Everything is Possible to Will
Chapter VIII. A Criminally Weak Will
Chapter VIII. A Criminally Weak Will.
In total abstinence alone lay Wrax's hope of rescue, and, yielding to Zee's example and entreaty, he signed the pledge with his wife. Happy day! Happy Wrax! How glad he was to have done the right thing at last! and how sweet to Zee to catch “the faintest cooing of returning affection!” Very sufficient were husband and wife to each other then. In the dark days Zee had done her best to keep things straight; but there was no substitute for the master's eye and mind. Now she laughed at care, rolled it on to Wrax's shoulder, in truth, and well he did his part, readjusting all which had gone awry. His moral nature once aroused, his eye and brow soon cleared, his hand and step became firm, and he looked every inch the king of his castle. Solomon in all his glory was totally eclipsed by Wrax, as Zee decked their future in rainbow hues. Hers was too deep a nature to give its all, and cry because she had no more to give; her very giving enriched her, it was so full, so free. Weaknesses, successfully struggled against, bind rather than sever human kind. The struggle dignifies the man, the woman; it should be easy, therefore, reverently to confess faults one to another.
In the sweet peace which followed in the train of abstinence, husband and wife caught a fleeting glance of the happiness the—to them—unknown world of oneness has in store for pilgrim feet. But all too soon a growing listlessness in Wrax, indicating a wavering of right principle, constrained Zee to ask of herself: “Will he continue to wear the armor of faithful service, or has he sworn eternal fealty to his baser passions?” The very desperation of their case excused page 79 the energy with which she implored him to be a man, to give no quarter to the foe, crying: “Only persevere, and the future shall be the brighter for the past; yield, and all is lost. What can I do to make you happy in your home? You never can become so steeped in vice as to remain indifferent to those whom you ought to love, without your judgment and conscience disputing your every false word and act. Oh, be steadfast to the end! This is the turning-point. Now, now you'll triumph!”
Unfortunately, he would not be persuaded that, in order to abstain, he must manfully shun old haunts and associates. The reader, therefore, will be prepared for the wretched alternative. His criminally weak will succumbed to the love of drink, and Zee was left alone with her bitter disappointment—the more bitter for his having broken his pledged word. He writhed at times under the lashing of conscience, as only a strong, guilty man can. Loud in his professions of unchanging love for his wife, he blessed her again and again for having borne patiently with him, as he craved her forgiveness, sincere as earnest so long as the fit lasted.
Still silly Zee purposed hiding his sins—so great to one reared as she had been—and what an eternal lying that hiding was. She fancied her reticence on the subject, by shielding him from remark, would make his return to home and duty all the easier. Coward souls, both of them; the fear of man, not the love of God, was in their hearts.
In such sad moments the bitterness of death, as concerned her husband, being upon Zee, her forced and hollow laughter made friends look on anxiously. She was, indeed, so far over-acting her part that Merlee told her she had “long feared all was not right.” Right? Zee could but shake her head, and gulp down that dreadful rising in the throat which so unmans one.
The truth once admitted, friends made the kindest efforts, verbally and by letter, to check Wrax in his mad career, but it availed not. “Their meddling,” as he phrased it, exasperated him beyond all bounds, and as his fury must have vent, it fell on his wife—he page 80 dared visit it nowhere else. And “she,” he declared, “would never be happy until she had ruined him.” He flattered himself that, sheltered by his wife's and his own duplicity, outsiders could not possibly become cognisant of his habits. He forgot that the guilty one is his own tale-bearer, that dumb witnesses confront him at every turn, and so mysteriously trumpet his disgrace that danger is often nighest when security is highest.
As for Zee, she was glad to be censured, however wrongly, if it might but lessen his load of guilt. Wrax was not all bad, and as she retired more and more in upon herself, her patience stretched to meet the demands he made upon it. Her faith, such as it was, had never relaxed its hold on Wrax. She had in some measure reached Paul's eminence when he wished himself accursed from Christ for his brethren's sake. Zee could perhaps have given her soul in Wrax's stead to save him, but such sacrifice in the sense in which Zee would have offered it is not accepted at our hands, one soul being as precious as another in heaven's sight.
Like a maddened steed, Wrax plunged and kicked against the pricks of conscience, as beer, wine and brandy blood obliterated all trace of manliness in him. He was seldom to be found in his business proper—himself, his all, were drifting away into that awful vortex which engulfs humanity's best and worst. The drink-vulture is satisfied with nothing less than the whole man and all which pertains to him. And Wrax was sinking lower and lower with stolid indifference, until, swelling with a bombast quite farcical but for its pitifullness, he ceased to command or to desire the respect of good men, calling them “sneaking, drivelling idiots.” “He never cringed and licked the dust as did other men.” No. He scorned, or professed to scorn, the life led by the virtuous and honorable.
Of women, too, he spoke with a contempt acquired, not inbred, imbibed with his beer at the public house, as was all that was base in him. So infamous a school fully explained his ruffianism. “I'll never let a woman talk to me, not I, indeed,” he often said; and the louder he ranted, the more completely he fancied he had Zee— page 81 who quailed before brute force, in which he was greatly her superior—in his power.
Never, perhaps, was a baser lie fathered on the credulity of men than that which declared the drunkard to be one of the most generous of his sex. Find an essentially selfish man, and in his selfishness you have all that is necessary to make a good (if it be not a contradiction in terms) drunkard. It is true that all selfish men are not sots, and equally true that among the sots are found men who give because they cannot keep. But to whom do they give—to their wives and hapless children? Indeed, no; but to their boon companions, to be reputed jolly good fellows.
One of Zee's many foolish attempts to call Wrax home was that of sitting up for him, in the hope that he might return just a little the earlier; and for years she hung on his footsteps in that way. Till at length, as midnight stillness crept over all things, her restlessness increased so much that she grew too nervous to sit alone in her pleasant room; so taking care to have all the hinges well oiled lest they should betray her, extinguishing the hall gas, she nightly took her stand at the front door, to watch for his home-coming. If a carriage or a straggler chanced to appear, she fell noiselessly back, and they passed on, leaving her alone with the night and her sorrow.
Come when he would, how he would, she was glad to have him in safe hiding; and so long as she could meet him with a smile Wrax returned it, though with but a shame-faced sort of a grin. But it sometimes happened that, being very tired, she had controlled her feelings until an inward start warned her of his approach, when the sight of him, proving too much for her jaded powers of endurance, to her deep mortification, a deep, half-choked sob, she was powerless longer to restrain, burst forth, making Wrax wild with passion.
