Lotta Schmidt, by Anthony Trollope

The Journey To Panama.

THERE is perhaps no form of life in which men and women of the present day frequently find themselves for a time existing, so unlike their customary conventional life, as that experienced on board the large ocean steamers. On the voyages so made, separate friendships are formed and separate enmities are endured. Certain lines of temporary politics are originated by the energetic, and intrigues, generally innocent in their conclusions, are carried on with the keenest spirit by those to whom excitement is necessary; whereas the idle and torpid sink into insignificance and general contempt, as it is their lot to do on board snip as in other places. But the enjoyments and activity of such a life do not display themselves till the third or fourth day of the voyage. The men and women at first regard each with distrust and ill-concealed dislike. They by no means anticipate the strong feelings which are to arise, and look forward to ten, fifteen, or twenty days of gloom or sea-sickness. Sea-sickness disappears, as a general condition, on the evening of the second day, and the gloom about noon on the fourth. Then the men begin to think that the women are not so ugly, vulgar, and insipid; and the women drop their monosyllables, discontinue the close adherence to their own niches, which they first observed, and become affable, perhaps even beyond their wont on shore. And alliances spring up among the men themselves. On their first entrance to this new world, they generally regard each other with marked aversion, each thinking that those nearest to him are low fellows, or perhaps worse; but by the fourth day, if not sooner, every man has his two or three intimate friends with whom he talks and smokes, and to whom he communicates those peculiar politics, and perhaps intrigues, of his own voyage. The female friendships are slower in their growth, for the suspicion of women is perhaps stronger than that of men; but when grown they also are stronger, and exhibit themselves sometimes in instances of feminine affection.

But the most remarkable alliances are those made between gentlemen and ladies. This is a matter of course on board ship quite as much as on shore, and it is of such an alliance that the present tale purports to tell the story. Such friendships, though they may be very dear, can seldom be very lasting. Though they may be full of sweet romance, for people become very romantic among the discomforts of a sea-voyage such romance is generally short-lived and delusive, and occasionally is dangerous.

There are several of these great ocean routes, of which by the common consent, as it seems, of the world, England is the centre. There is the Great Eastern line, running from Southampton across the Bay of Biscay and up the Mediterranean. It crosses the Isthmus of Suez, and branches away to Australia, to India, to Ceylon, and to China. There is the great American line, traversing the Atlantic to New York and Boston with the regularity of clockwork. The voyage here is so much a matter of everyday routine, that romance has become scarce upon the route. There are one or two other North American lines, perhaps open to the same objection. Then there is the line of packets to the African coast, very romantic as I am given to understand; and there is the great West–Indian route, to which the present little history is attached, great, not on account of our poor West Indian Islands, which cannot at the present moment make anything great, but because it spreads itself out from thence to Mexico and Cuba, to Guiana and the republics of Grenada and Venezuela, to Central America, the Isthmus of Panama, and from thence to California, Vancouver’s Island, Peru and Chili.

It may be imagined how various are the tribes which leave the shores of Great Britain by this route. There are Frenchmen for the French sugar islands, as a rule not very romantic; there are old Spaniards, Spaniards of Spain, seeking to renew their fortunes amidst the ruins of their former empire; and new Spaniards Spaniards, that is, of the American republics, who speak Spanish, but are unlike the Don both in manners and physiognomy, men and women with a touch perhaps of Indian blood, very keen after dollars, and not much given to the graces of life. There are Dutchmen too, and Danes, going out to their own islands. There are citizens of the stars and stripes, who find their way everywhere and, alas! perhaps, now also citizens of the new Southern flag, with the palmetto leaf. And there are Englishmen of every shade and class, and Englishwomen also.

It is constantly the case that women are doomed to make the long voyage alone. Some are going out to join their husbands, some to find a husband, some few peradventure to leave a husband. Girls who have been educated at home in England, return to their distant homes across the Atlantic, and others follow their relatives who have gone before them as pioneers into a strange land. It must not be supposed that these females absolutely embark in solitude, putting their feet upon the deck without the aid of any friendly arm. They are generally consigned to some prudent elder, and appear as they first show themselves on the ship to belong to a party. But as often as not their real loneliness shows itself after awhile. The prudent elder is not, perhaps, congenial; and by the evening of the fourth day a new friendship is created.

