Part 6 out of 11
in the cool evening breeze. The sight of this flag appeared to anger him,
for, as his eyes fell on it, he uttered an impatient exclamation,
and turned round again.
"Maurice!" she cried, "I have wounded you!"
"No, no. It is nothing," said he, with the air of a man surprised
in a moment of weakness. "I--I did not like to hear you talk
in this way--about not loving me."
"Oh, forgive me, dear; I did not mean to hurt you. It is my silly way
of saying more than I mean. How could I do otherwise than love you--after all
you have done?"
Some sudden desperate whim caused him to exclaim, "But suppose I had not done
all you think, would you not love me still?"
Her eyes, raised to his face with anxious tenderness for the pain
she had believed herself to have inflicted, fell at this speech.
"What a question! I don't know. I suppose I should; yet--but what is the use,
Maurice, of supposing? I know you have done it, and that is enough.
How can I say what I might have done if something else had happened?
Why, you might not have loved me."
If there had been for a moment any sentiment of remorse in his selfish heart,
the hesitation of her answer went far to dispel it.
"To be sure, that's true," and he placed his arm round her.
She lifted her face again with a bright laugh.
"We are a pair of geese--supposing! How can we help what has past? We have
the Future, darling--the Future, in which I am to be your little wife, and we
are to love each other all our lives, like the people in the story-books."
Temptation to evil had often come to Maurice Frere, and his selfish nature
had succumbed to it when in far less witching shape than this fair
and innocent child luring him with wistful eyes to win her.
What hopes had he not built upon her love; what good resolutions
had he not made by reason of the purity and goodness she was to bring to him?
As she said, the past was beyond recall; the future--in which she was
to love him all her life--was before them. With the hypocrisy of selfishness
which deceives even itself, he laid the little head upon his heart
with a sensible glow of virtue.
"God bless you, darling! You are my Good Angel."
The girl sighed. "I will be your Good Angel, dear, if you will let me."
MR. MEEKIN ADMINISTERS CONSOLATION.
Rex told Mr. Meekin, who, the next day, did him the honour to visit him, that,
"under Providence, he owed his escape from death to the kind manner
in which Captain Frere had spoken of him."
"I hope your escape will be a warning to you, my man," said Mr. Meekin,
"and that you will endeavour to make the rest of your life,
thus spared by the mercy of Providence, an atonement for your early errors."
"Indeed I will, sir," said John Rex, who had taken Mr. Meekin's measure
very accurately, "and it is very kind of you to condescend to speak so
to a wretch like me."
"Not at all," said Meekin, with affability; "it is my duty.
I am a Minister of the Gospel."
"Ah! sir, I wish I had attended to the Gospel's teachings when I was younger.
I might have been saved from all this."
"You might, indeed, poor man; but the Divine Mercy is infinite--quite infinite,
and will be extended to all of us--to you as well as to me."
(This with the air of saying, "What do you think of that!")
"Remember the penitent thief, Rex--the penitent thief."
"Indeed I do, sir."
"And read your Bible, Rex, and pray for strength to bear your punishment."
"I will, Mr. Meekin. I need it sorely, sir--physical as well as
spiritual strength, sir--for the Government allowance is sadly insufficient."
"I will speak to the authorities about a change in your dietary scale,"
returned Meekin, patronizingly. "In the meantime, just collect together
in your mind those particulars of your adventures of which you spoke,
and have them ready for me when next I call. Such a remarkable history
ought not to be lost."
"Thank you kindly, sir. I will, sir. Ah! I little thought when I occupied
the position of a gentleman, Mr. Meekin"--the cunning scoundrel
had been piously grandiloquent concerning his past career--"that I should
be reduced to this. But it is only just, sir."
"The mysterious workings of Providence are always just, Rex," returned Meekin,
who preferred to speak of the Almighty with well-bred vagueness.
"I am glad to see you so conscious of your errors. Good morning."
"Good morning, and Heaven bless you, sir," said Rex, with his tongue
in his cheek for the benefit of his yard mates; and so Mr. Meekin
tripped gracefully away, convinced that he was labouring most successfully
in the Vineyard, and that the convict Rex was really a superior person.
"I will send his narrative to the Bishop," said he to himself.
"It will amuse him. There must be many strange histories here,
if one could but find them out."
As the thought passed through his brain, his eye fell upon
the "notorious Dawes", who, while waiting for the schooner to take him back
to Port Arthur, had been permitted to amuse himself by breaking stones.
The prison-shed which Mr. Meekin was visiting was long and low,
roofed with iron, and terminating at each end in the stone wall of the gaol.
At one side rose the cells, at the other the outer wall of the prison.
From the outer wall projected a weatherboard under-roof,
and beneath this were seated forty heavily-ironed convicts.
Two constables, with loaded carbines, walked up and down the clear space
in the middle, and another watched from a sort of sentry-box
built against the main wall. Every half-hour a third constable
went down the line and examined the irons. The admirable system
of solitary confinement--which in average cases produces insanity
in the space of twelve months--was as yet unknown in Hobart Town,
and the forty heavily-ironed men had the pleasure of seeing each other's faces
every day for six hours.
The other inmates of the prison were at work on the roads,
or otherwise bestowed in the day time, but the forty were judged too desperate
to be let loose. They sat, three feet apart, in two long lines,
each man with a heap of stones between his outstretched legs,
and cracked the pebbles in leisurely fashion. The double row
of dismal woodpeckers tapping at this terribly hollow beech-tree
of penal discipline had a semi-ludicrous appearance. It seemed
so painfully absurd that forty muscular men should be ironed and guarded
for no better purpose than the cracking of a cartload of quartz-pebbles.
In the meantime the air was heavy with angry glances shot from one
to the other, and the passage of the parson was hailed by a grumbling undertone
of blasphemy. It was considered fashionable to grunt when the hammer came
in contact with the stone, and under cover of this mock exclamation of fatigue,
it was convenient to launch an oath. A fanciful visitor,
seeing the irregularly rising hammers along the line, might have likened
the shed to the interior of some vast piano, whose notes an unseen hand
was erratically fingering. Rufus Dawes was seated last on the line--his back
to the cells, his face to the gaol wall. This was the place
nearest the watching constable, and was allotted on that account
to the most ill-favoured. Some of his companions envied him
that melancholy distinction.
"Well, Dawes," says Mr. Meekin, measuring with his eye the distance
between the prisoner and himself, as one might measure the chain
of some ferocious dog. "How are you this morning, Dawes?"
Dawes, scowling in a parenthesis between the cracking of two stones,
was understood to say that he was very well.
"I am afraid, Dawes," said Mr. Meekin reproachfully, "that you have
done yourself no good by your outburst in court on Monday.
I understand that public opinion is quite incensed against you."
Dawes, slowly arranging one large fragment of bluestone in a comfortable basin
of smaller fragments, made no reply.
"I am afraid you lack patience, Dawes. You do not repent of your offences
against the law, I fear."
The only answer vouchsafed by the ironed man--if answer it could be called--
was a savage blow, which split the stone into sudden fragments,
and made the clergyman skip a step backward.
"You are a hardened ruffian, sir! Do you not hear me speak to you?"
"I hear you," said Dawes, picking up another stone.
"Then listen respectfully, sir," said Meekin, roseate with celestial anger.
"You have all day to break those stones."
"Yes, I have all day," returned Rufus Dawes, with a dogged look upward,
"and all next day, for that matter. Ugh!" and again the hammer descended.
"I came to console you, man--to console you," says Meekin,
indignant at the contempt with which his well-meant overtures
had been received. "I wanted to give you some good advice!"
The self-important annoyance of the tone seemed to appeal to whatever vestige
of appreciation for the humorous, chains and degradation had suffered to linger
in the convict's brain, for a faint smile crossed his features.
"I beg your pardon, sir," he said. "Pray, go on."
"I was going to say, my good fellow, that you have done yourself
a great deal of injury by your ill-advised accusation of Captain Frere,
and the use you made of Miss Vickers's name."
A frown, as of pain, contracted the prisoner's brows, and he seemed
with difficulty to put a restraint upon his speech. "Is there to be
no inquiry, Mr. Meekin?" he asked, at length. "What I stated was the truth--
the truth, so help me God!"
"No blasphemy, sir," said Meekin, solemnly. "No blasphemy, wretched man.
Do not add to the sin of lying the greater sin of taking the name of the Lord
thy God in vain. He will not hold him guiltless, Dawes.
He will not hold him guiltless, remember. No, there is to be no inquiry."
"Are they not going to ask her for her story?" asked Dawes,
with a pitiful change of manner. "They told me that she was to be asked.
Surely they will ask her."
"I am not, perhaps, at liberty," said Meekin, placidly unconscious
of the agony of despair and rage that made the voice of the strong man
before him quiver, "to state the intentions of the authorities,
but I can tell you that Miss Vickers will not be asked anything about you.
You are to go back to Port Arthur on the 24th, and to remain there."
A groan burst from Rufus Dawes; a groan so full of torture that even
the comfortable Meekin was thrilled by it.
"It is the Law, you know, my good man. I can't help it," he said.
"You shouldn't break the Law, you know."
"Curse the Law!" cries Dawes. "It's a Bloody Law; it's--there,
I beg your pardon," and he fell to cracking his stones again,
with a laugh that was more terrible in its bitter hopelessness
of winning attention or sympathy, than any outburst of passion could have been.
"Come," says Meekin, feeling uneasily constrained to bring forth
some of his London-learnt platitudes. "You can't complain.
You have broken the Law, and you must suffer. Civilized Society says
you sha'n't do certain things, and if you do them you must suffer the penalty
Civilized Society imposes. You are not wanting in intelligence, Dawes,
more's the pity--and you can't deny the justice of that."
Rufus Dawes, as if disdaining to answer in words, cast his eyes round the yard
with a glance that seemed to ask grimly if Civilized Society
was progressing quite in accordance with justice, when its civilization
created such places as that stone-walled, carbine-guarded prison-shed,
and filled it with such creatures as those forty human beasts,
doomed to spend the best years of their manhood cracking pebbles in it.
"You don't deny that?" asked the smug parson, "do you, Dawes?"
"It's not my place to argue with you, sir," said Dawes, in a tone
of indifference, born of lengthened suffering, so nicely balanced
between contempt and respect, that the inexperienced Meekin
could not tell whether he had made a convert or subjected himself
to an impertinence; "but I'm a prisoner for life, and don't look at it
in the same way that you do."
This view of the question did not seem to have occurred to Mr. Meekin,
for his mild cheek flushed. Certainly, the fact of being a prisoner for life
did make some difference. The sound of the noonday bell, however,
warned him to cease argument, and to take his consolations out of the way
of the mustering prisoners.
With a great clanking and clashing of irons, the forty rose and stood
each by his stone-heap. The third constable came round,
rapping the leg-irons of each man with easy nonchalance, and roughly pulling up
the coarse trousers (made with buttoned flaps at the sides,
like Mexican calzoneros, in order to give free play to the ankle fetters),
so that he might assure himself that no tricks had been played
since his last visit. As each man passed this ordeal he saluted,
and clanked, with wide-spread legs, to the place in the double line.