It was “temper,” all temper, nothing but temper, of course, and Wrax again scrupled not to cast the whole weight of his wrongdoing upon his wife, yet never dared to say, though importuned to do it, in what way the fault was Zee's, or how his sins were hers. Her page 82 heart might be breaking—what of that? It was the wife's duty, “just what he had her for,” to meet her husband with smiles, always with smiles, no matter in what condition he might roll home; and to believe her oblivious of his condition, Wrax would rather Zee had gone to bed; hence his greeting was sometimes a cruel taunt at her stupidity in sitting up for him. How irritating he could be! keeping carefully within the pale of the law while he subjected his wife to nameless indignities—converting the law, indeed, into a pair of pincers, wherewith to nip her to pieces, should she refuse to crouch, a slave at his feet.
Sometimes, after having helped her senseless log to bed, she has gone out under the silent sky to quiet her fierce inward surgings. She could not breathe with that loathsome object polluting the air; she must have room to walk about while she, Paul-like,50 fought with the “beasts” Wrax embodied—anger, malice, highhanded tyranny, and others. Full well she knew that if kind words failed, as fail they did, hard words were not likely to be more effective with Wrax; but flesh and blood, high-spirited woman that she was, could not always brook what she had to endure and keep silence. No, she occasionally retorted on Wrax with a bitterness to which truth added a scathing pungency, withering to a less hardened sinner. Still she could and would have borne it all heroically if good might have resulted; but wherefore this waste of time and strength, this hopeless misery? Ought Wrax, wicked as he was, to be thus almighty? Ought she to be thus entirely at his mercy? Could right ever come out of so much wrong?
Zee was learning hard lessons in a hard school—a school which would sharpen her wits if anything could—and it was well that she should begin to look questioningly on life and life's duties; it proved that she possessed even yet the elements of growth within herself. Never, even in her saddest moments, did she charge the wrong on God. It was of man, all of man; she knew that.
Rex, the sunbeam in the home of the shadow, was welcome everywhere. What a picture he was, aglow page 83 with ruddy health, his beautiful flaxen curls falling on his bare shoulders, his busy feet, hands, and tongue never long silent! When a sturdy little man of three summers, a tiny new brother was shown to him; and, being old enough to give baby something more than a passing thought, his prattle and bewilderment, as he capered about, trying to master the ins and outs of this fresh sprig of humanity, were perfect. Baby was a toy for his especial benefit, and he must have him on the floor all to himself. But, that pleasure being denied him, there was evidently a something over, or under, or round about that baby delightfully incomprehensible.
The dear little black-eyed rogue was his mother's image; nor did she love him the less for the likeness. Very tenderly were the children cared for—they were Zee's all, you know, and she was the important woman when she sent her two men out for a walk. The little kindnesses so sweet in moments of weakness were, as far as concerned Wrax, all wanting to Zee. He concluded that a good nurse and servants summed up all needful requirements, although, when gout laid its torturing demands upon himself, he was most exacting in the service he required of his wife. He would, nevertheless, have voted even his children insufferable bores, had the slightest care devolved upon himself.
Those who suffer much need to be made of tough metal to meet the demands made upon them. If Zee could have locked her trouble in her own breast, half the pain would have vanished. It was like probing a mortal wound for those she loved to speak of it; and, fight though she did with it, it still so shut her up within herself that it told upon her. And, to her dismay, she discovered that it had robbed her baby of its proper nourishment, which had been superabundant for the first child; but for the second there was almost none. Her doctor puzzled not a little over such an unusual deviation from the ordinary course of nature. His patient could have told him that the cause lay deeper than his skill could reach—a wounded spirit, not a distempered body, asked healing balm. Delicate from its birth, having to be brought up by hand, baby page 84 never thrived. No food seemed to agree with it; and, being as shamefully ignorant and unfit for so holy a trust as are almost all young mothers, Zee gave her tender plant what he liked best, though, perhaps, the worst thing for him.
So dense is woman's ignorance of all physiological knowledge, the marvel is that an infant ever arrives at maturity. To taboo subjects as “unfeminine,” “unbecoming,” which may be worth more to her than life itself, while a new-born babe is put into her hands to rear, is the maddest folly. If all knowledge came to woman by nature, if the “little stranger” came in its “monkey”-jacket, prepared to shift for itself, the instinct of cow and calf might suffice. But since it is not so, if life and health are worthy of one moment's consideration, to make women scale Alps of opposition in order to emerge ultimately from her worse (because of our boasted enlightenment) than Cimmerian darkness,51 will surely merit and receive the condemnation of history. The masculine cry of “indelicacy” raised against woman's study of medicine and of kindred subjects for pathological uses is quite in keeping with the “delicacy” which once required all young wives to wear caps. Feeling certain that her child is being sacrificed to injudicious treatment, her own and her doctor's felt incapacity has wrung many a mother's heart. And yet doctors, even, are jealous of woman trenching on the realms of physiology—a study more important to woman than to man, for man's sake, since no one can know how much stronger, longer-lived, and larger-hearted the entire human family would prove if wisely reared.
God does not “take” the thousands of little ones killed now by mistaken kindness, now by cruel neglect. Nature, shamefully abused as it is in many ways, is infinitely wise and strong, and so tenacious of life are the little ones that many of them refuse to die under the most barbarous treatment. But, since infanticide is not a Christian institution, the lamentable mortality among infants ought to provoke serious inquiry.
And since England does now possess a few educated women, it is to be hoped that our lady doctors will page 85 confer on society a benefit as lasting as the human race by inventing and popularising some simple contrivance which shall support the bust from the shoulders without in the slightest degree compressing the waist.
The praises of the “slender waist,” in whose honor many silly women have squeezed themselves out of existence, have been rung to nausea by unreflecting poets. But a better taste having pronounced shrine and victims alike worthless, has exalted nature—sym metry of figure—and consigned wasp-waist monstrosities to the vulgarisms of the dark ages. Man's figure is more symmetrical, therefore more truly graceful, than is woman's of the wasp-waist hideousness. Banish the wasp-waist for ever and for ever.
But to return to Zee, she stupidly persisted in watching for Wrax's home-coming, until all at once, as suddenly as inexplicably, she lost her nervous dread of retiring to rest. Exhausted nature triumphed, and longing for night with child-like weariness, she went to bed and to sleep with the birds almost, for about a fortnight, when her year-old baby fell sick, and wasting visibly, slowly pined away, the poor body telling how fierce had been the struggle for life. And having wished for a girl-baby at his birth, Zee now remembered with sorrow her keen regret at his being “only a boy.”
