jim o' Mill End was called upon to answer to the law, and, the answer he had to give being considered wholly unsatisfactory, Jim was sent to gaol for a term of days.
Chisley, if Slow to discover its mistakes, was not wholly imbecile; it learned in time to respect the fists of Jim o' Mill End, and now hated him quite heartily for the restraint imposed. But Jim derives little satisfaction from his triumph; Chisley conquered him by stupid submission. His physical superiority won him nothing but immunity from open insult; the young men and their elders were careful to give him no reasonable opportunity of asserting the rights of man in their teeth with a dexterous left, and Jim was now beyond disputing with children. The unhappy boy was not deceived by the new attitude his neighbours had assumed towards him. He saw an increased dislike behind the stolid, animal-like faces that met him everywhere, and felt that silence was worse than insult, more galling than blows. He detected jeers under the mask of dogged respect, and had passionate impulses to beat and tear, finding himself still powerless against the brutal injustice that had poisoned his life.
Baffled here, Jim o' Mill End turned greedily to the fount of wisdom seeking justification for his deep contempt for his fellows, corroboration of his opinions as to the stupidity, ignorance, and vileness of mankind, He read greedily, finding justification everywhere. Poets, philosophers, novelists, historians—they had all found man out, just as he had done. Discovering an echo of his beliefs, he thrilled with hot delight. He met allies amongst the poets, and adored them. It is strange how sympathetic books drift to the hand of a reader possessed with a consuming idea; how they gather around him, fall open to his eye, and give up the thing he yearns to feed on. Without the knowledge necessary to selection, Jim had an affinity for books of pessimistic doctrine, and though both means and opportunities were limited, he gathered together, in the course of two years, quite a library of precious volumes, and he came forth from these an intellectual giant refreshed. He saw Chisley on a plane far below him, a sink of ignorance, and judged it like a god—or a boy. Whatever Chisley respected he found excellent occasion to despise; whatever it revered he discovered to be false and contemptible. His sense of superiority was magnificent; it gave him a glorious exultation. A few hot words with the clerical caretaker of the Chisley conscience over the question of Sabbath observance exposed the young man—the gaol-bird—as an infidel and a scoffer. Jim was no infidel, but communities like Chisley do not under stand subtle distinctions in theology. Here was fresh occasion to fear and abhor Jim o' Mill End; here was justification for many evil prophecies.
For a time Jim revelled in his great moral superiority and dreamed dreams. But the gnawing impatience returned—the unrest, the craving for something he could not define, but which always merged itself into his great grievance. He lived alone. At his work—which he obtained readily, for he was strong and efficient, and gave double value for his wages—he had no mates. Girls he had seen grow up from babyhood developed into beautiful creatures, with miraculous eyes, round limbs, and cheeks so red, so tender, that their soft ripeness haunted his dreams. Under cover and in secret he would watch them pass or at play with a throbbing heart and a passionate hunger for companionship, and discover himself doing this with something of a shock, ashamed of his interest in his enemies, resentful of all emotions that ran counter to his cherished antipathies.
When the news of the discovery of fabulous gold deposits in far Australia reached Chisley, Jim had thoughts of a new life in a new land: he craved for a wide field and a wild life; nothing withheld him but pride, the egotism that would not permit of his abandoning a struggle even with men so contemptible as these ignorant villagers. But the hunger for humanity filled him with visions of a new society in which he would be one with his fellow-men, and then his enemies seemed so pitiful that he knew himself for fool and blind to waste a care upon them. So he sold the small property at Mill End, took up his few belongings, and left Chisley quietly by night, eager to leave all the old life behind him, anxious for the new.
Standing thus, looking out along the pathway of the Francis Cadman, Done had reviewed his life almost daily, sometimes broadly and briefly, as given here—sometimes going into excruciating details of suffering, shame, terror, and hate; but his eyes were always turned forward.
Done meditated uninterruptedly for nearly an hour. Gradually the conversation of the group behind him had drifted from his business and the affair of the previous night to the great absorbing topic of the past four months—Australia, the land of mad dreams, where the hills were powdered with precious 'dust,' and the rivers purled over nuggets of pure gold.
A hand fell upon the young man's shoulder; he turned sharply, angrily, and beheld the bland face and trim figure of Captain Evan. With the Captain was a handsome lady in black, who had already created in Jim's mind a confused impression of massed raven hair and big, innocent dark eyes that had a trick of floating up from under heavy lids and thick, long lashes to their greatest magnitude, and then disappearing again like revolving lights.
'All right after your plunge, my lad?' inquired the Captain heartily.
Done gave the expected reply, conscious of the eyes signalling appreciation, and there was a pause.
'You do not inquire after the young lady, Done!'
'I've heard the men speaking of her, Captain. I understand she' pretty well?'
'Still, a little gentlemanly attention, you know. She is most grateful.'
Done stiffened a trifle, and the line of brows asserted itself.
'I don't ape gentility,' he said quietly. 'I'm glad the young lady's well again, but genteel formal ain't much in my line, I think.'
'Hem!' The Captain's eyes narrowed, his air of patronage lifted. He was as gentlemanly an old sea-dog as ever bully-damned a ship from the gates of hell on a blind night, and was proud of his first-cabin accomplishments. 'This lady is Mrs. Donald Macdougal,' he said. 'Miss Lucy Woodrow is Mrs. Macdougal's companion.'
Jim gathered his soft cap in a handful and bowed moderately; but the lady held out dainty gloved fingers, and flashed her bright eyes upon him.
'We all think you quite a hero, Mr. Done,' she lisped—' quite!'
'Fact is,' said the Captain, 'the ladies and gentle men greatly admire your noble conduct.'
'Most noble and brave,' added Mrs. Macdougal softly.
The young man had a presentiment of mischief, and fortified himself.
'And,' the Captain continued, 'they have held a little meeting to consider the idea of—ah, expressing their appreciation in a—er——hem!—an adequate and proper manner.'
The Captain was quoting the chief orator—himself. He paused with an expectant air, but Done was apparently quite impassive; evidently the fact that the ladies and gentlemen of the first class wished to put on record their very proper respect for British pluck and the positive virtues by giving the hero of the moment an inscribed watch or a gold locket did not appeal to this young man.