Mr. Meekin, though not a patron of field sports, found something in the scene
that reminded him of a blacksmith picking up horses' feet to examine
the soundness of their shoes.
"Upon my word," he said to himself, with a momentary pang
of genuine compassion, "it is a dreadful way to treat human beings.
I don't wonder at that wretched creature groaning under it.
But, bless me, it is near one o'clock, and I promised to lunch
with Major Vickers at two. How time flies, to be sure!"
RUFUS DAWES'S IDYLL.
That afternoon, while Mr. Meekin was digesting his lunch, and chatting airily
with Sylvia, Rufus Dawes began to brood over a desperate scheme.
The intelligence that the investigation he had hoped for was not to be granted
to him had rendered doubly bitter those galling fetters of self restraint
which he had laid upon himself. For five years of desolation
he had waited and hoped for a chance which might bring him to Hobart Town,
and enable him to denounce the treachery of Maurice Frere.
He had, by an almost miraculous accident, obtained that chance of open speech,
and, having obtained it, he found that he was not allowed to speak.
All the hopes he had formed were dashed to earth. All the calmness
with which he had forced himself to bear his fate was now turned
into bitterest rage and fury. Instead of one enemy he had twenty.
All--judge, jury, gaoler, and parson--were banded together
to work him evil and deny him right. The whole world was his foe:
there was no honesty or truth in any living creature--save one.
During the dull misery of his convict life at Port Arthur one bright memory
shone upon him like a star. In the depth of his degradation,
at the height of his despair, he cherished one pure and ennobling thought--
the thought of the child whom he had saved, and who loved him. When, on board
the whaler that had rescued him from the burning boat, he had felt
that the sailors, believing in Frere's bluff lies, shrunk from the moody felon,
he had gained strength to be silent by thinking of the suffering child.
When poor Mrs. Vickers died, making no sign, and thus the chief witness
to his heroism perished before his eyes, the thought that the child was left
had restrained his selfish regrets. When Frere, handing him over
to the authorities as an absconder, ingeniously twisted the details
of the boat-building to his own glorification, the knowledge that Sylvia
would assign to these pretensions their true value had given him courage
to keep silence. So strong was his belief in her gratitude,
that he scorned to beg for the pardon he had taught himself to believe
that she would ask for him. So utter was his contempt for the coward
and boaster who, dressed in brief authority, bore insidious false witness
against him, that, when he heard his sentence of life banishment,
he disdained to make known the true part he had played in the matter,
preferring to wait for the more exquisite revenge, the more complete
justification which would follow upon the recovery of the child
from her illness. But when, at Port Arthur, day after day passed over,
and brought no word of pity or justification, he began, with a sickening
feeling of despair, to comprehend that something strange had happened.
He was told by newcomers that the child of the Commandant lay still
and near to death. Then he heard that she and her father had left the colony,
and that all prospect of her righting him by her evidence was at an end.
This news gave him a terrible pang; and at first he was inclined to break out
into upbraidings of her selfishness. But, with that depth of love
which was in him, albeit crusted over and concealed by the sullenness
of speech and manner which his sufferings had produced, he found excuses
for her even then. She was ill. She was in the hands of friends
who loved her, and disregarded him; perhaps, even her entreaties
and explanations were put aside as childish babblings. She would free him
if she had the power. Then he wrote "Statements", agonized to see
the Commandant, pestered the gaolers and warders with the story of his wrongs,
and inundated the Government with letters, which, containing,
as they did always, denunciations of Maurice Frere, were never suffered
to reach their destination. The authorities, willing at the first
to look kindly upon him in consideration of his strange experience,
grew weary of this perpetual iteration of what they believed to be
malicious falsehoods, and ordered him heavier tasks and more continuous labour.
They mistook his gloom for treachery, his impatient outbursts of passion
at his fate for ferocity, his silent endurance for dangerous cunning.
As he had been at Macquarie Harbour, so did he become at Port Arthur--
a marked man. Despairing of winning his coveted liberty by fair means,
and horrified at the hideous prospect of a life in chains,
he twice attempted to escape, but escape was even more hopeless
than it had been at Hell's Gates. The peninsula of Port Arthur
was admirably guarded, signal stations drew a chain round the prison,
an armed boat's crew watched each bay, and across the narrow isthmus
which connected it with the mainland was a cordon of watch-dogs,
in addition to the soldier guard. He was retaken, of course, flogged,
and weighted with heavier irons. The second time, they sent him
to the Coal Mines, where the prisoners lived underground, worked half-naked,
and dragged their inspecting gaolers in wagons upon iron tramways,
when such great people condescended to visit them. The day on which he started
for this place he heard that Sylvia was dead, and his last hope went from him.
Then began with him a new religion. He worshipped the dead. For the living,
he had but hatred and evil words; for the dead, he had love
and tender thoughts. Instead of the phantoms of his vanished youth
which were wont to visit him, he saw now but one vision--the vision
of the child who had loved him. Instead of conjuring up for himself pictures
of that home circle in which he had once moved, and those creatures
who in the past years had thought him worthy of esteem and affection,
he placed before himself but one idea, one embodiment of happiness,
one being who was without sin and without stain, among all the monsters
of that pit into which he had fallen. Around the figure of the innocent child
who had lain in his breast, and laughed at him with her red young mouth,
he grouped every image of happiness and love. Having banished
from his thoughts all hope of resuming his name and place,
he pictured to himself some quiet nook at the world's end--
a deep-gardened house in a German country town, or remote cottage
by the English seashore, where he and his dream-child might have
lived together, happier in a purer affection than the love of man for woman.
He bethought him how he could have taught her out of the strange store
of learning which his roving life had won for him, how he could have confided
to her his real name, and perhaps purchased for her wealth and honour
by reason of it. Yet, he thought, she would not care for wealth and honour;
she would prefer a quiet life--a life of unassuming usefulness,
a life devoted to good deeds, to charity and love. He could
see her--in his visions--reading by a cheery fireside, wandering
in summer woods, or lingering by the marge of the slumbering mid-day sea.
He could feel--in his dreams--her soft arms about his neck, her innocent kisses
on his lips; he could hear her light laugh, and see her sunny ringlets float,
back-blown, as she ran to meet him. Conscious that she was dead,
and that he did to her gentle memory no disrespect by linking her fortunes
to those of a wretch who had seen so much of evil as himself,
he loved to think of her as still living, and to plot out for her
and for himself impossible plans for future happiness. In the noisome darkness
of the mine, in the glaring light of the noonday--dragging at his loaded wagon,
he could see her ever with him, her calm eyes gazing lovingly on his,
as they had gazed in the boat so long ago. She never seemed to grow older,
she never seemed to wish to leave him. It was only when his misery
became too great for him to bear, and he cursed and blasphemed,
mingling for a time in the hideous mirth of his companions,
that the little figure fled away. Thus dreaming, he had shaped out for himself
a sorrowful comfort, and in his dream-world found a compensation
for the terrible affliction of living. Indifference to his present sufferings
took possession of him; only at the bottom of this indifference
lurked a fixed hatred of the man who had brought these sufferings upon him,
and a determination to demand at the first opportunity a reconsideration
of that man's claims to be esteemed a hero. It was in this mood
that he had intended to make the revelation which he had made in Court,
but the intelligence that Sylvia lived unmanned him, and his prepared speech
had been usurped by a passionate torrent of complaint and invective,
which convinced no one, and gave Frere the very argument he needed.
It was decided that the prisoner Dawes was a malicious and artful scoundrel,
whose only object was to gain a brief respite of the punishment
which he had so justly earned. Against this injustice he had resolved
to rebel. It was monstrous, he thought, that they should refuse to hear
the witness who was so ready to speak in his favour, infamous
that they should send him back to his doom without allowing her to say a word
in his defence. But he would defeat that scheme. He had planned
a method of escape, and he would break from his bonds,
fling himself at her feet, and pray her to speak the truth for him,
and so save him. Strong in his faith in her, and with his love
for her brightened by the love he had borne to her dream-image,
he felt sure of her power to rescue him now, as he had rescued her before.
"If she knew I was alive, she would come to me," he said.
"I am sure she would. Perhaps they told her that I was dead."
Meditating that night in the solitude of his cell--his evil character
had gained him the poor luxury of loneliness--he almost wept to think
of the cruel deception that had doubtless been practised on her.
"They have told her that I was dead, in order that she might learn
to forget me; but she could not do that. I have thought of her so often
during these weary years that she must sometimes have thought of me.
Five years! She must be a woman now. My little child a woman!
Yet she is sure to be childlike, sweet, and gentle. How she will grieve
when she hears of my sufferings. Oh! my darling, my darling,
you are not dead!" And then, looking hastily about him in the darkness,
as though fearful even there of being seen, he pulled from out his breast
a little packet, and felt it lovingly with his coarse, toil-worn fingers,
reverently raising it to his lips, and dreaming over it, with a smile
on his face, as though it were a sacred talisman that should open to him
the doors of freedom.
A few days after this--on the 23rd of December--Maurice Frere was alarmed by
a piece of startling intelligence. The notorious Dawes had escaped from gaol!
Captain Frere had inspected the prison that very afternoon,
and it had seemed to him that the hammers had never fallen so briskly,
nor the chains clanked so gaily, as on the occasion of his visit.
"Thinking of their Christmas holiday, the dogs!" he had said
to the patrolling warder. "Thinking about their Christmas pudding,
the luxurious scoundrels!" and the convict nearest him had laughed
appreciatively, as convicts and schoolboys do laugh at the jests
of the man in authority. All seemed contentment. Moreover, he had--by way of
a pleasant stroke of wit--tormented Rufus Dawes with his ill-fortune.
"The schooner sails to-morrow, my man," he had said; "you'll spend
your Christmas at the mines." And congratulated himself upon the fact
that Rufus Dawes merely touched his cap, and went on with his stone-cracking
in silence. Certainly double irons and hard labour were fine things
to break a man's spirit. So that, when in the afternoon of that same day
he heard the astounding news that Rufus Dawes had freed himself
from his fetters, climbed the gaol wall in broad daylight,
run the gauntlet of Macquarie Street, and was now supposed to be safely hidden
in the mountains, he was dumbfounded.
"How the deuce did he do it, Jenkins?" he asked, as soon as he reached
"Well, I'm blessed if I rightly know, your honour," says Jenkins.
"He was over the wall before you could say 'knife'. Scott fired
and missed him, and then I heard the sentry's musket, but he missed him, too."
"Missed him!" cries Frere. "Pretty fellows you are, all of you!
I suppose you couldn't hit a haystack at twenty yards? Why,
the man wasn't three feet from the end of your carbine!"
The unlucky Scott, standing in melancholy attitude by the empty irons,
muttered something about the sun having been in his eyes.
