Things went on in the same way till the night before the morning on which they were to enter Hobson’s Bay. Hobson’s Bay, as every one knows, is the inlet of the sea into which the little river runs on which Melbourne is built. After leaving the tropics they had gone down south, and had encountered showers and wind, and cold weather, but now they had come up again into warm latitudes and fine autumn weather — for it was the beginning of March, and the world out there is upside down. Before that evening nothing had been said between Mrs Smith and John Caldigate as to any future; not a word to indicate that when the journey should be over, there would or that there would not be further intercourse between them. She had purposely avoided any reference to a world after this world of the ship, even refusing, in her half-sad but half-joking manner, to discuss matters so far ahead. But he felt that he could not leave her on board, as he would the other passengers, without a word spoken as to some future meeting. There will arrive on occasions a certain pitch of intimacy — which cannot be defined as may a degree of cousinship, but which is perfectly understood by the persons concerned close as to forbid such mere shaking of the hands. There are many men, and perhaps more women, cautious enough and wise enough to think of this beforehand, and, thinking of it, to guard themselves from the dangerous attractions of casual companions by a composed manner and unenthusiastic conversation. Who does not know the sagacious lady who, after sitting at table with the same gentleman for a month, can say, ‘Good-bye, Mr. Jones,’ just as though Mr. Jones had been a stranger under her notice but for a day. But others gush out, and when Mr. Jones takes his departure, hardly know how not to throw themselves into his arms. The intercourse between our hero and Mrs. Smith had been such that, as a gentleman, he could not leave her without some allusion to future meetings. That was all up to the evening before their arrival. The whole ship’s company, captain, officers, quarter-masters, passengers, and all, were quite sure that she had succeeded in getting a promise of marriage from him. But there had been nothing of the kind. Among others, Dick Shand was sure that there was some entanglement. Entanglement was the word he always used in discussing the matter with Mrs. Callander. Between Dick and his friend there had been very little confidential communication of late. Caldigate had forbidden Shand to talk to him about Mrs. Smith, and thus had naturally closed the man’s mouth on other matters. And then they had fallen into different sets. Dick, at least, had fallen into a set, while Caldigate had hardly associated with any but the one dangerous friend. Dick had lived much with a bevy of noisy young men who had been given to games and smoking, and to a good deal of drink. Caldigate had said not a word, even when on one occasion Dick had stumbled down into the cabin very much the worse for what he had taken. How could he find fault with Dick’s folly when he would not allow Dick to say a word to him as to his own? But on this last day at sea it became necessary that they should understand each other.
‘What do you mean to do when you land?’ Caldigate asked.
All that had been settled between them very exactly long since. At a town called Nobble, about three hundred miles west of Sydney, there lived a man, supposed to be knowing in gold, named Crinkett, with whom they had corresponded, and to whom they intended, in the first instance, to apply. And about twenty miles beyond Nobble were the new and now much reputed Ahalala diggings, at which they purposed to make their first debut. It had been decided that they would go direct from Melbourne to Nobble — not round by Sydney so as to see more of the world, and thus spend more money — but by the direct route, taking the railway to Albury and the coaches, which they were informed were running between Albury and Nobble. And it had also been determined that they would spend but two nights in Melbourne — ‘just to get their things washed,’— so keen had they been in their determination to begin their work. But on all these matters there had been no discussion now for a month, nor even an allusion to them.
‘What do you mean to do when we land?’ Caldigate asked on that last day.
‘I thought all that was settled. But I suppose you are going to change everything?’
‘I am going to change nothing. Only you seem to have got into such a way of life that I didn’t know whether you would be prepared for serious work.’
‘I shall be as well prepared as you are, I don’t doubt,’ said Dick. ‘I have no impediment of any kind.’
‘I certainly have none. Then we will start by the first train on Wednesday morning for Albury. We must have our heavy things sent round by sea to Sydney, and get them from there as best we can. When we are a little fixed, one of us can run down to Sydney.’
And so it was settled, without any real confidence between them, but in conformity with their previous arrangements.
It was on the evening of the same day, after they had sighted Cape Otway, that Mrs. Smith and Caldigate began their last conversation on board the Goldfinder — a conversation which lasted, with one or two interruptions, late into the night.
‘So we have come to the end of it,’ she said.
‘To the end of what?’
‘To the end of all that is pleasant and easy and safe. Don’t you remember my telling you how I dreaded the finish? Here I have been fairly comfortable and have in many respects enjoyed it. I have had you to talk to; and there has been a flavour of old days about it. What shall I be doing this time to-morrow?’
‘I don’t know your plans.’
‘Exactly; — and I have not told you, because I would not have you bothered with me when I land. You have enough on your own hands; and if I were to be a burden to you now it might be a serious trouble. I am afraid poor Mr. Shand objects to me.’
