Chapter II

Rolf Boldrewood

IT LOOKS at times, it must be confessed, as if, the individual once embarked upon a course involving the happiness of a lifetime, an unseen influence hurries on events as though the fabled Fates were weaving the web of doom. Hardly had Lance thrown himself upon a horse and galloped over to Truro, directing, in a hasty note left in his room, that his personal effects should be forwarded to an address, than the first paper he took up contained an announcement which fitted exactly with his humour. It ran as follows—

‘Steam to Australia—For Melbourne and the Goldfields. The clipper ship, Red Jacket, three thousand tons register, Forbes, Commander, will have quick dispatch. Apply to Messrs. Gibbs, Bright, and Co.’

The die was cast. He saw himself speeding over the ocean on his way to the wild and wondrous land of gold, absolutely uncontrolled henceforth and free as air to follow his inclinations. There was intoxication in the very thought. For years to come he would not be subject to the trammels of civilisation. The trackless wilds, the rude, even savage society of a new, half-discovered country had no terrors for him. The wilder elements in the blood of the Trevanions seemed to have precipitated themselves in the person of this their descendant; to have rendered imperative a departure in some direction, no matter what, from the conventional region with its galling limitations and absurd edicts. Such are the problems of heredity. Despite of some natural regret that so serious a quarrel with his father, and the head of the family, should have been the proximate cause of his exile, the mere anticipation of a wholly free and unfettered life in a new land filled him with joy. Then arose visions such as course through the brain of ardent, inexperienced youth; of wondrous wealth acquired by lucky speculation or the discovery of a cavern filled with gold, after the manner of the Arabian Nights. With what feelings of triumph would he then return to his native land, having in all respects given the lie to the predictions of his foes and calumniators, receiving with complacent pride the congratulations of his father, in that hour softened and converted by the reputation of his distinguished son. His name, once spoken with bated breath, now a by-word for success, would be in all men’s mouths.

‘Then! yes! then, darling Estelle!’ had he said to his cousin in their last conversation, when she had vainly tried to shake his determination to leave England—‘then I shall pay off the mortgage on the old estate; not that it matters much for one generation, I suppose, but I should like to be able to give a cheque for it to old Centall. Then I would buy the St. Austel lands, which will be pretty sure to be in the market by that time. Every one knows the estate is eaten up with interest as it is, and at the rate the Tredegars are living there must be an end in a few years. After that it will be about time to look out for a wife. Now whom would you like to recommend! Why, how grave you look!’

‘Dreams and visions, Lance. Vain hopes, false and unreal,’ said the girl. ‘I see no prospect of success, much less of fairytale treasures. Think of all the adventurers who have left this very Duchy of Cornwall in old days or later. How few have ever returned!—fewer still who were not poorer than they left! It seems to me madness that you should go at all.’

‘You are no true Englishwoman, Estelle, if you have not a spice of adventure in you,’ he replied. ‘Lovers and kinsfolk have always been sped on the path of glory before now. How else would the Indies have been gained or the new world discovered, if all hearts had been as faint as yours!’

‘It is not that,’ said the girl sadly, and laying her head wearily upon his broad breast, as she threw her arms around his neck. ‘It is not that! I could send you away, almost rejoicing, in a good cause, were it to fight the Queen’s battles, for the glory of our native land. But my heart sinks within me when I think of your going away with a father’s curse upon your head, with a deep quarrel about a light matter on your mind, and for object and pursuit, only to seek for gold among an ignoble crowd of rude adventurers.’

‘Gold!’ said the young man, laughing lightly; ‘and what else is every one striving for in these latter days? Gold means perfect independence. The realisation of dreams of fairyland—the respect of the herd—the friendship of the powerful—the love of the lovely! Why decry gold, cousin mine? But, except for the adventure—the wild freedom—the strangeness and danger of a new world, few care so little for it as Lance Trevanion. And that you well know.’

