"Mr. Sheridan is to go before the Committee to-day, is he not?" asked Lord Somers, the Colonial Secretary, as he sat writing in Mr. Wyville's study, with Sheridan reading the Times by the window, and Hamerton lounging in an easy-chair.
"What Committee?" asked Hamerton, heedlessly.
"The Committee appointed to hear Sir Joshua Hobb's argument against our Penal Bill," said the Secretary, as he continued to write.
"Does Sheridan know anything about prisons?" drawled Hamerton.
"He knows something about Australia and the men we send there," said the Secretary.
"WellHobb doesn't. Hobb is a humbug. What does he want?"
"To control the Australian Penal System from Parliament Street, and, instead of Mr. Wyville's humane bill, to apply his own system to the penal colony."
"What do you think of that, Mr. Sheridan?" asked Hamerton, without raising his head from the cushion.
That it would be folly before Mr. Wyville's bill was drawnand criminal afterwards."
"Bravo!" said Hamerton, sitting straight; "bravo, Australia! Go before the Committee, by all means, and talk just in that tone. When do they sit?"
"In an hour," said Lord Somers. "We are only waiting for Mr. Wyville, and then we go to the House."
"May I go?" asked Hamerton.
"Certainly," said the Secretary. "You may get a chapter for a novel, or a leader for the Telegraph."
Mr. Wyville soon after entered, and the merits of the opposing bills were freely discussed for a quarter of an hour. At length Lord Somers said it was time to start, and they proceeded on foot towards the Parliament House, Lord Somers and Hamerton leading, and Mr. Wyville and Sheridan following.
On the way Mr. Wyville led his companion to speak of the sandalwood trade, and seemed to be much interested in its details. At one point he interrupted Sheridan, who was describing the precipitous outer ridge of the Iron-stone Hills.
"Your teams have to follow the winding foot of this precipice for many miles, have they not?" he asked.
"For thirty-two miles," answered Sheridan.
"Which, of course, adds much to the expense of shipping the sandalwood?"
"Adds very seriously, indeed, for the best sandalwood lies back within the bend; so that our teams, having turned the farther flank of the hills, must return and proceed nearly thirty miles back towards the shore."
"Suppose it were possible to throw a chain slide from the brow of the Blackwood Head, near Bunbury, to a point on the plainwhat would that save?"
"Just fifty miles of teaming," answered Sheridan, looking at Wyville in surprise. "But such a chaincould never be forged."
"The Americans have made slides for wood nearly as long," said Mr. Wyville.
Five ships could not carry enough chain from England for such a slide."
"Forge it on the spot," said Mr. Wyville. "The very hills can be smelted into metal. I have had this in mind for some years, Mr. Sheridan, and I mean to attempt the work when we return. It will employ all the idle men in the colony."
Sheridan was surprised beyond words to find Mr. Wyville so familiar with the very scenes of his own labour. He hardly knew what to say about Wyville's personal interest in a district which the Sandalwood Company had marked off and
p.136claimed as their property by right of possession, though they had neglected Sheridan's advice to buy or lease the land from the Government.
The conversation ceased as they entered the House of Commons, and proceeded to the committee room, where sat Sir Joshua Hobb at a table, turning over a pile of documents, and beside him, pen in hand, Mr. Haggett, who took in a reef of lip as Mr. Wyville and Sheridan entered.
Since Haggett's return from Australia, three years before, he had adopted a peculiar manner towards Mr. Wyville. He treated him with respect, perhaps because he feared him; but when he could observe him without himself being seen, be never tired of looking at him, as if he were intently solving a problem, and hoped to read its deepest meaning in some possible expression of Mr. Wyville's face.
On the large table lay a map of the penal colony of West Australia.
The Committee consisted of five average M.P.'s, three country gentlemen, who had not the remotest knowledge of penal systems, nor of any other than systems of drainage; and two lawyers, who asked all the questions, and pretended to understand the whole subject.
The Committee treated Sir Joshua Hobb, K.C.B., as a most distinguished personage, whose every word possessed particular gravity and value. He delivered a set speech against lenience to prisoners, and made a deep impression on the Committee. He was about to sit down, when Mr. Haggett laid a folded paper beside his hand. Sir Joshua glanced at the document, and resumed, in a convincing tone
"Here, gentlemen," he said, touching the paper repeatedly with his finger, "here is an instance of the sentimental method, and its effect on a desperate criminaland all those who are sent to Australia are desperate. Twenty years ago, a young man was convicted at York Assizes, for poaching. It was during a time of business depression; the capitalists and employers had closed their works, and locked out their hands. Nothing else could be donemen cannot risk their money when markets are falling. During this time, the deer in Lord Scarborough's park had been killed by the score, and a close watch was set. This man was caught in the night, carrying a deer on his shoulders from the park. He made a violent resistance,
p.137striking one of the keepers a terrible blow that felled him to the earth, senseless. The poacher was overpowered, however, and sent to prison until the Assizes. At his trial he pleaded defiantly that he had a right to the deer; that thousands were starving to deathmen, women, and childrenin the streets of the town; and that God had given no man the right to herd hundreds of useless deer while human beings were dying of hunger. The ignorant and dangerous people who heard him cheered wildly in the court at this lawless speech. Gentlemen, this poacher was a desperate radicala Chartist, no doubtwho ought to have been severely treated. But the judge looked leniently on the case, because it was proved that the poacher's own mother and sisters were starving. The prisoner got off with one month's imprisonment. What was the result of this mildness? At the very next Assizes the same judge tried the same prisoner for a similar crime, and the audacious villain made the same defence.
"If it were a light crime six months ago," he said to the mistaken judge, "it is no heavier now, for the cause remains."
Well, he was sentenced to ten years' penal servitude, and was transported to West Australia. After serving some years there, the lenient system again came in, and he was hired out to a settler, a respectable man, though an ex-convict. Some time afterwards, the violent Chartist attempted to murder his employer, and then escaped into the bush. He was captured, but escaped again, and was again re-captured by the very man he had tried to murder. Mark the dreadful ending, gentlemen, to this series of mistaken lenities to a criminal. On their way to the prison, the absconder broke his manacles, seized a pistol from a native policeman, murdered his brave captor, and escaped again to the bush."
"God bless me! what a shocking story!" said one of the Committee.
"Was the fellow captured again?" asked one of the lawyers.
"No," said Sir Joshua; "he escaped to the swamps. But there is a rumour among the convicts that he is still alive. Is there not, Mr. Haggett?"
Mr. Haggett bent his head in assent. Then he rubbed his forehead and eyes, as if relieved of a strain. He had been watching the face of Mr. Wyville with painful eagerness as Sir Joshua spoke; but in that impassive visage no line of meaning to Haggett's eyes could be traced.
Sir Joshua sat down, confident that he could depend on the Committee for a report in his favour.
"Is there actual evidence that this convict of whom you spoke murdered his captor?"
Mr. Wyville addressed Sir Joshua Hobb, standing at the end of the long green table. There was nothing in the words, but every one in the room felt a thrill at the deep sound of the resonant voice.
The Committee, who had not looked at Mr. Wyville before, stared at him now in undisguised surprise. He was strangely powerful as he stood there alone, looking calmly at Sir Joshua for an answer.
"Evidence? Certainly, there is evidence. The brave settler who captured the malefactor disappeared; and the bushman from whom the convict seized the pistol saw him point it at the head of his captor. Is not that evidence enough?"
"Not for a court of justice," quietly answered Mr. Wyville.
"Sir," said Sir Joshua Hobb, superciliously, "it may not appeal to sentimental judgments; but it carries conviction to reasonable minds."
"It should notfor it is not true!" said Mr. Wyville, his tone somewhat deepened with earnestness.
Sir Joshua Hobb started angrily to his feet. He glared at Mr. Wyville.
"Do you know it to be false?" he sternly asked.
"How do you know?"
"I, myself, saw the death of this man that you say was murdered."
"You saw his death!" said in one breath Sir Joshua and the Committee.
"Yes. He accepted a bribe from the man he had captured, and released him. I saw this settler afterwards die of thirst on the plainsI came upon him by accidenthe died before my eyes, aloneand he was not murdered."
Sir Joshua Hobb sat down, and twisted nervously on his seat. Mr. Haggett looked frightened, as if he had introduced an unfortunate subject for his master's use. He wrote on a slip of paper, and handed it to Sir Joshua, who read, and then turned to Mr. Wyville.
"What was the name of the man you saw die?" he asked.
"Isaac Bowman," answered Mr. Wyville.
Both Sir Joshua and Mr. Haggett settled down in their seats, having no more to say or suggest.
"You have lived a long time in West Australia, Mr. Wyville?" asked one of the lawyers of the Committee, after a surprised pause.
"You are the owner of property in the colony?"
Sir Joshua Hobb pricked up his ears, and turned sharply on his chair, with an insolent stare.
"Where does your property lie?" he asked.
"In the Vasse district," answered Mr. Wyville.
"Here is a map of West Australia," said Sir Joshua Hobb, with an overbearing air; "will you be kind enough to point out to the Committee the location of your possessions?"
There was obviously so malevolent a meaning in Sir Joshua Hobb's request, that the whole Committee and the gentlemen present stood up to watch the map, expecting Mr. Wyville to approach. But he did not move.
My boundaries are easily traced," he said, from his place at the end of the table; " the northern and southern limits are the 33rd and the 34th parallels of latitude, and the eastern and western boundaries are the 115th and 116th of longitude."
One of the Committee followed with his finger the amazing outline, after Mr. Wyville had spoken. There was deep silence for a time, followed by long breaths of surprise.
"All the land within those lines is yourestate?" diffidently asked one of the country gentlemen.
Mr. Wyville gravely bowed.
"Estate!" said one of the lawyers in a low tone, when he had summed up the extent in square miles; "it is a Principality!"
"From whom did you purchase this land?" asked Sir Joshua, but in an altered tone.
"From the Queen!" said Mr. Wyville, without moving a muscle of his impressive face.
"Directly from Her Majesty?"
"I received my deeds through the Colonial Office," answered Mr. Wyville, with a quiet motion of the hand towards Lord Somers.
The Colonial Secretary, seeing the eyes of all present turned upon him, bowed to the Committee in corroboration.
"The deeds of Mr. Wyville's estate, outlined as he has: stated, passed through the Colonial Office, directly from Her Majesty the Queen," said Lord Somers, in a formal manner.
The Committee sat silent for several moments, evidently dazed at the unexpected issue of their investigations. Mr. Wyville was the first to speak.
"I ask to have those prison records corrected, and at once, Sir Joshua Hobb," he said slowly. "It must not stand that the convict of whom you spoke was a murderer."
"By all means. Have the records corrected immediately," said the Committee, who began to look askance at Sir Joshua Hobb.
Mr. Wyville then addressed the Committee, in favour of the new and humane penal bill. Whether it was his arguments, or the remembrance of his princely estate, that worked in his favour, certain it was that when he had concluded the Committee was unanimously in his favour.
"Mr. Wyville," said the chairman, before they adjourned, "we are of one mind-that the Bill reported by the Government should be adopted by the House; and we shall so report. Good-day, gentlemen."
Sir Joshua Hobb rapidly withdrew, coldly bowing. He was closely followed by Haggett.
Lord Somers, Hamerton, and Mr. Wyville were speaking together, while Sheridan, who was attentively studying the map, suddenly startled the others by an excited exclamation.
"Hello!" said Hamerton, "has Sir Joshua dropped a hornet for you, too?"
"Mr. Wyville, this is terrible," cried Sheridan, strangely moved. "Those lines of your property cover every acre of our sandalwood land!"
"Ah-ha!" ejaculated Hamerton.
"I thought this land was ours," continued Sheridan, in great distress of mind. "How long has it been yours?"
"Ten years," said Mr. Wyville.
Sheridan sank nerveless into a seat. The strong frame that could brave and bear the severest strains of labour and care, was subdued in one instant by this overwhelming discovery.
He had been cutting sandalwood for nine years on this
p.141man's land. Every farthing he had made for his company and himself belonged in common honesty to another!
Mr. Wyville, who was not surprised, but had evidently expected this moment, walked over to Sheridan, and laid a strong hand on his shoulder, expressing more kindness and affection in the manly force and silence of the act than could possibly have been spoken in words. Sheridan felt the impulse precisely as it was meant.
"The land was yours," Mr. Wyville said, after a pause; "for I had made no claim. I knew of your work, and I gave you no warning. According to the law of the colony, and of acted right."
Sheridan's face brightened. To him personally his success had brought little to covet; but he was sensitive to the core at the thought of trouble and great loss to the Company, caused under his supervision.
"We return to Australia together, Mr. Sheridan," said Wyville, holding out his hand; "and I think, somehow, we shall neither of us leave it again. The vigour of your past life shall be as nothing to that which the future shall evoke. Shall we not work together?"
Swift tears of pleasure rushed to Sheridan's eyes at the earnest and unexpected words; and the look that passed between the two men as they clasped hands was of brief but beautiful intensity.
"Well, Hamerton?" asked Lord Somers, smiling, as if astonished beyond further speech.
"Well? What of it? I suppose you call this strange," said Hamerton.
"You don't?" asked the Secretary.
"No, I don't," said Hamerton, rising from his chair. "I call it utter commonplacefor these Australians; the most prosaic set of events I have yet seen them indulge in. I begin to realize the meaning of the Antipodes: their common ways are our extraordinary onesand they don't seem to have any uncommon ones.
FOUR years had passed since Mr. Wyville's visit to Walton-le-Dale; and he had heard no word of the woman he had then sought.
During this time the case of Alice Walmsley had grown to be a subject of rare interest to this student of humanity. Scarcely a day had passed in all that time that he had not devoted some moments to thinking, on the innocent prisoner, and devising some allowable means of affording her comfort and pleasure.
Perhaps the secret of his special observance of this case arose from the fact that beneath the self-imposed suffering he beheld the golden idea. To him this peaceful and silent adherence to a principle was a source of constant interest.
In all those years, Alice Walmsley had never heard his name, and had only once seen his interference. The memory of the strong dark face that had then interposed to save her, and the look of kind compassion, were treasured in her heart; but she knew no more than this. Sister Cecilia, perhaps, would have told her who this powerful man was; but she shrank from asking, and she never asked.
About a week after the event in the Committee Room, Mr. Wyville, sitting with Sheridan and Hamerton in his study, received a letter, brought from Scotland Yard by a policeman.
As usual with the group, when not conversing, Sheridan read, and Hamerton lounged.
Mr. Wyville started from his seat with an exclamation, when he had read the letter. He rarely betrayed even the slightest excitement; and Mr. Hamerton would not have been more surprised had a bomb exploded under the table than he was to see Mr. Wyville thrown off his balance so unexpectedly and completely. Hamerton, however, had too profound a respect for his friend to speak his astonishment.
"Thanks, kind and simple heart!" exclaimed Mr. Wyville, holding the letter before him. "You have been faithful to your word for four years; and you shall rejoice for it all your life!"
Then, recollecting himself, he smiled in his grave way and said
"I have received long-expected news. I have found something I sought. To-night, I must leave London for a few days; so I must say good-bye now."
"Are you leaving England, too?" asked Hamerton.
"No; I go only to Lancashireto a little village called Walton-le-Dale." He turned to his desk, and was busily arranging his papers.
"Why, what's the matter, Sheridan? You are growing nervous of late."
