Part 9 out of 11
Mrs. Frere is about five-and-twenty. She is rather beneath the middle height,
with a slight, girlish figure. This girlish appearance is enhanced
by the fact that she has bright fair hair and blue eyes. Upon conversation
with her, however, one sees that her face has lost much of the delicate
plumpness which it probably owned in youth. She has had one child,
born only to die. Her cheeks are thin, and her eyes have a tinge of sadness,
which speak of physical pain or mental grief. This thinness of face
makes the eyes appear larger and the brow broader than they really are.
Her hands are white and painfully thin. They must have been plump
and pretty once. Her lips are red with perpetual fever.
Captain Frere seems to have absorbed all his wife's vitality.
(Who quotes the story of Lucius Claudius Hermippus, who lived to a great age
by being constantly breathed on by young girls? I suppose Burton--
who quotes everything.) In proportion as she has lost her vigour and youth,
he has gained strength and heartiness. Though he is at least forty years
of age, he does not look more than thirty. His face is ruddy,
his eyes bright, his voice firm and ringing. He must be a man
of considerable strength and--I should say--of more than ordinary
animal courage and animal appetite. There is not a nerve in his body
which does not twang like a piano wire. In appearance, he is tall, broad,
and bluff, with red whiskers and reddish hair slightly touched with grey.
His manner is loud, coarse, and imperious; his talk of dogs, horses,
and convicts. What a strangely-mated pair!
March 30th.--A letter from Van Diemen's Land. "There is a row in the pantry,"
said Frere, with his accustomed slang. It seems that the Comptroller-General
of Convicts has appointed a Mr. Pounce to go down and make a report
on the state of Norfolk Island. I am to go down with him,
and shall receive instructions to that effect from the Comptroller-General.
I have informed Frere of this, and he has written to Pounce to come
and stay on his way down. There has been nothing but convict discipline
talked since. Frere is great upon this point, and wearies me
with his explanations of convict tricks and wickedness. He is celebrated
for his knowledge of such matters. Detestable wisdom! His servants hate him,
but they obey him without a murmur. I have observed that
habitual criminals--like all savage beasts--cower before the man
who has once mastered them. I should not be surprised if the
Van Diemen's Land Government selected Frere as their "disciplinarian".
I hope they won't and yet I hope they will.
April 4th.--Nothing worth recording until to-day. Eating, drinking,
and sleeping. Despite my forty-seven years, I begin to feel almost like
the James North who fought the bargee and took the gold medal.
What a drink water is! The fons Bandusiae splendidior vitreo was better
than all the Massic, Master Horace! I doubt if your celebrated liquor,
bottled when Manlius was consul, could compare with it.
But to my notable facts. I have found out to-night two things
which surprise me. One is that the convict who attempted the life
of Mrs. Frere is none other than the unhappy man whom my fatal weakness
caused to be flogged at Port Arthur, and whose face comes before me
to reproach me even now. The other that Mrs. Carr is an old acquaintance
of Frere's. The latter piece of information I obtained in a curious way.
One night, while Mrs. Frere was not there, we were talking of clever women.
I broached my theory, that strong intellect in women went far
to destroy their womanly nature.
"Desire in man," said I, "should be Volition in women: Reason, Intuition;
Reverence, Devotion; Passion, Love. The woman should strike a lower key-note,
but a sharper sound. Man has vigour of reason, woman quickness of feeling.
The woman who possesses masculine force of intellect is abnormal."
He did not half comprehend me, I could see, but he agreed with the broad view
of the case. "I only knew one woman who was really 'strong-minded',
as they call it," he said, "and she was a regular bad one."
"It does not follow that she should be bad," said I.
"This one was, though--stock, lock, and barrel. But as sharp as a needle,
sir, and as immovable as a rock. A fine woman, too." I saw by the expression
of the man's face that he owned ugly memories, and pressed him further.
"She's up country somewhere," he said. "Married her assigned servant,
I was told, a fellow named Carr. I haven't seen her for years,
and don't know what she may be like now, but in the days when I knew her she
was just what you describe." (Let it be noted that I had described nothing.)
"She came out in the ship with me as maid to my wife's mother."
It was on the tip of my tongue to say that I had met her, but I don't know
what induced me to be silent. There are passages in the lives of men
of Captain Frere's complexion, which don't bear descanting on.
I expect there have been in this case, for he changed the subject abruptly,
as his wife came in. Is it possible that these two creatures--
the notable disciplinarian and the wife of the assigned servant--
could have been more than friends in youth? Quite possible. He is the sort
of man for gross amours. (A pretty way I am abusing my host!)
And the supple woman with the dark eyes would have been just the creature
to enthral him. Perhaps some such story as this may account in part
for Mrs. Frere's sad looks. Why do I speculate on such things? I seem
to do violence to myself and to insult her by writing such suspicions.
If I was a Flagellant now, I would don hairshirt and up flail.
"For this sort cometh not out but by prayer and fasting."
April 7th.--Mr. Pounce has arrived--full of the importance of his mission.
He walks with the air of a minister of state on the eve of a vacant garter,
hoping, wondering, fearing, and dignified even in his dubitancy.
I am as flippant as a school-girl concerning this fatuous official,
and yet--Heaven knows--I feel deeply enough the importance of the task
he has before him. One relieves one's brain by these whirlings
of one's mental limbs. I remember that a prisoner at Hobart Town,
twice condemned and twice reprieved, jumped and shouted with frenzied vehemence
when he heard his sentence of death was finally pronounced. He told me,
if he had not so shouted, he believed he would have gone mad.
April 10th.--We had a state dinner last night. The conversation
was about nothing in the world but convicts. I never saw Mrs. Frere
to less advantage. Silent, distraite, and sad. She told me after dinner
that she disliked the very name of "convict" from early associations.
"I have lived among them all my life," she said, "but that does not
make it the better for me. I have terrible fancies at times, Mr. North,
that seem half-memories. I dread to be brought in contact
with prisoners again. I am sure that some evil awaits me at their hands."
I laughed, of course, but it would not do. She holds to her own opinion, and
looks at me with horror in her eyes. This terror in her face is perplexing.
"You are nervous," I said. "You want rest."
"I am nervous," she replied, with that candour of voice and manner
I have before remarked in her, "and I have presentiments of evil."
We sat silent for a while, and then she suddenly turned her large eyes on me,
and said calmly, "Mr. North, what death shall I die?" The question
was an echo of my own thoughts--I have some foolish (?) fancies
as to physiognomy--and it made me start. What death, indeed?
What sort of death would one meet with widely-opened eyes, parted lips,
and brows bent as though to rally fast-flying courage? Not a peaceful death
surely. I brought my black coat to my aid. "My dear lady, you must not think
of such things. Death is but a sleep, you know. Why anticipate a nightmare?"
She sighed, slowly awaking as though from some momentary trance.
Checking herself on the verge of tears, she rallied, turned the conversation,
and finding an excuse for going to the piano, dashed into a waltz.
This unnatural gaiety ended, I fancy, in an hysterical fit. I heard
her husband afterwards recommending sal volatile. He is the sort of man
who would recommend sal volatile to the Pythoness if she consulted him.
April 26th.--All has been arranged, and we start to-morrow. Mr. Pounce
is in a condition of painful dignity. He seems afraid to move
lest motion should thaw his official ice. Having found out that I am
the "chaplain", he has refrained from familiarity. My self-love is wounded,
but my patience relieved. Query: Would not the majority of mankind
rather be bored by people in authority than not noticed by them?
James North declines to answer for his part. I have made my farewells
to my friends, and on looking back on the pleasant hours I have spent,
felt saddened. It is not likely that I shall have many such pleasant hours.
I feel like a vagabond who, having been allowed to sit by a cheerful fireside
for a while, is turned out into the wet and windy streets, and finds them
colder than ever. What were the lines I wrote in her album?
"As some poor tavern-haunter drenched in wine
With staggering footsteps through the streets returning,
Seeing through blinding rain a beacon shine
From household lamp in happy window burning,--
"Pauses an instant at the reddened pane
To gaze on that sweet scene of love and duty,
Then turns into the wild wet night again,
Lest his sad presence mar its homely beauty."
Yes, those were the lines. With more of truth in them than she expected;
and yet what business have I sentimentalizing. My socius thinks
"what a puling fool this North is!"
So, that's over! Now for Norfolk Island and my purgation.
THE LOST HEIR.
The lost son of Sir Richard Devine had returned to England, and made claim
to his name and fortune. In other words, John Rex had successfully carried out
the scheme by which he had usurped the rights of his old convict-comrade.
Smoking his cigar in his bachelor lodgings, or pausing in a calculation
concerning a race, John Rex often wondered at the strange ease
with which he had carried out so monstrous and seemingly difficult
an imposture. After he was landed in Sydney, by the vessel which Sarah Purfoy
had sent to save him, he found himself a slave to a bondage
scarcely less galling than that from which he had escaped--the bondage
of enforced companionship with an unloved woman. The opportune death
of one of her assigned servants enabled Sarah Purfoy to instal
the escaped convict in his room. In the strange state of society
which prevailed of necessity in New South Wales at that period,
it was not unusual for assigned servants to marry among the free settlers,
and when it was heard that Mrs. Purfoy, the widow of a whaling captain,
had married John Carr, her storekeeper, transported for embezzlement,
and with two years of his sentence yet to run, no one expressed surprise.
Indeed, when the year after, John Carr blossomed into an "expiree",
master of a fine wife and a fine fortune, there were many about him
who would have made his existence in Australia pleasant enough.
But John Rex had no notion of remaining longer than he could help,
and ceaselessly sought means of escape from this second prison-house.
For a long time his search was unsuccessful. Much as she loved the scoundrel,
Sarah Purfoy did not scruple to tell him that she had bought him
and regarded him as her property. He knew that if he made any attempt
to escape from his marriage-bonds, the woman who had risked so much
to save him would not hesitate to deliver him over to the authorities,
and state how the opportune death of John Carr had enabled her to give name
and employment to John Rex, the absconder. He had thought once
that the fact of her being his wife would prevent her from giving evidence
against him, and that he could thus defy her. But she reminded him
that a word to Blunt would be all sufficient.
"I know you don't care for me now, John," she said, with grim complacency;
"but your life is in my hands, and if you desert me I will
bring you to the gallows."
In vain, in his secret eagerness to be rid of her, he raged and chafed.
He was tied hand and foot. She held his money, and her shrewd wit
had more than doubled it. She was all-powerful, and he could but wait
until her death or some lucky accident should rid him of her,
and leave him free to follow out the scheme he had matured.
"Once rid of her," he thought, in his solitary rides over the station
of which he was the nominal owner, "the rest is easy. I shall return
to England with a plausible story of shipwreck, and shall doubtless
be received with open arms by the dear mother from whom I have been
so long parted. Richard Devine shall have his own again."
To be rid of her was not so easy. Twice he tried to escape from his thraldom,
and was twice brought back. "I have bought you, John," his partner
had laughed, "and you don't get away from me. Surely you can be content
with these comforts. You were content with less once. I am not
so ugly and repulsive, am I?"
"I am home-sick," John Carr retorted. "Let us go to England, Sarah."
She tapped her strong white fingers sharply on the table. "Go to England?
No, no. That is what you would like to do. You would be master there.
You would take my money, and leave me to starve. I know you, Jack.
We stop here, dear. Here, where I can hand you over to the first trooper
as an escaped convict if you are not kind to me."
"Oh, I don't mind your abuse. Abuse me if you like, Jack. Beat me
if you will, but don't leave me, or it will be worse for you."
"You are a strange woman!" he cried, in sudden petulant admiration.