The pause became uneasy. If Jim had betrayed some confusion—blushed stammered, protested—all would have been well; but he waited calmly. Captain Evan had only two manners—his polished, first-class maimer and his ship manner, the manner with which he worked the Francis Cadman—and it was a mere step from one to the other. For a moment he was perilously near assuming his natural and most successful manner, blasting Done to the depths for a high-stomached, adjectival swab, and commanding him out of hand to accept the proposed honours and emoluments with proper respect and gratitude, and be hanged to him.
'Of course,' said Mrs. Macdougal gracefully, 'only if you approve, Mr. Done.' But the inference was that he could do nothing less with such eyes openly beseeching him.
'I can't agree to this,' said Jim decisively, addressing himself to the Captain.
'Oh, come, you must not be shy!' murmured the lady.
'I cannot agree to any demonstration or accept any gifts,' persisted Jim. 'You're very kind, I believe; but I'm reserved—I detest display.'
'Still, you know, my man, brave actions like yours cannot be totally disregarded by feeling people.'
'To be sure!' from the lady.
'Captain Evan,' said the young man firmly, 'ever since I came on board the Francis Cadman I've endeavoured to keep myself to myself. I asked nothing from anybody on this ship, but simply to be left alone. That's all I ask now. Perhaps I appear boorish to the lady, but the instincts of a lifetime must be respected.' Jim spoke like an old man. The lady found him very impressive.
'Very well, Done,' said the Captain, looking searchingly into Jim's strong young face, 'we'll say no more about the matter.' He moved away, but the lady extended the slim gloved fingers again, lowering her eyes for an effective unveiling.
'I respect your feelings,' she said, as if making great concession.
Really, the boy was most interesting, so handsome, so unusual. She smiled upon him like a guardian angel with exquisite teeth, and the scamp turned again to the sea, apostrophizing in fo'c'sle idiom all interfering fools and sentimental humbugs.
Lucy Woodrow did not appear on the deck until after nightfall. Jim understood that she would insist upon expressing lifelong gratitude with the usual effusion and the usual tears. He feared the ordeal, and prepared himself for it. He had seen the girl often during the voyage, sometimes accompanied by a blonde youth, whose beautiful clothes and exquisite manners afforded unfailing material for primitive satire in the forecastle, but, as a rule, quite alone, muffled in a dark, hooded cloak, watching the sea, always with her face turned yearningly back, as if England and home lay straight out along the vessel's wake. She was middling tall, eighteen perhaps, with a thin but supple and pleasing figure, and a quiet, smileless face, that wanted only happiness to make it beautiful.
Done's misanthropy was not a quality of his nature, it was thrust upon him, and did not prevent his being a close observer of men and things; but that he had the smallest interest in any person on board was not believed by one of his shipmates, since he was instinctively careful to betray no concern. He had been struck by the girl's apparent loneliness. The attentions of the blonde youth were borne meekly, as part of the contiguous discomforts—that much was obvious to the forecastle and all under. It never occurred to Jim that she was probably placed like himself, and had good reason to stand aloof.
When he had been on board the Francis Cadman a month or so, Jim was amazed to find that the attitude of the passengers and the crew towards himself was almost analogous to that of the people of Chisley. Nearly every phase of feeling that was manifested amongst the villagers presented itself here, and he was troubled. His first suspicion was that his identity had become known. He had small knowledge of men, and a sick fear gripped him at the thought that all communities were alike, and would reflect the suspicions and animosities of his little village if it were known among them that one of his blood had done murder, and had suffered as a murderer. But no whisper of his story reached his ears, and he remained perplexed. He had yet to learn that society in all its phases is ever intensely suspicious of the man apart. His one desire had been that he might be lost amongst the passengers, that he might efface himself in the crowd by keeping carefully out of every man's way and concerning himself with the interests of none. By doing this he hoped to land in Australia unknown, unheeded, and start his life again, cut off from the past completely. He had only succeeded in making himself notorious. He was silent, reserved, but he was different to the others, and to hide amongst sheep one must be a sheep. Jim's very anxiety to escape notice made him conspicuous. His aloofness was resented as 'dirty pride,' and, being strange to all, he became the butt of many.
Jim Done was not of the type that rough-living men select as the victims of their small jokes; but in the forecastle the disposition to play upon the Hermit developed from small and secret things into open harassment, and Jim's stoicism was wholly misconstrued. He did not seem to see things that would have caused others in the company to fill the ship with bad language and dread of death; he was impervious to rhymed jibes and broad sarcasms that were supposed to have peculiar powers of irritation if repeated constantly, day after day and night after night, without any apparent feeling, or motive, or reason under the sun.
Fire was struck one evening with a particularly good joke played upon Done in his bunk. Jim stepped down amongst the laughing men in his shirt, and selecting the one whose laugh was loudest and most hearty, he struck him an open-handed blow that drove him like a log along the floor. There was little noise. A narrow 'ring' was improvised, two or three bits of candle were found to help the sooty ship's lantern, and the men fought as they stood.
Jim's opponent was Phil Ryan, a smart young sailor, six or seven years his senior. The fight was short but lively, and the onlookers had not one word of comment to offer after the first round. The men gazed at Done with a ludicrous expression of stupid reproach. He had deceived, betrayed them; he had posed as a quiet, harmless man, with the manners of an aristocrat, when he might have been ship's champion at any moment by merely putting up his hands.
Phil went down five times. The fifth time he remained seated, gazing straight before him, with one sad, meditative eye, and another that looked as if it could never be of any use as an eye again.
'Get up, Ryan!' urged Phil's second.
Phil did not move; he gave no indication of having heard.
'Ryan, get up, man!' The second prompted him with his toe.
'Meanin' me?' said the vanquished.
'To be sure. Be a man! Get up and face him.'
'Divil a fear o' me!' said Ryan. 'I'm never goin' to get up agin till you put that wild man to bed.' He pointed at Jim.
'Are you licked, then, Ryan?'
'Licked it is. Any man is li'ble to wander into error, maybe, but there's wan thing about Phil Ryan, he's open to conviction, an' he's had all the conviction he wants this blessed night.'
'Then we've had enough?' said the second, with an uneasy eye on Jim.
'We have that,' continued Ryan, 'onless some other gintleman would like to resoom th' argumint where I dthropped it.' The fallen hero ran his good eye eagerly from face to face.