Conscious of having done her best, bad though it was, for the little man, all the hyena in her was stirred to its depths as she listened about midnight for the heavy thud of the father's uneven step as, with flushed cheek, lack-lustre eyes, or eyes aflame with the devilish light the bottle kindles, he came straight from his carousals to the bedside of his dying child. Zee felt she must tell him that he—he, by his cruel desertion of herself—had taken the precious God-given life. But, knowing Zee's excited state of mind, although she would have puzzled over the reason for wishing to save him from the truth, so dreadful because it was the truth, Merlee, who shared the sick-room anxieties, implored silence with so distressful a glance, as Wrax presented himself, that Zee averted her face and left Merlee to reply to him.page 86
With increased knowledge, Zee believes the child to have been sacrificed to her own unreasoning ignorance rather than to anything wrong in Wrax, who, though absent from home, was proud to say he had not gone to the public house52 the night the little man died. What a boast!
Zee was so poverty-stricken in household gods, her heart-strings twined the tighter round her few treasures; and though she could not say “Goodbye” without a very painful wrench, she yet resigned her pretty bud with the feeling, “I wish thee joy, my darling.” Better that he be safely housed. What had she to offer beyond her fond encircling arms? Thenceforward the fluttering dove was a blessing in new guise. He just dropped the olive-branch and sped back to his ark of safety, beckoning her thitherward.
The sudden restfulness of spirit was explained now. God had closed the eyes of body and mind preparatory to the trying watch-night service he required of her. And she, whose trust was but partial at best, found comfort in the thought, “God cares for me.” She was learning, in passing through the furnace, that all things work together for good only in so far as we turn them to good account—a lesson that created a joyousness within, which never blushed at its own levity. And in such moments of clear shining she pleaded for Wrax as only a wife and mother can. She longed for him to enter life's deeper depths, where passion has no place. He was, indeed, so hidden away in her heart that God could see her only through him, and yet her shallow faith failed to see that, in refusing to be saved from his sins, not even God could save him in his sins.
After the death of the little one, Zee never again attempted to sit up for Wrax, who sometimes stayed out all night; but she was so slow to let hope die, that she caught at its veriest ravellings, and lived on them as long as possible; and difficult as it was, to a being like her, to know what to do for the best in her untried path, a mistaken sense of duty bade her to sit up for him. But she now deplores the time and strength fritted away in waiting on one so uncertain as he. Lie in bed to all hours of the day as he page 87 did, she could not for very shame; so that to sit late and rise early was certain to result in a breakdown sooner or later.
The fact that Wrax was kind to everyone but his wife, and cruel to her just because she was his wife—the creature of his convenience—was the one bitter drop in her cup. He was the last man to have treated a mistress or a servant as he treated Zee; they would not have been at his mercy, nor could they have felt, as did Zee, the gross injustice of placing the husband, by virtue of his sex, at the top of the social ladder, thus stultifying his desire for improvement to his own degradation and his wife's humiliation, yet requiring the wife to be intelligently companionable to her husband, while forbidding her to place her foot on the lowest rung of the ladder of learning proper. It is preposterous!
Himself and his beer were the only things Wrax loved, yet he was as strong as Zee was strong to resist the drink; and in selling himself to the love of drink and the vices thereby engendered, he was without excuse; it was wholly a question of a perverted will—the will to do wrong. Zee could see nothing before her but poverty and disgrace, and that man into the bargain—that man to whom she had given all, sacrificing herself, she fancied, to save him, who despised the treasure by his side, and cried like an idiot for sour grapes. How dare he so to blast her life, and make her feed on gravel and ashes? He, idle fellow that he was, would keep her nose to the grindstone as long as she lived; but what was to be gained by it? She could not bear it. And thinking to take her affairs into her own hands, she floundered in despondency's quagmire till the waves of despair quite hid from View the city of refuge. Oh! it was so hard to have a soul that would not die, try as Wrax did to blot it out!
Zee was passing through these straits, when the public mind was shocked by the trial of Madeline Smith53 for poisoning her lover, and Zee became possessed of the desire to poison either herself or Wrax. His death she meditated; she must get rid of him somehow, anyhow. “The devil,” she muttered between page 88 her teeth; “ah, if I could but kill him! To be tied to such as he for life, and receive nothing but insult and injury at his hands, would be worse than death.”
Intending, at Zee's solicitation, to make a really elegant ornament, by starting zinc to grow in an airtight globe of water, Wrax had given to Zee's special care an ounce of sugar of lead. But, though the necessaries for the zinc-growing had been provided, the procrastinating Wrax had failed in his part of the contract; hence, Zee's possession of the poison, over which she hung, deliberating as to how best to administer it with safety to herself. As to how much was necessary to destroy life she had no idea; and ardently though she longed to get rid of Wrax, she never touched the poison until one day, Wrax being present, she snatched it from its repository, her work-table, and giving it to him, said: “Throw it away, or I shall poison you with it.” Seeing she was dreadfully in earnest as he gravely scanned her face, whose pallor equalled his own, perhaps, he forbore his wonted sarcasm.
She was not prepared to die for Wrax twice over, and the probable consequences to herself alone prevented the committal of the rash act, Zee fancied. But she did not know herself, nor did she know how different a bad deed appears when evil passions are hounding their victim on to its consummation — to what it looks to the sensitive eye of conscience, when once 'tis done and done for ever. Supposing she could have murdered her husband without suspicion, she would have made a full confession; a guilt-burdened conscience would have made the crime all her own. There was in her none of the cowardice which fathers all wrong on the devil.
Like those who walk dizzy heights, the weary and heavy-laden must live by looking up, or one false step may sink them to irretrievable ruin. The poisondelirium was the densest battle - smoke and din through which Zee had ever passed, and the all-compassionate One turned and looked on guilty, trembling Zee, in pity for her sorrow as much as for her sin. He knew that she tried to say: “Thy will be done,” with something better than parrot-like meaninglessness, page 89 but she was weak, and could only, raise streaming eyes to heaven. Where else could she look? There is agony on which human eyes cannot gaze—agony which becomes at length cords of love, binding the sufferers so close to the heart of the Infinite that their sorrows become the most sacred part of their character, and in reference to outside sympathy they can afford to say: “Tarry ye here.” It seems almost profanity to write of it; put off thy shoes, for this is holy ground.
The beneficent Father clearly intended that man's social life should be as full of sunshine as is the world of nature. But is it so? and if not, why not? Simply because selfishness mars all that is good and beautiful in life. There are, nevertheless, drops of honey in the bitterest cup, and one of the most grateful to Zee was the comfort she had in her servants. Her first “Emma” and her “young man” having set sail for love in a cottage all taut and trim, her second Emma, of whom mention is now made, was devoted to her mistress, because being quick to note a willing mind. Zee had, with steady persistency, reduced Emma's blundering hands to order. Kind, faithful creature, how nervously anxious she was to do well her part; Emma acquired a personal interest in her work by acting out the fact that a clean, orderly house is less to the credit of the mistress than of the servant. Emma was seen all through the house, as she brooded with jealous care over its interests; nor was she less neat and nice in her person than in her work, possessing a good stock of clothes, she had likewise a bankbook and a fair sum laid by.