"I don't know how it was, sir. I ought to have hit him, for certain.
I think I did touch him, too, as he went up the wall."
A stranger to the customs of the place might have imagined
that he was listening to a conversation about a pigeon match.
"Tell me all about it," says Frere, with an angry curse.
"I was just turning, your honour, when I hears Scott sing out 'Hullo!'
and when I turned round, I saw Dawes's irons on the ground,
and him a-scrambling up the heap o' stones yonder. The two men on my right
jumped up, and I thought it was a made-up thing among 'em, so I covered 'em
with my carbine, according to instructions, and called out that I'd shoot
the first that stepped out. Then I heard Scott's piece, and the men
gave a shout like. When I looked round, he was gone."
"Nobody else moved?"
"No, sir. I was confused at first, and thought they were all in it,
but Parton and Haines they runs in and gets between me and the wall,
and then Mr. Short he come, and we examined their irons."
"All right, your honour; and they all swore they knowed nothing of it.
I know Dawes's irons was all right when he went to dinner."
Frere stopped and examined the empty fetters. "All right be hanged," he said.
"If you don't know your duty better than this, the sooner you go somewhere else
the better, my man. Look here!"
The two ankle fetters were severed. One had been evidently filed through,
and the other broken transversely. The latter was bent,
as from a violent blow.
"Don't know where he got the file from," said Warder Short.
"Know! Of course you don't know. You men never do know anything
until the mischief's done. You want me here for a month or so.
I'd teach you your duty! Don't know--with things like this lying about?
I wonder the whole yard isn't loose and dining with the Governor."
"This" was a fragment of delft pottery which Frere's quick eye
had detected among the broken metal.
"I'd cut the biggest iron you've got with this; and so would he
and plenty more, I'll go bail. You ought to have lived with me
at Sarah Island, Mr. Short. Don't know!"
"Well, Captain Frere, it's an accident," says Short, "and can't be helped now."
"An accident!" roared Frere. "What business have you with accidents?
How, in the devil's name, you let the man get over the wall, I don't know."
"He ran up that stone heap," says Scott, "and seemed to me to jump
at the roof of the shed. I fired at him, and he swung his legs over the top
of the wall and dropped."
Frere measured the distance from his eye, and an irrepressible feeling
of admiration, rising out of his own skill in athletics,
took possession of him for an instant.
"By the Lord Harry, but it's a big jump!" he said; and then
the instinctive fear with which the consciousness of the hideous wrong
he had done the now escaped convict inspired him, made him add:
"A desperate villain like that wouldn't stick at a murder
if you pressed him hard. Which way did he go?"
"Right up Macquarie Street, and then made for the mountain.
There were few people about, but Mr. Mays, of the Star Hotel,
tried to stop him, and was knocked head over heels. He says the fellow
runs like a deer."
"We'll have the reward out if we don't get him to-night," says Frere,
turning away; "and you'd better put on an extra warder. This sort of game
is catching." And he strode away to the Barracks.
From right to left, from east to west, through the prison city
flew the signal of alarm, and the patrol, clattering out along the road
to New Norfolk, made hot haste to strike the trail of the fugitive.
But night came and found him yet at large, and the patrol returning,
weary and disheartened, protested that he must be lying hid in some gorge
of the purple mountain that overshadowed the town, and would have to be starved
into submission. Meanwhile the usual message ran through the island,
and so admirable were the arrangements which Arthur the reformer had initiated,
that, before noon of the next day, not a signal station on the coast
but knew that No. 8942, etc., etc., prisoner for life, was illegally at large.
This intelligence, further aided by a paragraph in the Gazette anent
the "Daring Escape", noised abroad, the world cared little that the Mary Jane,
Government schooner, had sailed for Port Arthur without Rufus Dawes.
But two or three persons cared a good deal. Major Vickers, for one,
was indignant that his boasted security of bolts and bars should have been
so easily defied, and in proportion to his indignation was the grief
of Messieurs Jenkins, Scott, and Co., suspended from office,
and threatened with absolute dismissal. Mr. Meekin was terribly frightened
at the fact that so dangerous a monster should be roaming at large
within reach of his own saintly person. Sylvia had shown symptoms
of nervous terror, none the less injurious because carefully repressed;
and Captain Maurice Frere was a prey to the most cruel anxiety.
He had ridden off at a hand-gallop within ten minutes after he had reached
the Barracks, and had spent the few hours of remaining daylight
in scouring the country along the road to the North. At dawn the next day
he was away to the mountain, and with a black-tracker at his heels,
explored as much of that wilderness of gully and chasm
as nature permitted to him. He had offered to double the reward,
and had examined a number of suspicious persons. It was known that
he had been inspecting the prison a few hours before the escape took place,
and his efforts were therefore attributed to zeal, not unmixed with chagrin.
"Our dear friend feels his reputation at stake," the future chaplain
of Port Arthur said to Sylvia at the Christmas dinner. "He is so proud
of his knowledge of these unhappy men that he dislikes to be outwitted
by any of them."
Notwithstanding all this, however, Dawes had disappeared.
The fat landlord of the Star Hotel was the last person who saw him,
and the flying yellow figure seemed to have been as completely swallowed up
by the warm summer's afternoon as if it had run headlong into
the blackest night that ever hung above the earth.
JOHN REX'S LETTER HOME.
The "little gathering" of which Major Vickers had spoken to Mr. Meekin,
had grown into something larger than he had anticipated.
Instead of a quiet dinner at which his own household, his daughter's betrothed,
and the stranger clergyman only should be present, the Major found himself
entangled with Mesdames Protherick and Jellicoe, Mr. McNab of the garrison,
and Mr. Pounce of the civil list. His quiet Christmas dinner
had grown into an evening party.
The conversation was on the usual topic.
"Heard anything about that fellow Dawes?" asked Mr. Pounce.
"Not yet," says Frere, sulkily, "but he won't be out long.
I've got a dozen men up the mountain."
"I suppose it is not easy for a prisoner to make good his escape?"
"Oh, he needn't be caught," says Frere, "if that's what you mean;
but he'll starve instead. The bushranging days are over now,
and it's a precious poor look-out for any man to live upon luck in the bush."
"Indeed, yes," says Mr. Pounce, lapping his soup. "This island seems
specially adapted by Providence for a convict settlement;
for with an admirable climate, it carries little indigenous vegetation
which will support human life."
"Wull," said McNab to Sylvia, "I don't think Prauvidence had any thocht
o' caunveect deesiplin whun He created the cauleny o' Van Deemen's Lan'."
"Neither do I," said Sylvia.
"I don't know," says Mrs. Protherick. "Poor Protherick used often to say
that it seemed as if some Almighty Hand had planned the Penal Settlements
round the coast, the country is so delightfully barren."
"Ay, Port Arthur couldn't have been better if it had been made on purpose,"
says Frere; "and all up the coast from Tenby to St. Helen's there isn't
a scrap for human being to make a meal on. The West Coast is worse.
By George, sir, in the old days, I remember--"
"By the way," says Meekin, "I've got something to show you. Rex's confession.
I brought it down on purpose."
"His account of his adventures after he left Macquarie Harbour.
I am going to send it to the Bishop."
"Oh, I should like to see it," said Sylvia, with heightened colour.
"The story of these unhappy men has a personal interest for me."
"A forbidden subject, Poppet."
"No, papa, not altogether forbidden; for it does not affect me now
as it used to do. You must let me read it, Mr. Meekin."
"A pack of lies, I expect," said Frere, with a scowl. "That scoundrel Rex
couldn't tell the truth to save his life."
"You misjudge him, Captain Frere," said Meekin. "All the prisoners
are not hardened in iniquity like Rufus Dawes. Rex is, I believe,
truly penitent, and has written a most touching letter to his father."
"A letter!" said Vickers. "You know that, by the King's--no,
the Queen's Regulations, no letters are allowed to be sent to the friends
of prisoners without first passing through the hands of the authorities."
"I am aware of that, Major, and for that reason have brought it with me,
that you may read it for yourself. It seems to me to breathe
a spirit of true piety."
"Let's have a look at it," said Frere.
"Here it is," returned Meekin, producing a packet; "and when the cloth
is removed, I will ask permission of the ladies to read it aloud.
It is most interesting."
A glance of surprise passed between the ladies Protherick and Jellicoe.
The idea of a convict's letter proving interesting! Mr. Meekin was new
to the ways of the place.
Frere, turning the packet between his finger, read the address:-
John Rex, sen.,
Care of Mr. Blicks,
38, Bishopsgate Street Within,
"Why can't he write to his father direct?" said he. "Who's Blick?"
"A worthy merchant, I am told, in whose counting-house the fortunate Rex
passed his younger days. He had a tolerable education, as you are aware."
"Educated prisoners are always the worst," said Vickers.
"James, some more wine. We don't drink toasts here,
but as this is Christmas Eve, 'Her Majesty the Queen'!"
"Hear, hear, hear!" says Maurice. "'Her Majesty the Queen'!"
Having drunk this loyal toast with due fervour, Vickers proposed,
"His Excellency Sir John Franklin", which toast was likewise duly honoured.
"Here's a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to you, sir," said Frere,
with the letter still in his hand. "God bless us all."
"Amen!" says Meekin piously. "Let us hope He will; and now,
leddies, the letter. I will read you the Confession afterwards."
Opening the packet with the satisfaction of a Gospel vineyard labourer
who sees his first vine sprouting, the good creature began to read aloud:
"'Hobart Town, "'December 27, 1838.
"'My Dear Father,--Through all the chances, changes,
and vicissitudes of my chequered life, I never had a task
so painful to my mangled feelings as the present one,
of addressing you from this doleful spot--my sea-girt prison,
on the beach of which I stand a monument of destruction,
driven by the adverse winds of fate to the confines
of black despair, and into the vortex of galling misery.'"
"Poetical!" said Frere.
"'I am just like a gigantic tree of the forest which has
stood many a wintry blast, and stormy tempest, but now, alas!
I am become a withered trunk, with all my greenest
and tenderest branches lopped off. Though fast attaining
middle age, I am not filling an envied and honoured post
with credit and respect. No--I shall be soon wearing
the garb of degradation, and the badge and brand of infamy
at P.A., which is, being interpreted, Port Arthur,
the 'Villain's Home'."
"Poor fellow!" said Sylvia.
"Touching, is it not?" assented Meekin, continuing--
"'I am, with heartrending sorrow and anguish of soul,
ranged and mingled with the Outcasts of Society.
My present circumstances and pictures you will find
well and truly drawn in the 102nd Psalm, commencing with
the 4th verse to the 12th inclusive, which, my dear father,
I request you will read attentively before you proceed
"Hullo!" said Frere, pulling out his pocket-book, "what's that? Read those
numbers again." Mr. Meekin complied, and Frere grinned. "Go on," he said.
"I'll show you something in that letter directly."
"'Oh, my dear father, avoid, I beg of you, the reading
of profane books. Let your mind dwell upon holy things,
and assiduously study to grow in grace. Psalm lxxiii 2.