But Done had already returned to his bunk, and the others seemed indisposed to put him to further trouble. No more jokes were played upon the Hermit. The cynics and the wits developed a pronouncedly serious vein, and it was resolved that for the future Jim Done should take his own road, and behave in his own peculiar way, without provoking objection from the company.
'Tis a curtyis an' gintlemanly risolution,' said Ryan, tenderly caressing his inflated eye, 'an' a great pity it is we forgot to think iv it sooner.'
The respect the forecastle had acquired for Done was vastly increased by his rescue of Lucy Woodrow. Conduct that had previously been ascribed to mere conceit was now accounted for by most romantic imaginings, for it is a cardinal belief amongst men of their class that the true fighter is superior to all little weaknesses and small motives. When the girl crossed the moonlit deck to Done's side, the sailors drifted away out of earshot, and inquisitive eyes could not turn in Jim's direction without provoking a profane reproof.
Done's heart beat heavily as the slim, dark figure faced him, extending a trembling hand.
'I am Lucy Woodrow,' she said in a voice little above a whisper.
'Yes,' he answered simply.
Her hand closed upon his fingers, and she was silent for a moment, evidently deeply agitated. Her head was bent, hiding her face from his eyes; and he noticed curiously the moonlight glimmering like tiny sparks in her red-brown hair.
'You saved my life,' she continued; 'you risked your own. I thank you with all my heart.'
There was something in her voice that made the simple, formal words quite eloquent, but Jim scarcely heeded them; he was terrified lest she should kiss his hand, and withdrew it abruptly.
'I can only say thank you—thank you! And one says that in gratitude for a mere politeness. But you understand, don't you? My heart is full.'
'Yes, I understand,' he said. 'Now, please, try to say no more about it. I'm glad to have helped you; but the risk I took was very small after all. I've almost lived in the sea.'
She raised her face and looked into his eyes.
'It is very easy for you to speak like that,' she said; 'but I know that if it were not for you at this moment my poor body—' She sobbed and turned to the sea, with something of its terror and desolation in her face, and Done understood the grim idea that possessed her.
'Thank God, it was not to be!' he said; and he felt more deeply at that moment than he had done for many years.
Lucy Woodrow remained silent, leaning upon the gunwale with her face to the sea, and he noticed presently that she was weeping, and was silent too. When she spoke again the new feeling in her voice startled him.
'Why did you save me?' she asked in a passionate whisper.
'Why?' He was full of wonder, and repeated the interrogation vaguely.
'Yes, why—why? You had no right!'
'Is it a matter of right?' he asked, stunned. 'I saw you fall. I don't know why I jumped over. My next conscious action was of striking out in the water. The act was quite involuntary.'
'You had no right!' Her voice was very low, but instinct with a grief that was tragic.
'Tell me what you mean.' Unconsciously, he spoke in the soothing tone one adopts towards an injured child.
'I did not fall overboard.'
'Then, what happened?'
'I threw myself into the sea!'
'You—you wished to drown?'
'Yes, I wanted to die—to be rid of my wretched, empty life.'
Done was thrilled. He gazed earnestly upon the frail young figure; he had a dawning sense of the possibilities of life and emotion in others. He, too, had often thought of self-slaughter in an abstract way as the final defiance; but here was a mere girl for whom life held so little that she craved for and dared death. A remembrance of his own sister came back to him, softening his heart to pity. He touched Lucy's arm gently.
'And when you were thanking me just now,' he said, 'you—'
'I lied? No, no, no!' she cried, with a revulsion of feeling; 'I meant it! I am grateful—indeed I am grateful! I longed to die; but the thought of washing about in these terrible waters makes me ill with fear. When the waves took hold of me and swept me under I wished to live—I had a wild yearning for life. Many times since last night I have felt the water sucking me down and the mighty waves piling above me, and have felt again the utter helplessness and terror.' Shuddering, she covered her face with her hands, but continued speaking after a moment's pause. 'It was horrible to die; but I am wretched—wretched! and I shall never be brave enough to venture again—never!'
She threw the hood back from her abundant hair and stood a little apart, her hands pressed upon her eyes, struggling with her tears, already wondering at the sudden, overwhelming emotion that had swept her into this betrayal. He mused in a troubled way, perplexed by her contradictions avowal, feeling that, after all, he might have done this girl a great wrong.
'Has your life been so unhappy, then?' he asked.
'It has been too happy,' she replied in a constrained voice.
'If I had learned to know sorrow sooner I could have borne it better, perhaps; but until a year ago my life was all happiness. Before that I had those who loved me, and neither fears nor cares. My father died, and mother followed him within seven months. I was their only child; I found myself alone, beset with anxieties and terrors, utterly desolate. I am going to be Mrs. Macdougal's companion at her husband's sheep-run, deep in the Australian Bush, and to teach their children. Since coming aboard I have been too much alone; I have had too much time to think of my hopelessness, my loneliness. There were moments when I seemed to be cut off from the world. It was in one of these moments that I—I—' She made a significant gesture. Her voice had grown faint, and her limbs trembled.
'Stay,' he said gently, 'I'll get you a seat.'
His concern about this stranger, his curiosity, occasioned no self-questionings, no probing into motives. For the time being his customary attitude of mind—that of the pessimist sceptically weighing every emotion—deserted him. He had been, in his small circle in Chisley, the one person with a tangible grievance against life, but here he found another at more bitter variance with Fate, and weaker by far for the fight. A mutual grievance is a strong bond. He was lifted out of himself. When he returned he found Lucy Woodrow much more composed. She thanked him, and seated herself in the shadow.
'Mr. Done,' she said, 'I owe you an apology. You did me a great service, and I have made that an excuse for inflicting my troubles upon you.' Jim noted the conventional phrases with a feeling of uneasiness. 'You are very kind, but something I have confessed I want you to forget. I lost control of myself.'
'You may trust me to say nothing.'
Yes, yes; I am sure of that,' she added hastily, 'but I want you to forget. I should not like to see it in your face if we meet again.'
'Why fear that? For what you did you have to answer to yourself alone.'
'I did not confess the truth even to Mrs. Macdougal,' the girl went on in a low voice. 'I have been a little hysterical, and it is very good of you to bear with me.'
'I'm glad you told me; it gives me an interest, and I've never been interested in the fate of another human creature since I was a mere boy.'
