In the Roaring Fifties


Edward Dyson

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 toilsome, 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.’

‘I will.’

‘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.’

Done thanked her, but equivocated. He could not see himself as the guest of the great Donald Macdougal, J.P., of Boobyalla. The lady experienced a glow of impatience. Only a hobbledehoy could prefer Lucy Woodrow’s immature charms to the ripe perfections of a woman of her years.

In the Roaring Fifties - Contents    |     VI

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