A judiciously kind mistress, being in earnest herself, can make what she will of her servants; whereas, the mistress who has no will of her own, who knows not her own mind, is certain to be tyrannically overbearing, and to treat her dependents as mere machines. Having no money, no might, domestic servants are capable of the most self-denying heroism—kindnesses which, like the dew, refresh and fertilise by stealth. The poorest in this world's goods know best how to give the “cup of cold water.”page 90
By much unobtrusive tenderness, a silent but effectual way of pouring oil on the seething waters, Emma proved conclusively that she was one with Zee in her sorrow; nor could she remain ignorant of its cause, yet never did she venture a remark beyond: “Don't you feel well, ma'am?” on observing the breakfast untouched, perhaps, or Zee looking unusually sad, for whose lunch, of her own accord, Emma would try to find some choice tit-bit. She lived with Zee for years, and continued in her family until her marriage rather late in life.
Living in dread of the future, Zee assured herself she should be surprised at nothing which might happen; her unfailing though inadequate resources were, nevertheless, alert to ward off evils becoming daily more prominent. Still, it was not too late to retrieve the past, the turning-point in Wrax's history must certainly come; even those who had watched the signs of the hydra - headed monster's progress refused to believe him so lost as to throw to the winds such a home and such a prospect of ease, if not of affluence, as he possessed. Hence, if remarks were bruited abroad, they were held somewhat in abeyance, the surface of things being much brighter in reality than to the reader, who is behind the scenes.
Happiness with Wrax was out of the question, for he was never to be found, or, if found, was pleasant to no one. Zee therefore went her own way, and made her own plans without reference to him; and as he had often of late declared it to be his determination “to go abroad,” the Christmas of 1858, the last possibly they would spend in old England, found Zee prepared for an unusually festive season. Wrax always insisted that in “money matters he was as safe as the bank;” and his wife, whatever were her fears, to be consistent with her peace-at-any-price cant, was obliged to act as if all were fair and sound.
But it is not safe to reckon without one's host. Some of Zee's friends, who had arrived by invitation on a lengthened visit, having thawed their half-frozen limbs by their cheery bed-room fire and arranged their private affairs, descended to the dining-room to discuss creature page 91 comforts, and ultimately reclined at ease with a sense of exquisite abandon, when their quiet chat was interrupted by a knock at the door, and in answer to “Come in,” Emma said: “Please, ma'am, you're wanted.” In the hall stood Wrax, to Zee's surprise, and he beckoned her into his office, when, lo! a stranger confronted her. Words died on her lips, but she divined evil as she glanced from one man to the other. Alluding to the stranger, Wrax said with the utmost abruptness, as he carefully closed the office door: “This is a bailiff in possession.”
Understanding only too well the significance of those dread words, Zee saw the beginning of the end of a bad career—an end all darkness, which should have been all light—and was as much horror-stricken as if she had never assured herself she was prepared for the worst. She was indignant, too, though that was no time to show it, with Wrax and his want of delicacy in telling her before that man; but his very want of soul made him crouch like a coward when he most needed to be a man. He could not tell her alone. The little courage he had ever possessed had evaporated in beer and tobacco-fumes. Ill-starred Zee was caught in a trap with strangers, comparatively, staying in the house.
“Pay the man and let him go,” suggested Zee. “Easier said than done,” objected Wrax. “Several things have to be seen to first. The man must stay where he is for the night; I'll get all he wants. No one—not even Emma—must know of his being here, and in the morning I'll make it all right with him, and there'll be an end of it.”
Finding that Zee staggered under the blow, Wrax on leaving the office with her made exceedingly light of it. Declaring that there was “not the slightest cause for alarm,” he begged her to “put away that scared look and make the best of a bad job.” Again, easier said than done. Under that sudden revulsion of feeling a sense of impending ruin occasions, Zee's all but undying energy and hope failed her. Here was an end of the pleasant Christmastide! Its glory had departed. She could never more bury her dead out of her sight. page 92 There was nothing real for her henceforth but pain and shame.
It was well, however, that she had to shake off the hard thoughts which obtruded; they could do no good, and she ere long joined her guests, with blanched cheeks, may be, and a dead-lock on her heart; yet she was such a practised dissembler, she could call up the hollow smile, though roses to the cheeks came not at her bidding. Her friends observed the change, but held their peace.
On Christmas day, the merriest of all the year, Wrax and Zee swelled the number of the family gathering in the old home, whose spacious, oak-wainscoated rooms rung again with good spirits, till the sides of the house must have ached from their reverberations, good spirits and good cheer lasting for days, until husbands and lovers returned to their merchandise perforce. Even then leave-takings cast but a momentary shadow. The beaux had departed, but the belles were forbidden to sit down with solitude in love's vacant chair; or if the cherry-ripe lips quivered, so long as forget-me-not's lingering caress dyed the cheek with peach-bloom at its ripest, the maidens valiantly shook off the wintry chill, and displayed only the bright-red holly-berries of good nature. Heigh oh, for the lads and lasses! it is well they cannot keep all Cupid's secrets to themselves, that others catch glintings of the sly rogue's coming and going; the world would be dun and monotonous without them; they keep a spot of greensward in the hearts of all but the uncanny.
But to pick up the darker thread of the story. For the day after Christmas-day the hapless Zee had issued invitations for the largest dinner-party she had ever presumed to give; and Wrax, who had discharged the bailiff according to promise, implored Zee to allow her arrangements to proceed as designed, solemnly assuring her there was “nought to fear unless she wished to arouse suspicion and ruin him by giving a tale-telling change to her plans.” But it was of no use talking, she was unequal to the task; she had grown tired of keeping up appearances; her nerves were unhinged by what had happened, together with what might yet be page 93 looming in the future. Friends residing at a distance arrived as expected, with whom a quiet, enjoyable day was spent. But even then, anxious as he was to keep up appearances, mine host failed to present himself the livelong day.
That first, worst breaking in upon the privacy of home would have been prevented had Zee known Wrax's financial position. She kept his books to the best of her ability, but never dreamed of opening his letters; better that she had; threatening letters, demanding a settlement of accounts, would then have received attention. If curiosity be a feminine weakness it belonged not to Zee; Wrax was the nagging, inquisitive one.