"The name of the village took me by surprise, that is all," said Will. He was going on to say that Walton was his native village; but the entrance of Lord Somers temporarily changed the subject. Before it could be resumed, Mr. Wyville had said "Good-bye," and the gentlemen took their leave.
The letter which Mr. Wyville had received ran as follows:
"Sir,The woman Harriet Draper, as was Samuel Draper's wife before he married Alice Walmsley, has been arrested, for a dedly assawlt on Draper's sister, and is at this present riteing in the lock-up of Walton-le-Dale.Your umbel servant,
"Benjamin Lodge, Police Officer."
Accompanied by his black servant, Mr. Wyville left London that evening; and on the forenoon of the next day he stepped from the train at Walton-le-Dale, and walked towards the police-station or lock-up.
It was a small stone building, containing, four rooms, two of which were Officer Lodge's quarters; the third a court-room, with a dock or bar, and a raised desk magistrate; and behind this, and opening room, with barred windows, used as the lock-up.
Mr. Wyville pushed the outer door, and stepped at once into the court-room, which was empty. He was about to withdraw, when a door on the left opened, and Officer Lodge, quite unchanged in four years, greeted Mr. Wyville, as if he had seen him only yesterday.
"She was out of horder bad, this time, sir; but I knew she'd turn up some time."
"Many thanks, my friend," said Mr. Wyville; "I had almost concluded you had forgotten."
p.144Officer Lodge was a little hurt at this expression of doubt; but he was quite too mild of temper for resentment.
"Where is the woman?" asked Mr. Wyville.
Officer Lodge pointed to the heavy door of the lock-up, with a grim shake of the head. He sank his voice to a whisper.
"She's a bad 'un, she isworse and worse hevery time. But now she's done for."
"Ay, she'll go this time, sir. Seven year at the least. She nearly killed a woman, and she would have killed her altogether if she'd had her way a minute longer."
Tell me the facts," said Mr. Wyville.
"Well, sir, she were down near Draper's 'ouse all one day last week, and she hacted queer. They came for me and told me, and I looked after her all the hafternoon. But she were doing no harm to nobody. She only sat on the roadside, looking at Draper's 'ouse. Towards evening she went into Mrs. Walmsley's old 'ouse, wich is hopen, and she stayed there an hour. Draper's sister, who was too curious, maybe, went up to the 'ouse, to see what she were doing; and then it began. I heerd two voices, one a' screaming and the tother swearing and when I ran to the spot, I sees Harriet assaulting the woman, choking her and beating her head against the stones. If I had been half a minute later, there would have been murder."
"Does the prisoner speak to anyone?" asked Mr. Wyville.
"No; there's no one to speak to her but me; and she never hopens her lips to me."
"Can I see her, and speak with her?"
"Yessir," said Officer Lodge "but be careful-she's not safe."
Officer Lodge carefully locked the outer door, and then approached the lock-up. He knocked on the door heavily with the key, as if to rouse the prisoner. No sound came from within. He turned the key in the lock, and opened the door.
Mr. Wyville entered the lock-up, which was a room about twelve feet square, with one window. A wooden bench ran round three sides of the room, and in the farther comer, upon the bench, was something like a heap of clothes.
It was the prisoner, who sat upon the bench, her back to the wall, her knees drawn up, and her face sunk upon them. A tattered shawl covered her, so that she presented the appearance of a heap of wretched clothes.
She did not move as the door opened, nor for a minute afterwards. But as someone had entered, and the door had not been closed, she became aware of the intrusion. She raised her head, and looked around on the floor, slowly, till her glance fell on Mr. Wyville's feet. Then she raised her eyes, till they rested on his face.
She seemed to have been in a sort of daze or waking dream. She did not take her eyes away, but looked at the strange face before her as if she were not yet awake.
She was a woEful wreck of womanhood. Her eyes had cavernous circles around them, and her cheeks were sunken, as if with consuming disease. Her hair, unkempt, was covered with the old shawl, but its straggling locks fell across her forehead. As she looked at Mr. Wyville, some remnant of womanly feeling stirred within her, and she raised a wasted hand and pressed backward the tangled hair from each side of her face.
Wretched as she was, and lost, there was something beneath all the stains that spoke of a face once comely and soft and loveable.
"Harriet Draper!" said Mr. Wyville, with unusual emotion in his deep voice, and speaking in a subdued tone.
She moved uneasily at the name, and her large eyes grew fearfully bright.
"Harriet Draper, I have been searching for you many years. May God pardon the man whose crime sent you here!"
"Ach!" gasped the woman, suddenly burying her face again, as if she had been stabbed in the breast. Then she started, and sprang to the floor, and put her hands on her eyes.
"O God! what did he say?" she hoarsely whispered, as if speaking to herself; "O God! God! to pardon him, and not me!"
She took away her hands, and looked severely for a moment at Mr. Wyville. He met her gaze with a severity greater than her own.
"Yes; God pardon him, for through him you have been made guilty," he said.
p.146"Who are you?" she cried, becoming excited. "Who are you that pretend to know me? No man made me commit crime. You lie! you lie! you don't know meyou don't know him!"
Her voice became high with excitement, and her eyes blazed, as with frenzy.
"Harriet Draper, I know you and I know himyour guilty husband. I have searched for you for years, to ask you to lighten your soul of one grievous crime. Before long, you will need repentance; for your health is broken, and you cannot die with this terrible burden on your conscience.
"Whatwhat are you talking about?" she cried, still fiercely, but in a lower tone. " What have I done?"
"You have committed murder."
She looked at him without a word, and increased the pitiful fixity of her gaze by raising her hands to press her temples, as if to keep down pain.
"You murdered Alice Walmsley's child!"
Her eyes closed, and she grasped at her breast with both hands, and tottered backwards, sinking on the bench with a long moan.
"You killed the child, and you saw the innocent mother dragged to prison for your crime. You have remained silent for nine years, and destroyed your own life, while she has borne your punishment. You shall now confess, and save her who has suffered so much to save you."
"Ha! ha! ha! ha!" screamed the woman, in a laugh so sudden and hellish, that Mr. Wyville stepped back appalled. He had expected a different result. Again and again the horrid laugh rang through the place, till it bad exhausted the strength of the ferocious and most miserable being who uttered it, and she sank heavily on the bench.
"Save her!" she cried at length, clenching her hands, and shaking them over her head. "Ha! ha! save her! Save the false woman that sent me here! Never! I hate her! She brought her suffering, on herself by stealing my husbandhe was only a fool in her hands!"
She rocked herself to and fro for a time, and then cried wildly
"Why should I forgive her? Why should I save her? Am I to bear all the misery she made? He was my husband, and he loved me, till she made him false!"
Here she became wildly excited, almost screaming her words.
"If she were free to-day, she would seek him out, and go back to him. Why should I save her to do that? Begone! I will not! I know nothing about her. I would rather die than speak a word to save her!"
A fit of coughing, that almost convulsed the miserable frame, now seized the woman; and when it had passed she sank back against the wall, exhausted.
Mr. Wyville remained silent; he feared that more excitement might affect her reason, or her life. He looked down upon the unfortunate being with profound pity. He had expected a depraved and selfish nature, shrinking from confession through selfish fear. He saw, instead, a woman's heart criminal through its own love and truth, and cruelly unjust through jealousy of its rival.
Darkest and saddest of human sightsthe good tortured from its straight course until it actually had become evil; the angelic quality in a heart warped by deceit and wrong until it had become the fiendish part.
"O, man, man!" murmured Mr. Wyville, as he looked upon the wreck, but only saw the evil-doer beyond her, "your sin is deeper than the sea. Not here, not here must I seek to right the wrong."
He walked from the place with bowed head. Officer Lodge, without speaking, locked the door, and followed him. Mr. Wyville sat down in the court-room, and, after a long pause, said to Officer Lodge
"Has this man, Draper, ever been heresince the crime was committed?"
"No, sir, he hasn't never been seen; but they say as he has been here; that he came in the night to his own folks once. He can't never live in Walton, sir."
"Has he been outlawed?"
"No, sir, there was no one to go again' him. The law let him pass; but the people couldn't stomach him, though they never thought he was as bad as this."
"You have heard, then, what I have said to this woman? It will do no good to speak about it. She has made no confession, nor will she confess till the hand of death is upon her. When is she to be tried for this last offence?"
"In two weeks, sir; and she'll get at least seven years."
"Well, my kind friend, remember she has been cruelly wronged; and, so long as she is in your charge, treat her with mercy. She is not the author of her crime and wretchedness."
Officer Lodge promised to be kind, though his heart overflowed when he thought of poor Alice Walmsley and her great wrong. He also promised to send by mail to Mr. Wyville a report of Harriet Draper's sentence.
Mr. Wyville thanked him, but offered no reward.
"I shall see you again before long," he said, as he left the little court-room. His journey to London that night was mainly consumed in reflection on the tangled web of crime and injustice in which he had become so deeply interested.
Two days later Mr. Wyville sat in the office of the governor of Millbank, relating to him the story of Harriet Draper and Alice Walmsley.
"Good heavens!" cried the kind old governor; "the case must be brought at once before the Directors."
"No," said Mr. Wyville, "not yet; and not at any time before them. Release cannot right the wrong of this injured woman. She must be cleared by the confession of the criminal, and then we shall send her case to the Queen."
"Well," said the governor, "but how are you to get the confession?"
"This woman, Harriet Draper, will come to Millbank within two weeks. If she does not confess before the convict ship sails, she must be sent to West Australia next month."
"We never send convicts in their first year," said the governor.
"She must go," said Mr. Wyville, warmly; "break your rule for the sake of justice."
"I'll break it for your sake, Mr. Wyville," said the governor.
"I shall put her name on the roll."
And she must be kept aloof from the others. Can this be done?"
"Yes; we can enter her on the hospital list, and send her before the others to the ship. She will be confined on board in the hospital."
Mr. Wyville held out his hand to the governor.
"I thank you sincerely," he said; "I am deeply interested in this case."
When he had gone, the bluff old major walked up and down his office, and mopped his head with his big handkerchief.
"It's like good health and a good conscience to come near that man," he said to himself. " How strange it is that he should have such deadly enemies!"
IN Mr. Wyville's house, in the library or study, sat Mr. Hamerton. He had been writing for hours. On the table beside him lay a heap of documents, with large red seals, like title-deeds; and in another heap lay a number of letters, addressed and stamped.
Mr. Wyville entered, and they talked for some minutes in a serious vein. It was evident that Mr. Hamerton was engaged in some more important business than usual, and that he had advised with Mr. Wyville during its progress.
Lord Somers called, as usual, on his way to the Department; and shortly afterwards Sheridan arrived. Mr. Hamerton continued to write, and a cursory conversation began, the gentlemen glancing at the morning papers.
An exclamation from Lord Somers broke the commonplace.
"Hello! What the deuce! Why, Hamerton, this must be your place. Are you going to sell Broadwood?"
"Yes," said Hamerton, and he went on with his writing.
"The whole estate and manor house?" asked the peer, in plain astonishment.
"The whole thing," said Hamerton, in the same prosaic tone. Will Sheridan took the paper and read the advertisement: Magnificent and historic demesne and manor house of Broadwood400 acres of rich landentire village of Broadwoodvaluable church livingantique furniture, pictures, armour, &c.in a word, the entire surroundings of an English aristocrat of the first standing, advertised in the daily papers to be sold by auction, not as a whole, but in lots.
"What do you mean by that?" asked Lord Somers. "Why not sell the right to one purchaser?"
"Because he couldn't buy it," answered the stolid Hamerton, who was in a mood for apophthegms.
"What! You want too much money for it?"
"No, I do not."
"Come, come, Hamerton, this is unkind. Your place is close to mine, and I am naturally interested, independent of my sincere interest in your affairs."
"Well, you spoke of buying the right. Now, Somers, no one man could buy or hold the right to so much land as Broadwood in this populous an poverty-stricken country yes, poverty stricken: there are only a few rich people. Eighty out of every hundred are miserably poor. The best a rich man could do would be to buy the title-deeds; but the abstract right of ownership would remain with the farmers who tilled the land."
"I don't understand you," said Lord Somers.
"I propose to sell the deeds to the men who already hold the land by right."
"You will break up Broadwood and sell it to your farmers?"
Lord Somers was seriously affected by this extraordinary announcement; but he knew Hamerton too well to remonstrate or argue.
Mr. Wyville, looking across his paper, observed both speakers, and listened to the conversation, evidently pleased.
"You will be no nearer to your republican idea when this is done," said Lord Somers, at length; "you will have sold the land, but the money it brings has not been earned by you."
"Quite true," answered Hamerton.
"Why keep it, then?"
"I shall not keep it."
"Why, Hamertonwhat do you mean? What will you do with it?"
"I shall invest it in schools and a library for the people of that section 'for ever' as the lawyers say. Mr. Wyville and I have been looking at the matter, and we think this money will establish a school with three technical brancheschemistry, engineering, and agriculture."
"And you will you teach in the schools for a living?"
"Oh no; I am going to Australia."
"To Australia!" said Lord Somers and Sheridan in a breath. Then Sheridan asked
"Are you going to settle there?"
"Yes; I am tired of Europe. I shall never return here."
"I am glad," cried Sheridan, starting up and seizing Hamerton's hand. "Australia is going to send out the largest-hearted men that ever owned the earth. You will be at home there. You will breathe freely in its splendid air. Oh, I am proud to see such men turn by nature to the magnificent South!"
Mr. Wyville had approached the table with a look of intense pleasure. He laid his hand almost caressingly on Will Sheridan's shoulder. As they were placed, these three men Wyville, Sheridan, and Hamertonthey formed a remarkable group.
"You are dangerous company," said Lord Somers, looking at them with admiration. "You almost tempt me to follow you, or go with you, to Australia. When do you sail?"
"Mr. Sheridan and I will sail on the convict ship in three weeks," said Mr. Wyville. "Mr. Hamerton will take my steam yacht, and follow when he has settled his plansperhaps a week later."
"I am dumbfounded," said Lord Somers. "I cannot speak on this new thing. I only foresee that I shall be very lonely, indeed, in London when you have gone."
After some further conversation on this point, Mr. Wyville changed the subject.
"You have engaged a captain for the convict ship?" he said to Lord Somers.
"Yes; Captain Rogers, late of the P. & O. Company's service."
"You were not aware that I wished to engage him for my yacht?" said Wyville.
"No; I should be sorry to take him from you. But his articles are signed now, and good commanders for such a service are not easily found."
"If I find you a suitable captain, and guarantee his command, will you oblige me by cancelling Captain Rogers's commission?
"Certainlyif you give him, instead, the command of your steamer."
"Thank you; that is my intention."
"But have you found another captain for the convict ship?" asked Lord Somers.
"YesI have been looking into the matter with the view of saving you further trouble. I have settled on a man who is classed as a first-rate master mariner and commander, and who is now in London, disengaged."
"I shall make a note of it," said Lord Somers, taking out his pocket-book. "What is his name?"
"Draper," said Mr. Wyville; "Captain Samuel Draper."
That will do," said the Secretary. "I shall have new articles made out. Will you see to it that he is engaged at once, and sent to the ship at Portland?"
"Certainly. I shall attend to it to-day."
Mr. Hamerton and Sheridan, who had been talking together at the other end of the room, now approached, and the conversation became general. Soon after, Lord Somers said "Good-morning," and proceeded to his Department.
