Sydney Walter Powell.

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The scene of


is a modern liner. Far too many novels
have had a similar setting, but we do
not know of one which approaches the
same realism of atmosphere, or which
penetrates so deeply into the odd
relationships which sea-voyages estab-
lish between members of the human

The story in this book is unimportant.
One of our readers made this a point
of criticism in her report. But the
indistinct impression which remains at
the end is not very different from the
impression left at the end of all sea-

In the book there is drama. The
drama of men and women in love ;
of men and women who have grown
tired ; of men and women stripped of
pretence. There is humour too,
pathos, tragedy and little sad incidents
which touch the heart.

ylJso by


A Trader's Tale

May and December

The Adventures of a Wanderer

One-Way Street & Other Poems

Autobiography of a Rascal



A novel by


Decorated by


PR ,



was scarcely necessary, for her approaching departure
was obvious.

She lay beside a wharf in Woolloomooloo Bay, and
the wharf was thronged with people. The blue sky
of Sydney arched the scene. Cranes, whose actions
were like the intelligent actions of humans, were
picking up nets full of luggage and placing them in
the hold. Not always neatly or gently, and so again
displaying a human character. Photographers had
their cameras levelled, hawkers were selling reels of
coloured streamers ; women were smiling fixedly ;
men were stolid. On ship and on shore many
were wearying, for long-drawn farewells are a
tiring business. At length a coloured reel was
thrown aboard. That, thank God, was the beginning
of the end !

The boatswain was standing idly by a companion-
ladder connecting the promenade deck with the after
well-deck. He was a well-grown man of audacious
appearance, of slack, careless carriage, but nautically
graceful. " A blade " a woman in the steerage had
already privately called him. He was clothed in an
emphatic masculinity which no woman could miss.

1 O^ ^■■'' -•■'

He was the sailor who has a wife in every port and a
mistress in every ship.

The fourth officer joined him.

" Seen anything you fancy, bos'n ? " he asked,

" Swell little piece over there, sir," the boatswain
answered, nodding at a girl who was standing at the
ship's side with other passengers. " A shiner. But she's
no good. I caught her eye. She wasn't having

A practical amorist and shrewd, the boatswain
could tell at a glance what was game and what was
not. He had very little conceit and no illusions.

His eye continued to rove over the people on the
well-deck and poop, which, with part of the lower
promenade deck, comprised the third-class deck space.
It rested upon a young woman, and she looked round.
Her gaze for a moment was considerative. She seemed
to be estimating the boatswain, body and soul. Then
she smiled and looked away.

" Clicked ! " said the boatswain softly, and with a
satisfied air. His search was ended. The voyage had
started well.

The fourth officer laughed and made a quick run
down the companion-ladder. He had business on
the poop. The boatswain too had business to do
shortly, and without another look at the quarry he
had marked he ambled forward. No more fear of
failure entered his mind than enters the mind of the
expert elephant-hunter who has chosen his next kill.
The affair was one of routine.

A bank of coloured streamers dipped from the rails of
the ship to the crowded wharf. The gangway was not


out yet. Smiles were wilting. At last the ship vibrated,
the ditch of green water slowly began to widen, the
streamers to lengthen and break. One remained,
seemingly of elastic. It snapped, fluttered despairingly,
dragged in the water, was dropped, and the ship was
free. Another end had merged in a new beginning.
The passengers sighed with relief. Then they looked
at one another with interest for the first time. These
people, this herd of rather repellent strangers, were to
be their associates for six weeks. Disquieting thought.

That was the general feeling. There were exceptions,
of course. For example, there were the children, all
of whom were in a state of happy excitement. Two,
a boy and a girl, came running up to a man and woman
on the poop.

" Oh, dad ! " said the boy. " There's our Sunday-
school teacher. Miss Bodle, down below there ! "

" There's our Sunday-school teacher, Miss Bodle,
down below there, mum ! " repeated the girl, not to
be robbed of the pleasure of giving the news.

" Is there ? " said the father, in a rising tone.

The mother's tone was flat. " Is there ? Well, you
meet all sorts of people on a ship like this."

The little girl turned to her father. She was not
going to be dashed by this dull comment on a startling
piece of intelligence.