'I did wrong in the sight of God. You have saved me from a great crime.'
'No! If life had become unbearable you were justified. When you said I had no right to interfere, you spoke the truth. No man has the right to insist upon a fellow-creature continuing to live when life has become intolerable.' Jim was most emphatic on this point.
'Hush! Oh, hush! I know I said it, and I have thought it too; but the thought was born of weakness and cowardice.'
Done, who thought he understood himself clearly, and believed he had a plan of life as precise and logical as the multiplication table, was puzzled by a nature almost wholly emotional, and she continued:
'I mean to be brave, to meet the future with hope. It was my loneliness that terrified me. I thought it might be always so, but perhaps real happiness awaits me out there. I may make true friends.'
She spoke eagerly, anxiously, seeking corroboration, looking to him for encouragement with touching wistfulness, as if he had been a graybeard and an old and trusted friend, rather than a mere youth in years, and an acquaintance of only a few hours.
He felt the appeal, and tried to respond.
'Yes yes,' he said. 'Then, at least, one can always fight the world. If we can't be loved, we can make ourselves feared. There's a great deal in that.'
The girl was surprised at his warmth, and a little startled by his philosophy.
'I could not think that,' she said softly. 'It must be terrible to be feared—to meet always with doubt and shrinking where you look for confidence and affection.'
'But when the world refuses to accept us, when it uses all our fine emotions as scourges to torture us, then we must fight.'
'I—I fight the world!' The girl rose in some agitation, and raised two tremulous hands, as if in evidence of her weakness.
The gesture staggered him a little. He had been not so much defining her position as defending his own, and although he could see the futility of his principle of resentment as applied to her case, it was not in his nature to preach the pleasing gospel of sentimental optimism. He had no words of comfort to offer her; the gentle platitudes of encouragement and consolation she needed, and which would have fallen so glibly from the lips of an average man, were impossible to him. He was silent.
'One had better die,' continued Lucy Woodrow, 'than live at enmity with one's fellow-creatures. Ah! the world is good and kind, under its seeming cruelties. People are more generous than we know, but we should meet them with open hearts, and give a warm welcome to their affection and confidence. There must be something evil in the nature that is shut out from human sympathy, human fellowship—something wanting in the heart that is lonely, where there are scores of men and women eager to give friendship and love. We repel those who are drawn to us by their goodness of heart; we refuse what we most long for, and then blame others because we are unhappy.'
The girl was speaking the thoughts in which she had vainly sought comfort. She ceased abruptly, and, moving to the side, stood with her eyes turned yearningly back over the sea, oppressed by her loneliness and the home-sickness that had not left her since the shores of England faded from her sight.
Jim felt a stir of something like resentment at his heart. He found in the girl's words a reflection of the beliefs of his native village, and perhaps justification of them, and saw her for the moment as the embodiment of the respectability, the piety, and all the narrowness of Chisley. The thought revived his habitual reserve. He meditated an escape, already regretting that he had permitted himself to drift into this extraordinary position.
MRs. MACDOUGAL came to Done's rescue a moment later. She sauntered languidly up to the young couple in her character of the interesting invalid, careful to make a charming picture in the moonlight.
'It is a delightful night, Mr. Done, is it not?' she said.
Jim admitted as much, without any display of interest, and the lady continued:
'You know our dear girl is not strong. You must not keep her in the night air. Why, Lucy, how foolish you are! not a single wrap, and the wind so chilly! You'll certainly have a sickness.'
'I shall not be ill, Mrs. Macdougal,' said Lucy. 'But you are very good.'
Mrs. Macdougal's plump figure was covered with furs, and a handsome shawl trailed from her arm; but it was characteristic of Mrs. Macdougal to profess the sweetest solicitude for other people, whilst appropriating for her own use and pleasure all the comfortable, pleasant, and pretty things. She was not more than thirty-three, and looked like a gipsy spoiled by refinements. Her social schooling had been confined to a long course of that delectable literature devoted to the amours of a strictly honourable aristocracy with superior milkmaids, nursery governesses, and other respectable young persons in lowly walks. Indeed, Mrs. Macdougal, having had no early training worth speaking of, had successfully modelled her manners upon those of a few favourite heroines. She fancied the expression, 'It is, is it not?' lent an air of exquisite refinement to ordinary conversation. She was naturally artificial. Artifice would have been her certain resort in whatever path it had pleased Fate to plant her small feet. Her temper was excellent so far as it went, and her manner tender and clinging. She would have preferred to have been tragic with such eyes and such hair, but with her plump figure it was not possible. She loved attention, particularly the attentions of men, and employed many artifices to secure them, usually with success. She had engaged Captain Evan on the deck during every afternoon for a whole week, fanning away a purely hypothetical headache. Altogether Mrs. Macdougal was a delightful fool; almost everybody liked her.
'Really, for your own sake, my dear! It will not do for two of us to be invalids.' Mrs. Macdougal pressed a firm white hand upon her ample bosom, and coughed a melancholy little cough, hinting at a deep-seated complaint, the seriousness of which she could not long hope to disguise from her friends.
Lucy retired dutifully, and her mistress composed herself in an effective attitude for a long chat with the young man.
'Darling girl!' she said, gazing affectionately after the retreating figure. It suddenly occurred to her that she was very fond of Lucy Woodrow, although up to the time of the accident she had not given her a second thought.
The young man did not feel called upon to make a demonstration; he merely inclined his head and watched Lucy along the deck as a manifestation of some little interest in the subject.
'If anything had happened to her that awful time!' Mrs. Macdougal's eyes waxed to their greatest dimensions to express terror, distress, all the excitement of the accident, and were veiled under their white lids and heavy lashes to convey some idea of the grief that would have lacerated that gentle breast had Lucy Woodrow perished in the cruel sea. 'Ah, Mr. Done, I, too, owe you a debt of gratitude!' she continued. 'The poor girl is in my care. I should never have forgiven myself.'
'I can't accept your gratitude, ma'am,' said Jim brusquely.
'So gallant, so noble!' murmured the lady. She was not succeeding, and she felt it. The boy was too ridiculous. She assumed a new pose, gazing dreamily over the side into the scudding sea.
'If I were to fall in, Mr. Done,' she said, after a telling pause, 'you would save me too?' She smiled coquettishly.
'I should not, Mrs. Macdougal; the responsibility is too great.'