"To love such a villain? I don't know that. I love you because
you are a villain. A better man would be wearisome to such as I am."
"I wish to Heaven I'd never left Port Arthur. Better there
than this dog's life."
"Go back, then. You have only to say the word!" And so they would wrangle,
she glorying in her power over the man who had so long triumphed over her,
and he consoling himself with the hope that the day was not far distant
which should bring him at once freedom and fortune. One day the chance came
to him. His wife was ill, and the ungrateful scoundrel stole
five hundred pounds, and taking two horses reached Sydney,
and obtained passage in a vessel bound for Rio.
Having escaped thraldom, John Rex proceeded to play for the great stake
of his life with the utmost caution. He went to the Continent,
and lived for weeks together in the towns where Richard Devine
might possibly have resided, familiarizing himself with streets,
making the acquaintance of old inhabitants, drawing into his own hands
all loose ends of information which could help to knit the meshes of his net
the closer. Such loose ends were not numerous; the prodigal had been too poor,
too insignificant, to leave strong memories behind him. Yet Rex knew well
by what strange accidents the deceit of an assumed identity
is often penetrated. Some old comrade or companion of the lost heir
might suddenly appear with keen questions as to trifles which could cut
his flimsy web to shreds, as easily as the sword of Saladin divided
the floating silk. He could not afford to ignore the most insignificant
circumstances. With consummate skill, piece by piece he built up
the story which was to deceive the poor mother, and to make him possessor
of one of the largest private fortunes in England.
This was the tale he hit upon. He had been saved from the burning Hydaspes
by a vessel bound for Rio. Ignorant of the death of Sir Richard,
and prompted by the pride which was known to be a leading feature
of his character, he had determined not to return until fortune
should have bestowed upon him wealth at least equal to the inheritance
from which he had been ousted. In Spanish America he had striven
to accumulate that wealth in vain. As vequero, traveller, speculator,
sailor, he had toiled for fourteen years, and had failed. Worn out
and penitent, he had returned home to find a corner of English earth
in which to lay his weary bones. The tale was plausible enough,
and in the telling of it he was armed at all points. There was little fear
that the navigator of the captured Osprey, the man who had lived in Chile
and "cut out" cattle on the Carrum Plains, would prove lacking in knowledge
of riding, seamanship, or Spanish customs. Moreover, he had determined upon
a course of action which showed his knowledge of human nature.
The will under which Richard Devine inherited was dated in 1807,
and had been made when the testator was in the first hopeful glow
of paternity. By its terms Lady Devine was to receive a life interest
of three thousand a year in her husband's property--which was placed
in the hands of two trustees--until her eldest son died or attained the age
of twenty-five years. When either of these events should occur,
the property was to be realized, Lady Devine receiving a sum
of a hundred thousand pounds, which, invested in Consols for her benefit,
would, according to Sir Richard's prudent calculation exactly compensate
for her loss of interest, the remainder going absolutely to the son,
if living, to his children or next of kin if dead. The trustees appointed
were Lady Devine's father, Colonel Wotton Wade, and Mr. Silas Quaid,
of the firm of Purkiss and Quaid Thavies Inn, Sir Richard's solicitors.
Colonel Wade, before his death had appointed his son, Mr. Francis Wade,
to act in his stead. When Mr. Quaid died, the firm of Purkiss and Quaid
(represented in the Quaid branch of it by a smart London-bred nephew)
declined further responsibility; and, with the consent of Lady Devine,
Francis Wade continued alone in his trust. Sir Richard's sister
and her husband, Anthony Frere, of Bristol, were long ago dead,
and, as we know, their representative, Maurice Frere, content at last
in the lot that fortune had sent him, had given up all thought of meddling
with his uncle's business. John Rex, therefore, in the person
of the returned Richard, had but two persons to satisfy, his putative uncle,
Mr. Francis Wade, and his putative mother, Lady Devine.
This he found to be the easiest task possible. Francis Wade was an invalid
virtuoso, who detested business, and whose ambition was to be known
as man of taste. The possessor of a small independent income,
he had resided at North End ever since his father's death, and had made
the place a miniature Strawberry Hill. When, at his sister's urgent wish,
he assumed the sole responsibility of the estate, he put all
the floating capital into 3 per cents., and was content to see
the interest accumulate. Lady Devine had never recovered the shock
of the circumstances attending Sir Richard's death and, clinging to the belief
in her son's existence, regarded herself as the mere guardian of his interests,
to be displaced at any moment by his sudden return. The retired pair
lived thus together, and spent in charity and bric-a-brac about a fourth
of their mutual income. By both of them the return of the wanderer
was hailed with delight. To Lady Devine it meant the realization
of a lifelong hope, become part of her nature. To Francis Wade
it meant relief from a responsibility which his simplicity always secretly
loathed, the responsibility of looking after another person's money.
"I shall not think of interfering with the arrangements which you have made,
my dear uncle," said Mr. John Rex, on the first night of his reception.
"It would be most ungrateful of me to do so. My wants are very few,
and can easily be supplied. I will see your lawyers some day, and settle it."
"See them at once, Richard; see them at once. I am no man of business,
you know, but I think you will find all right."
Richard, however, put off the visit from day to day. He desired to have
as little to do with lawyers as possible. He had resolved upon his course
of action. He would get money from his mother for immediate needs,
and when that mother died he would assert his rights. "My rough life
has unfitted me for drawing-rooms, dear mother," he said. "Do not let there
be a display about my return. Give me a corner to smoke my pipe,
and I am happy." Lady Devine, with a loving tender pity, for which John Rex
could not altogether account, consented, and "Mr. Richard" soon came
to be regarded as a martyr to circumstances, a man conscious
of his own imperfections, and one whose imperfections were therefore
lightly dwelt upon. So the returned prodigal had his own suite of rooms,
his own servants, his own bank account, drank, smoked, and was merry.
For five or six months he thought himself in Paradise. Then he began
to find his life insufferably weary. The burden of hypocrisy is very heavy
to bear, and Rex was compelled perpetually to bear it. His mother demanded
all his time. She hung upon his lips; she made him repeat fifty times
the story of his wanderings. She was never tired of kissing him, of weeping
over him, and of thanking him for the "sacrifice" he had made for her.
"We promised never to speak of it more, Richard," the poor lady said one day,
"but if my lifelong love can make atonement for the wrong I have done you--"
"Hush, dearest mother," said John Rex, who did not in the least comprehend
what it was all about. "Let us say no more."
Lady Devine wept quietly for a while, and then went away, leaving the man
who pretended to be her son much bewildered and a little frightened.
There was a secret which he had not fathomed between Lady Devine and her son.
The mother did not again refer to it, and, gaining courage as the days went on,
Rex grew bold enough to forget his fears. In the first stages
of his deception he had been timid and cautious. Then the soothing influence
of comfort, respect, and security came upon him, and almost refined him.
He began to feel as he had felt when Mr. Lionel Crofton was alive.
The sensation of being ministered to by a loving woman, who kissed him
night and morning, calling him "son"--of being regarded with admiration
by rustics, with envy by respectable folk--of being deferred to
in all things--was novel and pleasing. They were so good to him
that he felt at times inclined to confess all, and leave his case
in the hands of the folk he had injured. Yet--he thought--such a course
would be absurd. It would result in no benefit to anyone, simply in misery
to himself. The true Richard Devine was buried fathoms deep
in the greedy ocean of convict-discipline, and the waves of innumerable
punishments washed over him. John Rex flattered himself that he had usurped
the name of one who was in fact no living man, and that, unless
one should rise from the dead, Richard Devine could never return to accuse him.
So flattering himself, he gradually became bolder, and by slow degrees
suffered his true nature to appear. He was violent to the servants,
cruel to dogs and horses, often wantonly coarse in speech,
and brutally regardless of the feelings of others. Governed, like most women,
solely by her feelings, Lady Devine had at first been prodigal
of her affection to the man she believed to be her injured son.
But his rash acts of selfishness, his habits of grossness and self-indulgence,
gradually disgusted her. For some time she--poor woman--fought against
this feeling, endeavouring to overcome her instincts of distaste,
and arguing with herself that to permit a detestation of her unfortunate son
to arise in her heart was almost criminal; but she was at length
forced to succumb.
For the first year Mr. Richard conducted himself with great propriety,
but as his circle of acquaintance and his confidence in himself increased,
he now and then forgot the part he was playing. One day Mr. Richard went
to pass the day with a sporting friend, only too proud to see at his table
so wealthy and wonderful a man. Mr. Richard drank a good deal more
than was good for him, and returned home in a condition of disgusting
drunkenness. I say disgusting, because some folks have the art
of getting drunk after a humorous fashion, that robs intoxication
of half its grossness. For John Rex to be drunk was to be himself--coarse
and cruel. Francis Wade was away, and Lady Devine had retired for the night,
when the dog-cart brought home "Mr. Richard". The virtuous butler-porter,
who opened the door, received a blow in the chest and a demand for "Brandy!"
The groom was cursed, and ordered to instant oblivion. Mr. Richard stumbled
into the dining-room--veiled in dim light as a dining-room
which was "sitting up" for its master ought to be--and ordered "more candles!"
The candles were brought, after some delay, and Mr. Richard amused himself
by spilling their meltings upon the carpet. "Let's have 'luminashon!"
he cried; and climbing with muddy boots upon the costly chairs,
scraping with his feet the polished table, attempted to fix the wax
in the silver sconces, with which the antiquarian tastes of Mr. Francis Wade
had adorned the room.
"You'll break the table, sir," said the servant.
"Damn the table!" said Rex. "Buy 'nother table. What's table t'you?"
"Oh, certainly, sir," replied the man.
"Oh, c'ert'nly! Why c'ert'nly? What do you know about it?"
"Oh, certainly not, sir," replied the man.
"If I had--stockwhip here--I'd make you--hic--skip! Whar's brandy?"
"Here, Mr. Richard."
"Have some! Good brandy! Send for servantsh and have dance.
D'you dance, Tomkins?"
"No, Mr. Richard."
"Then you shall dance now, Tomkins. You'll dance upon nothing one day,
Tomkins! Here! Halloo! Mary! Susan! Janet! William! Hey! Halloo!"
And he began to shout and blaspheme.
"Don't you think it's time for bed, Mr. Richard?" one of the men
ventured to suggest.
"No!" roared the ex-convict, emphatically, "I don't! I've gone to bed
at daylight far too long. We'll have 'luminashon! I'm master here.
Master everything. Richard 'Vine's my name. Isn't it, Tomkins, you villain?"
"Oh-h-h! Yes, Mr. Richard."
"Course it is, and make you know it too! I'm no painter-picture,
crockery chap. I'm genelman! Genelman seen the world! Knows what's what.
There ain't much I ain't fly to. Wait till the old woman's dead, Tomkins,
and you shall see!" More swearing, and awful threats of what the inebriate
would do when he was in possession. "Bring up some brandy!" Crash goes
the bottle in the fire-place. "Light up the droring-rooms; we'll have dance!
I'm drunk! What's that? If you'd gone through what I have,
you'd be glad to be drunk. I look a fool"--this to his image in another glass.
"I ain't though, or I wouldn't be here. Curse you, you grinning idiot"--
crash goes his fist through the mirror--"don't grin at me. Play up there!
Where's old woman? Fetch her out and let's dance!"
"Lady Devine has gone to bed, Mr. Richard," cried Tomkins,
aghast, attempting to bar the passage to the upper regions.
"Then let's have her out o' bed," cried John Rex, plunging to the door.
