Part 7 out of 11
you little beggar!" said he, not unkindly. "What have you been doing
to get into this scrape?"
"Have you ever been in that--that place I was in last night?" asked Kirkland.
Rufus Dawes nodded.
"Does the Commandant know what goes on there?"
"I suppose so. What does he care?"
"Care! Man, do you believe in a God?" "No," said Dawes, "not here.
Hold up, my lad. If you fall, we must fall over you,
and then you're done for."
He had hardly uttered the words, when the boy flung himself beneath the log.
In another instant the train would have been scrambling over his crushed body,
had not Gabbett stretched out an iron hand, and plucked
the would-be suicide from death.
"Hold on to me, Miss Nancy," said the giant, "I'm big enough to carry double."
Something in the tone or manner of the speaker affected Kirkland to disgust,
for, spurning the offered hand, he uttered a cry and then, holding up his irons
with his hands, he started to run for the water.
"Halt! you young fool," roared Troke, raising his carbine.
But Kirkland kept steadily on for the river. Just as he reached it,
however, the figure of Mr. North rose from behind a pile of stones.
Kirkland jumped for the jetty, missed his footing, and fell into the arms
of the chaplain.
"You young vermin--you shall pay for this," cries Troke. "You'll see
if you won't remember this day."
"Oh, Mr. North," says Kirkland, "why did you stop me? I'd better be dead
than stay another night in that place."
"You'll get it, my lad," said Gabbett, when the runaway was brought back.
"Your blessed hide'll feel for this, see if it don't."
Kirkland only breathed harder, and looked round for Mr. North,
but Mr. North had gone. The new chaplain was to arrive that afternoon,
and it was incumbent on him to be at the reception. Troke reported
the ex-bank clerk that night to Burgess, and Burgess, who was about to go
to dinner with the new chaplain, disposed of his case out of hand.
"Tried to bolt, eh! Must stop that. Fifty lashes, Troke.
Tell Macklewain to be ready--or stay, I'll tell him myself--I'll break
the young devil's spirit, blank him."
"Yes, sir," said Troke. "Good evening, sir."
"Troke--pick out some likely man, will you? That last fellow you had
ought to have been tied up himself. His flogging wouldn't have killed a flea."
"You can't get 'em to warm one another, your honour," says Troke.
"They won't do it."
"Oh, yes, they will, though," says Burgess, "or I'll know the reason why.
I won't have my men knocked up with flogging these rascals.
If the scourger won't do his duty, tie him up, and give him five-and-twenty
for himself. I'll be down in the morning myself if I can."
"Very good, your honour," says Troke.
Kirkland was put into a separate cell that night; and Troke,
by way of assuring him a good night's rest, told him that he was to have
"fifty" in the morning. "And Dawes'll lay it on," he added.
"He's one of the smartest men I've got, and he won't spare yer,
yer may take your oath of that."
Mr. NORTH'S DISPOSITION.
"You will find this a terrible place, Mr. Meekin," said North
to his supplanter, as they walked across to the Commandant's to dinner.
"It has made me heartsick."
"I thought it was a little paradise," said Meekin. "Captain Frere says
that the scenery is delightful." "So it is," returned North,
looking askance, "but the prisoners are not delightful."
"Poor, abandoned wretches," says Meekin, "I suppose not.
How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon that bank! Eh!"
"Abandoned, indeed, by God and man--almost."
"Mr. North, Providence never abandons the most unworthy of His servants.
Never have I seen the righteous forsaken, nor His seed begging their bread.
In the valley of the shadow of death He is with us. His staff, you know,
Mr. North. Really, the Commandant's house is charmingly situated!"
Mr. North sighed again. "You have not been long in the colony, Mr. Meekin.
I doubt--forgive me for expressing myself so freely--if you quite know
of our convict system."
"An admirable one! A most admirable one!" said Meekin. "There were
a few matters I noticed in Hobart Town that did not quite please me--
the frequent use of profane language for instance--but on the whole
I was delighted with the scheme. It is so complete."
North pursed up his lips. "Yes, it is very complete," he said;
"almost too complete. But I am always in a minority when I discuss
the question, so we will drop it, if you please."
"If you please," said Meekin gravely. He had heard from the Bishop
that Mr. North was an ill-conditioned sort of person, who smoked clay pipes,
had been detected in drinking beer out of a pewter pot, and had been heard
to state that white neck-cloths were of no consequence. The dinner
went off successfully. Burgess--desirous, perhaps, of favourably impressing
the chaplain whom the Bishop delighted to honour--shut off his blasphemy
for a while, and was urbane enough. "You'll find us rough, Mr. Meekin,"
he said, "but you'll find us 'all there' when we're wanted.
This is a little kingdom in itself."
"Like Béranger's?" asked Meekin, with a smile. Captain Burgess had never
heard of Béranger, but he smiled as if he had learnt his words by heart.
"Or like Sancho Panza's island," said North. "You remember how justice
was administered there?"
"Not at this moment, sir," said Burgess, with dignity. He had been
often oppressed by the notion that the Reverend Mr. North "chaffed" him.
"Pray help yourself to wine."
"Thank you, none," said North, filling a tumbler with water.
"I have a headache." His manner of speech and action was so awkward
that a silence fell upon the party, caused by each one wondering
why Mr. North should grow confused, and drum his fingers on the table,
and stare everywhere but at the decanter. Meekin--ever softly at his ease--
was the first to speak. "Have you many visitors, Captain Burgess?"
"Very few. Sometimes a party comes over with a recommendation
from the Governor, and I show them over the place; but, as a rule,
we see no one but ourselves."
"I asked," said Meekin, "because some friends of mine were thinking of coming."
"And who may they be?"
"Do you know Captain Frere?"
"Frere! I should say so!" returned Burgess, with a laugh,
modelled upon Maurice Frere's own. "I was quartered with him at Sarah Island.
So he's a friend of yours, eh?"
"I had the pleasure of meeting him in society. He is just married, you know."
"Is he?" said Burgess. "The devil he is! I heard something about it, too."
"Miss Vickers, a charming young person. They are going to Sydney,
where Captain Frere has some interest, and Frere thinks of taking Port Arthur
on his way down."
"A strange fancy for a honeymoon trip," said North.
"Captain Frere takes a deep interest in all relating to convict discipline,"
went on Meekin, unheeding the interruption, "and is anxious that Mrs. Frere
should see this place."
"Yes, one oughtn't to leave the colony without seeing it,"
says Burgess; "it's worth seeing."
"So Captain Frere thinks. A romantic story, Captain Burgess.
He saved her life, you know."
"Ah! that was a queer thing, that mutiny," said Burgess.
"We've got the fellows here, you know."
"I saw them tried at Hobart Town," said Meekin. "In fact, the ringleader,
John Rex, gave me his confession, and I sent it to the Bishop."
"A great rascal," put in North. "A dangerous, scheming,
"Well now!" said Meekin, with asperity, "I don't agree with you.
Everybody seems to be against that poor fellow--Captain Frere
tried to make me think that his letters contained a hidden meaning,
but I don't believe they did. He seems to me to be truly penitent
for his offences--a misguided, but not a hypocritical man,
if my knowledge of human nature goes for anything."
"I hope he is," said North. "I wouldn't trust him."
"Oh! there's no fear of him," said Burgess cheerily; "if he grows uproarious,
we'll soon give him a touch of the cat."
"I suppose severity is necessary," returned Meekin; "though to my ears
a flogging sounds a little distasteful. It is a brutal punishment."
"It's a punishment for brutes," said Burgess, and laughed,
pleased with the nearest approach to an epigram he ever made in his life.
Here attention was called by the strange behaviour of Mr. North.
He had risen, and, without apology, flung wide the window,
as though he gasped for air. "Hullo, North! what's the matter?"
"Nothing," said North, recovering himself with an effort.
"A spasm. I have these attacks at times." "Have some brandy," said Burgess.
"No, no, it will pass. No, I say. Well, if you insist."
And seizing the tumbler offered to him, he half-filled it with raw spirit,
and swallowed the fiery draught at a gulp.
The Reverend Meekin eyed his clerical brother with horror.
The Reverend Meekin was not accustomed to clergymen who wore black neckties,
smoked clay pipes, chewed tobacco, and drank neat brandy out of tumblers.
"Ha!" said North, looking wildly round upon them. "That's better."
"Let us go on to the verandah," said Burgess. "It's cooler than in the house."
So they went on to the verandah, and looked down upon the lights of the prison,
and listened to the sea lapping the shore. The Reverend Mr. North,
in this cool atmosphere, seemed to recover himself, and conversation progressed
with some sprightliness.
By and by, a short figure, smoking a cheroot, came up out of the dark,
and proved to be Dr. Macklewain, who had been prevented from attending
the dinner by reason of an accident to a constable at Norfolk Bay,
which had claimed his professional attention.
"Well, how's Forrest?" cried Burgess. "Mr. Meekin--Dr. Macklewain."
"Dead," said Dr. Macklewain. "Delighted to see you, Mr. Meekin."
"Confound it--another of my best men," grumbled Burgess. "Macklewain,
have a glass of wine." But Macklewain was tired, and wanted to get home.
"I must also be thinking of repose," said Meekin; "the journey--
though most enjoyable--has fatigued me."
"Come on, then," said North. "Our roads lie together, doctor."
"You won't have a nip of brandy before you start?" asked Burgess.
"No? Then I shall send round for you in the morning, Mr. Meekin.
Good night. Macklewain, I want to speak with you a moment."
Before the two clergymen had got half-way down the steep path
that led from the Commandant's house to the flat on which the cottages
of the doctor and chaplain were built, Macklewain rejoined them.
"Another flogging to-morrow," said he grumblingly. "Up at daylight,
I suppose, again."
"Whom is he going to flog now?"
"That young butler-fellow of his." "What, Kirkland?" cried North.
"You don't mean to say he's going to flog Kirkland?"
"Insubordination," says Macklewain. "Fifty lashes."
"Oh, this must be stopped," cried North, in great alarm. "He can't stand it.
I tell you, he'll die, Macklewain."
"Perhaps you'll have the goodness to allow me to be the best judge of that,"
returned Macklewain, drawing up his little body to its least
"My dear sir," replied North, alive to the importance of conciliating
the surgeon, "you haven't seen him lately. He tried to drown himself
Mr. Meekin expressed some alarm; but Dr. Macklewain re-assured him.
"That sort of nonsense must be stopped," said he. "A nice example to set.
I wonder Burgess didn't give him a hundred."
"He was put into the long dormitory," said North; "you know what sort
of a place that is. I declare to Heaven his agony and shame terrified me."
"Well, he'll be put into the hospital for a week or so to-morrow,"
said Macklewain, "and that'll give him a spell."
