"That's the talk," said the poor fool. "I thought I wasn't wrong in you, Charley." And so Charles galloped back with him.
We, in the meantime, had started from the station, ere day was well broke. Foremost of the company rode Desborough, calm and serene, and on either side of him Captain Brentwood and Major Buckley. Then came the Doctor, Sam, Jim, Halbert, and myself; behind us again, five troopers and the Sergeant. Each man of us all was armed with a sword; and every man in that company, as it happened, knew the use of that weapon well. The troopers carried carbines, and all of us carried pistols.
The glare in the east changing from pearly green to golden yellow, gave notice of the coming sun. One snow peak, Tambo, I think, began to catch the light, and blaze like another morning star. The day had begun in earnest, and, as we entered the mouth of the glen to which we were bound, slanting gleams of light were already piercing the misty gloom, and lighting up the loftier crags.
A deep, rock-walled glen it was, open and level, though, in the centre, ran a tangled waving line of evergreen shrubs, marking the course of a pretty bright creek, which, half hidden by luxuriant vegetation, ran beside the faint track leading to one of Captain Brentwood's mountain huts. Along this track we could plainly see the hoof marks of the men we were after.
It was one of the most beautiful gullies I had ever seen, and I turned to say so to some one who rode beside me. Conceive my horror at finding it was Charles Hawker. I turned to him fiercely, and said,—
"Get back, Charles. Go home. You don't know what you are doing, lad."
He defied me. And I was speaking roughly to him again, when there came a puff of smoke from among the rocks overhead, and down I went, head over heels. A bullet had grazed my thigh, and killed my horse, who. throwing me on my head, rendered me HORS DE COMBAT. So that during the fight which followed, I was sitting on a rock, very sick and very stupid, a mile from the scene of action.
My catastrophe caused only a temporary stoppage; and, during the confusion, Charles Hawker was unnoticed. The man who had fired at me (why at me I cannot divine), was evidently a solitary guard perched among the rocks. The others held on for about a quarter of an hour, till the valley narrowed up again, just leaving room for the walk between the brawling creek and the tall limestone cliff. But after this it opened out into a broader amphitheatre, walled on all sides by inaccessible rock, save in two places. Sam, from whom I get this account of affairs, had just time to notice this when he saw Captain Brentwood draw a pistol and fire it, and, at the same instant, a man dashed out of some scrub on the other side of the creek, and galloped away up the valley.
"They have had the precaution to set two watches for us, which I hardly expected," said Captain Desborough. "They will fight us now, they can't help it, thank God. They have had a short turn and a merry one, but they are dead men, and they know it. The Devil is but a poor paymaster, Buckley. After all this hide and seek work, they have only got two days' liberty."
The troopers now went to the front with Halbert and the other military men, while Sam, Jim, and Charles, the last all unperceived by the Major in his excitement, rode in the rear.
"We are going to have a regular battle," said Jim. "They are bailed up, and must fight; some of us will go home feet foremost to-day."
So they rode on through the open forest, till they began to see one or two horsemen through the treestems, reconnoitering. The ground began to rise towards a lofty cliff that towered before them, and all could see that the end was coming. Then they caught sight of the whole gang, scattered about among the low shrubs, and a few shots were fired on both sides before the bushrangers turned and retreated towards the wall of rock, now plainly visible through the timber. Our party continued to advance steadily in open order.
Then under the beetling crags, where the fern-trees began to feather up among the fallen boulders, the bushrangers turned like hunted wolves, and stood at bay.
THE FIGHT AMONG THE FERN-TREES.
Then Desborough cried aloud to ride at them, and spare no man. And, as he spoke, every golden fernbough, and every coigne of vantage among the rocks, began to blaze and crackle with gun and pistol shot. Jim's horse sprung aloft and fell, hurling him forcibly to the ground, and a tall young trooper, dropping his carbine, rolled heavily off his saddle, and lay on the grass face downward, quite still, as if asleep.
"There's the first man killed," said the Major, very quietly. "Sam, my boy, don't get excited, but close on the first fellow you see a chance at." And Sam, looking in his father's face as he spoke, saw a light in his eyes, that he had never seen there before—the light of battle. The Major caught a carbine from the hands of a trooper who rode beside him, and took a snap shot, quick as lightning, at a man whom they saw running from one cover to another. The poor wretch staggered and put his hands to his head, then stumbled and fell heavily down.