Tomkins, attempting to restrain him, is instantly hurled into a cabinet
of rare china, and the drunken brute essays the stairs. The other servants
seize him. He curses and fights like a demon. Doors bang open,
lights gleam, maids hover, horrified, asking if it's "fire?" and begging
for it to be "put out". The whole house is in an uproar, in the midst of which
Lady Devine appears, and looks down upon the scene. Rex catches sight of her;
and bursts into blasphemy. She withdraws, strangely terrified;
and the animal, torn, bloody, and blasphemous, is at last got into
his own apartments, the groom, whose face had been seriously damaged
in the encounter, bestowing a hearty kick on the prostrate carcase at parting.
The next morning Lady Devine declined to see her son, though he sent
a special apology to her.
"I am afraid I was a little overcome by wine last night," said he to Tomkins.
"Well, you was, sir," said Tomkins.
"A very little wine makes me quite ill, Tomkins. Did I do anything
"You was rather obstropolous, Mr. Richard."
"Here's a sovereign for you, Tomkins. Did I say anything?"
"You cussed a good deal, Mr. Richard. Most gents do when they've bin
--hum--dining out, Mr. Richard."
"What a fool I am," thought John Rex, as he dressed. "I shall spoil
everything if I don't take care." He was right. He was going the right way
to spoil everything. However, for this bout he made amends- money soothed
the servants' hall, and apologies and time won Lady Devine's forgiveness.
"I cannot yet conform to English habits, my dear mother," said Rex,
"and feel at times out of place in your quiet home. I think that--if you can
spare me a little money--I should like to travel."
Lady Devine--with a sense of relief for which she blamed herself--assented,
and supplied with letters of credit, John Rex went to Paris.
Fairly started in the world of dissipation and excess, he began
to grow reckless. When a young man, he had been singularly free
from the vice of drunkenness; turning his sobriety--as he did all his virtues--
to vicious account; but he had learnt to drink deep in the loneliness
of the bush. Master of a large sum of money, he had intended to spend it
as he would have spent it in his younger days. He had forgotten
that since his death and burial the world had not grown younger.
It was possible that Mr. Lionel Crofton might have discovered some
of the old set of fools and knaves with whom he had once mixed.
Many of them were alive and flourishing. Mr. Lemoine, for instance,
was respectably married in his native island of Jersey, and had already
threatened to disinherit a nephew who showed a tendency to dissipation.
But Mr. Lemoine would not care to recognize Mr. Lionel Crofton,
the gambler and rake, in his proper person, and it was not expedient
that his acquaintance should be made in the person of Richard Devine,
lest by some unlucky chance he should recognize the cheat. Thus
poor Lionel Crofton was compelled to lie still in his grave,
and Mr. Richard Devine, trusting to a big beard and more burly figure
to keep his secret, was compelled to begin his friendship with Mr. Lionel's
whilom friends all over again. In Paris and London there were plenty
of people ready to become hail-fellow-well-met with any gentleman
possessing money. Mr. Richard Devine's history was whispered in many a boudoir
and club-room. The history, however, was not always told in the same way.
It was generally known that Lady Devine had a son, who, being supposed
to be dead, had suddenly returned, to the confusion of his family.
But the manner of his return was told in many ways.
In the first place, Mr. Francis Wade, well-known though he was,
did not move in that brilliant circle which had lately received his nephew.
There are in England many men of fortune, as large as that left
by the old ship-builder, who are positively unknown in that little world
which is supposed to contain all the men worth knowing. Francis Wade
was a man of mark in his own coterie. Among artists, bric-a-brac sellers,
antiquarians, and men of letters he was known as a patron and man of taste.
His bankers and his lawyers knew him to be of independent fortune,
but as he neither mixed in politics, "went into society", betted,
or speculated in merchandise, there were several large sections
of the community who had never heard his name. Many respectable money-lenders
would have required "further information" before they would discount
his bills; and "clubmen" in general--save, perhaps, those ancient quidnuncs
who know everybody, from Adam downwards--had but little acquaintance with him.
The advent of Mr. Richard Devine--a coarse person of unlimited means--
had therefore chief influence upon that sinister circle of male
and female rogues who form the "half-world". They began to inquire
concerning his antecedents, and, failing satisfactory information,
to invent lies concerning him. It was generally believed that he was
a black sheep, a man whose family kept him out of the way, but who was,
in a pecuniary sense, "good" for a considerable sum.
Thus taken upon trust, Mr. Richard Devine mixed in the very best
of bad society, and had no lack of agreeable friends to help him
to spend money. So admirably did he spend it, that Francis Wade became
at last alarmed at the frequent drafts, and urged his nephew to bring
his affairs to a final settlement. Richard Devine--in Paris, Hamburg,
or London, or elsewhere--could never be got to attack business,
and Mr. Francis Wade grew more and more anxious. The poor gentleman
positively became ill through the anxiety consequent upon his nephew's
dissipations. "I wish, my dear Richard, that you would let me know
what to do," he wrote. "I wish, my dear uncle, that you would do
what you think best," was his nephew's reply.
"Will you let Purkiss and Quaid look into the business?"
said the badgered Francis.
"I hate lawyers," said Richard. "Do what you think right."
Mr. Wade began to repent of his too easy taking of matters in the beginning.
Not that he had a suspicion of Rex, but that he had remembered that Dick
was always a loose fish. The even current of the dilettante's life
became disturbed. He grew pale and hollow-eyed. His digestion was impaired.
He ceased to take the interest in china which the importance of that article
demanded. In a word, he grew despondent as to his fitness for his mission
in life. Lady Ellinor saw a change in her brother. He became morose,
peevish, excitable. She went privately to the family doctor,
who shrugged his shoulders. "There is no danger," said he, "if he is
kept quiet; keep him quiet, and he will live for years; but his father died
of heart disease, you know." Lady Ellinor, upon this, wrote a long letter
to Mr. Richard, who was at Paris, repeated the doctor's opinions,
and begged him to come over at once. Mr. Richard replied that
some horse-racing matter of great importance occupied his attention,
but that he would be at his rooms in Clarges Street (he had long ago
established a town house) on the 14th, and would "go into matters".
"I have lost a good deal of money lately, my dear mother," said Mr. Richard,
"and the present will be a good opportunity to make a final settlement."
The fact was that John Rex, now three years in undisturbed possession,
considered that the moment had arrived for the execution of his grand coup--
the carrying off at one swoop of the whole of the fortune he had gambled for.
EXTRACTED FROM THE DIARY OF THE REV. JAMES NORTH.
May 12th--landed to-day at Norfolk Island, and have been introduced to
my new abode, situated some eleven hundred miles from Sydney.
A solitary rock in the tropical ocean, the island seems, indeed, a fit place
of banishment. It is about seven miles long and four broad.
The most remarkable natural object is, of course, the Norfolk Island pine,
which rears its stately head a hundred feet above the surrounding forest.
The appearance of the place is very wild and beautiful, bringing to my mind
the description of the romantic islands of the Pacific, which old geographers
dwell upon so fondly. Lemon, lime, and guava trees abound, also oranges,
grapes, figs, bananas, peaches, pomegranates, and pine-apples.
The climate just now is hot and muggy. The approach to Kingstown--
as the barracks and huts are called--is properly difficult. A long low reef--
probably originally a portion of the barren rocks of Nepean and Philip Islands,
which rise east and west of the settlement--fronts the bay and obstructs
the entrance of vessels. We were landed in boats through an opening
in this reef, and our vessel stands on and off within signalling distance.
The surf washes almost against the walls of the military roadway that leads
to the barracks. The social aspect of the place fills me with horror.
There seems neither discipline nor order. On our way to the Commandant's house
we passed a low dilapidated building where men were grinding maize,
and at the sight of us they commenced whistling, hooting, and shouting,
using the most disgusting language. Three warders were near, but no attempt
was made to check this unseemly exhibition.
May 14th.--I sit down to write with as much reluctance as though I were
about to relate my experience of a journey through a sewer.
First to the prisoners' barracks, which stand on an area of about three
acres, surrounded by a lofty wall. A road runs between this wall and
the sea. The barracks are three storeys high, and hold seven hundred
and ninety men (let me remark here that there are more than two thousand
men on the island). There are twenty-two wards in this place. Each ward
runs the depth of the building, viz., eighteen feet, and in consequence
is simply a funnel for hot or cold air to blow through. When the ward
is filled, the men's heads lie under the windows. The largest ward
contains a hundred men, the smallest fifteen. They sleep in hammocks,
slung close to each other as on board ship, in two lines, with a passage
down the centre. There is a wardsman to each ward. He is selected by the
prisoners, and is generally a man of the worst character. He is supposed
to keep order, but of course he never attempts to do so; indeed, as he is
locked up in the ward every night from six o'clock in the evening until
sunrise, without light, it is possible that he might get maltreated did
he make himself obnoxious.
The barracks look upon the Barrack Square, which is filled with lounging
prisoners. The windows of the hospital-ward also look upon Barrack Square,
and the prisoners are in constant communication with the patients.
The hospital is a low stone building, capable of containing about twenty men,
and faces the beach. I placed my hands on the wall, and found it damp.
An ulcerous prisoner said the dampness was owing to the heavy surf
constantly rolling so close beneath the building. There are two gaols,
the old and the new. The old gaol stands near the sea, close to
the landing-place. Outside it, at the door, is the Gallows. I touched it
as I passed in. This engine is the first thing which greets the eyes
of a newly-arrived prisoner. The new gaol is barely completed,
is of pentagonal shape, and has eighteen radiating cells of a pattern
approved by some wiseacre in England, who thinks that to prevent a man
from seeing his fellowmen is not the way to drive him mad. In the old gaol
are twenty-four prisoners, all heavily ironed, awaiting trial
by the visiting Commission, from Hobart Town. Some of these poor ruffians,
having committed their offences just after the last sitting of the Commission,
have already been in gaol upwards of eleven months!
At six o'clock we saw the men mustered. I read prayers before the muster,
and was surprised to find that some of the prisoners attended,
while some strolled about the yard, whistling, singing, and joking.
The muster is a farce. The prisoners are not mustered outside
and then marched to their wards, but they rush into the barracks
indiscriminately, and place themselves dressed or undressed in their hammocks.
A convict sub-overseer then calls out the names, and somebody replies.
If an answer is returned to each name, all is considered right. The lights
are taken away, and save for a few minutes at eight o'clock,
when the good-conduct men are let in, the ruffians are left to their own
devices until morning. Knowing what I know of the customs of the convicts,
my heart sickens when I in imagination put myself in the place
of a newly-transported man, plunged from six at night until daybreak
into that foetid den of worse than wild beasts.
May 15th.--There is a place enclosed between high walls adjoining
the convict barracks, called the Lumber Yard. This is where
the prisoners mess. It is roofed on two sides, and contains tables
and benches. Six hundred men can mess here perhaps, but as seven hundred
are always driven into it, it follows that the weakest men are compelled
to sit on the ground. A more disorderly sight than this yard at meal times
I never beheld. The cook-houses are adjoining it, and the men bake
their meal-bread there. Outside the cook-house door the firewood is piled,
and fires are made in all directions on the ground, round which
sit the prisoners, frying their rations of fresh pork, baking
their hominy cakes, chatting, and even smoking.
The Lumber Yard is a sort of Alsatia, to which the hunted prisoner retires.
I don't think the boldest constable on the island would venture
into that place to pick out a man from the seven hundred. If he did go in
I don't think he would come out again alive.
May 16th.--A sub-overseer, a man named Hankey, has been talking to me.
He says that there are some forty of the oldest and worst prisoners
who form what he calls the "Ring", and that the members of this "Ring"
are bound by oath to support each other, and to avenge the punishment
of any of their number. In proof of his assertions he instanced two cases
of English prisoners who had refused to join in some crime,
and had informed the Commandant of the proceedings of the Ring.
