Part 5 out of 11
and chilled to the bone with the bitter wind, had not the heart to speak.
Surely the stifling calm of the tropics could not be worse
than this bleak and barren sea.
The position of the four poor creatures was now almost desperate.
Mrs. Vickers, indeed, seemed completely prostrated; and it was evident that,
unless some help came, she could not long survive the continued exposure
to the weather. The child was in somewhat better case. Rufus Dawes
had wrapped her in his woollen shirt, and, unknown to Frere,
had divided with her daily his allowance of meat. She lay in his arms
at night, and in the day crept by his side for shelter and protection.
As long as she was near him she felt safe. They spoke little to each other,
but when Rufus Dawes felt the pressure of her tiny hand in his,
or sustained the weight of her head upon his shoulder, he almost forgot
the cold that froze him, and the hunger that gnawed him.
So two more days passed, and yet no sail. On the tenth day
after their departure from Macquarie Harbour they came to the end
of their provisions. The salt water had spoiled the goat-meat,
and soaked the bread into a nauseous paste. The sea was still running high,
and the wind, having veered to the north, was blowing with increased violence.
The long low line of coast that stretched upon their left hand
was at times obscured by a blue mist. The water was the colour of mud,
and the sky threatened rain. The wretched craft to which they had
entrusted themselves was leaking in four places. If caught in one
of the frequent storms which ravaged that iron-bound coast,
she could not live an hour. The two men, wearied, hungry, and cold,
almost hoped for the end to come quickly. To add to their distress,
the child was seized with fever. She was hot and cold by turns,
and in the intervals of moaning talked deliriously. Rufus Dawes, holding her
in his arms, watched the suffering he was unable to alleviate
with a savage despair at his heart. Was she to die after all?
So another day and night passed, and the eleventh morning saw the boat
yet alive, rolling in the trough of the same deserted sea.
The four exiles lay in her almost without breath.
All at once Dawes uttered a cry, and, seizing the sheet, put the
clumsy craft about. "A sail! a sail!" he cried. "Do you not see her?"
Frere's hungry eyes ranged the dull water in vain.
"There is no sail, fool!" he said. "You mock us!"
The boat, no longer following the line of the coast, was running
nearly due south, straight into the great Southern Ocean.
Frere tried to wrest the thong from the hand of the convict,
and bring the boat back to her course. "Are you mad?" he asked,
in fretful terror, "to run us out to sea?"
"Sit down!" returned the other, with a menacing gesture, and staring across
the grey water. "I tell you I see a sail!"
Frere, overawed by the strange light which gleamed in the eyes
of his companion, shifted sulkily back to his place. "Have your own way,"
he said, "madman! It serves me right for putting off to sea
in such a devil's craft as this!"
After all, what did it matter? As well be drowned in mid-ocean
as in sight of land.
The long day wore out, and no sail appeared. The wind freshened
towards evening, and the boat, plunging clumsily on the long brown waves,
staggered as though drunk with the water she had swallowed,
for at one place near the bows the water ran in and out as through a slit
in a wine skin. The coast had altogether disappeared, and the huge ocean--
vast, stormy, and threatening--heaved and hissed all around them.
It seemed impossible that they should live until morning. But Rufus Dawes,
with his eyes fixed on some object visible alone to him, hugged the child
in his arms, and drove the quivering coracle into the black waste
of night and sea. To Frere, sitting sullenly in the bows,
the aspect of this grim immovable figure, with its back-blown hair
and staring eyes, had in it something supernatural and horrible. He began
to think that privation and anxiety had driven the unhappy convict mad.
Thinking and shuddering over his fate, he fell--as it seemed to him--
into a momentary sleep, in the midst of which someone called to him.
He started up, with shaking knees and bristling hair. The day had broken,
and the dawn, in one long pale streak of sickly saffron,
lay low on the left hand. Between this streak of saffron-coloured light
and the bows of the boat gleamed for an instant a white speck.
"A sail! a sail!" cried Rufus Dawes, a wild light gleaming in his eyes,
and a strange tone vibrating in his voice. "Did I not tell you
that I saw a sail?"
Frere, utterly confounded, looked again, with his heart in his mouth,
and again did the white speck glimmer. For an instant he felt almost safe,
and then a blanker despair than before fell upon him. From the distance
at which she was, it was impossible for the ship to sight the boat.
"They will never see us!" he cried. "Dawes--Dawes! Do you hear?
They will never see us!"
Rufus Dawes started as if from a trance. Lashing the sheet to the pole
which served as a gunwale, he laid the sleeping child by her mother,
and tearing up the strip of bark on which he had been sitting,
moved to the bows of the boat.
"They will see this! Tear up that board! So! Now, place it thus
across the bows. Hack off that sapling end! Now that dry twist of osier!
Never mind the boat, man; we can afford to leave her now.
Tear off that outer strip of hide. See, the wood beneath is dry!
Quick--you are so slow."
"What are you going to do?" cried Frere, aghast, as the convict tore up
all the dry wood he could find, and heaped it on the sheet of bark
placed on the bows.
"To make a fire! See!"
Frere began to comprehend. "I have three matches left," he said,
fumbling, with trembling fingers, in his pocket. "I wrapped them in one
of the leaves of the book to keep them dry."
The word "book" was a new inspiration. Rufus Dawes seized upon
the English History, which had already done such service,
tore out the drier leaves in the middle of the volume, and carefully added them
to the little heap of touchwood.
The match was struck and lighted. The paper, after a few obstinate curlings,
caught fire, and Frere, blowing the young flame with his breath,
the bark began to burn. He piled upon the fire all that was combustible,
the hides began to shrivel, and a great column of black smoke
rose up over the sea.
"Sylvia!" cried Rufus Dawes. "Sylvia! My darling! You are saved!"
She opened her blue eyes and looked at him, but gave no sign of recognition.
Delirium had hold of her, and in the hour of safety the child had forgotten
her preserver. Rufus Dawes, overcome by this last cruel stroke of fortune,
sat down in the stern of the boat, with the child in his arms,
speechless. Frere, feeding the fire, thought that the chance
he had so longed for had come. With the mother at the point of death,
and the child delirious, who could testify to this hated convict's skilfulness?
No one but Mr. Maurice Frere, and Mr. Maurice Frere, as Commandant of convicts,
could not but give up an "absconder" to justice.
The ship changed her course, and came towards this strange fire
in the middle of the ocean. The boat, the fore part of her blazing
like a pine torch, could not float above an hour. The little group
of the convict and the child remained motionless. Mrs. Vickers was lying
senseless, ignorant even of the approaching succour.
The ship--a brig, with American colours flying--came within hail of them.
Frere could almost distinguish figures on her deck. He made his way aft
to where Dawes was sitting, unconscious, with the child in his arms,
and stirred him roughly with his foot.
"Go forward," he said, in tones of command, "and give the child to me."
Rufus Dawes raised his head, and, seeing the approaching vessel,
awoke to the consciousness of his duty. With a low laugh,
full of unutterable bitterness, he placed the burden he had borne so tenderly
in the arms of the lieutenant, and moved to the blazing bows.
* * * * * *
The brig was close upon them. Her canvas loomed large and dusky,
shadowing the sea. Her wet decks shone in the morning sunlight.
From her bulwarks peered bearded and eager faces, looking with astonishment
at this burning boat and its haggard company, alone on that barren
and stormy ocean.
Frere, with Sylvia in his arms, waited for her.
END OF BOOK THE SECOND
BOOK III.--PORT ARTHUR. 1838.
A LABOURER IN THE VINEYARD.
"Society in Hobart Town, in this year of grace 1838, is, my dear lord,
composed of very curious elements." So ran a passage in the sparkling letter
which the Rev. Mr. Meekin, newly-appointed chaplain, and seven-days' resident
in Van Diemen's Land, was carrying to the post office, for the delectation
of his patron in England. As the reverend gentleman tripped
daintily down the summer street that lay between the blue river
and the purple mountain, he cast his mild eyes hither and thither
upon human nature, and the sentence he had just penned recurred to him
with pleasurable appositeness. Elbowed by well-dressed officers of garrison,
bowing sweetly to well-dressed ladies, shrinking from ill-dressed,
ill-odoured ticket-of-leave men, or hastening across a street
to avoid being run down by the hand-carts that, driven by little gangs
of grey-clothed convicts, rattled and jangled at him unexpectedly
from behind corners, he certainly felt that the society through which he moved
was composed of curious elements. Now passed, with haughty nose in the air,
a newly-imported government official, relaxing for an instant his rigidity
of demeanour to smile languidly at the chaplain whom Governor
Sir John Franklin delighted to honour; now swaggered, with coarse defiance
of gentility and patronage, a wealthy ex-prisoner, grown fat
on the profits of rum. The population that was abroad on that
sunny December afternoon had certainly an incongruous appearance
to a dapper clergyman lately arrived from London, and missing,
for the first time in his sleek, easy-going life, those social screens
which in London civilization decorously conceal the frailties and vices
of human nature. Clad in glossy black, of the most fashionable clerical cut,
with dandy boots, and gloves of lightest lavender--a white silk overcoat
hinting that its wearer was not wholly free from sensitiveness
to sun and heat--the Reverend Meekin tripped daintily to the post office,
and deposited his letter. Two ladies met him as he turned.
Mr. Meekin's elegant hat was raised from his intellectual brow
and hovered in the air, like some courteous black bird, for an instant.
"Mrs. Jellicoe! Mrs. Protherick! My dear leddies, this is
an unexpected pleasure! And where, pray, are you going on this
lovely afternoon? To stay in the house is positively sinful.
Ah! what a climate--but the Trail of the Serpent, my dear Mrs. Protherick--
the Trail of the Serpent--" and he sighed.
"It must be a great trial to you to come to the colony," said Mrs. Jellicoe,
sympathizing with the sigh.
Meekin smiled, as a gentlemanly martyr might have smiled.
"The Lord's work, dear leddies--the Lord's work. I am but a poor labourer
in the vineyard, toiling through the heat and burden of the day."
The aspect of him, with his faultless tie, his airy coat, his natty boots,
and his self-satisfied Christian smile, was so unlike a poor labourer
toiling through the heat and burden of the day, that good Mrs. Jellicoe,
the wife of an orthodox Comptroller of Convicts' Stores, felt a horrible thrill
of momentary heresy. "I would rather have remained in England,"
continued Mr. Meekin, smoothing one lavender finger with the tip of another,
and arching his elegant eyebrows in mild deprecation of any praise
of his self-denial, "but I felt it my duty not to refuse the offer
made me through the kindness of his lordship. Here is a field, leddies--
a field for the Christian pastor. They appeal to me, leddies, these lambs
of our Church--these lost and outcast lambs of our Church."