" Isn't it wonderful, dad ? Miss Bodle, our Sunday-
school teacher ! "

" Sure it's her ? " he said. He had a rather melan-
choly face, dark eyes and a drooping dark moustache.
He was dressed like a prosperous workman, which he
was. The mother was stout. She might have been

good-looking once, but her face had coarsened. Her
mouth was drawn down at the corners. She looked
at the world aggressively and ^vith discontent.

" Sure ? " said the boy and girl together. " Why,
she's been speaking to us. Come, and we'll take you
to her."

" But I don't know her," said the father. " Not to
speak to. You come, mother."

" I'm going below to unpack," she answered
shortly. " And you two, Ben and Ida, mind you don't
get climbing on the rails or looking down the ven-
tilators. I'll smack you if I catch either of you doing
things like that."

The father followed the children to the well-deck.
A girl had her back to the bulwarks, looking up. She
was the girl whom the boatswain had declared to be
no good. She deserved his epithet " shiner " ; but it
was clear that she was not one of the boatswain's sort.
There was a mother-o'-pearl delicacy about her ;
something of the sweetness and quietness of old
Dresden. A straw bonnet and full skirts would have
suited her well. She suggested the fragrance of

It was Ida who performed the introduction.

" We've brought our father. Miss Bodle," she said.
" You know him, don't you ? "

Miss Bodle smiled. " I know Mr. Chisman by sight,"
she answered, and shook hands. *' I'm so glad there
are people I know on board."

" Her name's Nellie, and my father's name's
Ernest," said Ben, " so now you know all about each

Miss Bodle and Mr. Chisman laughed embarrassedly.


" You shouldn't have said that," Ida corrected her
brother. " They aren't supposed to know each other's
first names. It isn't proper, is it. Miss Bodle ? "

" Well, perhaps it isn't quite," Miss Bodle admitted.
" But I don't know that it matters much."

"Are you going to England too?" asked Mr.

She was, and he was pleased. He had feared that
she might be going no farther than Melbourne. Then
he wondered why the children had not known that she
was to be a fellow-passenger.

" I heard a long time ago," she said, " that you were
going to England, but the children said you were going
by the Torres.""

" So we were," answered Mr. Chisman ; " but we
couldn't get a four-berth cabin, so we had to come in
the Didor

" Oh, I see. And I've been away, you know. I
only made up my mind a fortnight back to take the

Mr. Chisman wished to say that he was very glad
she had, but he was afraid it would sound too pointed
from a married man, and she a Sunday-school teacher.
It wasn't the actual words that he was afraid of, but
of the way he'd say them. For he knew, beyond any
doubt, that he was very glad. She was like water in a
desert. He did not specify what he meant by the
desert ; but perhaps Mrs. Chisman was part of

" Well, it's very nice to see a face we know," he said,
which was a safe remark, however one said it. " Are
you travelling alone ? " he added.

" All alone," she laughed. " There was no one to

1 1

go with me, and I've wanted to take a trip to England
for years."

" You'll be glad enough to get back," he said with

" Then why are you going ? " she asked in surprise.
Chisman, she knew, was English. She was an

" My wife couldn't stick Australia. It's good enough
for me. But it's no use a man trying to stay where his
wife isn't contented. So we just upped sticks and off."
Chisman's voice was momentarily sad, and betrayed a
tincture of bitterness. He put a brighter note in it.
" Oh, I can stick Old Bhghty, but I'd choose Australia
if I was a single man. More sun, you know, and not
so much wet and cold ; and my work's out of

" Oh, yes. You're a sign-painter, aren't you ? "

He was pleased that she knew what his trade was.
It didn't follow that because she taught his children she
had to take notice of him, in a place the size of Sydney.
He'd taken notice of her, but that was another matter.
She was a girl to take notice of. Once he'd nearly
made up his mind to go to church, but he knew that
smiles would go round when the chaps heard of it
(" Something doing, old man, eh ? What have you
got your eye on?"), and, anyhow, he could do no
more than look at her. She lived only two streets
away, but Ann hardly knew her except as the Sunday-
school teacher. They hadn't a chance to meet — and a
fat lot of good it would be to him if they had.

But in this respect the case appeared to have altered.
It was good to have met her and be going to England
with her. Chisman had the odd feeling that he and


she were the only people in the ship. The rest,
including Ann, had faded to shadows.

" You're just going for a trip, are you ? " he said.
The children were watching with interest this meeting
between their father and the admired Miss Bodle, and
drew from it a flattering sense of importance in that
they had brought it about.