Now the fight became general and confused. All about among the fern and the flowers, among the lemanshrubs, and the tangled vines, men fought, and fired, and struck, and cursed; while the little brown bandiroots scudded swiftly away, and the deadly snake hid himself in his darkest lair, affrighted. Shots were cracking on all sides, two riderless horses, confused in the MELEE, were galloping about neighing, and a third lay squealing on the ground in the agonies of death.
Sam saw a man fire at his father, whose horse went down, while the Major arose unhurt. He rode at the ruffian, who was dismounted, and cut him so deep between the shoulder and the neck, that he fell and never spoke again. Then seeing Halbert and the Doctor on the right, fiercely engaged with four men who were fighting with clubbed muskets and knives, he turned to help them, but ere he reached them, a tall, handsome young fellow dashed out of the shrub, and pulling his horse short up, took deliberate aim at him, and fired.
Sam heard the bullet go hissing past his ear, and got mad. "That young dog shall go down," said he. "I know him. He is the one who rode first yesterday." And as this passed through his mind, he rode straight at him, with his sword hand upon his left shoulder. He came full against him in a moment, and as the man held up his gun to guard himself, his cut descended, so full and hard that it shore through the gunbarrel as through a stick, and ere he could bring his hand to his cheek, his opponent had grappled him, and the two rolled off their horses together, locked in a deadly embrace.
Then began an awful and deadly fight between these two young fellows. Sam's sword had gone from his hand in the fall, and he was defenceless, save by such splendid physical powers as he had by nature. But his adversary, though perhaps a little lighter, was a terrible enemy, and fought with the strength and litheness of a leopard. He had his hand at Sam's throat, and was trying to choke him. Sam saw that one great effort was necessary, and with a heave of his whole body, threw the other beneath him, and struck downwards, three quick blows, with the whole strength of his ponderous fist, on the face of the man, as he lay beneath him. The hold on his throat loosened, and seeing that they had rolled within reach of his sword, in a moment he had clutched it, and drawing back his elbow, prepared to plunge it in his adversary's chest.
But he hesitated. He could not do it. Maddened as he was with fighting, the sight of that bloody face, bruised beyond recognition by his terrible blows, and the wild fierce eyes, full of rage and terror, looking into his own, stayed his hand, and while he paused the man spoke, thick and indistinctly, for his jaw was broken.
"If you will spare me," he said, "I will be King's evidence."
"Then turn on your face," said Sam; "and I will tie you up."
And as he spoke a trooper ran up, and secured the prisoner, who appealed to Sam for his handkerchief. "I fought you fair," he said; "and you're a man worth fighting. But you have broken something in my face with your fist. Give me something to tie it up with?"
"God save us all!" said Sam, giving him his handkerchief. "This is miserable work! I hope it is all over."
It seemed so. All he heard were the fearful screams of a wounded man lying somewhere among the fern.
"Where are they all, Jackson?" said he.
"All away to the right, sir," said the trooper. "One of my comrades is killed, your father has had his horse shot, the Doctor is hit in the arm, and Mr. James Brentwood has got his leg broke with the fall of his horse. They are minding him now. We've got all the gang, alive or dead, except two. Captain Desborough is up the valley now after the head man, and young Mr. Hawker is with him. D—n it all! hark to that."
Two shots were fired in quick succession in the direction indicated; and Sam having caught his horse, gallopped off to see what was going on.
* * * * *
Desborough fought neither against small nor great, but only against one man, and he was George Hawker. Him he had sworn he would bring home, dead or alive. When he and his party had first broken through the fern, he had caught sight of his quarry, and had instantly made towards him, as quick as the broken, scrub-tangled ground would allow.
They knew one another; and, as soon as Hawker saw that he was recognised, he made to the left, away from the rest of his gang, trying to reach, as Desborough could plainly see, the only practicable way that led from the amphitheatre in which they were back into the mountains.
They fired at one another without effect at the first. Hawker was now pushing in full flight, though the scrub was so dense that neither made much way. Now the ground got more open and easier travelled, when Desborough was aware of one who came charging recklessly up alongside of him, and, looking round, he recognised Charles Hawker.
"Good lad," he said; "come on. I must have that fellow before us there. He is the arch-devil of the lot. If we follow him to h-ll, we must have him!"
"We'll have him, safe enough!" said Charles. "Push to the left, Captain, and we shall get him against those fallen rocks."