Mrs. Jellicoe shook her gay bonnet ribbons at Mr. Meekin, with a hearty smile.
"You don't know our convicts," she said (from the tone of her jolly voice
it might have been "our cattle"). "They are horrible creatures.
And as for servants--my goodness, I have a fresh one every week.
When you have been here a little longer, you will know them better,
"They are quite unbearable at times." said Mrs. Protherick,
the widow of a Superintendent of Convicts' Barracks, with a stately indignation
mantling in her sallow cheeks. "I am ordinarily the most patient creature
breathing, but I do confess that the stupid vicious wretches
that one gets are enough to put a saint out of temper."
"We have all our crosses, dear leddies--all our crosses,"
said the Rev. Mr. Meekin piously. "Heaven send us strength to bear them!
"Why, you are going our way," said Mrs. Jellicoe. "We can walk together."
"Delighted! I am going to call on Major Vickers."
"And I live within a stone's throw," returned Mrs. Protherick.
"What a charming little creature she is, isn't she?"
"Who?" asked Mr. Meekin, as they walked.
"Sylvia. You don't know her! Oh, a dear little thing."
"I have only met Major Vickers at Government House," said Meekin.
"I haven't yet had the pleasure of seeing his daughter."
"A sad thing," said Mrs. Jellicoe. "Quite a romance, if it was not so sad,
you know. His wife, poor Mrs. Vickers."
"Indeed! What of her?" asked Meekin, bestowing a condescending bow
on a passer-by. "Is she an invalid?"
"She is dead, poor soul," returned jolly Mrs. Jellicoe, with a fat sigh.
"You don't mean to say you haven't heard the story, Mr. Meekin?"
"My dear leddies, I have only been in Hobart Town a week,
and I have not heard the story."
"It's about the mutiny, you know, the mutiny at Macquarie Harbour.
The prisoners took the ship, and put Mrs. Vickers and Sylvia ashore somewhere.
Captain Frere was with them, too. The poor things had a dreadful time,
and nearly died. Captain Frere made a boat at last, and they were picked up
by a ship. Poor Mrs. Vickers only lived a few hours, and little Sylvia--
she was only twelve years old then--was quite light-headed.
They thought she wouldn't recover."
"How dreadful! And has she recovered?"
"Oh, yes, she's quite strong now, but her memory's gone."
"Yes," struck in Mrs. Protherick, eager to have a share in the storytelling.
"She doesn't remember anything about the three or four weeks
they were ashore--at least, not distinctly."
"It's a great mercy!" interrupted Mrs. Jellicoe, determined to keep
the post of honour. "Who wants her to remember these horrors?
From Captain Frere's account, it was positively awful!"
"You don't say so!" said Mr. Meekin, dabbing his nose
with a dainty handkerchief.
"A 'bolter'--that's what we call an escaped prisoner, Mr. Meekin--
happened to be left behind, and he found them out, and insisted
on sharing the provisions--the wretch! Captain Frere was obliged
to watch him constantly for fear he should murder them. Even in the boat
he tried to run them out to sea and escape. He was one of the worst men
in the Harbour, they say; but you should hear Captain Frere tell the story."
"And where is he now?" asked Mr. Meekin, with interest.
"No, the prisoner."
"Oh, goodness, I don't know--at Port Arthur, I think.
I know that he was tried for bolting, and would have been hanged
but for Captain Frere's exertions."
"Dear, dear! a strange story, indeed," said Mr. Meekin. "And so the young lady
doesn't know anything about it?" "Only what she has been told, of course,
poor dear. She's engaged to Captain Frere."
"Really! To the man who saved her. How charming--quite a romance!"
"Isn't it? Everybody says so. And Captain Frere's so much older than she is."
"But her girlish love clings to her heroic protector,"
said Meekin, mildly poetical. "Remarkable and beautiful. Quite the--hem!--
the ivy and the oak, dear leddies. Ah, in our fallen nature,
what sweet spots--I think this is the gate."
A smart convict servant--he had been a pickpocket of note in days gone by--
left the clergyman to repose in a handsomely furnished drawing-room,
whose sun blinds revealed a wealth of bright garden flecked with shadows,
while he went in search of Miss Vickers. The Major was out, it seemed,
his duties as Superintendent of Convicts rendering such absences necessary;
but Miss Vickers was in the garden, and could be called in at once.
The Reverend Meekin, wiping his heated brow, and pulling down
his spotless wristbands, laid himself back on the soft sofa,
soothed by the elegant surroundings no less than by the coolness
of the atmosphere. Having no better comparison at hand, he compared
this luxurious room, with its soft couches, brilliant flowers,
and opened piano, to the chamber in the house of a West India planter,
where all was glare and heat and barbarism without, and all soft and cool
and luxurious within. He was so charmed with this comparison--he had a knack
of being easily pleased with his own thoughts--that he commenced to turn
a fresh sentence for the Bishop, and to sketch out an elegant description
of the oasis in his desert of a vineyard. While at this occupation,
he was disturbed by the sound of voices in the garden, and it appeared to him
that someone near at hand was sobbing and crying. Softly stepping
on the broad verandah, he saw, on the grass-plot, two persons,
an old man and a young girl. The sobbing proceeded from the old man.
"'Deed, miss, it's the truth, on my soul. I've but jest come back to yez
this morning. O my! but it's a cruel trick to play an ould man."
He was a white-haired old fellow, in a grey suit of convict frieze,
and stood leaning with one veiny hand upon the pedestal of a vase of roses.
"But it is your own fault, Danny; we all warned you against her,"
said the young girl softly. "Sure ye did. But oh! how did I think it,
miss? 'Tis the second time she served me so."
"How long was it this time, Danny?"
"Six months, miss. She said I was a drunkard, and beat her. Beat her,
God help me!" stretching forth two trembling hands. "And they believed her,
o' course. Now, when I kem back, there's me little place all thrampled
by the boys, and she's away wid a ship's captain, saving your presence, miss,
dhrinking in the 'George the Fourth'. O my, but it's hard on an old man!"
and he fell to sobbing again.
The girl sighed. "I can do nothing for you, Danny. I dare say
you can work about the garden as you did before. I'll speak to the Major
when he comes home."
Danny, lifting his bleared eyes to thank her, caught sight of Mr. Meekin,
and saluted abruptly. Miss Vickers turned, and Mr. Meekin,
bowing his apologies, became conscious that the young lady was about seventeen
years of age, that her eyes were large and soft, her hair plentiful and bright,
and that the hand which held the little book she had been reading
was white and small.
"Miss Vickers, I think. My name is Meekin--the Reverend Arthur Meekin."
"How do you do, Mr. Meekin?" said Sylvia, putting out one of her small hands,
and looking straight at him. "Papa will be in directly."
"His daughter more than compensates for his absence, my dear Miss Vickers."
"I don't like flattery, Mr. Meekin, so don't use it. At least,"
she added, with a delicious frankness, that seemed born of her very brightness
and beauty, "not that sort of flattery. Young girls do like flattery,
of course. Don't you think so?"
This rapid attack quite disconcerted Mr. Meekin, and he could only bow
and smile at the self-possessed young lady. "Go into the kitchen, Danny,
and tell them to give you some tobacco. Say I sent you.
Mr. Meekin, won't you come in?"
"A strange old gentleman, that, Miss Vickers. A faithful retainer, I presume?"
"An old convict servant of ours," said Sylvia. "He was with papa
many years ago. He has got into trouble lately, though, poor old man."
"Into trouble?" asked Mr. Meekin, as Sylvia took off her hat.
"On the roads, you know. That's what they call it here.
He married a free woman much younger than himself, and she makes him drink,
and then gives him in charge for insubordination."
"For insubordination! Pardon me, my dear young lady,
did I understand you rightly?"
"Yes, insubordination. He is her assigned servant, you know,"
said Sylvia, as if such a condition of things was the most ordinary
in the world, "and if he misbehaves himself, she sends him back
to the road-gang."
The Reverend Mr. Meekin opened his mild eyes very wide indeed.
"What an extraordinary anomaly! I am beginning, my dear Miss Vickers,
to find myself indeed at the antipodes."
"Society here is different from society in England, I believe.
Most new arrivals say so," returned Sylvia quietly.
"But for a wife to imprison her husband, my dear young lady!"
"She can have him flogged if she likes. Danny has been flogged.
But then his wife is a bad woman. He was very silly to marry her;
but you can't reason with an old man in love, Mr. Meekin."
Mr. Meekin's Christian brow had grown crimson, and his decorous blood
tingled to his finger-tips. To hear a young lady talk in such an open way
was terrible. Why, in reading the Decalogue from the altar, Mr. Meekin
was accustomed to soften one indecent prohibition, lest its uncompromising
plainness of speech might offend the delicate sensibilities
of his female souls! He turned from the dangerous theme
without an instant's pause, for wonder at the strange power
accorded to Hobart Town "free" wives. "You have been reading?"
"'Paul et Virginie'. I have read it before in English."
"Ah, you read French, then, my dear young lady?"
"Not very well. I had a master for some months, but papa had to send him back
to the gaol again. He stole a silver tankard out of the dining-room."
"A French master! Stole--"
"He was a prisoner, you know. A clever man. He wrote for the London Magazine.
I have read his writings. Some of them are quite above the average."
"And how did he come to be transported?" asked Mr. Meekin,
feeling that his vineyard was getting larger than he had anticipated.
"Poisoning his niece, I think, but I forget the particulars.
He was a gentlemanly man, but, oh, such a drunkard!"
Mr. Meekin, more astonished than ever at this strange country,
where beautiful young ladies talked of poisoning and flogging as matters
of little moment, where wives imprisoned their husbands, and murderers
taught French, perfumed the air with his cambric handkerchief in silence.
"You have not been here long, Mr. Meekin," said Sylvia, after a pause.
"No, only a week; and I confess I am surprised. A lovely climate, but,
as I said just now to Mrs. Jellicoe, the Trail of the Serpent--
the Trail of the Serpent--my dear young lady."
"If you send all the wretches in England here, you must expect
the Trail of the Serpent," said Sylvia. "It isn't the fault of the colony."
"Oh, no; certainly not," returned Meekin, hastening to apologize.
"But it is very shocking."
"Well, you gentlemen should make it better. I don't know what
the penal settlements are like, but the prisoners in the town
have not much inducement to become good men."
"They have the beautiful Liturgy of our Holy Church read to them
twice every week, my dear young lady," said Mr. Meekin, as though he should
solemnly say, "if that doesn't reform them, what will?"
"Oh, yes," returned Sylvia, "they have that, certainly; but that
is only on Sundays. But don't let us talk about this, Mr. Meekin,"
she added, pushing back a stray curl of golden hair. "Papa says
that I am not to talk about these things, because they are all done
according to the Rules of the Service, as he calls it."