‘I know, my darling; I know. If it be so, why not stay at home? My uncle, I am sure, is sorry for having been so hasty. He will be glad of any chance to tell you so. A few years and your position as heir and eldest son must be acknowledged. Why leave these proved and settled privileges, and tempt dangers of sea, and storm, and an unknown land?’

‘Too late! it is too late!’ he said gloomily. ‘I am a changed man. I can neither forget nor forgive his insults, my father though he be; and I feel as if I was irresistibly driven to take the voyage—to see this new country—to share in this great gold adventure. I could not draw back now.’

‘And I feel, day by day, more strongly and vividly,’ said the girl, ‘that it will be your doom to go forth from us and return no more. It seems like a prophetic instinct in me. I feel it in every fibre of my being. But I will come to you, if you do not come to us. Whatever may happen, I will never rest satisfied till I have seen you in your new home. So, if you do not return in five years, you know what you have to expect. But you will return, will you not?’ And again she clasped her arms around him, sobbing as if her heart would break.

Estelle Chaloner was a proud girl, one of those reserved yet passionate natures which habitually conceal their deeper feelings, as if jealous of exhibiting the sacred recesses of their hearts to the careless or irreverent. Ice on the surface, they resemble those regions which in springtime need but the touch of that great enchanter’s wand to cause the living streams to flow, to produce the magically sudden apparition of verdure and fragrant flowerets.

‘Darling Estelle! in five years I will come back,’ he said, ‘if I am alive. The time will soon pass. Think how much I shall have to talk about, and what wonders I shall have seen. You will hardly know me again.’

The girl sighed deeply, then raised her head, and gazing steadfastly at her lover, as the tears streamed unheededly adown her face, continued her pleading appeal without noticing his jesting speech—

‘You will promise me then, will you not, solemnly and faithfully, you will swear by King Arthur’s sword—our family vow—that on next Christmas five years, whatever betide, you will return?’

‘Well,’ he answered, slowly and heedfully, ‘if nothing less will do, I suppose I shall have done something in that time or failed utterly and hopelessly. So I will promise. It wants nearly three months to Christmas, and if I do not turn up in December 1857, you may make sure that I am either dead or a captive among the Indians. I suppose there are Indians there. “By Arthur’s sword!”’ and here he crossed his hands, after the old Cornish fashion.

‘I don’t believe there are Indians,’ she said. ‘If you would read a little more, you naughty boy, you would know. Of course, there are savages of some sort, the worst being white. But we must exchange tokens, like lovers—and we are true lovers, are we not?’ Here she seemed as if her tears would flow afresh, but controlled herself with a strong effort. Then she loosened a slender gold chain from her neck, to which was attached a coin of foreign appearance, traced with strange characters, and having upon it a wondrous woman’s face, beauteous, but of an antique cast

‘Here,’ she said, ‘is my precious Egyptian princess. The man who gave it to me said it was possessed of talismanic virtues, that it secured safety and success to the wearer as long as he never permitted it to be taken from him by force or fraud. If he did, the charm was broken. You are the only person in the whole world to whom I would give it.’

‘I thought you were too wise,’ he said, taking the chain in his hand gently, nevertheless, ‘to confess such superstition. But I will take it if it cheers you, darling Estelle, and here I swear that it shall be my companion night and day until we meet again. Here is a companion token, you have often asked for it before.’

‘You are not going to give me the Chaloner ring, are you, Lance? How happy it would have made me one little month ago,’ she cried. ‘I must have it altered to fit my finger, I suppose? It can be altered back when you return.’

