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- Cumner & South Sea Folk, v2 - 4/9 -
launched a skiff by the time the girl reached the shore. She got in without a word. She was deadly pale, but full of nerve. They rowed hard to where they could see two men clinging to the yacht; there had been three in it. The two men were not hauled in, for the gale was blowing too hard, but they clung to the rescuing skiff. The girl's brother was not to be seen. Instantly Dibbs dived under the yacht. It seemed an incredible time before he reappeared; but when he did, he had a body with him. Blood was coming from his nose, the strain of holding his breath had been so great. It was impossible to get the insensible body into the skiff. He grasped the side, and held the boy's head up. The girl rowed hard, but made little headway. Other rescue boats arrived presently, however, and they were all got to shore safely.
Lieutenant Archie Harman did not die. Animation was restored after great difficulty, but he did not sail away with the Ruby next morning to the Polynesian Islands. Another man took his place.
Little was said between Commander Dibbs and Laura Harman at parting late that night. She came from her brother's bedside and laid her hand upon his arm. "It is good," she said, "for a man to be brave as well as ambitious. You are sure to succeed; and I shall be proud of you, for-- for you saved my brother's life, you see," she timidly added; and she was not often timid.
Five months after, when the Ruby was lying with the flag-ship off one of the Marshall Islands, a packet of letters was brought from Fiji by a trading-schooner. One was for Commander Dibbs. It said in brief: "You saved my brother's life--that was brave. You saved his honour--that was noble. He has told me all. He will resign and clear you when the Admiral returns. You are a good man."
"He ought to be kicked," Dibbs said to himself. "Did the cowardly beggar think I did it for him--blast him!"
He raged inwardly; but he soon had something else to think of, for a hurricane came down on them as they lay in a trap of coral with only one outlet, which the Ruby had surveyed that day. He took his ship out gallantly, but the flag-ship dare not attempt it--Dibbs was the only man who knew the passage thoroughly. He managed to land on the shore below the harbour, and then, with a rope round him, essayed to reach the flag- ship from the beach. It was a wild chance, but he got there badly battered. Still, he took her with her Admiral out to the open safely.
That was how Dibbs became captain of a great iron-clad.
Archie Harman did not resign; Dibbs would not let him. Only Archie's sister knew that he was responsible for the accident to the Ruby, which nearly cost Dibbs his reputation; for he and Dibbs had surveyed the passage in the Barrier Reef when serving on another ship, and he had neglected instructions and wrongly and carelessly interpreted the chart. And Dibbs had held his tongue.
One evening Laura Harman said to Captain Dibbs: "Which would you rather be--Admiral of the Fleet or my husband?" Her hand was on his arm at the time.
He looked up at her proudly, and laughed slyly. "I mean to be both, dear girl."
"You have an incurable ambition," she said.
A LITTLE MASQUERADE
"Oh, nothing matters," she said, with a soft, ironical smile, as she tossed a bit of sugar to the cockatoo.
"Quite so," was his reply, and he carefully gathered in a loose leaf of his cigar. Then, after a pause: "And yet, why so? It's a very pretty world one way and another."
"Yes, it's a pretty world at times."
At that moment they were both looking out over a part of the world known as the Nindobar Plains, and it was handsome to the eye. As far as could be seen was a carpet of flowers under a soft sunset. The homestead by which they sat was in a wilderness of blossoms. To the left was a high rose-coloured hill, solemn and mysterious; to the right--afar off-- a forest of gum-trees, pink and purple against the horizon. At their feet, beyond the veranda, was a garden joyously brilliant, and bright- plumaged birds flitted here and there.
The two looked out for a long time, then, as if by a mutual impulse, suddenly turned their eyes on each other. They smiled, and, somehow, that smile was not delightful to see. The girl said presently: "It is all on the surface."