It was the eleventh hour with Wrax, and he was urged to recover lost ground by all that love and reason could dictate; and intending to afford him needful assistance, unless he proved hopelessly involved, his eldest brother, the best friend Zee ever had, requested of Wrax “a clear statement of accounts;” and his wife, in conjunction with other friends, entreated him to submit his affairs to his brother's sound judgment, and to make a fresh start with the new year, socially and commercially. But no; he who trusted no man expected all he said to be taken on trust; and loudly asserting that he was “all right,” and “could pay twenty shillings in the pound with any man,” Wrax, in his proud defiance, rejected his brother's aid, saying: “If he can't take my word he shan't see my books.” Thus, in his dogged obstinacy, he cut his only ladder from beneath his feet.
Events proved that he was right as to his solvency, but it is doubtful whether he, wreck that he was, could have made it clear even to himself; certainly no sane man would have accepted his mere word. Having at least a hundred men in his employ, his own surmises as to his solvency might have been wholly fallacious; since, singularly good though his business was, no master can with impunity leave his interests uncared for to the most competent of servants. The fact was that Wrax, in his abject condition, had lost the will and the power to make crooked things straight, and if too page 94 complicated for his own unravelling, extraneous aid would profit little. Who should care for his interests if he neglected his duty?
The February following that dreary Christmas, a third son saw life under a cloud. Having a mother to shield its blossoming, the nondescript article enveloped in flannel was as well tended as a royal prince—he was all-glorious within, whatever the outer regions might be. Wrax could not bear a sick room, probably never sat down in one, large and well-appointed though Zee's rooms were; but knowing that another wee lump of humanity claimed kinship with him, he took a look at him and went his way. Having grown used to his absence, Zee had ceased to mourn it; he did but multiply idle excuses as fresh duties had to be shirked.
Once upon a time Wrax half jocularly proposed marriage and emigration in a breath to Zee, who negatived the, to her, absurd idea; for was not his fortune already cut out for him, if not made—what could he want more? But had he frankly given her a sufficient reason for such a step, she would cheerfully have waived all personal objections thereto and have gone with him. Zee has reproached herself for having opposed his going, thinking he might have been a better man abroad.
But no, emphatically no, the man is the same in every place, weak at home, weak abroad, else what, where is his moral nature? Unquestionably the bands of wickedness have a fourfold strength, so long as the weakling permits himself to be hemmed in by men as idle and reckless as himself; but bad men, ready to ensnare the willingly ensnared, are found the wide world over. If a man means to break away from human blood-hounds, it must be by an internal, not an external, transmigration—all things must become new within the man.
Wrax's present determination “to go abroad,” idle freak though Zee deemed it, appeared to shape itself to his mind, since he recurred to it again and again; but vacillating as he was by habit, he would arrive at no decision in the matter. He talked of India, the last page 95 place for such as he; but anything was better than the apathy into which he had sunk, and he at length professed to have made application through an M.P. for one of the many lucrative appointments then offering for India, for which he waited, until having grown sick with hope deferred, his wife urged on his consideration the superior claims of one of the colonies.
Zee had possessed a splendid constitution, but it yielded at length; her baby's advent left her sinking lower and lower until “Excelsior” seemed likely to be the swan's death, not life-song. Being no longer able to fight ghosts, real or imagined, she sighed for a calm haven of inward peace, and welcomed death as the dear friend she would hasten to meet, come when he would, how he would. And he was coming, yes, coming, not as she had hoped, perhaps, to carry her off at a bound, but slowly and softly drawing nearer, so that his footfall was heard by her ear alone, and she watched with ardent longing for the one rude blast which was to shatter the now useless vessel, believing she held tight hold of the robe the deliverer was weaving for her—a light, most beautiful garment because a shroud. She only asked to be left alone to lay her head on the last, sweet pillow, without trouble to anyone. And if tears fell, they were all for the boys she must leave behind.
But there were those in the flesh who objected to her slipping thus stealthily through their fingers, so she was taken for change to the best place possible, the dear old home in the woods. There was the father with all a woman's tenderness; there, too, the mother, such a right good nurse, and sisters Merlee and Lulu (wives and mothers now), genuine English girls, whose genial humor soon made sunbeams play on Zee's fancy as veritable sunbeams danced on the wall. The saucy sprites resolutely posted themselves between Zee and the blues, and slyly wafted out of sight the cumbrous mantle of sighing and dull care she had in her feebleness wrapt around her. They were her constant companions in the merry spring-time, and entertained her as strength returned with book, or chat, or needle, as they basked in the sun's life-giving rays, anon driving page 96 round the country dear to the invalid, or strolling along shady lanes walled in by steep hedgerows, alive and fragrant with primrose and violet; leisurely extending their perambulations, they daily mounted higher and higher up the gaily-painted, gorse-covered hills, gazing with vivid appreciation on the ever-varying, richly-wooded landscape.
Zee was tranquilly happy; there was health in the very atmosphere of home; loving hearts brought healing balm. She was lifted, as by a spell, out of the cold isolation consequent on Wrax's craving for “life,” and dropped into a nest lined throughout with love's priceless floss of exquisite content, a graceful ferny drapery hovering over and about rather than touching the sensitive form of the stricken deer. The very buttercups and daisies made music for her till her heart and her pulse throbbed with renewed vigor. Moved by a common impulse, indeed, Nature and Zee put on a new dress and sported each in her own wild way. To get well was the only work she had now to do, and a teeming fancy made loitering on the road to convalescence very delightful.
Hurrah for the home in the woods! with its charms for eye and mind, its delicacies to tempt the truant appetite—the home which had done so much for Zee. The house, according to tradition, was “haunted”—by the footsteps of angels, Zee declared. Certainly the quaint inscriptions, oak panellings and sly dark corners of the large rambling antiquated place were suggestive of ghosts and goblins, and the stories current lost nothing to Zee's imagination, however often she went over the ground. In health her whole nature was aglow with Eastern effulgence. She lived in Aladdin's fairy palace, and his wonderful lamp illuminated, though it could not remove, the surrounding darkness. Whether she ever sat in the roomy porch of her home with the “headless lady in white” said to pay nocturnal visits to it, or dug for the crock of gold said to be deposited in one or other of its damp cellars, this chronicler wotteth not.
After a few weeks of absence from the home, good in itself but icily cold, which Wrax provided, Zee was her brave self again, ready to tread the old rough path page 97 with its roses here and there—briar roses, very sweet, but, oh! so thickly studded with thorns, Still, with restored strength, she would give the more earnest heed to duty, though but imperfectly understood.