‘It is yours from this moment, and for ever,’ said he. ‘May it bring you the good fortune it has failed to give me, so far. On a woman’s hand the charm may be broken. It has my mother’s name inside, and, see,’ here he touched a spring, disclosing a tiny recess under the principal stone, which was a diamond of great value, ‘take your scissors and cut off a lock of my hair, and here is a place to put it. I may be gray when we meet again. Isn’t it a queer ring? ‘

It was indeed an uncommon jewel. It had been his mother’s, and by her had been inherited from the uncle who had first made his own and the family’s fortunes by a long residence in India. He had received it from a Rajah in those old days when jewels and gifts passed freely between the servants of the Great East India Company and the native princes. A large ruby and an emerald of equal size flanked the centre jewel. The setting was peculiar, massive, but artfully disguised by the exquisite delicacy of the workmanship. The great beauty and value of the jewel would have made it noticeable and prized in any society in which the wearer might have moved.

‘You have comforted me,’ she said, smiling through her tears, and again taking his head in her hands and pressing her lips again and again to his brow and face. ‘I feel now as if I had some guarantee that I should look on your dear face again. And mind, if you do not return in five years and three months I shall come to Australia to search for you.’

Thus they parted. He to face the new world of the strange and the unfamiliar—light of heart and ready of hand, as is the wont of untried youth; she to mourn his absence in secret, and to brood over her sorrow, as is ever the part of the steadfast heart of loving woman. The separation from his cousin Estelle was his sole cause of regret on leaving England. Yet that transient grief soon passed away amidst the turmoil and excitement of which he found himself a part in his capacity of six-hundredth-and-odd passenger on board the crowded ocean-going clipper. A strange enough experience to the home-bred youth, who, save on yachting cruises, had never dared the deep. Heterogeneous and strangely assorted was the crowd of the passengers—adventurers of every grade, feverishly anxious to reach the land of gold, chiefly inexperienced, but all sanguine of acquiring the facile fortunes which they had persuaded themselves the new world of the South had in store for them. Young men were there—mere boys, like himself—for whom the trials of toil, danger, and privation were all to come. Hitherto unrealised abstractions.

Others, again, whose grizzled beards showed them as men who had fronted foes in the battle of life, and were ready for another campaign. Many had never left England, and, in despite of occasional boasting, were heavy-hearted at the thought of the homes which they had left and might never see more. Nor was the emigration entirely masculine—

‘There was woman’s fearless eye
Lit by her deep love’s truth,
There wns manhood’s brow serenely high—
And the fiery heart of youth.’

A half-expressed hope that the company in the second cabin would be less conventional and more amusing than in the first, joined to the necessity for economising his slender funds, had decided Lance Trevanion upon shipping as a second-class passenger. Certain to be compelled to lead a rough life upon his arrival in Australia, surely, he argued, the sooner he commenced to learn the way to do so the better. Nor would his association with refined women and well-bred men in the first cabin aid him in his search for gold—necessarily with rough, half-brigand comrades. Thus, partly as the outcome of the defiant spirit in which he was leaving home and native land, he booked himself as a second-class passenger.

Doubtless, in the curiously mingled crowd of passengers who thronged the first saloon of the Red Jacket in that fateful year of 1851, there were many remarkable persons, whose lives had included a far greater number of strange adventures than most modern novels. But for a wild and fanciful commingling of all sorts and conditions of men—from every clime, of every grade, degree, and shade of character, the second-class passengers bore off the palm. Since the untimely collapse of the architects of the Tower of Babel, there could seldom have been so diverse and bizarre a collection of humanity.

The Red Jacket, under the stern rule of Malcolm Forbes, from whose fiat there was no appeal, the most daring and successful maker of quick passages that the records of the Company knew, had steamed off at the hour appointed. Started when far from ready, however, if the masses of deck lumber which needed storage were to be taken into account. The weather, bad from the commencement, became worse in the Bay of Biscay, where raged a perfect hurricane—a storm, or rather a succession of storms, under the fierce breath of which, the Red Jacket lay-to for forty-eight hours at a stretch, afflicting the inexperienced voyagers with the strongly impressed notion that their voyage would not be quite so long as they expected. But the good ship held her own gallantly; finally ploughed her way through the mountainous billows of the Bay of Storms into lower latitudes. Milder airs and smoother seas cheered the depressed and pallid passengers. An increasing number walked the deck or sat in seats provided for them day by day. Cheerful conversation, merriment, and even such games as the conditions of ‘board-ship’ life permit were indulged in from time to time. Then Lance Trevanion had leisure to look around and examine his fellow-passengers. He would have been difficult to satisfy who could not among his compulsory comrades have selected one or more congenial acquaintance. In that year the Red Jacket was ‘the great Club of the unsuccessful’: authors and dramatists, University graduates, lawyers, and physicians, clergymen and artists, soldiers and sailors, tinkers and tailors, ploughboy, apothecary, thief—to quote the nursery classic. All were there.