Not a long time since such a friendship was formed under the circumstances which I am now about to tell. A young man not very young, for he had turned his thirtieth year, but still a young man left Southampton by one of the large West Indian steam-boats, purposing to pass over the Isthmus of Panama, and thence up to California and Vancouver’s Island. It would be too long to tell the cause which led to these distant voyagings. Suffice to say, it was not the accursed hunger after gold auri sacra fames which so took him; nor had he any purpose of permanently settling himself in those distant colonies of Great Britain. He was at the time a widower, and perhaps his home was bitter to him without the young wife whom he had early lost As he stepped on board he was accompanied by a gentleman some fifteen years his senior, who was to be the companion of his sleeping apartment as far as St. Thomas. The two had been introduced to each other, and therefore appeared as friends on board the “Serrapiqui;” but their acquaintance had commenced in Southampton, and my hero, Ralph Forrest by name, was alone in the world as he stood looking over the side of the ship at the retreating shores of Hampshire.

“I say, old fellow, we’d better see about our places,” said his new friend, slapping him on his back. Mr. Matthew Morris was an old traveller, and knew how to become intimate with his temporary allies at a very short notice. A long course of travelling had knocked all bashfulness out of him, and when he had a mind to do so he could make any man his brother in half an hour, and any woman his sister in ten minutes.

“Places? what places?” said Forrest.

“A pretty fellow you are to go to California. If you .don’t look sharper than that you’ll get little to drink and nothing to eat till you come back again. Don’t you know the ship’s as full as ever she can hold?”

Forrest acknowledged that she was full.

“There are places at table for about a hundred, and we have a hundred and thirty on board. As a matter of course those who don’t look sharp will have to scramble. However, I’ve put cards on the plates and taken the seats. We had better go down and see that none of these Spanish fellows oust us.” So Forrest descended after his friend, and found that the long tables were already nearly full of expectant dinner-eaters. When he took his place a future neighbour informed him, not in the most gracious voice, that he was encroaching on a lady’s seat; and when he immediately attempted to leave that which he held, Mr. Matthew Morris forbade him to do so. Thus a little contest arose, which, however, happily was brought to a close without bloodshed. The lady was not present at the moment, and the grumpy gentleman agreed to secure for himself a vacant seat on the other side.

For the first three days the lady did not show herself. The grumpy gentleman, who, as Forrest afterwards understood, was the owner of stores in Bridgetown, Barbadoes, had other ladies with him also. First came forth his daughter, creeping down to dinner on the second day, declaring that she would be unable to eat a morsel, and prophesying that she would be forced to retire in five minutes. On this occasion, however, she agreeably surprised herself and her friends. Then came the grumpy gentleman’s wife, and the grumpy gentleman’s wife’s brother on whose constitution the sea seemed to have an effect quite as violent as on that of the ladies; and lastly, at breakfast on the fourth day, appeared Miss Viner, and took her place as Mr. Forrest’s neighbour at his right hand.

He had seen her before on deck, as she lay on one of the benches, vainly endeavouring to make herself comfortable, and had remarked to his companion that she was very unattractive and almost ugly. Dear young ladies, it is thus that men always speak of you when they first see you on board ship! She was disconsolate, sick at heart, and ill at ease in body also. She did not like the sea. She did not in the least like the grumpy gentleman in whose hands she was placed; she did not, especially, like the grumpy gentleman’s wife; and she altogether hated the grumpy gentleman’s daughter, who was the partner of her berth. That young lady had been very sick and very selfish; and Miss Viner had been very sick also, and perhaps equally selfish. They might have been angels, and yet have hated each other under such circumstances. It was no wonder that Mr. Forrest thought her ugly as she twisted herself about on the broad bench, vainly striving to be comfortable.

“She’ll brighten up wonderfully before we’re in the tropics,” said Mr. Morris. “And you won’t find her so bad then. It’s she that is to sit next you.”

“Heaven forbid!” said Forrest. But, nevertheless, he was very civil to her when she did come down on the fourth morning. On board the West Indian Packets, the world goes down to its meals. In crossing between Liverpool and the States, the world goes up to them.

Miss Viner was by no means a very young lady. She also was nearly thirty. In guessing her age on board the ship the ladies said that she was thirty-six, but the ladies were wrong. She was an Irish woman, and when seen on shore, in her natural state, and with all her wits about her, was by no means without attraction. She was bright-eyed, with a clear dark skin, and good teeth; her hair was of a dark brown and glossy, and there was a touch of feeling and also of humour about her mouth, which would have saved her from Mr. Forrest’s ill-considered criticism, had he first met her under more favourable circumstances.

“You’ll see a good deal of her,” Mr. Morris said to him, as they began to prepare themselves for luncheon, by a cigar immediately after breakfast. “She’s going across the isthmus and down to Peru.”

“How on earth do you know?”

“I pretty well know where they’re all going by this time. Old Grumpy told me so. He has her in tow as far as St. Thomas, but knows nothing about her. He gives her up there to the captain. You’ll have a chance of making yourself very agreeable as you run across with her to the Spanish main.”