Yes, Wrax certainly purposed going abroad, but being loth to break up their home, yet doing nothing to keep it intact, he procrastinated, according to custom, as month followed month at snail's pace. He continued, moreover, so pitifully irritating that Zee required to watch always lest a jarring note should prick him into rebellion. His very irritability proved he was not past feeling, but what his feelings were was left to conjecture, except that “the fates were in league against him. He was a much-abused, greatly-wronged man—the victim of a conspiracy, everyone, even his wife, being bent on making him a beggar,” and much to the same purpose. His spite against his own family amounted to insanity; and, undisguised though it was, they never relaxed their efforts to serve him. To his wild invectives against alleged injustice sustained at their hands, Zee listened quietly, unless he required direct confirmation thereof, when, suffer as she might for daring to differ from him, she never scrupled to say that his censure of them was wholly unmerited unless he had some cause of quarrel of which she was ignorant. She knew he was fighting his own shadow—an ugly one, truly. Glorying, too, in the wet sheet of stoical isolation, no stray beams of Zee's superabundant vital force could warm and thaw his fast-ebbing vitality. To drown reflexion he lived in a whirl of dissipation, studiously avoiding a quiet half hour with his wife; yet was he the more wretched of the two, for how could he face an angry world if he trembled before his wife? There was, however, no help for it but just to live a day at a time and trust to what the next would bring forth.
Rex was his mother's loved companion, she was rich in him. He was a rare boy; transparently truthful through and through, he had no idea what a lie could mean. Having a magnificently strong will, he was occasionally rebellious, of course, but a softening mood quickly followed; then came the cry: “Let me say my little prayer, mamma,” and until it had been page 98 penitently uttered, he never forgave himself. He had gambolled54 over his five years without an ache of any kind, but the delicate year-old Piri's ever-threatening dissolution culminated just now in congestion of the lungs. And Zee's good doctor (even in the matter of doctors husband and wife were divided — Wrax patronised another medical man when gout laid him low) exhausted his skill for the sufferer's benefit. Knowing, perhaps, of the shadow that darkened the home, and honoring the wife's silent endurance, the doctor never made a merely professional visit, but lingered long, taking a kindly interest in all that interested Zee. He never expressed sympathy, there was no need; his step, his touch, his very presence were a strengthening draught; he had that to offer, which few are rich enough to give—the wealth of appreciation—the power at man's command, the spikenard very costly, the cup of cold water, the only true charity; other charity is but quartz at best, not pure gold.
Happily, the little Piri, an aspen leaf for frailty, rallied once more under tender care.
At length, the promised appointment for India arrived, Wrax said, though he did not show it, even to his wife. But appointment or no appointment, acting on her doctor's advice, and choosing between hard work and indolence probably, Zee decided to India she would not go, firmly adhering to her decision for the children's sake, knowing full well that Wrax would never go without her. So, making a virtue of necessity, he subsequently yielded the point, and chose Auckland, New Zealand, for their future home.
But the dilatory Wrax kept them needlessly long in a transition state, notwithstanding that his wife encouraged him to expedite matters, by pleasant anticipations of the future, in which he would escape all untoward influences.
And to tell the truth, the last came too soon. Zee fancied she could surrender all without a pang; but fancy and reality are widely different things. Wrax was absent when the first dismantling of the home, page 99 which should have been the abode of peace and plenty, took place; and Zee readily enough superintended the removal of certain pieces of furniture. But when she turned to look at the too palpable blanks, and heard the grating of the wheels of the wagon, as it moved slowly away with its freight, made sacred to her by her sorrows and her joys, she fell into utter prostration, and rebelled as only a strong, helpless woman can.
It was a bitter experience! She could not bear to look around. Through no fault of her own, whatever were her errors of ignorance, had she been thus stripped of everything; herself, her little ones, thrust forth homeless wanderers; and with what to lean upon—a tower of strength? Nothing, worse than nothing. With outstretched hands and eyes blind with weeping, one long deep groan told all. She might not pass that cup away, but how to raise it to her lips she knew not. If she could have reclaimed Wrax, the sorrow would have been as nothing; but to suffer and see only bad results convinced her that there was something wrong somewhere. What was it?
Observe! Zee's peace-at-any-price mode of dealing with Wrax was only too entirely popular; if she had taken the right, because truthful, way of appealing to his honor and conscience in her persistent refusal to shelter wrong, even in her husband, unreflecting men, unreflecting women would have said she deserved to fail in her efforts to reclaim him.
But through it all, however, she fought well—now standing her ground, now worsted in the fight. Not yet had she given up Wrax. Even then she pleaded for the guilty one. He was more wretched than she, and in pleading for him she unconsciously slaked her thirst at the fount of pure blessedness. Her burden rolled off her heart, and if her face did not shine, her heart made melody, which was better. What Zee would have become without such religion as she had no mortal may know. Such as it was, it was infinitely better than none, because she was fighting for light with just faith enough to believe that God must have a purpose in calling page 100 her to suffer. Whatever may have been Zee's credulity, she will believe there is no God at the central helm when those who deny the God-faith and profess to teach how the universe lives, moves, and has its being by virtue of inherent unalterable laws alone, a presiding genius nowhere, will teach men how to wind up their mercantile and domestic interests, so that all things shall work smoothly together with an exquisite adaptation of means to the desired end by laws alone. If laws harmoniously regulate and sustain the universe, there surely ought to be laws of equal potency to regulate man's petty affairs. Perchance there will be when we become spiritualised. Certainly the labor-millennium will have dawned, scientists will have the world at their feet, when they can make all things go like clock-work without effort, especially if they can at the same time teach men how to form a beautifully-rounded, whole-souled character that can afford to give reputation to the winds with superb indifference.
Necessity is law. Yes, necessity is a complex chain of circumstances formed link by link from within, and helps to unfold the mysteries of life to those who look earnestly upon it, but it makes no pies, cakes, boots, coats, boats, houses, etc. Intelligent thought does all this; and to Zee's small mind intelligent thought rules the universe, before which thought she now bows with loving reverence.
It was done. The home, and such a home! was shattered into a thousand fragments, and this first tidal wave of anguish past, Zee settled other matters with composure. But, fooled to the end, she positively anticipated a few happy days under the old roof-tree, whither the family directed their steps on vacating their own home. In her father's house Wrax would never dare to be the ill-conditioned fellow he was elsewhere. Yes, he did dare. Hope of his amendment, unhappily, there was none. “Farewell suppers,” and what not, were the proffered excuses for his excesses.
And since Wrax was what he was, as the last days of parting drew nigh the good father, pressing Zee to his breast, wept aloud, saying: “I cannot give you up, my girl. With friends at hand you know not what trouble page 101 is, but as a stranger in a strange land your life will be one long martyrdom.” Wrax's own family, too, strongly urged that he should go alone to the far-off land, and make a position for himself before he subjected his family to the discomforts of colonial life. But Zee's brothers and sisters, as willing to sacrifice her as she was to sacrifice herself, said: “Go with him, Zee. If there is a chance for him it is with you, not alone.” The die was cast—Zee would go.