IN the inner office of Lloyd's great shipping agency, in London, on the day following Mr. Wyville's conversation with Lord Somers, the former gentleman sat, while one of the clerks in the office brought him books and documents.
"This completes Captain Draper's record," said the clerk, handing a paper to Mr. Wyville. "It is from his last ship."
"Thanks. Now, can you give me his address in London?"
"Yes; No. 37 Horton-street East."
Mr. Wyville left the office, and the clerk collected his papers, from which the visitor had taken notes.
Mr. Wyville hailed a cab, and said to the driver, "Horton street." It was a long way off, and during the slow progress through the crowded streets, Mr. Wyville examined his notes and arranged them carefully in a certain order. At last the cab stopped.
"What number?" asked the driver.
"I shall get out here," said Mr. Wyville. "But you may wait for mesay half an hour."
He walked down the quiet little street, with its uniform brick houses, green blinds, and white curtains. It was a street of comfortable residences of small business men and well-to-do mechanics. Number 37 was in no way different from the neighbouring houses.
Mr. Wyville rang the bell, and an old lady, with glasses pushed up to her forehead, and a piece of sewing in her hand, opened the door, and looked inquiringly at the caller.
"Does Captain Draper live here?" he asked.
"Yes, sir; but he is out at present," said the intelligent old lady.
"I am sorry; I will call again," said Mr. Wyville turning to go.
"He will be in soon," said the old lady; "he comes in to dinner always."
"Then I shall wait, if you please," said Mr. Wyville; and he entered the house, and sat down in a comfortable little parlour, while the old woman, drawing down her glasses, went on with her sewing
"Captain Draper is my grand-nephew," said she, after a silent interval:
"Indeed!" said Mr. Wyville. "Then you will be pleased to know that I am come to offer him a good command."
"Oh, I am delighted!" said the old lady; "he is so good, so conscientious. I always said as Samuel would come to something 'igh. He has been waiting for a ship for nearly a year. I know he doesn't please his owners, because he is too conscientious."
"You will also be pleased to hear, madam, that his owners this time will be quite conscientious, too."
"I am so delighted!" said Captain Draper's grand-aunt.
At this moment the outer door opened, and immediately after Captain Draper entered the room. It was rather a chilly day, and he had buttoned his coat close up to his throat. He was not a robust figurerather slim, and bent forward. The past ten years bad laid a strong hand on him. The charm of his younger manhood, the boisterous laugh and hearty manner of waving his hand, was much lessened; but the cold watchfulness of his prominent blue eyes was proportionately increased.
He had a long and narrow face, thin jaws, covered with faded whiskers, worn rather long. His upper lip and chin were shaven, showing his wide mouth. His lips were dry, as of old, but now they were bluer, and more offensively cracked. On the whole, he was a decent-looking man in outward appearance; as he walked rapidly through the streets, with shoulders bent forward, one would say he was a consumptive hurrying home. But there was a compression of the mouth, accompanied with a quick watchfulness of eye, and an ugly sneer in the muscles of the nose, that would make his face detestable to anyone who had the power of rapidly perceiving character.
Mr. Wyville read the face as easily as if it were a printed page.
"Captain Draper, I presume?"
"That is my name," said the other, with a wide and unmeaning smile of the cracked lips, in which the rest of the face took no part.
"I have come from the Treasury, to offer you command of a vessel in the service of the Government."
"Ahthat's good. In what branch of the service, may I ask?"
"Transport," said Mr. Wyville.
"Troops, I suppose?" said Draper, still smiling.
Captain Draper placed a chair so as to see Mr. Wyville's face in the light. As he took his seat he had ceased to smile.
"Ah!convicts. Where are they going?"
Captain Draper remained silent so long that Mr. Wyville spoke again.
"You are willing to take such a vessel, are you not?"
"Well, I want a shipbut these convict ships I don't like; I don't want toAre they male convicts?" he asked, interrupting himself.
"Yes, mainly; there will be three hundred men, and only fifty female convicts on board."
"Fifty." Draper stood up and walked across the room to the mantelpiece. He leant his elbow on it for a time, then he took up a little glass ornament in an absent-minded and nervous way.
Mr. Wyville sat silently watching him. As Draper raised the piece of glass, his hand trembled and his face worked. He dropped the glass to the floor, and it was shattered to pieces. This recalled him. He smiled at first, then he laughed aloud, his eyes watching Mr. Wyville.
"WellI don't want that ship," he said; "I don't like convicts."
"I am sorry," said Mr. Wyville, rising; "you were highly recommended, Captain Draper; and as the duty is considered onerous, the voyage will be quite remunerative for the commander."
Draper's cupidity was excited, and he seemed to hesitate.
"Do you know anything about these convicts?" he asked.
"Yes; what do you wish to know?"
"How long have they been in prison?"
"On an average, about three years."
"Three years; did you ever know any to be sent after nine or ten years?"
"No; not one such case has occurred for the past twenty years. It would be very unusual."
"Yes; well, you know, I don't care about thembut I have a curiosity. I suppose they're all rightall about three years, eh?"
"That will be the average, certainly."
"Well, I think I'll take the ship. Where does she lie, and when is she to sail?"
Mr. Wyville gave him all the particulars; and when his questions ceased, Mr. Wyville drew out a set of articles to be signed.
"You came prepared, eh?" said Draper.
"Yes," said Mr. Wyville, gravely reading over the form.
"We were anxious to secure your services, and I thought it just as well to save time. Please sign your name hereand hereand here. Thank you. Now I shall say good-day, Captain Draper."
"The ship is ready, you say?" said Draper, following him to the door; "then I am expected to take command at once, I suppose ?"
"No; not until the day of sailing. Your officers will see to the preparations for sailing. At two o'clock p.m., on the 10th, you will take command, and sail."
"Well," said Draper; and as he looked after the strong figure of Wyville, he muttered to himself "Welljust as well; they only average three years. But I'd rather go on board at once, and see them before we sail."
"Now," said Mr. Wyville, communing with himself, as he walked from Draper's house, and entered his cab at the end of Horton-street," the elements are moving. May good influences direct them."
At his own house, he dismissed the cab, and, entering, with unusual gravity greeted Mr. Hamerton, who was awaiting him.
"You said in your note that you had an important business communication to make to me," said Hamerton, without appearing to notice Wyville's mental disturbance.
Mr. Wyville did not answer, but paced the room to and fro slowly, sunk in deep thought, his arms crossed on his breast.
"These results may follow," he said at length, evidently thinking aloud; but there is need of an intelligence to make them inevitable. Mr. Hamerton," he said, stopping before his friend, and fixing his eyes upon him, "I have a trust to offer you that involves a heavy responsibility. Will you undertake it, for my sake, and, in case of what may come, carry out my desire to the letter?"
"If it he in my power, I will. If it he beyond me, I will do my best to the end," answered Hamerton.
"Yes, I am sure of it. I am very grateful." Mr. Wyville took his hand, and pressed it warmly, with still the same grave look. He then went to a small but massive iron safe in the room, opened it, and from a drawer took two large sealed packets.
"Here," he said, "are two envelopes that contain all my wishes and all my power. They are mine, so long as I am alive, with freedom to control my actions. Please remember
p.157well my words. In case of my death or disappearance, or another event to impede my action for those who depend on me, these packets belong to you, to open, and read."
"Have you written full instructions therein, which I am to follow?" I asked Hamerton.
"No, I will not instruct you, because I trust you as I would my own soul. You will understand, when you have read and you will act for the best. Do you promise me this?"
"I do, most solemnly; but, Mr. Wyville, suppose I should be unablesuppose I should die before your trust were carried outis there anyone else to whom I may transfer the duty?"
"Yes; to Sheridan."
Mr. Wyville locked the safe, and handed the key to Hamerton.
"I shall send the safe to the yacht before we sail," he said.
"Now let us inform the children."
Mr. Wyville struck a bell, and Ngarra-jil silently entered.
A word in his own language from his master sent him out as quickly. In a few minutes, Mr. Wyville and Mr. Hamerton went up stairs and entered a large and richly draped room, in which the entire furniture consisted of low and soft divans, lounges, cushions, and furs, the effect of which was very extraordinary, but very beautiful. The room seemed to have no occupant, as the gentlemen walked its length towards a deep bay window.
"Wearehere!" said a low voice, in distinctly measured syllables, as a diffident child might slowly strike three notes of an air, and then there were two laughs, as clear and joyous as the sound of silver bells, and the light sound of hand-clapping.
The gentlemen, smiling, turned to the draped recess, and there, half shaded by the curtains, peeped the dark, laughing faces of the Australian sisters, Koro and Tapairu, the grandchildren of Te-mana-roa, the King of the Vasse.
That Mr. Hamerton had become familiar to the girls was evident from their natural and unrestrained conduct.
A residence of several years in a northern climate had arrested in the sisters the immature development so common in warm countries. They had matured slowly; and while preserving all that was charming and natural of their woodland
p.158graces, the restraint of another and a gentler mode of life covered them like a delicate robe. They were so outlandish and beautiful, in their strange and beautiful room, that they might be mistaken for rare bronzes, were it not for their flashing eyes and curving lips.
As they sat in the curtained recess, greeting the gentlemen with a joyous laugh, there entered the room a very old Australian woman, followed by two young men, bearing trays with several dishes. These were set down on a low square divan. The old woman removed the covers, and with quick, short words directed the black men to place cushions around the divan.
The sisters, Koro and Tapairu, came from their seclusion, speaking in their own rapid tongue both to the old woman and to Mr. Wyville. They took each a corner of the divan, seating themselves on the cushions placed on the floor, Mr. Wyville and Hamerton taking the opposite corners.
The food, to which each helped himself, was a savory meal of boiled rice, yams, and rich stews, of which the Australians are very fond; and, following these dishes, a varied supply of delicious fruit, among which were mangoes, guavas, and the ambrosial mungyte or honey-stalk of West Australia.
The conversation during the meal was wholly in the language of the sisters, so that Mr. Hamerton remained silent. Koro and Tapairu had evidently been studying English; but they could by no means converse in the strange tongue.
As if instinctively aware that something unforeseen was about to happen, Tapairu, the younger but braver of the sisters, had asked Mr. Wyville to speak.
"You are soon to leave this cold country," he said, in their tongue, looking from sister to sister; "and return to your own beautiful Vasse."
The girls answered, as if they were a single thing of nature, by a silent and inquiring look. It was hard to read either pleasure or pain in their faces, or anything but surprise; yet a close observer would have discerned a subtending line akin to doubt or fear.
"Are you not glad?" asked Mr. Wyville, with a smile of astonishment at their silence.
"Yes," they softly answered, in one breath, after a pause, but not joyously. "Yes; we shall see the good Te-mana-roa,
p.159and we shall find the emus' nests on the mountain. We are very glad."
The old woman, who had remained in the room, chuckled audibly, and, when the others looked round at her, laughed outright in uncontrollable joy at the thought of returning to her beloved life of freedom in the forest. More rapidly than a skilled musician could evoke notes, she ran from treble to bass in voluble gratitude and benediction. Then she slid off to carry the joyous word to the other dusky members of this extraordinary household.
"You will be happy in your old home in the yacht," continued Mr. Wyville; "and this friend, my brother and yours, will take you in his care till we see Te-mana-roa, and the Vasse."
As Mr. Wyville spoke, the hidden fear became plain in Tapairu's face. She looked only at Mr. Wyville, her large deer-like eyes slowly filling with tears. Her sister, too, was distressed, but in a lesser degree; and her eyes, instead of being fixed on Mr. Wyville, passed on to Hamerton, and rested.
"You are not coming with us to the Vasse!" at length said Tapairu, in a slow, monotonous voice. "You will remain here."
"No, I, too, shall go, and even before you. But we voyage on different ships."
"Why does not your brother and ours go on the other ship, and let you come with us?"
Mr. Wyville looked troubled at the reception of his news by the sisters. As Tapairu spoke, in the last question, his face became exceedingly grave, as if he could never again smile. The sisters saw the shadow, and were troubled also. Mr. Wyville, without looking at them, spoke
"Children, you should trust that I will do what is best; and I know the world better than you. Tapairu, I am acting wisely. Koro I am sure of your confidence at least."
Before the words had died, Koro, with swimming eyes, had risen and taken Mr. Wyville's hand, which she kissed and placed upon her head. The act was full of affection and faith.
Tapairu, on whom the reproof had fallen like a blow, sat just as before, only the light had faded from her eyes, and her
p.160bosom heaved visibly. Her sister went and sat beside her, throwing her arms round her, as to give comfort. Tapairu allowed the embrace, but did not move a muscle of face or body.
Mr. Wyville rose and walked to the window, glanced out for a moment, then, turning, looked at the sisters. He approached and laid his band with inexpressible gentleness on Tapairu's head, as he had done on Koro's. The proud but sensitive nature yielded at the touch, and with one quick look of sorrow and appeal, she buried her face in her sister's bosom, and sobbed unrestrainedly.
The old woman, who had re-entered, began an excited and guttural remonstrance against this unreasoning grief. Mr. Wyville chose this moment to depart. He knew that the brief season of cloud would soon pass, and let the sun shine again; that the reflection following petulance is often the purer for the previous error.
THE Houguemont, chartered by the Government to carry the convicts to West Australia, lay in Portland Roads. She rode within the dark shadow of the gloomy cliff, upon which is built one of the greatest of the English imperial prisons. She was a large, old-fashioned merchant ship, of two thousand tons burden; a slow sailor, but a strong and roomy vessel.
She was fitted in the usual way of convict ships. Her main deck and her lower deck were divided into separate compartments, the dividing walls below being heavy and strong bulkheads, while those on deck were wooden barriers about nine feet high, with side doors, for the passage of the sailors while working the ship. At each of these doors, during the entire voyage, stood two soldiers, with fixed bayonets on their loaded rifles.
The hatch coverings opening to the lower deck, where the convicts were confined, were removed, and around each hatchway, reaching from the upper deck, or roof of the convict's
p.161room, to the lower deck or floor, was one immense grating, formed of strong iron bars. This arrangement gave plenty of air and a good deal of light, the only obstruction being the bars.
Seen from below, on the convicts' deck, every hatchway stood in the centre of the ship like a great iron cage, with a door by which the warders entered, and a ladder to reach the upper deck.
The convicts below never tired of looking upwards through the bars, though they could see nothing above but the swaying ropes and sails, and at night the beautiful sky and the stars.
In the forward and smallest compartment of the ship between decks lived the crew, who went up and down by their own hatchway. In the next, and largest compartment, lived the male convicts, three hundred in number. The central compartment was the hospital; and next to this the compartment for the female convicts. The after compartment between decks was occupied by the sixty soldiers who kept guard on the ship.
The main, or upper deck, was divided as follows: the after part, under the poop deck, was occupied by the staterooms for officers and passengers, and the richly-furnished cabin dining room. Forward of this, beginning at the front of the poop, was a division of the deck to which the female convicts were allowed at certain hours of the day. The next section was the deck where the male convicts were allowed to exercise, one hundred at a time, throughout the day.
The fore part of the main deck, running out to the bowsprit like a ^ was roofed in, the angular section taking in the bowsprit. The front of this section, running across the deck, was composed of enormous bars, thicker than a man's arm, like those around the hatches, and within these bars, in sight of the male convicts on deck, were confined the malefactors, or rule-breakers.
This triangular section was the punishment cell of the ship. It was entered by a ponderous door, composed of bars also. Its two rear walls were the acute angle of the ship's bulwarks; its front was the row of bars running from side to side of the vessel, and facing aft on the main deck.