Men of good family, like himself, chiefly younger sons, however, who had quitted Britain in order to enlarge the proverbial slenderness of a cadet’s purse—

‘One was a peer of ancient blood,
In name and fame undone—
And one could speak in ancient Greek,
And one was a bishop’s son.’

The soigné ex-guardsman, for whom the last Derby had been the knell of fate, he was there, plainly dressed and unpretentious of manner, yet bearing the unmistakable stamp of the class whom King Fashion delighted to honour. The middle-aged club lounger, who thought the new game of Golden Hazard, at which the stakes were reported to be so heavy and the players so inexperienced, worth a voyage and a deal or two—he was there. The farmer’s son, who had hunted too much; the farm labourer, who was a bit of a poacher; the gamekeeper, who had kept an eye on him; the shopman, whose soft hands had never done a day’s hard work; the groom, the coachman, the gardener, each and every one of the members of the staff of rural and city life—were there. With some exceptions, they were chiefly young, and now, as the fear and discomfort of the early part of the voyage wore off, the natural characters of the individuals commenced to exhibit themselves.

It was pathetic to see tike trustful confidence with which delicately-nurtured women, following their improvident or headless mates, hung to the idea that, once safely landed in the wondrous land of gold, all would be well. They had left in the old land all that had made the solace of their lives, their tenderest memories and inherited affection. After unutterable wretchedness and discomfort, they were now voyaging towards a land the characteristics of which were practically as unknown to them as those of the interior of Afirica, and yet, ‘O woman, great is thy faith!’ these victims of ironic fate were cheerful, even gay. As they looked in the eyes of their husbands or the faces of their children and saw them happy and sanguine, they dreaded no cloud in the tropic sky, neither storm nor disaster, poverty nor danger, to come in the far south land.

With many young men on board, and others who, though no longer young, were not disinclined for games of chance, it was only to be expected that a little card-playing should go on. Lance was naturally fond of all games of hazard—had, indeed, born and bred in him—derived from whatever ancestor—the true gambler’s passion. He had enjoyed no great opportunity of developing it as yet All games of chance had been strictly interdicted at Wychwood. Now that he had come into a freer atmosphere—into another world, socially considered—he felt a newly-arisen desire for play, so strong and unconquerable that it astonished himself. He had, of course, £200 or £300 with him, not intending to land in Australia quite penniless. This was more than many of his shipmates could boast of possessing, and he passed among them, in consequence, as quite a capitalist in his way. Though he played regularly, almost daily in fact, he was more than moderately successful. The evil genius of chance, who lures men to their destruction by ensuring their success in their early hazards, was not absent on this occasion. Lance won repeatedly, so much so that his good fortune began to be as much a matter of general observation as his apparent easiness as regarded money.

It may be imagined that Trevanion’s circle of acquaintances became enlarged. Inexperienced youngsters like himself mingled every day, when the weather permitted, with men who had played for high stakes in good London clubs. Success, of course, varied. Many of the callow gamblers lost all they had, and had, perforce, to look forward to landing in Melbourne without a penny in the world.

