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Chapter 16
'The time was coming when I should see him loved, trusted, admired, with a
legend of strength and prowess forming round his name as though he had been
the stuff of a hero. It's true--I assure you; as true as I'm sitting here talking about
him in vain. He, on his side, had that faculty of beholding at a hint the face of his
desire and the shape of his dream, without which the earth would know no lover
and no adventurer. He captured much honour and an Arcadian happiness (I
won't say anything about innocence) in the bush, and it was as good to him as
the honour and the Arcadian happiness of the streets to another man. Felicity,
felicity--how shall I say it?--is quaffed out of a golden cup in every latitude: the
flavour is with you--with you alone, and you can make it as intoxicating as you
please. He was of the sort that would drink deep, as you may guess from what
went before. I found him, if not exactly intoxicated, then at least flushed with the
elixir at his lips. He had not obtained it at once. There had been, as you know, a
period of probation amongst infernal ship-chandlers, during which he had
suffered and I had worried about--about--my trust--you may call it. I don't know
that I am completely reassured now, after beholding him in all his brilliance. That
was my last view of him--in a strong light, dominating, and yet in complete accord
with his surroundings--with the life of the forests and with the life of men. I own
that I was impressed, but I must admit to myself that after all this is not the lasting
impression. He was protected by his isolation, alone of his own superior kind, in
close touch with Nature, that keeps faith on such easy terms with her lovers. But
I cannot fix before my eye the image of his safety. I shall always remember him
as seen through the open door of my room, taking, perhaps, too much to heart
the mere consequences of his failure. I am pleased, of course, that some good--
and even some splendour--came out of my endeavours; but at times it seems to
me it would have been better for my peace of mind if I had not stood between
him and Chester's confoundedly generous offer. I wonder what his exuberant
imagination would have made of Walpole islet--that most hopelessly forsaken
crumb of dry land on the face of the waters. It is not likely I would ever have
heard, for I must tell you that Chester, after calling at some Australian port to
patch up his brig-rigged sea-anachronism, steamed out into the Pacific with a
crew of twenty-two hands all told, and the only news having a possible bearing
upon the mystery of his fate was the news of a hurricane which is supposed to
have swept in its course over the Walpole shoals, a month or so afterwards. Not
a vestige of the Argonauts ever turned up; not a sound came out of the waste.
Finis! The Pacific is the most discreet of live, hot-tempered oceans: the chilly
Antarctic can keep a secret too, but more in the manner of a grave.
'And there is a sense of blessed finality in such discretion, which is what we all
more or less sincerely are ready to admit--for what else is it that makes the idea
of death supportable? End! Finis! the potent word that exorcises from the house
of life the haunting shadow of fate. This is what--notwithstanding the testimony of