The evil-doers confined here for punishment had neither bed nor seat; they sat upon the deck, and worked at heavy tasks
p.162of oakum picking. They could not shirk, for a warder kept sentry outside the cage.
As these refractory ones looked through their bars at the deck, they saw, strapped to the foremast, a black gaff or spar with iron rings, which, when the spar was lowered horizontally, corresponded to rings screwed into the deck.
This was the triangle, where the unruly convicts were triced up and flogged every morning.
Above this triangle, tied around the foremast, was a new and very fine hempen rope, leading away to the end of the foreyard. This was the ultimate appealthe law's last terrible enginethe halter which swung mutineers and murderers out over the hissing sea to eternity.
The Houguemont had taken on board her terrible cargo. From early dawn the chains had been marching down the steep hill from Portland Prison, and passing on tugs to her deck where the convict officers unlocked their chains, called their rolls, and sent them below to their berths.
Last of all, the female convicts bad come, fifty in number, in five chains.
As they stood huddled on the deck of the transport, answering to their numbers, there were hysterical sounds and wild eyes among them. At last their chains were unlocked, and the female warders handed to each the number of her berth, and sent her below.
Towards the end of one of the chains stood a prisoner with a white face and a strangely calm air. She did not stare around in the dazed way of her unfortunate sisters; but remained on the spot where they bade her stand, motionless. She only turned her head once, with a smile of silent comfort to some unhappy one near her who had made the hysterical sound.
When the key came to her link of the chain and unlocked it, and she stood unshackled, another warder thrust into her band a card, and pushed her towards the hatch. She tottered beneath the rough and needless force, and would have fallen down the open hatchway, had she not caught at a swinging rope, and saved herself. As she recovered, she gave a kind of pitiful short cry or moan, and looked round bewildered, the tears springing to her eyes. The rough and busy warder again approached her, and she shrank aside in terror.
At this moment she felt a soft hand take her own, and hold it tightly. The touch restored her confidence. She turned and met the sweet face and kindly smile of Sister Cecilia. The warder at the same moment respectfully saluted the nun.
"This is my hospital assistant, warder," said Sister Cecilia still holding Alice's hand. "She is to be allowed to go to my room."
"All right, ma'am," said the warder, who, in reality, was not harsh, but only rude and hurried in manner; "pass on, Number Four. Here," she shouted to the next on the chain, "take this cardand down you go, quick!"
And as Alice stood aside with a great sense of relief and thankfulness, and with swimming eyes, the warder whispered to Sister Cecilia: "I'm glad she's not going among 'emwe're all glad on it."
Sister Cecilia, holding Alice's hand, led her along a narrow boarded way, at the end of which was a door opening, into a pleasant room, one side of which was covered with a large medicine case, and off which lay two bright little sleeping rooms. When the door was closed, Sister Cecilia took Alice's white face between her hands with hearty force, and kissed her.
"Thank God, my child!" she cried, "you are safe at last!
Alice could not speak; but she controlled herself, and kept from sobbing. She looked around wonderingly.
"This is my room, Alice," said Sister Cecilia; "my room and yours. This narrow passage is for us alone. It leads straight to the female compartment and the hospital; and no one can come here but you and Inot a soul, for the next four months. Just think of that, child! Look out of that pretty little window, and say 'good-bye' to gloomy old England and her prisons. We'll be all alone till we arrive in Australia except when we are attending the sick."
Alice Walmsley did not answer in wordsher heart overflowed; and the kind little nun led her into the pleasanter sleeping room of the two, and left her, saying that this was her own room for the voyage.
When she had gone, Alice sank on her knees with such a flood of feeling as seemed to melt her very heart. With eyes drowned in tears she raised her hands towards the frowning cliffs of Portland, while her quivering lips moved in yearning words.
She was saying farewell, not to England, but to that which was greater to her than Englandto the little spot of earth where lay the body of her dead child. O true heart of motherhood, that never changes, never forgets, never loses the sound of the maternal music, once the immortal key has been struck.
"Good-bye, my darling! O, if I had only one single withered blade of grass to cherish" cried the poor mother; and as she spoke she saw clearly in her mind's eye the little neglected and forgotten grave. "Good-bye, my darlingfor everfor ever!"
She buried her face in the bed, and wept bitterly and long. Sister Cecilia came twice to the room softly, and looked in at the mourner, but did not disturb her. The second time she came, Alice was weeping with bowed head.
Sister Cecilia leant over her, and placed beside her hand a little box, covered with white paper, on which lay a sealed letter. Having done so, the Sister laid her hand caressingly on Alice's head, and withdrew quietly.
It was many minutes before Alice raised her tear-stained face. As she did so, she laid her hand on the little box, and, saw the letter. She did not heed it at first, thinking it was Sister Cecilia's. But another instant, and she had read her own name"Alice Walmsley"written on the letter, and in a hand that was strangely familiar. The written name itself was not more familiar than the handwriting.
Something thrilled her as she took the little box in her hand, and opened it. She found within a piece of soft mould, in which some sweet young grass was growing, and on one side a fresh wild flower, that must have been pulled that day.
As she looked, with blurred sight, the meaning of the blessed gift poured into her heart like balm, and her thought rose up to heaven in an ecstasy of gratitude.
She did not need to look at the letter; she divined its contents. But at length she took it, and broke the seal, and read the few words it contained:
"Dear Alice,The grass and flowers were growing this morning on your baby's grave. The wild flowers have covered it for years. I have it shall never be neglected nor disturbed."
An hour later, Sister Cecilia entered the outer room, purposely making a noise to distract Alice's reverie. But she had to come at last and touch her arm, and take the box and the letter from her hands, before Alice realized the revelation that had come to her. She did not see it even then as a whole; but piece by piece in her mind the incredible happiness dawned upon her, that she actually had with her the precious grass, with young life in it, fresh from her darling's grave.
And later on, slowly, but by sure degrees, entered another thought, that rested like a holy thing beside this pure affection.
The last words of the letter repeated themselves like a strain of distant music in her ears: "Yours faithfullyyours faithfully"and though the sense that was touched had in it a tone of pain and reproach that smote her, it roused her from further dwelling on her own unhappiness.
THE last convict had been sent below. The barred doors in the railed hatchways were locked. The hundreds of cooped criminals mingled with each other freely for the first time in many years. The sentries had been posted at the hatches and passages on deck. The sailors had shaken out the sails. The capstan had been worked until every spare link of cable was up.
The Houguemont was ready for sea. She only awaited the coming of her commander.
Mr. Wyville walked to and fro on the poop deck, casting now and again a searching glance at the pier and the steep cliff road. At length his pace became less regular, and his usually imperturbable face betrayed impatience. It was two hours past the time when the captain had engaged to be on board.
As Mr. Wyville stood looking landward, with a darkened brow, the chief warder in command of the prison officers, rapidly approached him, with an excited air, and saluted in military fashion.
"Well, Mr. Gray," said Mr. Wyville, turning, "what is it?"
"One man missing, sir! not on boardhe must have slipped overboard from the soldiers, and attempted to swim ashore."
"When did he come on board?"
"With the last chain, sir."
Then he must be in the water still. He would strike for the mainland, not for the island."
As he spoke, a soldier, who had run up the rigging, shouted that there was a hamper or basket floating a short distance astern of the ship.
Mr. Wyville asked one of the ship's officers for a glass, which he levelled at the floating basket. He saw that it moved obliquely towards the shore of the mainland, though a strong tide was setting in the contrary direction, towards the island. He lowered the glass with a saddened air.
"Poor fellow!" he murmured, shutting the glass, irresolutely. He knew that the absconder, finding the floating hamper, had placed it over his head in order to escape the eyes of the guards. As he laid down the telescope, a rifle shot rang from the maintop, and the water leaped in a jet of spray within a foot of the basket. Next instant, came two reports, the basket was knocked on its side, and all on the deck of the convict ship plainly saw a man swimming in the sea. One of the bullets had struck him, evidently, for he shouted and dashed about wildly.
All this had happened in a few seconds. The shots had followed each other as rapidly as file-firing. At the second shot, Mr. Wyville looked at the soldiers with a face aflame with indignation. As the third shot rang out, he shouted to the soldiers; but his voice was drowned in the report.
Next moment, he saw the levelled rifle of another soldier, and heard the officer directing his aim. Without a word, Mr. Wyville seized the long and heavy marine telescope, which he had laid on the rack, and, balancing himself on the poop for an instant, he hurled the glass like a missile from a catapult right into the group of soldiers on the top.
The missile struck lengthwise against the rifleman, and knocked him towards the mast, his weapon going off harmlessly in the air. Consternation seized the others, and the young officer began an indignant and loud demand as to who had dared assault his men.
"Come down, Sir," said Mr. Wyville, sternly, "and receive your orders before you act."
The subaltern came down, and joined Mr. Wyville on the poop, saluting him as he approached.
"I was not aware, sir," he said, "that I was to wait for orders in cases of mutiny or escape."
"This man could be overtaken," said Mr. Wyville. "Your guards allowed him to escape; and you have no right to kill him for escaping, if the law bad no right to kill him for his crime."
As he spoke, he brought the glass to bear on the unfortunate wretch in the water, to whom a boat was now sweeping with swift stroke.
"My God!" he said, putting down the glass, and turning from the officer; "the man is drowned!"
The struggling swimmer, spent with previous exertions, had been struck by a bullet in the shoulder; and though the wound was not mortal, it rapidly spent his remaining strength. Before the boat had reached him, the poor fellow had thrown up his arms and sunk. His body was found and taken to the ship.
During this scene, Captain Draper had come on deck, unobserved. He had passed quite close to Mr. Wyville as he spoke severely to the military officer. A few minutes later, when Mr. Wyville stood alone, the captain approached him.
"Am I supposed to command this ship, or to take orders also?" he asked, not offensively, but with his usual hybrid smile.
Mr. Wyville remained silent a moment, as if undecided. The recent shocking event had somewhat changed his plans.
"You command the ship, Sir," he said, slowly, and fixing his eyes on Captain Draper's face, "under me. So long as your duty is done, no interference will be possible. It may be well to understand now, however, that there is a higher authority than yours on board."
Captain Draper bowed; then turning to his chief officer who had heard the conversation, he gave orders for sailing.
THE convict ship, with all sail set, before a strong quarterbreeze, ploughed heavily round the South of England, and then spread her arms like a sea spirit as she swept majestically towards the deep southern seas.
No need to moralize afresh on the weird contrast between the tall ship, nobly and beautifully breasting the waves, and the hideous secret she bears within
- Who, as she smiles in the silvery light,
Spreading her wings on the bosom of night,
Alone on the deep, as the moon in the sky,
A phantom, of beauty, could deem with a sigh,
- That so lovely a thing is the mansion of sin,
And that souls that are smitten be bursting within?
Who, as he watches her silently gliding,
Remembers that wave after wave is dividing
- Bosoms that sorrow and guilt could not sever,
Hearts that are broken and parted for ever?
Or deems that he watches, afloat on the wave,
The death-bed of hope, or the young spirit's grave.
The first few days of the voyage are inexpressibly horrible. The hundreds of pent-up wretches are unused to the darkness of the ship, strange to their crowded quarters and to each other, depressed in spirits at their endless separation from home, sickened to death with the merciless pitch and roll of the vessel, alarmed at the dreadful thunder of the waves against their prison walls, and fearful of sudden engulfment, with the hatches barred. The scene is too hideous for a picturetoo dreadful to be described in words.
Only those who have stood within the bars, and heard the din of devils and the appalling sounds of despair, blended in a diapason that made every hatch-mouth a vent of hell, can imagine the horrors of the hold of a convict ship.
About a week out from England, the Houguemont went bowling down the Atlantic, and across the Bay of Biscay. The night was cold and dark, and the strong breeze held the ship ssteady, with every sail drawing.
Mr. Wyville and Sheridan, the latter of whom had come on deck for the first time since the vessel sailed, in warm greatcoats, walked the lee side of the poop; while the captain, also heavily wrapped, paced the weather side, glancing now and again at the sails, and taking an occasional look at the course.
"You have got over your sea-sickness?" asked Mr. Wyville.
"You forget that I am a sailor, Mr. Wyville," he said. "I had another reason for keeping my room."
Will Sheridan, for months past, had often been on the point of telling Mr. Wyville the whole story of his life, his love for Alice Walmsley, and her terrible suffering for another's crime; but the moment still had gone by, and he had never broached the subject. He longed to speak his warm gratitude to the wise friend who had preserved Alice's reason and life in Millbank.
Mr. Wyville never dreamt that Sheridan and Alice Walmsley had known each other. He did not know that on the deck at that moment stood Sheridan's deadliest enemy, within five yards of the man he hated, and who mortally hated him.
"I will tell him all now," were the words in Sheridan's mind; and he turned to Mr. Wyville, and took hold of his arm. They paused in their walk, and stood at the foot of the mizzen mast.
At that moment the captain went towards the wheel, and bent his head to look at the compass. The strong binnacle-light fell full upon his face, just as Will Sheridan stopped and laid his hand on Mr. Wyville's arm.
The face in the binnacle glare was straight before Sheridan. His eyes were arrested by it as by a spectre; his land closed like a vice on the arm of his friend.
"God Almighty!" The words rushed from his heart in a hissing whisper.
Mr. Wyville was astounded, but he could not even surmise the cause of Sheridan's tremendous excitement. He had seen the face of the captain as it remained for a moment in the strong light; but he did not connect this with his friend's emotion. He waited for Sheridan to speak.
Instead of speaking, Sheridan watched the dark figure of the captain as he passed from the wheel to the weather side of the
p.170poop, and paced slowly up and down. Then he drew a deep breath, tremulous with aroused passion.
"Who is that man?" he asked in a low voice, after a long look.
"That is the captain," answered Mr. Wyville. "Let me introduce you. Captain Draper!"
The captain walked towards them. Sheridan remained just as he had been standing.
"Captain Draper, let me introduce"
"Stay" said Sheridan, laying his hand on Mr. Wyville's breast, "one moment."
He strode to the binnacle, seized the lamp, and returned with it in his hand. When he was within two feet of Draper, he threw the light full on his own face, sternly turned towards his enemy.
"Now!" he said "now, introduce me!"
The sight of the terrible face struck Draper like a physical blow. His breath came in a short gasp, and be staggered back till he leaned against the mast. He never said a word.
Sheridan turned the glare of the lamp upon him for an instant, then snatched it rapidly away from the repulsive sight. At that moment, with the veil of darkness suddenly torn back, Draper's face was ghastly, and his attitude full of terror.
Will Sheridan replaced the lamp in the binnacle, and walked straight to his own room.
Mr. Wyville was profoundly astonished and puzzled at this scene. He remained on deck for an hour or more after Sheridan's abrupt departure; but he did not speak to Captain Draper, who paced his side of the poop in gloomy silence.
It was an hour of fearful torture to Draper, for, like most scoundrels who are cowards, he suffered over and over again the agonies of shame and exposure which he knew he had earned. But, like this class, too, he always planned his conduct, even his words, beforehand. As soon as the appalling interview had passed, and he found himself personally unmolested, his adroit and subtle mind began weaving the warp and woof of a devil's plot that should make him the winner in this contest now begun.
