DEAR LOW: The other day (at Manihiki of all places) I had the pleasure to meet Dodd. We sat some two hours in the neat, little, toy-like church, set with pews after the manner of Europe, and inlaid with mother-of-pearl in the style (I suppose) of the New Jerusalem. The natives, who are decidedly the most attractive inhabitants of this planet, crowded round us in the pew, and fawned upon and patted us; and here it was I put my questions, and Dodd answered me.
I first carried him back to the night in Barbizon when Carthew told his story, and asked him what was done about Bellairs. It seemed he had put the matter to his friend at once, and that Carthew took it with an inimitable lightness. “He’s poor, and I’m rich,” he had said. “I can afford to smile at him. I go somewhere else, that’s all — somewhere that’s far away and dear to get to. Persia would be found to answer, I fancy. No end of a place, Persia. Why not come with me?” And they had left the next afternoon for Constantinople, on their way to Teheran. Of the shyster, it is only known (by a newspaper paragraph) that he returned somehow to San Francisco and died in the hospital.
“Now there’s another point,” said I. “There you are off to Persia with a millionaire, and rich yourself. How come you here in the South Seas, running a trader?”
He said, with a smile, that I had not yet heard of Jim’s last bankruptcy. “I was about cleaned out once more,” he said; “and then it was that Carthew had this schooner built, and put me in as supercargo. It’s his yacht and it’s my trader; and as nearly all the expenses go to the yacht, I do pretty well. As for Jim, he’s right again: one of the best businesses, they say, in the West, fruit, cereals, and real estate; and he has a Tartar of a partner now — Nares, no less. Nares will keep him straight, Nares has a big head. They have their country-places next door at Saucelito, and I stayed with them time about, the last time I was on the coast. Jim had a paper of his own — I think he has a notion of being senator one of these days — and he wanted me to throw up the schooner and come and write his editorials. He holds strong views on the State Constitution, and so does Mamie.”
“And what became of the other three Currency Lasses after they left Carthew?” I inquired.
“Well, it seems they had a huge spree in the city of Mexico,” said Dodd; “and then Hadden and the Irishman took a turn at the gold fields in Venezuela, and Wicks went on alone to Valparaiso. There’s a Kirkup in the Chilean navy to this day, I saw the name in the papers about the Balmaceda war. Hadden soon wearied of the mines, and I met him the other day in Sydney. The last news he had from Venezuela, Mac had been knocked over in an attack on the gold train. So there’s only the three of them left, for Amalu scarcely counts. He lives on his own land in Maui, at the side of Hale-a-ka-la, where he keeps Goddedaal’s canary; and they say he sticks to his dollars, which is a wonder in a Kanaka. He had a considerable pile to start with, for not only Hemstead’s share but Carthew’s was divided equally among the other four — Mac being counted.”
“What did that make for him altogether?” I could not help asking, for I had been diverted by the number of calculations in his narrative.
“One hundred and twenty-eight pounds nineteen shillings and eleven pence halfpenny,” he replied with composure. “That’s leaving out what little he won at Van John. It’s something for a Kanaka, you know.”
And about that time we were at last obliged to yield to the solicitations of our native admirers, and go to the pastor’s house to drink green cocoanuts. The ship I was in was sailing the same night, for Dodd had been beforehand and got all the shell in the island; and though he pressed me to desert and return with him to Auckland (whither he was now bound to pick up Carthew) I was firm in my refusal.
The truth is, since I have been mixed up with Havens and Dodd in the design to publish the latter’s narrative, I seem to feel no want for Carthew’s society. Of course I am wholly modern in sentiment, and think nothing more noble than to publish people’s private affairs at so much a line. They like it, and if they don’t, they ought to. But a still small voice keeps telling me they will not like it always, and perhaps not always stand it. Memory besides supplies me with the face of a pressman (in the sacred phrase) who proved altogether too modern for one of his neighbours, and
Qui nunc it per iter tenebricosum
as it were, marshalling us our way. I am in no haste to
— nos proecedens —
be that man’s successor. Carthew has a record as “a clane shot,” and for some years Samoa will be good enough for me.
We agreed to separate, accordingly; but he took me on board in his own boat with the hard-wood fittings, and entertained me on the way with an account of his late visit to Butaritari, whither he had gone on an errand for Carthew, to see how Topelius was getting along, and, if necessary, to give him a helping hand. But Topelius was in great force, and had patronised and — well — out-manoeuvred him.