"If Burgess flogs him I'll report it to the Governor," cries North,
in great heat. "The condition of those dormitories is infamous."
"If the boy has anything to complain of, why don't he complain?
We can't do anything without evidence."
"Complain! Would his life be safe if he did? Besides, he's not the sort
of creature to complain. He'd rather kill himself."
"That's all nonsense," says Macklewain. "We can't flog a whole dormitory
on suspicion. I can't help it. The boy's made his bed,
and he must lie on it."
"I'll go back and see Burgess," said North. "Mr. Meekin, here's the gate,
and your room is on the right hand. I'll be back shortly."
"Pray, don't hurry," said Meekin politely. "You are on an errand of mercy,
you know. Everything must give way to that. I shall find my portmanteau
in my room, you said."
"Yes, yes. Call the servant if you want anything. He sleeps at the back,"
and North hurried off.
"An impulsive gentleman," said Meekin to Macklewain, as the sound
of Mr. North's footsteps died away in the distance. Macklewain
shook his head seriously.
"There is something wrong about him, but I can't make out what it is.
He has the strangest fits at times. Unless it's a cancer in the stomach,
I don't know what it can be."
"Cancer in the stomach! dear me, how dreadful!" says Meekin.
"Ah! Doctor, we all have our crosses, have we not? How delightful
the grass smells! This seems a very pleasant place, and I think I shall
enjoy myself very much. Good-night."
"Good-night, sir. I hope you will be comfortable."
"And let us hope poor Mr. North will succeed in his labour of love,"
said Meekin, shutting the little gate, "and save the unfortunate Kirkland.
Good-night, once more."
Captain Burgess was shutting his verandah-window when North hurried up.
"Captain Burgess, Macklewain tells me you are going to flog Kirkland."
"Well, sir, what of that?" said Burgess.
"I have come to beg you not to do so, sir. The lad has been
cruelly punished already. He attempted suicide to-day--unhappy creature."
"Well, that's just what I'm flogging him for. I'll teach my prisoners
to attempt suicide!"
"But he can't stand it, sir. He's too weak."
"That's Macklewain's business."
"Captain Burgess," protested North, "I assure you that he does not
deserve punishment. I have seen him, and his condition of mind is pitiable."
"Look here, Mr. North, I don't interfere with what you do
to the prisoner's souls; don't you interfere with what I do to their bodies."
"Captain Burgess, you have no right to mock at my office."
"Then don't you interfere with me, sir."
"Do you persist in having this boy flogged?"
"I've given my orders, sir."
"Then, Captain Burgess," cried North, his pale face flushing,
"I tell you the boy's blood will be on your head. I am a minister of God,
sir, and I forbid you to commit this crime."
"Damn your impertinence, sir!" burst out Burgess. "You're a dismissed officer
of the Government, sir. You've no authority here in any way; and,
by God, sir, if you interfere with my discipline, sir,
I'll have you put in irons until you're shipped out of the island."
This, of course, was mere bravado on the part of the Commandant.
North knew well that he would never dare to attempt any such act of violence,
but the insult stung him like the cut of a whip. He made a stride
towards the Commandant, as though to seize him by the throat, but,
checking himself in time, stood still, with clenched hands, flashing eyes,
and beard that bristled.
The two men looked at each other, and presently Burgess's eyes fell
before those of the chaplain.
"Miserable blasphemer," says North, "I tell you that you shall not
flog the boy."
Burgess, white with rage, rang the bell that summoned his convict servant.
"Show Mr. North out," he said, "and go down to the Barracks,
and tell Troke that Kirkland is to have a hundred lashes to-morrow.
I'll show you who's master here, my good sir."
"I'll report this to the Government," said North, aghast. "This is murderous."
"The Government may go to----, and you, too!" roared Burgess. "Get out!"
And God's viceregent at Port Arthur slammed the door.
North returned home in great agitation. "They shall not flog that boy,"
he said. "I'll shield him with my own body if necessary.
I'll report this to the Government. I'll see Sir John Franklin myself.
I'll have the light of day let into this den of horrors."
He reached his cottage, and lighted the lamp in the little sitting-room.
All was silent, save that from the adjoining chamber came the sound
of Meekin's gentlemanly snore. North took down a book from the shelf
and tried to read, but the letters ran together. "I wish I hadn't taken
that brandy," he said. "Fool that I am."
Then he began to walk up and down, to fling himself on the sofa,
to read, to pray. "Oh, God, give me strength! Aid me! Help me!
I struggle, but I am weak. O, Lord, look down upon me!"
To see him rolling on the sofa in agony, to see his white face,
his parched lips, and his contracted brow, to hear his moans
and muttered prayers, one would have thought him suffering
from the pangs of some terrible disease. He opened the book again,
and forced himself to read, but his eyes wandered to the cupboard.
There lurked something that fascinated him. He got up at length,
went into the kitchen, and found a packet of red pepper.
He mixed a teaspoonful of this in a pannikin of water and drank it.
It relieved him for a while.
"I must keep my wits for to-morrow. The life of that lad depends upon it.
Meekin, too, will suspect. I will lie down."
He went into his bedroom and flung himself on the bed, but only to toss
from side to side. In vain he repeated texts of Scripture
and scraps of verse; in vain counted imaginary sheep, or listened
to imaginary clock-tickings. Sleep would not come to him.
It was as though he had reached the crisis of a disease which had been
for days gathering force. "I must have a teaspoonful," he said,
"to allay the craving."
Twice he paused on the way to the sitting-room, and twice was he driven on
by a power stronger than his will. He reached it at length,
and opening the cupboard, pulled out what he sought. A bottle of brandy.
With this in his hand, all moderation vanished. He raised it to his lips
and eagerly drank. Then, ashamed of what he had done,
he thrust the bottle back, and made for his room. Still he could not sleep.
The taste of the liquor maddened him for more. He saw in the darkness
the brandy bottle--vulgar and terrible apparition! He saw
its amber fluid sparkle. He heard it gurgle as he poured it out.
He smelt the nutty aroma of the spirit. He pictured it standing
in the corner of the cupboard, and imagined himself seizing it
and quenching the fire that burned within him. He wept, he prayed,
he fought with his desire as with a madness. He told himself
that another's life depended on his exertions, that to give way
to his fatal passion was unworthy of an educated man and a reasoning being,
that it was degrading, disgusting, and bestial. That, at all times debasing,
at this particular time it was infamous; that a vice, unworthy of any man,
was doubly sinful in a man of education and a minister of God.
In vain. In the midst of his arguments he found himself at the cupboard,
with the bottle at his lips, in an attitude that was at once
ludicrous and horrible.
He had no cancer. His disease was a more terrible one.
The Reverend James North--gentleman, scholar, and Christian priest--
was what the world calls "a confirmed drunkard".
ONE HUNDRED LASHES.
The morning sun, bright and fierce, looked down upon a curious sight.
In a stone-yard was a little group of persons--Troke, Burgess, Macklewain,
Kirkland, and Rufus Dawes.
Three wooden staves, seven feet high, were fastened together
in the form of a triangle. The structure looked not unlike that made
by gypsies to boil their kettles. To this structure Kirkland was bound.
His feet were fastened with thongs to the base of the triangle;
his wrists, bound above his head, at the apex. His body was then extended
to its fullest length, and his white back shone in the sunlight.
During his tying up he had said nothing--only when Troke pulled off his shirt
"Now, prisoner," said Troke to Dawes, "do your duty."
Rufus Dawes looked from the three stern faces to Kirkland's white back,
and his face grew purple. In all his experience he had never been asked
to flog before. He had been flogged often enough.
"You don't want me to flog him, sir?" he said to the Commandant.
"Pick up the cat, sir!" said Burgess, astonished; "what is the meaning
of this?" Rufus Dawes picked up the heavy cat, and drew
its knotted lashes between his fingers.
"Go on, Dawes," whispered Kirkland, without turning his head.
"You are no more than another man."
"What does he say?" asked Burgess.
"Telling him to cut light, sir," said Troke, eagerly lying;
"they all do it." "Cut light, eh! We'll see about that.
Get on, my man, and look sharp, or I'll tie you up and give you fifty
for yourself, as sure as God made little apples."
"Go on, Dawes," whispered Kirkland again. "I don't mind."
Rufus Dawes lifted the cat, swung it round his head, and brought
its knotted cords down upon the white back.
"Wonn!" cried Troke.
The white back was instantly striped with six crimson bars.
Kirkland stifled a cry. It seemed to him that he had been cut in half.
"Now then, you scoundrel!" roared Burgess; "separate your cats!
What do you mean by flogging a man that fashion?"
Rufus Dawes drew his crooked fingers through the entangled cords,
and struck again. This time the blow was more effective,
and the blood beaded on the skin.
The boy did not cry; but Macklewain saw his hands clutch the staves tightly,
and the muscles of his naked arms quiver.
"That's better," said Burgess.
The third blow sounded as though it had been struck upon a piece of raw beef,
and the crimson turned purple.
"My God!" said Kirkland, faintly, and bit his lips.
The flogging proceeded in silence for ten strikes, and then
Kirkland gave a screech like a wounded horse.
"Oh!...Captain Burgess!...Dawes!...Mr. Troke!...Oh, my God!...
Oh! oh!...Mercy!...Oh, Doctor!...Mr. North!...Oh! Oh! Oh!"
"Ten!" cried Troke, impassively counting to the end of the first twenty.
The lad's back, swollen into a lump, now presented the appearance
of a ripe peach which a wilful child had scored with a pin.
Dawes, turning away from his bloody handiwork, drew the cats
through his fingers twice. They were beginning to get clogged a little.
"Go on," said Burgess, with a nod; and Troke cried "Wonn!" again.
Roused by the morning sun streaming in upon him, Mr. North opened
his bloodshot eyes, rubbed his forehead with hands that trembled,
and suddenly awakening to a consciousness of his promised errand,
rolled off the bed and rose to his feet. He saw the empty brandy bottle
on his wooden dressing-table, and remembered what had passed.
With shaking hands he dashed water over his aching head,
and smoothed his garments. The debauch of the previous night
had left the usual effects behind it. His brain seemed on fire,
his hands were hot and dry, his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth.
He shuddered as he viewed his pale face and red eyes
in the little looking-glass, and hastily tried the door.
He had retained sufficient sense in his madness to lock it,
and his condition had been unobserved. Stealing into the sitting-room,
he saw that the clock pointed to half-past six. The flogging was
to have taken place at half-past five. Unless accident had favoured him
he was already too late. Fevered with remorse and anxiety,
he hurried past the room where Meekin yet slumbered, and made his way
to the prison. As he entered the yard, Troke called "Ten!"