Mr. Forrest replied that he did not suppose he should know her much better than he did now; but he made no further remark as to her ugliness. She had spoken a word or two to him at table, and he had seen that her eyes were bright, and had found that her tone was sweet.

“I also am going to Panama,” he said to her, on the morning of the fifth day. The weather at that time was very fine, and the October sun as it shone or them, while hour by hour they made more towards the South, was pleasant and genial. The big ship lay almost without motion on the bosom of the Atlantic, as she was driven through the waters at the rate of twelve miles per hour. All was as pleasant now as things can be on board a ship, and Forrest had forgotten that Miss Viner had seemed so ugly to him when he first saw her. At this moment, as he spoke to her, they were running through the Azores, and he had been assisting her with his field-glass to look for orange-groves on their sloping shores, orange-groves they had not succeeded in seeing, but their failure had not disturbed their peace.

“I also am going to Panama.”

“Are you, indeed?” said she. “Then I shall not feel so terribly alone and disconsolate. I have been looking forward with such fear to that journey on from St, Thomas.”

“You shall not be disconsolate, if I can help it,” he said. “I am not much of a traveller myself, but what I can do I will.”

“Oh, thank, you!”

“It is a pity Mr. Morris is not going on with you. He’s at home everywhere, and knows the way across the isthmus as well as he does down Regent Street,”

“Your friend, you mean!”

“My friend, if you call him so; and indeed I hope he is, for I like him. But I don’t know more of him than I do of you. I also am as much alone as you are. Perhaps more so.”

“But,” she said, “a man never suffers in being alone.”

“Oh! does he not? Don’t think me uncivil, Miss Viner, if I say that you may be mistaken in that. You feel your own shoe when it pinches, but do not realise the tight boot of your neighbour.”

“Perhaps not,” said she. And then there was a pause, during which she pretended to look again for the orange-groves. “But there are worse things, Mr. Forrest, than being alone in the world. It is often a woman’s lot to wish that she were let alone.” Then she left him and retreated to the side of the grumpy gentleman’s wife, feeling perhaps that it might be prudent to discontinue a conversation, which, seeing that Mr. Forrest was quite a stranger to her, was becoming particular.

“You’re getting on famously, my dear,” said the lady from Barbadoes.

“Pretty well, thank you, Ma’am,” said Miss Viner.

“Mr. Forrest seems to be making himself quite agreeable. I tell Amelia,” Amelia was the young lady to whom in their joint cabin Miss Viner could not reconcile herself, “I tell Amelia that she is wrong not to receive attentions from gentlemen on board ship. If it is not carried too far,” and she put great emphasis on the “too far,” “I see no harm in it.”

“Nor I, either,” said Miss Viner.

“But then Amelia is so particular.”

“The best way is to take such things as they come,” said Miss Viner, perhaps meaning that such things never did come in the way of Amelia. “If a lady knows what she is about she need not fear a gentleman’s attentions.”

“That’s just what I tell Amelia; but then, my dear, she has not had so much experience as you and I.”

Such being the amenities which passed between Miss Viner and the prudent lady who had her in charge, it was not wonderful that the former should feel ill at ease with her own “party,” as the family of the Grumpy Barbadian was generally considered to be by those on board.

“You’re getting along like a house on fire with Miss Viner,” said Matthew Morris, to his young friend.

“Not much fire I can assure you,” said Forrest.

“She aint so ugly as you thought her?”

“Ugly! no! she’s not ugly. I don’t think I ever said she was. But she is nothing particular as regards beauty.”

“No; she won’t be lovely for the next three days to come, I dare say. By the time you reach Panama, she’ll be all that is perfect in woman. I know how these things go.”

“Those sort of things don’t go at all quickly with me,” said Forrest, gravely. “Miss Viner is a very interesting young woman, and as it seems that her route and mine will be together for some time, it is well that we should be civil to each other. And the more so, seeing that the people she is with are not congenial to her.

“No; they are not. There is no young man with them. I generally observe that on board ship no one is congenial to unmarried ladies except unmarried men. It is a recognised nautical rule. Uncommon hot, isn’t it? We are beginning to feel the tropical air. I shall go and cool myself with a cigar in the fiddle.” The “fiddle” is a certain part of the ship devoted to smoking, and thither Mr. Morris betook himself. Forrest, however, did not accompany him, but going forward into the bow of the vessel, threw himself along upon the sail, and meditated on the loneliness of his life.