“Carthew will be pleased,” said Dodd; “for there’s no doubt they oppressed the man abominably when they were in the Currency Lass. It’s diamond cut diamond now.”
This, I think, was the most of the news I got from my friend Loudon; and I hope I was well inspired, and have put all the questions to which you would be curious to hear an answer.
But there is one more that I daresay you are burning to put to myself; and that is, what your own name is doing in this place, cropping up (as it were uncalled-for) on the stern of our poor ship? If you were not born in Arcadia, you linger in fancy on its margin; your thoughts are busied with the flutes of antiquity, with daffodils, and the classic poplar, and the footsteps of the nymphs, and the elegant and moving aridity of ancient art. Why dedicate to you a tale of a caste so modern; — full of details of our barbaric manners and unstable morals; — full of the need and the lust of money, so that there is scarce a page in which the dollars do not jingle; — full of the unrest and movement of our century, so that the reader is hurried from place to place and sea to sea, and the book is less a romance than a panorama — in the end, as blood-bespattered as an epic?
Well, you are a man interested in all problems of art, even the most vulgar; and it may amuse you to hear the genesis and growth of The Wrecker. On board the schooner Equator, almost within sight of the Johnstone Islands (if anybody knows where these are) and on a moonlit night when it was a joy to be alive, the authors were amused with several stories of the sale of wrecks. The subject tempted them; and they sat apart in the alley-way to discuss its possibilities. “What a tangle it would make,” suggested one, “if the wrong crew were aboard. But how to get the wrong crew there?”—“I have it!” cried the other; “the so-and-so affair!” For not so many months before, and not so many hundred miles from where we were then sailing, a proposition almost tantamount to that of Captain Trent had been made by a British skipper to some British castaways.
Before we turned in, the scaffolding of the tale had been put together. But the question of treatment was as usual more obscure. We had long been at once attracted and repelled by that very modern form of the police novel or mystery story, which consists in beginning your yarn anywhere but at the beginning, and finishing it anywhere but at the end; attracted by its peculiar interest when done, and the peculiar difficulties that attend its execution; repelled by that appearance of insincerity and shallowness of tone, which seems its inevitable drawback. For the mind of the reader, always bent to pick up clews, receives no impression of reality or life, rather of an airless, elaborate mechanism; and the book remains enthralling, but insignificant, like a game of chess, not a work of human art. It seemed the cause might lie partly in the abrupt attack; and that if the tale were gradually approached, some of the characters introduced (as it were) beforehand, and the book started in the tone of a novel of manners and experience briefly treated, this defect might be lessened and our mystery seem to inhere in life. The tone of the age, its movement, the mingling of races and classes in the dollar hunt, the fiery and not quite unromantic struggle for existence with its changing trades and scenery, and two types in particular, that of the American handy-man of business and that of the Yankee merchant sailor — we agreed to dwell upon at some length, and make the woof to our not very precious warp. Hence Dodd’s father, and Pinkerton, and Nares, and the Dromedary picnics, and the railway work in New South Wales — the last an unsolicited testimonial from the powers that be, for the tale was half written before I saw Carthew’s squad toil in the rainy cutting at South Clifton, or heard from the engineer of his “young swell.” After we had invented at some expense of time this method of approaching and fortifying our police novel, it occurred to us it had been invented previously by some one else, and was in fact — however painfully different the results may seem — the method of Charles Dickens in his later work.
I see you staring. Here, you will say, is a prodigious quantity of theory to our halfpenny worth of police novel; and withal not a shadow of an answer to your question.
Well, some of us like theory. After so long a piece of practice, these may be indulged for a few pages. And the answer is at hand. It was plainly desirable, from every point of view of convenience and contrast, that our hero and narrator should partly stand aside from those with whom he mingles, and be but a pressed-man in the dollar hunt. Thus it was that Loudon Dodd became a student of the plastic arts, and that our globe- trotting story came to visit Paris and look in at Barbizon. And thus it is, dear Low, that your name appears in the address of this epilogue.
For sure, if any person can here appreciate and read between the lines, it must be you — and one other, our friend. All the dominos will be transparent to your better knowledge; the statuary contract will be to you a piece of ancient history; and you will not have now heard for the first time of the dangers of Roussillon. Dead leaves from the Bas Breau, echoes from Lavenue’s and the Rue Racine, memories of a common past, let these be your bookmarkers as you read. And if you care for naught else in the story, be a little pleased to breathe once more for a moment the airs of our youth.
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00