Kirkland had just got his fiftieth lash.
"Stop!" cried North. "Captain Burgess, I call upon you to stop."
"You're rather late, Mr. North," retorted Burgess. "The punishment
is nearly over." "Wonn!" cried Troke again; and North stood by,
biting his nails and grinding his teeth, during six more lashes.
Kirkland ceased to yell now, and merely moaned. His back was like
a bloody sponge, while in the interval between lashes the swollen flesh
twitched like that of a new-killed bullock. Suddenly,
Macklewain saw his head droop on his shoulder. "Throw him off!
Throw him off!" he cried, and Troke hurried to loosen the thongs.
"Fling some water over him!" said Burgess; "he's shamming."
A bucket of water made Kirkland open his eyes. "I thought so,"
said Burgess. "Tie him up again."
"No. Not if you are Christians!" cried North.
He met with an ally where he least expected one. Rufus Dawes flung down
the dripping cat. "I'll flog no more," said he.
"What?" roared Burgess, furious at this gross insolence.
"I'll flog no more. Get someone else to do your blood work for you. I won't."
"Tie him up!" cried Burgess, foaming. "Tie him up.
Here, constable, fetch a man here with a fresh cat. I'll give you
that beggar's fifty, and fifty more on the top of 'em; and he shall look on
while his back cools."
Rufus Dawes, with a glance at North, pulled off his shirt without a word,
and stretched himself at the triangles. His back was not white and smooth,
like Kirkland's had been, but hard and seamed. He had been flogged before.
Troke appeared with Gabbett--grinning. Gabbett liked flogging.
It was his boast that he could flog a man to death on a place
no bigger than the palm of his hand. He could use his left hand
equally with his right, and if he got hold of a "favourite",
would "cross the cuts".
Rufus Dawes planted his feet firmly on the ground, took fierce grasp
on the staves, and drew in his breath. Macklewain spread the garments
of the two men upon the ground, and, placing Kirkland upon them,
turned to watch this new phase in the morning's amusement.
He grumbled a little below his breath, for he wanted his breakfast,
and when the Commandant once began to flog there was no telling
where he would stop. Rufus Dawes took five-and-twenty lashes without a murmur,
and then Gabbett "crossed the cuts". This went on up to fifty lashes,
and North felt himself stricken with admiration at the courage of the man.
"If it had not been for that cursed brandy," thought he, with bitterness
of self-reproach, "I might have saved all this." At the hundredth lash,
the giant paused, expecting the order to throw off, but Burgess was determined
to "break the man's spirit".
"I'll make you speak, you dog, if I cut your heart out!" he cried.
"Go on, prisoner."
For twenty lashes more Dawes was mute, and then the agony
forced from his labouring breast a hideous cry. But it was not a cry
for mercy, as that of Kirkland's had been. Having found his tongue,
the wretched man gave vent to his boiling passion in a torrent of curses.
He shrieked imprecation upon Burgess, Troke, and North. He cursed all soldiers
for tyrants, all parsons for hypocrites. He blasphemed his God
and his Saviour. With a frightful outpouring of obscenity and blasphemy,
he called on the earth to gape and swallow his persecutors,
for Heaven to open and rain fire upon them, for hell to yawn
and engulf them quick. It was as though each blow of the cat
forced out of him a fresh burst of beast-like rage. He seemed
to have abandoned his humanity. He foamed, he raved, he tugged at his bonds
until the strong staves shook again; he writhed himself round
upon the triangles and spat impotently at Burgess, who jeered at his torments.
North, with his hands to his ears, crouched against the corner of the wall,
palsied with horror. It seemed to him that the passions of hell
raged around him. He would fain have fled, but a horrible fascination
held him back.
In the midst of this--when the cat was hissing its loudest--
Burgess laughing his hardest, and the wretch on the triangles filling the air
with his cries, North saw Kirkland look at him with what he thought a smile.
Was it a smile? He leapt forward, and uttered a cry of dismay
so loud that all turned.
"Hullo!" says Troke, running to the heap of clothes,
"the young 'un's slipped his wind!"
Kirkland was dead.
"Throw him off!" says Burgess, aghast at the unfortunate accident;
and Gabbett reluctantly untied the thongs that bound Rufus Dawes.
Two constables were alongside him in an instant, for sometimes
newly tortured men grew desperate. This one, however,
was silent with the last lash; only in taking his shirt from under the body
of the boy, he muttered, "Dead!" and in his tone there seemed to be
a touch of envy. Then, flinging his shirt over his bleeding shoulders,
he walked out--defiant to the last.
"Game, ain't he?" said one constable to the other, as they pushed him,
not ungently, into an empty cell, there to wait for the hospital guard.
The body of Kirkland was taken away in silence, and Burgess turned
rather pale when he saw North's threatening face.
"It isn't my fault, Mr. North," he said. "I didn't know
that the lad was chicken-hearted." But North turned away in disgust,
and Macklewain and Burgess pursued their homeward route together.
"Strange that he should drop like that," said the Commandant.
"Yes, unless he had any internal disease," said the surgeon.
"Disease of the heart, for instance," said Burgess.
"I'll post-mortem him and see."
"Come in and have a nip, Macklewain. I feel quite qualmish,"
said Burgess. And the two went into the house amid respectful salutes
from either side. Mr. North, in agony of mind at what he considered
the consequence of his neglect, slowly, and with head bowed down,
as one bent on a painful errand, went to see the prisoner who had survived.
He found him kneeling on the ground, prostrated. "Rufus Dawes."
At the low tone Rufus Dawes looked up, and, seeing who it was, waved him off.
"Don't speak to me," he said, with an imprecation that made
North's flesh creep. "I've told you what I think of you--a hypocrite,
who stands by while a man is cut to pieces, and then comes
and whines religion to him."
North stood in the centre of the cell, with his arms hanging down,
and his head bent.
"You are right," he said, in a low tone. "I must seem to you a hypocrite.
I a servant of Christ? A besotted beast rather! I am not come
to whine religion to you. I am come to--to ask your pardon.
I might have saved you from punishment--saved that poor boy from death.
I wanted to save him, God knows! But I have a vice; I am a drunkard.
I yielded to my temptation, and--I was too late. I come to you
as one sinful man to another, to ask you to forgive me." And North
suddenly flung himself down beside the convict, and, catching
his blood-bespotted hands in his own, cried, "Forgive me, brother!"
Rufus Dawes, too much astonished to speak, bent his black eyes
upon the man who crouched at his feet, and a ray of divine pity
penetrated his gloomy soul. He seemed to catch a glimpse of misery
more profound than his own, and his stubborn heart felt human sympathy
with this erring brother. "Then in this hell there is yet a man,"
said he; and a hand-grasp passed between these two unhappy beings.
North arose, and, with averted face, passed quickly from the cell.
Rufus Dawes looked at his hand which his strange visitor had taken,
and something glittered there. It was a tear. He broke down
at the sight of it, and when the guard came to fetch the tameless convict,
they found him on his knees in a corner, sobbing like a child.
KICKING AGAINST THE PRICKS.
The morning after this, the Rev. Mr. North departed in the schooner
for Hobart Town. Between the officious chaplain and the Commandant
the events of the previous day had fixed a great gulf. Burgess knew
that North meant to report the death of Kirkland, and guessed
that he would not be backward in relating the story to such persons
in Hobart Town as would most readily repeat it. "Blank awkward
the fellow's dying," he confessed to himself. "If he hadn't died,
nobody would have bothered about him." A sinister truth.
North, on the other hand, comforted himself with the belief
that the fact of the convict's death under the lash would cause indignation
and subsequent inquiry. "The truth must come out if they only ask,"
thought he. Self-deceiving North! Four years a Government chaplain,
and not yet attained to a knowledge of a Government's method
of "asking" about such matters! Kirkland's mangled flesh
would have fed the worms before the ink on the last "minute"
from deliberating Authority was dry.
Burgess, however, touched with selfish regrets, determined to baulk the parson
at the outset. He would send down an official "return"
of the unfortunate occurrence by the same vessel that carried his enemy,
and thus get the ear of the Office. Meekin, walking on the evening
of the flogging past the wooden shed where the body lay,
saw Troke bearing buckets filled with dark-coloured water,
and heard a great splashing and sluicing going on inside the hut.
"What is the matter?" he asked.
"Doctor's bin post-morticing the prisoner what was flogged this morning,
sir," said Troke, "and we're cleanin' up."
Meekin sickened, and walked on. He had heard that unhappy Kirkland
possessed unknown disease of the heart, and had unhappily died
before receiving his allotted punishment. His duty was
to comfort Kirkland's soul; he had nothing to do with
Kirkland's slovenly unhandsome body, and so he went for a walk on the pier,
that the breeze might blow his momentary sickness away from him.
On the pier he saw North talking to Father Flaherty,
the Roman Catholic chaplain. Meekin had been taught to look upon a priest
as a shepherd might look upon a wolf, and passed with a distant bow.
The pair were apparently talking on the occurrence of the morning,
for he heard Father Flaherty say, with a shrug of his round shoulders,
"He woas not one of moi people, Mr. North, and the Govermint would not
suffer me to interfere with matters relating to Prhotestint prisoners."
"The wretched creature was a Protestant," thought Meekin.
"At least then his immortal soul was not endangered by belief
in the damnable heresies of the Church of Rome." So he passed on,
giving good-humoured Denis Flaherty, the son of the butter-merchant of Kildrum,
a wide berth and sea-room, lest he should pounce down upon him unawares,
and with Jesuitical argument and silken softness of speech,
convert him by force to his own state of error--as was the well-known custom
of those intellectual gladiators, the Priests of the Catholic Faith.
North, on his side, left Flaherty with regret. He had spent
many a pleasant hour with him, and knew him for a narrow-minded,
conscientious, yet laughter-loving creature, whose God was neither his belly
nor his breviary, but sometimes in one place and sometimes in the other,
according to the hour of the day, and the fasts appointed
for due mortification of the flesh. "A man who would do Christian work
in a jog-trot parish, or where men lived too easily to sin harshly,
but utterly unfit to cope with Satan, as the British Government
had transported him," was North's sadly satirical reflection
upon Father Flaherty, as Port Arthur faded into indistinct beauty
behind the swift-sailing schooner. "God help those poor villains,
for neither parson nor priest can."
He was right. North, the drunkard and self-tormented, had a power for good,
of which Meekin and the other knew nothing. Not merely were the men
incompetent and self-indulgent, but they understood nothing
of that frightful capacity for agony which is deep in the soul
of every evil-doer. They might strike the rock as they chose
with sharpest-pointed machine-made pick of warranted Gospel manufacture,
stamped with the approval of eminent divines of all ages,
but the water of repentance and remorse would not gush for them.
