Something more than a month had gone by, and John Caldigate and Mrs. Smith were very close companions. This had not been effected without considerable opposition, partly on the part of Shand, and partly by the ship’s inhabitants generally. The inhabitants of the ship were inimical to Mrs. Smith. She was a woman who had no friends; and the very female who had first appeared as a friend was now the readiest to say hard things of her. And Caldigate was a handsome well-mannered young man. By this time all the ladies in the first-class knew very well who he was, and some of them had spoken to him. On one or two occasions the stern law of the vessel had been broken; and he had been absolutely invited to sit on those august after-benches. He was known to be a gentleman, and believed, on the evidence of Dick Shand, to be possessed of considerable means. It was therefore a thing horrible to all of them, and particularly to Miss Green, that he should allow himself to be enticed into difficulties by such a creature as that Mrs. Smith. Miss Green had already been a little cold to the doctor in consequence of a pleasant half-hour spent by her in Caldigate’s company, as they looked over the side of the vessel at the flying-fish. Mrs. Callander had been with them, and everything had been quite proper. But what a pity it was that he should devote so much of his time to that woman! ‘Fancy his condition if he should be induced to marry her!’ said Miss Green, holding up her hands in horror. The idea was so terrible that Mrs. Callander declared that she would speak to him. ‘Nobody ever disliked interfering so much as I do,’ said Mrs. Callander; ‘but sometimes a word from a lady will go so far with a young man!’ Mrs. Callander was a most respectable woman, whose father had begun life as a cattle drover in the colonies, but had succeeded in amassing a considerable fortune. ‘Oh, I do wish that something may be done to save him!’ said Miss Green.
Among the second-class passengers the same feeling existed quite as strongly. The woman herself had not only been able but had been foolish enough to show that in spite of her gown she considered herself superior to them all. When it was found that she was, in truth, handsome to look upon — that her words were soft and well chosen — that she could sit apart and read — and that she could trample upon Mrs. Crompton in her scorn — then, for a while, there were some who made little efforts to get into her good graces. She might even have made an ally of good-natured Mrs. Bones, the wife of the butcher who was going out with his large family to try his fortune at Melbourne. Mrs. Bones had been injured, after some ship fashion, by Mrs. Crompton, and would have made herself pleasant. But Mrs. Smith had despised them all, and had shown her contempt, and was now as deeply suspected by Mrs. Bones as by Mrs. Crompton or Mrs. Callander.
But of all the foes to this intimacy Dick Shand was for a time the most bitter and the most determined No doubt this arose at first from jealousy. He had declared his purpose of unravelling the mystery; but the task had been taken out of his hands, and the unravelling was being done by another. And the more that the woman was abused, and the more intent were all the people in regard to her wicked determination to be intimate with Caldigate, the more interesting she became. Dick, who was himself the very imp of imprudence — who had never been deterred from doing anything he fancied by any glimmer of control — would have been delighted to be the hero of all the little stories that were being told. But as that morsel of bread had been taken, as it were, from between his very teeth by the unjustifiable interference of his friend, he had become more alive than any one else to the danger of the whole proceeding. He acknowledged to the Captain that his friend was making a fool of himself; and, though he was a little afraid of Caldigate, he resolved upon interfering.
‘Don’t you think you are making an ass of yourself about this woman?’ he said.
‘I daresay I am.’
‘All the wise men, from David downwards, have made asses of themselves about women; and why should I be wiser than the rest?’
‘That’s nonsense, you know.’
‘I am trying to talk to you in earnest.’
‘You make such a failure of it, old boy, that I am compelled to talk nonsense in return. The idea of your preaching! Here I am with nothing special to do, and I like to amuse myself. Ought not that to be enough for you?’
‘But what is to be the end of it?’ Dick Shand asked, very solemnly.
‘How can I tell? But the absurdity is that such a man as you should talk about the end of anything. Did you ever look before you leaped in your life?’
‘We are to be together, you know, and it won’t do for us to be hampered with that woman.’
‘Won’t it? Then let me tell you that, if I choose to hamper myself with that woman, or with a whole harem of women, and am not deterred by any consideration for myself, I certainly shall not be deterred by any consideration for you. Do you understand me?’
‘That is not being a true partner,’ said Shand.
‘I’m quite sure of this — that I’m likely to be as true as you are. I’m not aware that I have entered into any terms with you by which I have bound myself to any special mode of living. I have left England, as I fancy you have done also, because I desired more conventional freedom than one can find among the folk at home. And now, on the first outset, I am to be cautioned and threatened by you because I have made acquaintance with a young woman. Of all the moral pastors and masters that one might come across in the world, you, Dick Shand, appear to me to be the most absurd. But you are so far right as this, that if my conduct is shocking to you, you had better leave me to my wickedness.’