Jack Sherman gave a little click of the tongue peculiar to him, and said: "You mean that the beautiful birds have dreadful voices; that the flowers are scentless; that the leaves of the trees are all on edge and give no shade; that where that beautiful carpet of blossoms is there was a blazing quartz plain six months ago, and there's likely to be the same again; that, in brief, it's pretty, but hollow." He made a slight fantastic gesture, as though mocking himself for so long a speech, and added: "Really, I didn't prepare this little oration."
She nodded, and then said: "Oh, it's not so hollow,--you would not call it that exactly, but it's unsatisfactory."
"You have lost your illusions."
"And before that occurred you had lost yours."
"Do I betray it, then?" He laughed, not at all bitterly, yet not with cheerfulness.
"And do you think that you have such acuteness, then, and I--" Nellie Hayden paused, raised her eyebrows a little coldly, and let the cockatoo bite her finger.
"I did not mean to be egotistical. The fact is I live my life alone, and I was interested for the moment to know how I appeared to others. You and I have been tolerably candid with each other since we met, for the first time, three days ago; I knew you would not hesitate to say what was in your mind, and I asked out of honest curiosity. One fancies one hides one's self, and yet--you see!"
"Do you find it pleasant, then, to be candid and free with some one?.... Why with me?" She looked him frankly in the eyes.
"Well, to be more candid. You and I know the world very well, I fancy. You were educated in Europe, travelled, enjoyed--and suffered." The girl did not even blink, but went on looking at him steadily. "We have both had our hour with the world; have learned many sides of the game. We haven't come out of it without scars of one kind or another. Knowledge of the kind is expensive."
"You wanted to say all that to me the first evening we met, didn't you?" There was a smile of gentle amusement on her face.
"I did. From the moment I saw you I knew that we could say many things to each other 'without pre liminaries.' To be able to do that is a great deal."
"It is a relief to say things, isn't it?"
"It is better than writing them, though that is pleasant, after its kind."
"I have never tried writing--as we talk. There's a good deal of vanity at the bottom of it though, I believe."
"Of course. But vanity is a kind of virtue, too." He leaned over towards her, dropping his arms on his knees and holding her look. "I am very glad that I met you. I intended only staying here over night, but--"
"But I interested you in a way--you see, I am vain enough to think that. Well, you also interested me, and I urged my aunt to press you to stay. It has been very pleasant, and when you go it will be very humdrum again; our conversation, mustering, rounding-up, bullocks, and rabbits. That, of course, is engrossing in a way, but not for long at a time."
He did not stir, but went on looking at her. "Yes, I believe it has been pleasant for you, else it had not been so pleasant for me. Honestly, I don't believe I shall ever get you out of my mind."
"That is either slightly rude or badly expressed," she said. "Do you wish, then, to get me out of your mind?"
"No, no---- You are very keen. I wish to remember you always. But what I felt at the moment was this. There are memories which are always passive and delightful. We have no wish to live the scenes of which they are over again, the reflection is enough. There are others which cause us to wish the scenes back again, with a kind of hunger; and yet they won't or can't come back. I wondered of what class this memory would be."
The girl flushed ever so slightly, and her fingers clasped a little nervously, but she was calm. Her voice was even; it had, indeed, a little thrilling ring of energy. "You are wonderfully daring," she replied, "to say that to me. To a school-girl it might mean so much: to me--!" She shook her head at him reprovingly.
He was not in the least piqued. "I was absolutely honest in that. I said nothing but what I felt. I would give very much to feel confident one way or the other--forgive me, for what seems incredible egotism. If I were five years younger I should have said instantly that the memory would be one--"
"Which would disturb you, make you restless, cause you to neglect your work, fill you with regret; and yet all too late--isn't that it?" She laughed lightly and gave a lump of sugar to the cockatoo.
"You read me accurately. But why touch your words with satire?"
"I believe I read you better than you read me. I didn't mean to be satirical. Don't you know that what often seems irony directed towards others is in reality dealt out to ourselves? Such irony as was in my voice was for myself."
"And why for yourself?" he asked quietly, his eyes full of interest. He was cutting the end of a fresh cigar. "Was it"--he was about to strike a match, but paused suddenly--"was it because you had thought the
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