They possessed not the frail rod which alone was powerful to charm.
They had no sympathy, no knowledge, no experience. He who would touch
the hearts of men must have had his own heart seared. The missionaries
of mankind have ever been great sinners before they earned the divine right
to heal and bless. Their weakness was made their strength,
and out of their own agony of repentance came the knowledge
which made them masters and saviours of their kind. It was the agony
of the Garden and the Cross that gave to the world's Preacher His kingdom
in the hearts of men. The crown of divinity is a crown of thorns.
North, on his arrival, went straight to the house of Major Vickers.
"I have a complaint to make, sir," he said. "I wish to lodge it formally
with you. A prisoner has been flogged to death at Port Arthur.
I saw it done."
Vickers bent his brow. "A serious accusation, Mr. North. I must, of course,
receive it with respect, coming from you, but I trust that
you have fully considered the circumstances of the case. I always understood
Captain Burgess was a most humane man."
North shook his head. He would not accuse Burgess. He would let the events
speak for themselves. "I only ask for an inquiry," said he.
"Yes, my dear sir, I know. Very proper indeed on your part,
if you think any injustice has been done; but have you considered the expense,
the delay, the immense trouble and dissatisfaction all this will give?"
"No trouble, no expense, no dissatisfaction, should stand in the way
of humanity and justice," cried North.
"Of course not. But will justice be done? Are you sure you can prove
your case? Mind, I admit nothing against Captain Burgess,
whom I have always considered a most worthy and zealous officer; but,
supposing your charge to be true, can you prove it?"
"Yes. If the witnesses speak the truth."
"Who are they?" "Myself, Dr. Macklewain, the constable, and two prisoners,
one of whom was flogged himself. He will speak the truth, I believe.
The other man I have not much faith in."
"Very well; then there is only a prisoner and Dr. Macklewain;
for if there has been foul play the convict-constable will not accuse
the authorities. Moreover, the doctor does not agree with you."
"No?" cried North, amazed.
"No. You see, then, my dear sir, how necessary it is not to be hasty
in matters of this kind. I really think--pardon me for my plainness--
that your goodness of heart has misled you. Captain Burgess sends a report
of the case. He says the man was sentenced to a hundred lashes
for gross insolence and disobedience of orders, that the doctor was present
during the punishment, and that the man was thrown off by his directions
after he had received fifty-six lashes. That, after a short interval,
he was found to be dead, and that the doctor made a post-mortem examination
and found disease of the heart."
North started. "A post-mortem? I never knew there had been one held."
"Here is the medical certificate," said Vickers, holding it out,
"accompanied by the copies of the evidence of the constable and a letter
from the Commandant."
Poor North took the papers and read them slowly. They were apparently
straightforward enough. Aneurism of the ascending aorta was given as the cause
of death; and the doctor frankly admitted that had he known the deceased
to be suffering from that complaint he would not have permitted him
to receive more than twenty-five lashes. "I think Macklewain
is an honest man," said North, doubtfully. "He would not dare to return
a false certificate. Yet the circumstances of the case--the horrible condition
of the prisoners--the frightful story of that boy--"
"I cannot enter into these questions, Mr. North. My position here
is to administer the law to the best of my ability, not to question it."
North bowed his head to the reproof. In some sort of justly unjust way,
he felt that he deserved it. "I can say no more, sir. I am afraid
I am helpless in this matter--as I have been in others. I see
that the evidence is against me; but it is my duty to carry my efforts
as far as I can, and I will do so." Vickers bowed stiffly
and wished him good morning. Authority, however well-meaning in private life,
has in its official capacity a natural dislike to those dissatisfied persons
who persist in pushing inquiries to extremities.
North, going out with saddened spirits, met in the passage
a beautiful young girl. It was Sylvia, coming to visit her father.
He lifted his hat and looked after her. He guessed that she was the daughter
of the man he had left--the wife of the Captain Frere concerning whom
he had heard so much. North was a man whose morbidly excited brain
was prone to strange fancies; and it seemed to him that beneath
the clear blue eyes that flashed upon him for a moment, lay a hint
of future sadness, in which, in some strange way, he himself was to bear part.
He stared after her figure until it disappeared; and long after
the dainty presence of the young bride--trimly booted, tight-waisted,
and neatly-gloved--had faded, with all its sunshine of gaiety and health,
from out of his mental vision, he still saw those blue eyes
and that cloud of golden hair.
CAPTAIN AND MRS. FRERE.
Sylvia had become the wife of Maurice Frere. The wedding created excitement
in the convict settlement, for Maurice Frere, though oppressed
by the secret shame at open matrimony which affects men of his character,
could not in decency--seeing how "good a thing for him" was
this wealthy alliance--demand unceremonious nuptials. So, after the fashion
of the town--there being no "continent" or "Scotland" adjacent
as a hiding place for bridal blushes--the alliance was entered into
with due pomp of ball and supper; bride and bridegroom departing
through the golden afternoon to the nearest of Major Vickers's stations.
Thence it had been arranged they should return after a fortnight,
and take ship for Sydney.
Major Vickers, affectionate though he was to the man whom he believed to be
the saviour of his child, had no notion of allowing him to live
on Sylvia's fortune. He had settled his daughter's portion--ten thousand
pounds--upon herself and children, and had informed Frere that he expected him
to live upon an income of his own earning. After many consultations
between the pair, it had been arranged that a civil appointment in Sydney
would best suit the bridegroom, who was to sell out of the service.
This notion was Frere's own. He never cared for military duty, and had,
moreover, private debts to no inconsiderable amount. By selling his commission
he would be enabled at once to pay these debts, and render himself eligible
for any well-paid post under the Colonial Government that the interest
of his father-in-law, and his own reputation as a convict disciplinarian,
might procure. Vickers would fain have kept his daughter with him,
but he unselfishly acquiesced in the scheme, admitting that Frere's plea
as to the comforts she would derive from the society to be found
in Sydney was a valid one.
"You can come over and see us when we get settled, papa," said Sylvia,
with a young matron's pride of place, "and we can come and see you.
Hobart Town is very pretty, but I want to see the world."
"You should go to London, Poppet," said Maurice, "that's the place.
Isn't it, sir?"
"Oh, London!" cries Sylvia, clapping her hands. "And Westminster Abbey,
and the Tower, and St. James's Palace, and Hyde Park, and Fleet-street!"
'Sir,' said Dr. Johnson, 'let us take a walk down Fleet-street.'
Do you remember, in Mr. Croker's book, Maurice? No, you don't I know,
because you only looked at the pictures, and then read Pierce Egan's account
of the Topping Fight between Bob Gaynor and Ned Neal, or some such person."
"Little girls should be seen and not heard," said Maurice, between a laugh
and a blush. "You have no business to read my books."
"Why not?" she asked, with a gaiety which already seemed a little strained;
"husband and wife should have no secrets from each other, sir.
Besides, I want you to read my books. I am going to read Shelley to you."
"Don't, my dear," said Maurice simply. "I can't understand him."
This little scene took place at the dinner-table of Frere's cottage,
in New Town, to which Major Vickers had been invited, in order that
future plans might be discussed.
"I don't want to go to Port Arthur," said the bride, later in the evening.
"Maurice, there can be no necessity to go there."
"Well," said Maurice. "I want to have a look at the place.
I ought to be familiar with all phases of convict discipline, you know."
"There is likely to be a report ordered upon the death of a prisoner,"
said Vickers. "The chaplain, a fussy but well-meaning person, has been
memorializing about it. You may as well do it as anybody else, Maurice."
"Ay. And save the expenses of the trip," said Maurice.
"But it is so melancholy," cried Sylvia.
"The most delightful place in the island, my dear. I was there
for a few days once, and I really was charmed."
It was remarkable--so Vickers thought--how each of these newly-mated ones
had caught something of the other's manner of speech. Sylvia was less choice
in her mode of utterance; Frere more so. He caught himself wondering
which of the two methods both would finally adopt.
"But those dogs, and sharks, and things. Oh, Maurice, haven't we
had enough of convicts?"
"Enough! Why, I'm going to make my living out of 'em," said Maurice,
with his most natural manner.
"Play something, darling," said her father; and so the girl,
sitting down to the piano, trilled and warbled in her pure young voice,
until the Port Arthur question floated itself away upon waves of melody,
and was heard of no more for that time. But upon pursuing the subject,
Sylvia found her husband firm. He wanted to go, and he would go.
Having once assured himself that it was advantageous to him to do
a certain thing, the native obstinacy of the animal urged him to do it
despite all opposition from others, and Sylvia, having had her first "cry"
over the question of the visit, gave up the point. This was the first
difference of their short married life, and she hastened to condone it.
In the sunshine of Love and Marriage--for Maurice at first really loved her;
and love, curbing the worst part of him, brought to him, as it brings
to all of us, that gentleness and abnegation of self which is the only token
and assurance of a love aught but animal--Sylvia's fears and doubts
melted away, as the mists melt in the beams of morning. A young girl,
with passionate fancy, with honest and noble aspiration, but with
the dark shadow of her early mental sickness brooding upon
her childlike nature, Marriage made her a woman, by developing in her
a woman's trust and pride in the man to whom she had voluntarily given herself.
Yet by-and-by out of this sentiment arose a new and strange source of anxiety.
Having accepted her position as a wife, and put away from her all doubts
as to her own capacity for loving the man to whom she had allied herself,
she began to be haunted by a dread lest he might do something
which would lessen the affection she bore him. On one or two occasions
she had been forced to confess that her husband was more of an egotist
than she cared to think. He demanded of her no great sacrifices--
had he done so she would have found, in making them, the pleasure that women
of her nature always find in such self-mortification--but he now and then
intruded on her that disregard for the feeling of others which was part
of his character. He was fond of her--almost too passionately fond,
for her staider liking--but he was unused to thwart his own will in anything,
least of all in those seeming trifles, for the consideration of which
true selfishness bethinks itself. Did she want to read when he wanted to walk,
he good-humouredly put aside her book, with an assumption that a walk
with him must, of necessity, be the most pleasing thing in the world.
Did she want to walk when he wanted to rest, he laughingly set up his laziness
as an all-sufficient plea for her remaining within doors. He was at no pains
to conceal his weariness when she read her favourite books to him.
If he felt sleepy when she sang or played, he slept without apology.
If she talked about a subject in which he took no interest,
he turned the conversation remorselessly. He would not have
wittingly offended her, but it seemed to him natural to yawn when he was weary,
to sleep when he was fatigued, and to talk only about those subjects
which interested him. Had anybody told him that he was selfish,
he would have been astonished. Thus it came about that Sylvia
one day discovered that she led two lives--one in the body,
and one in the spirit--and that with her spiritual existence
her husband had no share. This discovery alarmed her, but then
she smiled at it. "As if Maurice could be expected to take interest
in all my silly fancies," said she; and, despite a harassing thought
that these same fancies were not foolish, but were the best
and brightest portion of her, she succeeded in overcoming her uneasiness.