She did not fully understand him, and was quite shocked, but answered brightly:
'Oh yes, it is, is it not?'
Jim now resented the woman's intrusion upon him with a cublike sullenness. He even longed to be avenged upon her for his uneasiness, and would have liked to have said quite coolly, 'In the devil's name, madam, leave me to myself!' It piqued him that, after all, he had not the moral courage to do this, so he turned a forbidding shoulder, pretending interest in the scud of sea.
'Really, Mr. Done, you are foolish to hide yourself here,' continued Mrs. Macdougal. 'It is so much pleasanter in our part, and you have the freedom of the ship, you know. Dear, kind Captain Evan could not deny me. Do come! Our little entertainments will delight you, and everybody will be so pleased.'
'I'm very well where I am, thanks.' The lad's tone was not at all gracious.
'But you are so much above these men, and there are several nice cabin passengers—quite superior people, who are anxious to know you.'
'You're mistaken, ma'am. I'm a farm labourer going out there to earn my living. I'm at home here with common men, and I hate superior people!'
'They are trying, are they not?' This with a gush of confidence and a little air of being weary of the great ones of the earth.
Mrs. Macdougal made several further efforts to induce Done to allow himself to be lionized by the first-class passengers, who, to escape for a time the boredom of a long, dull voyage, were eager to make a pet of the interesting and mysterious hero; but Jim's moroseness deepened under the attacks, and at length he escaped with only a glance of almost maidenly coyness whenever circumstances threw him in the lady's way.
But Lucy Woodrow was not to be denied; she had been forced into the current of his life, and he would make no effective fight against her. After a few days her pale face, animated with an expression of pathetic appeal, obtruded itself upon his meditations. He surprised himself mapping out a pleasant and beautiful future for her, or dwelling upon her misfortunes with a tender regret, and at such times took refuge from his thoughts in sudden action, shaking this folly off with fierce impatience, heaping abusive epithets upon his own head, arraigning himself as a drivelling sentimentalist; and what shame could equal that of a puling sentimentality?
After all, this girl stood for everything he had learned to despise and hate. To her the conventions behind which society shields itself, its shams and its bunkum, were sacred. He was convinced that had she known the whole truth as Chisley knew it, she must have ranged herself with his enemies. He admitted that he had been guilty of an impertinent interference in her private affairs when he plucked her from the sea, but did it follow that he need worry himself further about the young woman? Certainly not! That point being settled, he could return to his dreams of the Promised Land, the land of liberty, only to find the fair face obscuring his fine visions, or to be interrupted by the girl herself, who sometimes took refuge near him from the importunities of the male blonde, but more often sought him out to satisfy the new interest his morbid and peculiar character and, it must be admitted, his cold, good looks had created in her breast.
At her approach Done felt the stir of a novel exultation in his traitorous flesh. To be sure, he had woven romances for himself, but his heroines were always of a type totally different to Lucy Woodrow. They were strong, dark-eyed, imperious creatures, who espoused all his beliefs and echoed his defiance of the world. What sense of humour had as yet found place in his nature was exercised to the full at the expense of the lackadaisical lover in life and in fiction, and now he felt there was something absurdly pensive in this phenomenon of his own. He satisfied himself that he was not in love with Lucy, but here were the marked characteristics of the fond and fatuous hero—the obtruding face of the beloved, idealized and transfused with a sickly pathos; the premonitory tremblings; the recurrence of thoughts of the fair. It was all in defiance of his philosophy—an insult to his manhood. Like many very young men, Done was extremely jealous of the honour of his manhood. It is the pride of a new possession.
Certainly Lucy Woodrow was quite honest to her nature in her attitude towards the young stranger. She did not dissect her emotions: she did not even question them. In becoming her hero Done had levelled all the conventional barriers, and her friendship and concern were sincere. She had never recurred to the incident of the rescue, feeling that the subject was painful to him, and glad to dwell no further upon an act of her own that of late had become quite inexplicable to her. Lucy no longer turned her eyes to the wake of the Francis Cadman: she no longer yearned backward to the land where she had left only a grave. Her mind was employed with a most serious duty: she had adopted a mission, and that mission was the regeneration of James Done. The regeneration was not to be so much religious as moral. The poor boy's life was disordered; he had suffered some great wrong; his naturally beautiful, brave, generous disposition was soured; he had lost faith in God and in woman, and it remained for her to restore his belief, to teach him that his fellow-creatures were in the main animated with the most excellent motives, and to drive away all those strange, wild opinions of his, and generally brighten and sweeten his life and turn him out a new man. She could not have explained how she was going to accomplish all this, but every maiden is at heart a missionary of some sort, and Lucy had a vague idea that the influence of a good woman was always effective in such cases. She never imagined that the youth would test her pretty, heartfelt opinions and her glowing faith in the rightness of things in the cold, sceptical light of his logic.
'Women don't bother themselves much to know if things are true,' he said. 'They're content with thinking they ought to be true.'
'Well,' she answered, 'why not try to be true to the things that ought to be true?'
'If I wanted to, the world wouldn't let me.'
'You cannot believe that. The really good man is always obeyed and reverenced.'
'And has always a fat billet. Yes; that kind of goodness is an excellent thing as a speculation.'
She thought him wilfully paradoxical, and it came about, when their acquaintanceship was about three weeks old, that while Jim Done, the small and early philosopher, held Lucy in fine disdain as a born fool, his vital humanity discovered strange allurements in her, and her proximity fired a craving in his blood that sometimes tempted him to crush her in his arms and bruise her lips with kisses. He grew less brusque with her, and showed on occasions a sort of diffident gentleness, and then Lucy was satisfied that her work was progressing.
'You never talk of your life there in England,' she said one night as they stood by the mizzen-chains overlooking the sea. Since the use of the forepart of the ship had been offered him as a privilege, Done religiously abstained from encroaching a foot beyond the steerage limit, although he had previously invaded the sacred reserve on occasion in defiance of authority.
'No,' he said; 'I am running away from that.'
He gave little thought to the conversation, but he was thinking much of the girl. She looked strangely beautiful and unreal in the dim light—curiously visionary—and yet he felt that she radiated warmth and life. Something stirred hotly within him: he was drawn to her as with many hands.