‘You don’t think that would stand in my way?’
‘It stands in mine. Of course, with your pride and your obstinacy you would tell Mr. Shand to go to — the devil if he ventured to object to any little delay that might be occasioned by looking after me. Then Mr. Shand would go — there, or elsewhere; and all your plans would be broken up, and you would be without a companion.’
‘Unless I had you.’ Of all the words which he could have spoken in such an emergency these were the most foolish; and yet, at so tender a moment, how were they to be repressed?
‘I do think that Dick Shand is dangerous,’ she answered, laughing; ‘but I should be worse. I am afraid Dick Shand will — drink.’
‘If so, we must part. And what would you do?’
‘What would I do? What could I do?’ Then there was a pause. ‘Perhaps I should want you to — marry me, which would be worse than Dick Shand’s drinking. Eh?’
There is an obligation on a man to persevere when a woman has encouraged him in love-making. It is like riding at a fence. When once you have set your horse at it you must go on, however impracticable it may appear as you draw close to it. If you have never looked at the fence at all — if you have ridden quite the other way, making for some safe gate or clinging to the dull lane — then there will be no excitement, but also there will be no danger and no disgrace. Caldigate had ridden hard at the fence, and could not crane at it now that it was so close to him. He could only trust to his good fortune to carry him safe over. ‘I don’t suppose you would want it,’ he said, ‘but I might.’
‘You would want me, but you would not want me for always. I should be a burden less easy to shake off than Dick Shand.’
‘Is that the way a man is always to look at a woman?’
‘It is the way in which they do, I think. I often wonder that any man is ever fool enough to marry. A poor man may want some one to serve him, and may be able to get service in no other way; or a man, poor in another way, may find an heiress convenient; — but otherwise I think men only marry when they are caught. Women are prehensile things, which have to cling to something for nourishment and support. When I come across such a one as you I naturally put out my feelers.’
‘I have not been aware of it.’
‘Yes, you are; and I do not doubt that your mind is vacillating about me. I am sure you like me.’
‘Certainly, I like you.’
‘And you know that I love you.’
‘I did not know it.’
‘Yes, you did. You are not the man to be diffident of yourself in such a matter. You must either think that I love you, or that I have been a great hypocrite in pretending to do so. Love you!’ They were sitting together on a large spar which was lashed on to the deck, and which had served throughout all the voyage for a seat for second-class passengers There were others now on the farther end of it; but there was a feeling that when Caldigate and Mrs. Smith were together it would not be civil to intrude upon their privacy. At this time it was dark; but their eyes had become used to the gloom, and each could see the other’s face. ‘Love you!’ she repeated, looking up at him, speaking in a very low voice, but yet, oh so clearly, so that not a fraction of a sound was lost to his ears, with no special emotion in her face, with no contortion, no grimace, but with her eyes fixed upon his. ‘How should it be possible that I should not love you? For two months we have been together as people seldom are in the world — as they never can be without hating each other or loving each other thoroughly. You have been very good to me who am all alone and desolate. And you are clever, educated — and a man. How should I not love you? And I know from the touch of your hand, from your breath when I feel it on my face, from the fire of your eye, and from the tenderness of your mouth, that you, too, love me.’
‘I do,’ he said.
‘But as there may be marriage without love, so there may be love without marriage. You cannot but feel how little you know of me, and ignorant as you are of so much, that to marry me might be — ruin.’ It was just what he had told himself over and over again, when he had been trying to resolve what he would do in regard to her. ‘Don’t you know that?’
‘I know that it might have been so among the connections of home life.’
‘And to you the connections of home life may all come back. That woman talked about your “roll of ancestors.” Coming from her it was absurd. But there was some truth in it. You know that were you to marry me, say to-morrow, in Melbourne, it would shut you out from — well, not the possibility but the probability of return.’
‘I do not want to go back.’
‘Nor do I want to hinder you from doing so. If we were alike desolate, alike alone, alike cast out, oh then, what a heaven of happiness I should think had been opened to me by the idea of joining myself to you! There is nothing I could not do for you. But I will not be a millstone round your neck.’
She had taken so much the more prominent part in all this that he felt himself compelled by his manliness to say something in contradiction to it — something that should have the same flavour about it as had her self-abnegation and declared passion. He also must be unselfish and enthusiastic. ‘I do not deny that there is truth in what you say.’
‘It is true.’
‘Of course I love you.’
‘It ought to be of course — now.’
‘And of course I do not mean to part from you now, as though we were never to see each other again.’
‘I hope not quite that.’