"A man's thoughts are different from a woman's," she said;
"he has his business and his worldly cares, of which a woman knows nothing.
I must comfort him, and not worry him with my follies."
As for Maurice, he grew sometimes rather troubled in his mind.
He could not understand his wife. Her nature was an enigma to him;
her mind was a puzzle which would not be pieced together
with the rectangular correctness of ordinary life. He had known her
from a child, had loved her from a child, and had committed
a mean and cruel crime to obtain her; but having got her,
he was no nearer to the mystery of her than before. She was all his own,
he thought. Her golden hair was for his fingers, her lips were for his caress,
her eyes looked love upon him alone. Yet there were times
when her lips were cold to his kisses, and her eyes looked
disdainfully upon his coarser passion. He would catch her musing
when he spoke to her, much as she would catch him sleeping when she
read to him--but she awoke with a start and a blush at her forgetfulness,
which he never did. He was not a man to brood over these things;
and, after some reflective pipes and ineffectual rubbings of his head,
he "gave it up". How was it possible, indeed, for him to solve
the mental enigma when the woman herself was to him a physical riddle?
It was extraordinary that the child he had seen growing up by his side
day by day should be a young woman with little secrets, now to be revealed
to him for the first time. He found that she had a mole on her neck,
and remembered that he had noticed it when she was a child.
Then it was a thing of no moment, now it was a marvellous discovery.
He was in daily wonderment at the treasure he had obtained. He marvelled
at her feminine devices of dress and adornment. Her dainty garments
seemed to him perfumed with the odour of sanctity.
The fact was that the patron of Sarah Purfoy had not met with many
virtuous women, and had but just discovered what a dainty morsel Modesty was.
IN THE HOSPITAL.
The hospital of Port Arthur was not a cheerful place, but to the tortured
and unnerved Rufus Dawes it seemed a paradise. There at least--despite
the roughness and contempt with which his gaolers ministered to him--
he felt that he was considered. There at least he was free from
the enforced companionship of the men whom he loathed, and to whose level
he felt, with mental agony unspeakable, that he was daily sinking.
Throughout his long term of degradation he had, as yet, aided by the memory
of his sacrifice and his love, preserved something of his self-respect,
but he felt that he could not preserve it long. Little by little
he had come to regard himself as one out of the pale of love and mercy,
as one tormented of fortune, plunged into a deep into which the eye of Heaven
did not penetrate. Since his capture in the garden of Hobart Town,
he had given loose rein to his rage and his despair. "I am forgotten
or despised; I have no name in the world; what matter if I become
like one of these?" It was under the influence of this feeling
that he had picked up the cat at the command of Captain Burgess.
As the unhappy Kirkland had said, "As well you as another"; and truly,
what was he that he should cherish sentiments of honour or humanity?
But he had miscalculated his own capacity for evil. As he flogged,
he blushed; and when he flung down the cat and stripped his own back
for punishment, he felt a fierce joy in the thought that his baseness
would be atoned for in his own blood. Even when, unnerved and faint
from the hideous ordeal, he flung himself upon his knees in the cell,
he regretted only the impotent ravings that the torture had forced from him.
He could have bitten out his tongue for his blasphemous utterings--
not because they were blasphemous, but because their utterance,
by revealing his agony, gave their triumph to his tormentors.
When North found him, he was in the very depth of this abasement,
and he repulsed his comforter--not so much because he had seen him flogged,
as because he had heard him cry. The self-reliance and force of will
which had hitherto sustained him through his self-imposed trial
had failed him--he felt--at the moment when he needed it most;
and the man who had with unflinched front faced the gallows, the desert,
and the sea, confessed his debased humanity beneath the physical torture
of the lash. He had been flogged before, and had wept in secret
at his degradation, but he now for the first time comprehended
how terrible that degradation might be made, for he realized how the agony
of the wretched body can force the soul to quit its last poor refuge
of assumed indifference, and confess itself conquered.
Not many months before, one of the companions of the chain,
suffering under Burgess's tender mercies, had killed his mate
when at work with him, and, carrying the body on his back to the nearest gang,
had surrendered himself--going to his death thanking God he had at last
found a way of escape from his miseries, which no one would envy him--
save his comrades. The heart of Dawes had been filled with horror
at a deed so bloody, and he had, with others, commented on the cowardice
of the man that would thus shirk the responsibility of that state of life
in which it had pleased man and the devil to place him. Now he understood
how and why the crime had been committed, and felt only pity.
Lying awake with back that burned beneath its lotioned rags,
when lights were low, in the breathful silence of the hospital,
he registered in his heart a terrible oath that he would die ere he would again
be made such hideous sport for his enemies. In this frame of mind,
with such shreds of honour and worth as had formerly clung to him blown away
in the whirlwind of his passion, he bethought him of the strange man
who had deigned to clasp his hand and call him "brother".
He had wept no unmanly tears at this sudden flow of tenderness
in one whom he had thought as callous as the rest. He had been touched
with wondrous sympathy at the confession of weakness made to him,
in a moment when his own weakness had overcome him to his shame.
Soothed by the brief rest that his fortnight of hospital seclusion
had afforded him, he had begun, in a languid and speculative way,
to turn his thoughts to religion. He had read of martyrs who had borne
agonies unspeakable, upheld by their confidence in Heaven and God.
In his old wild youth he had scoffed at prayers and priests;
in the hate to his kind that had grown upon him with his later years
he had despised a creed that told men to love one another. "God is love,
my brethren," said the chaplain on Sundays, and all the week the thongs
of the overseer cracked, and the cat hissed and swung. Of what practical value
was a piety that preached but did not practise? It was admirable
for the "religious instructor" to tell a prisoner that he must not give way
to evil passions, but must bear his punishment with meekness.
It was only right that he should advise him to "put his trust in God".
But as a hardened prisoner, convicted of getting drunk in an unlicensed house
of entertainment, had said, "God's terrible far from Port Arthur."
Rufus Dawes had smiled at the spectacle of priests admonishing men,
who knew what he knew and had seen what he had seen, for the trivialities
of lying and stealing. He had believed all priests impostors or fools,
all religion a mockery and a lie. But now, finding how utterly
his own strength had failed him when tried by the rude test of physical pain,
he began to think that this Religion which was talked of so largely
was not a mere bundle of legend and formulae, but must have in it
something vital and sustaining. Broken in spirit and weakened in body,
with faith in his own will shaken, he longed for something to lean upon,
and turned--as all men turn when in such case--to the Unknown.
Had now there been at hand some Christian priest, some Christian-spirited man
even, no matter of what faith, to pour into the ears of this poor wretch
words of comfort and grace; to rend away from him the garment of sullenness
and despair in which he had wrapped himself; to drag from him a confession
of his unworthiness, his obstinacy, and his hasty judgment,
and to cheer his fainting soul with promise of immortality and justice,
he might have been saved from his after fate; but there was no such man.
He asked for the chaplain. North was fighting the Convict Department,
seeking vengeance for Kirkland, and (victim of "clerks with the cold spurt
of the pen") was pushed hither and thither, referred here, snubbed there,
bowed out in another place. Rufus Dawes, half ashamed of himself
for his request, waited a long morning, and then saw, respectfully ushered
into his cell as his soul's physician--Meekin.
THE CONSOLATIONS OF RELIGION.
"Well, my good man," said Meekin, soothingly, "so you wanted to see me."
"I asked for the chaplain," said Rufus Dawes, his anger with himself
growing apace. "I am the chaplain," returned Meekin, with dignity,
as who should say--"none of your brandy-drinking, pea-jacketed Norths,
but a Respectable chaplain who is the friend of a Bishop!"
"I thought that Mr. North was--"
"Mr. North has left, sir," said Meekin, dryly, "but I will hear
what you have to say. There is no occasion to go, constable;
wait outside the door."
Rufus Dawes shifted himself on the wooden bench, and resting
his scarcely-healed back against the wall, smiled bitterly.
"Don't be afraid, sir; I am not going to harm you," he said.
"I only wanted to talk a little."
"Do you read your Bible, Dawes?" asked Meekin, by way of reply.
"It would be better to read your Bible than to talk, I think.
You must humble yourself in prayer, Dawes."
"I have read it," said Dawes, still lying back and watching him.
"But is your mind softened by its teachings? Do you realize the Infinite Mercy
of God, Who has compassion, Dawes, upon the greatest sinners?" The convict
made a move of impatience. The old, sickening, barren cant of piety
was to be recommenced then. He came asking for bread, and they gave him
the usual stone.
"Do you believe that there is a God, Mr. Meekin?"
"Abandoned sinner! Do you insult a clergyman by such a question?"
"Because I think sometimes that if there is, He must often be dissatisfied
at the way things are done here," said Dawes, half to himself.
"I can listen to no mutinous observations, prisoner," said Meekin.
"Do not add blasphemy to your other crimes. I fear that all conversation
with you, in your present frame of mind, would be worse than useless.
I will mark a few passages in your Bible, that seem to me appropriate
to your condition, and beg you to commit them to memory. Hailes,
the door, if you please."
So, with a bow, the "consoler" departed.
Rufus Dawes felt his heart grow sick. North had gone, then.
The only man who had seemed to have a heart in his bosom had gone.
The only man who had dared to clasp his horny and blood-stained hand,
and call him "brother", had gone. Turning his head, he saw
through the window--wide open and unbarred, for Nature, at Port Arthur,
had no need of bars--the lovely bay, smooth as glass, glittering
in the afternoon sun, the long quay, spotted with groups of parti-coloured
chain-gangs, and heard, mingling with the soft murmur of the waves,
and the gentle rustling of the trees, the never-ceasing clashing of irons,
and the eternal click of hammer. Was he to be for ever buried
in this whitened sepulchre, shut out from the face of Heaven and mankind!
The appearance of Hailes broke his reverie. "Here's a book for you,"
said he, with a grin. "Parson sent it."
Rufus Dawes took the Bible, and, placing it on his knees,
turned to the places indicated by slips of paper, embracing
some twenty marked texts.
"Parson says he'll come and hear you to-morrer, and you're to keep
the book clean."
"Keep the book clean!" and "hear him!" Did Meekin think that he was
a charity school boy? The utter incapacity of the chaplain to understand
his wants was so sublime that it was nearly ridiculous enough
to make him laugh. He turned his eyes downwards to the texts.
