Part 11 out of 11
Rufus Dawes comprehended that the elements had come to save or destroy him.
In that awful instant the natural powers of the man rose equal to the occasion.
In a few hours his fate would be decided, and it was necessary that he should
take all precaution. One of two events seemed inevitable; he would either be
drowned where he lay, or, should the vessel weather the storm,
he would be forced upon the deck, and the desperate imposture
he had attempted be discovered. For the moment despair overwhelmed him,
and he contemplated the raging sea as though he would cast himself into it,
and thus end his troubles. The tones of a woman's voice recalled him
to himself. Cautiously unlocking the cabin door, he peered out.
The cuddy was lighted by a swinging lamp which revealed Sylvia questioning
one of the women concerning the storm. As Rufus Dawes looked,
he saw her glance, with an air half of hope, half of fear, towards the door
behind which he lurked, and he understood that she expected to see
the chaplain. Locking the door, he proceeded hastily to dress himself
in North's clothes. He would wait until his aid was absolutely required,
and then rush out. In the darkness, Sylvia would mistake him for the priest.
He could convey her to the boat--if recourse to the boats should be
rendered necessary--and then take the hazard of his fortune.
While she was in danger, his place was near by.
From the deck of the vessel the scene was appalling. The clouds had closed in.
The arch of light had disappeared, and all was a dull, windy blackness.
Gigantic seas seemed to mount in the horizon and sweep towards and upon them.
It was as though the ship lay in the vortex of a whirlpool, so high
on either side of her were piled the rough pyramidical masses of sea.
Mighty gusts arose--claps of wind which seemed like strokes of thunder.
A sail loosened from its tackling was torn away and blown out to sea,
disappearing like a shred of white paper to leeward. The mercury
in the barometer marked 29:50. Blunt, who had been at the rum bottle,
swore great oaths that no soul on board would see another sun;
and when Partridge rebuked him for blasphemy at such a moment,
wept spirituous tears.
The howling of the wind was benumbing; the very fury of sound enfeebled
while it terrified. The sailors, horror-stricken, crawled about the deck,
clinging to anything they thought most secure. It was impossible to raise
the head to look to windward. The eyelids were driven together,
and the face stung by the swift and biting spray. Men breathed this atmosphere
of salt and wind, and became sickened. Partridge felt that orders
were useless--the man at his elbow could not have heard them.
The vessel lay almost on her beam ends, with her helm up, stripped even
of the sails which had been furled upon the yards. Mortal hands
could do nothing for her.
By five o'clock in the morning the gale had reached its height.
The heavens showered out rain and lightnings--rain which the wind blew away
before it reached the ocean, lightnings which the ravenous and mountainous
waves swallowed before they could pierce the gloom. The ship lay over
on her side, held there by the madly rushing wind, which seemed to
flatten down the sea, cutting off the top of the waves, and breaking them
into fine white spray which covered the ocean like a thick cloud,
as high as the topmast heads. Each gust seemed unsurpassable in intensity,
but was succeeded, after a pause, that was not a lull but a gasp,
by one of more frantic violence. The barometer stood at 27:82.
The ship was a mere labouring, crazy wreck, that might sink at any moment.
At half-past three o'clock the barometer had fallen to 27:62.
Save when lighted by occasional flashes of sheet-lightning, which showed
to the cowed wretches their awe-stricken faces, this tragedy of the elements
was performed in a darkness which was almost palpable.
Suddenly the mercury rose to 29:90, and, with one awful shriek,
the wind dropped to a calm. The Lady Franklin had reached the centre
of the cyclone. Partridge, glancing to where the great body of drunken Blunt
rolled helplessly lashed to the wheel, felt a strange selfish joy thrill him.
If the ship survived the drunken captain would be dismissed, and he, Partridge,
the gallant, would reign in his stead. The schooner, no longer steadied
by the wind, was at the mercy of every sea. Volumes of water poured over her.
Presently she heeled over, for, with a triumphant scream, the wind leapt
on to her from a fresh quarter. Following its usual course,
the storm returned upon its track. The hurricane was about to repeat itself
from the north-west.
The sea, pouring down through the burst hatchway, tore the door of the cuddy
from its hinges. Sylvia found herself surrounded by a wildly-surging torrent
which threatened to overwhelm her. She shrieked aloud for aid, but her voice
was inaudible even to herself. Clinging to the mast which penetrated
the little cuddy, she fixed her eyes upon the door behind which she imagined
North was, and whispered a last prayer for succour. The door opened,
and from out the cabin came a figure clad in black. She looked up,
and the light of the expiring lamp showed her a face that was not that
of the man she hoped to see. Then a pair of dark eyes beaming ineffable love
and pity were bent upon her, and a pair of dripping arms held her above the
brine as she had once been held in the misty mysterious days that were gone.