Yet I have hope even in this, my desolate condition.
Psalm xxxv 18. "For the Lord our God is merciful,
and inclineth His ear unto pity".'"
"Blasphemous dog!" said Vickers. "You don't believe all that, Meekin,
do you?" The parson reproved him gently. "Wait a moment, sir,
until I have finished."
"'Party spirit runs very high, even in prison
in Van Diemen's Land. I am sorry to say that
a licentious press invariably evinces a very great degree
of contumely, while the authorities are held in respect
by all well-disposed persons, though it is often endeavoured
by some to bring on them the hatred and contempt
of prisoners. But I am glad to tell you
that all their efforts are without avail; but,
nevertheless, do not read in any colonial newspaper.
There is so much scurrility and vituperation
in their productions.'"
"That's for your benefit, Frere," said Vickers, with a smile.
"You remember what was said about your presence at the race meetings?"
"Of course," said Frere. "Artful scoundrel! Go on, Mr. Meekin, pray."
"'I am aware that you will hear accounts of cruelty
and tyranny, said, by the malicious and the evil-minded
haters of the Government and Government officials,
to have been inflicted by gaolers on convicts.
To be candid, this is not the dreadful place
it has been represented to be by vindictive writers.
Severe flogging and heavy chaining is sometimes used,
no doubt, but only in rare cases; and nominal punishments
are marked out by law for slight breaches of discipline.
So far as I have an opportunity of judging,
the lash is never bestowed unless merited.'"
"As far as he is concerned, I don't doubt it!" said Frere, cracking a walnut.
"'The texts of Scripture quoted by our chaplain
have comforted me much, and I have much to be grateful for;
for after the rash attempt I made to secure my freedom,
I have reason to be thankful for the mercy shown to me.
Death--dreadful death of soul and body--would have been
my portion; but, by the mercy of Omnipotence,
I have been spared to repentance--John iii.
I have now come to bitterness. The chaplain,
a pious gentleman, says it never really pays to steal.
"Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven,
where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt."
Honesty is the best policy, I am convinced,
and I would not for £1,000 repeat my evil courses--
Psalm xxxviii 14. When I think of the happy days
I once passed with good Mr. Blicks, in the old house
in Blue Anchor Yard, and reflect that since
that happy time I have recklessly plunged in sin,
and stolen goods and watches, studs, rings, and jewellery,
become, indeed, a common thief, I tremble with remorse,
and fly to prayer--Psalm v. Oh what sinners we are!
Let me hope that now I, by God's blessing
placed beyond temptation, will live safely,
and that some day I even may, by the will of the Lord Jesus,
find mercy for my sins. Some kind of madness
has method in it, but madness of sin holds us without escape.
Such is, dear father, then, my hope and trust
for my remaining life here--Psalm c 74.
I owe my bodily well-being to Captain Maurice Frere,
who was good enough to speak of my conduct
in reference to the Osprey, when, with Shiers, Barker,
and others, we captured that vessel. Pray for Captain Frere,
my dear father. He is a good man, and though his public duty
is painful and trying to his feelings, yet,
as a public functionary, he could not allow
his private feelings, whether of mercy or revenge,
to step between him and his duty.'"
"Confound the rascal!" said Frere, growing crimson.
"'Remember me most affectionately to Sarah and little William,
and all friends who yet cherish the recollection of me,
and bid them take warning by my fate, and keep from evil courses.
A good conscience is better than gold, and no amount
can compensate for the misery incident to a return to crime.
Whether I shall ever see you again, dear father,
is more than uncertain; for my doom is life,
unless the Government alter their plans concerning me,
and allow me an opportunity to earn my freedom by hard work.
"'The blessing of God rest with you, my dear father,
and that you may be washed white in the blood of the Lamb
is the prayer of your
"'P.S.---Though your sins be as scarlet they shall be
whiter than snow.""
"Is that all?" said Frere.
"That is all, sir, and a very touching letter it is."
"So it is," said Frere. "Now let me have it a moment, Mr. Meekin."
He took the paper, and referring to the numbers of the texts
which he had written in his pocket-book, began to knit his brows
over Mr. John Rex's impious and hypocritical production. "I thought so,"
he said, at length. "Those texts were never written for nothing.
It's an old trick, but cleverly done."
"What do you mean?" said Meekin. "Mean!" cries Frere, with a smile
at his own acuteness. "This precious composition contains a very gratifying
piece of intelligence for Mr. Blicks, whoever he is. Some receiver,
I've no doubt. Look here, Mr. Meekin. Take the letter and this pencil,
and begin at the first text. The 102nd Psalm, from the 4th verse
to the 12th inclusive, doesn't he say? Very good; that's nine verses,
isn't it? Well, now, underscore nine consecutive words from the second word
immediately following the next text quoted, 'I have hope,' etc.
Have you got it?"
"Yes," says Meekin, astonished, while all heads bent over the table.
"Well, now, his text is the eighteenth verse of the thirty-fifth Psalm,
isn't it? Count eighteen words on, then underscore five consecutive ones.
You've done that?"
"A moment--sixteen--seventeen--eighteen, 'authorities'."
"Count and score in the same way until you come to the word 'Texts' somewhere.
Vickers, I'll trouble you for the claret."
"Yes," said Meekin, after a pause. "Here it is--'the texts of Scripture
quoted by our chaplain'. But surely Mr. Frere--"
"Hold on a bit now," cries Frere. "What's the next quotation?--John iii.
That's every third word. Score every third word beginning with 'I'
immediately following the text, now, until you come to a quotation.
Got it? How many words in it?"
"'Lay up for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust
doth corrupt'," said Meekin, a little scandalized. "Fourteen words."
"Count fourteen words on, then, and score the fourteenth.
I'm up to this text-quoting business."
"The word '£1000'," said Meekin. "Yes."
"Then there's another text. Thirty-eighth--isn't it?--Psalm
and the fourteenth verse. Do that the same way as the other--
count fourteen words, and then score eight in succession.
Where does that bring you?"
"The fifth Psalm."
"Every fifth word then. Go on, my dear sir--go on. 'Method' of 'escape',
yes. The hundredth Psalm means a full stop. What verse? Seventy-four.
Count seventy-four words and score."
There was a pause for a few minutes while Mr. Meekin counted.
The letter had really turned out interesting.
"Read out your marked words now, Meekin. Let's see if I'm right."
Mr. Meekin read with gradually crimsoning face:--
"'I have hope even in this my desolate condition...in prison
Van Diemen's Land...the authorities are held in...hatred and contempt
of prisoners...read in any colonial newspaper...accounts of cruelty
and tyranny...inflicted by gaolers on convicts...severe flogging
and heavy chaining...for slight breaches of discipline...I...come...the
pious...it...pays...£1,000...in the old house in Blue Anchor Yard...
stolen goods and watches studs rings and jewellery...are...now...placed...
safely...I... will...find...some...method of escape...then...for revenge.'"
"Well," said Maurice, looking round with a grin, "what do you think of that?"
"Most remarkable!" said Mr. Pounce.
"How did you find it out, Frere?"
"Oh, it's nothing," says Frere; meaning that it was a great deal.
"I've studied a good many of these things, and this one is clumsy
to some I've seen. But it's pious, isn't it, Meekin?"
Mr. Meekin arose in wrath.
"It's very ungracious on your part, Captain Frere. A capital joke,
I have no doubt; but permit me to say I do not like jesting on such matters.
This poor fellow's letter to his aged father to be made the subject
of heartless merriment, I confess I do not understand.
It was confided to me in my sacred character as a Christian pastor."
"That's just it. The fellows play upon the parsons, don't you know,
and under cover of your 'sacred character' play all kinds of pranks.
How the dog must have chuckled when he gave you that!"
"Captain Frere," said Mr. Meekin, changing colour like a chameleon
with indignation and rage, "your interpretation is, I am convinced,
an incorrect one. How could the poor man compose such an ingenious piece
"If you mean, fake up that paper," returned Frere, unconsciously dropping
into prison slang, "I'll tell you. He had a Bible, I suppose,
while he was writing?"
"I certainly permitted him the use of the Sacred Volume,
Captain Frere. I should have judged it inconsistent with the character
of my Office to have refused it to him."
"Of course. And that's just where you parsons are always
putting your foot into it. If you'd put your 'Office' into your pocket
and open your eyes a bit--"
"Maurice! My dear Maurice!"
"I beg your pardon, Meekin," says Maurice, with clumsy apology;
"but I know these fellows. I've lived among 'em, I came out in a ship
with 'em, I've talked with 'em, and drank with 'em, and I'm down to
all their moves, don't you see. The Bible is the only book they get hold of,
and texts are the only bits of learning ever taught 'm, and being chockfull
of villainy and plots and conspiracies, what other book should they make use of
to aid their infernal schemes but the one that the chaplain has made
a text book for 'em?" And Maurice rose in disgust, not unmixed
"Dear me, it is really very terrible," says Meekin, who was not ill-meaning,
but only self-complacent--"very terrible indeed."
"But unhappily true," said Mr. Pounce. "An olive? Thanks."
"Upon me soul!" burst out honest McNab, "the hail seestem seems to be
maist ill-calculated tae advance the wark o' reeformation."
"Mr. McNab, I'll trouble you for the port," said equally honest Vickers,
bound hand and foot in the chains of the rules of the services.
And so, what seemed likely to become a dangerous discussion
upon convict discipline, was stifled judiciously at the birth.
But Sylvia, prompted, perhaps, by curiosity, perhaps by a desire
to modify the parson's chagrin, in passing Mr. Meekin,
took up the "confession," that lay unopened beside his wine glass,
and bore it off.
"Come, Mr. Meekin," said Vickers, when the door closed behind the ladies,
"help yourself. I am sorry the letter turned out so strangely,
but you may rely on Frere, I assure you. He knows more about convicts
than any man on the island."
"I see, Captain Frere, that you have studied the criminal classes."
"So I have, my dear sir, and know every turn and twist among 'em.
I tell you my maxim. It's some French fellow's, too, I believe, but that don't
matter--divide to conquer. Set all the dogs spying on each other."
"Oh!" said Meekin. "It's the only way. Why, my dear sir,
if the prisoners were as faithful to each other as we are,
we couldn't hold the island a week. It's just because no man can trust
his neighbour that every mutiny falls to the ground."
"I suppose it must be so," said poor Meekin.
"It is so; and, by George, sir, if I had my way, I'd have it
so that no prisoner should say a word to his right hand man,
but his left hand man should tell me of it. I'd promote the men that peached,
and make the beggars their own warders. Ha, ha!"
"But such a course, Captain Frere, though perhaps useful in a certain way,
would surely produce harm. It would excite the worst passions
of our fallen nature, and lead to endless lying and tyranny.
I'm sure it would."