Good Meekin, in the fullness of his stupidity, had selected
the fiercest denunciations of bard and priest. The most notable
of the Psalmist's curses upon his enemies, the most furious of Isaiah's ravings
anent the forgetfulness of the national worship, the most terrible thunderings
of apostle and evangelist against idolatry and unbelief, were grouped together
and presented to Dawes to soothe him. All the material horrors
of Meekin's faith--stripped, by force of dissociation from the context,
of all poetic feeling and local colouring--were launched at
the suffering sinner by Meekin's ignorant hand. The miserable man,
seeking for consolation and peace, turned over the leaves of the Bible
only to find himself threatened with "the pains of Hell",
"the never-dying worm", "the unquenchable fire", "the bubbling brimstone",
the "bottomless pit", from out of which the "smoke of his torment"
should ascend for ever and ever. Before his eyes was held no image
of a tender Saviour (with hands soft to soothe, and eyes brimming
with ineffable pity) dying crucified that he and other malefactors
might have hope, by thinking on such marvellous humanity.
The worthy Pharisee who was sent to him to teach him how mankind
is to be redeemed with Love, preached only that harsh Law whose barbarous power
died with the gentle Nazarene on Calvary.
Repelled by this unlooked-for ending to his hopes, he let the book fall
to the ground. "Is there, then, nothing but torment for me in this world
or the next?" he groaned, shuddering. Presently his eyes sought
his right hand, resting upon it as though it were not his own,
or had some secret virtue which made it different from the other.
"He would not have done this? He would not have thrust upon me
these savage judgments, these dreadful threats of Hell and Death.
He called me 'Brother'!" And filled with a strange wild pity for himself,
and yearning love towards the man who befriended him, he fell to nursing
the hand on which North's tears had fallen, moaning and rocking himself
to and fro.
Meekin, in the morning, found his pupil more sullen than ever.
"Have you learned these texts, my man?" said he, cheerfully,
willing not to be angered with his uncouth and unpromising convert.
Rufus Dawes pointed with his foot to the Bible, which still lay on the floor
as he had left it the night before. "No!"
"No! Why not?"
"I would learn no such words as those. I would rather forget them."
"Forget them! My good man, I--"
Rufus Dawes sprang up in sudden wrath, and pointing to his cell door
with a gesture that--chained and degraded as he was--had something
of dignity in it, cried, "What do you know about the feelings of such as I?
Take your book and yourself away. When I asked for a priest,
I had no thought of you. Begone!"
Meekin, despite the halo of sanctity which he felt should surround him,
found his gentility melt all of a sudden. Adventitious distinctions
had disappeared for the instant. The pair had become simply man and man,
and the sleek priest-master quailing before the outraged manhood
of the convict-penitent, picked up his Bible and backed out.
"That man Dawes is very insolent," said the insulted chaplain to Burgess.
"He was brutal to me to-day--quite brutal."
"Was he?" said Burgess. "Had too long a spell, I expect.
I'll send him back to work to-morrow."
"It would be well," said Meekin, "if he had some employment."
"A NATURAL PENITENTIARY."
"The "employment" at Port Arthur consisted chiefly of agriculture,
ship-building, and tanning. Dawes, who was in the chain-gang,
was put to chain-gang labour; that is to say, bringing down logs
from the forest, or "lumbering" timber on the wharf. This work was not light.
An ingenious calculator had discovered that the pressure of the log
upon the shoulder was wont to average 125 lbs. Members of the chain-gang
were dressed in yellow, and--by way of encouraging the others--
had the word "Felon" stamped upon conspicuous parts of their raiment.
This was the sort of life Rufus Dawes led. In the summer-time
he rose at half-past five in the morning, and worked until six in the evening,
getting three-quarters of an hour for breakfast, and one hour for dinner.
Once a week he had a clean shirt, and once a fortnight clean socks.
If he felt sick, he was permitted to "report his case to the medical officer".
If he wanted to write a letter he could ask permission of the Commandant,
and send the letter, open, through that Almighty Officer, who could stop
it if he thought necessary. If he felt himself aggrieved by any order,
he was "to obey it instantly, but might complain afterwards, if he thought fit,
to the Commandant". In making any complaint against an officer or constable
it was strictly ordered that a prisoner "must be most respectful
in his manner and language, when speaking of or to such officer or constable".
He was held responsible only for the safety of his chains, and for the rest
was at the mercy of his gaoler. These gaolers--owning right of search,
entry into cells at all hours, and other droits of seigneury--were responsible
only to the Commandant, who was responsible only to the Governor,
that is to say, to nobody but God and his own conscience. The jurisdiction
of the Commandant included the whole of Tasman's Peninsula, with the islands
and waters within three miles thereof; and save the making
of certain returns to head-quarters, his power was unlimited.
A word as to the position and appearance of this place of punishment.
Tasman's Peninsula is, as we have said before, in the form of an earring
with a double drop. The lower drop is the larger, and is ornamented,
so to speak, with bays. At its southern extremity is a deep indentation
called Maingon Bay, bounded east and west by the organ-pipe rocks
of Cape Raoul, and the giant form of Cape Pillar. From Maingon Bay
an arm of the ocean cleaves the rocky walls in a northerly direction.
On the western coast of this sea-arm was the settlement; in front of it
was a little island where the dead were buried, called The Island of the Dead.
Ere the in-coming convict passed the purple beauty of this convict Golgotha,
his eyes were attracted by a point of grey rock covered with white buildings,
and swarming with life. This was Point Puer, the place of confinement
for boys from eight to twenty years of age. It was astonishing--
many honest folks averred--how ungrateful were these juvenile convicts
for the goods the Government had provided for them. From the extremity
of Long Bay, as the extension of the sea-arm was named, a convict-made tramroad
ran due north, through the nearly impenetrable thicket to Norfolk Bay.
In the mouth of Norfolk Bay was Woody Island. This was used
as a signal station, and an armed boat's crew was stationed there.
To the north of Woody Island lay One-tree Point--the southernmost projection
of the drop of the earring; and the sea that ran between narrowed
to the eastward until it struck on the sandy bar of Eaglehawk Neck.
Eaglehawk Neck was the link that connected the two drops of the earring.
It was a strip of sand four hundred and fifty yards across.
On its eastern side the blue waters of Pirates' Bay, that is to say,
of the Southern Ocean, poured their unchecked force. The isthmus emerged
from a wild and terrible coast-line, into whose bowels the ravenous sea
had bored strange caverns, resonant with perpetual roar of tortured billows.
At one spot in this wilderness the ocean had penetrated the wall of rock
for two hundred feet, and in stormy weather the salt spray rose
through a perpendicular shaft more than five hundred feet deep.
This place was called the Devil's Blow-hole. The upper drop of the earring
was named Forrestier's Peninsula, and was joined to the mainland
by another isthmus called East Bay Neck. Forrestier's Peninsula
was an almost impenetrable thicket, growing to the brink
of a perpendicular cliff of basalt.
Eaglehawk Neck was the door to the prison, and it was kept bolted.
On the narrow strip of land was built a guard-house, where soldiers
from the barrack on the mainland relieved each other night and day;
and on stages, set out in the water in either side, watch-dogs were chained.
The station officer was charged "to pay special attention to the feeding
and care" of these useful beasts, being ordered "to report to the Commandant
whenever any one of them became useless". It may be added that the bay
was not innocent of sharks. Westward from Eaglehawk Neck and Woody Island
lay the dreaded Coal Mines. Sixty of the "marked men" were stationed here
under a strong guard. At the Coal Mines was the northernmost
of that ingenious series of semaphores which rendered escape almost impossible.
The wild and mountainous character of the peninsula offered peculiar advantages
to the signalmen. On the summit of the hill which overlooked the guard-towers
of the settlement was a gigantic gum-tree stump, upon the top of which
was placed a semaphore. This semaphore communicated with the two wings
of the prison--Eaglehawk Neck and the Coal Mines--by sending a line of signals
right across the peninsula. Thus, the settlement communicated
with Mount Arthur, Mount Arthur with One-tree Hill, One-tree Hill
with Mount Communication, and Mount Communication with the Coal Mines.
On the other side, the signals would run thus--the settlement to Signal Hill,
Signal Hill to Woody Island, Woody Island to Eaglehawk. Did a prisoner escape
from the Coal Mines, the guard at Eaglehawk Neck could be aroused,
and the whole island informed of the "bolt" in less than twenty minutes.
With these advantages of nature and art, the prison was held to be
the most secure in the world. Colonel Arthur reported to the Home Government
that the spot which bore his name was a "natural penitentiary".
The worthy disciplinarian probably took as a personal compliment
the polite forethought of the Almighty in thus considerately providing
for the carrying out of the celebrated "Regulations for Convict Discipline".
A VISIT OF INSPECTION.
One afternoon ever-active semaphores transmitted a piece of intelligence
which set the peninsula agog. Captain Frere, having arrived
from head-quarters, with orders to hold an inquiry into the death of Kirkland,
was not unlikely to make a progress through the stations, and it behoved
the keepers of the Natural Penitentiary to produce their Penitents
in good case. Burgess was in high spirits at finding so congenial a soul
selected for the task of reporting upon him.
"It's only a nominal thing, old man," Frere said to his former comrade, when
they met. "That parson has made meddling, and they want to close his mouth."
"I am glad to have the opportunity of showing you and Mrs. Frere the place,"
returned Burgess. "I must try and make your stay as pleasant as I can,
though I'm afraid that Mrs. Frere will not find much to amuse her."
"Frankly, Captain Burgess," said Sylvia, "I would rather have gone
straight to Sydney. My husband, however, was obliged to come,
and of course I accompanied him."
"You will not have much society," said Meekin, who was of the welcoming party.
"Mrs. Datchett, the wife of one of our stipendiaries, is the only lady here,
and I hope to have the pleasure of making you acquainted with her this evening
at the Commandant's. Mr. McNab, whom you know, is in command at the Neck,
and cannot leave, or you would have seen him."
"I have planned a little party," said Burgess, "but I fear that it will not be
so successful as I could wish."
"You wretched old bachelor," said Frere; "you should get married, like me."
"Ah!" said Burgess, with a bow, "that would be difficult."
Sylvia was compelled to smile at the compliment, made in the presence
of some twenty prisoners, who were carrying the various trunks and packages
up the hill, and she remarked that the said prisoners grinned
at the Commandant's clumsy courtesy. "I don't like Captain Burgess,
Maurice," she said, in the interval before dinner. "I dare say
he did flog that poor fellow to death. He looks as if he could do it."
"Nonsense!" said Maurice, pettishly; "he's a good fellow enough.
Besides, I've seen the doctor's certificate. It's a trumped-up story.
I can't understand your absurd sympathy with prisoners."