In the terror of that moment the cloud which had so long oppressed her brain
passed from it. The action of the strange man before her completed
and explained the action of the convict chained to the Port Arthur coal-wagons,
of the convict kneeling in the Norfolk Island torture-chamber. She remembered
the terrible experience of Macquarie Harbour. She recalled the evening
of the boat-building, when, swung into the air by stalwart arms,
she had promised the rescuing prisoner to plead for him with her kindred.
Regaining her memory thus, all the agony and shame of the man's long life
of misery became at once apparent to her. She understood how her husband
had deceived her, and with what base injustice and falsehood he had bought
her young love. No question as to how this doubly-condemned prisoner
had escaped from the hideous isle of punishment she had quitted occurred
to her. She asked not--even in her thoughts--how it had been given to him
to supplant the chaplain in his place on board the vessel.
She only considered, in her sudden awakening, the story of his wrongs,
remembered only his marvellous fortitude and love, knew only,
in this last instant of her pure, ill-fated life, that as he had saved her
once from starvation and death, so had he come again to save her
from sin and from despair. Whoever has known a deadly peril will remember
how swiftly thought then travelled back through scenes clean forgotten,
and will understand how Sylvia's retrospective vision merged the past
into the actual before her, how the shock of recovered memory subsided
in the grateful utterance of other days--"Good Mr. Dawes!"
The eyes of the man and woman met in one long, wild gaze. Sylvia
stretched out her white hands and smiled, and Richard Devine understood
in his turn the story of the young girl's joyless life, and knew how
she had been sacrificed.
In the great crisis of our life, when, brought face to face with annihilation,
we are suspended gasping over the great emptiness of death,
we become conscious that the Self which we think we knew so well
has strange and unthought-of capacities. To describe a tempest
of the elements is not easy, but to describe a tempest of the soul
is impossible. Amid the fury of such a tempest, a thousand memories,
each bearing in its breast the corpse of some dead deed whose influence
haunts us yet, are driven like feathers before the blast, as unsubstantial
and as unregarded. The mists which shroud our self--knowledge become
transparent, and we are smitten with sudden lightning-like comprehension
of our own misused power over our fate.
This much we feel and know, but who can coldly describe the hurricane
which thus o'erwhelms him? As well ask the drowned mariner to tell
of the marvels of mid-sea when the great deeps swallowed him and the darkness
of death encompassed him round about. These two human beings felt
that they had done with life. Together thus, alone in the very midst
and presence of death, the distinctions of the world they were about to leave
disappeared. Then vision grew clear. They felt as beings whose bodies
had already perished, and as they clasped hands their freed souls,
recognizing each the loveliness of the other, rushed tremblingly together.
Borne before the returning whirlwind, an immense wave, which glimmered
in the darkness, spouted up and towered above the wreck. The wretches
who yet clung to the deck looked shuddering up into the bellying greenness,
and knew that the end was come.
END OF BOOK THE FOURTH
At day-dawn the morning after the storm,
the rays of the rising sun fell upon an
object which floated on the surface of
the water not far from where the schooner
This object was a portion of the mainmast
head of the Lady Franklin, and entangled
in the rigging were two corpses--a man
and a woman. The arms of the man were
clasped round the body of the woman,
and her head lay on his breast.
The Prison Island appeared but as a long
low line on the distant horizon.
The tempest was over. As the sun rose
higher the air grew balmy, the ocean placid;
and, golden in the rays of the new risen
morning, the wreck and its burden drifted
out to sea.
Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the state of the colony
of New South Wales. Printed by order of the House of Commons, 1822.
"Two Voyages to New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land", by Thomas Reid
[Surgeon on board the Neptune and Morley transport ships],
Member of the Royal College of Surgeons in London, and Surgeon
in the Royal Navy. London: Longman and Co., 1822.
"Narrative of a Visit to the Australian Colonies", by James Backhouse.
London: Hamilton, Adams and Co., 1843.
Report of a Select Committee on Transportation. Printed by order of the
House of Commons, 1838. [Evidence of Colonel Henry Breton.--Q.2,431-2,436.]
Report of a Select Committee [ut supra], 1838. Evidence of John Barnes, Esq.,
pp.37-49. Also Appendix to above Report, I., No.56,B.
"Tasmanian Journal of Natural Science", etc., vol. ii.
Account of Macquarie Harbour, by T. G. Lempriere, Esq., A.D.C.G.,
pp.17, 107, 200. Tasmania: Henry Dowling. London: John Murray, 1846.
"Van Diemen's Land Anniversary and Hobart Town Almanac, 1831." Account of
Macquarie Harbour, by James Ross, p.262. Hobart Town: James Ross, 1832.
"Meliora", April, 1861--"Our Convict System": case of Charles Anderson,
chained to a rock for two years in irons. See also "Our Convicts", p.233,
vol.i., Mary Carpenter. Longmans, 1864.
"Backhouse's Narrative" [ut supra] chapters iii., iv.
Files of Hobart Town Courier, 1827-8, more especially October 23
and December 7, 1827, and February 2, 1828.
CHAPTERS IV. and VIII.