They were found in the morning strangled in their hammocks.
An inquiry was held, but not a man out of the ninety in the ward
would speak a word. I dread the task that is before me. How can I attempt
to preach piety and morality to these men? How can I attempt
even to save the less villainous?
May 17th.--Visited the wards to-day, and returned in despair.
The condition of things is worse than I expected. It is not to be written.
The newly-arrived English prisoners--and some of their histories
are most touching--are insulted by the language and demeanour
of the hardened miscreants who are the refuse of Port Arthur
and Cockatoo Island. The vilest crimes are perpetrated as jests.
These are creatures who openly defy authority, whose language and conduct
is such as was never before seen or heard out of Bedlam. There are men
who are known to have murdered their companions, and who boast of it.
With these the English farm labourer, the riotous and ignorant mechanic,
the victim of perjury or mistake, are indiscriminately herded.
With them are mixed Chinamen from Hong Kong, the Aborigines of New Holland,
West Indian blacks, Greeks, Caffres, and Malays, soldiers for desertion,
idiots, madmen, pig-stealers, and pick-pockets. The dreadful place
seems set apart for all that is hideous and vile in our common nature.
In its recklessness, its insubordination, its filth, and its despair,
it realizes to my mind the popular notion of Hell.
May 21st.--Entered to-day officially upon my duties as Religious Instructor
at the Settlement.
An occurrence took place this morning which shows the dangerous condition
of the Ring. I accompanied Mr. Pounce to the Lumber Yard, and, on our entry,
we observed a man in the crowd round the cook-house deliberately smoking.
The Chief Constable of the Island--my old friend Troke, of Port Arthur--
seeing that this exhibition attracted Pounce's notice, pointed out the man
to an assistant. The assistant, Jacob Gimblett, advanced and desired
the prisoner to surrender the pipe. The man plunged his hands
into his pockets, and, with a gesture of the most profound contempt,
walked away to that part of the mess-shed where the "Ring" congregate.
"Take the scoundrel to gaol!" cried Troke.
No one moved, but the man at the gate that leads through the carpenter's shop
into the barracks, called to us to come out, saying that the prisoners
would never suffer the man to be taken. Pounce, however, with more
determination than I gave him credit for, kept his ground, and insisted
that so flagrant a breach of discipline should not be suffered
to pass unnoticed. Thus urged, Mr. Troke pushed through the crowd,
and made for the spot whither the man had withdrawn himself.
The yard was buzzing like a disturbed hive, and I momentarily expected
that a rush would be made upon us. In a few moments the prisoner appeared,
attended by, rather than in the custody of, the Chief Constable of the island.
He advanced to the unlucky assistant constable, who was standing close to me,
and asked, "What have you ordered me to gaol for?" The man made some reply,
advising him to go quietly, when the convict raised his fist
and deliberately felled the man to the ground. "You had better retire,
gentlemen," said Troke. "I see them getting out their knives."
We made for the gate, and the crowd closed in like a sea upon the two
constables. I fully expected murder, but in a few moments Troke and Gimblett
appeared, borne along by a mass of men, dusty, but unharmed,
and having the convict between them. He sulkily raised a hand as he passed me,
either to rectify the position of his straw hat, or to offer a tardy apology.
A more wanton, unprovoked, and flagrant outrage than that of which
this man was guilty I never witnessed. It is customary for "the old dogs",
as the experienced convicts are called, to use the most opprobrious language
to their officers, and to this a deaf ear is usually turned,
but I never before saw a man wantonly strike a constable. I fancy that
the act was done out of bravado. Troke informed me that the man's name
is Rufus Dawes, and that he is the leader of the Ring, and considered
the worst man on the island; that to secure him he (Troke) was obliged
to use the language of expostulation; and that, but for the presence of an
officer accredited by his Excellency, he dared not have acted as he had done.
This is the same man, then, whom I injured at Port Arthur. Seven years
of "discipline" don't seem to have done him much good. His sentence
is "life"--a lifetime in this place! Troke says that he was the terror
of Port Arthur, and that they sent him here when a "weeding" of the prisoners
was made. He has been here four years. Poor wretch!
May 24th.--After prayers, I saw Dawes. He was confined in the Old Gaol,
and seven others were in the cell with him. He came out at my request,
and stood leaning against the door-post. He was much changed from the man
I remember. Seven years ago he was a stalwart, upright, handsome man.
He has become a beetle-browed, sullen, slouching ruffian. His hair is grey,
though he cannot be more than forty years of age, and his frame has lost
that just proportion of parts which once made him almost graceful.
His face has also grown like other convict faces--how hideously alike
they all are!--and, save for his black eyes and a peculiar trick he had
of compressing his lips, I should not have recognized him. How habitual sin
and misery suffice to brutalize "the human face divine"! I said but little,
for the other prisoners were listening, eager, as it appeared to me,
to witness my discomfiture. It is evident that Rufus Dawes had been
accustomed to meet the ministrations of my predecessors with insolence.
I spoke to him for a few minutes, only saying how foolish it was
to rebel against an authority superior in strength to himself.
He did not answer, and the only emotion he evinced during the interview
was when I reminded him that we had met before. He shrugged one shoulder,
as if in pain or anger, and seemed about to speak, but, casting his eyes
upon the group in the cell, relapsed into silence again. I must get speech
with him alone. One can do nothing with a man if seven other devils
worse than himself are locked up with him.
I sent for Hankey, and asked him about cells. He says that the gaol
is crowded to suffocation. "Solitary confinement" is a mere name.
There are six men, each sentenced to solitary confinement, in a cell together.
The cell is called the "nunnery". It is small, and the six men were naked
to the waist when I entered, the perspiration pouring in streams
off their naked bodies! It is disgusting to write of such things.
June 26th.--Pounce has departed in the Lady Franklin for Hobart Town,
and it is rumoured that we are to have a new Commandant. The Lady Franklin
is commanded by an old man named Blunt, a protegé of Frere's, and a fellow
to whom I have taken one of my inexplicable and unreasoning dislikes.
Saw Rufus Dawes this morning. He continues sullen and morose. His papers
are very bad. He is perpetually up for punishment. I am informed
that he and a man named Eastwood, nicknamed "Jacky Jacky", glory in being
the leaders of the Ring, and that they openly avow themselves weary of life.
Can it be that the unmerited flogging which the poor creature got
at Port Arthur has aided, with other sufferings, to bring him to this
horrible state of mind? It is quite possible. Oh, James North,
remember your own crime, and pray Heaven to let you redeem one soul at least,
to plead for your own at the Judgment Seat.
June 30th.--I took a holiday this afternoon, and walked in the direction
of Mount Pitt. The island lay at my feet like--as sings Mrs. Frere's
favourite poet--"a summer isle of Eden lying in dark purple sphere of sea".
Sophocles has the same idea in the Philoctetes, but I can't quote it.
Note: I measured a pine twenty-three feet in circumference. I followed
a little brook that runs from the hills, and winds through thick undergrowths
of creeper and blossom, until it reaches a lovely valley surrounded
by lofty trees, whose branches, linked together by the luxurious grape-vine,
form an arching bower of verdure. Here stands the ruin of an old hut,
formerly inhabited by the early settlers; lemons, figs, and guavas are thick;
while amid the shrub and cane a large convolvulus is entwined,
and stars the green with its purple and crimson flowers. I sat down here,
and had a smoke. It seems that the former occupant of my rooms
at the settlement read French; for in searching for a book to bring with me--
I never walk without a book--I found and pocketed a volume of Balzac.
It proved to be a portion of the Vie Priveé series, and I stumbled upon
a story called La Fausse Maitresse. With calm belief in the Paris
of his imagination--where Marcas was a politician, Nucingen a banker,
Gobseck a money-lender, and Vautrin a candidate for some such place as this--
Balzac introduces me to a Pole by name Paz, who, loving the wife of his friend,
devotes himself to watch over her happiness and her husband's interest.
The husband gambles and is profligate. Paz informs the wife that the leanness
which hazard and debauchery have caused to the domestic exchequer
is due to his extravagance, the husband having lent him money.
She does not believe, and Paz feigns an intrigue with a circus-rider
in order to lull all suspicions. She says to her adored spouse,
"Get rid of this extravagant friend! Away with him! He is a profligate,
a gambler! A drunkard!" Paz finally departs, and when he has gone,
the lady finds out the poor Pole's worth. The story does not end
satisfactorily. Balzac was too great a master of his art for that.
In real life the curtain never falls on a comfortably-finished drama.
The play goes on eternally.
I have been thinking of the story all evening. A man who loves his friend's
wife, and devotes his energies to increase her happiness by concealing
from her her husband's follies! Surely none but Balzac would have hit upon
such a notion. "A man who loves his friend's wife."--Asmodeus,
I write no more! I have ceased to converse with thee for so long
that I blush to confess all that I have in my heart.--I will not confess it,
so that shall suffice.
EXTRACTED FROM THE DIARY OF THE REV.JAMES NORTH.
August 24th.--There has been but one entry in my journal since the 30th June,
that which records the advent of our new Commandant, who, as I expected,
is Captain Maurice Frere.
So great have been the changes which have taken place that I scarcely know
how to record them. Captain Frere has realized my worst anticipations.
He is brutal, vindictive, and domineering. His knowledge of prisons
and prisoners gives him an advantage over Burgess, otherwise he much resembles
that murderous animal. He has but one thought--to keep the prisoners
in subjection. So long as the island is quiet, he cares not whether
the men live or die. "I was sent down here to keep order," said he to me,
a few days after his arrival, "and by God, sir, I'll do it!"
He has done it, I must admit; but at a cost of a legacy of hatred to himself
that he may some day regret to have earned. He has organized three parties
of police. One patrols the fields, one is on guard at stores
and public buildings, and the third is employed as a detective force.
There are two hundred soldiers on the island. And the officer in charge,
Captain McNab, has been induced by Frere to increase their duties in many ways.
The cords of discipline are suddenly drawn tight. For the disorder
which prevailed when I landed, Frere has substituted a sudden
and excessive rigour. Any officer found giving the smallest piece of tobacco
to a prisoner is liable to removal from the island..The tobacco which grows
wild has been rooted up and destroyed lest the men should obtain a leaf of it.
The privilege of having a pannikin of hot water when the gangs came in
from field labour in the evening has been withdrawn. The shepherds,
hut-keepers, and all other prisoners, whether at the stations of Longridge
or the Cascades (where the English convicts are stationed) are forbidden
to keep a parrot or any other bird. The plaiting of straw hats
during the prisoners' leisure hours is also prohibited. At the settlement
where the "old hands" are located railed boundaries have been erected,
beyond which no prisoner must pass unless to work. Two days ago Job Dodd,
a negro, let his jacket fall over the boundary rails, crossed them
to recover it, and was severely flogged. The floggings are hideously frequent.
On flogging mornings I have seen the ground where the men stood
at the triangles saturated with blood, as if a bucket of blood had been spilled
on it, covering a space three feet in diameter, and running out
in various directions, in little streams two or three feet long.
At the same time, let me say, with that strict justice I force myself
to mete out to those whom I dislike, that the island is in a condition
of abject submission. There is not much chance of mutiny. The men go
to their work without a murmur, and slink to their dormitories
like whipped hounds to kennel. The gaols and solitary (!) cells are crowded
with prisoners, and each day sees fresh sentences for fresh crimes.
It is crime here to do anything but live.
The method by which Captain Frere has brought about this repose of desolation
is characteristic of him. He sets every man as a spy upon his neighbour,
awes the more daring into obedience by the display of a ruffianism
more outrageous than their own, and, raising the worst scoundrels
in the place to office, compels them to find "cases" for punishment.