'It would interest me,' she said—'it would interest me deeply.' She turned her face up to him, and her eyes caught the light, and burned with curious lustre in the shadowy face.
He did not misjudge her; he knew her concern for him to be the outcome of gratitude and the kindliness of a simple nature, but it conveyed a sweet flattery. Her hand rested upon his arm, and from its soft pressure flowed currents of emotion. At his heart was a savage hunger. The faint scent her hair exhaled seemed to cloud his brain and his vision.
'I feel that it is some sorrow, some wrong done you in your early life, that makes you so bitter against the world,' she said. 'You think ill of all because one or two have been unkind and unjust, perhaps. Because someone has been false or unfair to you at home there, you are cold and contemptuous and distrustful of the people around you here, who are eager to be your friends.' Her tone was almost caressing.
For answer he caught her up in his arms, using his strength roughly, cruelly, clasping her to his breast, and kissing her mouth twice, thrice, with a fierce rapture. A moment he held her thus, gazing into her face, and the girl's hands seemed to flutter up to his neck. Suddenly she experienced an awakening. On the heels of the new joy came a new terror. Setting her palms against his breast, she pushed herself from his relaxed arms. A few feet of deck, a space of cold moonlight, divided them, and they stood thus, facing each other in silence. Lucy had an intuitive expectancy; the situation called for an avowal. It became awkward. A boyish shamefacedness had followed Done's outburst of passion, and he spoke never a word. The two were victims of a painful anti-climax. A girl has but one resource in such an emergency. The tears came, and Lucy Woodrow turned and stole away, leaving Jim stunned, abashed, with unseeing eyes bent upon the sea. Done's right hand was striking at the woodwork mechanically; his mind was in a turmoil. The blows increased in force till blood ran from his knuckles, and then through his clenched teeth came the bitter words. His rage against himself had a biting vindictiveness. He cursed in whispers.
What a fool he had been! What a fatuous, blundering ass! What had he done? Why had he done it? Was he in love, with Lucy Woodrow? This latter question recurred again and again through the night, and the answer came vehemently—no, no, and no again! He had nothing in common with the girl. He recited a score of her simple, silly opinions in self-defence, and, having strenuously reasserted his freedom, turned over to sleep, and slept never a wink all night. What disturbed him most was the fear of meeting Lucy Woodrow again. Perhaps she would avoid him now. There was no comfort in the thought. He knew that what had happened must alter their relations towards each other, but could neither admit that Lucy was necessary to him nor summon up a comfortable indifference.
DONE caught a fleeting glimpse of Lucy Woodrow next day, Tuesday. She was certainly avoiding him. The conviction made him bitter. How well Schopenhauer knew these women! Lucy's squeamishness was further proof of a narrow and commonplace mind. Had he suffered so much all his life at the hands of people of this class, and learned to measure them so well and hate them so sincerely, only to be won over by the prettiness of a simple girl? He brooded over the matter for some hours, when it was driven from his mind by an important happening. Early on the following morning the first mate reported that land had been sighted. The news stirred the ship as an intruding foot stirs an anthill. The people swarmed upon the decks, and strained their eyes in the direction pointed by Captain Evan's glass, which was in eager demand amongst the cabin passengers all the forenoon.
One sailor, a canny Scot, produced a battered old telescope, and did a very profitable business with the excited emigrants, whom he charged 'saxpence' for their first peep at the land where fortune and glory waited them. The telescope was quite unequal to the occasion, but its owner had carefully drawn a mark on the lens to represent the desired object, and there were no complaints, although the Australian coast-line sometimes sloped at acute angles, and often appeared to be quite perpendicular.
Jim awoke to new sensations, and all his hopes and ambitions surged back upon him with redoubled force. A childish rapture possessed him; he had an impulse to run and jump, to act foolishly, and to yell like a boy at play. It required some self-restraint to keep from throwing wide his arms to the warm sun, that seemed to instil delight into his very veins.
Meanwhile Lucy Woodrow had experienced another shock, and had been afforded some idea of the cheerful readiness with which a censorious world misconstrues our amiable intentions, and imputes selfish motives to the most disinterested missioner. She found herself quite unable to work up a proper feeling of indignation against Done. Her training impelled her to stigmatize his conduct as ungentlemanly, ungenerous, and absolutely shocking. The words of condemnation came readily enough, but there was no proper spirit of maidenly pride behind them. On the contrary, deep down in her breast there glowed a sense of triumph, an abiding joy, of which she made some effort to be ashamed. Her avoidance of the young man on the day following his misdemeanour was a pathetic bit of dissimulation, an effort on Lucy's part to deceive herself with a show of coldness and dignity.
During the Tuesday afternoon and evening Mrs. Donald Macdougal had assumed towards Lucy the touching airs of an injured innocent. Her cough required more than usual attention, and her head was extremely bad, but she bore it all with conspicuous resignation. She could not contain herself long, however, and gave utterance to her grievance in the evening.
'I do think you ought to give me a little more of your confidence, Lucy,' she said, with an aggrieved air.
'In what way, Mrs. Macdougal?' asked Lucy, surprised at the words and the tone.
'Well, my dear, I have treated you almost like a sister. I am in a manner your guardian; and it's nice to feel one is trusted, is it not?'
'But I do trust you; and I am grateful too—most grateful.'
'It isn't that. You don't tell me things. For instance, about young Done.'
'Really, Mrs. Macdougal, there is nothing of interest that you do not know.
'Oh, nonsense, Lucy! Why are you blushing, then? You have been a great deal together since the accident, and I permitted it because he is so brave and handsome, and he is quite a gentleman, in spite of his position. But '—and here the voice grew petulant—'I thought you would give me your confidence. You ought to have had more consideration for me, seeing how dull I was, and how stupid it is here, with nothing to do and nothing to talk about.'
'My meetings with Mr. Done have been merely friendly. It would not amuse you in the least to hear our conversation repeated.' Lucy felt that her face was scarlet. She was angry and combative.
'Come, now, is that fair?' continued Mrs. Macdougal, patiently sad.
'You know you are the heroine of the ship's romance. We're just aching with curiosity about it.'
'Mrs. Macdougal, you amaze me!'
'We have scarcely talked of anything else for weeks, and I did think you'd put your trust in me.'
The girl was standing with squared shoulders and erect head, a patch of colour on either cheek, a courageous spark in either eye, and wrath in every gesture and in every line of her slim figure.