Report of a Select Committee [ut supra], 1838, pp. 353, 354, 355.
CHAPTERS IX., XV., XVII.
"Tasmanian Journal" [ut supra], vol.i.: Account of Macquarie Harbour,
by T. G. Lempriere, Esq. [ut supra]. The seizure of the Cypress (sic.),
pp.366-7. Escape of Morgan and Popjoy, p.369. The seizure of the Frederick,
"Van Diemen's Land Annual", 1838: Narrative of the Sufferings and Adventures
of certain of Ten Convicts, etc., pp.1-11. Hobart Town: James Ross, 1838.
"Old Tales of a Young Country", by Marcus Clarke:
The Last of Macquarie Harbour, pp. 141-146. The Seizure of the Cyprus,
pp.133-140. Melbourne: George Robertson, 1871.
Transportation: Copy of a communication upon the subject of Transportation
addressed to Earl Grey by the Lord Bishop of Tasmania.
Reprinted for private distribution to the heads of families only.
Launceston: Henry Dowling, 1848.
Report of a Select Committee [ut supra], 1837.
Evidence of Ernest Augustus Slade, Esq.--Q.870. Ibidem, 1838:
Evidence of James Mudie, Esq.--Q.804-813.
Backhouse's Narrative [ut supra]: Appendix, lxxvi.
"Van Diemen 's Land Annual", 1838 [ut supra], pp.12-33. Old Tales, etc,
[ut supra], The Last of Macquarie Harbour, pp.147- 156.
Report of a Select Committee [ut supra], 1838:
Evidence of E. A. Slade, Esq.-Q.1,882-1,892.
Ibidem: Appendix No.ii., E.
Report of a Select Committee [ut supra], 1837:
Evidence of John Russell, Esq., Assist.-Surgeon 63rd Regiment.--Q.426-615.
Ibidem: Evidence of Colonel Geo. Arthur--Q.4,510-4,548.
CHAPTERS XXIII., XXIV., XXVI.
"The Adventures of Martin Cash, the Bushranger." Hobart Town:
J. L. Burke, 1870. pp.64-70.
"Van Dieman's Land Annual" [ut supra], 1829: Visit to Port Arthur.
Account of the Devil's Blow-Hole.
Report of a Select Committee [ut supra], 1832, Appendix I., No.56 C. and D.
Deposition of Alexander Pierce and official statements of trial and execution
of Pierce and Cox for murder and cannibalism.
"The Bushrangers,", by James Bonwick, Esq. Article-"Port Arthur"
CHAPTERS III., IV.
Sessional Papers printed by order of the House of Lords, 1847.
Enclosure to No. XI. Extract of a paper by the Rev. T. B. Naylor.
Enclosure 3 in No.XIV. Copy of Report [dated Hobart Town, 20th June, 1846]
from Robert Pringle Stewart, Esq.: [officer appointed by the Lieut.-Governor
of Van Dieman's Land, to inspect the penal settlement of Norfolk Island]
to the Comptroller-General.
House of Lords Report of a Commission on the execution of Criminal Law, 1847,
Evidence of the Lord Bishop of Tasmania--Q.4,795--4,904 and 5,085--5,130.
Despatch of His Excellency Sir William Denison to Secretary of State,
10th July, 1847.
Report of a Select Committee [ut supra], 1838:
Evidence of the Very Rev. Wm. Ullathorne, D.D.--Q.150-318.
Report of House of Lords [ut supra], 1847:
Evidence of Albert Charles Stonor, Esq., Crown Solicitor of New South Wales--
Q.5,174-5,197. Also evidence of Rev. Wm. Wilson, D.D.--Q.5,545-5,568.
Correspondence relating to the dismissal of the Rev. T. Rogers
from his chaplaincy at Norfolk Island; for private circulation.
Launceston: Henry Dowling, 1846.
"Backhouse's Voyages" [ut supra]
CHAPTERS VII., VIII., IX., XII.
Adventures of Martin Cash [ut supra], pp.133-141; Cases of George Armstrong,
"Pine Tree Jack", and Alexander Campbell.
Punishment of the "gag" and "bridle". Correspondence relating to
the Rev. T. Rogers [ut supra], pp. 41-43.
Punishment of the "gag" and "bridle".
Report of a Select Committee [ut supra], 1838:
Evidence of the Very Rev. Wm. Ullathorne, D.D.--Q.267:--
"As I mentioned the names of those men who were to die,
they one after another, as their names were pronounced,
dropped on their knees and thanked God that they were
to be delivered from that horrible place, whilst the others
remained standing mute, weeping. It was the most horrible
scene I have ever witnessed."
Ibidem: Evidence of Colonel George Arthur.--Q.4,548.
Ibidem: Evidence of Sir Francis Forbes.--Q.1,119.
"...Two or three men murdered their fellow-prisoners,
with the certainty of being detected and executed,
apparently without malice and with very little excitement,
stating that they knew that they should be hanged,
but it was better than being where they were."