"An admirable notion of papa's," said Meekin, much relieved
as the door opened, and Vickers and Frere entered.
Vickers's hair had grown white, but Frere carried his thirty years
as easily as some men carry two-and-twenty.
"My dear Sylvia," began Vickers, "here's an extraordinary thing!"
and then, becoming conscious of the presence of the agitated Meekin, he paused.
"You know Mr. Meekin, papa?" said Sylvia. "Mr. Meekin, Captain Frere."
"I have that pleasure," said Vickers. "Glad to see you, sir.
Pray sit down." Upon which, Mr. Meekin beheld Sylvia unaffectedly kiss
both gentlemen; but became strangely aware that the kiss bestowed
upon her father was warmer than that which greeted her affianced husband.
"Warm weather, Mr. Meekin," said Frere. "Sylvia, my darling,
I hope you have not been out in the heat. You have! My dear,
I've begged you--"
"It's not hot at all," said Sylvia pettishly. "Nonsense! I'm not made
of butter--I sha'n't melt. Thank you, dear, you needn't pull the blind down."
And then, as though angry with herself for her anger, she added,
"You are always thinking of me, Maurice," and gave him her hand affectionately.
"It's very oppressive, Captain Frere," said Meekin; "and to a stranger,
"Have a glass of wine," said Frere, as if the house was his own.
"One wants bucking up a bit on a day like this."
"Ay, to be sure," repeated Vickers. "A glass of wine. Sylvia, dear,
some sherry. I hope she has not been attacking you with her strange theories,
"Oh, dear, no; not at all," returned Meekin, feeling that
this charming young lady was regarded as a creature who was not to be judged
by ordinary rules. "We got on famously, my dear Major."
"That's right," said Vickers. "She is very plain-spoken, is my little girl,
and strangers can't understand her sometimes. Can they, Poppet?"
Poppet tossed her head saucily. "I don't know," she said.
"Why shouldn't they? But you were going to say something extraordinary
when you came in. What is it, dear?"
"Ah," said Vickers with grave face. "Yes, a most extraordinary thing.
They've caught those villains."
"What, you don't mean? No, papa!" said Sylvia, turning round
with alarmed face.
In that little family there were, for conversational purposes,
but one set of villains in the world--the mutineers of the Osprey.
"They've got four of them in the bay at this moment--Rex, Barker, Shiers,
and Lesly. They are on board the Lady Jane. The most extraordinary story
I ever heard in my life. The fellows got to China and passed themselves off
as shipwrecked sailors. The merchants in Canton got up a subscription,
and sent them to London. They were recognized there by old Pine,
who had been surgeon on board the ship they came out in."
Sylvia sat down on the nearest chair, with heightened colour.
"And where are the others?"
"Two were executed in England; the other six have not been taken.
These fellows have been sent out for trial."
"To what are you alluding, dear sir?" asked Meekin, eyeing the sherry
with the gaze of a fasting saint.
"The piracy of a convict brig five years ago," replied Vickers.
"The scoundrels put my poor wife and child ashore, and left them to starve.
If it hadn't been for Frere--God bless him!--they would have died.
They shot the pilot and a soldier--and--but it's a long story."
"I have heard of it already," said Meekin, sipping the sherry,
which another convict servant had brought for him; "and of your
gallant conduct, Captain Frere."
"Oh, that's nothing," said Frere, reddening. "We were all in the same boat.
Poppet, have a glass of wine?"
"No," said Sylvia, "I don't want any."
She was staring at the strip of sunshine between the verandah and the blind,
as though the bright light might enable her to remember something.
"What's the matter?" asked Frere, bending over her. "I was trying
to recollect, but I can't, Maurice. It is all confused. I only remember
a great shore and a great sea, and two men, one of whom--that's you, dear--
carried me in his arms."
"Dear, dear," said Mr. Meekin.
"She was quite a baby," said Vickers, hastily, as though unwilling to admit
that her illness had been the cause of her forgetfulness.
"Oh, no; I was twelve years old," said Sylvia; "that's not a baby, you know.
But I think the fever made me stupid."
Frere, looking at her uneasily, shifted in his seat. "There,
don't think about it now," he said.
"Maurice," asked she suddenly, "what became of the other man?"
"Which other man?"
"The man who was with us; the other one, you know."
"No, not Bates. The prisoner. What was his name?"
"Oh, ah--the prisoner," said Frere, as if he, too, had forgotten.
"Why, you know, darling, he was sent to Port Arthur."
"Ah!" said Sylvia, with a shudder. "And is he there still?"
"I believe so," said Frere, with a frown.
"By the by," said Vickers, "I suppose we shall have to get that fellow
up for the trial. We have to identify the villains."
"Can't you and I do that?" asked Frere uneasily.
"I am afraid not. I wouldn't like to swear to a man after five years."
"By George," said Frere, "I'd swear to him! When once I see a man's face--
that's enough for me."
"We had better get up a few prisoners who were at the Harbour at the time,"
said Vickers, as if wishing to terminate the discussion.
"I wouldn't let the villains slip through my fingers for anything."
"And are the men at Port Arthur old men?" asked Meekin.
"Old convicts," returned Vickers. "It's our place for 'colonial sentence' men.
The worst we have are there. It has taken the place of Macquarie Harbour.
What excitement there will be among them when the schooner goes down
"Excitement! Indeed? How charming! Why?" asked Meekin.
"To bring up the witnesses, my dear sir. Most of the prisoners are Lifers,
you see, and a trip to Hobart Town is like a holiday for them."
"And do they never leave the place when sentenced for life?"
said Meekin, nibbling a biscuit. "How distressing!"
"Never, except when they die," answered Frere, with a laugh;
"and then they are buried on an island. Oh, it's a fine place!
You should come down with me and have a look at it, Mr. Meekin.
Picturesque, I can assure you."
"My dear Maurice," says Sylvia, going to the piano, as if in protest
to the turn the conversation was taking, "how can you talk like that?"
"I should much like to see it," said Meekin, still nibbling,
"for Sir John was saying something about a chaplaincy there,
and I understand that the climate is quite endurable."
The convict servant, who had entered with some official papers for the Major,
stared at the dainty clergyman, and rough Maurice laughed again.
"Oh, it's a stunning climate," he said; "and nothing to do.
Just the place for you. There's a regular little colony there.
All the scandals in Van Diemen's Land are hatched at Port Arthur."
This agreeable chatter about scandal and climate seemed a strange contrast
to the grave-yard island and the men who were prisoners for life.
Perhaps Sylvia thought so, for she struck a few chords, which,
compelling the party, out of sheer politeness, to cease talking for the moment,
caused the conversation to flag, and hinted to Mr. Meekin
that it was time for him to depart.
"Good afternoon, dear Miss Vickers," he said, rising with his sweetest smile.
"Thank you for your delightful music. That piece is an old,
old favourite of mine. It was quite a favourite of dear Lady Jane's,
and the Bishop's. Pray excuse me, my dear Captain Frere,
but this strange occurrence--of the capture of the wreckers, you know--
must be my apology for touching on a delicate subject. How charming
to contemplate! Yourself and your dear young lady! The preserved
and preserver, dear Major. 'None but the brave, you know,
none but the brave, none but the brave, deserve the fair!'
You remember glorious John, of course. Well, good afternoon."
"It's rather a long invitation," said Vickers, always well disposed
to anyone who praised his daughter, "but if you've nothing better to do,
come and dine with us on Christmas Day, Mr. Meekin. We usually have
a little gathering then."
"Charmed," said Meekin--"charmed, I am sure. It is so refreshing
to meet with persons of one's own tastes in this delightful colony.
'Kindred souls together knit,' you know, dear Miss Vickers. Indeed yes.
Once more--good afternoon."
Sylvia burst into laughter as the door closed. "What a ridiculous creature!"
said she. "Bless the man, with his gloves and his umbrella,
and his hair and his scent! Fancy that mincing noodle showing me
the way to Heaven! I'd rather have old Mr. Bowes, papa, though he is
as blind as a beetle, and makes you so angry by bottling up his trumps
as you call it."
"My dear Sylvia," said Vickers, seriously, "Mr. Meekin is a clergyman,
"Oh, I know," said Sylvia, "but then, a clergyman can talk like a man,
can't he? Why do they send such people here? I am sure they could
do much better at home. Oh, by the way, papa dear, poor old Danny's come back
again. I told him he might go into the kitchen. May he, dear?"
"You'll have the house full of these vagabonds, you little puss,"
said Vickers, kissing her. "I suppose I must let him stay.
What has he been doing now?"
"His wife," said Sylvia, "locked him up, you know, for being drunk.
Wife! What do people want with wives, I wonder?"
"Ask Maurice," said her father, smiling.
Sylvia moved away, and tossed her head.
"What does he know about it? Maurice, you are a great bear;
and if you hadn't saved my life, you know, I shouldn't love you a bit.
There, you may kiss me" (her voice grew softer). "This convict business has
brought it all back; and I should be ungrateful if I didn't love you, dear."
Maurice Frere, with suddenly crimsoned face, accepted the proffered caress,
and then turned to the window. A grey-clothed man was working in the garden,
and whistling as he worked. "They're not so badly off," said Frere,
under his breath.
"What's that, sir?" asked Sylvia.
"That I am not half good enough for you," cried Frere, with sudden vehemence.
"It's my happiness you've got to think of, Captain Bruin," said the girl.
"You've saved my life, haven't you, and I should be wicked
if I didn't love you! No, no more kisses," she added, putting out her hand.
"Come, papa, it's cool now; let's walk in the garden, and leave Maurice
to think of his own unworthiness."
Maurice watched the retreating pair with a puzzled expression.
"She always leaves me for her father," he said to himself.
"I wonder if she really loves me, or if it's only gratitude, after all?"
He had often asked himself the same question during the five years
of his wooing, but he had never satisfactorily answered it.
SARAH PURFOY'S REQUEST.
The evening passed as it had passed a hundred times before;
and having smoked a pipe at the barracks, Captain Frere returned home.
His home was a cottage on the New Town Road--a cottage which he had occupied
since his appointment as Assistant Police Magistrate,
an appointment given to him as a reward for his exertions in connection with
the Osprey mutiny. Captain Maurice Frere had risen in life.
Quartered in Hobart Town, he had assumed a position in society,
and had held several of those excellent appointments which in the year 1834
were bestowed upon officers of garrison. He had been Superintendent of Works
at Bridgewater, and when he got his captaincy, Assistant Police Magistrate
at Bothwell. The affair of the Osprey made a noise; and it was
tacitly resolved that the first "good thing" that fell vacant should be given
to the gallant preserver of Major Vickers's child.
Major Vickers also prospered. He had always been a careful man,
and having saved some money, had purchased land on favourable terms.