'Is this true?' she said. 'Do you mean to tell me that my friendship with Mr. Done has been the subject of the usual idle chatter here, day and night?'
'What could you expect, my dear?'
'That I have been criticised and scandalized and spied upon?'
'But with the nicest feelings and the best wishes. What else was there to interest anyone? I thought you understood. It was so romantic and delightful, and we were all so pleased to find him taking a real interest in you. The people quite expect you to become engaged, you know. It would be a most delightful ending, would it not?'
'It is a shame—a great shame!' cried Lucy. These people have no decency. I will tell you this, Mrs. Macdougal that no word of what you speak of has passed between Mr. Done and me.'
Mrs. Macdougal was quite grieved. 'The passengers will be disappointed she said. 'I'm afraid they won't think it quite nice of you. You see, these things are expected to end prettily. It's customary.'
It's very absurd and very mean.'
Mrs. Macdougal shook her head ominously. The thought of the chagrin of the cabins, deprived of a satisfactory climax to their little romance, filled her with gravest apprehension. Her strong belief was that Done and Lucy owed it as a sacred duty to the eternal verities, as set forth in popular fiction, to marry. If they failed to conform, they gave people good grounds for a grievance.
Lucy Woodrow's spirit was up in arms. The girl who had feared nothing so much as to find herself at variance with her fellows, and had believed the affection and the goodwill of those about her to be the first essentials to happiness, felt no weakness, no lack of self-reliance, now that she was in some measure pitted against the many. She resented the conduct of the passengers in making her the subject of their tittle-tattle with a bitterness she had never felt before. In overlooking her actions and assuming a right to influence her in a purely personal matter, these people were guilty of an insolence to which she would not submit. She thought she discovered a certain antagonism amongst those with whom she presently came into contact, and the opposition developed character. Pride came to her aid. No doubt some peeping Tom or prying woman had been witness to the theft of kisses. In that case the incident would now be a theme of conversation in the cabins. She could not trust Mrs. Macdougal to withhold from the gossips a single word of their conversation. Lucy's determination was to show herself superior to the ship's opinion; she would not have it thought she was influenced one way or the other, and for that reason it was necessary that there should be no appearance of a quarrel between herself and Done.
She found him sitting on a gun-carriage, and seated herself by his side, having offered her hand in token of amity.
Jim's heart had never been so light; his cherished animosities were fled for the time being. But conversation was difficult. He detected a difference in the girl that was not explicable to him, and imagined that she was still angry. He realized, too, that she was at a disadvantage, because of the service he had rendered her, and presently blurted something like an apology.
'I suppose I oughtn't to have done that the other night?' he said.
'No,' she murmured. Her head was bowed, and her foot tapped tremulously on the deck.
'It's the sort of thing the respectables pretend to be shocked at, isn't it? Well, I regretted it immediately.' His voice had grown softer. 'I did, upon my word!'
'Please don't speak of it,' she pleaded. In truth, the apology troubled her deeply where the offence had left no pain. She wished it had never been spoken The thought of it had power to provoke tears long after.
The Francis Cadman sailed majestically through the Heads into Port Phillip on a beautiful Sunday morning in November, when the beneficent spring was merging into a fiery Southern summer. The sun blazed with tropic splendour in a sky of unspotted sapphire; the blue, translucent waters danced in unison with the hearts on deck, rippling into gold and silver and the sparkle of a myriad diamonds. Eager eyes saw the symbols of wealth in all things, and a fever of exultation and expectancy burned in the ship. Done was like a man drunken. It was as if sunshine were a strange, new thing to him, as if he had never breathed deeply and truly the good air of God till now. He had big affectionate impulses; he felt that the sailors were fine fellows, his shipmates cheerful souls. He would have liked to shake hands all round and assure them of his friendship, but sailors and passengers were full of their own affairs, and took no notice of him. For two days past there had been much whispering amongst the crew and the men under contract to work the ship that had been left crewless in Australian waters. Done detected an undercurrent of excitement, and noticed many guarded consultations. That there was some conspiracy afloat he was convinced, but the plotting was conducted in so cheerful—even hilarious—a spirit that he suspected no evil.
The ship was anchored off Queenscliff to bide the coming of the noisy, grimy, paddle-tug engaged to tow her wearily into Hobson's Bay, and up to her berth by the primitive river wharf. And now speculation and curiosity were awakened in the cabins by the peculiar conduct of Captain Evan in stationing armed sailors along the ship, larboard and starboard.
Shortly after, Done, who was watching developments with keen interest, saw a Scandinavian seaman named Jorgensen steal over the side, and slip into the sea like a porpoise. Jorgensen struck out for the shore, swimming under water for the most part, till he had covered a distance of about two hundred yards from the ship. Others, including the armed sailors, had witnessed Jorgensen's escape, but no one spoke.
Nearly an hour passed, and then Jim saw that two boats were coming towards them from a distant point. At the sight of these there was a rush of sailors. No orders had been given, but a score of men busied themselves lowering the Francis Cadman's boats, laughing at their work and joking uproariously. Others came singing and yelling from the forecastle and up through the hatchways, with bundles which they piled on the deck. All order was abolished; the jubilant cries of the sailors were echoed back from the shores over the placid sea.
Captain Evan stood upon the deck, pale with passion, gesticulating furiously, shouting orders that no one heard. Every time he opened his lips the sailors responded with louder yells of cheerful derision. Evan rushed at one of the armed sailors, cursing heroically.
'Fire on them! Fire, I tell you!' he cried.
The man paid not the slightest heed, and Captain Evan, snatching the gun from his hands, levelled it at the boatswain.
'Down on your knees, you mutinous dog!' he thundered.
The boatswain grinned amiably, and thrust his finger into the barrel of the piece.
'By the holy, we've spiked your gun, Captain!' he said.
Evan pulled the trigger. The cap snapped and nothing more, and now, worked into an ungovernable passion, he clubbed his gun, and bringing the stock down upon the boatswain's head, stretched him upon the deck with a cracked skull. Swinging his weapon, the Captain dashed at the men, but a dozen pair of hands were on him, and he was dragged down. Bently, the first mate, who went to his assistance, was served similarly. In a few moments they lay helpless, trussed like turkeys ready for the roasting. The cabin passengers gathered about, white-faced, full of terror, thinking of piracy and all its attendant horrors. Some of the women were screaming. The sailors lifted Evan and Bently; and Done, who was watching the turn of events, greatly agitated, was startled into a new train of thought by a woman who had thrown herself at his feet, clinging to his knees, crying:
'Help him! help him! They are going to do murder!'
