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

Chapter VI. Lucy's Diary

page 58

Chapter VI. Lucy's Diary.

August 20th, Thursday.—Very wet all day. Impossible to get on deck; and a day spent below, in the tropics, is not a thing to be spoken of lightly.

The seats in the saloon 74 —the iron benches I may call them—which run along each side of the table, are not very inviting for a prolonged period; the skylights could only be partially opened, as the rain beat in. I held my ground for an hour in the morning, trying to knit, and to fancy it was not so very hot, after all.

Quite in vain. At the end of the hour I had a headache; had tried half a dozen different positions, page 59 each worse than the last; had deluded the captain into lending me a chair out of his cabin; had been upset, chair and all, by a roll of the vessel; and had been advised by Louis, who picked me up, to go and “lie by, and wait for better times.”

I took his advice, and retreated to my cabin for the rest of the day.

In the evening it still rained. Scarcely any one seemed to think it worth while to appear at the tea-table. Mr. Meredith had been invisible all day.

I pined for a breath of fresh air, and determined that, rain or not, I would have it; so I put on my waterproof cloak, drew the cape over my head, and crept quietly up the companion-stairs.

The door on the weather side was shut to keep out the rain; the other was open, and some one was standing smoking just outside. He moved away when he saw me; but, though it was growing dark, I recognized Doctor Dacre. I suppose he saw my face by the light of the lamp on the stairs, as I camp up, for otherwise I am sure he could not have made me out in the shadow.

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When I saw him turn away I said directly, “Oh, Doctor Dacre, don't go! Do stay and talk to me! I've been so stupid all day, and I want to be amused!”

He came back immediately, throwing away his cigar, but looking so grave that I felt in a moment as if I had been unpardonably forward.

So I said, “You mustn't mind what I say, doctor, please. I always talk dreadful nonsense. Of course, I could not think of your standing there in the wet to talk to me.”

I was quite demure 75 and dignified now. He said, “I like your nonsense, Miss Cunningham; and I'm only too happy to stay and talk to you, if—if you wish it.”

He rather stammered over this speech, and yet I did not feel as if he were merely inventing a polite assurance to pacify me. Doctor Dacre somehow manages to make you feel he means what he says; therefore I answered, “Well, then, if you don't mind, rally and truly, I do wish it; so pray stop. But,” I added politely, “you are page 61 in all the rain; won't you come a little more into shelter?”

“No, I think not. You have no idea how wet I am, Miss Cunningham. If I came any nearer, you might blame me afterwards, when you find yourself laid up with a bad cold.” He shook some of the drops off his white mackintosh 76 as he spoke.

“Have you been out in the rain long?” I asked.

“About half an hour. It is not pleasant, certainly; but anything is better than staying below in the tropics.”

“I quite agree with you. I think this has been our most disagreeable day yet since we sailed. But if it is not pleasant for us, what must it be for the poor second-cabin passengers?”

I was feeling my way to an inquiry about the handsome black-haired lady, whom I am convinced Doctor Dacre knew something about. She is so out of her element amongst the maid-servants, and farmers' daughters, and young shopmen, who make up the bulk of the second-class passengers, 77 that I feel convinced she has, as people say, “seen better days.” I page 62 have woven a romance for her in my own mind. 78 She is certainly quite beautiful enough for the heroine of a novel.

Whether Doctor Dacre divined the intention with which I made the last remark or not I cannot say, but it is certain that he immediately turned the conversation, and there by frustrated my diplomatic little effort to extract some information 79 concerning her.

“Mr. Lennox was telling me to-day that his run joins on to your father's,” was my companion's next observation. “He thinks you will like that part of the country.”

“I am sure I shall. And Mr. Lennox has two daughters. He has been talking to me about them. I am so glad that they will be my next neighbours.”

“One of them is considered a beauty, the captain tells me,” said Doctor dacre.

I was delighted to hear it, and immediately set her down in my own mind as destined for Louis; but of course I did not utter this thought aloud.

There was a minute's silence, and I caught myself page 63 wondering a little whether the man by my side, with his bright, dark eyes looking out steadily into the night, had ever had a sister to build castles in the air 80 for him; and, in fact, what sort of a life he had led altogether, because I am persuaded that no man with as much depth of expression as I have caught in his eyes, at times, can have gone through the world in quite a common-place way. Where-ever he has lived, depend upon it he has stamped his mark upon the lives around him, with which his own has been brought in contact. Such men as he is exert a great influence over others for good or evil. Probably his life's drama is not over yet, for he looks little more than thirty; and sometimes I suspect he is a trifle younger than he looks.