He looked at Wyville, who stood grazing out on the sea, and asked himself, "Does he know?" And he speedily ran over the signs, and concluded that Mr. Wyville knew nothing of
p.171his relations to Sheridan. He remembered that Wyville had called him to be introduced to Sheridan, and he had noticed the surprised exclamation with which Wyville had observed Sheridan's extraordinary conduct.
The midnight eight bells sounded, and the mate came to relieve the captain from his watch; but Draper said he could not sleep, and would remain on deck an hour longer.
In that hour, he was alone on the poop; Mr. Wyville had gone below. Draper, looking down through the glass roof of the dining-room, saw that a bright light was burning in Sheridan's room. As he looked at the light, secretly and alone, a desperate hatred burned in his heart like poison. The years of his guilt were melted down into that one hour, and they took the form of a blighting curse. Could malediction have murdered Sheridan, he would have been withered to death by the baneful light of Draper's eyes.
But the hatred of a man so naturally evil as Draper is apt to turn into practical injury. The coward who hates is never at rest; he will either malign his enemy with foul words in secret, or he will dig a pit for his feet. It is only manly men who can hate and hold their tongues.
As Draper paced the deck, towards the end of the hour, his tread actually became stealthy and fearful, as if he dreaded lest the nature of his thoughts might be read in the sound of his steps. Slowly and carefully he turned the circumstances over in his mind. Wyville certainly did not know of his relations with Sheridan. Sheridan himself had evidently been surprised at the meeting. Only one knew: none else had any interest in knowing. That one must be silenced, orhe, Draper, must face disgrace. Once before, Sheridan had eluded his design; but this timeand, as he concluded his walk and plot together, he glared at the light in Will Sheridan's room, like a serpent in the outer darknessthis time there would be no mistake or hesitation on his part.
THE days slipped into weeks as the Houguemont sailed southward down the great commercial highway of the Atlantic. The mild airs of the warmer latitudes surprised and delighted those who had only known the moist climate of Britain. As the vessel sailed close to the island of Pico, one of the Azores, the deck was crowded with gazers on the unknown land.
It was the forenoon of a lovely day. The sun shone with radiant splendour on the soaring peak and purple cliffs of Pico. The island seemed to most of those on the ship like some legendary land of fairy lore. They bad never seen any country but England, and they had never before heard even the name of this important-looking place.
On the bow of the convict ship, standing on the raised deck, which was the roof of the punishment cell or compartment, stood three men, looking up at Pico. These three, from the day of the ship's sailing, had been drawn together by inherent attraction; and now, among all the queer new friendships of the voyage, there was none stronger than theirs. And yet they were very dissimilar, inwardly and outwardly.
One was a tall man, solemn-faced and severe, dressed in sombre garments; the next was a small man, mild of face and manner, clad in old-fashioned sailor's blue; the third was a very black man, whose hair stood upright on his head when he removed his immense fur cap, andwhose body from throat to feet was clothed in furs.
Strange it was, that this seemingly discordant trio, Mr. Haggett, Officer Lodge and Ngarra-jil, had developed a mutual attraction, each for the other; and, after a few weeks at sea, had spent almost their whole waking time in each other's company.
They did not converse much, if any. Ben Lodge did not quite understand Mr. Haggett's solemn scriptural illustrations and heavy comments; Mr. Haggett did not pay much heed to Ben Lodge's dreadful tale of carnage in the Chinese bombardment; and neither of them understood Ngarra-jil, nor did he comprehend a word they said.
Yet they passed day after day in each other's company, leaning over the vessel's side or sitting on the sunny forecastle.
The presence of Officer Lodge on board needs explanation. Two days before the convict ship sailed, Mr. Wyville walked into the lock-up at Walton-le-Dale, followed by Ngarra-jil.
Officer Lodge met him with a mild, every-day air, and, pointing with a backward motion of the hand towards the cell, informed him that it was "hempty."
"Have you any relatives or others depending on you?" asked Mr. Wyville, falling into the matter-of-fact simplicity of the policeman.
"No, sir; no none as can't get along without me. I 'ave lived here alone for fifteen year. I don't know a man, though, in Walton to take my place. There's a deal of trust in this hoffice, sir; a deal of trust."
"What property do you own here?" asked Mr. Wyville.
"The donkey and water-cart is mine, though the village gave 'em to me. That's all the property."
"I need a careful man to oversee a settlement," said Mr. Wyville. "But he will have to go to Australia. He will be comfortably placed, much more so than you are here; and his engagement will be permanent. I came to offer the place to youcan you come?"
"Yessir," said Officer Lodge, as quietly as if he were asked to walk down the street. "Do you want me to start now?"
"It is now noon; I will return to London on the two o'clock train. Meanwhile, I will walk through the village." Turning to Ngarra-jil, Mr. Wyville said in his own language, "You can remain here."
Mr. Wyville walked straight to the old home of Alice Walmsley, and lingered a long time in and around the deserted and decaying cottage. There was a warm feeling in his heart, a new and happy growth, which was thrilled and strengthened as his eye fell on objects that might once have been familiar to Alice Walmsley.
As he left the place, to return for Officer Lodge, it seemed as dear to him as if he had known and loved it all his life. He turned towards it, as he walked down the road, and there was a quiet gladness in his face.
"She will leave it all behind," he murmured. "There shall be no picture of its wretchedness in her memory."
He passed to the court-house. Officer Lodge and Ngarra-jil were sitting in the office, silently looking at each other. At first, Officer Lodge had spoken to his companion; but Ngarra-jil had answered only by a gruff and unintelligible monosyllable. Then they had subsided into perfect silence.
"Are you ready?" asked Mr. Wyville.
They went to the rail-way station, and took their seats for London. Officer Lodge and Ngarra-jil sat opposite each other, and continued their acquaintance in the same silent fashion which had marked its beginning in the stationhouse.
On board the convict ship, they had attracted the lonely Mr. Haggett, who, in a patronizing manner at first, joined their company.
As these three stood near the bow of the Houguemont, looking up at the purple cliffs of lofty Pico, there rose an extraordinary commotion on the deck among the convicts.
That morning, two men, the worst and most disorderly characters in the ship, had been locked up in the punishment crib. They had first been sentenced to work at oakum picking; but they sat within the bars idle, staring out at the crowd of convicts on deck, and singing and shouting. For this they had been again reported, and the officers had now come to take them out for further punishment.
The officers stood waiting, for him who had the key of the barred door; and he was searching vainly in his pockets. After a while, it was evident that the key had been mislaid or lost. The officers could not open the barred door.
The two culprits within were the first to understand this, and they set up a howl of derision. They danced about in their den, cursing the officers and snapping their fingers at them through the bars.
At length a dreadful idea struck one of the desperate wretches. His eye had fallen on the heap of loosely-picked oakum inside the bars. With a yell he seized an armful of the inflammable material and threw it far within the cage, against a heap of tarred rope ready for picking.
The officers stood outside, watching the fellow's action with alarm. When he had gathered all the oakum into a pile, he
p.175drew from his pocket, a lucifer match, and flourished it before the officers' eyes with a grin of triumph and devilish meaning. His brutal associate within the bars, upon whom the meaning of the preparations broke suddenly at sight of the match, gave a wild shout of delight and defiance.
"Damn you!" he cried, shaking his fist at tile powerless warders, "you can't help yourselves. We'll set fire to the ship before your eyes!"
The dreadful threat struck terror into the convicts on deck, who began to huddle together like sheep.
The officers looked into each other's pale faces, dumb and helpless. One of them caught hold of the massive bars of the door, and shook them with all his force. He might as well have tried to shake down tile mast.
Yelling with delight at their power, the two miscreants within piled up the pyre. Then, he who held the match selected a dry place on deck to strike it. He bent down oil his knees, and covered his action from the eyes of the officers.
In another instant he sprang to his feet, holding a blazing rope of loosely-twisted oakum. With a laugh that rang through the ship, be applied the torch to the pile of oakum, and the yellow flame licked up the ready material with fearful rapidity.
At sight of the flame, a cry of alarm rose from the huddled convicts, drowning the reports of the officers' pistols, who were shooting down the incendiaries.
It was too late. Had they used their pistols before the match was struck, they would have acted in time. To slaughter the wretches now was to insure the continuation of the fire. Were the prisoners let alone, they might have become terrified at their own danger, and have quenched the blaze before it had seized the ship.
One of the officers placed the muzzle of his pistol to the ponderous lock of the cage, and fired. The bullet destroyed the lock, but did not force it. At that moment, with a cry of success, an officer dashed through the crowd, and seized the lock. He had found the key! But it would not turn in the shattered wards. The bullet had wedged everything together, and the bolt had become a rivet.
By this time the flames had spread over the pile of tarred rope, and had fastened on the beams overhead. The pitch bubbled up between the seams of the deck, and dense volumes of smoke poured through the bars.
The alarm had spread to the convicts below, and an awful sound of affright arose from the hundreds of horrified hearts.
The officers dashed wildly to and fro. Some of the ship's crew had begun to work with axes on the roof of the cage, which was a heavily-timbered deck. The fire began to roar with the dreadful sound that denotes the untamable power of approaching conflagration.
At this moment Mr. Wyville came forward, and with one glance took in the whole scene. Everyone made way for him as he strode to the cage. The convicts prayed him, "save us!" the ultimate appeal of terror-stricken men.
He stood an instant looking at the firesaw the mortal danger. In ten minutes more no earthly power could subdue the flames.
"Shall we open the hatches, and let the convicts come on deck?" asked the pallid chief warder, the key in his hand.
"No!" shouted Wyville, with such sudden force, that the man staggered back in dismay.
Mr. Wyville looked at the lock, and saw its condition. He shook the bars with amazing force.
A gust of flame and smoke now rushed through the bars and drove everyone back, even Mr. Wyville. He rushed forward again; then turned to the officers, who had retreated to the foremast, and called them to him. No one movedthey were cowed.
Another instant, and a tall man pushed through the crowd, and stood beside Wyville. It was Mr. Haggett. Their eyes met for one instant. They understood one another.
"What do you want?" asked Haggett, in a low, steady voice.
"The silk curtains from the dining-roomquick" answered Mr. Wyville in the same tone.
Next moment Haggett was clearing a lane for himself through and over the crowd. He disappeared towards the cabin. They knew he would return, and they kept the way open for him. In half a minute he flew back, in each hand a long red silken curtain, torn from the cabin windows.
Mr. Wyville stood waiting for him, holding in his hand a heavy iron belaying pin, which he had taken from the rail. He took one of the curtains, twisted it into a rope, and pushed one end through the bars. This end he brought out four bars off, and around these four bars he wound both curtains, one after the other.
When the curtains were entirely wound in this way, he inserted the heavy iron rod between the folds, at the two central bars, and began to turn it end over end like a lever. The first turn made the silken rope rigid; the second strained it; the third called out all the muscular power of the man. But there was nothing gained.
Mr. Wyville turned, and looked towards Haggett, who approached. Both men seized the iron lever, and pulled it down with all their force.
"This is a convict's trick," said Haggett, as they paused for breath.
Mr. Wyville made no reply, but continued the tremendous leverage. There was a cry from the convicts: they saw the massive bars yieldingthe two outer bars bending towards the centre under the terrific strain.
Once again the upper end of the lever was seized by both men, and with a united effort of strength pulled and pressed down. The next turn was easily made; the mighty bars had bent like lead in the centre and then broken, leaving two gaps wide enough to allow the entrance of a man.
When this was done, Mr. Wyville and Mr. Haggett fell back, while the officers and sailors dashed into the burning cage, smothering the flames with wet sails, beneath which they trampled out the fire.
The vessel was saved, and not one minute could have been spared. In the wild uproar that followed, each one giving vent to the pent up excitement of the moment, Mr. Wyville, turning in the crowd, met the eyes of Haggett earnestly fixed on his face. He had often observed his watchfulness before; but there was another meaning in his eyes to-day.
Without a word Mr. Wyville put out his hand which Haggett grimly seized.
"Thank you," said Mr. Wyville.
That's not right," said Haggett; "you have saved all our lives."
Mr. Wyville negatively shook his head, with his usual grave smile, and was about to pass on. Mr. Haggett slowly let go his hand, still looking at him with the same strange expression. They had parted a few paces, when Haggett strode after Mr. Wyville with a new impulse, seized his hand once more in a grip of iron, and met his eye with a face working in strong emotion, every possible reef in his immense lips quivering with suppressed feeling.
"Forgive me!" he said; and without another word he dropped Mr. Wyville's hand, turned, and strode off to his room by the other side of the ship.
That night, when the excitement had died, and the usual quiet had been restored, Mr. Wyville and Sheridan walked the poop for hours. Mr. Wyville made no mention of Haggett's strange conduct.
Towards midnight they went to their rooms. The extra-ordinary events of the day bad kept them from talking about Captain Draper, though the subject had been for days uppermost in both minds.
When Mr. Wyville entered his room, his eyes fell on a letter, fixed endwise on his table to attract his attention. It was addressed to him. He opened it, and took out a photographthe portrait of a convict in chains. There was no other enclosure.
On the back of it were written these words, in Mr. Haggett's dated four years back:
"This is the only photograph of the man known as MOONDYNE. It was taken in West Australia, just before his latest escape from Fremantle Prison. All other photographs of this prisoner have unaccountably disappeared from the prison books."
Mr. Wyville gazed a long time at the strange present. Then he laid it on the table, locked his door, and walked meditatively to and fro his narrow room. At times he would stop and take the picture from the table, look at it with deep attention, while his lips moved as if he were addressing it.
At last he took the portrait, tore it to pieces, and, opening the window of his room, threw the pieces into the sea.
FROM the moment that Will Sheridan had recognized Draper in the captain of the Houguemont, his mind was filled with an acute fear that Alice Walmsley might suddenly come face to face with the wretch who had blighted her existence. Such a meeting might be fatalit certainly would be grievous.
It was the sudden touch of this fear that made Sheridan walk so quickly to his room on the night of the recognition. It came like a flash; and he deemed it best to consider his course of action calmly.
Sailor as he was, he knew that the commander of a ship, usually had absolute power over all on board. He had observed, however, that Mr. Wyville, on one or two occasions, had assumed an authority in certain matters relating to the prisoners. This gave him comfort. In case Draper recognized Alice Walmsley on the ship, that instant, Sheridan resolved, he would make known the whole terrible story to Mr. Wyville, and avert intended evil, if possible by fear, if necessary by force.
Meanwhile, Sheridan saw Sister Cecilia, who knew that he was an old friend of the innocent and much-wronged girl, and requested her to keep Alice at all times off the main deck. He gave no reason for the request.
But, Mr. Sheridan," said the nun, thinking of Alice's health, "she must come into the open air some time."
"It were better notbetter not," answered Sheridan, in a troubled mind; "it were better that she should remain all day in the hospital."
"In the hospital," repeated the wise little nun, with a pitying smile. She evidently saw, more clearly than anyone on board, the strange complications around her. The hearts of at least four of the principal actors in the sorrowful drama were open to her eyes; she saw the relations of Sheridan, Alice, the miserable Harriet Draper, and her guilty husband.
But even Sister Cecilia, wise as she was, did not know that there was a fifth heart deeply concerned in the play. As she repeated Sheridan's words, her pitying smile died away into
p.180lines of sorrow, seeing how blindly he would turn Alice's steps from one danger to a deeper one. She recalled, too, at the word, the supreme desolation and misery of that one who now spent her days in the hospital.