"Wait a bit," cries Frere. "Perhaps one of these days I'll get a chance,
and then I'll try it. Convicts! By the Lord Harry, sir,
there's only one way to treat 'em; give 'em tobacco when they behave 'emselves,
and flog 'em when they don't."
"Terrible!" says the clergyman with a shudder. "You speak of them
as if they were wild beasts."
"So they are," said Maurice Frere, calmly.
WHAT BECAME OF THE MUTINEERS OF THE "OSPREY"
At the bottom of the long luxuriant garden-ground was a rustic seat
abutting upon the low wall that topped the lane. The branches
of the English trees (planted long ago) hung above it, and between
their rustling boughs one could see the reach of the silver river.
Sitting with her face to the bay and her back to the house,
Sylvia opened the manuscript she had carried off from Meekin,
and began to read. It was written in a firm, large hand, and headed--
"OF THE SUFFERINGS AND ADVENTURES OF CERTAIN OF
THE TEN CONVICTS WHO SEIZED THE BRIG OSPREY, AT
MACQUARIE HARBOUR, IN VAN DIEMEN'S LAND, RELATED
BY ONE OF THE SAID CONVICTS WHILE LYING UNDER
SENTENCE FOR THIS OFFENCE IN THE GAOL AT HOBART TOWN."
Sylvia, having read this grandiloquent sentence, paused for a moment.
The story of the mutiny, which had been the chief event of her childhood,
lay before her, and it seemed to her that, were it related truly,
she would comprehend something strange and terrible, which had been
for many years a shadow upon her memory. Longing, and yet fearing, to proceed,
she held the paper, half unfolded, in her hand, as, in her childhood,
she had held ajar the door of some dark room, into which she longed
and yet feared to enter. Her timidity lasted but an instant.
* * * * * *
"When orders arrived from head-quarters to break up the penal settlement
of Macquarie Harbour, the Commandant (Major Vickers, --th Regiment)
and most of the prisoners embarked on board a colonial vessel,
and set sail for Hobart Town, leaving behind them a brig that had been built
at Macquarie Harbour, to be brought round after them,
and placing Captain Maurice Frere in command. Left aboard her was Mr. Bates,
who had acted as pilot at the settlement, also four soldiers,
and ten prisoners, as a crew to work the vessel. The Commandant's wife
and child were also aboard."
* * * * * *
"How strangely it reads," thought the girl.
* * * * * *
"On the 12th of January, 1834, we set sail, and in the afternoon
anchored safely outside the Gates; but a breeze setting in from the north-west
caused a swell on the Bar, and Mr. Bates ran back to Wellington Bay.
We remained there all next day; and in the afternoon Captain Frere
took two soldiers and a boat, and went a-fishing. There were then
only Mr. Bates and the other two soldiers aboard, and it was proposed
by William Cheshire to seize the vessel. I was at first unwilling,
thinking that loss of life might ensue; but Cheshire and the others,
knowing that I was acquainted with navigation--having in happier days
lived much on the sea--threatened me if I refused to join.
A song was started in the folksle, and one of the soldiers,
coming to listen to it, was seized, and Lyon and Riley then made prisoner
of the sentry. Forced thus into a project with which I had at first
but little sympathy, I felt my heart leap at the prospect of freedom,
and would have sacrificed all to obtain it. Maddened by the desperate hopes
that inspired me, I from that moment assumed the command
of my wretched companions; and honestly think that, however culpable
I may have been in the eyes of the law, I prevented them from the display
of a violence to which their savage life had unhappily made them
but too accustomed."
* * * * * *
"Poor fellow," said Sylvia, beguiled by Master Rex's specious paragraphs,
"I think he was not to blame."
* * * * * *
"Mr. Bates was below in the cabin, and on being summoned by Cheshire
to surrender, with great courage attempted a defence. Barker fired at him
through the skylight, but fearful of the lives of the Commandant's wife
and child, I struck up his musket, and the ball passed through the mouldings
of the stern windows. At the same time, the soldiers whom we had bound
in the folksle forced up the hatch and came on deck. Cheshire shot
the first one, and struck the other with his clubbed musket.
The wounded man lost his footing, and the brig lurching with the rising tide,
he fell into the sea. This was--by the blessing of God--the only life lost
in the whole affair.
"Mr. Bates, seeing now that we had possession of the deck, surrendered,
upon promise that the Commandant's wife and child should be put ashore
in safety. I directed him to take such matters as he needed,
and prepared to lower the jolly-boat. As she swung off the davits,
Captain Frere came alongside in the whale-boat, and gallantly endeavoured
to board us, but the boat drifted past the vessel. I was now determined
to be free--indeed, the minds of all on board were made up to carry through
the business--and hailing the whale-boat, swore to fire into her
unless she surrendered. Captain Frere refused, and was for boarding us again,
but the two soldiers joined with us, and prevented his intention.
Having now got the prisoners into the jolly-boat, we transferred
Captain Frere into her, and being ourselves in the whale-boat,
compelled Captain Frere and Mr. Bates to row ashore. We then took
the jolly-boat in tow, and returned to the brig, a strict watch being kept
for fear that they should rescue the vessel from us.
"At break of day every man was upon deck, and a consultation took place
concerning the parting of the provisions. Cheshire was for leaving them
to starve, but Lesly, Shiers, and I held out for an equal division.
After a long and violent controversy, Humanity gained the day,
and the provisions were put into the whale-boat, and taken ashore.
Upon the receipt of the provisions, Mr. Bates thus expressed himself:
'Men, I did not for one moment expect such kind treatment from you,
regarding the provisions you have now brought ashore for us,
out of so little which there was on board. When I consider
your present undertaking, without a competent navigator, and in a leaky vessel,
your situation seems most perilous; therefore I hope God will prove
kind to you, and preserve you from the manifold dangers you may
have to encounter on the stormy ocean.' Mrs. Vickers also was pleased
to say that I had behaved kindly to her, that she wished me well,
and that when she returned to Hobart Town she would speak in my favour.
They then cheered us on our departure, wishing we might be prosperous
on account of our humanity in sharing the provisions with them.
"Having had breakfast, we commenced throwing overboard the light cargo
which was in the hold, which employed us until dinnertime.
After dinner we ran out a small kedge-anchor with about one hundred fathoms
of line, and having weighed anchor, and the tide being slack,
we hauled on the kedge-line, and succeeded in this manner by kedging along,
and we came to two islands, called the Cap and Bonnet.
The whole of us then commenced heaving the brig short, sending the whale-boat
to take her in tow, after we had tripped the anchor. By this means
we got her safe across the Bar. Scarcely was this done when a light breeze
sprang up from the south-west, and firing a musket to apprize
the party we had left of our safety, we made sail and put out to sea."
Having read thus far, Sylvia paused in an agony of recollection.
She remembered the firing of the musket, and that her mother had wept over her.
But beyond this all was uncertainty. Memories slipped across her mind
like shadows--she caught at them, and they were gone. Yet the reading
of this strange story made her nerves thrill. Despite the hypocritical
grandiloquence and affected piety of the narrative, it was easy to see that,
save some warping of facts to make for himself a better case,
and to extol the courage of the gaolers who had him at their mercy,
the narrator had not attempted to better his tale by the invention of perils.
The history of the desperate project that had been planned and carried out
five years before was related with grim simplicity which
(because it at once bears the stamp of truth, and forces the imagination
of the reader to supply the omitted details of horror),
is more effective to inspire sympathy than elaborate description.
The very barrenness of the narration was hideously suggestive,
and the girl felt her heart beat quicker as her poetic intellect
rushed to complete the terrible picture sketched by the convict.
She saw it all--the blue sea, the burning sun, the slowly moving ship,
the wretched company on the shore; she heard--Was that a rustling
in the bushes below her? A bird! How nervous she was growing!
"Being thus fairly rid--as we thought--of our prison life,
we cheerfully held consultation as to our future course. It was my intention
to get among the islands in the South Seas, and scuttling the brig,
to pass ourselves off among the natives as shipwrecked seamen,
trusting to God's mercy that some homeward bound vessel might at length
rescue us. With this view, I made James Lesly first mate,
he being an experienced mariner, and prepared myself, with what few instruments
we had, to take our departure from Birches Rock. Having hauled the whale-boat
alongside, we stove her, together with the jolly-boat, and cast her adrift.
This done, I parted the landsmen with the seamen, and,
steering east south-east, at eight p.m. we set our first watch.
In little more than an hour after this came on a heavy gale from
the south-west. I, and others of the landsmen, were violently sea-sick,
and Lesly had some difficulty in handling the brig, as the boisterous weather
called for two men at the helm. In the morning, getting upon deck
with difficulty, I found that the wind had abated, but upon sounding the well
discovered much water in the hold. Lesly rigged the pumps,
but the starboard one only could be made to work. From that time
there were but two businesses aboard--from the pump to the helm.
The gale lasted two days and a night, the brig running under close-reefed
topsails, we being afraid to shorten sail lest we might be overtaken
by some pursuing vessel, so strong was the terror of our prison upon us.
"On the 16th, at noon, I again forced myself on deck, and taking
a meridian observation, altered the course of the brig to east and by south,
wishing to run to the southward of New Zealand, out of the usual track
of shipping; and having a notion that, should our provisions hold out,
we might make the South American coast, and fall into Christian hands.
This done, I was compelled to retire below, and for a week lay in my berth
as one at the last gasp. At times I repented my resolution, Fair urging me
to bestir myself, as the men were not satisfied with our course.
On the 21st a mutiny occurred, led by Lyons, who asserted we were heading
into the Pacific, and must infallibly perish. This disaffected man,
though ignorant of navigation, insisted upon steering to the south,
believing that we had run to the northward of the Friendly Islands,
and was for running the ship ashore and beseeching the protection
of the natives. Lesly in vain protested that a southward course
would bring us into icefields. Barker, who had served on board a whaler,
strove to convince the mutineers that the temperature of such latitudes
was too warm for such an error to escape us. After much noise,
Lyons rushed to the helm, and Russen, drawing one of the pistols
taken from Mr. Bates, shot him dead, upon which the others returned
to their duty. This dreadful deed was, I fear, necessary to the safety
of the brig; and had it occurred on board a vessel manned by free-men,
would have been applauded as a stern but needful measure.
"Forced by these tumults upon deck, I made a short speech to the crew,
and convinced them that I was competent to perform what I had promised to do,
though at the time my heart inwardly failed me, and I longed
for some sign of land. Supported at each arm by Lesly and Barker,
I took an observation, and altered our course to north by east,
the brig running eleven knots an hour under single-reefed topsails,
and the pumps hard at work. So we ran until the 31st of January,
when a white squall took us, and nearly proved fatal to all aboard.
"Lesly now committed a great error, for, upon the brig righting
(she was thrown upon her beam ends, and her spanker boom carried away),
he commanded to furl the fore-top sail, strike top-gallant yards,
furl the main course, and take a reef in the maintopsail,
leaving her to scud under single-reefed maintopsail and fore-sail.