The "assignment system" enabled him to cultivate portions of it
at a small expense, and, following the usual custom, he stocked his run
with cattle and sheep. He had sold his commission, and was now
a comparatively wealthy man. He owned a fine estate; the house he lived in
was purchased property. He was in good odour at Government House,
and his office of Superintendent of Convicts caused him to take an active part
in that local government which keeps a man constantly before the public.
Major Vickers, a colonist against his will, had become,
by force of circumstances, one of the leading men in Van Diemen's Land.
His daughter was a good match for any man; and many ensigns and lieutenants,
cursing their hard lot in "country quarters", many sons of settlers
living on their father's station among the mountains, and many dapper clerks
on the civil establishment envied Maurice Frere his good fortune.
Some went so far as to say that the beautiful daughter of "Regulation Vickers"
was too good for the coarse red-faced Frere, who was noted for his fondness
for low society, and overbearing, almost brutal demeanour.
No one denied, however, that Captain Frere was a valuable officer.
It was said that, in consequence of his tastes, he knew more about
the tricks of convicts than any man on the island. It was said, even,
that he was wont to disguise himself, and mix with the pass-holders
and convict servants, in order to learn their signs and mysteries.
When in charge at Bridgewater it had been his delight to rate the chain-gangs
in their own hideous jargon, and to astound a new-comer by his knowledge
of his previous history. The convict population hated and cringed to him,
for, with his brutality, and violence, he mingled a ferocious good humour,
that resulted sometimes in tacit permission to go without the letter
of the law. Yet, as the convicts themselves said, "a man was never safe
with the Captain"; for, after drinking and joking with them,
as the Sir Oracle of some public-house whose hostess he delighted to honour,
he would disappear through a side door just as the constables burst in
at the back, and show himself as remorseless, in his next morning's sentence
of the captured, as if he had never entered a tap-room in all his life.
His superiors called this "zeal"; his inferiors "treachery". For himself,
he laughed. "Everything is fair to those wretches," he was accustomed to say.
As the time for his marriage approached, however, he had in a measure
given up these exploits, and strove, by his demeanour, to make
his acquaintances forget several remarkable scandals concerning
his private life, for the promulgation of which he once cared little.
When Commandant at the Maria Island, and for the first two years
after his return from the unlucky expedition to Macquarie Harbour,
he had not suffered any fear of society's opinion to restrain his vices,
but, as the affection for the pure young girl, who looked upon him
as her saviour from a dreadful death, increased in honest strength,
he had resolved to shut up those dark pages in his colonial experience,
and to read therein no more. He was not remorseful, he was not even disgusted.
He merely came to the conclusion that, when a man married, he was to consider
certain extravagances common to all bachelors as at an end.
He had "had his fling, like all young men", perhaps he had been foolish
like most young men, but no reproachful ghost of past misdeeds haunted him.
His nature was too prosaic to admit the existence of such phantoms.
Sylvia, in her purity and excellence, was so far above him,
that in raising his eyes to her, he lost sight of all the sordid creatures
to whose level he had once debased himself, and had come in part to regard
the sins he had committed, before his redemption by the love
of this bright young creature, as evil done by him under a past condition
of existence, and for the consequences of which he was not responsible.
One of the consequences, however, was very close to him at this moment.
His convict servant had, according to his instructions, sat up for him,
and as he entered, the man handed him a letter, bearing a superscription
in a female hand.
"Who brought this?" asked Frere, hastily tearing it open to read.
"The groom, sir. He said that there was a gentleman at the 'George the Fourth'
who wished to see you."
Frere smiled, in admiration of the intelligence which had dictated
such a message, and then frowned in anger at the contents of the letter.
"You needn't wait," he said to the man. "I shall have to go back again,
Changing his forage cap for a soft hat, and selecting a stick
from a miscellaneous collection in a corner, he prepared to retrace his steps.
"What does she want now?" he asked himself fiercely, as he strode
down the moonlit road; but beneath the fierceness there was an under-current
of petulance, which implied that, whatever "she" did want,
she had a right to expect.
The "George the Fourth" was a long low house, situated in Elizabeth Street.
Its front was painted a dull red, and the narrow panes of glass in its windows,
and the ostentatious affectation of red curtains and homely comfort,
gave to it a spurious appearance of old English jollity. A knot of men
round the door melted into air as Captain Frere approached, for it was now
past eleven o'clock, and all persons found in the streets after eight
could be compelled to "show their pass" or explain their business.
The convict constables were not scrupulous in the exercise of their duty,
and the bluff figure of Frere, clad in the blue serge which he affected
as a summer costume, looked not unlike that of a convict constable.
Pushing open the side door with the confident manner of one well acquainted
with the house, Frere entered, and made his way along a narrow passage
to a glass door at the further end. A tap upon this door
brought a white-faced, pock-pitted Irish girl, who curtsied
with servile recognition of the visitor, and ushered him upstairs.
The room into which he was shown was a large one. It had three windows
looking into the street, and was handsomely furnished. The carpet was soft,
the candles were bright, and the supper tray gleamed invitingly
from a table between the windows. As Frere entered, a little terrier ran
barking to his feet. It was evident that he was not a constant visitor.
The rustle of a silk dress behind the terrier betrayed the presence
of a woman; and Frere, rounding the promontory of an ottoman,
found himself face to face with Sarah Purfoy.
"Thank you for coming," she said. "Pray, sit down."
This was the only greeting that passed between them, and Frere sat down,
in obedience to a motion of a plump hand that twinkled with rings.
The eleven years that had passed since we last saw this woman
had dealt gently with her. Her foot was as small and her hand as white
as of yore. Her hair, bound close about her head, was plentiful and glossy,
and her eyes had lost none of their dangerous brightness.
Her figure was coarser, and the white arm that gleamed through a muslin sleeve
showed an outline that a fastidious artist might wish to modify.
The most noticeable change was in her face. The cheeks owned no longer
that delicate purity which they once boasted, but had become thicker,
while here and there showed those faint red streaks--as though the rich blood
throbbed too painfully in the veins--which are the first signs of the decay
of "fine" women. With middle age and the fullness of figure
to which most women of her temperament are prone, had come also
that indescribable vulgarity of speech and manner which habitual absence
of moral restraint never fails to produce.
Maurice Frere spoke first; he was anxious to bring his visit
to as speedy a termination as possible. "What do you want of me?" he asked.
Sarah Purfoy laughed; a forced laugh, that sounded so unnatural,
that Frere turned to look at her. "I want you to do me a favour--
a very great favour; that is if it will not put you out of the way."
"What do you mean?" asked Frere roughly, pursing his lips with a sullen air.
"Favour! What do you call this?" striking the sofa on which he sat.
"Isn't this a favour? What do you call your precious house
and all that's in it? Isn't that a favour? What do you mean?"
To his utter astonishment the woman replied by shedding tears.
For some time he regarded her in silence, as if unwilling to be softened
by such shallow device, but eventually felt constrained to say something.
"Have you been drinking again?" he asked, "or what's the matter with you?
Tell me what it is you want, and have done with it. I don't know
what possessed me to come here at all."
Sarah sat upright, and dashed away her tears with one passionate hand.
"I am ill, can't you see, you fool!" said she. "The news has unnerved me.
If I have been drinking, what then? It's nothing to you, is it?"
"Oh, no," returned the other, "it's nothing to me. You are
the principal party concerned. If you choose to bloat yourself with brandy,
do it by all means."
"You don't pay for it, at any rate!" said she, with quickness of retaliation
which showed that this was not the only occasion on which they had quarrelled.
"Come," said Frere, impatiently brutal, "get on. I can't stop here all night."
She suddenly rose, and crossed to where he was standing.
"Maurice, you were very fond of me once."
"Once," said Maurice.
"Not so very many years ago."
"Hang it!" said he, shifting his arm from beneath her hand,
"don't let us have all that stuff over again. It was before you took
to drinking and swearing, and going raving mad with passion, any way."
"Well, dear," said she, with her great glittering eyes belying the soft tones
of her voice, "I suffered for it, didn't I? Didn't you turn me out
into the streets? Didn't you lash me with your whip like a dog? Didn't you
put me in gaol for it, eh? It's hard to struggle against you, Maurice."
The compliment to his obstinacy seemed to please him--perhaps the crafty woman
intended that it should--and he smiled.
"Well, there; let old times be old times, Sarah. You haven't done badly,
after all," and he looked round the well-furnished room. "What do you want?"
"There was a transport came in this morning."
"You know who was on board her, Maurice!"
Maurice brought one hand into the palm of the other with a rough laugh.
"Oh, that's it, is it! 'Gad, what a flat I was not to think of it before!
You want to see him, I suppose?" She came close to him, and,
in her earnestness, took his hand. "I want to save his life!"
"Oh, that be hanged, you know! Save his life! It can't be done."
"You can do it, Maurice."
"I save John Rex's life?" cried Frere. "Why, you must be mad!"
"He is the only creature that loves me, Maurice--the only man who cares for me.
He has done no harm. He only wanted to be free--was it not natural?
You can save him if you like. I only ask for his life. What does it matter
to you? A miserable prisoner--his death would be of no use.
Let him live, Maurice."
Maurice laughed. "What have I to do with it?"
"You are the principal witness against him. If you say that he behaved well--
and he did behave well, you know: many men would have left you to starve--
they won't hang him."
"Oh, won't they! That won't make much difference."
"Ah, Maurice, be merciful!" She bent towards him, and tried to retain his hand,
but he withdrew it.
"You're a nice sort of woman to ask me to help your lover--a man who left me
on that cursed coast to die, for all he cared," he said,
with a galling recollection of his humiliation of five years back.
"Save him! Confound him, not I!"
"Ah, Maurice, you will." She spoke with a suppressed sob in her voice.
"What is it to you? You don't care for me now. You beat me, and turned me out
of doors, though I never did you wrong. This man was a husband to me--
long, long before I met you. He never did you any harm; he never will.
He will bless you if you save him, Maurice."
Frere jerked his head impatiently. "Bless me!" he said. "I don't want
his blessings. Let him swing. Who cares?"
Still she persisted, with tears streaming from her eyes, with white arms
upraised, on her knees even, catching at his coat, and beseeching him
in broken accents. In her wild, fierce beauty and passionate abandonment
she might have been a deserted Ariadne--a suppliant Medea. Anything
rather than what she was--a dissolute, half-maddened woman,
praying for the pardon of her convict husband.
Maurice Frere flung her off with an oath. "Get up!" he cried brutally,
"and stop that nonsense. I tell you the man's as good as dead
for all I shall do to save him."
At this repulse, her pent-up passion broke forth. She sprang to her feet,
and, pushing back the hair that in her frenzied pleading had fallen
about her face, poured out upon him a torrent of abuse. "You! Who are you,
that you dare to speak to me like that? His little finger is worth
your whole body. He is a man, a brave man, not a coward, like you.
