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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.

III

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.

'Too happy?'

'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.

IV

MRs. MACDOUGAL came to Done's rescue a moment later. She sauntered


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Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 2 of 21)