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Over The Hills, and Far Away: A Story of New Zealand

Chapter IV. Lucy's Diary

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Chapter IV. Lucy's Diary.

August 16th, Tuesday.—I have never touched my diary for a fortnight. So much for the good resolutions made at the commencement of the voyage.

And I have nothing to plead in excuse, except that it is too hot to write; too hot to exert one's mind in the least; too hot to do anything all day but recline on deck under an awning, and amuse one's self after some very easy and luxurious fashion.

Tennyson's “Lotus-Eaters” 53

* * * * *

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What was I writing about before this great chasm occurred in my diary?

Something about Doctor Dacre and a woman who has been very ill among the second-class. We have never seen her yet on deck, and I feel rather curious about her, I confess.

Is there a mystery connected with her, or is it all my fancy, I wonder?

However it may be, I have not thought or seen much of Doctor Dacre lately. Somehow or other, he never comes in my way now. Once or twice I have been tempted to think that he purposely avoids me; but that is so very improbable that I really cannot believe it. What motive could he possibly have?

A few days ago we were becalmed off Madeira about tea-time. The island looked beautiful, with an exquisite rosy glow on the cliffs, and a white convent perched high on the side of the hill. Mr. Meredith has some cousin who live at Madeira, though at present they are on a visit to England. One or two of them are young ladies, and I gather from all he has said that he is a great admirer of page 34 them. He tried hard to make out their house from the description he had received, but could not succeed, even with the aid of the captain's telescope.

Strangely enough, all my pleasantest recollections of our week in the Channel centre around Doctor Dacre—Rylston Dacre. It is an uncommon name. But now …. I don't know why I shouldn't write it…. I have grown to find some one else much more agreeable. Clinton Meredith—what a pretty name it is! and how well suited to its owner, who is certainly the handsomest man I ever saw!

I can't describe him. He has fair hair and moustache, and eyes as blue as the ocean waves around us.

“In thy blue eyes' splendour,
Where the warm light loves to dwell.”

And then, too, he sings so charmingly, and with so much expression. It is treat to hear “When other lips” from him.

And then … I think … I am nearly page 35 sure … he means me to understand … but I will not write any more to-day.

* * * * *

August 20th.—Another day of this delicious lotos-eating existence.

Let me try to put it all down from beginning to end.

I was on deck directly after breakfast, reading “Lady Adelaide's Oath,” with my easy chair facing the stern. The awning was over my head as usual, and the sky was of a glorious cloudless blue. The sea was very calm, and the “Flora Macdonald,” like every one else, seemed to have grown idle and to be loitering on her way.

Louis was lying on the top of the skylight, smoking, and languidly dipping into the pages of a magazine; Mrs. Grant was seated near me, braiding herself a white Piqué costume; and Mrs. Mostyn, by her side, was sewing frills on to her little girl's frock.

Mr. Meredith, with a book in his hand, was swinging luxuriously in his hammock, which he had caused to be slung to the spanker-boom; while page 36 Doctor Dacre, a little further off, was prostrate on the deck, where he had made himself extremely comfortable with opossum rugs and cushions.

The other passengers were scattered here and there, and two of the sailors, seated on the hencoops, were mending the weak places in a sail, under the superintendence of the second mate, whose watch it was.

Suddenly some one descries a black speck on the horizon, which must be a vessel. She comes nearer. Telescopes and opera-glasses are in demand. Our little community has roused up suddenly into keen anxiety and eager life.

Preparations are made for signalling her. Soon we learn that she is a steamer, the “Flying Foam,” from Glasgow to Hong Kong, that she sailed a week later than the “Flora,” and has offered us newspapers.

It is needless to say that the offer is snapped at. The “Flying Foam” steams slowly past the stern of the “Flora,” and lies-to alongside of her.

Our first mate goes off in a boat, and fetches page 37 the precious documents. Our captain presents the skipper of the “Flying Foam” with a turtle, who sends in return an offering of a little pig. Then there is a great cheering and waving of hats and handkerchiefs on board both vessels, and slowly the “Flying Foam” steams away to Hong Kong, leaving the “Flora Macdonald” tossing on a glassy sea, beneath a cloudless sky.

Of course there was a rush for the newspapers. Mr. Meredith was especially anxious to see if there were any of the first sheets of the Times among them. There were two, and, pouncing upon one of them, he began to skim the column of “Births, Marriages, and Deaths.”

In a minute or two he stopped, turned scarlet, and flung the paper down with a low whistle.

“Anything interesting, Meredith?” said Louis, who had resumed his old position on the skylight.

“Only the death of an old uncle,” he answered.

“I hope he has had the good taste to leave me something handsome.”

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I looked up, struck by something forced and unnatural in the lightness of the tone.

“I say, Meredith, was your uncle's name Lindsay?” called out his friend, Mr. Prior, across the deck.

“You've hit it, old fellow,” was the answer. Mr. Prior turned away, stifling a laugh. But Clinton Meredith was perfectly grave. There was a flash of anger in his beautiful eyes for a moment when he looked at his friend. Then the colour faded from his face, and he came a few steps nearer me.