Desborough saw the excellence of this advice. This was the last piece of broken ground there was. On the right the cliff rose precipitous, and from its side had tumbled a confused heap of broken rock, running out into the glen. Once past this, the man they were pursuing would have the advantage, for he was splendidly mounted, and beyond was clear galloping ground. As it was, he was in a recess, and Desborough and Charles, pushing forward, succeeded in bringing him to bay. Alas, too well!
George Hawker reined up his horse when he saw escape was impossible, and awaited their coming with a double-barrelled pistol in his hand. As the other two came on, calling on him to surrender, Desborough's horse received a bullet in his chest, and down went horse and man together. But Charles pushed on till he was within twenty yards of the bushranger, and levelled his pistol to fire.
So met father and son the second time in their lives, all unconsciously. For an instant they glared on one another with wild threatening eyes, as the father made his aim more certain and deadly. Was there no lightning in heaven to strike him dead, and save him from this last horrid crime? Was there no warning voice to tell him that this was his son?
None. The bullet sped, and the poor boy tumbled from his saddle, clutching wildly, with crooked, convulsive fingers at the grass and flowers—shot through the the chest!
Then, ere Desborough had disentangled himself from his fallen horse, George Hawker rode off laughing—out through the upper rock walls into the presence of the broad bald snow-line that rolled above his head in endless lofty tiers towards the sky.
Desborough arose, swearing and stamping; but, ere he could pick up his cap, Sam was alongside of him, breathless, and with him another common-looking man—my man, Dick, no other—and they both cried out together, "What has happened?"
"Look there!" said Desborough, pointing to something dark among the grass,—"that's what has happened. What lies there was Charles Hawker, and the villain is off."
"Who shot Charles Hawker?" said Dick.
"His namesake," said Desborough.
"His own father!" said Dick; "that's terrible."
"What do you mean?" they both asked, aghast.
"Never mind now," he answered. "Captain Desborough, what are you going to do? Do you know where he's gone?"
"Up into the mountain, to lie by, I suppose," said Desborough.
"Not at all, sir! He is going to cross the snow, and get to the old hut, near the Murray Gate."
"What! Merryman's hut?" said the Captain. "Impossible! He could not get through that way."
"I tell you he can. That is where they came from at first; that is where they went to when they landed; and this is the gully they came through."
"Are you deceiving me?" said Desborough. "It will be worse for you if you are! I ain't in a humour for that sort of thing. Who are you?"
"I am Mr. Hamlyn's groom—Dick. Strike me dead if I ain't telling the truth!"
"Do you know this man, Buckley?" said Desborough, calling out to Sam, who was sitting beside poor Charles Hawker, holding his head up.
"Know him! of course I do," he replied; "ever since I was a child."
"Then, look here," said Desborough to Dick; "I shall trust you. Now, you say he will cross the snow. If I were to go round by the Parson's I shouldn't get much snow."
"That's just it, don't you see? You can be round at the huts before him. That's what I mean," said Dick. "Take Mr. Buckley's horse, and ride him till he drops, and you'll get another at the Parson's. If you have any snow, it will be on Broadsaddle; but it won't signify. You go round the low side of Tambo, and sight the lake, and you'll be there before him."
"Sixty miles, or thereabouts, plain sailing. It ain't eleven o'clock yet."
"Good; I'll remember you for this. Buckley, I want your horse. Is the lad dead?"
"No; but he is very bad. I'll try to get him home. Take the horse; he is not so good a one as Widderin, but he'll carry you to the Parson's. God speed you."
They watched him ride away almost south, skirting the ridges of the mountain as long as he could; then they saw him scrambling up a lofty wooded ridge, and there he disappeared.
They raised poor Charles Hawker up, and Sam, mounting Dick's horse, took the wounded man up before him, and started to go slowly home. After a time, he said, "Do you feel worse, Charles?" and the other replied, "No; but I am very cold." After that he stayed quite still, with his arm round Sam Buckley's neck, until they reached the Brentwoods' door.
Some came out to the door to meet them, and, among others, Alice. "Take him from me," said Sam to one of the men. "Be very gentle: he is asleep." And so they took the dead man's arm from off the living man's shoulder, and carried him in; for Charles Hawker was asleep indeed—in the sleep that knows no waking.
* * * * *
That was one of the fiercest and firmest stands that was ever made by bushrangers against the authorities. Of the latter five were shot down, three wounded, and the rest captured, save two. The gang was destroyed at once, and life and property once more secure, though at a sad sacrifice.