"Do not fear, Mr. Sheridan," she said, as she went on her way of mercy, "Alice will be safe. She will remain in my hospital."
Taking this as an agreement with his request, Mr. Sheridan resolved that his conduct towards the captain should be absolutely reserved, until the vessel reached port. Then, what to do was beset with difficulties. That dire punishment should overtake the villain was clear; but what if his public arraignment would disturb the peace of Alice, whose slowly healing wounds would thus be torn open?"
Instead of coming to a decision, Sheridan resolved that on the first opportunity he would lay the whole matter before Mr. Wyville, and follow his advice.
Soon after entering the tropics, the Houguemont had caught the trade winds, and sailed swiftly down the level seas. Her tall masts dwindled pigmy-like as she passed beneath the awful shadow of Teneriffe. Her sky-sails cut a line on the cliff a finger's breadth from the sea; while above her towered into the air the twelve thousand feet of tremendous pinnacle. She coasted the great North-western bulge of Africa; and here, for the first time since leaving England, her speed was checked, the trade winds faded and died, the sea lost its ripples, but kept its waves, that rose and fell slowly, with long monotonous rolls, like an ocean of molten glass. The sails of the Houguemont slapped backwards and forwards, the ropes hung useless, the pennant clung down the mast. The convict ship was becalmed, off the coast of Africa, seven degrees above the Line.
The faces of the ship's officers grew serious when the wind died. They did not welcome a calm in such a latitude, and at that season. The heat was intense and continuous, scarcely lowering by ten degrees at night.
"I wish we were five degrees to the westward," said Sheridan to Mr. Wyville, his old marine lore recurring to him; "I hate this Gulf of Guinea."
"Why?" asked Mr. Wyville, standing in the shade of a sail, while the young military officer sat beside Sheridan on the rail.
"I hate it first for its sharksyou can't dip your hand in this water, for a thousand miles south and east, without having it snapped off. I hate it for its low coast, where so many splendid ships have sailed straight to destruction. I hate it for its siroccos, whirlwinds, and, above all, I hate it for its fevers. I don't think there's anything good about the coast of Guinea."
"That is a bad showing, certainly," said the military officer.
"Yes; and it's quite true," continued Sheridan. "No one can say a good word about this coast."
"Not so fast, not so fast," said Mr. Wyville, smiling at Sheridan's earnestness. "On this very coast, within two hundred miles of us, is being solved one of the most interesting political problems in human history. Yonder lies a settlement with a national story unequalled for dignity and pathos."
Sheridan and the young soldier looked up, astonished.
"What is it?" asked Sheridan.
"The Republic of Liberia," said Mr. Wyville.
Sheridan looked at the soldier, who, at the same moment, looked at him. They both smiled broadly, confessing their ignorance.
"I was too busy with sandalwood " began Sheridan.
"And I with tactics," said the soldier, "But what is this Republic, sir?"
"A new country, honestly acquired," said Mr. Wyville; the only country on earth not torn by force from its rightful owners. A country where slaves have peacefully founded a nation of elevated freedom; where black men have faced God in manly dignity, and declared their right to wipe out the scriptural curse; whose citizenship is an honour to the holder, and whose citizens are an honour to mankind."
"Who are the citizens?" asked the surprised officer.
"Slaves from America!" said Wyville, with an earnestness that made them forget the heat; "men who bear on their bodies the marks of the lash, and on their minds the rust of accursed laws; men who might be pardoned for hating their kind. God bless them and," as he spoke, he looked away in the direction of the land; "the kindest and most amiable race on earth. They have carried with them from the great Republic of the West only that which was goodits first principles. Its unrepublican practices they have left behind."
"Will they not become corrupt?" asked Sheridan. "When?" "When they become rich," said the officer innocently. "It is to be feared," answered Mr. Wyville. "But they have one safeguard." "What is that?" "Their climate is deadly to white men," said Mr. Wyville.
The appearance of Captain Draper, coming from his stateroom, interrupted the conversation. The young officer stopped to chat with him, while Mr. Wyville and Sheridan walked to the other side of the poop.
"There are two powers of government represented on this ship," said Sheridan, determined to bring the conversation to the point he wished to speak about: "which is in command the civil or military? The captain of the vessel, or the military officer?"
"I do not understand."
"When convicts sail from England, they are assumed to be at once in the penal colony. As soon as the convict ship leaves land, she becomes subject to the penal law of West Australia."
"Who administers the law on board?"
"The representative of the Comptroller-General of Convicts, the actual authority over the criminals in West Australia."
"Then we have a representative of the Comptroller-General on board?"
"Pardon me, Mr. Wyville; you speak riddles to-day. You said a moment ago that every convict ship had such a representative."
"Yes; unless it have the Comptroller himself."
"Then we haveAre you the Comptroller-General?"
Yes. The office was vacant, and, at the request of the Prime Minister, I accepted a temporary appointment. I am glad it was offered; for it will enable me to see our new law fairly started."
The evening had closed in as they convened, and now the shade became somewhat tolerable. Mr. Wyville and Sheridan had drawn their deck chairs towards the wheel-house."
"I am glad there is a power on board above that of the scoundrel who commands the ship," said Sheridan, sternly,
p.183after a long pause. Then he continued rapidly: "Mr. Wyville, I have feared every day that I should have to strangle the wretch; I should have told you before, but something always prevented. By some strange fatality there is on board this ship a woman whom I have loved all my life, and who has been mortally wronged by this man. I have come on this ship only to protect her."
Sheridan's lowered voice was husky with deep emotion. Having said so much, he remained silent.
Mr. Wyville had been looking out on the glassy and slow roll of the waves. As Sheridan spoke, his lips and mouth closed with a gradual compression, and a light almost of alarm came into his eyes. He was thinking of Alice Walmsley.
"You have loved her all your life," he repeated slowly, still looking, at the sea.
"Since I was a boyand she loved me once."
Mr. Wyville was about to speak; but it seemed as if he changed his mind. Still his lips moved, but he said nothing.
"Who is she, and where?" he said, after a pause, and in his usual calm voice.
"She is a prisoner," answered Sheridan; "and she is confined in the hospital."
"In the hospital!" cried Wyville, starting to his feet, with almost a cry of joy then, seeing Sheridan's face, he controlled himself.
"That unhappy one?
"Yes," said Sheridan, sadly, thinking, that so he described Alice Walmsley.
"God help you, my friend! yours is a terrible grief."
"I have feared that he would see her, or that she might see him."
"Fear no more," said Wyville, tenderly; "I have taken measures to prevent such a meeting."
"You knew, then?" asked Sheridan, surprised.
"I knew his guiltbut not your sorrow. I knew that he and she were on this ship. It was I who brought him here; and I had beforehand secured her confinement during the voyage in the hospital."
Sheridan was surprised at this, having so lately spoken to Sister Cecilia on the subject. But he set it down to the customary thoughtfulness of Mr. Wyville.
"I cannot speak my gratitude to you," continued Sheridan; "your visit to her prison awakened in her the life that wrong and grief had crushed. I know the whole story, and I have longed to speak my gratitude."
Mr. Wyville deemed that Sheridan referred to his visit to Harriet Draper in Walton-le-Dale. But how could Sheridan have discovered it? He had certainly never communicated with Harriet Draper.
"How did you learn of my visit to her?" asked Mr. Wyville.
"From the governor of Millbank."
"Ah-yes; I told him."
Sheridan felt a great relief from this confidence. He asked Mr. Wyville's advice as to his conduct towards Draper during the voyage, and was glad to find that it coincided with his own view; to treat him with cold neutrality until the Houguemont had landed her passengers and had ceased to be a government ship.
When Sheridan had gone to his room, Mr. Wyville remained on deck alone. His heart was strangely happy that night, though he was oppressed by the grief of his friend. For one moment he had feared that the next would crush to death something that had grown within him like a new and sweeter life. As he recalled the scene, his heart stood still with the fear, even in fantasy.
"Thank God!" he murmured, as he watched the moon rise, red and large, on the sultry horizon. One blow has been spared!"
MR. HAGGETT at first had found himself a lonely man on the convict ship. His position was anomalous. He was neither a minister nor a prison officer. Had he been the former, the ship's officers and the military officers would have taken him into their mess; had he been the latter, the convict officials would have been his companions. But he was only a hired drudge, a non-professional. He was called simply "the Scripture-reader."
So he was thrown for companionship on the two other lonely passengers, Ben Lodge and Ngarra-jil, who were glad of his company, and entirely ignorant of his position.
Mr. Haggett's nature was by no means a bad one; indeed, in other circumstances it would have been an admirable one. He was simply one of those persons who make up the million, who are common vessels to hold that which is put into them. He was a queer mixture of zeal and conceit. His mind had two keys, as a sparrow has only two notes, and these were earnestness and vanity.
Had he been trained as a mechanic, he would have patiently mastered his trade, never improving on what he bad been taught; and he would have been vain of his skill, and faithful to it.
To give such a man a field of metaphysical labour, to put into his callow bands the absolute spiritual control of hundreds of lives in need of wise spiritual guidance, was an experiment far more injurious to poor Haggett than to the convicts. It is so always. A priest's vestments are too great for small natures, which they injure, if they do not destroy.
He became puffed up with an absurd wind of conceit, that almost amounted to real character; while the convicts, heedless before, only confirmed their opinion that Christianity was a wordy and stiff profession rather than a true saving principle.
When Mr. Wyville humiliated Haggett in Millbank, the blow appeared terrible; but in truth it only struck Haggett where he was puffed. As a man might cut a balloon with a sharp sword, Mr. Wyville's interference and authority had gashed the swelling vanity of the Scripture-reader.
From that day, though he afterwards set out to do Sir Joshua Hobb's dirty work, Mr. Haggett had changedhe was gradually returning to his real nature, which was, as it ought to be, humble.
"This is a good man," something within him kept saying of Mr. Wyville; "why are you his enemy?" And the answer came, and repeated itself: "Because you are Sir Joshua Hobb's tool."
These thoughts floated through Haggett's mind on his first visit to Australia; and that they had an effect on his conduct was certain. Vague hints and doubts and clews, which Sir Joshua would have been eager to seize, Haggett indeed had found, but had kept to himself.
Since the Houguemont sailed he had been especially disturbed in mind. When the incident of the fire came, and he spoke his mind to Mr. Wyville in the hurried words, "Forgive me!" it was not a sudden thought. But it was overwhelming. As a dam may tremble for years, especially in time of storm, and go down at last with a rush, so the last barrier of Haggett's vanity broke that day, and left the reservoir of his conceit dry and unsightly to himself.
A man suffers deeply who has to turn an inward eye on such a scene. But an honest man, helped by humility, will do it, and survive; and at bottom Haggett was honest and humble.
He did not appear on deck for days after the fire; and when he did come out, he spent his time in strange fashion. He would hang around the passage to Sister Cecilia's quarters for hours; and when the little nun was on her way to the female convicts, the ungainly Scripture-reader would start from some unexpected angle, and watch for an opportunity to offer some service.
This continued for weeks, until at last Sister Cecilia noticed the attention. She quietly bowed her head one day in thanks for some slight favour; and for the rest of the day Mr. Haggett's face was lined with good humour and gratification. .
When the ship was becalmed in the tropics, the suffering of the imprisoned wretches in the steaming and crowded hold was piteous to see. They were so packed that free movement was impossible. The best thing to do was to sit each on his or her berth, and suffer in patience.
The air was stifling and oppressive. There was no draught through the barred hatches. The deck above them was blazing hot. The pitch dropped from the seams, and burned their flesh as it fell.
There was only one word spoken or thought-one yearning idea present in every mind-water, cool water to slake the parching thirst.
Two pints of water a day were served out to each convicta quart of half-putrid and blood-warm liquid. It was a woeful sight to see the thirsty souls devour this allowance as soon as their hot hands seized the vessel.
Day in and day out, the terrible calm held the ship, and the consuming heat sapped the lives of the pent-up convicts. They suffered in strange patience. The hold was silent all
p.187day. They made no complaints. When the officers passed among them, and spoke to them, they smiled and sat still on their berths.
Only once, there was a sound of discontent; when the order was given that the daily allowance of water be reduced to one pint.
Among the officers of the ship, there was silence also. They knew they were in a latitude where calms lasted for long periods. They flushed the decks with water constantly, to try and keep them cool, for the sake of the prisoners below.
"We shall need fresh water in a week," said Captain Draper to Mr. Wyville one day; "the tanks are low already, and evaporation rapidly increases."
Mr. Wyville did not answer, except with an inclination of the head. Words were useless.
"Where is the nearest land?" he asked Sheridan that afternoon, as they paced the poop.
"The island of Principe is about 200 miles to the south," said Sheridan. "There is good water there."
The thought in Mr. Wyville's mind never came to words. As Sheridan spoke, he stopped suddenly, looking away to the north, and pointing his hand with an eager face. A dark line, very faint, was moving on the face of the glassy ocean.
"Thank heaven!" he said, " yonder comes the breeze."
In half an hour it fanned their faces, but so gently that still the sails hung useless, and the pennant only stirred an inch from the mast. But it was a breathit was a drink. When the night fell, the breeze strengthened, and the ship moved.
There was no sleep on board that night. The hearts of all were filled with deep relief and gratitude. The breeze held for four days, growing steadier as they sailed. On the evening of the fourth day, a man aloft cried out, "Land ho!"
They had sighted Principe. From deck, the land was not seen for an hour later; and the Houguemont stood off and on till morning, when boats would be sent ashore for water.
At the first flush of dawn the ship was steered towards the island. A fog lay close to the water, and the eager eyes of the voyagers only saw a line of wooded mountain, the base and summit of which were rolled in mist.
The Houguemont sailed into the fog-bank; and before those on board had time to realize the change, her foresails caught the sunshine, and she swung to within a land-locked harbour as beautiful as a dream of Paradise.
The water broke against the wooded shores all round the lovely haven. The hills were covered with trees to the top, and the cocoa palms crowded their lower slopes to the very shore. At the end of the harbour stood the little town of St. Antonio.
The Houguemont came to anchor, and boats were sent shore to fill the water-casks. The Swift, clear streams were seen running into the beautiful basin of the port.
While this work was going on, a sail-boat put off from the town, and held towards the vessel. There were three men in it, and as they came within hail of ship, keeping to leeward, they ran up a yellow flag.
"My God!" said Sheridan, who had been watching the boat; "they have the fever!"
"Get out as fast as you can," cried a man in the boat. "And be sure you allow no one from shore near the ship. We have the plague in St. Antonio."
Without another Word, the boat's course was changed, and she returned to the town. The crew of the Houguemont needed no incentive to work. By ten o'clock that night the casks were filled and the ship was under sail.
"A fortunate escape!" said the medical officer to Sheridan, who did not answer, but looked at the pennant. The wind had changed, and was blowing directly from St. Antonio.
Next morning, the beautiful island was out of sight. The convicts got plenty of water that day, and their hearts were glad. Towards evening, one of the warders went to the doctor's room, and said there was a prisoner very ill, who complained of nausea and pains in the head and shoulders. The doctor's face grew pale at the word; but he turned away from the warder.
"Take that man on deck at once," he said, quietly, "and place him in the punishment division forward."
The warder went to carry out the order. The doctor hurriedly consulted a book, then left his room and walked forward.
The sick prisoner was there before him. The doctor
p.189examined him, quietly ordered his treatment, and retired. He joined Mr. Wyville on the poop.