It was Mrs. Macdougal. Done started forward, and half a dozen sailors moved to intercept him.
'You don't mean mischief?' he said.
'Devil a bit!' replied a big Irishman. 'We'll stow them out of harm's way till we're safe on shore, an' never a mischief will be done to annywon at all. Come along, Captain darlin',' he added. 'Ye'll rist aisier in yer cabin. We're goin' diggin' fer the gould, an' not all the fiends out iv Connaught could shtop us.'
Captain and mate were bestowed under lock and key, and, like a band of schoolboys at breaking-up, the men continued their mutinous work. One section had started a quaint chanty; the rest caught it up presently, and with the rhythm of the song came something like order among the mutineers. Singing lustily, they piled their baggage into the boats, and Done, who had recovered the feeling of annoyance his impulsive interference had occasioned him, watched them, rejoicing in sympathy. He had brought no particular respect for law and order from the Old Land, and this happy revolt delighted him. He would have loved to join the merry adventurers in their defiance of authority. It was grand! Lustily he sang the chanty, and as the boats, loaded down with sailors and their traps, and towing astern in the warm sea strings of deserters for whom there was no room aboard, moved off, he leaned over the bulwarks waving his hat, and shouted with all the power of his lungs:
'Good luck to you, boys!'
They answered with a cheer, forgetting all differences in their present robust animal spirits. Ryan sprang up in one of the boats.
'Come wid us, man; why don't you?' he cried.
Jim had a strong impulse to follow, but a small hand seized his.
'No, no—please, no!' whispered Lucy at his side.
He shook his head at the men. After all, there was no occasion for him to run away; he was bound to no man.
The sailors had taken the key of the Captain's cabin with them, and by the time Evan and the mate were liberated the crew of the Francis Cadman and all the sailors under contract to the distracted owners of vessels riding idle and helpless on Corio Bay and Hobson's Bay had disappeared amongst the ti-tree fringing the shore, leaving the ship's boats afloat. Five sailors remained aboard—one, the boatswain, was temporarily disabled; two of the others were sick and bedridden. Captain Evan stood on the main hatchway and reviewed the situation, and in his manner of expressing himself there remained no trace whatever of the suave autocrat of the cabins. In less than an hour his voyage had been converted into an utter and ignominious failure.
The journey from the Heads to the river mouth in the wake of the tug-boat Platypus, slow and toil some, set Jim in an itch of impatience. He was longing to feel land under his feet once more, and was leaning over the side, his awkwardly-packed canvas bag of belongings at his feet, watching the line of Liardit Beach, with its few dingy buildings standing back from the sea, apprehensive lest this, after all, should prove to be Melbourne, his brave city of refuge, when Lucy Woodrow approached him to say farewell.
'They tell me we are very near our journey's end,' she said. 'I wish to ask you a favour before you go.'
She looked strong and confident, and he was grateful there were to be no tears, having anticipated something like a scene. She had prepared to land, too, and wore a dark dress he had not seen before, and a quaint little hat that became her well. He thought her beautiful. The idea of parting with her hurt now, and his pulse stirred impatiently. The admiration in his eyes caused a flush to relieve the pale olive of her cheeks.
'I'll do anything you ask,' he said,
'It is a very little thing. This is Mrs. Macdougal's address. I want you to promise to write to me.'
'Your life in this new land will be active and adventurous, I'm sure, but some day, in one month, or two, or perhaps a year, you will find time to send me a letter to say how you are, and how the strange country pleases you?'
'You are the only human creature I have met in friendship,' he said, betrayed into warmth by her unaffected concern. 'I can never forget you, Lucy.' He used her Christian name for the first time.
'Thank you, James,' she answered simply.
'No, no—Jim! Jim!' He had been called James only by the parson and the magistrates of Chisley, and he despised the unctuousness that seemed to cling to the name.
'Thank you, Jim,' she said, smiling. 'You see,' she continued gravely, 'what you have done for me makes it impossible that I can ever be careless about your welfare. I shall always want to know where you are, and if you are well and happy.'
'I'm not used to this sort of thing,' he stammered.
I bear it badly.' And, indeed, he had a most amazing disposition to lapse into tears The disposition was never near to mastering him, but there it was.
She saw his agitation, and it warmed the mothering feeling which, though still a child in heart and years his junior, she had long felt for the big, strong, friendless youngster.
'You will take this, won't you? I intend it as a little keepsake.'
She proffered a small gold locket somewhat shyly, and blushed deeply when he opened it and discovered a tiny miniature of herself. He was pleased to have it, and told her so in a graceless way.
'Do you mean to go ashore at once?' she asked presently.
'Yes; just as soon as I can.'
'Mrs. Macdougal is ready, and I suppose we leave the ship immediately.'
He took her small hand in his. 'Good-bye,' he said. He longed to hold her in his arms again.
'Good-bye,' she whispered.
'I hope you'll find things easy for you out there, and that you will be happy.'
'I think I shall. I am going to try hard for happiness—to be as happy as I once was. Say you will try too.'
He looked at the wide sweep of blue sky, and the new land swathed in a golden atmosphere of glorious sunshine and more glorious hopes, and did not smile at her idea of happiness recoverable by distraint.
Mrs. Macdougal bustled up. She had brought dresses from Europe with the object of prostrating what little feminine society there was in the neighbourhood of Boobyalla, and wore one of them now. If her colour was not all natural, it was a very excellent imitation. She looked charming.
'Sure you are quite ready, my dear?' she said. 'Macdougal will be waiting. Macdougal of Boobyalla, you know.' This to Jim: 'And he's a most impatient wretch. Saying au revoir?' she queried archly, after a pause.
'I was bidding Mr. Done good-bye,' said Lucy.
'It is very sad, parting with old friends,' murmured Mrs. Macdougal, with veiled eyes.
'Sadder parting with new ones,' replied Jim, glancing towards Lucy.
'Oh yes, it is, is it not? But you will come and visit us some time at Boobyalla. We are shipmates, and that's a sort of relationship in Australia.'