This caused the vessel to leak to that degree that I despaired
of reaching land in her, and prayed to the Almighty to send us
speedy assistance. For nine days and nights the storm continued,
the men being utterly exhausted. One of the two soldiers whom we had employed
to fish the two pieces of the spanker boom, with some quartering that we had,
was washed overboard and drowned. Our provision was now nearly done,
but the gale abating on the ninth day, we hastened to put provisions
on the launch. The sea was heavy, and we were compelled to put a purchase
on the fore and main yards, with preventers to windward, to ease the launch
in going over the side. We got her fairly afloat at last,
the others battening down the hatches in the brig. Having dressed ourselves
in the clothes of Captain Frere and the pilot, we left the brig at sundown,
lying with her channel plates nearly under water.
"The wind freshening during the night, our launch, which might, indeed,
be termed a long-boat, having been fitted with mast, bowsprit,
and main boom, began to be very uneasy, shipping two seas one after the other.
The plan we could devise was to sit, four of us about, in the stern sheets,
with our backs to the sea, to prevent the water pooping us.
This itself was enough to exhaust the strongest men. The day, however,
made us some amends for the dreadful night. Land was not more than ten miles
from us; approaching as nearly as we could with safety, we hauled our wind,
and ran along in, trusting to find some harbour. At half-past two
we sighted a bay of very curious appearance, having two large rocks
at the entrance, resembling pyramids. Shiers, Russen, and Fair landed,
in hopes of discovering fresh water, of which we stood much in need.
Before long they returned, stating that they had found an Indian hut,
inside of which were some rude earthenware vessels. Fearful of surprise,
we lay off the shore all that night, and putting into the bay
very early in the morning, killed a seal. This was the first fresh meat
I had tasted for four years. It seemed strange to eat it
under such circumstances. We cooked the flippers, heart, and liver
for breakfast, giving some to a cat which we had taken with us out of the brig,
for I would not, willingly, allow even that animal to perish.
After breakfast, we got under weigh; and we had scarcely been out half an hour
when we had a fresh breeze, which carried us along at the rate
of seven knots an hour, running from bay to bay to find inhabitants.
Steering along the shore, as the sun went down, we suddenly heard the bellowing
of a bullock, and James Barker, whom, from his violent conduct,
I thought incapable of such sentiment, burst into tears.
"In about two hours we perceived great fires on the beach and let go anchor
in nineteen fathoms of water. We lay awake all that night.
In the morning, we rowed further inshore, and moored the boat to some seaweed.
As soon as the inhabitants caught sight of us, they came down to the beach.
I distributed needles and thread among the Indians, and on my saying
'Valdivia,' a woman instantly pointed towards a tongue of land
to the southward, holding up three fingers, and crying 'leaghos'!
which I conjectured to be three leagues; the distance
we afterwards found it to be.
"About three o'clock in the afternoon, we weathered the point
pointed out by the woman, and perceived a flagstaff and a twelve-gun battery
under our lee. I now divided among the men the sum of six pounds ten shillings
that I had found in Captain Frere's cabin, and made another
and more equal distribution of the clothing. There were also two watches,
one of which I gave to Lesly, and kept the other for myself.
It was resolved among us to say that we were part crew of the brig Julia,
bound for China and wrecked in the South Seas. Upon landing at the battery,
we were heartily entertained, though we did not understand one word
of what they said. Next morning it was agreed that Lesly, Barker, Shiers,
and Russen should pay for a canoe to convey them to the town,
which was nine miles up the river; and on the morning of the 6th March
they took their departure. On the 9th March, a boat,
commanded by a lieutenant, came down with orders that the rest of us
should be conveyed to town; and we accordingly launched the boat
under convoy of the soldiers, and reached the town the same evening,
in some trepidation. I feared lest the Spaniards had obtained a clue
as to our real character, and was not deceived--the surviving soldier
having betrayed us. This fellow was thus doubly a traitor--first,
in deserting his officer, and then in betraying his comrades.
"We were immediately escorted to prison, where we found our four companions.
Some of them were for brazening out the story of shipwreck,
but knowing how confused must necessarily be our accounts,
were we examined separately, I persuaded them that open confession
would be our best chance of safety. On the 14th we were taken
before the Intendente or Governor, who informed us that we were free,
on condition that we chose to live within the limits of the town.
At this intelligence I felt my heart grow light, and only begged
in the name of my companions that we might not be given up
to the British Government; 'rather than which,' said I, 'I would beg
to be shot dead in the palace square.' The Governor regarded us
with tears in his eyes, and spoke as follows: 'My poor men,
do not think that I would take that advantage over you. Do not make an attempt
to escape, and I will be your friend, and should a vessel come tomorrow
to demand you, you shall find I will be as good as my word.
All I have to impress upon you is, to beware of intemperance,
which is very prevalent in this country, and when you find it convenient,
to pay Government the money that was allowed you for subsistence
while in prison.'
"The following day we all procured employment in launching a vessel
of three hundred tons burden, and my men showed themselves so active
that the owner said he would rather have us than thirty of his own countrymen;
which saying pleased the Governor, who was there with almost the whole
of the inhabitants and a whole band of music, this vessel having been nearly
three years on the stocks. After she was launched, the seamen amongst us
helped to fit her out, being paid fifteen dollars a month,
with provisions on board. As for myself, I speedily obtained employment
in the shipbuilder's yard, and subsisted by honest industry,
almost forgetting, in the unwonted pleasures of freedom, the sad reverse
of fortune which had befallen me. To think that I, who had mingled
among gentlemen and scholars, should be thankful to labour
in a shipwright's yard by day, and sleep on a bundle of hides by night!
But this is personal matter, and need not be obtruded.
"In the same yard with me worked the soldier who had betrayed us,
and I could not but regard it as a special judgment of Heaven
when he one day fell from a great height and was taken up for dead,
dying in much torment in a few hours. The days thus passed on
in comparative happiness until the 20th of May, 1836, when the old Governor
took his departure, regretted by all the inhabitants of Valdivia,
and the Achilles, a one-and-twenty-gun brig of war, arrived
with the new Governor. One of the first acts of this gentleman
was to sell our boat, which was moored at the back of Government-house.
This proceeding looked to my mind indicative of ill-will;
and, fearful lest the Governor should deliver us again into bondage,
I resolved to make my escape from the place. Having communicated my plans
to Barker, Lesly, Riley, Shiers, and Russen, I offered the Governor
to get built for him a handsome whale-boat, making the iron work myself.
The Governor consented, and in a little more than a fortnight
we had completed a four-oared whale-boat, capable of weathering either sea
or storm. We fitted her with sails and provisions in the Governor's name,
and on the 4th of July, being a Saturday night, we took our departure
from Valdivia, dropping down the river shortly after sunset.
Whether the Governor, disgusted at the trick we had played him,
decided not to pursue us, or whether--as I rather think--our absence
was not discovered until the Monday morning, when we were beyond reach
of capture, I know not, but we got out to sea without hazard,
and, taking accurate bearings, ran for the Friendly Islands,
as had been agreed upon amongst us.
"But it now seemed that the good fortune which had hitherto attended
us had deserted us, for after crawling for four days in sultry weather,
there fell a dead calm, and we lay like a log upon the sea
for forty-eight hours. For three days we remained in the midst of the ocean,
exposed to the burning rays of the sun, in a boat without water or provisions.
On the fourth day, just as we had resolved to draw lots to determine
who should die for the sustenance of the others, we were picked up
by an opium clipper returning to Canton. The captain, an American,
was most kind to us, and on our arrival at Canton, a subscription was got up
for us by the British merchants of that city, and a free passage to England
obtained for us. Russen, however, getting in drink, made statements
which brought suspicion upon us. I had imposed upon the Consul
with a fictitious story of a wreck, but had stated that my name was Wilson,
forgetting that the sextant which had been preserved in the boat
had Captain Bates's name engraved upon it. These circumstances together
caused sufficient doubts in the Consul's mind to cause him
to give directions that, on our arrival in London, we were to be brought before
the Thames Police Court. There being no evidence against us,
we should have escaped, had not a Dr. Pine, who had been surgeon
on board the Malabar transport, being in the Court, recognized me
and swore to my identity. We were remanded, and, to complete
the chain of evidence, Mr. Capon, the Hobart Town gaoler, was,
strangely enough, in London at the time, and identified us all.
Our story was then made public, and Barker and Lesly, turning Queen's evidence
against Russen, he was convicted of the murder of Lyons, and executed.
We were then placed on board the Leviathan hulk, and remained there
until shipped in the Lady Jane, which was chartered, with convicts,
for Van Diemen's Land, in order to be tried in the colony,
where the offence was committed, for piratically seizing the brig Osprey,
and arrived here on the 15th December, 1838."
* * * * * *
Coming, breathless, to the conclusion of this wonderful relation,
Sylvia suffered her hand to fall into her lap, and sat meditative.
The history of this desperate struggle for liberty was to her
full of vague horror. She had never before realized among what manner of men
she had lived. The sullen creatures who worked in the chain-gangs,
or pulled in the boats--their faces brutalized into a uniform blankness--
must be very different men from John Rex and his companions.
Her imagination pictured the voyage in the leaky brig,
the South American slavery, the midnight escape, the desperate rowing,
the long, slow agony of starvation, and the heart-sickness that must have
followed upon recapture and imprisonment. Surely the punishment
of "penal servitude" must have been made very terrible for men
to dare such hideous perils to escape from it. Surely John Rex,
the convict, who, alone, and prostrated by sickness, quelled a mutiny
and navigated a vessel through a storm-ravaged ocean,
must possess qualities which could be put to better use than stone-quarrying.
Was the opinion of Maurice Frere the correct one after all,
and were these convict monsters gifted with unnatural powers of endurance,
only to be subdued and tamed by unnatural and inhuman punishments
of lash and chain? Her fancies growing amid the fast gathering gloom,
she shuddered as she guessed to what extremities of evil might such men proceed
did an opportunity ever come to them to retaliate upon their gaolers.
Perhaps beneath each mask of servility and sullen fear
that was the ordinary prison face, lay hid a courage and a despair
as mighty as that which sustained those ten poor wanderers
over the Pacific Ocean. Maurice had told her that these people
had their secret signs, their secret language. She had just seen a specimen
of the skill with which this very Rex--still bent upon escape--could send
a hidden message to his friends beneath the eyes of his gaolers.
What if the whole island was but one smouldering volcano of revolt
and murder--the whole convict population but one incarnated conspiracy,
bound together by crime and suffering! Terrible to think of--
yet not impossible.
Oh, how strangely must the world have been civilized,
that this most lovely corner of it must needs be set apart as a place
of banishment for the monsters that civilization had brought forth and bred!
She cast her eyes around, and all beauty seemed blotted out
from the scene before her. The graceful foliage melting into indistinctness
in the gathering twilight, appeared to her horrible and treacherous.
The river seemed to flow sluggishly, as though thickened with blood and tears.
The shadow of the trees seemed to hold lurking shapes of cruelty and danger.