"We have the fever on board," he said in a low voice. "A man has been attacked by the worst symptoms."
An hour later two more convicts complained of sickness.
They were taken from the hold and placed in the cell forward.
Next day it was known throughout the ship that the fever which the sailors and convicts called "the black vomit," was on board; and before nightfall thirty prisoners were seized.
The sick were taken away from the hold at first; but this separation had soon to be abandoned. There was no room for them apart. The hospital was full. Those who took the fever had to he side by side with their terror-stricken fellows.
Like an angel of comfort, Sister Cecilia tended on the sufferers. Following her steps, and quietly obeying her word, went Mr. Haggett. In the female compartment, where twelve prisoners lay with the fever, Alice Walmsley moved ceaselessly in the work of mercy.
On the third day, the chief officer of the ship said to Mr. Wyville
"Captain Draper has the fever."
The doctor, shortly after, came from the captain's room, and reported that Draper had, indeed, been seized, but with symptoms of less virulence than the others.
"Who will attend on Captain Draper?" asked the doctor. "He will be unconscious in another hour, and will need care."
"I will attend him," said Mr. Wyville, after a pause; "write your directions, doctor, and I will stay beside him to-night."
HIDEOUS incidents filled the days and nights as the convict ship sailed southward with her burden of disease and death. The mortality among the convicts was frightful. Weakened and depressed by the long drought, the continuous heat, and the poisonous atmosphere, they succumbed to the fever in its first stages.
The dead were laid in a row on the port side, as they were carried from the hold. Relays of sailors worked at the shrouding and burial. The bodies were wrapped in sail-cloth with a cannon ball tied at the feet. As each corpse was hastily shrouded, it was passed forward, and the ghastly roll was committed to the deep.
There was no time for ceremony; but Mr. Haggett, as often as he could be spared from the hold, stood beside the opening in the rail, where the bodies were launched, and followed each dull plunge with a word of prayer.
"Mr. Sheridan," said Mr. Wyville, as he came from Captain Draper's room on the first night of his illness, "will you take command of the ship until the captain's recovery?"
Sheridan assented; and Mr. Wyville, calling the ship's officers to the poop, instructed them to obey Captain Sheridan as the commander of the vessel.
As soon as Sheridan took command, he spread every inch of canvas the ship could carry, and held her before the wind.
"We shall shake off this fever when we clear the Southern tropics," he said to Mr. Wyville. "The cold wind round the Cape will kill it in an hour."
Captain Draper lay in his stateroom, half comatose, muttering incoherent words in the low delirium of the fever. By his side sat Mr. Wyville, giving him now and again the medicines prescribed.
The sick man's face was a ghastly sight. The offensiveness of the protruding, eyes and cracked lips was hideously exaggerated. And as he lay smouldering in the slow fire of the sickness, he muttered things even more repulsive than his physical appearance.
The female hospital of the ship was filled with sufferers, indeed, the entire hold of the vessel was at once an hospital and charnel-house. There were no regular attendants among the male convicts, those who bad not been attacked waited on those who had, till their own turn came.
In the female compartment, which was separated from the regular hospital, Alice Walmsley had entire charge. Her healthy life enabled her to bear an extraordinary strain; day and night she was ministering to the stricken, and they blessed her with words and looks as she passed from sufferer to sufferer.
The door leading thence to the hospital Sister Cecilia kept locked, and she herself carried the key.
Sister Cecilia stood one day within the hospital, at the door of a small room. Kneeling before her, on the floor, with streaming eyes and upraised hands, as if praying for a life, was a woman, in the grey dress of a convict.
"O, for God's sake let me tend them! O, don't deny melet me go and wait on the poor sufferers. My heart is breaking when I think that I might be doing some good. Don't refuseO, don't refuse me. I feel that God would pardon me if I could work out my life caring for others."
It was Harriet Draper who supplicated the nun, and who had besought her for days with the same ceaseless cry. Sister Cecilia would gladly have allowed her to work for the sick, but she feared that Alice would see her. She had been compelled for days to refuse the heartrending petition.
"You shall have your wish," said the nun, this day, with a kind look at Harriet, "but not in the hospital."
"Anywhere, anywhere!" cried Harriet, rising with a wistful face; "only let me tend someone who is sick. I want to do some good."
"Harriet," said Sister Cecilia, "you have told me your unhappy story, and I am sure you wish to be a good woman!"
"I doGod knows I do!" interrupted the unfortunate one.
"As you hope to be forgiven, you must forgiveyou must forgive even your husband."
Poor Harriet covered her face in her hands, and made no answer, only moved her head from side to side, as if in pain.
"Harriet, if your husband were on board this ship, sick and dying of the fever, would you not tend him and forgive him before he died?"
Wild-eyed, the woman stared at Sister Cecilia, as if she had not understood the question.
"He is on boardhe is dying of the feverwill you not take care of him?"
"Ohoh!" wailed Harriet, in a long cry, sinking on her knees and clasping Sister Cecilia's dress. "He would drive me awayhe would not let me stay therehe does not love me!"
"But you love himyou will tend him, and you will forgive him. Will you not?"
"Yes, I willI will wait on him day and night, and he shall recover with my nursing."
She dried her weeping eyes, to show the Sister her immediate readiness and calmness.
"Take me to him," she said, with only quivering lips; "let me begin now."
"Come, then" said Sister Cecilia; and she led Harriet Draper to the hatch, and aft to the captain's quarters.
Mr. Wyville rose as Sister Cecilia entered, followed by Harriet. As he did so, the sick man moved, and muttered something, with upraised feeble arm.
With a low sob or cry, Harriet darted past Sister Cecilia, and sank beside the bed. She took the upraised arm and drew it to her breast, and covered the feverish hand with tearful kisses. At the touch, the sick man ceased to wander, and turning his head, seemed to fall at once into a peaceful sleep.
Harriet, seeing this, after her first emotion, turned to Mr. Wyville and Sister Cecilia with a smile of Joy, and, still holding, her husband's arm to her breast, pointed to his restful sleep. They smiled at her in return, though their eyes were brimming with tears.
Sister Cecilia instructed her as to the attendance, and then withdrew, leaving the guilty and unconscious husband in his wife's care. There was joy at least in one heart on board that night. From her low seat beside the bed, Harriet Draper watched his face, murmuring soft and endearing words, and obeying the doctor's instructions to the letter and second.
"He will recover, and he will know me," she whispered to her heart; "I shall win back his love by being faithful and forgiving."
The climax of the fever would not come till the sixth day and during these days Harriet watched her husband with scarcely an hour's rest. Every hour that passed added to his chance of recovery, as the ship was sailing swiftly towards the cooler latitudes.
One day, while Harriet sat beside the bed, holding the feeble hand, as she loved to do, there came a lucid interval to her husband. She had been murmuring soft words as she kissed his hand, when, looking at his face, she met his eyes fixed upon her. For a moment there came a light of recognition and dismay in his look; but before she could speak his
p.193name, or recall his memory the light faded, and he reverted to a state of sluggish delirium.
For the first time since she came to his side, a chill of fear pierced Harriet's heart. For one instant she knew he had seen her. But there was no love in the look of recognition. What if the same cold stare should return on his recovery, and continue?
"God will not let it be" whispered her heart. "When he recovers, he will surely love me as of old!"
ON the later days of Captain Draper's illness he moaned and tumbled restlessly. One of the worst symptoms of the fever was its persistent hold on the brain. The sick man raved constantly, carried on excited conversations, gave orders to the sailors, and, in the midst of these wanderings, again and again reverted to one dark subject that seemed to haunt his inflamed mind.
He lived over and over again, day after day, terrible scenes, that had surely been rehearsed in his mind before the sickness. In his fantasy he was standing by the rail of the ship, while a boat was slowly lowered, in which sat Sheridan. As the boat swung over the raging sea, suspended by a rope at bow and stern, the bow rope parted, the boat fell perpendicularly, and Sheridan was flung into the ocean, and drowned.
During this series of mental pictures, the action of the raving man plainly showed that his hand had cut the rope; and his exultation at the completion of the murder was horrible to see. He would turn his face to the partition, away from the light, and chuckle with a vile sound, rubbing his hands in devilish delight.
One day Mr. Wyville sat beside the bed, intending to relieve the tireless Harriet for a few hours. But Harriet still lingered in the room.
Draper had gone once more through the hideous pantomime, accompanying every act with words expressing the baleful intention. Mr. Wyville sat regarding him with compressed
p.194lips. When the horrible culmination had come, and the wretch chuckled over his success, Mr. Wyville looked up and met Harriet's fearful gaze.
"Curse him!" whispered Draper, "he was always in my way. I meant it alwaysbut this was the best plan. Ha! ha! better than pistol or poisonaccidentha! ha! drowned by accident!"
"Do you know of whom be speaks?" asked Mr. Wyville of Harriet.
"A man named Sheridan," she answered; he talks of him a great deal."
"A man named Sheridan!" repeated Mr. Wyville to himself. "She speaks as if she did not know him."
He sat silent for a time, his eyes fixed on the guilty man before him, who was unconsciously laying bare the foul secrets of his heart. At last he turned to Harriet and said
"Do you not know this man named Sheridan?"
The answer surprised him, and he became silent again. Presently he sent Harriet to her rest.
"I do not see the end," he wearily murmured, when he was alone with the sick man; "but I forebode darkly. Providence has kept this miscreant from a deeper crime than he has yet committed. Heaven grant that he has also been preserved for repentance and atonement!"
Mr. Wyville had resolved to be at Draper's side when the hour of sanity returned, and to keep his unfortunate wife out of sight until he had prepared him for her presence.
It was midnight when that moment arrived. Draper had slept soundly for several hours. Mr. Wyville first knew that he had returned to consciousness by the movement of his hands. Presently he spoke, in a feeble voice.
"I have been sick, haven't I? How many days?"
"Are we still becalmed?
"No; we are in the Southern trades."
Draper said no more. He moved his head from side to side, trying to look around the room. Mr. Wyville remained still and silent.
"Have you been here with me?" he asked, at length. "You couldn't have been here all the time."
"Not all the time."
"I suppose I spoke aloud, andandraved about people?"
Mr. Wyville looked suddenly at him, and caught the reptilian eye that watched the effect of the question. He was impelled to speak sooner than he had intended, by the cunning of the fellow.
"Yes," he said, keeping his powerful look on Draper's face, as if he addressed his inner soul as well as outward sense; "you have told the whole villainous purpose of your heart. If you recover, you may thank God for striking you with sickness to keep you from murder and the murderer's doom. Had you carried out your design, nothing could have saved you; for there are others here who knew your history and your motive."
Draper did not answer, but lay like a scotched snake, perfectly still, hardly breathing, but watching Mr. Wyville with a cold eye.
"Do you know who has nursed you through your sickness?"
Draper moved his head negatively.
"Would you like to know?"
He only looked more keenly at Mr. Wyville, but there was a light of alarm in the look.
"You have been cared for by one whom you have blighted who owed you nothing but curses. Day and night she has been with you, and she has saved your life."
Still Draper did not move or speak, but only looked.
"You know of whom I speak," said Mr. Wyville; "are you ready now to meet your unhappy wife, and to ask her forgiveness?"
He had risen as he spokeDraper's eyes followed his face. The strength of manhood, even of facial deceit, having been drained by the fever, there was nothing left of Draper's real self but his wily nature.
As Mr. Wyville rose, the door opened slowly, and Harriet entered, advanced a few steps, and stood still in fear. She looked at her husband's face; for one instant his cold eye from Mr. Wyville and took her in, then returned to its former direction.
Harriet's heart seemed to stop beating. A cold and despairing numbness began to creep over her. She foresaw the nature of the meetingshe knew now what would be her
p.196reception. Her limbs slowly failed her, and she sank on the floor, not heavily, but hopelessly and dumb. Mr. Wyville, hearing the slight sound, turned, and read the story of despair like an open page. With a rush of indignation in his blood, almost a mounting to wrath, he regarded Draper.
"Remember," he said, sternly, "your guilt is known. You still have one chance to escape the punishment you deserve. It lies in her hands."
He turned from the bed, and left the room. Draper lay motionless for several minutes, knowing that his victim and wife was grovelling in the room, waiting for his word.
"Come here," he said at length, in a voice all the colder for its weakness.
Harriet crept to the bed, and laid her head near his hand. But he did not touch her.
"I want to see you," he said.
The poor woman raised her miserable face until their eyes met. Hers were streaming with bitter tears. His were as cold and dry as a snake's. She would have cried out his name but the freezing glitter of his eyes shivered her impulse, and fixed her in terrified fascination.
"You and he!" he said slowly, as if thinking aloud, "And after all, you would have been left. And so, I'm in your power at last?"
It was appalling to see the lips wasted lower face of the man twist into a smile, while the serpent glance above was intensified.
Poor Harriet sank down slowly, the slow shudder creeping over her once more. Her blood had ceased to course in her veins at the cruel reception. She had no thoughts: she only felt there was no hope for her.
The first love of some women is mysteriously tenacious. It ceases to be a passion, and becomes a principle of life. It is never destroyed until life ceases. It may change into a tortureit may become excited like a white-hot iron, burning the heart it binds; or it may take on a lesser fire, and change into red hatred; but it never grows coldit never loses its power to command at a thrill the deepest motives of her nature.
Through all phases but one had passed the love of Harriet Draper. She knew that her husband was a villain, that her hideous degradation had come from his hand; that he hated
p.197her now and would be rid of her; and the knowledge had only changed her love to a torture without killing it.
But the change from white heat to fierce red is not infinite. It is a transition rapidly made. At the white heat, the woman's love burns herself; at the red, it burns the man she loves. A woman's hatred is only her love on fire.
"I didn't think it was you," said Draper, making no pretence to deceive her; "I thought you were dead years ago."
Something stirred in Harriet's heart at the emphasissomething like a grain of resentment. She had forgotten self; she now thought of herself, and of what she had gone through for this man's sake.
"How did you come here?" he asked. "Did he bring you here? Oh, curse you, you've got me in the trap. Well, we'll see."
"I have made no trap," said Harriet; "no one brought me here but myself andyou. I am a prisoner."
Draper was evidently surprised at this news; but it only momentarily checked his rancour.
"I suppose you robbed someone, or mur?" As he spoke, Harriet struggled to her knees with a pitiful gulping sound, and clutched at the bedclothes, trying to gain her feet. Draper looked at her a moment and then continued slowly
"I suppose you robbed someone, or murdered" With a spring like a tiger, and a terrible low cry, Harriet was on her feet, the coverlet in her clenched hands, her flaming eyes on her husband's face.
"Dare!" she hissed, "and I will tear the tongue from your cruel mouth!"
For half a minute the two regarded each other. In that half minute, the white heat of Harriet's love became red. Hitherto, she had hated the one for whom Draper had deserted her, and had hated herself. Now, for the first time, she hated him.
"Villain! monster!" she cried, throwing the coverlet from her with fierce revulsion; "you speak of murder to the murderess you made? Oh, God, God! is there no lightning to strike this man dead! Murder I have done in madness"she paused with upraised hands, as if she saw a vision"Oh, merciful God! that innocent one!"
Harriet staggered across the room at the first dreadful
p.198thought of the bitter suffering endured by another for her crime. She had partially repented, it is true; but, secretly, she knew that she had never pitied her rival. Now, she could have suddenly died with grief for her wrong.