On board the Serrapiqui, the upper tier of cabins opened on to a long gallery, which ran round that part of the ship, immediately over the saloon, so that from thence a pleasant inspection could be made of the viands as they were being placed on the tables. The custom on board these ships is for two bells to ring preparatory to dinner, at an interval of half an hour. At the sound of the first, ladies would go to their cabins to adjust their toilets; but as dressing for dinner is not carried to an extreme at sea, these operations are generally over before the second bell, and the lady, passengers, would generally assemble in the balcony for some fifteen minutes before dinner. At first they would stand here alone, but by degrees they were joined by some of the more enterprising of the men, and so at last a kind of little drawing-room was formed. The cabins of Miss Viner’s party opened to one side of this gallery, and that of Mr. Morris and Forrest on the other. Hitherto Forrest had been contented to remain on his own side, occasionally throwing a word across to the ladies on the other; but on this day he boldly went over as soon as he had washed his hands and took his place between Amelia and Miss Viner.

“We are dreadfully crowded here, Ma’am,” said Amelia.

“Yes, my dear, we are,” said her mother. “But what can one do?”

“There’s plenty of room in the ladies’ cabin,” said Miss Viner. Now if there be one place on board a ship more distasteful to ladies than another, it is the ladies’ cabin. Mr. Forrest stood his ground, but it may be doubted whether he would have done so had he fully understood all that Amelia had intended.

Then the last bell rang. Mr. Grumpy gave his arm to Miss Grumpy. The brother-in-law gave his arm to Amelia, and Forrest did the same to Miss Viner. She hesitated for a moment, and then took it, and by so doing transferred herself mentally and bodily from the charge of the prudent and married Mr. Grumpy to that of the perhaps imprudent, and certainly unmarried Mr. Forrest. She was wrong. A kind-hearted, motherly old lady from Jamaica, who had seen it all, knew that she was wrong, and wished that she could tell her so. But there are things of this sort which kind-hearted old ladies cannot find it in their hearts to say. After all, it was only for the voyage. Perhaps Miss Viner was imprudent, but who in Peru would be the wiser? Perhaps, indeed, it was the world that was wrong, and not Miss Viner. “Honi soit qui mal y pense” she said to herself, as she took his arm, and leaning on it, felt that she was no longer so lonely as she had been. On that day she allowed him to give her a glass of wine out of his decanter. “Hadn’t you better take mine, Miss Viner?” asked Mr. Grumpy, in a loud voice, but before he could be answered, the deed had been done.

“Don’t go too fast, old fellow,” Morris said to our hero that night, as they were walking the deck together before they turned in. “One gets into a hobble in such matters before one knows where one is.”

“I don’t think I have anything particular to fear,” said Forrest.

I dare say not, only keep your eyes open. Such haridans as Mrs. Grumpy allow any latitude to their tongues out in these diggings. You’ll find that unpleasant tidings will be put on board the ship going down to Panama, and everybody’s eye will be upon you.” So warned, Mr. Forrest did put himself on his guard, and the next day and a half his intimacy with Miss Viner progressed but little. These were, probably, the dullest hours that he had on the whole voyage.

Miss Viner saw this and drew back. On the afternoon of that second day she walked a turn or two on deck with the weak brother-in-law, and when Mr. Forrest came near her, she applied herself to her book. She meant no harm; but if she were not afraid of what people might say, why should he be so? So she turned her shoulder towards him at dinner, and would not drink of his cup.

“Have some of mine, Miss Viner,” said Mr. Grumpy, very loudly. But on that day Miss Viner drank no wine.

The sun sets quickly as one draws near to the tropics, and the day was already gone, and the dusk had come on, when Mr. Forrest walked out upon the deck that evening a little after six. But the night was beautiful and mild, and there was a hum of many voices from the benches. He was already uncomfortable, and sore with a sense of being deserted. There was but one person on board the ship that he liked, and why should he avoid her and be avoided? He soon perceived where she was standing. The Grumpy family had a bench to themselves, and she was opposite to it, on her feet, leaning against the side of the vessel. “Will you walk this evening, Miss Viner?” he asked.

“I think not,” she answered.

“Then I shall persevere in asking till you are sure. It will do you good, for I have not seen you walking all day.”

“Have you not? Then I will take a turn. Oh, Mr. Forrest, if you knew what it was to have to live with such people as those.” And then, out of that, on that evening, there grew up between them something like the confidence of real friendship. Things were told such as none but friends do tell to one another, and warm answering words were spoken such as the sympathy of friendship produces. Alas, they were both foolish; for friendship and sympathy should have deeper roots.

She told him all her story. She was going out to Peru to be married to a man who was nearly twenty years her senior. It was a long engagement, of ten years standing. When first made, it was made as being contingent on certain circumstances. An option of escaping from it had then been given to her, but now there was no longer an option. He was rich and she was penniless. He had even paid her passage-money and her outfit. She had not at last given way and taken these irrevocable steps till her only means— of support in England had been taken from her. She had lived the last two years with a relative who was now dead. “And he also is my cousin, a distant cousin, you understand that.”