‘Certainly not. I shall therefore hold you as engaged to me, and myself as engaged to you — unless something should occur to separate us.’ It was a foolish thing to say, but he did not know how to speak without being foolish. It is not usual that a gentleman should ask a lady to be engaged to him ‘— unless something should occur to separate them!’ ‘You will consent to that,’ he said.
‘What I will consent to is this, that I will be yours, all yours, whenever you may choose to send for me. At any moment I will be your wife for the asking. But you shall go away first, and shall think of it, and reflect upon it — so that I may not have to reproach myself with having caught you.’
‘Well, yes, caught you. I do feel that I have caught you — almost. I do feel — almost — that I ought to have had nothing to do with you. From the beginning of it all I knew that I ought to have nothing to say to you. You are too good for me.’ Then she rose from her place as though to leave him. ‘I will go down now,’ she said, ‘because I know you will have many things to do. To-morrow, when we get up, we shall be in the harbour, and you will be on shore quite early. There will be no time for a word of farewell then. I will meet you again here just before we go to bed — say at half-past ten. Then we will arrange, if we can arrange, how we may meet again.’
And so she glided away from him, and he was left alone, sitting on the spar. Now, at any rate, he had engaged himself. There could not be any doubt about that. He certainly could not be justified in regarding himself as free because she had told him that she would give him time to think of it. Of course he was engaged to marry her. When a man has been successful in his wooing he is supposed to be happy. He asked himself whether he was proud of the result of this intimacy. She had told him — she herself — that she had ‘caught him’, meaning thereby that he had been taken as a rabbit with a snare or a fish with a baited hook. If it had been so, surely she would not herself have said so. And yet he was aware how common it is for a delinquent to cover his own delinquency by declaring it. ‘Of course I am idle,’ says the idle one, escaping the disgrace of his idleness by his honesty. ‘I have caught you!’ There is something soothing to the vanity in such a declaration from a pretty woman. That she should have wished to catch you is something; — something that the net should itself be so pleasant, with its silken meshes! But the declaration may not the less be true and the fact unpleasant. In the matter of matrimony a man does not wish to be caught; and Caldigate, fond as he was of her, acknowledged that what she said was true.
He leant back in a corner that was made by the hatchway, and endeavoured to think over his life and prospects. If this were a true engagement, then must he cease altogether to think of Hester Bolton. Then must that dream be abandoned. It is of no use to the most fervid imagination to have a castle projected in Spain from which all possible foundation has been taken away. In his dreams of life a man should never dream that which is altogether impossible. There had been something in the thought of Hester Bolton which had taken him back from the roughnesses of his new life, from the doubtful respectability of Mrs. Smith, from the squalor of the second-class from the whisky-laden snores of Dick Shand, to a sweeter, brighter, cleaner world. Till this engagement had been absolutely spoken he could still indulge in that romance, distant and unreal as it was. But now — now it seemed to be brought in upon him very forcibly that he must rid his thoughts of Hester Bolton — or else rid his life of Mrs. Smith.
But he was engaged to marry Mrs. Smith. Then he got up, and walked backwards and forwards along the deck, asking himself whether this could really be the truth. Was he bound to this woman for his life? And if so, had he done a thing of which he already repented himself? He tried to persuade himself that she was admirably fitted for the life which he was fated to lead. She was handsome, intellectual, a most delightful companion, and yet capable of enduring the hardships of an adventurous uncertain career. Ought he not to think himself peculiarly lucky in having found for himself so eligible a companion? But there is something so solemn, so sacred, in the name of wife. A man brought up among soft things is so imbued with the feeling that his wife should be something better, cleaner, sweeter, holier than himself that he could not but be awe-struck when he thought that he was bound to marry this all but nameless widow of some drunken player — this woman who, among other women, had been thought unfit for all companionship!
But things arrange themselves. How probable it was that he would never be married to her. After all, this might be but an incident, and not an unpleasant incident, in his life. He had had his amusement out of it, and she had had hers. Perhaps they would part to meet no more. But when he thought that there might be comfort in this direction, he felt that he was a scoundrel for thinking so.
‘And this is to say good-bye?’ ’Twas thus she greeted him again that night. ‘Good-bye —’
‘Good-bye, my love.’
‘My love! my love! And now remember this; my address will be, Post-office, Melbourne. It will be for you to write to me. You will not hear from me unless you do. Indeed I shall know nothing of you. Let me have a line before a month is over.’ This he promised, and then they parted.
At break of day on the following morning the Goldfinder rode over the Rip into Hobson’s Bay. There were still four hours before the ship lay at her moorings; but during all that time Mrs. Smith was not seen by Caldigate. As he got into the boat which took him and Shand from the ship to the pier at Sandridge she kissed her hand to him over the side of the vessel. Before eleven o’clock Dick Shand and his companion were comfortably put up at the Miners’ Home in Flinders Lane.
Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01