“Doctor Dacre,” I said at last.


“I should like to ask you something.”

“Would you? Ask me anything you please, Miss Cunningham.”

He looked me full in the face as he said this. I like his eyes.

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“If you won't think me very rude,” I said, “I should like very much to know if you are going out to settle in the colonies, or only for pleasure?”

“I did not come out with any intention of settling in New Zealand,” he replied. “I came because I am very fond of travelling, and because I had overworked myself, and been ill. So I ordered myself a voyage … and here I am.”

This was all addressed to me, and uttered in a deliberate and straightforward manner. But afterwards he turned his head away, and said something to himself under his breath about “choosing a fatal ship,” which I could not understand; and which, as it was evidently not meant for me, of course I took no notice of.

“Then you will go back to England before long?” I went on.

“Not immediately, perhaps. I shall see. If I find no work ready to my hand, and my conscience begins to prick me, I shall certainly return. Work in one sense is no necessity to me; that is, I have always had more money than I have quite known page 65 what to do with. But several years ago, Miss Cunningham, I learnt to set a great value on the precept, ‘Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might’—and, fortunately, a doctor need not look far for something to do. Wherever there is physical suffering—and where is it not?—there his work is cut out for him.”

He paused a moment; then added, in a lighter tone, “You must forgive me if I am boring you. You asked me to stay and amuse you. I fear I've set about it in rather a clumsy fashion.”

This last remark I disdained to take any notice of. Did he think me a mere baby, only to be amused with playthings?

I said—answering what had gone before—“It appears to me that a working life like that is a very noble one, with a noble prospect before it. ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me.’”

Doctor Dacre shook his head rather sadly and gravely. “There has been nothing noble about my life,” he said. “I found out that there is scarcely page 66 anything in the world which deadens mental pain like seeing some one else suffer, and being able to do a little to relieve them. It is a marvellous anodyne 85 So you see selfishness has been at the root of my work after all.”

I think I did not honour him at all the less, but rather the more for this speech. There have been others before now who have called themselves “unprofitable servants.”

Gradually a great respect is growing up in my mind for Doctor Dacre. And one thing I am sure of: somewhere, and at some time in his life, this man has had a shock, a trouble, which has coloured his whole history. I became quite certain of it while he was speaking.

I had an answer on my lips, when a voice at the bottom of the stairs said, “Miss Cunningham!”

I looked down. Clinton Meredith was standing below in the shadow, with his face turned up towards me.

“Miss Cunningham!” he repeated.


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“Are you alone?”

“No. Doctor Dacre is here.”

But when I turned towards where the Doctor had been standing, he was gone; he had disappeared into the rain and darkness outside. I corrected myself,—

“He was here, but he has gone.”

“I'm not sorry.”

He mounted a step or two, and then stopped.

“Do you know,” he said, “I think I'm jealous of that fellow Dacre.”

“Don't be a goose, 86 please.”

“Well, I am, Miss Cunningham;”—here he came a step or two higher—“Have I any occasion to be?”

“To be what?”

“Jealous. Have I any need to be? You know what I mean; and I will have an answer.”

He was only two steps beneath me now.

* * * * *

Well, after all, it was a strange time and place to receive one's first proposal. The companion-ladder page 68 of an emigrant ship, on a dark, rainy night in the tropics, with a sailor poking his head in at the door at the most critical moment, to look at the clock over the stairs!

We both began to laugh; but by that time we had come to an understanding, so we could afford to.

I said, very severely, “Why didn't you choose a more suitable moment, Mr. Meredith, for asking such a question? One of those lovely moonlight evenings would have been quite the correct thing; and you must needs select a night like this, and a place where I can only stand by holding on with my eyelids!”

And he answered, “Well, I meant to have waited for a better time; but, you see, I came and found you with Dacre, and I really was jealous. No, you needn't shake your head at me, Lucy! It serves you right for calling me anything beginning with ‘Mister!’”

74 On board ship a 'saloon' was a large room designed for the general recreation of passengers.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

75 OED definition states: 'To look demurely, 'to look with an affected modesty'.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

76 English term for a raincoat or type of waterproof clothing.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

77 Reference to 'emigrant sotick' in New Zealand History section of the NZETC collection. See: http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/subject-000001.html.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

78 In literature the mind is linked to the personal imagination.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

79 Theme linked with crime stories and 'secrecy' in the sensation novel genre.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

80 Common expression for an indulgence in fantasy and imagination.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

85 Here used to denote the means to relieve suffering in the least offensive way possible.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]

86 Victorian expression for 'fool' or 'foolish'.

[Note added by A. Brown as annotator]