“And do you love him?”

“Love him! What; as you loved her whom you have lost? as she loved you when she clung to you before she went? No; certainly not. I shall never know anything of that love.”

“And is he good?”

“He is a hard man. Men become hard when they deal in money as he has done. He was home five years since, and I swore to myself that I would not marry him. But his letters to me are kind.”

Forrest sat silent for a minute or two, for they were up in the bow again, seated on the sail that was bound round the bowsprit, and then he answered her, “A woman should never marry a man unless she loves him.”

“Ah,” says she, “of course you will condemn me. That is the way in which women are always treated.

They have no choice given them, and are then scolded for choosing wrongly.”

“But you might have refused him.”

“No; I could not I cannot make you understand the whole, how it first came about that the marriage was proposed, and agreed to by me under certain conditions. Those conditions have come about, and I am now bound to him. I have taken his money and have no escape. It is easy to say that a woman should not marry without love, as easy as it is to say that a man should not starve. But there are men who starve, starve although they work hard.”

“I did not mean to judge you, Miss Viner.”

“But I judge myself, and condemn myself so often. Where should I be in half-an-hour from this if I were to throw myself forward into the sea? I often long to do it. Don t you feel tempted sometimes to put an end to it all?”

“The waters look cool and sweet, but I own I am afraid of the bourne beyond.”

“So am I, and that fear will keep me from it.”

“We are bound to bear our burden of sorrow. Mine, I know, is heavy enough.”

“Yours, Mr. Forrest! Have you not all the pleasures of memory to fall back on, and every hope for the future? What can I remember, or what can I hope? But, however, it is near eight o’clock, and they have all been at tea this hour past. What will my Cerberus say to me? I do not mind the male mouth, if only the two feminine mouths could be stopped.” Then she rose and went back to the stern of the vessel; but as she slid into a seat, she saw that Mrs. Grumpy was standing over her.

From thence to St. Thomas the voyage went on in the customary manner. The sun became very powerful, and the passengers in the lower part of the ship complained loudly of having their port-holes dosed. The Spaniards sat gambling in the cabin all day, and the ladies prepared for the general move which was to be made at St. Thomas. The alliance between Forrest and Miss Viner went on much the same as ever, and Mrs. Grumpy said very ill-natured things. On one occasion she ventured to lecture Miss Viner; but that lady knew how to take her own part, and Mrs. Grumpy did not get the best of it. The dangerous alliance, I have said, went on the same as ever; but it must not be supposed that either person in any way committed aught that was wrong. They sat together and talked together, each now knowing the other’s circumstances; but had it not been for the prudish caution of some of the there would have been nothing amiss. As it was there was not much amiss. Few of the passengers really cared whether or no Miss Viner had found an admirer. Those who were going down to Panama were mostly Spaniards, and as the great separation became nearer, people had somewhat else of which to think.

And then the separation came. They rode into that pretty harbour of St. Thomas early in the morning, and were ignorant, the most of them, that they were lying in the very worst centre of yellow fever among all those plague-spotted islands. St. Thomas is very pretty as seen from the ships; and when that has been said, all has been said that can be said in its favour. There was a busy, bustling time of it then. One vessel after another was brought up alongside of the big ship that had come from England, and each took its separate freight of passengers and luggage. First started the boat that ran down the Leeward Islands to Demerara, taking with her Mr. Grumpy and all his family.

“Good-bye, Miss Viner,” said Mrs. Grumpy. “I hope you’ll get quite safely to the end of your voyage: but do take care.”

“I’m sure I hope everything will be right,” said Amelia, as she absolutely kissed her enemy. It is astonishing how well young women can hate each other, and yet kiss at parting.

“As to everything being right,” said Miss Viner, “that is too much to hope. But I do not know that anything is going especially wrong. Good-bye, Sir,” and then she put out her hand to Mr. Grumpy. He was at the moment leaving the ship laden with umbrellas, sticks, and coats, and was forced to put them down in order to free his hand.

“Well, good-bye,” he said. “I hope you’ll do, till you meet your friends at the isthmus.”

“I hope I shall, Sir,” she replied; and so they parted.

Then the Jamaica packet started.

“I dare say we shall never see each other again,” said Morris, as he shook his friend’s hand heartily. “One never does. Don’t interfere with the rights of that gentleman in Peru, or he might run a knife into you.”

“I feel no inclination to injure him on that point.”