" That's all." She paused. " An aunt of mine died
a little while ago, and left me a hundred and fifty
pounds. So I thought, here's my chance ; perhaps
it'll never come again."

That, then, was the explanation. Chisman had
wondered. She was only a saleswoman in a draper's
shop, and trips to England cost a bit. He knew. This
trip was going to cost him a pretty penny before he got
into work again. And all because a woman nagged
and grumbled till you just had to give in to her. A
long time ago, he recalled at times, Ann had been his
wife. Now she was just a woman, a burden laid on
him, to be worn round his neck till he died. And
without complaint. You couldn't complain aloud, for
the children's sake. You just had to make the best of
her, as if she were an act of God. He didn't hate her.
Not at all. But she was hard to suffer sometimes.

A bell clanged loudly and deeply in the ship's belly.

" Dinner ! " said Mr. Chisman. " Have you got a
seat. Miss Bodle ? "

" You must sit beside us ! " cried the children, before
Miss Bodle could answer.

" But I'm afraid I can't," she replied. " You see,
I've got a seat, and I don't suppose I can change


Chisman thought that she might, but he did not say


so. He would rather, and he had an idea that she
would rather, that they were not together at meals.
It would be like Ann to make things uncomfortable
for her.

" Well, perhaps we shall see you after dinner," he
remarked, and took the children's hands.

" Oh, I hope so ! " she said.

Chisman saw her face flush as he left her. She had
spoken rather warmly. He was thrilled. He made
his way to his cabin to find his encumbrance.

In going he passed the boatswain, whose cabin was
at the after end of the well-deck. The boatswain was
already in connection with the young woman who had
smiled at him.

" You come along any time you like," he was saying.
" There's always a bottle of beer here."

She giggled. " And the rest," she said.

" No games," said the boatswain. " Nothing but
what you're willing to play at." He spoke with bluff
sincerity. " I don't take fancies often, but I've took a
fancy to you. Straight. You could do what you liked
with me."

" Oh, I know all about you sailors. That's an old
tale. Tell us something new."

The boatswain whispered something. It may not
have been new, but it seemed to tickle her. She ran
off, smothering her laughter.

Complacently the boatswain watched her go. Quite
plain sailing this was to be. He much preferred

The carpenter passed him. " Bit of a breeze
outside," he said.

The Dido had left the calm of the harbour and was


running bet\veen the Heads. There were whitecaps
on the Pacific, httle dabs of Chinese white flecking the
deep blue.

" Yes," answered the boatswain, " it's the last feed
some of them will want for a day or two."




side, and adopted a gentle roll after she had turned.
There were fewer people on deck than when she had
left the wharf, but normal stomachs so far were un-
affected. Chairs were out and the passengers were
settling. They were not yet generally mingling.
They were still detached and unsympathetic atoms.

A middle-aged gentleman, pacing the first-class
upper promenade deck, was another of those excep-
tions previously mentioned. The company of all
these strangers, and the six weeks' prospect of it, did
not in the least depress him. He viewed them with
pleasure, not with antipathy. He meant to enjoy
them all.

Mr. Amersham was known among his intimates as
a close observer of men, women and things. Observa-
tion was supposed to be his hobby. In fact he allowed
that it was.

He was a Civil Servant. His health had been poor
lately, and a doctor had recommended him for six
months' leave, and privately advised a sea voyage.

" Sea air," said the doctor, " does wonderful things.
Sea air is what will set you up. You have overworked."

Having both the will and the wherewithal (he was


a bachelor) Mr. Amersham had taken a return ticket
to London.

He had felt a great deal better ever since. The
mere anticipation of the holiday and change had begun
the cure. Having said good-bye to sympathising
friends, there was no longer need to conceal this fact.
Inflating his chest with the strong air, Mr. Amersham
paced the deck with the foot of youth. Of youth three
sheets in the wind, for he had not got his sea-legs yet.

After half an hour of this exercise he remembered
that he had not to over-exert himself. He stood where
the boatswain and the fourth officer had stood, by the
after rail. From here, by turning his eyes to left or
right, he could survey both classes of passengers. The
Dido carried no second. Her third-class accommoda-
tion was said to be equal to second, so that a second
class would have been a redundancy. The Company
stressed this point. There was a tinge of truth in the

Looking to his left up the long promenade, Mr.
Amersham saw the purser. He knew the purser
slightly, through a mutual friend, an official of the
Company. The purser was strolling towards him with
enviable equipoise. He stopped on reaching Mr.