‘You are always so d —— upsetting,’ said Dick, ‘that no one can speak to you.’ Then Dick turned away, and there was nothing more said about Mrs. Smith on that occasion.
The next to try her hand was Mrs. Callander. By this time the passengers had become familiar with the ship, and knew what they might and what they might not do. The second-class passengers were not often found intruding across the bar, but the first-class frequently made visits to their friends amidships. In this way Mrs. Callander had become acquainted with our two gold-seekers, and often found herself in conversation with one or the other. Even Miss Green, as has been stated before, would come and gaze upon the waves from the inferior part of the deck.
‘What a very nice voyage we are having, Mr. Caldigate,’ Mrs. Callander said one afternoon.
‘Yes, indeed. It is getting a little cold now, but we shall enjoy that after all the heat.’
‘Quite so; only I suppose it will be very cold when we get quite south. You still find yourself tolerably comfortable.’
‘I shall be glad to have it over,’ said Caldigate, who had in truth become disgusted with Dick’s snoring.
‘I daresay — I am sure we shall. My young people are getting very tired of it. Children, when they are accustomed to every comfort on shore, of course feel it grievously. I suppose you are rather crowded?’
‘Of course we are crowded. One can’t have a twenty-foot square room on board ship.’
‘No, indeed. But then you are with your friend, and that is much pleasanter than a stranger.’
‘That would depend on whether the stranger snored, Mrs. Callander.’
‘Don’t talk of snoring, Mr. Caldigate. If you only heard Mr. Callander! But, as I was saying, you must have some very queer characters down there.’ She had not been saying anything of the kind, but she found a difficulty in introducing her subject.
‘Take them altogether, they are a very decent, pleasant, well-mannered set of people, and all of them in earnest about their future lives.’
‘Poor creatures! But I dare say they’re very good.’ Then she paused a moment, and looked into his face. She had undertaken a duty, and she was not the woman to shrink from it. So she told herself at that moment. And yet she was very much afraid of him as she saw the squareness of his forehead, and the set of his mouth. And there was a frown across his brow, as though he were preparing himself to fight. ‘You must have found it hard to accommodate yourselves to them, Mr. Caldigate?’
‘Not at all.’
‘Of course we all know that you are a gentleman.’
‘I am much obliged to you; but I do not know any word that requires a definition so much as that. I am going to work hard to earn my bread; and I suppose these people are going to do the same.’
‘There always will be some danger in such society,’ said Mrs. Callander.
‘I hope I may escape any great evil.’
‘I hope so too, Mr. Caldigate. You probably have had a long roll of ancestors before you?’
‘We all have that; — back to Adam.’
‘Ah! but I mean a family roll, of which you ought to be proud; — all ladies and gentlemen.’
‘Upon my word I don’t know.’
‘So I hear, and I have no doubt it is true.’ Then she paused, looking again into his face. It was very square, and his lips were hard, and there was a gleam of anger in his eyes. She wished herself back again in her own part of the ship; but she had boasted to Miss Green that she was not the woman to give up a duty when she had undertaken it. Though she was frightened, still she must go on. ‘I hope you will excuse me, Mr. Caldigate.’
‘I am sure you will not say anything that I cannot excuse.’
‘Don’t you think —’ Then she paused. She had looked into his face again, and was so little satisfied that she did not dare to go on. He would not help her in the least, but stood there looking at her, with something of a smile stealing over the hardness of his face, but with such an expression that the smile was even worse than the hardness.
‘Were you going to speak to me about another lady, Mrs. Callander?’
‘I was. That is what I was going to speak of —’
She was anxious to remonstrate against that word lady, but her courage failed her.
‘Then don’t you think that perhaps you had better leave it alone. I am very much obliged to you, and all that kind of thing; and as to myself, I really shouldn’t care what you said. Any good advice would be taken most gratefully — if it didn’t affect any one else. But you might say things of the lady in question which I shouldn’t bear patiently.’
‘She can’t be your equal.’
‘I won’t hear even that patiently. You know nothing about her, except that she is a second-class passenger — in which matter she is exactly my equal. If you come to that, don’t you think that you are degrading yourself in coming here and talking to me? I am not your equal.’
‘But you are.’
‘And so is she, then. We shan’t arrive at anything, Mrs. Callander, and so you had better give it up.’ Whereupon she did give it up and retreat to her own part of the ship, but not with a very good grace.
They had certainly become very intimate — John Caldigate and Mrs. Smith; and there could be no doubt that, in the ordinary language of the world, he was making a fool of himself. He did in fact know nothing about her but what she told herself, and this amounted to little more than three statements, which might or might not be true — that she had gone on the stage in opposition to her friends — that she had married an actor, who had treated her with great cruelty — and that he had died of drink. And with each of these stories there had been an accompaniment of mystery. She had not told him her maiden name, nor what had been the condition of her parents, nor whether they were living, nor at what theatres she and her husband had acted, nor when he had died. She had expressed a hope that she might get an engagement in the colonies, but she had not spoken of any recommendation or letters of introduction. He simply knew of her that her name was Euphemia Smith.