Just then the luncheon-bell rang, and every one rose and gathered together their books, working materials, and other belongings.

Mr. Meredith offered to carry my books below for me.

I let him take them, lingered a moment behind, snatched up the Times, and glanced down the list of deaths. The name of Lindsay was not among them, so that I do not believe that story about his uncle's death; but I think there was more in the above little scene than appeared on the surface, and that is why I have recorded it in my diary.

After lunch it was too hot to do anything. The very absence of all wind made the vessel roll heavily, and Doctor Dacre, coming up, lashed my chair to the side of the skylight, for I was beginning to find my position untenable.

Then he went away, but I remained on deck for some time. I was talking to Mr. Prior, who was making a confidante of me in a manner which would have astonished any one who was not aware how rapidly acquaintanceships progress at sea.

Mr. Prior is a tall man, as dark as a gipsey, and not handsome in the least, but good tempered and gentlemanly looking. He is engaged, he told me, to a girl whose acquaintance he made at Gibraltar about a year ago.

She was travelling with her father, who had been ordered to Spain for his health, and has since recovered, and chosen to offer the most decided opposition in his power to the match.

This has caused Mr. Prior to leave the army and page 40 emigrate to Otago, where he has some cousins already settled and prospering, and by whose aid he hopes to get on.

But the most romantic part of the story is yet to come. Miss Winstanley—for that is her name—has promised to come out and join him in a very few months. She will be of age in January, he said, and will then act for herself. Fortunately, they have secured her brother as an ally, and he has promised to bring her out, as she would not like to undertake the voyage alone.

I was very much interested in Mr. Prior's story, and I sympathized, I am sure, to his heart's content. By the time we had talked it well over, and he had shown me two or three photographs of his lady-love —a tall, fine-looking girl, in a large, majestic style— the bell rang for dinner, and we had to adjourn below.

Dinner at 3.30; then a gorgeous tropical sunset; and then a glorious moonlight evening on deck.

I have never seen a more beautiful effect of light and shadow than you get by standing at the binnacle on page 41 such nights. The deck of the “Flora Macdonald” is flush to the forecastle, which is raised a few steps. The second-cabin passengers collect together by the mainmast and sing song after song, all of which, however ill performed, are greeted with immense applause. A more appreciative audience for undeveloped talent it would be hard to find.

Sometimes they dance 54 instead; but to-night it was a concert, and not a ball.

About eight bells the festivity was at its height. Louis was, I fear, joining in it; at least, he was not at the stern, where I was standing with Mrs. Grant and Mr. Meredith, nor was he in the saloon. The skylights were raised, and we could look down and see that a rubber of whist was being played, in the warm lamp-light, by Doctor Grey, the captain, Mr. Grant, and Mr. Prior.

They broke up at last, and Doctor Grey came up and joined us. I called his attention to the picturesque group collected amidships, in the space of bright moonlight, between the two great shadows cast by the sails.

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As he looked at it he told me that the woman who has been so ill was on deck to-night. It is the first night she has been up for any length of time, and though Doctor Grey has roused our curiosity by his description of her, we have none of us had a chance to see her before.

Once or twice she has appeared on deck for a few minutes while we were at dinner, but always when we came up again she was gone.

To-night I determined to see her, and I did, in this manner:—

At nine o'clock I shook hands with Mrs. Grant and Clinton Meredith, wished them good-night, and walked to the door of the companion-stairs leading to the saloon. There are two doors—one opening on each side. I went in at the one on the weather side, close to which the concert was being held, and out again by the other.

This part of the deck was quite quiet and deserted. Only one figure—the one I was looking for—was seated about half-way between where I stood and the forecastle.

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Her face was turned away; but presently she looked round, and I involuntarily drew back into the shadow of the doorway.

Strange to say, I recognized her. She is the woman whom I met in the street at Brighton the day before we sailed. Her face is white and wasted; she has evidently been very ill. But Doctor Grey is right; she is very handsome—very uncommon-looking.

As I stood there watching her, a man came down the deck, whistling softly to himself an accompaniment to the air they were singing at the other side—

“For I'm marr-i-ed to a merm-i-ed
At the bottom of the sea.”

He emerged from the deep shadow by the mainmast out into the moonlight. It was Doctor Dacre.

More curiously still, then I remembered where I had seen that name before.

53 A celebrated poem written by Alfred, Lord Tennyson in 1833 that was based around two early Greek epic poem The Iliad and The Odyssey both of which were attributed to the Greek poet 'Homer'. Tennyson's poem concerned 'Odysseus' the hero figure in Homer's Iliad. Tennyson was the British poet laureate between 1809-1892. See references to Tennyson and colonial reading in reports of the 'Oamaru Mechanics Institute' in the North Otago Times, http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

54 Dancing classes were popular in the colony. See notice for 'Select Dancing Class' Oamaru. North Otago Times, Volume XXI, Issue 983, 20 October 1874, Page 4. See: http://paperspast.natlib.govt.New Zealand.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]