One trooper was shot dead at the first onset,—a fine young fellow, just picked from his regiment for good conduct to join the police. Another was desperately wounded, who died the next day. On the part of the independent men assisting, there were Charles Hawker killed, Doctor Mulhaus shot in the left arm, and Jim with his leg broke; so that, on that evening, Captain Brentwood's house was like a hospital.
Captain Brentwood set his son's leg, under Dr. Mulhaus' directions, the Doctor keeping mighty brave, though once or twice his face twisted with pain, and he was nearly fainting. Alice was everywhere, pale and calm, helping every one who needed it, and saying nothing. Eleanor, the cook, pervaded the house, doing the work of seven women, and having the sympathies of fourteen. She told them that this was as bad a job as she'd ever seen; worse, in fact. That the nearest thing she'd ever seen to it was when Mat Steeman's mob were broke up by the squatters; "But then," she added, "there were none but prisoners killed."
But when Alice had done all she could, and the house was quiet, she went up to her father, and said,—
"Now, father, comes the worst part of the matter for me. Who is to tell Mrs. Hawker?"
"Mrs. Buckley, my dear, would be the best person. But she is at the Mayfords', I am afraid."
"Mrs. Hawker must be told at once, father, by some of us. I do so dread her hearing of it by some accident, when none of her friends are with her. Oh, dear! oh, dear! I never thought to have had such times as these."
"Alice, my darling," said her father, "do you think that you have strength to carry the news to her? If Major Buckley went with you, he could tell her, you know; and it would be much better for her to have him, an old friend, beside her. It would be such a delay to go round and fetch his wife. Have you courage?"
"I will make courage," she said. "Speak to Major Buckley, father, and I will get ready."
She went to Sam. "I am going on a terrible errand," she said; "I am going to tell Mrs. Hawker about this dreadful, dreadful business. Now, what I want to say is, that you mustn't come; your father is going with me, and I'll get through it alone, Sam. Now please," she added, seeing Sam was going to speak, "don't argue about it; I am very much upset as it is, and I want you to stay here. You won't follow us, will you?"
"Whatever you order, Alice, is law," said Sam. "I won't come if you don't wish it; but I can't see——"
"There now. Will you get me my horse? And please stay by poor Jim, for my sake."
Sam complied; and Alice, getting on her riding-habit, came back trembling, and trying not to cry, to tell Major Buckley that she was ready.
He took her in his arms, and kissed her. "You are a brave, noble girl," he said; "I thank God for such a daughter-in-law. Now, my dear, let us hurry off, and not think of what is to come."
It was about five o'clock when they went off. Sam and Halbert, having let them out of the paddock, went in-doors to comfort poor Jim's heart, and to get something to eat, if it were procurable. Jim lay on his bed tossing about, and the Doctor sat beside him, talking to him; pale and grim, waiting for the doctor who had been sent for; no other than his drunken old enemy.
"This is about as nice a kettle of fish," said Jim, when they came and sat beside him, "as a man could possibly wish to eat. Poor Cecil and Charley; both gone, eh? Well, I know it ain't decent for a fellow with a broken leg to feel wicked; but I do, nevertheless. I wish now that I had had a chance at some of them before that stupid brute of a horse got shot."
"If you don't lie still, you Jim," said Sam, "your leg will never set; and then you must have it taken off, you know. How is your arm, Doctor?"
"Shooting a little," said the Doctor; "nothing to signify, I believe. At least, nothing in the midst of such a tragedy as this. Poor Mary Hawker; the pretty little village-maid we all loved so well. To come to such an end as this!"
"Is it true, then, Doctor, that Hawker, the bushranger, is her husband?"
"Quite true, alas! Every one must know it now. But I pray you, Sam, to keep the darkest part of it all from her; don't let her know that the boy fell by the hand of his father."
"I could almost swear," said Sam, "that one among the gang is his son too. When they rode past Alice and myself yesterday morning, one was beside him so wonderfully like him, that even at that time I set them down for father and son."
"If Hamlyn's strange tale be true, it is so," said the Doctor. "Is the young man you speak of among the prisoners, do you know?"
"Yes; I helped to capture him myself," said Sam. "What do you mean by Hamlyn's story?"
"Oh, a long one. He met him in a hut the night after we picnic'd at Mirngish, and found out who he was. The secret not being ours, your father and I never told any of you young people of the fact of this bushranger being poor Mrs. Hawker's husband. I wish we had; all this might have been avoided. But the poor soul always desired that the secret of his birth might be kept from Charles, and you see the consequences. I'll never keep a secret again. Come here with me; let us see both of them."