A coward! Yes, a coward! a coward! A coward! You are very brave
with defenceless men and weak women. You have beaten me
until I was bruised black, you cur; but who ever saw you attack a man
unless he was chained or bound? Do not I know you? I have seen you
taunt a man at the triangles, until I wished the screaming wretch
could get loose, and murder you as you deserve! You will be murdered
one of these days, Maurice Frere--take my word for it. Men are flesh
and blood, and flesh and blood won't endure the torments you lay on it!"
"There, that'll do," says Frere, growing paler. "Don't excite yourself."
"I know you, you brutal coward. I have not been your mistress--
God forgive me!--without learning you by heart. I've seen your ignorance
and your conceit. I've seen the men who ate your food and drank your wine
laugh at you. I've heard what your friends say; I've heard the comparisons
they make. One of your dogs has more brains than you, and twice as much heart.
And these are the men they send to rule us! Oh, Heaven! And such an animal
as this has life and death in his hand! He may hang, may he?
I'll hang with him, then, and God will forgive me for murder,
for I will kill you!"
Frere had cowered before this frightful torrent of rage, but, at the scream
which accompanied the last words, he stepped forward as though to seize her.
In her desperate courage, she flung herself before him. "Strike me!
You daren't! I defy you! Bring up the wretched creatures who learn the way
to Hell in this cursed house, and let them see you do it. Call them!
They are old friends of yours. They all know Captain Maurice Frere."
"You remember Lucy Barnes--poor little Lucy Barnes that stole
sixpennyworth of calico. She is downstairs now. Would you know her
if you saw her? She isn't the bright-faced baby she was when they sent her here
to 'reform', and when Lieutenant Frere wanted a new housemaid
from the Factory! Call for her!--call! do you hear? Ask any one
of those beasts whom you lash and chain for Lucy Barnes. He'll tell you
all about her--ay, and about many more--many more poor souls that are
at the bidding of any drunken brute that has stolen a pound note
to fee the Devil with! Oh, you good God in Heaven, will You not judge
Frere trembled. He had often witnessed this creature's whirlwinds of passion,
but never had he seen her so violent as this. Her frenzy frightened him.
"For Heaven's sake, Sarah, be quiet. What is it you want? What would you do?"
"I'll go to this girl you want to marry, and tell her all I know of you.
I have seen her in the streets--have seen her look the other way
when I passed her--have seen her gather up her muslin skirts
when my silks touched her--I that nursed her, that heard her say
her baby-prayers (O Jesus, pity me!)--and I know what she thinks
of women like me. She is good--and virtuous--and cold. She would shudder
at you if she knew what I know. Shudder! She would hate you!
And I will tell her! Ay, I will! You will be respectable, will you?
A model husband! Wait till I tell her my story--till I send
some of these poor women to tell theirs. You kill my love;
I'll blight and ruin yours!"
Frere caught her by both wrists, and with all his strength forced her
to her knees. "Don't speak her name," he said in a hoarse voice,
"or I'll do you a mischief. I know all you mean to do. I'm not such a fool
as not to see that. Be quiet! Men have murdered women like you,
and now I know how they came to do it."
For a few minutes a silence fell upon the pair, and at last Frere,
releasing her hands, fell back from her.
"I'll do what you want, on one condition."
"That you leave this place."
"Anywhere--the farther the better. I'll pay your passage to Sydney,
and you go or stay there as you please."
She had grown calmer, hearing him thus relenting. "But this house, Maurice?"
"You are not in debt?"
"Well, leave it. It's your own affair, not mine. If I help you, you must go."
"May I see him?"
"You can see him in the dock if you like," says Frere, with a laugh,
cut short by a flash of her eyes. "There, I didn't mean to offend you."
"Offend me! Go on."
"Listen here," said he doggedly. "If you will go away, and promise
never to interfere with me by word or deed, I'll do what you want."
"What will you do?" she asked, unable to suppress a smile at the victory
she had won.
"I will not say all I know about this man. I will say he befriended me.
I will do my best to save his life."
"You can save it if you like."
"Well, I will try. On my honour, I will try."
"I must believe you, I suppose?" said she doubtfully; and then,
with a sudden pitiful pleading, in strange contrast to her former violence,
"You are not deceiving me, Maurice?"
"No. Why should I? You keep your promise, and I'll keep mine.
Is it a bargain?"
He eyed her steadfastly for some seconds, and then turned on his heel.
As he reached the door she called him back. Knowing him as she did,
she felt that he would keep his word, and her feminine nature
could not resist a parting sneer.
"There is nothing in the bargain to prevent me helping him to escape!"
she said with a smile.
"Escape! He won't escape again, I'll go bail. Once get him in double irons
at Port Arthur, and he's safe enough."
The smile on her face seemed infectious, for his own sullen features relaxed.
"Good night, Sarah," he said.
She put out her hand, as if nothing had happened. "Good night, Captain Frere.
It's a bargain, then?"
"You have a long walk home. Will you have some brandy?"
"I don't care if I do," he said, advancing to the table,
and filling his glass. "Here's a good voyage to you!"
Sarah Purfoy, watching him, burst into a laugh. "Human beings
are queer creatures," she said. "Who would have thought that we had been
calling each other names just now? I say, I'm a vixen when I'm roused,
ain't I, Maurice?"
"Remember what you've promised," said he, with a threat in his voice,
as he moved to the door. "You must be out of this by the next ship
"Never fear, I'll go."
Getting into the cool street directly, and seeing the calm stars shining,
and the placid water sleeping with a peace in which he had no share,
he strove to cast off the nervous fear that was on him.
That interview had frightened him, for it had made him think. It was hard that,
just as he had turned over a new leaf, this old blot should come through
to the clean page. It was cruel that, having comfortably forgotten the past,
he should be thus rudely reminded of it.
THE STORY OF TWO BIRDS OF PREY.
The reader of the foregoing pages has doubtless asked himself,
"what is the link which binds together John Rex and Sarah Purfoy?"
In the year 1825 there lived at St. Heliers, Jersey, an old watchmaker,
named Urban Purfoy. He was a hard-working man, and had amassed
a little money--sufficient to give his grand-daughter an education
above the common in those days. At sixteen, Sarah Purfoy was an empty-headed,
strong-willed, precocious girl, with big brown eyes. She had a bad opinion
of her own sex, and an immense admiration for the young and handsome members
of the other. The neighbours said that she was too high and mighty
for her rank in life. Her grandfather said she was a "beauty",
and like her poor dear mother. She herself thought rather meanly
of her personal attractions, and rather highly of her mental ones.
She was brimful of vitality, with strong passions, and little
religious sentiment. She had not much respect for moral courage,
for she did not understand it; but she was a profound admirer
of personal prowess. Her distaste for the humdrum life she was leading
found expression in a rebellion against social usages. She courted notoriety
by eccentricities of dress, and was never so happy as when
she was misunderstood. She was the sort of girl of whom women say--
"It is a pity she has no mother"; and men, "It is a pity she does not get
a husband"; and who say to themselves, "When shall I have a lover?"
There was no lack of beings of this latter class among the officers
quartered in Fort Royal and Fort Henry; but the female population
of the island was free and numerous, and in the embarrassment of riches,
Sarah was overlooked. Though she adored the soldiery, her first lover
was a civilian. Walking one day on the cliff, she met a young man.
He was tall, well-looking, and well-dressed. His name was Lemoine;
he was the son of a somewhat wealthy resident of the island,
and had come down from London to recruit his health and to see his friends.
Sarah was struck by his appearance, and looked back at him.
He had been struck by hers, and looked back also. He followed her,
and spoke to her--some remark about the wind or the weather--
and she thought his voice divine. They got into conversation--about scenery,
lonely walks, and the dullness of St. Heliers. "Did she often walk there?"
"Sometimes." "Would she be there tomorrow?" "She might."
Mr. Lemoine lifted his hat, and went back to dinner,
rather pleased with himself.
They met the next day, and the day after that. Lemoine was not a gentleman,
but he had lived among gentlemen, and had caught something of their manner.
He said that, after all, virtue was a mere name, and that when people
were powerful and rich, the world respected them more than if they had been
honest and poor. Sarah agreed with this sentiment. Her grandfather
was honest and poor, and yet nobody respected him--at least,
not with such respect as she cared to acknowledge. In addition to his talent
for argument, Lemoine was handsome and had money--he showed her quite a handful
of bank-notes one day. He told her of London and the great ladies there,
and hinting that they were not always virtuous, drew himself up
with a moody air, as though he had been unhappily the cause
of their fatal lapse into wickedness. Sarah did not wonder at this
in the least. Had she been a great lady, she would have done the same.
She began to coquet with this seductive fellow, and to hint to him
that she had too much knowledge of the world to set a fictitious value
upon virtue. He mistook her artfulness for innocence, and thought he had made
a conquest. Moreover, the girl was pretty, and when dressed properly,
would look well. Only one obstacle stood in the way of their loves--
the dashing profligate was poor. He had been living in London above his means,
and his father was not inclined to increase his allowance.
Sarah liked him better than anybody else she had seen, but there are two sides
to every bargain. Sarah Purfoy must go to London. In vain her lover sighed
and swore. Unless he would promise to take her away with him,
Diana was not more chaste. The more virtuous she grew, the more vicious
did Lemoine feel. His desire to possess her increased in proportionate ratio
to her resistance, and at last he borrowed two hundred pounds
from his father's confidential clerk (the Lemoines were merchants
by profession), and acceded to her wishes. There was no love on either side--
vanity was the mainspring of the whole transaction. Lemoine did not like
to be beaten; Sarah sold herself for a passage to England and an introduction
into the "great world".
We need not describe her career at this epoch. Suffice it to say
that she discovered that vice is not always conducive to happiness,
and is not, even in this world, so well rewarded as its earnest practice
might merit. Sated, and disappointed, she soon grew tired of her life,
and longed to escape from its wearying dissipations. At this juncture
she fell in love.
The object of her affections was one Mr. Lionel Crofton. Crofton was tall,
well made, and with an insinuating address. His features
were too strongly marked for beauty. His eyes were the best part of his face,
and, like his hair, they were jet black. He had broad shoulders, sinewy limbs,
and small hands and feet. His head was round, and well-shaped,
but it bulged a little over the ears which were singularly small
and lay close to his head. With this man, barely four years older
than herself, Sarah, at seventeen, fell violently in love.
This was the more strange as, though fond of her, he would tolerate
no caprices, and possessed an ungovernable temper, which found vent in curses,
and even blows. He seemed to have no profession or business,
and though he owned a good address, he was even less of a gentleman
than Lemoine. Yet Sarah, attracted by one of the strange sympathies
which constitute the romance of such women's lives, was devoted to him.
