Moondyne/Counternining the Miner
Will Sheridan's life on the Canton was a restless and unhappy one from the night of his altercation with Draper. He was daily associated with a man who had exposed his own villainy; a caitiff so vile, that he had sought, and probably still intended, to blight the life of a girl he had known from childhood.
The discipline of the ship required a certain courtesy and respect towards the first officer. This formal recognition Will paid, but nothing more.
A few days after this meeting Draper made an advance towards intimacy; but this was repelled with such cold severity as showed him that he had nothing to expect in future from Sheridan's forbearance.
"Do not dare to address me as a friend again," Will said, sternly; "I shall write to England from the first port, and expose you as the scoundrel you are."
Draper's dry lips—his lips were always dry—moved as if he were speaking, but no words came. His shallow eyes became wells of hate. He passed by Sheridan without reply, and went to his room.
There are a hundred ways in which the chief officer of a large ship can grind his inferiors; and Sheridan every day felt the subtle malevolence of his enemy. But these persecutions he did not heed. He knew that underneath these symptoms lay a more dangerous rancour that, sooner or later, would try to do him a deadly injury.
What the form of the attack might be, he knew not. But he prepared himself for emergencies. Will Sheridan was not only a brave and straightforward young fellow, but he had a clever head on his shoulders.
"Why should I let this cunning scoundrel injure me?" he asked himself. "His villainy is easily seen through—and I'm going to watch him closely."
He did watch him, and it served him well. Every secret and dangerous move he saw and disarranged. A trumped-up plan of mutiny among the men—which would have excused bloodshed, and the shooting of an officer, perhaps, by accident—he nipped in the bud, and almost exposed the machinations of him who hatched it.
Draper soon understood that he was playing with his master, and changed his method. He began to wait for an opportunity instead of making one.
This will be the case almost invariably; when honest men axe fighting cowards and slanderers, the surest way to defeat them is by constant watchfulness. Evil-minded people are generally shallow, and easily countermined. Only, when they axe countermined, they should be blown up, and never spared.
The Canton touched at Singapore for orders, and was detained a week. Will Sheridan resolved that on the night before she sailed he would leave the ship. Draper seemed to divine his purpose, and watched him like a tiger. But Will's constant attention to duty, and his equable temper, deceived the watcher.
The night before the Canton was to sail, Will dropt a bundle into a dingy under the bow, swung himself after it, and went ashore. A close search was made for him next day by the police, headed by Draper, the law in those ports being rigid against deserters. But he could not be found, and the Canton sailed without her second officer.
The first thing Will Sheridan did when he knew he was out of danger was to write to Mrs. Walmsley, warning her of Draper's marriage in India. This done, he set about getting some sort of employment.
He was in a strange place, and he knew no business except that of the sea. In a few days he shipped as mate on a barque bound found for West Australia, in the sandalwood trade.
A large and lucrative trade in sandalwood is carried on between China, India, and the penal colony. Vast districts in West Australia are covered with this precious wood, which is cut by ticket-of-leave men, and shipped to China and India, where it is used in the burning of incense in the Josshouses or temples, and in the delicate cabinet and marquetry work which is so plentiful in oriental countries.
This was a life that suited Sheridan's vigorous temperament. He found his occupation pleasant, and would have quite forgotten the enmity of Draper; but he still feared that his influence over Alice Walmsley had not been broken.
He spent a year in the sandalwood trade, and was thinking of taking a trip to England, when he received a package through the post-office at Shanghai, containing all his letters, and a brief unfriendly message in Alice Walmsley's handwriting, informing him that she was Captain Draper's Wife, and that she scorned the cowardly nature that sought to destroy an honourable man's good name by malicious falsehood.
Will Sheridan was dumbfounded and grieved to the heart. In all he had previously borne, in his efforts to crush out of his heart a hopeless passion almost as strong as his life, he had, he thought, sounded the depths of his love for Alice Walmsley. But now, when he knew her utterly beyond his reach, and saw opening before her a desert life of misery and despair, the pity in his heart almost killed him. He would have given his life then that his enemy might be an honourable man. Her letter did not wound him, because he knew she had been deceived.
At first, he knew not what to do. He feared he had been hasty—he did not actually know that Draper was a villain his own accusing word was not enough, perhaps, or it might bear an explanation. Should he write to Alice and take back his cruel charges? Or should he remain silent, and let time unravel the trouble?
To do the first would be wrong—to do the second might be woefully unjust. The true course was to find out the truth; to go to Calcutta and learn for himself; and if he were wrong, to publicly make acknowledgment. If he were right, he could remain silent if it were for the best.
Two months afterwards, Will Sheridan returned from Calcutta to Shanghai. He had found out the truth. He proceeded at once to West Australia to join his ship, and from that time he wrote no more to England. One part of his life, the sweet and tender part, without fault of his, had suffered woefully, and had died before his eyes. It was shrouded in his memory, and buried in his heart. Like a brave man, he would not sit and mourn over the loss. He set his face to his duty, hoping and praying that time would take the gnawing pain from his heart.