But Wrax still continued ill at ease and touchy to peevishness; and although Zee could no longer cloak his sins—his sins, not some other person's—as little should she parade them before him. She, therefore, in making one final appeal to all that was best in him, besought him to recover himself, to conquer for all time his wickedly-indulged habits before he set foot on the ship, where he would be surrounded by strangers, to secure whose personal respect should be worth the desired effort. He could conquer, it was wholly a question of will, he knew that, and she pressed him to do it, by all that he was, by all that he might become, for his children's sake, for his honor's sake. And then, putting away all regretful recollection of the past, finding their happiness in each other, they would start afresh under a cloudless sky, laugh at hardships, make them, indeed, stepping stones to honor and usefulness, and thus chain prosperity to their chariot-wheels. Alas, poor Zee! alas, still poorer Wrax!
The other members of both families were doing too well in the old country to desire a new one, and the change contemplated by Wrax and his wife, though admittedly wise in their circumstances, was looked upon as a tremendous undertaking—a something to be admired, not imitated. Hence friends outvied each other in kind consideration for “the outcasts.” Nimble fingers had long been busy on the outfit, for as there were no shops on board ship, there must be no stint, and as nothing could be easier than to send superfluities floating down stream, piles on piles of changes were provided, and such stores of good things that the uninitiated might have conjectured that open-house hospitalities for an army were brewing.page 102
After having inspected the ship, Wrax returned to the home-circle quite jubilant, saying he had taken their berths and made satisfactory arrangements for the voyage, etc., and they were to travel “Intermediate.” Intermediate! a fine sounding word, belonging to the mid-air vocabulary, and meaning a something a shade below patrician state possibly. Pressed for the definition of the word, which he doubtless hoped to escape, Wrax admitted reluctantly — an admission received with ominous silence—that “intermediate” meant the third class part of the ship. When Wrax left the room Zee followed him out, and told him quietly, but firmly, that she “would not travel in that part of the ship, even though he had taken their berths.” Wrax talked a deal of defiant nonsense in his excited way, to which Zee objected not one word, but her decision was unalterable.
It had not occurred to any one that he would choose less than second-cabin fare for his family, or his services in the matter would have been dispensed with. On learning the terms he had made, the ire of his eldest brother was kindled not a little, and supporting Zee's resistance thereto, he proposed to accompany her to town that they might make their own terms, adding, as Wrax doubtless expected his brother would add: “You ought to travel first cabin, but lower than second cabin you shall not go, if I myself have to pay the difference.” They accordingly went through the ship, and secured their tiny second-cabin berths with less of disgust than might have been expected.
And on the last day of March, 1859, the emigrants waved adieu from the ship to friends still hovering on their outskirts, whose blessings caused Zee to gulp down, industriously, certain choking sensations. Happily all parties had been kept too excitedly busy to think, much less speak, of the severance of early ties and kindred melting subjects; so leave-takings shall be borne aloft by the secret-carrying bird, and the reader shall start on the voyage with the outward bound.
Zee laughingly said hers was a responsible post, seeing she had five men to take care of—a brother and a cousin of her own, youths of eighteen and nineteen, page 103 having decided to “rough it” with herself, her husband, and her boys. Expecting to pay toll to old Neptune55 as soon as tumbling about began, Zee, with characteristic energy, prompted Wrax to make their cabin ship-shape with due speed, and on him the task necessarily devolved, for nurse Piri he would not. He hated work, disorder riled him; he had never before been cramped for room, and a peep into their cabin showed it full to the brim, with “enough to sink the ship” he declared, and he threatened to “throw the whole overboard,” making Zee quake for her stores more than a little.
The as yet unsolved problem of how to put a cocoanut into a walnut-shell was, said Wrax, “enough to make a saint swear,” and since he was no saint, the reader may nod significantly and pass on. Still, appreciating his every move in a right direction, Zee cheered him on, for it was really hard work stowing away all those things so as to be come-at-able; it would nevertheless have been pleasant work had he but kept his temper, but that article was often lost as soon as found when his services were in requisition.
Every one lives in a glass house on board ship, and so long as Zee could do little but recline at such ease as she could command, she too was diverted by her opposite neighbors—a Church of England clergyman, his wife and grown-up family. No stickler for “order” should commit his clay tenement to the loving kindness of the deep until prepared to learn what is meant by “worse misfortunes at sea;” for the sea-king is no respecter of persons; he dashed about the starchiest of parsons and the stiffest of dames as if they had been common people.
Tropical weather agreed with Piri, but the change of food especially was too much for Rex, who failed with his first illness before they reached the line, and was confined to his bed for days in a burning fever. Then the doomed stores proved worth their weight in gold; the sick one lived on the delicacies they afforded. He had a cabin to himself, and a double cabin though it was, the fever and the tropical heat made his thirst consuming, and through the day page 104 his constant cry for “Water” was satisfied; but Wrax was his nurse (not a good one) through the night; he would have nothing to do with Piri, nor suffer any interference with his plans, and was moreover prone to assert that of all the sickness current (gout excepted) “nine-tenths is sham.” Hence, through the long night-hours, the poor child's faint gasp for “Water—water—water!” was oftener peremptorily silenced than satisfied. Denied the power to aid, Zee will never forget that cry for “Water—water!”
The change in the little man shocked every one, when he was first carried on the poop, as he began to mend; and a tiny saloon passenger shared her orange with him. How sweet to mother and child was that bit of orange—he had tired of baked apples, etc.; and later in the day, the little girl's papa gave Zee a large orange for the boy, saying it was “his last.” A whole orange! think of it! Gold could not have bought it. How happy the gift made both mother and son! carefully divided and placed within his reach, it would serve to quench his thirst through the night. Of the precious orange, Rex had sucked one, perhaps two, divisions, and the remainder was given at bed-time into Wrax's care. And—would you believe it?—it was “stolen”—stolen from the sick boy! Wrax said, and pointed out a burly Englishman as the supposed thief. “Stolen!” Zee said nothing. What could she say? The wretch who could steal it would deny the theft. The dear little fellow—his mother too, perhaps—cried over that orange. However, from the moment he breathed the fresh air under the awning on deck, he began to recover, and the voyage proved as beneficial to him as it usually does to both old and young.
Deeming light and air indispensable, Zee, in her nautical verdancy, chose their cabin close to the main hatch; but too much water down the hatchway soon placed light and air at a discount, and the captain, who was extremely kind to them, gave them a cabin “aft,” and Wrax fitted it up conveniently; it was quite a tip-top affair, in fact, with room to walk about and entertain visitors. But the instant lively Neptune page 105 began his pitching and rolling, they learnt the value of nut-shell dimensions. It is well to be boxed in when dashed about; space does but give force to the blows.