Harriet did not know that a strong hand upheld her as she fell, and supported her from the room. She recovered in the open air, and looked about her as if awakening from a terrible dream. Sister Cecilia came and led her back to her old solitary quarters in the hospital.
Mr. Wyville and the doctor stood beside Draper's bed. He had swooned.
"Is he dead?"
"No," said the doctor; "he has come out of the fever quite strong. He will recover, unless something unforeseen interfere. He is out of danger."
THE recovery of Captain Draper was regarded as a good omen by the sailors and convicts; and with a return of confidence to them the fever daily declined.
The average of recoveries grew larger, and there were few new seizures.
From the day of his interview with Harriet, Draper saw her no more. Neither did he see Mr. Wyville. The steward alone attended him. He was forced to ponder on the future, and every new possibility was harder to accept than the last. During those days of convalescence, his coward soul preyed upon by his villainous imagination, Draper suffered almost the torments of the damned.
When the heartbroken Harriet recovered from the excitement of the dreadful interview, her soul had only one feelingremorse. As one dying of thirst might sit down on the burning sand, and commune with the devouring fire in the body, so this unhappy one sat upon her pallet in the hospital room, and communed for hours with the newly-lighted consuming fire in her soul.
At last Mr. Wyville entered the hospital, with the physician. He approached Harriet, and spoke in a low tone, such as he had used when addressing her once before.
"Do you remember me?"
She looked at him in surprise, at first; but, as she continued to gaze, there rose in her mind a recollection that brought the blood strongly from her heart. She clasped her hands beseechingly.
"I thought I had dreamt it in the cellI did not know that it was real. Oh, sir, did you not come to me and speak blessed words of comfort? Did you not say that he was guilty of part of my crime?"
"Yes; it was I who visited you in Walton-le-Dale. I come now to say the same wordsto ask you to save the innocent one who has borne your penalty."
"Thank Heaven, it is not too late! This moment let me do what is to be done. Oh, Sir, I know now the whole of my crimeI never saw it till this day. I never pitied her nor thought of her; but now, when I could ask for even God's pardon, I dare not ask for hers."
Seeing Harriet in this repentant mind, Mr. Wyville lost no time in having her confession formally taken down and witnessed. This done, he spoke comforting words to Harriet, who, indeed, was relieved by the confession, and felt happier than she had been for years. Assembling the officers of the convict service in the cabin, immediately afterwards, Mr. Wyville took his first step as Comptroller-General, by announcing that Alice Walmsley was no longer a prisoner, that her innocence had been fully established by the confession of the real criminal, and that henceforth she was to be treated respectfully as a passenger.
When this news was given to Sister Cecilia, she almost lost her placid self-control in an outburst of happiness. But she controlled herself, and only wept for very gladness. Then she started up, and almost ran towards her secluded room, to break the tidings to Alice.
Alice was sewing when Sister Cecilia entered. She had acquired a habit of sewing during her long solitary confinement, and now she was happiest while working at a long seam. She smiled pleasantly as Sister Cecilia entered.
The kind little nun almost regretted that she bore news
p.200that would break the calm stream of Alice's life. She was happy as she was; would she be happier under better circumstances? Would the awakened memories counterbalance or sink the benefit?
"Good news, Alice!"
Alice looked up from her sewing inquiringly.
"Is the fever over at last?" she asked.
"Better than that, my child," said Sister Cecilia, sitting clown beside her, and putting an arm around her with tender affection. "I have special good news, that will gladden every kind heart on the ship. One of our prisoners, who has been in prison a long time, has been proved innocent, and has been made free by order of the Comptroller-General!"
As Sister Cecilia spoke, she still embraced Alice, and looked down at her face. But there was no perceptible change, except a slight contraction of the brow-muscles denoting awakened interest.
"And she, who was a poor prisoner an hour ago, is now a respected passenger on the Queen's ship!" continued Sister Cecilia, lightly; but in truth she was alarmed at Alice's calmness.
"It is a woman, then?" said Alice.
"Yes, dear; a woman who has been nine years in prison, suffering for another's crime. And that other has confessed Alice! Alice!" cried Sister Cecilia, dismayed at the effect of her words. But Alice did not hear; she had slipped from her seat, pale as marble, fainting; and were it not for the supporting arms of the nun she would have fallen headlong to the floor.
Sister Cecilia did not alarm anyone; she was experienced in emotional climaxes. She did the few things proper for the moment, then quietly awaited Alice's recovery.
In a few minutes the pale face was raised, and the mild eyes sought Sister Cecilia as if they asked a heartrending question. The little Sister did not understand the appeal; so she only encouraged Alice by a kind word to regain strength.
"And she!" whispered Alice, with quivering lips, now speaking what she had looked; "where is shethe forsaken one?"
"She is on board, my child; she is a prisoner, and a most unhappy one. She has no hope but the peace of atonement. God send her comfort!
"Amen! Amen!" cried Alice, laying her head on the Sister's arm, and sobbing without restraint.
THERE being no female passengers in the cabin of the Houguemont, it was decided that Alice Walmsley should remain in her room with Sister Cecilia till the end of the voyage. The only change made was in her dress, and this, by some strange foresight on the part of the little Sister, as it seemed, was quite extensively and fittingly provided for.
Alice selected the quietest possible dress, and when she stood arrayed in it, after so many weary years in prison gray, she could not help glancing at her face in the glass, and blushing as she looked; and at this very pretty and womanly moment, Sister Cecilia came upon her and gave a pleasant little laugh. Upon this, Alice blushed deeper, and turned her confused face away, while Sister Cecilia reached after it, and drawing it to the light kissed her affectionately.
"Why, Alice," she said, with a provoking smile, "you are quite a beauty."
Unquestionably, even a few days without the burden of bondage had worked wonders in Alice's life. She was no longer moody; she instantly and naturally began to take fresh interest in everything she saw and heard around her.
The ship cleared the Tropics and raced down towards the Cape in the vigorous Southern trades. The blustering winds and the rough sea brought refreshment even to the feeble, and to Alice renewed strength. Her face lost the pallor of confinement, and her step became elastic. The years of her imprisonment had kept dormant the energies that waste with exertion. She began to feel as youthful and as cheerful as when she was a girl.
One day she was standing beside her open window, looking out on the sea, when she plainly heard above her, on the poop deck, a voice that held her rooted to the spot.
"I cannot forsee the result"she heard these words"but I shall go on to the end. I have loved her clearly always; and I shall, at least, prove it to her before the dream is dispelled."
Alice held herself to the window, not meaning to listen to the words so much as to obey the strong prompting of her heart to hear the honest ring of the voice.
It was Will Sheridan who spokehe stood on the poop with Mr. Wyvilleand Alice knew the voice. After so many years, it came to her like a message from her girlhood, and bridged over the chasm in her life.
No other words reached her; but the conversation continued for a long time; and still she stood beside the window, her cheek laid on her hands, while she allowed the familiar tones to transport her back to happy scenes.
Sister Cecilia found her so, and playfully coaxed her to tell her thoughts; but Alice's diffidence was so evident that the little nun sat down and laughed heartily.
The voyage round the Cape had no special interest; and a few weeks later the officers began their preparations for disembarkation. The air grew balmy once more, and the sky cloudless.
"We are just three hundred miles from the mouth of the Swan River," said Sheridan one day to Mr. Wyville, when he had taken his observations. "Have you ever landed at Fremantle?"
"Yes, oncemany years ago," said Mr. Wyville, and he crossed the deck to observe something in the sea.
Throughout the voyage, neither Sheridan nor Wyville had seen Alice Walmsley. Each in his own mind deemed it best to leave her undisturbed with Sister Cecilia. Mr. Wyville was still impressed with the conviction of Sheridan's unhappy and hopeless affection for Harriet; but he was much perplexed by her forgetfulness of his name. However, when they reached Australia, one day ashore would clear up matters without the pain of preliminary explanation.
Day after day, in the mild southern air, the ship glided slowly on, and still the watchers on the crowded deck saw no Sign of land. From morning light they leant on the rail, looking away over the smooth sea to where the air was yellow with heat above the unseen continent. There was a warmth and pleasure in the promise it gave.
The straining eyes were saved the long pain of watching the indistinct line. The shore of West Australia is quite low, and the first sign of land are tall mahogany trees in the bush. The ship passed this first sight-line early in the night; and next morning, when the convicts were allowed on deck, they saw, only a few miles distant, the white sand and dark woods of their land of bondage and promise.
The sea was as smooth as a lake, and the light air impelled the ship slowly. At noon they passed within a stone's throw of the island of Rottenest, and every eye witnessed the strange sight of gangs of naked black men working like beavers in the sand, the island being used as a place of punishment for refractory natives.
An hour later, the ship had approached within a mile of the pier at Fremantle. The surrounding sea and land were very strange and beautiful. The green shoal-water, the soft air, with a yellowish warmth, the pure white sand of the beach, and the dark green of the unbroken forest beyond, made a scene almost like fairyland.
But there was a stern reminder of reality in the little town of Fremantle that lay between the forest and the sea. It was built of wooden houses, running down a gentle hill; and in the centre of the houses, spread out like a gigantic star-fish, was a vast stone prison.
There was a moment of bustle and noise on the deck, through which rang the clear commanding voice of Sheridan, and next moment the anchor plunged into the sea and the cable roared through the hawse-hole. Every soul on board took a long breath of relief at the end of the voyage.
A tug was seen coming from the wharf, the deck of which was crowded. At its mast-head floated the Governor's flag. On the deck was the Governor of the colony with his staff, and a host of convict officers from the prison.
The tug steamed alongside, and the Governor came on board the convict ship. He wore a blue tunic, with epaulettes like a naval officer, white trousers, and a cocked hat. He greeted Mr. Wyville with official welcome on account of his position, and warmly expressed his admiration of his philanthropy.
"I understand you bring us a new penal system," said the Governor. "I hope it is a stronger one than that we have."
"It certainly is stronger," said Mr. Wyville, "for it is milder and juster."
"Well, well," said the Governor, who was a testy old general, "I hope you won't spoil them. They need a stiff hand. Now, I suppose you want those warders from the prison to get your crowd into order for landing. Shall I order them on board?"
Mr. Wyville had been looking down on the tug, observing the officers, who were a rough crew, each one carrying, a heavy cane or whip, as well as a pistol in the belt, and a sword. He turned with a grave face to the Governor.
"Your Excellency, I am sure, will see the wisdom of beginning with our new code at once. We have here the best opportunity to emphasize its first principles. Shall I proceed?"
"By all means, Sir; you have absolute control of your department. I shall watch your method with interest."
At his order, the warders boarded the ship, formed in line, and saluted. Mr. Wyville descended from the poop, and carefully inspected them as they stood in rank.
"Go to the steward," be said to the chief warder, as he came to the end of the line, "and get from him a large basket."
The man was astonished, but he promptly obeyed. In a minute he returned with a capacious hamper.
"Begin on the right," said Mr. Wyville, in curt tones, "and place in that hamper your pistols, swords, canes, and whips."
The warders scarcely believed their ears; but they obeyed.
"Now listen!" said Mr. Wyville, and his voice thrilled the warders with its depth and earnestness. "I am going to read for you the new law of this colony, of which you are the officers. Its first word is, that if any of you strike or maltreat a prisoner, you shall be arrested, discharged, and imprisoned."
The warders fairly gasped with astonishment. The old Governor, who had listened attentively at first, opened his eyes wide, then nodded his head in decided approval.
Mr. Wyville read the heads of the new law, emphasizing the mild points. As he proceeded, the faces of the warders lost all expression but one of blank amazement. The entire meaning of the law was that convicts were expected to rise from bad to good, rather than descend from bad to worse. In other words, it was a law meant for reformation, not for vengeance.
In passing along the line, Mr. Wyville's eye rested on a silver medal worn by one of the warders. He looked at it keenly.
"What is that medal for?" he asked.
"For the mutiny of two years ago," said the chief warder; "this officer killed three mutineers."
"Take that medal off," said Mr. Wyville to the warder, "and never put it on again. We are to have no more mutiny."
The warders were then dismissed from the rank, and instructed to go below and get the convicts in order for disembarkation. As they departed, Mr. Wyville gave them one word more.
"Remember, you are dealing with men, not with brutes with men who have rights and the protection of law."
When they had disappeared into the bold, the old Governor shook Mr. Wyville warmly by the hand.
"By the lord Harry, sir, this is excellent," he said, heartily.
"This dd colony has been a menagerie long enough. If you succeed with your system, we'll make it a civilized country at last."
THE disembarkation of the convicts was a novel scene to them, and to the officers directing their movements. The absence of shouting and violence made it quite unprecedented to the warders. The convicts reached the wharf on barges, and marched in single file up the little street leading to the great gate of the prison of Fremantle.
Inside the gate, in the centre of an immense yard or walled sand plain, the Governor and Comptroller-General stood; and as the long line of convicts filed by, each saluted in military fashion, and passed on to the prison.
It was late in the afternoon when the last convict passed. The Governor was about to leave the ground, when his attention was called to one more stranger from the ship, who approached. It was Captain Draper. He walked slowly, as if still feeble from his illness; but he was carefully dressed, and was really much more vigorous than he pretended. He raised his hat to
p.206the Governor as he approached, and received a curt return of the salute, followed by a cold stare. The Governor had looked into Captain Draper's case that forenoon.
"Shall I retain the crew, your Excellency?" said Draper, with an obsequious smile, "or is the ship to go out of commission for the present?"
"I don't know, Sir," said the stiff old Governor, not hiding his dislike and contempt; "and I don't care, Sir. The ship belongs to the convict department." He turned on his heel as he spoke.
"Captain Draper," said Mr. Wyville, in an official tone, "you are relieved of your command. The ship goes out of commission."
Draper's face was a study of disappointment at the news.
"The crew will remain" he began.
"The crew will be taken to Adelaide on my yacht, which will arrive this week."
"Shall I have quarters on board?" asked Draper, with an alarmed look.
"No, Sir," said Mr. Wyville, shortly. "You must seek some other means of transport."
"But," said Draper, imploringly, "there are no ships in the colony, nor are any expected. I shall have to remain here."
"True," said the Governor, who enjoyed the scene. "There will be no visitors here for twelve months to come, nor any means of leaving."
Draper looked from one to the other of the men before him; but he drew no gleam of satisfaction from their faces. He began to feel a sinking of the heart, such as all cowards feel in the presence of danger. He instinctively knew that his cunning had been overreached, and was useless. He knew not where to look for the hand that had played against him; but through every nerve the knowledge rushed on him that he had been overmastered by a superior intelligencethat he was beaten, discovered, and impotent.
This knowledge came suddenly, but it came overwhelmingly. At one glance he saw that he had been led into a trap, and that the door had just closed. He turned to Mr. Wyville, crestfallen.
"If you refuse to let me go on the steamer, I might as well be a prisoner here."
"Precisely," said Mr. Wyville.
"Except that you will be a prisoner at large," said the Governor. "There is a saying in this colony," he added laughingly to Mr. Wyville, "that there are only two classes herethe people who are in prison, and the people who ought to be. Come, now, the horses are waiting; we have a ride of ten miles to Perth before we get dinner."
The Governor, Mr. Wyville, and the gentlemen of the staff moved off, leaving Captain Draper alone in the centre of the prison yard. He regarded them with baleful eyes till they went through the gate and disappeared. Then he followed, emerged from the gate, and was directed by one of the prison guards to an inn or public-house for the ticket-of-leave men, where he took up his residence.