Touched by her affection, and rating her intelligence and unscrupulousness
at their true value, he told her who he was. He was a swindler,
a forger, and a thief, and his name was John Rex. When she heard this
she experienced a sinister delight. He told her of his plots,
his tricks, his escapes, his villainies; and seeing how for years
this young man had preyed upon the world which had deceived and disowned her,
her heart went out to him. "I am glad you found me," she said.
"Two heads are better than one. We will work together."
John Rex, known among his intimate associates as Dandy Jack,
was the putative son of a man who had been for many years valet
to Lord Bellasis, and who retired from the service of that profligate nobleman
with a sum of money and a wife. John Rex was sent to as good a school
as could be procured for him, and at sixteen was given, by the interest
of his mother with his father's former master, a clerkship in
an old-established city banking-house. Mrs. Rex was intensely fond of her son,
and imbued him with a desire to shine in aristocratic circles.
He was a clever lad, without any principle; he would lie unblushingly,
and steal deliberately, if he thought he could do so with impunity.
He was cautious, acquisitive, imaginative, self-conceited, and destructive.
He had strong perceptive faculties, and much invention and versatility,
but his "moral sense" was almost entirely wanting. He found that
his fellow clerks were not of that "gentlemanly" stamp which his mother
thought so admirable, and therefore he despised them. He thought
he should like to go into the army, for he was athletic, and rejoiced in feats
of muscular strength. To be tied all day to a desk was beyond endurance.
But John Rex, senior, told him to "wait and see what came of it."
He did so, and in the meantime kept late hours, got into bad company,
and forged the name of a customer of the bank to a cheque for twenty pounds.
The fraud was a clumsy one, and was detected in twenty-four hours.
Forgeries by clerks, however easily detected, are unfortunately not considered
to add to the attractions of a banking-house, and the old-established firm
decided not to prosecute, but dismissed Mr. John Rex from their service.
The ex-valet, who never liked his legalized son, was at first
for turning him out of doors, but by the entreaties of his wife,
was at last induced to place the promising boy in a draper's shop,
in the City Road.
This employment was not a congenial one, and John Rex planned to leave it.
He lived at home, and had his salary--about thirty shillings a week--
for pocket money. Though he displayed considerable skill with the cue,
and not infrequently won considerable sums for one in his position,
his expenses averaged more than his income; and having borrowed all he could,
he found himself again in difficulties. His narrow escape, however,
had taught him a lesson, and he resolved to confess all
to his indulgent mother, and be more economical for the future.
Just then one of those "lucky chances" which blight so many lives occurred.
The "shop-walker" died, and Messrs. Baffaty & Co. made the gentlemanly Rex
act as his substitute for a few days. Shop-walkers have opportunities
not accorded to other folks, and on the evening of the third day Mr. Rex
went home with a bundle of lace in his pocket. Unfortunately,
he owed more than the worth of this petty theft, and was compelled
to steal again. This time he was detected. One of his fellow-shopmen
caught him in the very act of concealing a roll of silk,
ready for future abstraction, and, to his astonishment, cried "Halves!"
Rex pretended to be virtuously indignant, but soon saw that such pretence
was useless; his companion was too wily to be fooled with such affectation
of innocence. "I saw you take it," said he, "and if you won't share
I'll tell old Baffaty." This argument was irresistible, and they shared.
Having become good friends, the self-made partner lent Rex a helping hand
in the disposal of the booty, and introduced him to a purchaser.
The purchaser violated all rules of romance by being--not a Jew,
but a very orthodox Christian. He kept a second-hand clothes warehouse
in the City Road, and was supposed to have branch establishments
all over London.
Mr. Blicks purchased the stolen goods for about a third of their value,
and seemed struck by Mr. Rex's appearance. "I thort you was a swell mobsman,"
said he. This, from one so experienced, was a high compliment.
Encouraged by success, Rex and his companion took more articles of value.
John Rex paid off his debts, and began to feel himself quite a "gentleman"
again. Just as Rex had arrived at this pleasing state of mind,
Baffaty discovered the robbery. Not having heard about the bank business,
he did not suspect Rex--he was such a gentlemanly young man--
but having had his eye for some time upon Rex's partner, who was vulgar,
and squinted, he sent for him. Rex's partner stoutly denied the accusation,
and old Baffaty, who was a man of merciful tendencies, and could well afford
to lose fifty pounds, gave him until the next morning to confess,
and state where the goods had gone, hinting at the persuasive powers
of a constable at the end of that time. The shopman, with tears in his eyes,
came in a hurry to Rex, and informed him that all was lost.
He did not want to confess, because he must implicate his friend Rex,
but if he did not confess he would be given in charge.
Flight was impossible, for neither had money. In this dilemma John Rex
remembered Blicks's compliment, and burned to deserve it. If he must retreat,
he would lay waste the enemy's country. His exodus should be like that
of the Israelites--he would spoil the Egyptians. The shop-walker
was allowed half an hour in the middle of the day for lunch. John Rex
took advantage of this half-hour to hire a cab and drive to Blicks.
That worthy man received him cordially, for he saw that he was bent upon
great deeds. John Rex rapidly unfolded his plan of operations.
The warehouse doors were fastened with a spring. He would remain behind
after they were locked, and open them at a given signal. A light cart or cab
could be stationed in the lane at the back, three men could fill it
with valuables in as many hours. Did Blicks know of three such men?
Blicks's one eye glistened. He thought he did know. At half-past eleven
they should be there. Was that all? No. Mr. John Rex was not going
to "put up" such a splendid thing for nothing. The booty was worth
at least £5,000 if it was worth a shilling--he must have £100 cash
when the cart stopped at Blicks's door. Blicks at first refused point blank.
Let there be a division, but he would not buy a pig in a poke.
Rex was firm, however; it was his only chance, and at last he got a promise
of £80. That night the glorious achievement known in the annals of Bow Street
as "The Great Silk Robbery" took place, and two days afterwards
John Rex and his partner, dining comfortably at Birmingham, read an account
of the transaction--not in the least like it--in a London paper.
John Rex, who had now fairly broken with dull respectability,
bid adieu to his home, and began to realize his mother's wishes.
He was, after his fashion, a "gentleman". As long as the £80 lasted,
he lived in luxury, and by the time it was spent he had established himself
in his profession. This profession was a lucrative one. It was that
of a swindler. Gifted with a handsome person, facile manner, and ready wit,
he had added to these natural advantages some skill at billiards,
some knowledge of gambler's legerdemain, and the useful consciousness
that he must prey or be preyed on. John Rex was no common swindler;
his natural as well as his acquired abilities saved him from vulgar errors.
He saw that to successfully swindle mankind, one must not aim at comparative,
but superlative, ingenuity. He who is contented with being only cleverer
than the majority must infallibly be outwitted at last,
and to be once outwitted is--for a swindler--to be ruined.
Examining, moreover, into the history of detected crime, John Rex discovered
one thing. At the bottom of all these robberies, deceptions, and swindles,
was some lucky fellow who profited by the folly of his confederates.
This gave him an idea. Suppose he could not only make use of his own talents
to rob mankind, but utilize those of others also? Crime runs through
infinite grades. He proposed to himself to be at the top;
but why should he despise those good fellows beneath him?
His speciality was swindling, billiard-playing, card-playing, borrowing money,
obtaining goods, never risking more than two or three coups in a year.
But others plundered houses, stole bracelets, watches, diamonds--made as much
in a night as he did in six months--only their occupation was more dangerous.
Now came the question--why more dangerous? Because these men were mere clods,
bold enough and clever enough in their own rude way, but no match for the law,
with its Argus eyes and its Briarean hands. They did the rougher business
well enough; they broke locks, and burst doors, and "neddied" constables,
but in the finer arts of plan, attack, and escape, they were sadly deficient.
Good. These men should be the hands; he would be the head.
He would plan the robberies; they should execute them.
Working through many channels, and never omitting to assist a fellow-worker
when in distress, John Rex, in a few years, and in a most prosaic business way,
became the head of a society of ruffians. Mixing with fast clerks
and unsuspecting middle-class profligates, he found out particulars of houses
ill guarded, and shops insecurely fastened, and "put up"
Blicks's ready ruffians to the more dangerous work. In his various disguises,
and under his many names, he found his way into those upper circles
of "fast" society, where animals turn into birds, where a wolf becomes a rook,
and a lamb a pigeon. Rich spendthrifts who affected male society
asked him to their houses, and Mr. Anthony Croftonbury, Captain James Craven,
and Mr. Lionel Crofton were names remembered, sometimes with pleasure,
oftener with regret, by many a broken man of fortune. He had one quality
which, to a man of his profession, was invaluable--he was cautious,
and master of himself. Having made a success, wrung commission from Blicks,
rooked a gambling ninny like Lemoine, or secured an assortment
of jewellery sent down to his "wife" in Gloucestershire, he would disappear
for a time. He liked comfort, and revelled in the sense of security
and respectability. Thus he had lived for three years
when he met Sarah Purfoy, and thus he proposed to live for many more.
With this woman as a coadjutor, he thought he could defy the law.
She was the net spread to catch his "pigeons"; she was the well-dressed lady
who ordered goods in London for her husband at Canterbury,
and paid half the price down, "which was all this letter authorized her to do,"
and where a less beautiful or clever woman might have failed, she succeeded.
Her husband saw fortune before him, and believed that, with common prudence,
he might carry on his most lucrative employment of "gentleman"
until he chose to relinquish it. Alas for human weakness!
He one day did a foolish thing, and the law he had so successfully defied
got him in the simplest way imaginable.
Under the names of Mr. and Mrs. Skinner, John Rex and Sarah Purfoy were living
in quiet lodgings in the neighbourhood of Bloomsbury. Their landlady
was a respectable poor woman, and had a son who was a constable.
This son was given to talking, and, coming in to supper one night,
he told his mother that on the following evening an attack was to be made
on a gang of coiners in the Old Street Road. The mother,
dreaming all sorts of horrors during the night, came the next day
to Mrs. Skinner, in the parlour, and, under a pledge of profound secrecy,
told her of the dreadful expedition in which her son was engaged.
John Rex was out at a pigeon match with Lord Bellasis, and when he returned,
at nine o'clock, Sarah told him what she had heard.
Now, 4, Bank-place, Old Street Road, was the residence of a man named Green,
who had for some time carried on the lucrative but dangerous trade
of "counterfeiting". This man was one of the most daring
of that army of ruffians whose treasure chest and master of the mint
was Blicks, and his liberty was valuable. John Rex, eating his dinner
more nervously than usual, ruminated on the intelligence,
and thought it would be but wise to warn Green of his danger.
Not that he cared much for Green personally, but it was bad policy
to miss doing a good turn to a comrade, and, moreover, Green,
if captured might wag his tongue too freely. But how to do it?