“That’s well; and now good-bye.” And thus they also were parted. On the following morning the branch ship was despatched to Mexico; and then, on the afternoon of the third day, that for Colon as we Englishmen call the town on this side of the Isthmus of Panama. Into that vessel Miss Viner and Mr. Forrest moved themselves and their effects; and now that the three-headed Cerberus was gone, she had no longer hesitated in allowing him to do for her all those little things which it is well that men should do for women when they are travelling. A woman without assistance under such circumstances is very forlorn, very apt to go to the wall, very ill able to assert her rights as to accommodation; and I think that few can blame Miss Viner for putting herself and her belongings under the care of the only person who was disposed to be kind to her.

Late in the evening the vessel steamed out of St. Thomas’ harbour, and as she went Ralph Forrest and Emily Viner were standing together at the stern of the boat looking at the retreating lights of the Danish town. If there be a place on the earth’s surface odious to me, it is that little Danish isle to which so many of our young seamen are sent to die, there being no good cause whatever for such sending. But the question is one which cannot well be argued here.

“I have five more days of self and liberty left me,” said Miss Viner. “That is my life’s allowance.”

“For Heaven’s sake do not say words that are so horrible.”

“But am I to lie for Heaven’s sake, and say words that are false; or shall I be silent for Heaven’s sake, and say nothing during these last hours that are allowed to me for speaking? It is so. To you I can say that it is so, and why should you begrudge me the speech?”

“I would begrudge you nothing that I could do for you.”

“No, you should not. Now that my incubus has gone to Barbadoes, let me be free for a day or two. What chance is there, I wonder, that the ship’s machinery should all go wrong, and that we should be tossed about in the seas here for the next six months? I suppose it would be very wicked to wish it?”

“We should all be starved; that’s all.”

“What, with a cow on board, and a dozen live sheep, and thousands of cocks and hens! But we are to touch at Santa Martha and Cartagena. What would happen to me if I were to run away at Santa Martha?”

“I suppose I should be bound to run with you.”

“Oh, of course. And therefore, as I would not wish to destroy you, I won’t do it. But it would not hurt you much to be shipwrecked, and wait for the next packet.”

“Miss Viner,” he said after a pause, and in the meantime he had drawn nearer to her, too near to her considering all things “in the name of all that is good, and true, and womanly, go back to England. With your feelings, if I may judge of them by words which are spoken half in jest——”

“Mr. Forrest, there is no jest.”

“With your feelings a poorhouse in England would be better than a palace in Peru.”

“An English workhouse would be better, but an English poorhouse is not open to me. You do not know what it is to have friends no, not friends, but people belonging to you just so near as to make your respectability a matter of interest to them, but not so near that they should care for your happiness. Emily Viner married to Mr. Gorloch in Peru is put out of the way respectably. She will cause no further trouble, but her name may be mentioned in family circles without annoyance. The fact is, Mr. Forrest, that there are people who have no business to live at all.”

“I would go back to England,” he added, after another pause. “When you talk to me with such bitterness of five more days of living liberty you scare my very soul. Return, Miss Viner, and brave the worst. He is’ to meet you at Panama. Remain on this side of the isthmus, and send him word that you must return. I will be the bearer of the message.”

“And shall I walk back to England?” said Miss Viner.

“I had not quite forgotten all that,” he replied, very gently. “There are moments when a man may venture to propose that which under ordinary circumstances would be a liberty. Money, in a small moderate way, is not greatly an object to me. As a return for my valiant defence of you against your West Indian Cerberus, you shall allow me to arrange that with the agent at Colon.”

“I do so love plain English, Mr. Forrest. You are proposing I think, to give me something about fifty guineas.”

“Well, call it so if you will,” said he, “if you will have plain English that is what I mean.”

“So that by my journey out here, I should rob and deceive the man I do know, and also rob the man I don’t know. I am afraid of that bourne beyond the waters of which we spoke; but I would rather face that than act as you suggest.”

“Of the feelings between him and you, I can of course be no judge.”

“No, no; you cannot. But what a beast I am not to thank you! I do thank you. That which it would be mean in me to take, it is noble, very noble, in you to offer. It is a pleasure to me I cannot tell why but it is a pleasure to me to have had the offer. But think of me as a sister, and you will feel that it would not be accepted; could not be accepted, I mean, even if I could bring myself to betray that other man.”

Thus they ran across the Carribbean Sea, renewing very often such conversations as that just given. They touched at Santa Martha and Cartagena on the coast of the Spanish main, and at both places he went with her on shore. He found that she was fairly well educated, and anxious to see and to learn all that might be seen and learned in the course of her travels. On the last day, as they neared the isthmus, she became more tranquil and quiet in the expression of her feelings than before, and spoke with less of gloom than she had done.