" Taking observations ? " he said. He had heard of
Mr. Amersham's hobby, if " hobby " is not too petty a
name for it. " Shrewd observer, Amersham," the
Company's official had said to him.

In reply, Mr. Amersham confessed that he was taking
a look round.

" We've one or two celebrities aboard," the purser
continued, " and others that aren't exactly celebrities

B 17

but people of some interest. If you like, I can point
some of them out to you."

" I should be immensely obliged," Mr. Amersham
answered. He did not specialise in celebrities : his
outlook was catholic : but he did not, as some do,
despise the famous.

" Well," began the purser, " that chap in the chair
nearest to us " — he carefully looked at Mr. Amersham
— " is Major Pageant, V.C. Perhaps you've forgotten
him, or never heard of him."

" I remember the name — and it's such an odd
name," said Mr. Amersham, screwing up his lean face.
" I must have heard of him. The War, wasn't it ? —
Why, yes, didn't he become a popular hero for captur-
ing a German machine-gun single-handed ? "

" Machine-gun and trench with a dozen men in it.
One of those miraculous exploits. Well, that's the
man. Looks quiet enough, doesn't he ? "

" They always do, those dare-devil fellows," said
Mr. Amersham. " Not always," he corrected himself,
as this, for a close observer, was a somewhat sweeping
statement. " But very often, I've noticed."

The major was reading a book. He was young —
in his early forties, perhaps, and, except for a
soldierly figure, there was nothing to suggest the hero
in him. He had a small moustache and rather small
features, and was neither dark nor fair. His hair was
thin and smooth and he was well groomed.

" We should never trust appearances," Mr. Amer-
sham remarked ; and the purser agreed.

" Do you see that old lady ? " he went on. " The
one in black silk, with the beautiful white hair ? Now
I wonder if you know who that is ? "


" I've been looking at her every time 1 passed her.
But she isn't old, my dear fellow : a bit old-fashioned,
yes. Her hair's white, but her face is quite young.
I can't remember ever having seen a more beautiful
face or a more distinguished one. Who in the world is
she ? "

" You'd know if you'd been in London twenty years
ago. That's Hilda Marmion, the actress. She's on a
pleasure tour."

" Why, of course, why didn't I think of that ? I
saw her name in the papers. So that's the famous
Hilda Marmion ! Well, I should never have taken
her for an actress. There's nothing theatrical about her."

" There isn't. She looks just what she is — Hilda
Marmion at the age of sixty-nine. She makes no
pretence of being young, you see ; but there's no
need : she'll always be lovely."

" She's like a portrait by a great master. One oi
those old historical things, you know. It's a pleasure
and a privilege merely to look at her. Hullo ! who's
that sitting down by her ? " said Mr. Amersham
jealously. " Is he an actor too ? He's a bit like her in
a way."

" He is, a bit ; but he's not an actor. That's Oswald
Straker, the novelist."

" Ah," said Mr. Amersham, " I should have guessed
that in a minute. The Sydney papers have been full
of him lately."

*' Yes, of course he's still in the limelight and likely
to stay there. Seems good for a few years yet, doesn't

" At a distance he doesn't look much more than


" He looks older without that cap. His hair's white
too. They ought to make a match of it," the purser
laughed. " Shall we take a walk round ? There are
one or two more people I might show you, though
those three are all the lions. Oh, hold on, here comes
one fellow."

A man came striding towards them past the line of
chairs. He had just emerged from below and was clad
in white flannel trousers and a white sweater. All
eyes were focused on him. He claimed attention. His
step was swift and light, he swung his arms ; he was
big, he had a presence.

" An athlete of some sort," said Mr. Amersham, as,
with a spacious gesture to the purser, the pedestrian
turned the corner.

" An actor," the purser smiled. " We brought him
out six months ago. He's been on tour. Martin Sale's
his name. I don't suppose you ever heard of him."

" I can't say I have."

" He's not very prominent. We always have an
actor or two aboard."

" But why does he walk as if he were in for a foot
race ? "

*' To keep in condition, I understand. He walks
like that for an hour and a half every day."

" What won't some men do for notoriety ? " said
Mr. Amersham. " He can't need all that exercise to
keep in condition."