If he went to Blicks, it might be too late; he would go himself.
He went out--and was captured. When Sarah heard of the calamity
she set to work to help him. She collected all her money and jewels,
paid Mrs. Skinner's rent, went to see Rex, and arranged his defence.
Blicks was hopeful, but Green--who came very near hanging--admitted
that the man was an associate of his, and the Recorder, being in a severe mood,
transported him for seven years. Sarah Purfoy vowed that she would follow him.
She was going as passenger, as emigrant, anything, when she saw
Mrs. Vickers's advertisement for a "lady's-maid," and answered it.
It chanced that Rex was shipped in the Malabar, and Sarah,
discovering this before the vessel had been a week at sea,
conceived the bold project of inciting a mutiny for the rescue of her lover.
We know the result of that scheme, and the story of the scoundrel's
subsequent escape from Macquarie Harbour.
"THE NOTORIOUS DAWES."
The mutineers of the Osprey had been long since given up as dead,
and the story of their desperate escape had become indistinct
to the general public mind. Now that they had been recaptured
in a remarkable manner, popular belief invested them with all sorts
of strange surroundings. They had been--according to report--kings
over savage islanders, chiefs of lawless and ferocious pirates,
respectable married men in Java, merchants in Singapore, and swindlers
in Hong Kong. Their adventures had been dramatized at a London theatre,
and the popular novelist of that day was engaged in a work
descriptive of their wondrous fortunes.
John Rex, the ringleader, was related, it was said, to a noble family,
and a special message had come out to Sir John Franklin concerning him.
He had every prospect of being satisfactorily hung, however,
for even the most outspoken admirers of his skill and courage
could not but admit that he had committed an offence which was death
by the law. The Crown would leave nothing undone to convict him,
and the already crowded prison was re-crammed with half a dozen
life sentence men, brought up from Port Arthur to identify the prisoners.
Amongst this number was stated to be "the notorious Dawes".
This statement gave fresh food for recollection and invention.
It was remembered that "the notorious Dawes" was the absconder
who had been brought away by Captain Frere, and who owed such fettered life
as he possessed to the fact that he had assisted Captain Frere
to make the wonderful boat in which the marooned party escaped.
It was remembered, also, how sullen and morose he had been on his trial
five years before, and how he had laughed when the commutation
of his death sentence was announced to him. The Hobart Town Gazette published
a short biography of this horrible villain--a biography setting forth
how he had been engaged in a mutiny on board the convict ship,
how he had twice escaped from the Macquarie Harbour, how he had been
repeatedly flogged for violence and insubordination, and how he was now
double-ironed at Port Arthur, after two more ineffectual attempts
to regain his freedom. Indeed, the Gazette, discovering that the wretch
had been originally transported for highway robbery, argued very ably
it would be far better to hang such wild beasts in the first instance
than suffer them to cumber the ground, and grow confirmed in villainy.
"Of what use to society," asked the Gazette, quite pathetically,
"has this scoundrel been during the last eleven years?" And everybody agreed
that he had been of no use whatever.
Miss Sylvia Vickers also received an additional share of public attention.
Her romantic rescue by the heroic Frere, who was shortly to reap the reward
of his devotion in the good old fashion, made her almost as famous
as the villain Dawes, or his confederate monster John Rex.
It was reported that she was to give evidence on the trial,
together with her affianced husband, they being the only two living witnesses
who could speak to the facts of the mutiny. It was reported also
that her lover was naturally most anxious that she should not give evidence,
as she was--an additional point of romantic interest--affected deeply
by the illness consequent on the suffering she had undergone,
and in a state of pitiable mental confusion as to the whole business.
These reports caused the Court, on the day of the trial, to be crowded
with spectators; and as the various particulars of the marvellous history
of this double escape were detailed, the excitement grew more intense.
The aspect of the four heavily-ironed prisoners caused a sensation which,
in that city of the ironed, was quite novel, and bets were offered and taken
as to the line of defence which they would adopt. At first it was thought
that they would throw themselves on the mercy of the Crown, seeking,
in the very extravagance of their story, to excite public sympathy;
but a little study of the demeanour of the chief prisoner, John Rex,
dispelled that conjecture. Calm, placid, and defiant, he seemed prepared
to accept his fate, or to meet his accusers with some plea which should be
sufficient to secure his acquittal on the capital charge.
Only when he heard the indictment, setting forth that he had
"feloniously pirated the brig Osprey," he smiled a little.
Mr. Meekin, sitting in the body of the Court, felt his religious prejudices
sadly shocked by that smile. "A perfect wild beast, my dear Miss Vickers,"
he said, returning, in a pause during the examination of the convicts
who had been brought to identify the prisoner, to the little room where
Sylvia and her father were waiting. "He has quite a tigerish look about him."
"Poor man!" said Sylvia, with a shudder.
"Poor! My dear young lady, you do not pity him?"
"I do," said Sylvia, twisting her hands together as if in pain.
"I pity them all, poor creatures."
"Charming sensibility!" says Meekin, with a glance at Vickers.
"The true woman's heart, my dear Major."
The Major tapped his fingers impatiently at this ill-timed twaddle.
Sylvia was too nervous just then for sentiment. "Come here, Poppet,"
he said, "and look through this door. You can see them from here,
and if you do not recognize any of them, I can't see what is the use
of putting you in the box; though, of course, if it is necessary, you must go."
The raised dock was just opposite to the door of the room in which
they were sitting, and the four manacled men, each with an armed warder
behind him, were visible above the heads of the crowd. The girl had
never before seen the ceremony of trying a man for his life,
and the silent and antique solemnities of the business affected her,
as it affects all who see it for the first time. The atmosphere was heavy
and distressing. The chains of the prisoners clanked ominously.
The crushing force of judge, gaolers, warders, and constables
assembled to punish the four men, appeared cruel. The familiar faces,
that in her momentary glance, she recognized, seemed to her
evilly transfigured. Even the countenance of her promised husband,
bent eagerly forward towards the witness-box, showed tyrannous
and bloodthirsty. Her eyes hastily followed the pointing finger of her father,
and sought the men in the dock. Two of them lounged, sullen and inattentive;
one nervously chewed a straw, or piece of twig, pawing the dock
with restless hand; the fourth scowled across the Court at the witness-box,
which she could not see. The four faces were all strange to her.
"No, papa," she said, with a sigh of relief, "I can't recognize them at all."
As she was turning from the door, a voice from the witness-box behind her
made her suddenly pale and pause to look again. The Court itself appeared,
at that moment, affected, for a murmur ran through it,
and some official cried, "Silence!"
The notorious criminal, Rufus Dawes, the desperado of Port Arthur,
the wild beast whom the Gazette had judged not fit to live,
had just entered the witness-box. He was a man of thirty,
in the prime of life, with a torso whose muscular grandeur
not even the ill-fitting yellow jacket could altogether conceal,
with strong, embrowned, and nervous hands, an upright carriage,
and a pair of fierce, black eyes that roamed over the Court hungrily.
Not all the weight of the double irons swaying from the leathern thong
around his massive loins, could mar that elegance of attitude which comes
only from perfect muscular development. Not all the frowning faces
bent upon him could frown an accent of respect into the contemptuous tones
in which he answered to his name, "Rufus Dawes, prisoner of the Crown".
"Come away, my darling," said Vickers, alarmed at his daughter's blanched face
and eager eyes.
"Wait," she said impatiently, listening for the voice whose owner
she could not see. "Rufus Dawes! Oh, I have heard that name before!"
"You are a prisoner of the Crown at the penal settlement of Port Arthur?"
Sylvia turned to her father with breathless inquiry in her eyes.
"Oh, papa! who is that speaking? I know the name! the voice!"
"That is the man who was with you in the boat, dear," says Vickers gravely.
The eager light died out of her eyes, and in its place came a look
of disappointment and pain. "I thought it was a good man," she said,
holding by the edge of the doorway. "It sounded like a good voice."
And then she pressed her hands over her eyes and shuddered. "There, there,"
says Vickers soothingly, "don't be afraid, Poppet; he can't hurt you now."
"No, ha! ha!" says Meekin, with great display of off-hand courage,
"the villain's safe enough now."
The colloquy in the Court went on. "Do you know the prisoners in the dock?"
"Yes." "Who are they?"
"John Rex, Henry Shiers, James Lesly, and, and--I'm not sure about
the last man." "You are not sure about the last man. Will you swear
to the three others?"
"You remember them well?"
"I was in the chain-gang at Macquarie Harbour with them for three years."
Sylvia, hearing this hideous reason for acquaintance, gave a low cry,
and fell into her father's arms.
"Oh, papa, take me away! I feel as if I was going to remember
Amid the deep silence that prevailed, the cry of the poor girl
was distinctly audible in the Court, and all heads turned to the door.
In the general wonder no one noticed the change that passed over Rufus Dawes.
His face flushed scarlet, great drops of sweat stood on his forehead,
and his black eyes glared in the direction from whence the sound came,
as though they would pierce the envious wood that separated him
from the woman whose voice he had heard. Maurice Frere sprang up
and pushed his way through the crowd under the bench.
"What's this?" he said to Vickers, almost brutally. "What did you bring her
here for? She is not wanted. I told you that."
"I considered it my duty, sir," says Vickers, with stately rebuke.
"What has frightened her? What has she heard? What has she seen?"
asked Frere, with a strangely white face. "Sylvia, Sylvia!"
She opened her eyes at the sound of his voice. "Take me home, papa; I'm ill.
Oh, what thoughts!"
"What does she mean?" cried Frere, looking in alarm from one to the other.
"That ruffian Dawes frightened her," said Meekin. "A gush of recollection,
poor child. There, there, calm yourself, Miss Vickers. He is quite safe."
"Frightened her, eh?" "Yes," said Sylvia faintly, "he frightened me, Maurice.
I needn't stop any longer, dear, need I?"
"No," says Frere, the cloud passing from his face. "Major, I beg your pardon,
but I was hasty. Take her home at once. This sort of thing
is too much for her." And so he went back to his place, wiping his brow,
and breathing hard, as one who had just escaped from some near peril.
Rufus Dawes had remained in the same attitude until the figure of Frere,
passing through the doorway, roused him. "Who is she?" he said,
in a low, hoarse voice, to the constable behind him. "Miss Vickers,"
said the man shortly, flinging the information at him as one might
fling a bone to a dangerous dog.
"Miss Vickers," repeated the convict, still staring in a sort of
bewildered agony. "They told me she was dead!"
The constable sniffed contemptuously at this preposterous conclusion,
as who should say, "If you know all about it, animal, why did you ask?"
and then, feeling that the fixed gaze of his interrogator demanded some reply,
added, "You thort she was, I've no doubt. You did your best
to make her so, I've heard."