"Don't they sometimes deserve sympathy?"
"No, certainly not--a set of lying scoundrels. You are always whining
over them, Sylvia. I don't like it, and I've told you before about it."
Sylvia said nothing. Maurice was often guilty of these small brutalities,
and she had learnt that the best way to meet them was by silence.
Unfortunately, silence did not mean indifference, for the reproof was unjust,
and nothing stings a woman's fine sense like an injustice.
Burgess had prepared a feast, and the "Society" of Port Arthur was present.
Father Flaherty, Meekin, Doctor Macklewain, and Mr. and Mrs. Datchett
had been invited, and the dining-room was resplendent with glass and flowers.
"I've a fellow who was a professional gardener," said Burgess to Sylvia
during the dinner, "and I make use of his talents."
"We have a professional artist also," said Macklewain, with a sort of pride.
"That picture of the 'Prisoner of Chillon' yonder was painted by him.
A very meritorious production, is it not?"
"I've got the place full of curiosities," said Burgess; "quite a collection.
I'll show them to you to-morrow. Those napkin rings were made by a prisoner."
"Ah!" cried Frere, taking up the daintily-carved bone, "very neat!"
"That is some of Rex's handiwork," said Meekin. "He is very clever
at these trifles. He made me a paper-cutter that was really a work of art."
"We will go down to the Neck to-morrow or next day, Mrs. Frere,"
said Burgess, "and you shall see the Blow-hole. It is a curious place."
"Is it far?" asked Sylvia.
"Oh no! We shall go in the train."
"Yes--don't look so astonished. You'll see it to-morrow. Oh,
you Hobart Town ladies don't know what we can do here."
"What about this Kirkland business?" Frere asked. "I suppose
I can have half an hour with you in the morning, and take the depositions?"
"Any time you like, my dear fellow," said Burgess. "It's all the same to me."
"I don't want to make more fuss than I can help," Frere said apologetically--
the dinner had been good--"but I must send these people up a 'full,
true and particular', don't you know."
"Of course," cried Burgess, with friendly nonchalance. "That's all right.
I want Mrs. Frere to see Point Puer."
"Where the boys are?" asked Sylvia.
"Exactly. Nearly three hundred of 'em. We'll go down to-morrow,
and you shall be my witness, Mrs. Frere, as to the way they are treated."
"Indeed," said Sylvia, protesting, "I would rather not. I--I don't
take the interest in these things that I ought, perhaps.
They are very dreadful to me."
"Nonsense!" said Frere, with a scowl. "We'll come, Burgess, of course."
The next two days were devoted to sight-seeing. Sylvia was taken
through the hospital and the workshops, shown the semaphores,
and shut up by Maurice in a "dark cell". Her husband and Burgess
seemed to treat the prison like a tame animal, whom they could handle
at their leisure, and whose natural ferocity was kept in check
by their superior intelligence. This bringing of a young and pretty woman
into immediate contact with bolts and bars had about it an incongruity
which pleased them. Maurice penetrated everywhere, questioned the prisoners,
jested with the gaolers, even, in the munificence of his heart,
bestowed tobacco on the sick.
With such graceful rattlings of dry bones, they got by and by to Point Puer,
where a luncheon had been provided.
An unlucky accident had occurred at Point Puer that morning, however,
and the place was in a suppressed ferment. A refractory little thief
named Peter Brown, aged twelve years, had jumped off the high rock
and drowned himself in full view of the constables. These "jumpings off"
had become rather frequent lately, and Burgess was enraged at one happening
on this particular day. If he could by any possibility have brought the corpse
of poor little Peter Brown to life again, he would have soundly whipped it
for its impertinence.
"It is most unfortunate," he said to Frere, as they stood in the cell
where the little body was laid, "that it should have happened to-day."
"Oh," says Frere, frowning down upon the young face that seemed to smile
up at him. "It can't be helped. I know those young devils. They'd do it
out of spite. What sort of a character had he?"
"Very bad--Johnson, the book."
Johnson bringing it, the two saw Peter Brown's iniquities set down
in the neatest of running hand, and the record of his punishments ornamented
in quite an artistic way with flourishes of red ink
"20th November, disorderly conduct, 12 lashes. 24th November, insolence
to hospital attendant, diet reduced. 4th December, stealing cap
from another prisoner, 12 lashes. 15th December, absenting himself
at roll call, two days' cells. 23rd December, insolence and insubordination,
two days' cells. 8th January, insolence and insubordination, 12 lashes.
20th January, insolence and insubordination, 12 lashes. 22nd February,
insolence and insubordination, 12 lashes and one week's solitary.
6th March, insolence and insubordination, 20 lashes."
"That was the last?" asked Frere.
"Yes, sir," says Johnson.
"And then he--hum--did it?"
"Just so, sir. That was the way of it."
Just so! The magnificent system starved and tortured a child of twelve
until he killed himself. That was the way of it.
After luncheon the party made a progress. Everything was most admirable.
There was a long schoolroom, where such men as Meekin taught how Christ loved
little children; and behind the schoolroom were the cells and the constables
and the little yard where they gave their "twenty lashes". Sylvia shuddered
at the array of faces. From the stolid nineteen years old booby
of the Kentish hop-fields, to the wizened, shrewd, ten years old Bohemian
of the London streets, all degrees and grades of juvenile vice grinned,
in untamable wickedness, or snuffed in affected piety. "Suffer little children
to come unto Me, and forbid them not, for of such is the Kingdom of Heaven,"
said, or is reported to have said, the Founder of our Established Religion.
Of such it seemed that a large number of Honourable Gentlemen,
together with Her Majesty's faithful commons in Parliament assembled,
had done their best to create a Kingdom of Hell.
After the farce had been played again, and the children had stood up
and sat down, and sung a hymn, and told how many twice five were,
and repeated their belief in "One God the Father Almighty,
maker of Heaven and Earth", the party reviewed the workshops,
and saw the church, and went everywhere but into the room where the body
of Peter Brown, aged twelve, lay starkly on its wooden bench,
staring at the gaol roof which was between it and Heaven.
Just outside this room, Sylvia met with a little adventure.
Meekin had stopped behind, and Burgess, being suddenly summoned
for some official duty, Frere had gone with him, leaving his wife
to rest on a bench that, placed at the summit of the cliff, overlooked the sea.
While resting thus, she became aware of another presence, and,
turning her head, beheld a small boy, with his cap in one hand and a hammer
in the other. The appearance of the little creature, clad in a uniform
of grey cloth that was too large for him, and holding in his withered little
hand a hammer that was too heavy for him, had something pathetic about it.
"What is it, you mite?" asked Sylvia.
"We thought you might have seen him, mum," said the little figure,
opening its blue eyes with wonder at the kindness of the tone. "Him! Whom?"
"Cranky Brown, mum," returned the child; "him as did it this morning.
Me and Billy knowed him, mum; he was a mate of ours, and we wanted to know
if he looked happy."
"What do you mean, child?" said she, with a strange terror at her heart;
and then, filled with pity at the aspect of the little being,
she drew him to her, with sudden womanly instinct, and kissed him.
He looked up at her with joyful surprise. "Oh!" he said.
Sylvia kissed him again.
"Does nobody ever kiss you, poor little man?" said she.
"Mother used to," was the reply, "but she's at home. Oh, mum,"
with a sudden crimsoning of the little face, "may I fetch Billy?"
And taking courage from the bright young face, he gravely marched
to an angle of the rock, and brought out another little creature,
with another grey uniform and another hammer.
"This is Billy, mum," he said. "Billy never had no mother. Kiss Billy."
The young wife felt the tears rush to her eyes. "You two poor babies!"
she cried. And then, forgetting that she was a lady, dressed in silk and lace,
she fell on her knees in the dust, and, folding the friendless pair
in her arms, wept over them.
"What is the matter, Sylvia?" said Frere, when he came up.
"You've been crying."
"Nothing, Maurice; at least, I will tell you by and by."
When they were alone that evening, she told him of the two little boys,
and he laughed. "Artful little humbugs," he said, and supported his argument
by so many illustrations of the precocious wickedness of juvenile felons,
that his wife was half convinced against her will.
* * * * * *
Unfortunately, when Sylvia went away, Tommy and Billy put into execution
a plan which they had carried in their poor little heads for some weeks.
"I can do it now," said Tommy. "I feel strong."
"Will it hurt much, Tommy?" said Billy, who was not so courageous.
"Not so much as a whipping."
"I'm afraid! Oh, Tom, it's so deep! Don't leave me, Tom!"
The bigger boy took his little handkerchief from his neck, and with it
bound his own left hand to his companion's right.
"Now I can't leave you."
"What was it the lady that kissed us said, Tommy?"
"Lord, have pity on them two fatherless children!" repeated Tommy.
"Let's say it together."
And so the two babies knelt on the brink of the cliff, and,
raising the bound hands together, looked up at the sky,
and ungrammatically said, "Lord have pity on we two fatherless children!"
And then they kissed each other, and "did it".
* * * * * *
The intelligence, transmitted by the ever-active semaphore,
reached the Commandant in the midst of dinner, and in his agitation
he blurted it out.
"These are the two poor things I saw in the morning," cried Sylvia.
"Oh, Maurice, these two poor babies driven to suicide!"
"Condemning their young souls to everlasting fire," said Meekin, piously.
"Mr. Meekin! How can you talk like that? Poor little creatures!
Oh, it's horrible! Maurice, take me away." And she burst into a passion
of weeping. "I can't help it, ma'am," says Burgess, rudely, ashamed.
"It ain't my fault."
"She's nervous," says Frere, leading her away. "You must excuse her.
Come and lie down, dearest."
"I will not stay here longer," said she. "Let us go to-morrow."
"We can't," said Frere.
"Oh, yes, we can. I insist. Maurice, if you love me, take me away."
"Well," said Maurice, moved by her evident grief, "I'll try."
He spoke to Burgess. "Burgess, this matter has unsettled my wife,
so that she wants to leave at once. I must visit the Neck, you know.
How can we do it?"
"Well," says Burgess, "if the wind only holds, the brig could go round
to Pirates' Bay and pick you up. You'll only be a night at the barracks."
"I think that would be best," said Frere. "We'll start to-morrow, please,
and if you'll give me a pen and ink I'll be obliged."
"I hope you are satisfied," said Burgess.
"Oh yes, quite," said Frere. "I must recommend more careful supervision
at Point Puer, though. It will never do to have these young blackguards
slipping through our fingers in this way."
So a neatly written statement of the occurrence was appended to the ledgers
in which the names of William Tomkins and Thomas Grove were entered.
Macklewain held an inquest, and nobody troubled about them any more.
Why should they? The prisons of London were full of such Tommys and Billys.
