Moondyne/In Search of His Sorrow
Nine years crowded with successful enterprise had made Will Sheridan a strong man in worldly wisdom and wealth. His healthy influence had been felt and acknowledged all over the West Australian colony. His direct attack on all obstacles never failed, whether the barriers were mountains or men.
He had raised the sandalwood trade into cosmopolitan commerce. In nine years he had made a national industry for the country in which he lived; had grown rich himself, without selfishly seeking it; and, in proportion, had made millionaires of the company that employed him.
When men of large intelligence, foresight, and boldness break into new fields, they may gather gold by the handful. So it was with this energetic worker. His practical mind turned everything into account, He inquired from the natives how they cured the beautiful soft kangaroo skins they wore as bokas, and learned that the red gum, tons of which could be gathered in a day, was the most powerful tan in the world.
He at once shipped twenty tons of it to Liverpool as an experiment. The next year he transported two hundred thousand pounds' worth; and, five years from that time, Australian red gum was an article of universal trade.
He saw a felled boolah-tree change in the rainy season into a transparent substance like gum arabic; and, three years afterwards, West Australia supplied nearly all the white gum in the markets of civilization.
One might conclude that the man who could set his mind so persistently at work in this energetic fashion must be thoroughly engaged, and that his rapid success must have brought with it a rare and solid satisfaction. Was it so with Agent Sheridan?
Darkest of all mysteries, O secret heart of man, that even to its owner is unfathomed and occult! Here worked a brave man from year to year, smiled on by men and women, transmuting all things to gold; vigorous, keen, worldly, and gradually, becoming philosophic through large estimation of values in men and things; yet beneath this toiling and practical mind of the present was a heart that never for one day, through all these years, ceased bleeding and grieving for a dead joy of the past.
This was the bitter truth. When riding through the lonely and beautiful bush, where everything was rich in colour, and all nature was supremely peaceful, the sleepless underlying grief would seize on this strong man's heart and gnaw it till he moaned aloud and waved his arms, as if to put physically sway—from him the felon thought that gripped so cruelly.
While working, there was no time to heed the pain—no opening for the bitter thought to take shape. But it was there: always—it was alive under the ice—moving in restless throbs and memories. It stirred at strange faces, and sometimes it beat wofully at a familiar sound.
No wonder that the man who carried such a heart should, sooner or later, show sign of the hidden sorrow in his face. It was so with Will Sheridan. His worldly work and fortune belonged only to the nine years of his Australian life; but he knew that the life lying beyond was that which gave him happiness or misery.
He became a grave man before his time; and one deep line in his face, that to most people would have denoted his energy and intensity of will, was truly graven by the unceasing presence of his sorrow.
He had loved Alice Walmsley with that one love which thorough natures only know. It had grown into his young life as firmly as an organic part of his being. When it was torn from him, there was left a gaping and bleeding wound. And time bad brought him no cure.
In the early days of his Australian career he had received the news of his death. His mother and sister had been well provided for. They implored him to come home but he could not bear to hear of the one being whose memory filled his existence; and so he never wrote to his people. Their letters ceased; and in nearly nine years he had never heard a word from home.
But now, when his present life was to outward appearance all sunshine, and when his future path lay through pleasant ways, the bitter thought in his heart rankled with unutterable suffering. Neither work nor excitement allayed the pang. He shrank from solitude, and he was solitary in crowds. He feared to give rein to grief; yet alone, in the moonlit bush, he often raised his face and hands to heaven, and cried aloud in his grievous pain.
At last the thought came that he must look his misery in the face—that he must put an end to all uncertainty. Answering the unceasing yearning in his breast, he came to a decision.
"I must go home," he said aloud one day, when riding alone in the forest, "I must go home—if only for one day."