Chapter I
 

A "hard" man was Captain William Rodway of Sydney, New South Wales, and he prided himself upon the fact. From the time he was twenty years of age, he had devoted himself to making and saving money, and now at sixty he was worth a quarter of a million.

He began life as cabin boy on a north-country collier brig; was starved, kicked, and all but worked to death; and when he came to command a ship of his own, his north-country training stood him in good stead--starving, kicking, and working his crew to death came as naturally to him as breathing. He spared no one, nor did he spare himself.

From the very first everything went well with him. He saved enough money by pinching and grinding his crew--and himself--to enable him to buy the vessel to which he had been appointed. Then he bought others, established what was known as Rodway's Line, gave up going to sea himself, rented an office in a mean street, where he slept and cooked his meals, and worked harder than ever at making money, oblivious of the sneers of those who railed at his parsimony. He was content.

One Monday morning at nine o'clock he took his seat as usual in his office, and began to open his pile of letters, his square-set, hard face, with its cold grey eyes, looking harder than ever, for he had been annoyed by the old charwoman who cleaned his squalid place asking him for more wages.

He was half-way through his correspondence when a knock sounded.

"Come in," he said gruffly.

The door opened, and a handsome, well-built young man of about thirty years of age entered.

"Good morning, Captain Rodway."

"Morning, Lester. What do you want? Why are you not at sea?" and he bent his keen eyes upon his visitor.

"I'm waiting for the water-boat; but otherwise I'm ready to sail."

"Well, what is it then?"

"I want to know if it is a fact that you will not employ married men as captains?"

"It is."

"Will you make no exception in my favour?"

"No."

"I have been five years in your employ as mate and master of the Harvest Home, and I am about to marry."

"Do as you please, but the day you marry you leave my service."

The young man's face flushed. "Then you can give me my money, and I'll leave it to-day."

"Very well. Sit down," replied the old man, reaching for his wages book.

"There are sixty pounds due to you," he said; "go on board and wait for me. I'll be there at twelve o'clock with the new man, and we'll go through the stores and spare gear together. If everything is right, I'll pay your sixty pounds--if not, I'll deduct for whatever is short. Good morning."

At two o'clock in the afternoon Captain Tom Lester landed at Circular Quay with his effects and sixty sovereigns in his pocket.

Leaving his baggage at an hotel he took a cab, drove to a quiet little street in the suburb of Darling Point, and stopped at a quaint, old-fashioned cottage surrounded by a garden.

The door was opened by a tall, handsome girl of about twenty-two.

"Tom!"

"Lucy!" he replied, mimicking her surprised tone. Then he became grave, and leading her to a seat, sat beside her, and took her hand.

"Lucy, I have bad news. Rod way dismissed me this morning, and I have left the ship."

The girl's eyes filled. "Never mind, Tom. You will get another."

"Ah, perhaps I might have to wait a long time. I have another plan. Where is Mrs. Warren? I must tell her that our marriage must be put off."

"Why should it, Tom? I don't want it to be put off. And neither does she."

"But I have no home for you."

"We can live here until we have one of our own. Mother will be only too happy."

"Sure?"

"Absolutely, or I would not say it."

"Will you marry me this day week?"

"Yes, dear--today if you wish. We have waited two years."

"You're a brave little woman, Lucy," and he kissed her. "Now, here is my plan. I can raise nearly a thousand pounds. I shall buy the Dolphin steam tug--I can get her on easy terms of payment--fill her with coal and stores, and go to Kent's Group in Bass's Straits, and try and refloat the Braybrook Castle. I saw the agents and the insurance people this morning--immediately after I left old Bodway. If I float her, it will mean a lot of money for me. If I fail, I shall at least make enough to pay me well by breaking her up. The insurance people know me, and said very nice things to me."

"Will you take me, Tom?"

"Don't tempt me, Lucy. It will be a rough life, living on an almost barren, rocky island, inhabited only by black snakes, albatrosses, gulls and seals."

"Tom, you must. Come, let us tell mother."

Three days later they were married, and at six o'clock in the evening the newly-made bride was standing beside her husband on the bridge of the Dolphin, which was steaming full speed towards Sydney Heads, loaded down almost to the waterways with coals and stores for four months.