" He's not a bad sort, all the same. He certainly
does like to be noticed, but his weakness is a harm-
less one."

They followed slowly in the actor's wake. When
they reached the starboard side he was disappearing.


Here the chairs were in greater numbers, for this was
the lee side.

" There's room for plenty more," observed the
purser. " But young folks like Miss Marmion and
Mr. Straker don't care for the weather, of course."

" Very true. Most successful people are hardy.
They have to be, to succeed."

" The lady and gentleman beside that ventilator,"
said the purser, " are a Mr. and Mrs. Fleetwood. He's
been building a big dam in New Zealand. Belongs to
a London firm of engineers."

Mr. Amersham stole a glance at the pair in passing.
His glance lingered on the lady.

" Good-looking woman," he said.

" Very. And the right sort too, I should think.
He appears to be a good deal older than she. . . .
The parson is Canon Byway. I don't much fancy his
wife. Rather a vinegary aspect."

" If there's scandal on board this ship, that lady
will smell it," said Mr. Amersham.

" You can cut out the ' if,' " the purser smiled.
*• There's always a scandal or two on a long voyage."

" Ah, yes," said Mr. Amersham, who had not
voyaged far. " And who's this rather good-looking
young man ? " he murmured.

*' At present," answered the purser, afler a necessary
pause, " I don't know him. It takes a little while to
identify everybody. Looks as if he'd like to escape,
doesn't he ? "

The allusion was to a lady to whom the young man
was making polite responses. Her appearance called
to mind a fading flower.

" I don't know her cither," said the purser. " But


I wouldn't mind making a bet that she's bound for

" Why Colombo ? "

" That's where girls go from Australia as a last
resource. It's handy and it's a good marriage market.
* No reasonable offer refused ' — that's this one's label."

They stopped and faced the forecastle. Mr. Martin
Sale swept by upon his third lap. He was like a rushing

" I shouldn't like him to run over me," said Mr.
Amersham. " It would be almost as bad as being
knocked down by a motor-car."

"Juggernaut," said the purser, " was the name he
got when we brought him out. He liked it."

" He would."

" Another cormorant, I think," observed the purser
of a girl who flitted by with a demure stare at him.
He answered Mr. Amersham's questioning look.
" We call them cormorants — voracious sea-birds, you
know. Ready to devour anything in trousers. That
one probably has her parents with her, but you'll
never see her with them except in the dining-saloon.
. . . She's looking for a place to put that chair. . . .
Ha ! sighted. . . . No encouragement, though. Never
mind ; she'll barge in. Bound to be welcome. Done
it. There you are ! "

The girl had set her chair beside the young man's.
There was just room for it.

" He's well hemmed in now," said Mr. Amersham.
" Poor devil ! What a thing it is to be handsome."

" She'll drive the other off. Well, better her than
t'other. She's young, at any rate."

" It's sheer piracy. That young woman ought to


hang in chains. , . . There's no one, of course, in the
steerage of any celebrity."

" Not as far as I know," the purser answered.
" They seem to be a job lot. However, they're
interesting to watch sometimes. And occasionally
they're a nuisance."

" How ? " Mr. Amersham keenly asked.

" Oh, you know, they're liable to get a bit above
themselves. The sea air gives them an appetite, they
feed like fighting-cocks ; there's bottled beer and
stout, as much as they can buy ; they're idle ; and
they take no exercise. You can't be surprised. There's
usually some rowdiness at night which we can't always
stop — ^it's tact, you see, not force, that we have to rely
on — but you aren't likely to be troubled by it ; your
cabin's far enough for'ard."

" Really ? " said Mr. Amersham. " I wouldn't
have thought it. They seemed to me a very quiet,
orderly lot. Tame, I would even have called

" Oh, they're tame enough now, but they won't be
so tame in a few weeks, when the sea air and so forth
has got its work in." The purser grinned. " You'll
see the sea air working here too. That's what we put
it down to, at least. I mean the different way people
behave on board a ship to what they do on land. The
air seems to go to their heads. It's better than a play

Mr. Amersham was much interested.

" The last three weeks arc the liveliest, usually," the
purser continued. " If they weren't, they'd be the
longest, so it's as well they are. With the Colombo

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Online LibrarySydney Walter PowellNoah's ark : a novel → online text (page 1 of 16)