Perfidy is rewarded. It has been made part of a convict-policeman's duty
to search a fellow-prisoner anywhere and at any time. This searching
is often conducted in a wantonly rough and disgusting manner;
and if resistance be offered, the man resisting can be knocked down
by a blow from the searcher's bludgeon. Inquisitorial vigilance
and indiscriminating harshness prevail everywhere, and the lives of hundreds
of prisoners are reduced to a continual agony of terror and self-loathing.
"It is impossible, Captain Frere," said I one day, during the initiation
of this system, "to think that these villains whom you have made constables
will do their duty."
He replied, "They must do their duty. If they are indulgent to the prisoners,
they know I shall flog 'em. If they do what I tell 'em, they'll make
themselves so hated that they'd have their own father up to the triangles
to save themselves being sent back to the ranks."
"You treat them then like slave-keepers of a wild beast den. They must flog
the animals to avoid being flogged themselves."
"Ay," said he, with his coarse laugh, "and having once flogged 'em,
they'd do anything rather than be put in the cage, don't you see!"
It is horrible to think of this sort of logic being used by a man
who has a wife, and friends and enemies. It is the logic that the
Keeper of the Tormented would use, I should think. I am sick unto death
of the place. It makes me an unbeliever in the social charities.
It takes out of penal science anything it may possess of nobility or worth.
It is cruel, debasing, inhuman.
August 26th.--Saw Rufus Dawes again to-day. His usual bearing
is ostentatiously rough and brutal. He has sunk to a depth of self-abasement
in which he takes a delight in his degradation. This condition is one
familiar to me.
He is working in the chain-gang to which Hankey was made sub-overseer.
Blind Mooney, an ophthalmic prisoner, who was removed from the gang
to hospital, told me that there was a plot to murder Hankey, but that Dawes,
to whom he had shown some kindness, had prevented it. I saw Hankey
and told him of this, asking him if he had been aware of the plot.
He said "No," falling into a great tremble. "Major Pratt promised me
a removal," said he. "I expected it would come to this."
I asked him why Dawes defended him; and after some trouble he told me,
exacting from me a promise that I would not acquaint the Commandant.
It seems that one morning last week, Hankey had gone up to Captain Frere's
house with a return from Troke, and coming back through the garden
had plucked a flower. Dawes had asked him for this flower, offering
two days' rations for it. Hankey, who is not a bad-hearted man,
gave him the sprig. "There were tears in his eyes as he took it," said he.
There must be some way to get at this man's heart, bad as he seems to be.
August 28th.--Hankey was murdered yesterday. He applied to be removed
from the gaol-gang, but Frere refused. "I never let my men 'funk'," he said.
"If they've threatened to murder you, I'll keep you there another month
in spite of 'em."
Someone who overheard this reported it to the gang, and they set upon
the unfortunate gaoler yesterday, and beat his brains out with their shovels.
Troke says that the wretch who was foremost cried, "There's for you;
and if your master don't take care, he'll get served the same
one of these days!" The gang were employed at building a reef in the sea,
and were working up to their armpits in water. Hankey fell into the surf,
and never moved after the first blow. I saw the gang, and Dawes said--
"It was Frere's fault; he should have let the man go!"
"I am surprised you did not interfere," said I.
"I did all I could," was the man's answer. "What's a life more or less, here?"
This occurrence has spread consternation among the overseers,
and they have addressed a "round robin" to the Commandant,
praying to be relieved from their positions.
The way Frere has dealt with this petition is characteristic of him,
and fills me at once with admiration and disgust. He came down with it
in his hand to the gaol-gang, walked into the yard, shut the gate, and said,
"I've just got this from my overseers. They say they're afraid
you'll murder them as you murdered Hankey. Now, if you want to murder,
murder me. Here I am. Step out, one of you." All this, said in a tone
of the most galling contempt, did not move them. I saw a dozen pairs of eyes
flash hatred, but the bull-dog courage of the man overawed them here, as,
I am told, it had done in Sydney. It would have been easy to kill him
then and there, and his death, I am told, is sworn among them;
but no one raised a finger. The only man who moved was Rufus Dawes,
and he checked himself instantly. Frere, with a recklessness of which
I did not think him capable, stepped up to this terror of the prison,
and ran his hands lightly down his sides, as is the custom with constables
when "searching" a man. Dawes--who is of a fierce temper--turned crimson
at this and, I thought, would have struck him, but he did not.
Frere then--still unarmed and alone--proceeded to the man, saying,
"Do you think of bolting again, Dawes? Have you made any more boats?"
"You Devil!" said the chained man, in a voice pregnant with such weight
of unborn murder, that the gang winced. "You'll find me one,"
said Frere, with a laugh; and, turning to me, continued, in the same
jesting tone, "There's a penitent for you, Mr. North--try your hand on him."
I was speechless at his audacity, and must have shown my disgust
in my face, for he coloured slightly, and as we were leaving the yard,
he endeavoured to excuse himself, by saying that it was no use preaching
to stones, and such doubly-dyed villains as this Dawes were past hope.
"I know the ruffian of old," said he. "He came out in the ship
from England with me, and tried to raise a mutiny on board. He was the man
who nearly murdered my wife. He has never been out of irons--except then
and when he escaped--for the last eighteen years; and as he's three
life sentences, he's like to die in 'em."
A monstrous wretch and criminal, evidently, and yet I feel
a strange sympathy with this outcast.
MR. RICHARD DEVINE SURPRISED.
The town house of Mr. Richard Devine was in Clarges Street. Not that
the very modest mansion there situated was the only establishment of which
Richard Devine was master. Mr. John Rex had expensive tastes.
He neither shot nor hunted, so he had no capital invested in Scotch moors
or Leicestershire hunting-boxes. But his stables were the wonder of London,
he owned almost a racing village near Doncaster, kept a yacht at Cowes,
and, in addition to a house in Paris, paid the rent of a villa at Brompton.
He belonged to several clubs of the faster sort, and might have lived
like a prince at any one of them had he been so minded; but a constant
and haunting fear of discovery--which three years of unquestioned ease
and unbridled riot had not dispelled--led him to prefer the privacy
of his own house, where he could choose his own society. The house
in Clarges Street was decorated in conformity with the tastes of its owner.
The pictures were pictures of horses, the books were records of races,
or novels purporting to describe sporting life. Mr. Francis Wade,
waiting, on the morning of the 20th April, for the coming of his nephew,
sighed as he thought of the cultured quiet of North End House.
Mr. Richard appeared in his dressing-gown. Three years of good living
and hard drinking had deprived his figure of its athletic beauty.
He was past forty years of age, and the sudden cessation from severe bodily
toil to which in his active life as a convict and squatter he had been
accustomed, had increased Rex's natural proneness to fat, and instead
of being portly he had become gross. His cheeks were inflamed
with the frequent application of hot and rebellious liquors to his blood.
His hands were swollen, and not so steady as of yore. His whiskers
were streaked with unhealthy grey. His eyes, bright and black as ever,
lurked in a thicket of crow's feet. He had become prematurely bald--
a sure sign of mental or bodily excess. He spoke with assumed heartiness,
in a boisterous tone of affected ease.
"Ha, ha! My dear uncle, sit down. Delighted to see you. Have you
breakfasted?--of course you have. I was up rather late last night.
Quite sure you won't have anything. A glass of wine? No--then sit down
and tell me all the news of Hampstead."
"Thank you, Richard," said the old gentleman, a little stiffly,
"but I want some serious talk with you. What do you intend to do
with the property? This indecision worries me. Either relieve me of my trust,
or be guided by my advice."
"Well, the fact is," said Richard, with a very ugly look on his face,
"the fact is--and you may as well know it at once--I am much pushed for money."
"Pushed for money!" cried Mr. Wade, in horror. "Why, Purkiss said
the property was worth twenty thousand a year."
"So it might have been--five years ago--but my horse-racing, and betting,
and other amusements, concerning which you need not too curiously inquire,
have reduced its value considerably."
He spoke recklessly and roughly. It was evident that success had but developed
his ruffianism. His "dandyism" was only comparative. The impulse of poverty
and scheming which led him to affect the "gentleman" having been removed,
the natural brutality of his nature showed itself quite freely.
Mr. Francis Wade took a pinch of snuff with a sharp motion of distaste.
"I do not want to hear of your debaucheries," he said; "our name has been
sufficiently disgraced in my hearing."
"What is got over the devil's back goes under his belly," replied Mr. Richard,
coarsely. "My old father got his money by dirtier ways than these
in which I spend it. As villainous an old scoundrel and skinflint
as ever poisoned a seaman, I'll go bail."
Mr. Francis rose. "You need not revile your father, Richard--
he left you all."
"Ay, but by pure accident. He didn't mean it. If he hadn't died in the nick
of time, that unhung murderous villain, Maurice Frere, would have
come in for it. By the way," he added, with a change of tone,
"do you ever hear anything of Maurice?"
"I have not heard for some years," said Mr. Wade. "He is something
in the Convict Department at Sydney, I think." "Is he?" said Mr. Richard,
with a shiver. "Hope he'll stop there. Well, but about business.
The fact is, that--that I am thinking of selling everything."
"Yes. 'Pon my soul I am. The Hampstead place and all."
"Sell North End House!" cried poor Mr. Wade, in bewilderment.
"You'd sell it? Why, the carvings by Grinling Gibbons are the finest
"I can't help that," laughed Mr. Richard, ringing the bell. "I want cash,
and cash I must have.--Breakfast, Smithers.--I'm going to travel."
Francis Wade was breathless with astonishment. Educated and reared
as he had been, he would as soon have thought of proposing to sell
St. Paul's Cathedral as to sell the casket which held his treasures of art--
his coins, his coffee-cups, his pictures, and his "proofs before letters".
"Surely, Richard, you are not in earnest?" he gasped.
"I am, indeed."
"But--but who will buy it?"
"Plenty of people. I shall cut it up into building allotments.
Besides, they are talking of a suburban line, with a terminus at
St. John's Wood, which will cut the garden in half. You are quite sure
you've breakfasted? Then pardon me."
"Richard, you are jesting with me! You will never let them do such a thing!"
"I'm thinking of a trip to America," said Mr. Richard, cracking an egg.
"I am sick of Europe. After all, what is the good of a man like me pretending
to belong to 'an old family', with 'a seat' and all that humbug?
Money is the thing now, my dear uncle. Hard cash! That's the ticket for soup,
you may depend."
"Then what do you propose doing, sir?"
"To buy my mother's life interest as provided, realize upon the property,
and travel," said Mr. Richard, helping himself to potted grouse.
"You amaze me, Richard. You confound me. Of course you can do as you please.
But so sudden a determination. The old house--vases--coins--pictures--
scattered--I really--Well, it is your property, of course--and--and--I wish
you a very good morning!"
"I mean to do as I please," soliloquized Rex, as he resumed his breakfast.
"Let him sell his rubbish by auction, and go and live abroad, in Germany
or Jerusalem if he likes, the farther the better for me. I'll sell
the property and make myself scarce. A trip to America will benefit my health."
A knock at the door made him start.
"Come in! Curse it, how nervous I'm getting. What's that? Letters? Give
them to me; and why the devil don't you put the brandy on the table, Smithers?"
He drank some of the spirit greedily, and then began to open
"Cussed brute," said Mr. Smithers, outside the door. "He couldn't use
wuss langwidge if he was a dook, dam 'im!--Yessir," he added, suddenly,
as a roar from his master recalled him.
"When did this come?" asked Mr. Richard, holding out a letter more than
usually disfigured with stampings.