Even the whispering breeze bore with it sighs, and threats, and mutterings
of revenge. Oppressed by a terror of loneliness, she hastily caught up
the manuscript, and turned to seek the house, when, as if summoned
from the earth by the power of her own fears, a ragged figure
barred her passage.
To the excited girl this apparition seemed the embodiment
of the unknown evil she had dreaded. She recognized the yellow clothing,
and marked the eager hands outstretched to seize her. Instantly upon her
flashed the story that three days since had set the prison-town agog.
The desperado of Port Arthur, the escaped mutineer and murderer,
was before her, with unchained arms, free to wreak his will of her.
"Sylvia! It is you! Oh, at last! I have escaped, and come to ask--What?
Do you not know me?"
Pressing both hands to her bosom, she stepped back a pace,
speechless with terror.
"I am Rufus Dawes," he said, looking in her face for the grateful smile
of recognition that did not come--"Rufus Dawes."
The party at the house had finished their wine, and,
sitting on the broad verandah, were listening to some gentle dullness
of the clergyman, when there broke upon their ears a cry.
"What's that?" said Vickers.
Frere sprang up, and looked down the garden. He saw two figures
that seemed to struggle together. One glance was enough, and, with a shout,
he leapt the flower-beds, and made straight at the escaped prisoner.
Rufus Dawes saw him coming, but, secure in the protection of the girl
who owed to him so much, he advanced a step nearer, and loosing
his respectful clasp of her hand, caught her dress.
"Oh, help, Maurice, help!" cried Sylvia again.
Into the face of Rufus Dawes came an expression of horror-stricken
bewilderment. For three days the unhappy man had contrived
to keep life and freedom, in order to get speech with the one being who,
he thought, cherished for him some affection. Having made
an unparalleled escape from the midst of his warders, he had crept
to the place where lived the idol of his dreams, braving recapture,
that he might hear from her two words of justice and gratitude.
Not only did she refuse to listen to him, and shrink from him
as from one accursed, but, at the sound of his name, she summoned
his deadliest foe to capture him. Such monstrous ingratitude
was almost beyond belief. She, too,--the child he had nursed and fed,
the child for whom he had given up his hard-earned chance of freedom
and fortune, the child of whom he had dreamed, the child whose image
he had worshipped--she, too, against him! Then there was no justice,
no Heaven, no God! He loosed his hold of her dress, and,
regardless of the approaching footsteps, stood speechless,
shaking from head to foot. In another instant Frere and McNab
flung themselves upon him, and he was borne to the ground.
Though weakened by starvation, he shook them off with scarce an effort,
and, despite the servants who came hurrying from the alarmed house,
might even then have turned and made good his escape.
But he seemed unable to fly. His chest heaved convulsively,
great drops of sweat beaded his white face, and from his eyes
tears seemed about to break. For an instant his features worked convulsively,
as if he would fain invoke upon the girl, weeping on her father's shoulder,
some hideous curse. But no words came--only thrusting his hand
into his breast, with a supreme gesture of horror and aversion,
he flung something from him. Then a profound sigh escaped him,
and he held out his hands to be bound.
There was something so pitiable about this silent grief that,
as they led him away, the little group instinctively averted their faces,
lest they should seem to triumph over him.
A RELIC OF MACQUARIE HARBOUR.
"You must try and save him from further punishment," said Sylvia
next day to Frere. "I did not mean to betray the poor creature,
but I had made myself nervous by reading that convict's story."
"You shouldn't read such rubbish," said Frere. "What's the use?
I don't suppose a word of it's true."
"It must be true. I am sure it's true. Oh, Maurice, these are dreadful men.
I thought I knew all about convicts, but I had no idea that such men as these
were among them."
"Thank God, you know very little," said Maurice. "The servants you have here
are very different sort of fellows from Rex and Company."
"Oh, Maurice, I am so tired of this place. It's wrong, perhaps,
with poor papa and all, but I do wish I was somewhere out of the sight
of chains. I don't know what has made me feel as I do."
"Come to Sydney," said Frere. "There are not so many convicts there.
It was arranged that we should go to Sydney, you know."
"For our honeymoon? Yes," said Sylvia, simply. "I know it was.
But we are not married yet."
"That's easily done," said Maurice.
"Oh, nonsense, sir! But I want to speak to you about this poor Dawes.
I don't think he meant any harm. It seems to me now that he was rather going
to ask for food or something, only I was so nervous. They won't hang him,
Maurice, will they?"
"No," said Maurice. "I spoke to your father this morning.
If the fellow is tried for his life, you may have to give evidence,
and so we came to the conclusion that Port Arthur again, and heavy irons,
will meet the case. We gave him another life sentence this morning.
That will make the third he has had."
"What did he say?"
"Nothing. I sent him down aboard the schooner at once. He ought to be
out of the river by this time." "Maurice, I have a strange feeling
about that man."
"Eh?" said Maurice.
"I seem to fear him, as if I knew some story about him,
and yet didn't know it."
"That's not very clear," said Maurice, forcing a laugh,
"but don't let's talk about him any more. We'll soon be far from Port Arthur
and everybody in it."
"Maurice," said she, caressingly, "I love you, dear. You'll always protect me
against these men, won't you?"
Maurice kissed her. "You have not got over your fright, Sylvia,"
he said. "I see I shall have to take a great deal of care of my wife."
"Of course," replied Sylvia.
And then the pair began to make love, or, rather, Maurice made it,
and Sylvia suffered him.
Suddenly her eye caught something. "What's that--there, on the ground
by the fountain?" They were near the spot where Dawes had been seized
the night before. A little stream ran through the garden,
and a Triton--of convict manufacture--blew his horn in the middle
of a--convict built--rockery. Under the lip of the fountain
lay a small packet. Frere picked it up. It was made of soiled yellow cloth,
and stitched evidently by a man's fingers. "It looks like a needle-case,"
"Let me see. What a strange-looking thing! Yellow cloth, too.
Why, it must belong to a prisoner. Oh, Maurice, the man
who was here last night!"
"Ay," says Maurice, turning over the packet, "it might have been his,
"He seemed to fling something from him, I thought. Perhaps this is it!"
said she, peering over his arm, in delicate curiosity. Frere, with something
of a scowl on his brow, tore off the outer covering of the mysterious packet,
and displayed a second envelope, of grey cloth--the "good-conduct" uniform.
Beneath this was a piece, some three inches square, of stained and discoloured
merino, that had once been blue.
"Hullo!" says Frere. "Why, what's this?"
"It is a piece of a dress," says Sylvia.
It was Rufus Dawes's talisman--a portion of the frock she had worn
at Macquarie Harbour, and which the unhappy convict had cherished
as a sacred relic for five weary years.
Frere flung it into the water. The running stream whirled it away.
"Why did you do that?" cried the girl, with a sudden pang of remorse
for which she could not account. The shred of cloth, caught by a weed,
lingered for an instant on the surface of the water. Almost
at the same moment, the pair, raising their eyes, saw the schooner
which bore Rufus Dawes back to bondage glide past the opening of the trees
and disappear. When they looked again for the strange relic
of the desperado of Port Arthur, it also had vanished.
AT PORT ARTHUR.
The usual clanking and hammering was prevalent upon the stone jetty
of Port Arthur when the schooner bearing the returned convict, Rufus Dawes,
ran alongside. On the heights above the esplanade rose the grim front
of the soldiers' barracks; beneath the soldiers' barracks was the long range
of prison buildings with their workshops and tan-pits; to the left
lay the Commandant's house, authoritative by reason of its embrasured terrace
and guardian sentry; while the jetty, that faced the purple length
of the "Island of the Dead," swarmed with parti-coloured figures,
clanking about their enforced business, under the muskets of their gaolers.
Rufus Dawes had seen this prospect before, had learnt by heart each beauty
of rising sun, sparkling water, and wooded hill. From the hideously clean
jetty at his feet, to the distant signal station, that, embowered in bloom,
reared its slender arms upwards into the cloudless sky, he knew it all.
There was no charm for him in the exquisite blue of the sea,
the soft shadows of the hills, or the soothing ripple of the waves
that crept voluptuously to the white breast of the shining shore.
He sat with his head bowed down, and his hands clasped about his knees,
disdaining to look until they roused him.
"Hallo, Dawes!" says Warder Troke, halting his train of ironed yellow-jackets.
"So you've come back again! Glad to see yer, Dawes! It seems an age
since we had the pleasure of your company, Dawes!" At this pleasantry
the train laughed, so that their irons clanked more than ever.
They found it often inconvenient not to laugh at Mr. Troke's humour.
"Step down here, Dawes, and let me introduce you to your h'old friends.
They'll be glad to see yer, won't yer, boys? Why, bless me, Dawes,
we thort we'd lost yer! We thort yer'd given us the slip altogether, Dawes.
They didn't take care of yer in Hobart Town, I expect, eh, boys?
We'll look after yer here, Dawes, though. You won't bolt any more."
"Take care, Mr. Troke," said a warning voice, "you're at it again!
Let the man alone!"
By virtue of an order transmitted from Hobart Town, they had begun
to attach the dangerous prisoner to the last man of the gang,
riveting the leg-irons of the pair by means of an extra link,
which could be removed when necessary, but Dawes had given
no sign of consciousness. At the sound of the friendly tones,
however, he looked up, and saw a tall, gaunt man, dressed
in a shabby pepper-and-salt raiment, and wearing a black handkerchief
knotted round his throat. He was a stranger to him.
"I beg yer pardon, Mr. North," said Troke, sinking at once
the bully in the sneak. "I didn't see yer reverence."
"A parson!" thought Dawes with disappointment, and dropped his eyes.
"I know that," returned Mr. North, coolly. "If you had,
you would have been all butter and honey. Don't trouble yourself
to tell a lie; it's quite unnecessary."
Dawes looked up again. This was a strange parson.
"What's your name, my man?" said Mr. North, suddenly, catching his eye.
Rufus Dawes had intended to scowl, but the tone, sharply authoritative,
roused his automatic convict second nature, and he answered,
almost despite himself, "Rufus Dawes."
"Oh," said Mr. North, eyeing him with a curious air of expectation
that had something pitying in it. "This is the man, is it?
I thought he was to go to the Coal Mines."
"So he is," said Troke, "but we hain't a goin' to send there for a fortnit,
and in the meantime I'm to work him on the chain."
"Oh!" said Mr. North again. "Lend me your knife, Troke."
And then, before them all, this curious parson took a piece of tobacco
out of his ragged pocket, and cut off a "chaw" with Mr. Troke's knife.
Rufus Dawes felt what he had not felt for three days--an interest in something.
He stared at the parson in unaffected astonishment. Mr. North perhaps
mistook the meaning of his fixed stare, for he held out the remnant
of tobacco to him.
The chain line vibrated at this, and bent forward to enjoy
the vicarious delight of seeing another man chew tobacco.