“After all ought I not to love him?” she said. “He is coming all the way up from Callao merely to meet me. What man would go from London to Moscow to pick up a wife?”

“I would and thence round the world to Moscow again if she were the wife I wanted.”

“Yes; but a wife who has never said that she loved you! It is purely a matter of convenience. Well; I have locked my big box, and I shall give the key to him before it is ever again unlocked. He has a right to it, for he has paid for nearly all that it holds.”

“You look at things from such a mundane point of view.”

“A woman should, or she will always be getting into difficulty. Mind, I shall introduce you to him, and tell him all that you have done for me. How you braved Cerberus and the rest of it.”

“I shall certainly be glad to meet him.”

“But I shall not tell him of your offer; not yet at least. If he be good and gentle with me, I shall tell him that too after a time. I am very bad at keeping secrets, as no doubt you have perceived. We go across the isthmus at once; do we not?”

“So the captain says.”

“Look!” and she handed him back his own field-glass. “I can see the men on the wooden platform. Yes; and I can see the smoke of an engine.” And then, in little more than an hour from that time the ship had swung round on her anchor.

Colon, or Aspinwall as it should be called, is a place in itself as detestable as St. Thomas. It is not so odious to an Englishman, for it is not used by Englishmen more than is necessary. We have no great de’pot of traffic there, which we might with advantage move elsewhere.

Taken, however, on its own merits, Aspinwall is not a detestable place. Luckily, however, travellers across the isthmus to the Pacific are never doomed to remain there long. If they arrive early in the day, the railway thence to Panama takes them on at once. If it be not so, they remain on board ship till the next morning. Of course it will be understood that the transit line chiefly affects Americans, as it is the highroad from New York to California.

In less than an hour from their landing, their baggage had been examined by the Custom House officers of New Grenada, and they were on the railway cars, crossing the isthmus. The officials in those out-of-the-way places always seem like apes imitating the doings of men. The officers, at Aspinwall open and look at the trunks just as monkeys might do, having clearly no idea of any duty to be performed, nor any conception that goods of this or that class should not be allowed to pass. It is the thing in Europe to examine luggage going into a new country, and why should not they be as good as Europeans?

“I wonder whether he will be at the station?” she said, when the three hours of the journey had nearly passed. Forrest could perceive that her voice trembled as she spoke, and that she was becoming nervous.

“If he has already reached Panama, he will be there. As far as I could learn the arrival up from Peru had not been telegraphed.”

“Then I have another day, perhaps two. We cannot say how many. I wish he were there. Nothing is so intolerable as suspense.”

“And the box must be opened again.”

When they reached the station at Panama they found that the vessel from the South American coast was in the roads, but that the passengers were not yet on shore. Forrest, therefore, took Miss Viner down to the hotel, and there remained with her, sitting next to her in the common drawing-room of the house, when she had come back from her own bed-room. It would be necessary that they should remain there four or five days, and Forrest had been quick in securing a room for her. He had assisted in taking up her luggage, had helped her in placing her big box, and had thus been recognised by the crowd in the hotel as her friend. Then came the tidings that the passengers were landing, and he became nervous as she was. “I will go down and meet him,” said he, “and tell him that you are here. I shall soon find him by his name.” And so he went out.

Everybody knows the scrambling manner in which passengers arrive at an hotel out of a big ship. First came two or three energetic, heated men, who, by dint of screeching and bullying, have gotten themselves first disposed. They always get the worst rooms at the inns, the housekeepers having a notion that the richest people, those with the most luggage, must be more tardy in their movements. Four or five of this nature passed by Forrest in the hall, but he was not tempted to ask questions of them. One, from his age, might have been Mr. Gorloch, but he instantly declared himself to be Count Sapparello. Then came an elderly man alone, with a small bag in his hand. He was one of those who pride themselves on going from pole to pole without encumbrance, and who will be behoved to no one for the carriage of their luggage. To him, as he was alone in the street, Forrest addressed himself. “Gorloch,” said he. “Gorloch: are you a friend of his?”

“A friend of mine is so,” said Forrest.

“Ah, indeed; yes,” said the other. And then he hesitated. “Sir,” he then said, “Mr. Gorloch died at Callao, just seven days before the ship sailed. You had better see Mr. Cox.” And then the elderly man passed in with his little bag.

Mr. Gorloch was dead. “Dead!” said Forrest, to himself, as he leaned back against the wall of the hotel still standing on the street pavement. “She has come out here; and now he is gone!” And then a thousand thoughts crowded on him. Who should tell her? And how would she bear it? Would it in truth be a relief to her to find that that liberty for which she had sighed had come to her? Or now that the testing of her feelings had come to her, would she regret the loss of home and wealth, and such position as life in Peru would give her? And above all would this sudden death of one who was to have been so near to her, strike her to the heart?