"Lars night, sir. It's bin to 'Amstead, sir, and come down directed
with the h'others." The angry glare of the black eyes induced him to add,
"I 'ope there's nothink wrong, sir."
"Nothing, you infernal ass and idiot," burst out Mr. Richard, white with rage,
"except that I should have had this instantly. Can't you see it's marked
urgent? Can you read? Can you spell? There, that will do. No lies.
Left to himself again, Mr. Richard walked hurriedly up and down the chamber,
wiped his forehead, drank a tumbler of brandy, and finally sat down
and re-read the letter. It was short, but terribly to the purpose.
"THE GEORGE HOTEL, PLYMOUTH,"
17th April, 1846.
"MY DEAR JACK,--
"I have found you out, you see. Never mind how just
at present. I know all about your proceedings,
and unless Mr. Richard Devine receives his "wife"
with due propriety, he'll find himself in the custody
of the police. Telegraph, dear, to Mrs. Richard Devine,
at above address.
"Yours as ever, Jack,
"To Richard Devine, Esq.,
"North End House,
The blow was unexpected and severe. It was hard, in the very high tide
and flush of assured success, to be thus plucked back into the old bondage.
Despite the affectionate tone of the letter, he knew the woman with whom
he had to deal. For some furious minutes he sat motionless, gazing
at the letter. He did not speak--men seldom do under such circumstances--
but his thoughts ran in this fashion: "Here is this cursed woman again!
Just as I was congratulating myself on my freedom. How did she discover me?
Small use asking that. What shall I do? I can do nothing. It is absurd
to run away, for I shall be caught. Besides, I've no money. My account
at Mastermann's is overdrawn two thousand pounds. If I bolt at all,
I must bolt at once--within twenty-four hours. Rich as I am, I don't suppose
I could raise more than five thousand pounds in that time. These things
take a day or two, say forty-eight hours. In forty-eight hours
I could raise twenty thousand pounds, but forty-eight hours is too long.
Curse the woman! I know her! How in the fiend's name did she discover me?
It's a bad job. However, she's not inclined to be gratuitiously disagreeable.
How lucky I never married again! I had better make terms and trust to fortune.
After all, she's been a good friend to me.--Poor Sally!--I might have rotted
on that infernal Eaglehawk Neck if it hadn't been for her. She is not
a bad sort. Handsome woman, too. I may make it up with her. I shall have
to sell off and go away after all.--It might be worse.--I dare say
the property's worth three hundred thousand pounds. Not bad for a start
in America. And I may get rid of her yet. Yes. I must give in.--Oh,
curse her!--[ringing the bell]--Smithers!" [Smithers appears.]
"A telegraph form and a cab! Stay. Pack me a dressing-bag. I shall be away
for a day or so. [Sotto voce]--I'd better see her myself. --[ Aloud]--Bring
me a Bradshaw! [Sotto voce]--Damn the woman."
IN WHICH THE CHAPLAIN IS TAKEN ILL.
Though the house of the Commandant of Norfolk Island was comfortable
and well furnished, and though, of necessity, all that was most hideous
in the "discipline" of the place was hidden, the loathing with which Sylvia
had approached the last and most dreaded abiding place of the elaborate
convict system, under which it had been her misfortune to live,
had not decreased. The sights and sounds of pain and punishment
surrounded her. She could not look out of her windows without a shudder.
She dreaded each evening when her husband returned, lest he should blurt out
some new atrocity. She feared to ask him in the morning whither he was going,
lest he should thrill her with the announcement of some fresh punishment.
"I wish, Maurice, we had never come here," said she, piteously,
when he recounted to her the scene of the gaol-gang. "These unhappy men
will do you some frightful injury one of these days."
"Stuff!" said her husband. "They've not the courage. I'd take the best man
among them, and dare him to touch me."
"I cannot think how you like to witness so much misery and villainy.
It is horrible to think of."
"Our tastes differ, my dear.--Jenkins! Confound you! Jenkins, I say."
The convict-servant entered. "Where is the charge-book? I've told you always
to have it ready for me. Why don't you do as you are told? You idle,
lazy scoundrel! I suppose you were yarning in the cookhouse, or--"
"If you please, sir."
"Don't answer me, sir. Give me the book." Taking it and running his finger
down the leaves, he commented on the list of offences to which he would
be called upon in the morning to mete out judgment.
"Meer-a-seek, having a pipe--the rascally Hindoo scoundrel!--Benjamin Pellett,
having fat in his possession. Miles Byrne, not walking fast enough.--
We must enliven Mr. Byrne. Thomas Twist, having a pipe and striking a light.
W. Barnes, not in place at muster; says he was 'washing himself'--
I'll wash him! John Richards, missing muster and insolence. John Gateby,
insolence and insubordination. James Hopkins, insolence and foul language.
Rufus Dawes, gross insolence, refusing to work.--Ah! we must look after you.
You are a parson's man now, are you? I'll break your spirit, my man,
"Your friend Dawes is doing credit to his bringing up."
"What do you mean?"
"That infernal villain and reprobate, Dawes. He is fitting himself faster
for--" She interrupted him. "Maurice, I wish you would not use such language.
You know I dislike it." She spoke coldly and sadly, as one who knows
that remonstrance is vain, and is yet constrained to remonstrate.
"Oh, dear! My Lady Proper! can't bear to hear her husband swear.
How refined we're getting!"
"There, I did not mean to annoy you," said she, wearily. "Don't let us
quarrel, for goodness' sake."
He went away noisily, and she sat looking at the carpet wearily.
A noise roused her. She looked up and saw North. Her face beamed instantly.
"Ah! Mr. North, I did not expect you. What brings you here? You'll stay
to dinner, of course." (She rang the bell without waiting for a reply.)
"Mr. North dines here; place a chair for him. And have you brought me
the book? I have been looking for it."
"Here it is," said North, producing a volume of 'Monte Cristo'.
She seized the book with avidity, and, after running her eyes over the pages,
turned inquiringly to the fly-leaf.
"It belongs to my predecessor," said North, as though in answer to her thought.
"He seems to have been a great reader of French. I have found many
French novels of his."
"I thought clergymen never read French novels," said Sylvia, with a smile.
"There are French novels and French novels," said North. "Stupid people
confound the good with the bad. I remember a worthy friend of mine
in Sydney who soundly abused me for reading 'Rabelais', and when I asked him
if he had read it, he said that he would sooner cut his hand off than open it.
Admirable judge of its merits!"
"But is this really good? Papa told me it was rubbish."
"It is a romance, but, in my opinion, a very fine one. The notion
of the sailor being taught in prison by the priest, and sent back into the
world an accomplished gentleman, to work out his vengeance, is superb."
"No, now--you are telling me," laughed she; and then, with feminine perversity,
"Go on, what is the story?"
"Only that of an unjustly imprisoned man, who, escaping by a marvel,
and becoming rich--as Dr. Johnson says, 'beyond the dreams of avarice'--
devotes his life and fortune to revenge himself."
"And does he?"
"He does, upon all his enemies save one."
"And he--?" "She--was the wife of his greatest enemy, and Dantès spared her
because he loved her."
Sylvia turned away her head. "It seems interesting enough," said she, coldly.
There was an awkward silence for a moment, which each seemed afraid to break.
North bit his lips, as though regretting what he had said. Mrs. Frere
beat her foot on the floor, and at length, raising her eyes,
and meeting those of the clergyman fixed upon her face, rose hurriedly,
and went to meet her returning husband.
"Come to dinner, of course!" said Frere, who, though he disliked the clergyman,
yet was glad of anybody who would help him to pass a cheerful evening.
"I came to bring Mrs. Frere a book."
"Ah! She reads too many books; she's always reading books. It is not
a good thing to be always poring over print, is it, North? You have
some influence with her; tell her so. Come, I am hungry."
He spoke with that affectation of jollity with which husbands of his calibre
veil their bad temper.
Sylvia had her defensive armour on in a twinkling. "Of course,
you two men will be against me. When did two men ever disagree upon
the subject of wifely duties? However, I shall read in spite of you.
Do you know, Mr. North, that when I married I made a special agreement
with Captain Frere that I was not to be asked to sew on buttons for him?"
"Indeed!" said North, not understanding this change of humour.
"And she never has from that hour," said Frere, recovering his suavity
at the sight of food. "I never have a shirt fit to put on. Upon my word,
there are a dozen in the drawer now."
North perused his plate uncomfortably. A saying of omniscient Balzac
occurred to him. "Le grand écueil est le ridicule," and his mind began
to sound all sorts of philosophical depths, not of the most clerical character.
After dinner Maurice launched out into his usual topic--convict discipline.
It was pleasant for him to get a listener; for his wife, cold
and unsympathetic, tacitly declined to enter into his schemes for the subduing
of the refractory villains. "You insisted on coming here," she would say.
"I did not wish to come. I don't like to talk of these things. Let us talk
of something else." When she adopted this method of procedure, he had
no alternative but to submit, for he was afraid of her, after a fashion.
In this ill-assorted match he was only apparently the master. He was
a physical tyrant. For him, a creature had but to be weak to be an object
of contempt; and his gross nature triumphed over the finer one of his wife.
Love had long since died out of their life. The young, impulsive,
delicate girl, who had given herself to him seven years before,
had been changed into a weary, suffering woman. The wife is what her husband
makes her, and his rude animalism had made her the nervous invalid she was.
Instead of love, he had awakened in her a distaste which at times amounted to
disgust. We have neither the skill nor the boldness of that
profound philosopher whose autopsy of the human heart awoke North's
contemplation, and we will not presume to set forth in bare English
the story of this marriage of the Minotaur. Let it suffice to say
that Sylvia liked her husband least when he loved her most. In this repulsion
lay her power over him. When the animal and spiritual natures cross
each other, the nobler triumphs in fact if not in appearance. Maurice Frere,
though his wife obeyed him, knew that he was inferior to her, and was afraid
of the statue he had created. She was ice, but it was the artificial ice
that chemists make in the midst of a furnace. Her coldness was at once
her strength and her weakness. When she chilled him, she commanded him.
Unwitting of the thoughts that possessed his guest, Frere chatted amicably.
North said little, but drank a good deal. The wine, however, rendered him
silent, instead of talkative. He drank that he might forget unpleasant
memories, and drank without accomplishing his object. When the pair proceeded
to the room where Mrs. Frere awaited them, Frere was boisterously
good-humoured, North silently misanthropic.
"Sing something, Sylvia!" said Frere, with the ease of possession,
as one who should say to a living musical-box, "Play something."
"Oh, Mr. North doesn't care for music, and I'm not inclined to sing.
Singing seems out of place here."
"Nonsense," said Frere. "Why should it be more out of place here
than anywhere else?"
"Mrs. Frere means that mirth is in a manner unsuited to these melancholy
surroundings," said North, out of his keener sense.
"Melancholy surroundings!" cried Frere, staring in turn at the piano,
the ottomans, and the looking-glass. "Well, the house isn't as good
as the one in Sydney, but it's comfortable enough."
"You don't understand me, Maurice," said Sylvia. "This place is very gloomy
to me. The thought of the unhappy men who are ironed and chained all about us
makes me miserable."
"What stuff!" said Frere, now thoroughly roused. "The ruffians deserve
all they get and more. Why should you make yourself wretched about them?"
"Poor men! How do we know the strength of their temptation,
the bitterness of their repentance?"
"Evil-doers earn their punishment," says North, in a hard voice,
and taking up a book suddenly. "They must learn to bear it.
No repentance can undo their sin."
"But surely there is mercy for the worst of evil-doers," urged Sylvia, gently.
North seemed disinclined or unable to reply, and nodded only.
