Edward Dyson.

In the Roaring Fifties online

. (page 3 of 21)
Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 3 of 21)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

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

'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

'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

'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

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

'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

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

'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

'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

'Really, Mrs. Macdougal, there is nothing of interest that you do not

'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

'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

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.

1 3 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21

Online LibraryEdward DysonIn the Roaring Fifties → online text (page 3 of 21)