But what was he to do? How was he now to show his friendship? He was returning slowly in at the hotel door, where crowds of men and women were now thronging, when he was addressed by a middle-aged, good-looking gentleman, who asked him whether his name was Forrest. “I am told,” said the gentleman, when Forrest had answered him, “that you are a friend of Miss Viner’s. Have you heard the sad tidings from Callao?” It then appeared that this gentleman had been a stranger to Mr. Gorloch, but had undertaken to bring a letter up to Miss Viner. This letter was handed to Mr. Forrest, and he found himself burdened with the task of breaking the news to his poor friend. Whatever he did do, he must do at once, for all those who had come up by the Pacific steamer knew the story, and it was incumbent on him that Miss Viner should not hear the tidings in a sudden manner and from a stranger’s mouth.

He went up into the drawing-room, and found Miss Viner seated there in the midst of a crew of women. He went up to her, and taking her hand, asked her in a whisper whether she would come out with him for a moment.

“Where is he?” said she. “I know that something is the matter. What is it?”

“There is such a crowd here. Step out for a moment.” And he led her away to her own room.

“Where is he?” said she. “What is the matter? He has sent to say that he no longer wants me. Tell me; am I free from him?”

“Miss” Viner, you are free.”

Though she had asked the question herself, she was astounded by the answer; but, nevertheless, no idea of the truth had yet come upon her. “It is so,” she said. “Well, What else? Has he written? He has bought me, as he would a beast of burden, and has, I suppose, a right to treat me as he pleases.”

“I have a letter; but, dear Miss Viner——”

“Well, tell me all, out at once. Tell me everything.”

“You are free, Miss Viner; but you will be cut to the heart when you learn the meaning of your freedom.”

“He has lost everything in trade. He is ruined.”

“Miss Viner, he is dead!”

She stood staring at him for a moment or two, as though she could not realise the information which he gave her. Then gradually she retreated to the bed, and sat upon it. “Dead, Mr. Forrest!” she said. He did not answer her, but handed her the letter, which she took and read as though it were mechanically. The letter was from Mr. Gorloch’s partner, and told her everything which it was necessary that she should know.

“Shall I leave you now?” he said, when he saw that she had finished reading it.

“Leave me; yes, no. But you had better leave me, and let me think about it. Alas me, that I should have so spoken of him!”

“But you have said nothing unkind.”

“Yes; much that was unkind. But spoken words cannot be recalled. Let me be alone how, but come to me soon. There is no one else here that I can speak to.”

He went out, and finding that the hotel dinner was ready, he went in and dined. Then he strolled into the town, among the hot, narrow, dilapidated streets; and then, after two hours’ absence, returned to Miss Viner’s room. When he knocked, she came and opened the door, and he found that the floor was strewed with clothes. “I am preparing, you see, for my return. The vessel starts back for St. Thomas the day after tomorrow——”

“You are quite right to go, to go at once. Oh, Miss Viner! Emily, now at least you must let me help you.”

He had been thinking of her most during those last two hours, and her voice had become pleasant to his ears, and her eyes very bright to his sight.

“You shall help me,” she said. “Are you not helping me when at such a time you come to speak to me?”

“And you will let me think that I have a right to act as your protector?”

“My protector! I do know that I want such aid as that. During the days that we are here together you shall be my friend.”

“You shall not return alone. My journeys are nothing to me. Emily, I will return with you to England.”

Then she rose up from her seat and spoke to him.

“Not for the world,” she said. “Putting out of question the folly of your forgetting your own objects, do you think it possible that I should go with you, now that he is dead? To you I have spoken of him harshly; and now that it is my duty to mourn for him, could I do so heartily if you were with me? While he lived, it seemed to me that in those last days I had a right to speak my thoughts plainly. You and I were to part and meet no more, and I regarded us both as people apart, who for a while might drop the common usages of the world. It is so no longer. Instead of going with you farther, I must ask you to forget that we were ever together.”

“Emily, I shall never forget you.”

“Let your tongue forget me. I have given you no cause to speak good of me, and you will be too kind to speak evil.”

After that she explained to him all that the letter had contained. The arrangements for her journey had all been made; money also had been sent to her? and Mr. Gorloch in his will had provided for her, not liberally, seeing that he was rich, but still sufficiently.

And so they parted at Panama. She would not allow him even to cross the isthmus with her, but pressed his hand warmly as he left her at the station. “God bless you!” he said. “And may God bless you, my friend!” she answered.

Thus alone she took her departure for England, and he went on his way to California.

This web edition published by:

The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005


Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:01