"Mercy!" cried Frere. "I am not here to be merciful; I am here to keep
these scoundrels in order, and by the Lord that made me, I'll do it!"
"Maurice, do not talk like that. Think how slight an accident might
have made any one of us like one of these men. What is the matter, Mr. North?"
Mr. North has suddenly turned pale.
"Nothing," returned the clergyman, gasping--"a sudden faintness!"
The windows were thrown open, and the chaplain gradually recovered,
as he did in Burgess's parlour, at Port Arthur, seven years ago.
"I am liable to these attacks. A touch of heart disease, I think.
I shall have to rest for a day or so." "Ah, take a spell," said Frere;
"you overwork yourself."
North, sitting, gasping and pale, smiles in a ghastly manner. "I--I will.
If I do not appear for a week, Mrs. Frere, you will know the reason."
"A week! Surely it will not last so long as that!" exclaims Sylvia.
The ambiguous "it" appears to annoy him, for he flushes painfully,
replying, "Sometimes longer. It is, a--um--uncertain," in a confused
and shame-faced manner, and is luckily relieved by the entry of Jenkins.
"A message from Mr. Troke, sir."
"Troke! What's the matter now?"
"Dawes, sir, 's been violent and assaulted Mr. Troke. Mr. Troke said
you'd left orders to be told at onst of the insubordination of prisoners."
"Quite right. Where is he?" "In the cells, I think, sir. They had a hard
fight to get him there, I am told, your honour."
"Had they? Give my compliments to Mr. Troke, and tell him that I shall have
the pleasure of breaking Mr. Dawes's spirit to-morrow morning at nine sharp."
"Maurice," said Sylvia, who had been listening to the conversation
in undisguised alarm, "do me a favour? Do not torment this man."
"What makes you take a fancy to him?" asks her husband, with sudden
"Because his is one of the names which have been from my childhood
synonymous with suffering and torture, because whatever wrong he may have done,
his life-long punishment must have in some degree atoned for it."
She spoke with an eager pity in her face that transfigured it. North,
devouring her with his glance, saw tears in her eyes. "Does this look
as if he had made atonement?" said Frere coarsely, slapping the letter.
"He is a bad man, I know, but--" she passed her hand over her forehead
with the old troubled gesture--"he cannot have been always bad.
I think I have heard some good of him somewhere."
"Nonsense," said Frere, rising decisively. "Your fancies mislead you.
Let me hear you no more. The man is rebellious, and must be lashed back again
to his duty. Come, North, we'll have a nip before you start."
"Mr. North, will not you plead for me?" suddenly cried poor Sylvia,
her self-possession overthrown. "You have a heart to pity these
But North, who seemed to have suddenly recalled his soul from some place
where it had been wandering, draws himself aside, and with dry lips
makes shift to say, "I cannot interfere with your husband, madam,"
and goes out almost rudely.
"You've made old North quite ill," said Frere, when he by-and-by returns,
hoping by bluff ignoring of roughness on his own part to avoid reproach
from his wife. "He drank half a bottle of brandy to steady his nerves
before he went home, and swung out of the house like one possessed."
But Sylvia, occupied with her own thoughts, did not reply.
BREAKING A MAN'S SPIRIT.
The insubordination of which Rufus Dawes had been guilty was, in this instance,
insignificant. It was the custom of the newly-fledged constables
of Captain Frere to enter the wards at night, armed with cutlasses,
tramping about, and making a great noise. Mindful of the report of Pounce,
they pulled the men roughly from their hammocks, examined their persons
for concealed tobacco, and compelled them to open their mouths to see
if any was inside. The men in Dawes's gang--to which Mr. Troke had
an especial objection--were often searched more than once in a night,
searched going to work, searched at meals, searched going to prayers,
searched coming out, and this in the roughest manner. Their sleep broken,
and what little self-respect they might yet presume to retain harried
out of them, the objects of this incessant persecution were ready to turn
upon and kill their tormentors.
The great aim of Troke was to catch Dawes tripping, but the leader
of the "Ring" was far too wary. In vain had Troke, eager to sustain
his reputation for sharpness, burst in upon the convict at all times
and seasons. He had found nothing. In vain had he laid traps for him;
in vain had he "planted" figs of tobacco, and attached long threads to them,
waited in a bush hard by, until the pluck at the end of his line should give
token that the fish had bitten. The experienced "old hand" was too acute
for him. Filled with disgust and ambition, he determined upon
an ingenious little trick. He was certain that Dawes possessed tobacco;
the thing was to find it upon him. Now, Rufus Dawes, holding aloof,
as was his custom, from the majority of his companions, had made one friend--
if so mindless and battered an old wreck could be called a friend--
Blind Mooney. Perhaps this oddly-assorted friendship was brought about
by two causes--one, that Mooney was the only man on the island who knew more
of the horrors of convictism than the leader of the Ring; the other,
that Mooney was blind, and, to a moody, sullen man, subject to violent fits
of passion and a constant suspicion of all his fellow-creatures,
a blind companion was more congenial than a sharp-eyed one.
Mooney was one of the "First Fleeters". He had arrived in Sydney
fifty-seven years before, in the year 1789, and when he was transported
he was fourteen years old. He had been through the whole round of servitude,
had worked as a bondsman, had married, and been "up country", had been
again sentenced, and was a sort of dismal patriarch of Norfolk Island,
having been there at its former settlement. He had no friends.
His wife was long since dead, and he stated, without contradiction,
that his master, having taken a fancy to her, had despatched the
uncomplaisant husband to imprisonment. Such cases were not uncommon.
One of the many ways in which Rufus Dawes had obtained the affection
of the old blind man was a gift of such fragments of tobacco as he had himself
from time to time secured. Troke knew this; and on the evening in question
hit upon an excellent plan. Admitting himself noiselessly into the boat-shed,
where the gang slept, he crept close to the sleeping Dawes, and counterfeiting
Mooney's mumbling utterance asked for "some tobacco". Rufus Dawes was
but half awake, and on repeating his request, Troke felt something
put into his hand. He grasped Dawes's arm, and struck a light.
He had got his man this time. Dawes had conveyed to his fancied friend
a piece of tobacco almost as big as the top joint of his little finger.
One can understand the feelings of a man entrapped by such base means.
Rufus Dawes no sooner saw the hated face of Warder Troke peering over
his hammock, then he sprang out, and exerting to the utmost his powerful
muscles, knocked Mr. Troke fairly off his legs into the arms of the
in-coming constables. A desperate struggle took place, at the end
of which the convict, overpowered by numbers, was borne senseless
to the cells, gagged, and chained to the ring-bolt on the bare flags.
While in this condition he was savagely beaten by five or six constables.
To this maimed and manacled rebel was the Commandant ushered
by Troke the next morning.
"Ha! ha! my man," said the Commandant. "Here you are again, you see.
How do you like this sort of thing?"
Dawes, glaring, makes no answer.
"You shall have fifty lashes, my man," said Frere. "We'll see how you feel
then!" The fifty were duly administered, and the Commandant called
the next day. The rebel was still mute.
"Give him fifty more, Mr. Troke. We'll see what he's made of."
One hundred and twenty lashes were inflicted in the course of the morning,
but still the sullen convict refused to speak. He was then treated
to fourteen days' solitary confinement in one of the new cells.
On being brought out and confronted with his tormentor, he merely laughed.
For this he was sent back for another fourteen days; and still
remaining obdurate, was flogged again, and got fourteen days more.
Had the chaplain then visited him, he might have found him open
to consolation, but the chaplain--so it was stated--was sick.
When brought out at the conclusion of his third confinement,
he was found to be in so exhausted a condition that the doctor ordered him
to hospital. As soon as he was sufficiently recovered, Frere visited him,
and finding his "spirit" not yet "broken", ordered that he should be put
to grind maize. Dawes declined to work. So they chained his hand
to one arm of the grindstone and placed another prisoner at the other arm.
As the second prisoner turned, the hand of Dawes of course revolved.
"You're not such a pebble as folks seemed to think," grinned Frere,
pointing to the turning wheel.
Upon which the indomitable poor devil straightened his sorely-tried muscles,
and prevented the wheel from turning at all. Frere gave him fifty
more lashes, and sent him the next day to grind cayenne pepper.
This was a punishment more dreaded by the convicts than any other.
The pungent dust filled their eyes and lungs, causing them the
most excruciating torments. For a man with a raw back the work was
one continued agony. In four days Rufus Dawes, emaciated, blistered,
blinded, broke down.
"For God's sake, Captain Frere, kill me at once!" he said.
"No fear," said the other, rejoiced at this proof of his power.
"You've given in; that's all I wanted. Troke, take him off to the hospital."
When he was in hospital, North visited him.
"I would have come to see you before," said the clergyman,
"but I have been very ill."
In truth he looked so. He had had a fever, it seemed, and they had shaved
his beard, and cropped his hair. Dawes could see that the haggard,
wasted man had passed through some agony almost as great as his own.
The next day Frere visited him, complimented him on his courage,
and offered to make him a constable. Dawes turned his scarred back
to his torturer, and resolutely declined to answer.
"I am afraid you have made an enemy of the Commandant," said North,
the next day. "Why not accept his offer?"
Dawes cast on him a glance of quiet scorn. "And betray my mates?
I'm not one of that sort."
The clergyman spoke to him of hope, of release, of repentance,
and redemption. The prisoner laughed. "Who's to redeem me?"
he said, expressing his thoughts in phraseology that to ordinary folks
might seem blasphemous. "It would take a Christ to die again to save
such as I."
North spoke to him of immortality. "There is another life,"
said he. "Do not risk your chance of happiness in it. You have a future
to live for, man."
"I hope not," said the victim of the "system". "I want to rest--to rest,
and never to be disturbed again."
His "spirit" was broken enough by this time. Yet he had resolution enough
to refuse Frere's repeated offers. "I'll never 'jump' it," he said to North,
"if they cut me in half first."
North pityingly implored the stubborn mind to have mercy on the lacerated body,
but without effect. His own wayward heart gave him the key to read the cipher
of this man's life. "A noble nature ruined," said he to himself.
"What is the secret of his history?"
Dawes, on his part, seeing how different from other black coats was
this priest--at once so ardent and so gloomy, so stern and so tender--began to
speculate on the cause of his monitor's sunken cheeks, fiery eyes,
and pre-occupied manner, to wonder what grief inspired those agonized prayers,
those eloquent and daring supplications, which were daily poured out
over his rude bed. So between these two--the priest and the sinner--was
a sort of sympathetic bond.
One day this bond was drawn so close as to tug at both their heart-strings.
The chaplain had a flower in his coat. Dawes eyed it with hungry looks,
and, as the clergyman was about to quit the room, said, "Mr. North,
will you give me that rosebud?" North paused irresolutely, and finally,
as if after a struggle with himself, took it carefully from his button-hole,
and placed it in the prisoner's brown, scarred hand. In another instant Dawes,
believing himself alone, pressed the gift to his lips. North returned
abruptly, and the eyes of the pair met. Dawes flushed crimson,
but North turned white as death. Neither spoke, but each was drawn close
to the other, since both had kissed the rosebud plucked by Sylvia's fingers.
EXTRACTED FROM THE DIARY OF THE REV. JAMES NORTH.
October 21st.--I am safe for another six months if I am careful, for my last
bout lasted longer than I expected. I suppose one of these days I shall
have a paroxysm that will kill me. I shall not regret it.
I wonder if this familiar of mine--I begin to detest the expression--will
accuse me of endeavouring to make a case for myself if I say that I believe
my madness to be a disease? I do believe it. I honestly can no more help
getting drunk than a lunatic can help screaming and gibbering.