Despite its many drawbacks, life on board ship is very delightful. To all in health, the sea-air gives ravenous appetites; the simplest food is sweet, no one suffers from dyspepsia.56 The ship itself, with any number of passengers, is wonderfully clean, there is no dust in the air. Tropical sunsets are grand; the great luminary sinks swiftly to rest in such a sea of gold that its mid-day radiance is eclipsed by its “Good-night” glory. Its lustrous setting reflects perchance the magnificence of the children of light, as they kiss him into beauty at the end of his day's work.
Sparse of incident as is sea-life, the most trifling details of the wonders of the deep are hailed as exciting events; and the birds appearing where its monotony presses heavily, the catching and shooting of them offers an outlet for the surplus energy enforced idleness finds difficult to deal with. The birds follow in the wake of the ship, and are caught with the keenest enjoyment by means of baited lines thrown out astern. But it is sad, very sad, to see the fine albatross fall heavily on the water, and float grandly, silently away, with a broken leg or wing; sad, too, to hear the shouts of the men resounding far and wide as bird after bird falls to their small shot. Wanton cruelty!
The sky, new in its wondrous star-lit brilliancy, was eagerly scanned for the first glimpse of the belauded “Southern Cross;” and, beautiful though it is, now that distance no longer enhanced its beauty, it was declared outrivalled by other constellations, which, being more familiar, “the exiles” loved for their home-look. They as yet owned nothing in common with the Britain of the South Pacific.
Water, water everywhere, but never a speck of land.57 The sceptical Zee was sure they were “just sailing round and round, and would presently eat shrimps off Gravesend.” Love-sick swains sighed and hoped they page 106 were, if their bliss might be prolonged thereby. Love-making to kill time is such dangerous work that it were well the electric light should make “star-gazing” a vision of the past. A sudden lurch of the ship, which sent husband and wife no one knew where, was less cruel to the lovers. Wrax protested he had “no patience with the young fools.” “No one more spoony than yourself, of yore, sir,” suggested Zee, with timely satire; at which Wrax jerked himself off with a half shrug, half grin, at his folly or her fun. No man-traps58 were set by the girls. They were as purely modest as ever English matron reared, and, withal, so winning that, for the moral health of the male creation, one could but wish their like unlimited. Of practical attention Piri received the lion's share, since with him in his arms the star-gazing devotee could venture into closer proximity to his fair enslaver, who, however, until safely housed, made willing service available. How far the useful outweighed the agreeable during the voyage it were impolitic to surmise.
The welcome cry of “Land ahead!” made farewell suppers the topic of the hour. And, in return for unnumbered mercies vouchsafed by the gentler sex, the bachelors' farewell supper was to be “a stunner,” and for this supper many tit-bits that made their mouths water were laid half-grudgingly aside from their own short allowance, while of other folk they begged, borrowed, and—no, imagination shall supply the word. “Fast” as were the bachelors, the sea, as a rule, was faster, and mixed various ingredients above-board, instead of leaving nature to do her work; so that their own cooking operations usually resulted in a hodge-podge, “awfully moreish,” called sea-pie, a compound of oat-meal, sugar, meat, raisins, mustard, pickles, and what not.
But for the state occasion pretty fingers were pressed into the service, the beaux fluttering round to mar, not mend, operations. Presently the lads and lasses were seated round a board which groaned beneath such delicacies as the season afforded; and the lads, having fasted all day, were longing, as only healthy, sharp-set Englishmen can, for “a good go in.” “One of us” page 107 possessing “sea-legs,” was deputed to carry an appetising cauldron of soup from the galley. But on board ship there is many a slip 'tween the cup and the lip—the bachelors and the elements were at war; for as “sea-legs” was in the act of placing the savory mess on the table, the jovial sea-king sent him swimming in decidedly more than his share. Hungry men are hungry men the wide world over; and though roars of laughter, sounding hollow on empty stomachs, went round and round, blessings(?) neither few nor mild were held in check.
Although a professedly teetotal ship, liquors, at exorbitant prices, were nevertheless procurable, and on them some of the men had spent their last shilling and pledged the last article on which they could raise one, before they reached port. Wrax had lent money, at a high rate of interest, on a miscellaneous collection of articles which were afterwards redeemed. But for the drink, all but unbroken harmony would have prevailed throughout the voyage. Under its baneful influence some of the silly men figured in unpremeditated fighting matches, and often, after such onslaughts, the captain stopped their supply of grog for a day or so.
Behold the hour and the man! The pilot is greeted with deafening hurrahs by the emigrants strong of arm and of will, longing to have done with their do-nothing listlessness. Slow-going old England is henceforth in the background, and the land of which they have formed great expectations ranks A 159 ; but of it, with a love of grumbling inexcusable, a dismal tale is told by those who have just boarded the ship. But gathering up their wits, like true Britons, the emigrants walk off with a do-or-die resolve which ultimately proved the croak and croaker alike worthless.
50 Paul, an apostle, fought with wild beasts at Ephesus (Corinthians 15:32).
51 Proverbial term for dense darkness or gloom. In reference to the nomadic Cimmerii, the earliest known inhabitants of Crimea, who overran Asia Minor in the 7th century B.C.
52 A pub: a building which primarily sells alcoholic drinks to be consumed on the premises.
53 Madeleine Hamilton Smith (1835-1928) was a woman accused of poisoning her lover in a highly-publicised trial in Glasgow in 1857, in which many of the letters between Smith and her lover were read aloud. She was deemed not guilty due to insufficient evidence.
54 To playfully run and jump about, to dance in a lively way.
55 In Roman religion and mythology, Neptune is the god of the sea (also corresponding to the Greek ‘Poseidon’). Also in allusive use, Neptune refers to a personification of the sea.
56 A disorder of the digestive organs, especially the stomach, usually involving weakness, loss of appetite, and depression.
57 A reference to "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Written in 1797-98, "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" includes the lines: “Water, water, everywhere, / And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, / Nor any drop to drink” (119-122). The poem also includes imagery of the free and flying albatross being shot for no reason. Ellen Ellis’s references to both the sport of killing albatross and ‘water, water, everywhere’ suggests she read Coleridge, and tried to imitate his romantic imagery.
58 A 19th century term for the flirtatious behaviour women supposedly engage in to ‘entrap’ a man into marriage.
59 A colloquial term meaning ‘first-class.’ Especially relates to a wooden ship (as those vessels marked A 1 were considered to be of the first quality).