The Goldfinder had on board her over a hundred first-class passengers, and nearly as many of the second class. The life among them was much of the same kind, though in the second class there was less of idleness, less of pleasure, and something more of an attempt to continue the ordinary industry of life. The women worked more and the men read more than their richer neighbours. But the love-making, and the fashion, and the mutiny against the fashion, were the same in one set as in the other. Our friends were at first subjected to an inconvenience which is always felt in such a position. They were known to have had saloon rather than second-class antecedents. Everybody had heard that they had been at Cambridge, and therefore they were at first avoided. And as they themselves were determined not to seek associates among their more aristocratic neighbours, they were left to themselves and solitary for some few days. But this was a condition not at all suited to Dick Shand’s temperament, and it was not long before he had made both male and female acquaintances.
‘Have you observed that woman in the brown straw hat?’ Dick said to Caldigate, one morning, as they were leaning together on the forepart of the vessel against one of the pens in which the fowls were kept. They were both dressed according to the parts they were acting, and which they intended to act, as second-class passengers and future working miners. Any one knowing in such matters would have seen that they were over-dressed; for the real miner, when he is away from his work, puts on his best clothes, and endeavours to look as little rough as possible. And all this had no doubt been seen and felt, and discounted among our friends’ fellow-passengers.
‘I have seen her every day, of course,’ said Caldigate, ’and have been looking at her for the last half hour.’
‘She is looking at us now.’
‘She seems to me to be very attentive to the stocking she is mending.’
’Just a woman’s wiles. At this moment she can’t hear us, but she knows pretty nearly what we are saying by the way our lips are going. Have you spoken to her?’
‘I did say a word or two to her yesterday.’
‘What did she say?’
’I don’t recollect especially. She struck me as talking better than her gown, if you know what I mean.’
‘She talks a great deal better than her gown,’ said Dick. ’I don’t quite know what to make of her. She says that she is going out to earn her bread; but when I asked her how, she either couldn’t or wouldn’t answer me. She is a mystery, and mysteries are always worth unravelling. I shall go to work and unravel her.’
At that moment the female of whom they were speaking got up from her seat on one of the spars which was bound upon the deck, folded up her work, and walked away. She was a remarkable woman, and certainly looked to be better than her gown, which was old and common enough. Caldigate had observed her frequently, and had been much struck by the word or two she had spoken to him on the preceding day. ’I should like ship-life well enough,’ she had said, in answer to some ordinary question, ’if it led to nothing else.’