In that matter of her clothes there had been a great improvement, but made very gradually. She had laughed at her own precautions, saying, that in her poverty she had wished to save everything that could be saved, and that she had only intended to make herself look like others in the same class. ‘And I had wanted to avoid all attention — at first,’ she said, smiling, as she looked up at him.
‘In which you have been altogether unsuccessful he replied, ‘as you are certainly more talked about than any one in the ship.’
‘Has it been my fault?’ she asked.
Then he comforted her, saying that it certainly had not been her fault; that she had been reticent and reserved till she had been either provoked or invited to come forth; and, in fact, that her conduct had been in all respects feminine, pretty, and decorous to all which he was not perhaps the best judge in the world.
But she was certainly much pleasanter to look at, and even to talk to, now that she had put on a small, clean, black felt hat instead of the broken straw, and had got out from her trunks a pretty warm shawl, and placed a ribbon or two about her in some indescribable manner, and was no longer ashamed of showing her shoes as she sat about upon the deck. There could be no doubt, as she was seen now, that she was the most attractive female on board the ship; but it may be doubted whether the anger of the Mrs. Cromptons, Mrs. Callanders, and Miss Greens was mitigated by the change. The battle against her became stronger, and the duty of rescuing that infatuated young man from her sorceries was more clear than ever; — if only anything could be done to rescue him!
What could be done? Mrs. Smith could not be locked up. No one — not even the Captain — could send her down to her own wretched little cabin because she would talk with a gentleman. Talking is allowed on board ship, and even flirting, to a certain extent. Mrs. Smith’s conduct with Mr. Caldigate was not more peculiar than that of Miss Green and the doctor. Only it pleased certain people to think that Miss Green might be fond of the doctor if she chose, and that Mrs. Smith had no right to be fond of any man. There was a stubbornness about both the sinners which resolved to set public opinion at defiance. The very fact that others wished to interfere with him made Caldigate determined to resent all interference; and the woman, with perhaps a deeper insight into her own advantages, was brave enough to be able to set opposition at defiance.
They were about a week from their port when the captain — Captain Munday — was induced to take the matter into his own hands. It is hardly too much to say that he was pressed to do so by the united efforts of the first-class passengers. It was dreadful to think that this unfortunate young man should go on shore merely to become the prey of such a woman as that. So Captain Munday, who at heart was not afraid of his passenger — but who persisted in saying that no good could be done, and who had, as may be remembered, already made a slight attempt — was induced to take the matter in hand. He came up to Caldigate on the deck one afternoon, and without any preface began his business. ‘Mr. Caldigate,’ he said, ‘I am afraid you are getting into a scrape with one of your fellow-passengers.’
‘What do you call a scrape, Captain Munday?’
‘I should call it a scrape if a young gentleman of your position and your prospects were to find himself engaged on board ship to marry a woman he knew nothing about.’
‘Do you know anything about my position and prospects, Captain Munday?’
‘I know you are a gentleman.’
‘And I think you know less about the lady.’
‘I know nothing; — but I will tell you what I hear.’
‘I really would rather that you did not. Of course, Captain Munday, on board your own ship you are a despot, and I must say that you have made everything very pleasant for us. But I don’t think even your position entitles you to talk to me about my private affairs — or about hers. You say you know nothing. Is it manly to repeat what one hears about a poor forlorn woman?’ Then the Captain retreated without another word, owning to himself that he was beaten. If this foolish young man chose to make for himself a bed of that kind he must lie upon it. Captain Munday went away shrugging his shoulders, and spoke no further word to John Caldigate on that or any other subject during the voyage.
Caldigate had driven off his persecutors valiantly, and had taught them all to think that he was resolute in his purposes in regard to Mrs. Smith, let those purposes be what they might; but nothing could be further from the truth; for he had no purposes and was, within his own mind, conscious of his lack of all purpose, and very conscious of his folly. And though he could repel Mrs. Callander and the Captain — as he had always repelled those who had attempted to control him — still he knew that they had been right. Such an intimacy as this could not be wise, and its want of wisdom became the more strongly impressed upon him the nearer he got to shore, and the more he felt that when he had got ashore he should not know how to act in regard to her.
The intimacy had certainly become very close. He had expressed his great admiration, and she had replied that, ‘had things not been as they were,’ she could have returned the feeling. But she did not say what the things were which might have been otherwise. Nor did she seem to attempt to lead him on to further and more definite proposals. And she never spoke of any joint action between them when on shore, though she gave herself up to his society here on board the ship. She seemed to think that they were then to part, as though one would be going one way, and one the other; — but he felt that after so close an intimacy they could not part like that.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01