It would be different with me, perhaps, were I a contented man,
happily married, with children about me, and family cares to distract me.
But as I am--a lonely, gloomy being, debarred from love, devoured by spleen,
and tortured with repressed desires--I become a living torment to myself.
I think of happier men, with fair wives and clinging children, of men who
are loved and who love, of Frere for instance--and a hideous wild beast seems
to stir within me, a monster, whose cravings cannot be satisfied,
can only be drowned in stupefying brandy.
Penitent and shattered, I vow to lead a new life; to forswear spirits,
to drink nothing but water. Indeed, the sight and smell of brandy make me ill.
All goes well for some weeks, when I grow nervous, discontented, moody.
I smoke, and am soothed. But moderation is not to be thought of;
little by little I increase the dose of tobacco. Five pipes a day become
six or seven. Then I count up to ten and twelve, then drop to three or four,
then mount to eleven at a leap; then lose count altogether. Much smoking
excites the brain. I feel clear, bright, gay. My tongue is parched
in the morning, however, and I use liquor to literally "moisten my clay".
I drink wine or beer in moderation, and all goes well. My limbs regain
their suppleness, my hands their coolness, my brain its placidity.
I begin to feel that I have a will. I am confident, calm, and hopeful.
To this condition succeeds one of the most frightful melancholy.
I remain plunged, for an hour together, in a stupor of despair.
The earth, air, sea, all appear barren, colourless. Life is a burden.
I long to sleep, and sleeping struggle to awake, because of the awful dreams
which flap about me in the darkness. At night I cry, "Would to God
it were morning!" In the morning, "Would to God it were evening!"
I loathe myself, and all around me. I am nerveless, passionless, bowed down
with a burden like the burden of Saul. I know well what will restore me
to life and ease--restore me, but to cast me back again into a deeper fit
of despair. I drink. One glass--my blood is warmed, my heart leaps,
my hand no longer shakes. Three glasses--I rise with hope in my soul,
the evil spirit flies from me. I continue--pleasing images flock to my brain,
the fields break into flower, the birds into song, the sea gleams sapphire,
the warm heaven laughs. Great God! what man could withstand
a temptation like this?
By an effort, I shake off the desire to drink deeper, and fix my thoughts
on my duties, on my books, on the wretched prisoners. I succeed perhaps
for a time; but my blood, heated by the wine which is at once my poison
and my life, boils in my veins. I drink again, and dream. I feel all
the animal within me stirring. In the day my thoughts wander to all
monstrous imaginings. The most familiar objects suggest to me
loathsome thoughts. Obscene and filthy images surround me. My nature seems
changed. By day I feel myself a wolf in sheep's clothing; a man possessed
by a devil, who is ready at any moment to break out and tear him to pieces.
At night I become a satyr. While in this torment I at once hate
and fear myself. One fair face is ever before me, gleaming through
my hot dreams like a flying moon in the sultry midnight of a tropic storm.
I dare not trust myself in the presence of those whom I love and respect,
lest my wild thoughts should find vent in wilder words. I lose my humanity.
I am a beast. Out of this depth there is but one way of escape. Downwards.
I must drench the monster I have awakened until he sleeps again.
I drink and become oblivious. In these last paroxysms there is nothing
for me but brandy. I shut myself up alone and pour down my gullet
huge draughts of spirit. It mounts to my brain. I am a man again!
and as I regain my manhood, I topple over--dead drunk.
But the awakening! Let me not paint it. The delirium, the fever,
the self-loathing, the prostration, the despair. I view in the looking-glass
a haggard face, with red eyes. I look down upon shaking hands,
flaccid muscles, and shrunken limbs. I speculate if I shall ever be
one of those grotesque and melancholy beings, with bleared eyes
and running noses, swollen bellies and shrunken legs! Ugh!--it is too likely.
October 22nd.--Have spent the day with Mrs. Frere. She is evidently eager
to leave the place--as eager as I am. Frere rejoices in his murderous power,
and laughs at her expostulations. I suppose men get tired of their wives.
In my present frame of mind I am at a loss to understand how a man
could refuse a wife anything.
I do not think she can possibly care for him. I am not a selfish
sentimentalist, as are the majority of seducers. I would take no woman
away from a husband for mere liking. Yet I think there are cases
in which a man who loved would be justified in making a woman happy
at the risk of his own--soul, I suppose.
Making her happy! Ay, that's the point. Would she be happy? There are few
men who can endure to be "cut", slighted, pointed at, and women suffer
more than men in these regards. I, a grizzled man of forty, am not such
an arrant ass as to suppose that a year of guilty delirium can compensate
to a gently-nurtured woman for the loss of that social dignity
which constitutes her best happiness. I am not such an idiot as to forget
that there may come a time when the woman I love may cease to love me,
and having no tie of self-respect, social position, or family duty,
to bind her, may inflict upon her seducer that agony which he has taught her
to inflict upon her husband. Apart from the question of the sin
of breaking the seventh commandment, I doubt if the worst husband
and the most unhappy home are not better, in this social condition
of ours, than the most devoted lover. A strange subject this for a clergyman
to speculate upon! If this diary should ever fall into the hands
of a real God-fearing, honest booby, who never was tempted to sin
by finding that at middle-age he loved the wife of another,
how he would condemn me! And rightly, of course.
November 4th.--In one of the turnkey's rooms in the new gaol is to be seen
an article of harness, which at first creates surprise to the mind
of the beholder, who considers what animal of the brute creation exists
of so diminutive a size as to admit of its use. On inquiry, it will be found
to be a bridle, perfect in head-band, throat-lash, etc., for a human being.
There is attached to this bridle a round piece of cross wood,
of almost four inches in length, and one and a half in diameter.
This again, is secured to a broad strap of leather to cross the mouth.
In the wood there is a small hole, and, when used, the wood is inserted
in the mouth, the small hole being the only breathing space.
This being secured with the various straps and buckles, a more complete bridle
could not be well imagined.
I was in the gaol last evening at eight o'clock. I had been to see
Rufus Dawes, and returning, paused for a moment to speak to Hailey.
Gimblett, who robbed Mr. Vane of two hundred pounds, was present,
he was at that time a turnkey, holding a third-class pass, and in receipt
of two shillings per diem. Everything was quite still. I could not help
remarking how quiet the gaol was, when Gimblett said, "There's someone
speaking. I know who that is." And forthwith took from its pegs
one of the bridles just described, and a pair of handcuffs.
I followed him to one of the cells, which he opened, and therein was a man
lying on his straw mat, undressed, and to all appearance fast asleep.
Gimblett ordered him to get up and dress himself. He did so,
and came into the yard, where Gimblett inserted the iron-wood gag
in his mouth. The sound produced by his breathing through it
(which appeared to be done with great difficulty) resembled a low,
indistinct whistle. Gimblett led him to the lamp-post in the yard,
and I saw that the victim of his wanton tyranny was the poor blind wretch
Mooney. Gimblett placed him with his back against the lamp-post,
and his arms being taken round, were secured by handcuffs round the post.
I was told that the old man was to remain in this condition for three hours.
I went at once to the Commandant. He invited me into his drawing-room--
an invitation which I had the good sense to refuse--but refused to listen
to any plea for mercy. "The old impostor is always making his blindness
an excuse for disobedience," said he.--And this is her husband.
THE LONGEST STRAW.
Rufus Dawes hearing, when "on the chain" the next day, of the wanton
torture of his friend, uttered no threat of vengeance, but groaned only.
"I am not so strong as I was," said he, as if in apology for his lack
of spirit. "They have unnerved me." And he looked sadly down
at his gaunt frame and trembling hands.
"I can't stand it no longer," said Mooney, grimly. "I've spoken to Bland,
and he's of my mind. You know what we resolved to do. Let's do it."
Rufus Dawes stared at the sightless orbs turned inquiringly to his own.
The fingers of his hand, thrust into his bosom, felt a token which lay there.
A shudder thrilled him. "No, no. Not now," he said.
"You're not afeard, man?" asked Mooney, stretching out his hand
in the direction of the voice. "You're not going to shirk?" The other
avoided the touch, and shrank away, still staring. "You ain't going to
back out after you swored it, Dawes? You're not that sort. Dawes, speak, man!"
"Is Bland willing?" asked Dawes, looking round, as if to seek some method
of escape from the glare of those unspeculative eyes.
"Ay, and ready. They flogged him again yesterday."
"Leave it till to-morrow," said Dawes, at length.
"No; let's have it over," urged the old man, with a strange eagerness.
"I'm tired o' this."
Rufus Dawes cast a wistful glance towards the wall behind which lay
the house of the Commandant. "Leave it till to-morrow," he repeated,
with his hand still in his breast.
They had been so occupied in their conversation that neither had observed
the approach of their common enemy. "What are you hiding there?"
cried Frere, seizing Dawes by the wrist. "More tobacco, you dog?"
The hand of the convict, thus suddenly plucked from his bosom,
opened involuntarily, and a withered rose fell to the earth.
Frere at once, indignant and astonished, picked it up. "Hallo!
What the devil's this? You've not been robbing my garden for a nosegay,
Jack?" The Commandant was wont to call all convicts "Jack" in his moments
of facetiousness. It was a little humorous way he had.
Rufus Dawes uttered one dismal cry, and then stood trembling and cowed.
His companions, hearing the exclamation of rage and grief that burst from him,
looked to see him snatch back the flower or perform some act of violence.
Perhaps such was his intention, but he did not execute it.
One would have thought that there was some charm about this rose
so strangely cherished, for he stood gazing at it, as it twirled between
Captain Frere's strong fingers, as though it fascinated him.
"You're a pretty man to want a rose for your buttonhole! Are you going out
with your sweetheart next Sunday, Mr. Dawes?" The gang laughed.
"How did you get this?" Dawes was silent. "You'd better tell me." No answer.
"Troke, let us see if we can't find Mr. Dawes's tongue. Pull off your shirt,
my man. I expect that's the way to your heart--eh, boys?"
At this elegant allusion to the lash, the gang laughed again,
and looked at each other astonished. It seemed possible that the leader
of the "Ring" was going to turn milksop. Such, indeed, appeared to be
the case, for Dawes, trembling and pale, cried, "Don't flog me again,
sir! I picked it up in the yard. It fell out of your coat one day."
Frere smiled with an inward satisfaction at the result of his spirit-breaking.
The explanation was probably the correct one. He was in the habit
of wearing flowers in his coat and it was impossible that the convict
should have obtained one by any other means. Had it been a fig of tobacco now,
the astute Commandant knew plenty of men who would have brought it
into the prison. But who would risk a flogging for so useless a thing
as a flower? "You'd better not pick up any more, Jack," he said.
"We don't grow flowers for your amusement." And contemptuously flinging
the rose over the wall, he strode away.
The gang, left to itself for a moment, bestowed their attention upon Dawes.
Large tears were silently rolling down his face, and he stood staring
at the wall as one in a dream. The gang curled their lips.
One fellow, more charitable than the rest, tapped his forehead and winked.
"He's going cranky," said this good-natured man, who could not understand
what a sane prisoner had to do with flowers. Dawes recovered himself,
and the contemptuous glances of his companions seemed to bring back
the colour to his cheeks.
"We'll do it to-night," whispered he to Mooney, and Mooney smiled
Since the "tobacco trick", Mooney and Dawes had been placed in the new prison,
together with a man named Bland, who had already twice failed to kill himself.
When old Mooney, fresh from the torture of the gag-and-bridle,
lamented his hard case, Bland proposed that the three should put in practice
a scheme in which two at least must succeed. The scheme was a desperate one,
and attempted only in the last extremity. It was the custom of the Ring,