The convict raised both his hands with sudden action of wrathful despair,
as though he would seize the other, despite the loaded muskets;
but, checking himself with sudden impulse, wheeled round to the Court.
"Your Honour!--Gentlemen! I want to speak."
The change in the tone of his voice, no less than the sudden loudness
of the exclamation, made the faces, hitherto bent upon the door
through which Mr. Frere had passed, turn round again. To many there it seemed
that the "notorious Dawes" was no longer in the box, for,
in place of the upright and defiant villain who stood there an instant back,
was a white-faced, nervous, agitated creature, bending forward in an attitude
almost of supplication, one hand grasping the rail, as though to save himself
from falling, the other outstretched towards the bench. "Your Honour,
there has been some dreadful mistake made. I want to explain about myself.
I explained before, when first I was sent to Port Arthur, but the letters
were never forwarded by the Commandant; of course, that's the rule,
and I can't complain. I've been sent there unjustly, your Honour.
I made that boat, your Honour. I saved the Major's wife and daughter.
I was the man; I did it all myself, and my liberty was sworn away
by a villain who hated me. I thought, until now, that no one knew the truth,
for they told me that she was dead." His rapid utterance took the Court
so much by surprise that no one interrupted him. "I was sentenced to death
for bolting, sir, and they reprieved me because I helped them in the boat.
Helped them! Why, I made it! She will tell you so. I nursed her!
I carried her in my arms! I starved myself for her! She was fond of me, sir.
She was indeed. She called me 'Good Mr. Dawes'."
At this, a coarse laugh broke out, which was instantly checked.
The judge bent over to ask, "Does he mean Miss Vickers?" and in this interval
Rufus Dawes, looking down into the Court, saw Maurice Frere staring up at him
with terror in his eyes. "I see you, Captain Frere, coward and liar!
Put him in the box, gentlemen, and make him tell his story.
She'll contradict him, never fear. Oh, and I thought she was dead
all this while!"
The judge had got his answer from the clerk by this time.
"Miss Vickers had been seriously ill, had fainted just now in the Court.
Her only memories of the convict who had been with her in the boat
were those of terror and disgust. The sight of him just now had
most seriously affected her. The convict himself was an inveterate liar
and schemer, and his story had been already disproved by Captain Frere."
The judge, a man inclining by nature to humanity, but forced by experience
to receive all statements of prisoners with caution, said all he could say,
and the tragedy of five years was disposed of in the following dialogue:-
JUDGE: This is not the place for an accusation against Captain Frere,
nor the place to argue upon your alleged wrongs. If you have
suffered injustice, the authorities will hear your complaint, and redress it.
RUFUS DAWES I have complained, your Honour. I wrote letter after letter
to the Government, but they were never sent. Then I heard she was dead, and
they sent me to the Coal Mines after that, and we never hear anything there.
JUDGE I can't listen to you. Mr. Mangles, have you any more questions
to ask the witness?
But Mr. Mangles not having any more, someone called, "Matthew Gabbett,"
and Rufus Dawes, still endeavouring to speak, was clanked away with,
amid a buzz of remark and surmise.
* * * * * *
The trial progressed without further incident. Sylvia was not called, and,
to the astonishment of many of his enemies, Captain Frere went
into the witness-box and generously spoke in favour of John Rex.
"He might have left us to starve," Frere said; "he might have murdered us;
we were completely in his power. The stock of provisions on board the brig
was not a large one, and I consider that, in dividing it with us,
he showed great generosity for one in his situation." This piece of evidence
told strongly in favour of the prisoners, for Captain Frere was known to be
such an uncompromising foe to all rebellious convicts that it was understood
that only the sternest sense of justice and truth could lead him to speak
in such terms. The defence set up by Rex, moreover, was most ingenious.
He was guilty of absconding, but his moderation might plead an excuse for that.
His only object was his freedom, and, having gained it, he had lived honestly
for nearly three years, as he could prove. He was charged with
piratically seizing the brig Osprey, and he urged that the brig Osprey,
having been built by convicts at Macquarie Harbour, and never entered
in any shipping list, could not be said to be "piratically seized",
in the strict meaning of the term. The Court admitted the force
of this objection, and, influenced doubtless by Captain Frere's evidence,
the fact that five years had passed since the mutiny, and that the two men
most guilty (Cheshire and Barker) had been executed in England,
sentenced Rex and his three companions to transportation for life
to the penal settlements of the colony.
MAURICE FRERE'S GOOD ANGEL.
At this happy conclusion to his labours, Frere went down to comfort the girl
for whose sake he had suffered Rex to escape the gallows. On his way
he was met by a man who touched his hat, and asked to speak with him
an instant. This man was past middle age, owned a red brandy-beaten face,
and had in his gait and manner that nameless something that denotes the seaman.
"Well, Blunt," says Frere, pausing with the impatient air of a man
who expects to hear bad news, "what is it now?"
"Only to tell you that it is all right, sir," says Blunt.
"She's come aboard again this morning."
"Come aboard again!" ejaculated Frere. "Why, I didn't know
that she had been ashore. Where did she go?" He spoke with an air
of confident authority, and Blunt--no longer the bluff tyrant of old--
seemed to quail before him. The trial of the mutineers of the Malabar
had ruined Phineas Blunt. Make what excuses he might, there was no concealing
the fact that Pine found him drunk in his cabin when he ought to have been
attending to his duties on deck, and the "authorities" could not, or would not,
pass over such a heinous breach of discipline. Captain Blunt--who, of course,
had his own version of the story--thus deprived of the honour of bringing
His Majesty's prisoners to His Majesty's colonies of New South Wales
and Van Diemen's Land, went on a whaling cruise to the South Seas.
The influence which Sarah Purfoy had acquired over him had, however,
irretrievably injured him. It was as though she had poisoned his moral nature
by the influence of a clever and wicked woman over a sensual
and dull-witted man. Blunt gradually sank lower and lower.
He became a drunkard, and was known as a man with a "grievance against
the Government". Captain Frere, having had occasion for him in some capacity,
had become in a manner his patron, and had got him the command of a schooner
trading from Sydney. On getting this command--not without some wry faces
on the part of the owner resident in Hobart Town--Blunt had taken
the temperance pledge for the space of twelve months, and was a miserable dog
in consequence. He was, however, a faithful henchman, for he hoped
by Frere's means to get some "Government billet"--the grand object
of all colonial sea captains of that epoch.
"Well, sir, she went ashore to see a friend," says Blunt,
looking at the sky and then at the earth.
"The--the prisoner, sir."
"And she saw him, I suppose?"
"Yes, but I thought I'd better tell you, sir," says Blunt.
"Of course; quite right," returned the other; "you had better start at once.
It's no use waiting."
"As you wish, sir. I can sail to-morrow morning--or this evening, if you like."
"This evening," says Frere, turning away; "as soon as possible."
"There's a situation in Sydney I've been looking after," said the other,
uneasily, "if you could help me to it."
"What is it?"
"The command of one of the Government vessels, sir."
"Well, keep sober, then," says Frere, "and I'll see what I can do.
And keep that woman's tongue still if you can."
The pair looked at each other, and Blunt grinned slavishly.
"I'll do my best." "Take care you do," returned his patron,
leaving him without further ceremony.
Frere found Vickers in the garden, and at once begged him not to talk
about the "business" to his daughter.
"You saw how bad she was to-day, Vickers. For goodness sake
don't make her ill again."
"My dear sir," says poor Vickers, "I won't refer to the subject.
She's been very unwell ever since. Nervous and unstrung. Go in and see her."
So Frere went in and soothed the excited girl, with real sorrow
at her suffering.
"It's all right now, Poppet," he said to her. "Don't think of it any more.
Put it out of your mind, dear."
"It was foolish of me, Maurice, I know, but I could not help it.
The sound of--of--that man's voice seemed to bring back to me some great pity
for something or someone. I don't explain what I mean, I know,
but I felt that I was on the verge of remembering a story of some great wrong,
just about to hear some dreadful revelation that should make me turn
from all the people whom I ought most to love. Do you understand?"
"I think I know what you mean," says Frere, with averted face.
"But that's all nonsense, you know."
"Of course," returned she, with a touch of her old childish manner
of disposing of questions out of hand. "Everybody knows it's all nonsense.
But then we do think such things. It seems to me that I am double,
that I have lived somewhere before, and have had another life--a dream-life."
"What a romantic girl you are," said the other, dimly comprehending
her meaning. "How could you have a dream-life?"
"Of course, not really, stupid! But in thought, you know.
I dream such strange things now and then. I am always falling down precipices
and into cataracts, and being pushed into great caverns in enormous rocks.
"Indigestion," returned Frere. "You don't take exercise enough.
You shouldn't read so much. Have a good five-mile walk."
"And in these dreams," continued Sylvia, not heeding his interruption,
"there is one strange thing. You are always there, Maurice."
"Come, that's all right," says Maurice.
"Ah, but not kind and good as you are, Captain Bruin, but scowling,
and threatening, and angry, so that I am afraid of you."
"But that is only a dream, darling."
"Yes, but--" playing with the button of his coat.
"But you looked just so to-day in the Court, Maurice,
and I think that's what made me so silly."
"My darling! There; hush--don't cry!"
But she had burst into a passion of sobs and tears,
that shook her slight figure in his arms.
"Oh, Maurice, I am a wicked girl! I don't know my own mind. I think sometimes
I don't love you as I ought--you who have saved me and nursed me."
"There, never mind about that," muttered Maurice Frere,
with a sort of choking in his throat.
She grew more composed presently, and said, after a while, lifting her face,
"Tell me, Maurice, did you ever, in those days of which you have spoken to me--
when you nursed me as a little child in your arms, and fed me,
and starved for me--did you ever think we should be married?"
"I don't know," says Maurice. "Why?"
"I think you must have thought so, because--it's not vanity, dear--
you would not else have been so kind, and gentle, and devoted."
"Nonsense, Poppet," he said, with his eyes resolutely averted.
"No, but you have been, and I am very pettish, sometimes. Papa has spoiled me.
You are always affectionate, and those worrying ways of yours,
which I get angry at, all come from love for me, don't they?"
"I hope so," said Maurice, with an unwonted moisture in his eyes.
"Well, you see, that is the reason why I am angry with myself
for not loving you as I ought. I want you to like the things I like,
and to love the books and the music and the pictures and the--the World I love;
and I forget that you are a man, you know, and I am only a girl;
and I forget how nobly you behaved, Maurice, and how unselfishly
you risked your life for mine. Why, what is the matter, dear?"
He had put her away from him suddenly, and gone to the window,
gazing across the sloping garden at the bay below, sleeping in the soft
evening light. The schooner which had brought the witnesses from Port Arthur
lay off the shore, and the yellow flag at her mast fluttered gently