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Dead Men Tell No Tales

1. Love on the Ocean
Nothing is so easy as falling in love on a long sea voyage, except falling out of
love. Especially was this the case in the days when the wooden clippers did
finely to land you in Sydney or in Melbourne under the four full months. We all
saw far too much of each other, unless, indeed, we were to see still more. Our
superficial attractions mutually exhausted, we lost heart and patience in the
disappointing strata which lie between the surface and the bed-rock of most
natures. My own experience was confined to the round voyage of the Lady
Jermyn, in the year 1853. It was no common experience, as was only too well
known at the time. And I may add that I for my part had not the faintest intention
of falling in love on board; nay, after all these years, let me confess that I had
good cause to hold myself proof against such weakness. Yet we carried a young
lady, coming home, who, God knows, might have made short work of many a
better man!
Eva Denison was her name, and she cannot have been more than nineteen
years of age. I remember her telling me that she had not yet come out, the very
first time I assisted her to promenade the poop. My own name was still unknown
to her, and yet I recollect being quite fascinated by her frankness and self-
possession. She was exquisitely young, and yet ludicrously old for her years; had
been admirably educated, chiefly abroad, and, as we were soon to discover,
possessed accomplishments which would have made the plainest old maid a
popular personage on board ship. Miss Denison, however, was as beautiful as
she was young, with the bloom of ideal health upon her perfect skin. She had a
wealth of lovely hair, with strange elusive strands of gold among the brown, that
drowned her ears (I thought we were to have that mode again?) in sunny ripples;
and a soul greater than the mind, and a heart greater than either, lay sleeping
somewhere in the depths of her grave, gray eyes.
We were at sea together so many weeks. I cannot think what I was made of then!
It was in the brave old days of Ballarat and Bendigo, when ship after ship went
out black with passengers and deep with stores, to bounce home with a bale or
two of wool, and hardly hands enough to reef topsails in a gale. Nor was this the
worst; for not the crew only, but, in many cases, captain and officers as well,
would join in the stampede to the diggings; and we found Hobson's Bay the
congested asylum of all manner of masterless and deserted vessels. I have a
lively recollection of our skipper's indignation when the pilot informed him of this
disgraceful fact. Within a fortnight, however, I met the good man face to face
upon the diggings. It is but fair to add that the Lady Jermyn lost every officer and
man in the same way, and that the captain did obey tradition to the extent of
being the last to quit his ship. Nevertheless, of all who sailed by her in January, I
alone was ready to return at the beginning of the following July.
I had been to Ballarat. I had given the thing a trial. For the most odious weeks I
had been a licensed digger on Black Hill Flats; and I had actually failed to make
running expenses. That, however, will surprise you the less when I pause to
declare that I have paid as much as four shillings and sixpence for half a loaf of
 
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