* * * * * *
Sylvia passed through the rest of her journey in a dream of terror.
The incident of the children had shaken her nerves, and she longed
to be away from the place and its associations. Even Eaglehawk Neck
with its curious dog stages and its "natural pavement", did not interest her.
McNab's blandishments were wearisome. She shuddered as she gazed
into the boiling abyss of the Blow-hole, and shook with fear
as the Commandant's "train" rattled over the dangerous tramway
that wound across the precipice to Long Bay. The "train" was composed
of a number of low wagons pushed and dragged up the steep inclines by convicts,
who drew themselves up in the wagons when the trucks dashed down the slope,
and acted as drags. Sylvia felt degraded at being thus drawn by human beings,
and trembled when the lash cracked, and the convicts answered to the sting--
like cattle. Moreover, there was among the foremost of these beasts of burden
a face that had dimly haunted her girlhood, and only lately vanished
from her dreams. This face looked on her--she thought--with bitterest loathing
and scorn, and she felt relieved when at the midday halt its owner was ordered
to fall out from the rest, and was with four others re-chained
for the homeward journey. Frere, struck with the appearance of the five,
said, "By Jove, Poppet, there are our old friends Rex and Dawes,
and the others. They won't let 'em come all the way, because they are
such a desperate lot, they might make a rush for it." Sylvia comprehended now
the face was the face of Dawes; and as she looked after him, she saw him
suddenly raise his hands above his head with a motion that terrified her.
She felt for an instant a great shock of pitiful recollection.
Staring at the group, she strove to recall when and how Rufus Dawes,
the wretch from whose clutches her husband had saved her,
had ever merited her pity, but her clouded memory could not
complete the picture, and as the wagons swept round a curve,
and the group disappeared, she awoke from her reverie with a sigh.
"Maurice," she whispered, "how is it that the sight of that man
always makes me sad?"
Her husband frowned, and then, caressing her, bade her forget the man
and the place and her fears. "I was wrong to have insisted on your coming,"
he said. They stood on the deck of the Sydney-bound vessel the next morning,
and watched the "Natural Penitentiary" grow dim in the distance.
"You were not strong enough."
* * * * * *
"Dawes," said John Rex, "you love that girl! Now that you've seen her
another man's wife, and have been harnessed like a beast to drag him along
the road, while he held her in his arms!--now that you've seen
and suffered that, perhaps you'll join us."
Rufus Dawes made a movement of agonized impatience.
"You'd better. You'll never get out of this place any other way.
Come, be a man; join us!"
"It is your only chance. Why refuse it? Do you want to live here
all your life?"
"I want no sympathy from you or any other. I will not join you."
Rex shrugged his shoulders and walked away. "If you think to get any good
out of that 'inquiry', you are mightily mistaken," said he, as he went.
"Frere has put a stopper upon that, you'll find." He spoke truly.
Nothing more was heard of it, only that, some six months afterwards,
Mr. North, when at Parramatta, received an official letter
(in which the expenditure of wax and printing and paper was as large
as it could be made) which informed him that the "Comptroller-General
of the Convict Department had decided that further inquiry concerning the death
of the prisoner named in the margin was unnecessary", and that some gentleman
with an utterly illegible signature "had the honour to be
his most obedient servant".
GATHERING IN THE THREADS.
Maurice found his favourable expectations of Sydney fully realized.
His notable escape from death at Macquarie Harbour, his alliance
with the daughter of so respected a colonist as Major Vickers,
and his reputation as a convict disciplinarian rendered him a man of note.
He received a vacant magistracy, and became even more noted for hardness
of heart and artfulness of prison knowledge than before. The convict
population spoke of him as "that ---- Frere," and registered vows of vengeance
against him, which he laughed--in his bluffness--to scorn.
One anecdote concerning the method by which he shepherded his flock
will suffice to show his character and his value. It was his custom
to visit the prison-yard at Hyde Park Barracks twice a week.
Visitors to convicts were, of course, armed, and the two pistol-butts
that peeped from Frere's waistcoat attracted many a longing eye.
How easy would it be for some fellow to pluck one forth and shatter
the smiling, hateful face of the noted disciplinarian! Frere, however,
brave to rashness, never would bestow his weapons more safely,
but lounged through the yard with his hands in the pockets
of his shooting-coat, and the deadly butts ready to the hand of anyone
bold enough to take them.
One day a man named Kavanagh, a captured absconder, who had openly sworn
in the dock the death of the magistrate, walked quickly up to him
as he was passing through the yard, and snatched a pistol from his belt.
The yard caught its breath, and the attendant warder, hearing the click
of the lock, instinctively turned his head away, so that he might not be
blinded by the flash. But Kavanagh did not fire. At the instant
when his hand was on the pistol, he looked up and met the magnetic glance
of Frere's imperious eyes. An effort, and the spell would have been broken.
A twitch of the finger, and his enemy would have fallen dead.
There was an instant when that twitch of the finger could have been given,
but Kavanagh let that instant pass. The dauntless eye fascinated him.
He played with the pistol nervously, while all remained stupefied.
Frere stood, without withdrawing his hands from the pockets
into which they were plunged.
"That's a fine pistol, Jack," he said at last.
Kavanagh, down whose white face the sweat was pouring, burst into
a hideous laugh of relieved terror, and thrust the weapon, cocked as it was,
back again into the magistrate's belt.
Frere slowly drew one hand from his pocket, took the cocked pistol
and levelled it at his recent assailant. "That's the best chance
you'll ever get, Jack," said he.
Kavanagh fell on his knees. "For God's sake, Captain Frere!"
Frere looked down on the trembling wretch, and then uncocked the pistol,
with a laugh of ferocious contempt. "Get up, you dog," he said.
"It takes a better man than you to best me. Bring him up in the morning,
Hawkins, and we'll give him five-and-twenty."
As he went out--so great is the admiration for Power--the poor devils
in the yard cheered him.
One of the first things that this useful officer did upon his arrival in Sydney
was to inquire for Sarah Purfoy. To his astonishment, he discovered
that she was the proprietor of large export warehouses in Pitt-street,
owned a neat cottage on one of the points of land which jutted into the bay,
and was reputed to possess a banking account of no inconsiderable magnitude.
He in vain applied his brains to solve this mystery. His cast-off mistress
had not been rich when she left Van Diemen's Land--at least,
so she had assured him, and appearances bore out her assurance.
How had she accumulated this sudden wealth? Above all, why had she
thus invested it? He made inquiries at the banks, but was snubbed
for his pains. Sydney banks in those days did some queer business.
Mrs. Purfoy had come to them "fully accredited," said the manager with a smile.
"But where did she get the money?" asked the magistrate. "I am suspicious
of these sudden fortunes. The woman was a notorious character in Hobart Town,
and when she left hadn't a penny."
"My dear Captain Frere," said the acute banker--his father had been one
of the builders of the "Rum Hospital"--"it is not the custom of our bank
to make inquiries into the previous history of its customers.
The bills were good, you may depend, or we should not have honoured them.
"The bills!" Frere saw but one explanation. Sarah had received the proceeds
of some of Rex's rogueries. Rex's letter to his father and the mention
of the sum of money "in the old house in Blue Anchor Yard" flashed across
his memory. Perhaps Sarah had got the money from the receiver
and appropriated it. But why invest it in an oil and tallow warehouse?
He had always been suspicious of the woman, because he had never
understood her, and his suspicions redoubled. Convinced that there was
some plot hatching, he determined to use all the advantages
that his position gave him to discover the secret and bring it to light.
The name of the man to whom Rex's letters had been addressed was "Blicks".
He would find out if any of the convicts under his care had heard of Blicks.
Prosecuting his inquiries in the proper direction, he soon obtained a reply.
Blicks was a London receiver of stolen goods, known to at least a dozen
of the black sheep of the Sydney fold. He was reputed to be
enormously wealthy, had often been tried, but never convicted.
Frere was thus not much nearer enlightenment than before, and an incident
occurred a few months afterwards which increased his bewilderment
He had not been long established in his magistracy, when Blunt came
to claim payment for the voyage of Sarah Purfoy. "There's that schooner
going begging, one may say, sir," said Blunt, when the office door was shut.
Now the Franklin was a vessel of three hundred and twenty tons which plied
between Norfolk Island and Sydney, as the Osprey had plied in the old days
between Macquarie Harbour and Hobart Town. "I am afraid that is rather stiff,
Blunt," said Frere. "That's one of the best billets going, you know.
I doubt if I have enough interest to get it for you. Besides," he added,
eyeing the sailor critically, "you are getting oldish for that sort of thing,
Phineas Blunt stretched his arms wide, and opened his mouth,
full of sound white teeth. "I am good for twenty years more yet, sir,"
he said. "My father was trading to the Indies at seventy-five years of age.
I'm hearty enough, thank God; for, barring a drop of rum now and then,
I've no vices to speak of. However, I ain't in a hurry, Captain,
for a month or so; only I thought I'd jog your memory a bit, d ye see."
"Oh, you're not in a hurry; where are you going then?"
"Well," said Blunt, shifting on his seat, uneasy under Frere's
convict-disciplined eye, "I've got a job on hand."
"Glad of it, I'm sure. What sort of a job?"
"A job of whaling," said Blunt, more uneasy than before.
"Oh, that's it, is it? Your old line of business. And who employs you now?"
There was no suspicion in the tone, and had Blunt chosen to evade the question,
he might have done so without difficulty, but he replied as one
who had anticipated such questioning, and had been advised how to answer it.
"What!" cried Frere, scarcely able to believe his ears.
"She's got a couple of ships now, Captain, and she made me skipper
of one of 'em. We look for beshdellamare [beche-de-la-mer],
and take a turn at harpooning sometimes."
Frere stared at Blunt, who stared at the window. There was--so the instinct
of the magistrate told him--some strange project afoot. Yet that common sense
which so often misleads us, urged that it was quite natural Sarah should employ
whaling vessels to increase her trade. Granted that there was nothing wrong
about her obtaining the business, there was nothing strange about her owning
a couple of whaling vessels. There were people in Sydney, of no better origin,
who owned half-a-dozen. "Oh," said he. "And when do you start?"
"I'm expecting to get the word every day," returned Blunt, apparently relieved,
"and I thought I'd just come and see you first, in case of anything
falling in." Frere played with a pen-knife on the table in silence for a while,
allowing it to fall through his fingers with a series of sharp clicks,
and then he said, "Where does she get the money from?"
"Blest if I know!" said Blunt, in unaffected simplicity. "That's beyond me.
She says she saved it. But that's all my eye, you know."
"You don't know anything about it, then?" cried Frere, suddenly fierce.
"No, not I."
"Because, if there's any game on, she'd better take care," he cried,