Troke grinned with a silent mirth that betokened retribution
for the favoured convict. "Here," said Mr. North, holding out
the dainty morsel upon which so many eyes were fixed. Rufus Dawes
took the tobacco; looked at it hungrily for an instant, and then--
to the astonishment of everybody--flung it away with a curse.
"I don't want your tobacco," he said; "keep it."
From convict mouths went out a respectful roar of amazement,
and Mr. Troke's eyes snapped with pride of outraged janitorship.
"You ungrateful dog!" he cried, raising his stick.
Mr. North put up a hand. "That will do, Troke," he said;
"I know your respect for the cloth. Move the men on again."
"Get on!" said Troke, rumbling oaths beneath his breath,
and Dawes felt his newly-riveted chain tug. It was some time
since he had been in a chain-gang, and the sudden jerk nearly overbalanced him.
He caught at his neighbour, and looking up, met a pair of black eyes
which gleamed recognition. His neighbour was John Rex. Mr. North,
watching them, was struck by the resemblance the two men bore to each other.
Their height, eyes, hair, and complexion were similar. Despite the difference
in name they might be related. "They might be brothers," thought he.
"Poor devils! I never knew a prisoner refuse tobacco before."
And he looked on the ground for the despised portion. But in vain.
John Rex, oppressed by no foolish sentiment, had picked it up
and put it in his mouth.
So Rufus Dawes was relegated to his old life again, and came back to his prison
with the hatred of his kind, that his prison had bred in him,
increased a hundred-fold. It seemed to him that the sudden awakening
had dazed him, that the flood of light so suddenly let in upon
his slumbering soul had blinded his eyes, used so long to the sweetly-cheating
twilight. He was at first unable to apprehend the details of his misery.
He knew only that his dream-child was alive and shuddered at him,
that the only thing he loved and trusted had betrayed him,
that all hope of justice and mercy had gone from him for ever,
that the beauty had gone from earth, the brightness from Heaven,
and that he was doomed still to live. He went about his work,
unheedful of the jests of Troke, ungalled by his irons, unmindful of the groans
and laughter about him. His magnificent muscles saved him from the lash;
for the amiable Troke tried to break him down in vain. He did not complain,
he did not laugh, he did not weep. His "mate" Rex tried to converse with him,
but did not succeed. In the midst of one of Rex's excellent tales
of London dissipation, Rufus Dawes would sigh wearily. "There's something
on that fellow's mind," thought Rex, prone to watch the signs
by which the soul is read. "He has some secret which weighs upon him."
It was in vain that Rex attempted to discover what this secret might be.
To all questions concerning his past life--however artfully put--Rufus Dawes
was dumb. In vain Rex practised all his arts, called up all his graces
of manner and speech--and these were not few--to fascinate the silent man
and win his confidence. Rufus Dawes met his advances with
a cynical carelessness that revealed nothing; and, when not addressed,
held a gloomy silence. Galled by this indifference, John Rex had attempted
to practise those ingenious arts of torment by which Gabbett, Vetch,
or other leading spirits of the gang asserted their superiority
over their quieter comrades. But he soon ceased. "I have been longer
in this hell than you," said Rufus Dawes, "and I know more
of the devil's tricks than you can show me. You had best be quiet."
Rex neglected the warning, and Rufus Dawes took him by the throat one day,
and would have strangled him, but that Troke beat off the angered man
with a favourite bludgeon. Rex had a wholesome respect for personal prowess,
and had the grace to admit the provocation to Troke. Even this instance
of self-denial did not move the stubborn Dawes. He only laughed.
Then Rex came to a conclusion. His mate was plotting an escape.
He himself cherished a notion of the kind, as did Gabbett and Vetch,
but by common distrust no one ever gave utterance to thoughts of this nature.
It would be too dangerous. "He would be a good comrade for a rush,"
thought Rex, and resolved more firmly than ever to ally himself
to this dangerous and silent companion.
One question Dawes had asked which Rex had been able to answer:
"Who is that North?"
"A chaplain. He is only here for a week or so. There is a new one coming.
North goes to Sydney. He is not in favour with the Bishop."
"How do you know?"
"By deduction," says Rex, with a smile peculiar to him. "He wears
coloured clothes, and smokes, and doesn't patter Scripture. The Bishop
dresses in black, detests tobacco, and quotes the Bible like a concordance.
North is sent here for a month, as a warming-pan for that ass Meekin.
Ergo, the Bishop don't care about North."
Jemmy Vetch, who was next to Rex, let the full weight of his portion
of tree-trunk rest upon Gabbett, in order to express his unrestrained
admiration of Mr. Rex's sarcasm. "Ain't the Dandy a one'er?" said he.
"Are you thinking of coming the pious?" asked Rex. "It's no good with North.
Wait until the highly-intelligent Meekin comes. You can twist
that worthy successor of the Apostles round your little finger!"
"Silence there!" cries the overseer. "Do you want me to report yer?"
Amid such diversions the days rolled on, and Rufus Dawes almost longed
for the Coal Mines. To be sent from the settlement to the Coal Mines,
and from the Coal Mines to the settlement, was to these unhappy men a "trip".
At Port Arthur one went to an out-station, as more fortunate people
go to Queenscliff or the Ocean Beach now-a-days for "change of air".
THE COMMANDANT'S BUTLER.
Rufus Dawes had been a fortnight at the settlement when a new-comer appeared
on the chain-gang. This was a young man of about twenty years of age,
thin, fair, and delicate. His name was Kirkland, and he belonged
to what were known as the "educated" prisoners. He had been a clerk
in a banking house, and was transported for embezzlement, though, by some,
grave doubts as to his guilt were entertained. The Commandant,
Captain Burgess, had employed him as butler in his own house,
and his fate was considered a "lucky" one. So, doubtless, it was,
and might have been, had not an untoward accident occurred. Captain Burgess,
who was a bachelor of the "old school", confessed to an amiable weakness
for blasphemy, and was given to condemning the convicts' eyes and limbs
with indiscriminate violence. Kirkland belonged to a Methodist family
and owned a piety utterly out of place in that region. The language of Burgess
made him shudder, and one day he so far forgot himself and his place
as to raise his hands to his ears. "My blank!" cried Burgess.
"You blank blank, is that your blank game? I'll blank soon cure you of that!"
and forthwith ordered him to the chain-gang for "insubordination".
He was received with suspicion by the gang, who did not like
white-handed prisoners. Troke, by way of experiment in human nature,
perhaps, placed him next to Gabbett. The day was got through in the usual way,
and Kirkland felt his heart revive.
The toil was severe, and the companionship uncouth, but despite
his blistered hands and aching back, he had not experienced anything
so very terrible after all. When the muster bell rang, and the gang broke up,
Rufus Dawes, on his silent way to his separate cell, observed a notable change
of custom in the disposition of the new convict. Instead of placing him
in a cell by himself, Troke was turning him into the yard with the others.
"I'm not to go in there?" says the ex-bank clerk, drawing back
in dismay from the cloud of foul faces which lowered upon him.
"By the Lord, but you are, then!" says Troke. "The Governor says a night
in there'll take the starch out of ye. Come, in yer go."
"But, Mr. Troke--"
"Stow your gaff," says Troke, with another oath, and impatiently striking
the lad with his thong--"I can't argue here all night. Get in."
So Kirkland, aged twenty-two, and the son of Methodist parents, went in.
Rufus Dawes, among whose sinister memories this yard was numbered, sighed.
So fierce was the glamour of the place, however, that when locked
into his cell, he felt ashamed for that sigh, and strove to erase
the memory of it. "What is he more than anybody else?" said the wretched man
to himself, as he hugged his misery close.
About dawn the next morning, Mr. North--who, amongst other vagaries
not approved of by his bishop, had a habit of prowling about the prison
at unofficial hours--was attracted by a dispute at the door of the dormitory.
"What's the matter here?" he asked.
"A prisoner refractory, your reverence," said the watchman.
"Wants to come out."
"Mr. North! Mr. North!" cried a voice, "for the love of God,
let me out of this place!"
Kirkland, ghastly pale, bleeding, with his woollen shirt torn,
and his blue eyes wide open with terror, was clinging to the bars.
"Oh, Mr. North! Mr. North! Oh, Mr. North! Oh, for God's sake, Mr. North!"
"What, Kirkland!" cried North, who was ignorant of the vengeance
of the Commandant. "What do you do here?"
But Kirkland could do nothing but cry,--"Oh, Mr. North! For God's sake,
Mr. North!" and beat on the bars with white and sweating hands.
"Let him out, watchman!" said North.
"Can't sir, without an order from the Commandant."
"I order you, sir!" North cried, indignant.
"Very sorry, your reverence; but your reverence knows that I daren't do
such a thing." "Mr. North!" screamed Kirkland. "Would you see me perish,
body and soul, in this place? Mr. North! Oh, you ministers of Christ--
wolves in sheep's clothing--you shall be judged for this!"
"Let him out!" cried North again, stamping his foot.
"It's no good," returned the gaoler. "I can't. If he was dying, I can't."
North rushed away to the Commandant, and the instant his back was turned,
Hailes, the watchman, flung open the door, and darted into the dormitory.
"Take that!" he cried, dealing Kirkland a blow on the head with his keys,
that stretched him senseless. "There's more trouble with you bloody
aristocrats than enough. Lie quiet!"
The Commandant, roused from slumber, told Mr. North that Kirkland
might stop where he was, and that he'd thank the chaplain not to wake him up
in the middle of the night because a blank prisoner set up a blank howling.
"But, my good sir," protested North, restraining his impulse to overstep
the bounds of modesty in his language to his superior officer,
"you know the character of the men in that ward. You can guess
what that unhappy boy has suffered."
"Impertinent young beggar!" said Burgess. "Do him good, curse him!
Mr. North, I'm sorry you should have had the trouble to come here,
but will you let me go to sleep?"
North returned to the prison disconsolately, found the dutiful Hailes
at his post, and all quiet.
"What's become of Kirkland?" he asked.
"Fretted hisself to sleep, yer reverence," said Hailes,
in accents of parental concern. "Poor young chap! It's hard
for such young 'uns."
In the morning, Rufus Dawes, coming to his place on the chain-gang,
was struck by the altered appearance of Kirkland. His face
was of a greenish tint, and wore an expression of bewildered horror.
"Cheer up, man!" said Dawes, touched with momentary pity.
"It's no good being in the mopes, you know."
"What do they do if you try to bolt?" whispered Kirkland.
"Kill you," returned Dawes, in a tone of surprise at so preposterous
"Thank God!" said Kirkland.
"Now then, Miss Nancy," said one of the men, "what's the matter with you!"
Kirkland shuddered, and his pale face grew crimson.
"Oh," he said, "that such a wretch as I should live!"
"Silence!" cried Troke. "No. 44, if you can't hold your tongue
I'll give you something to talk about. March!"
The work of the gang that afternoon was the carrying of some heavy logs
to the water-side, and Rufus Dawes observed that Kirkland was exhausted
long before the task was accomplished. "They'll kill you,