Among those who were proverbially unsuccessful was a young man, who, from that and other reasons, commenced to attract an unusual share of attention from the other passengers. He and Lance Trevanion were decidedly unsympathetic. They were always pitted against one another in play. They appeared to be rivals in all things. More than once they had been on the verge of a quarrel, which the bystanders had prevented from being fought out. What was perhaps really curious was the fact, which all were quick to remark, that the two men resembled each other in personal appearance to a most uncommon degree, Lawrence Trevenna, for such was his name, was probably a year older, but otherwise had much the same figure, features, and complexion. The eyes, too, strange to say, were of the same shape and colour; and, as the two men faced each other in the quarrel before mentioned, more than one looker-on remarked the curious peculiarity—the strange unearthly glitter, the lurid light, which shone forth in the hour of wrath and defiance. No one had noticed it before in either face. ‘They were as much alike,’ said the second mate, who was standing by, somewhat disappointed that the fight did not come off, ‘as if they were brothers. There couldn’t have been a closer match,’

As it turned out, they had never seen one another before, in fact, came from different parts of England. The other man, when looked at closely, was decidedly coarser in feature and less refined in type. His conversation, too, disclosed the fact that his early education had been indifferent. Handsome and stalwart as he was, under no circunstances could he be considered to rank as a gentleman. That his temper was violent was put beyond a doubt by the savage outbreak which led to the quarrel. It was not certain that he would have got the best of it in a hand-to-hand encounter, but his expression on reluctantly retiring was of unequivocal malevolance, as was indeed exhibited by his parting speech.

‘I’ll meet with you another day,’ he said. ‘Australia is not such a big place, after all. You may not have so many backers next time.’

‘It’s perfectly indifferent to me,’ answered Trevanion, ‘when or how we meet. I dare say my hands will save my head there, as they can do here. People shouldn’t play for money who can’t keep their tempers when they lose.’

The passengers of the Red Jacket had in a general way too much to think about to bother their heads about the accidental likeness existing between two young fellows in the second class, still the story leaked out. It was said ‘that one of them was an eldest son and heir to an old historic name and a fine estate. The other was a very fine young man, but evidently a nobody, inasmuch as he dropped his aitches and so on. But they were so wonderfully alike that you could hardly tell them apart. It would be worth while to get up amateur theatricals and play the Corsican Brothers. Effect tremendous, you know! Queerest thing of all, too, they’d never met before and didn’t like each other now they had met.’

‘Strange things, doubles,’ said Captain Westerfield, late of H.M. 80th Regiment. ‘Not so very uncommon though. Most men in society have one. My fellow turned up at Baden, most extraordinary resemblance, wasn’t an Englishman either. Raffish party too, spy and conspirator persuasion, that sort of thing. Did me good service once, though. Story too long to tell now.’

‘Oh, Captain Westerfield, do tell it to us,’ said the fascinating Mrs. Grey, as they walked back to the first-class region, after inspecting the two Dromios.

‘Some day, perhaps,’ murmured the Captain.

The Red Jacket held on her way with unslackened speed. Night and day, fair weather and foul, with winds ahead or astern, it was all the same to Captain Forbes. Never was an inch of canvas taken in before the ‘sticks’ began to give token of ill-usage. ‘What she couldn’t carry she might drag,’ was his usual reply to remonstrating passengers. And he had his accustomed luck. In the murkiest midnight, or when fogs made the best lights invisible a ship’s length in advance, the Red Jacket ran into no homeward-speeding bark. Nor did any other reckless-driving vessel, with a captain vowed to make the passage of the season, encounter him. The long, low coast-line of Australia and the Otway light were sighted at as nearly as possible the hour when they were expected to be visible, and through the Rip and up the vast land-locked haven of Port Phillip Bay went the Racer of the Ocean one afternoon, fully two days in advance of the shortest passage which had ever been known in those days between the old old world and that new one which so long lay unknown and unpeopled beneath the Southern Cross.

Nevermore - Contents    |     Chapter III

Back    |    Words Home    |    Rolf Boldrewood Home    |    Site Info.    |    Feedback