They followed him, and he turned into a little side room at the back of the house. It was a room used for chance visitors or strangers, containing two small beds, which now bore an unaccustomed burden, for beneath the snow-white coverlids, lay two figures, indistinct indeed, but unmistakeable.
"Which is he?" whispered the Doctor.
Sam raised the counterpane from the nearest one, but it was not Charles. It was a young, handsome face that he saw, lying so quietly and peacefully on the white pillow, that he exclaimed—
"Surely this man is not dead?"
The Doctor shook his head. "I have often seen them like that," he said. "He is shot through the heart."
Then they went to the other bed, where poor Charles lay. Sam gently raised the black curls from his face, but none of them spoke a word for a few minutes, till the Doctor said, "Now let us come and see his brother."
They crossed the yard, to a slab outbuilding, before which one of the troopers was keeping guard, with a loaded carbine, and, the Sergeant coming across, admitted them.
Seven or eight fearfully ill-looking ruffians lay about on the floor, handcuffed. They were most of them of the usual convict stamp, dark, saturnine looking fellows, though one offered a strange contrast by being an Albino, and another they could not see plainly, for he was huddled up in a dark corner, bending down over a basin of water, and dabbing his face. The greater part of them cursed and blasphemed desperately, as is the manner of such men when their blood is up, and they are reckless; while the wounded ones lay in a fierce sullen silence, more terrible almost than the foul language of the others.
"He is not here," said Sam. "Stay, that must be him wiping his face!"
He went towards him, and saw he was right. The young man he had taken looked wildly up like a trapped animal into his face, and the Doctor could not suppress an exclamation when he saw the likeness to his father.
"Is your face very bad?" said Sam quietly.
The other turned away in silence.
"I'll tie it up for you, if you like," said Sam.
"It don't want no tying up."
He turned his face to the wall, and remained obstinately silent. They perceived that nothing more was to be got from him, and departed. But, turning at the door, they still saw him crouched in the corner like a wild beast, wiping his bruised face every now and then with Sam's handkerchief, apparently thinking of nothing, hoping for nothing. Such a pitiful sight—such an example of one who was gone beyond feeling pity, or sorrow, or aught else, save physical pain, that the Doctor's gorge rose, and he said, stamping on the gravel,—
"A man, who says that that is not the saddest, saddest sight he ever saw, is a disgrace to the mother that bore him. To see a young fellow like that with such a PHYSIQUE—and God only knows what undeveloped qualities in him, only ripe for the gallows at five-and-twenty, is enough to make the angels weep. He knows no evil but physical pain, and that he considers but a temporary one. He knows no good save, perhaps, to be faithful to his confederates. He has been brought up from his cradle to look on every man as his enemy. He never knew what it was to love a human being in his life. Why, what does such a man regard this world as? As the antechamber of hell, if he ever heard of such a place. I want to know what either of us three would have been if we had had his training. I want to know that now. We might have been as much worse than him as a wolf is worse than an evil-tempered dog."
A beautiful colley came up to the Doctor and fawned on him, looking into his face with her deep, expressive, hazel eyes.
"We must do something for that fellow, Sam. If it's only for his name's sake," said the Doctor.
* * * * *
That poor boy, sitting crouched there in the corner, with a broken jaw, and just so much of human feeling as one may suppose a polecat to have, caught in a gin, is that same baby that we saw Ellen Lee nursing on the door-step in the rain, when our poor Mary came upon her on one wild night in Exeter.
Base-born, workhouse-bred! Tossed from workhouse to prison, from prison to hulk—every man's hand against him—an Arab of society. As hopeless a case, my lord judge, as you ever had to deal with; and yet I think, my lord, that your big heart grows a little pitiful, when you see that handsome face before you, blank and careless, and you try, fruitlessly, to raise some blush of shame, or even anger in it, by your eloquence.
Gone beyond that, my lord. Your thunderbolts fall harmless here, and the man you say is lost, and naturally. Yet, give that same man room to breathe and act; keep temptation from him, and let his good qualities, should he have any, have fair play, and, even yet, he may convert you to the belief that hardened criminals may be reformed, to the extent of one in a dozen; beyond that no reasonable man will go.
Let us see the end of this man. For now the end of my tale draws near, and I must begin gathering up the threads of the story, to tie them in a knot, and release my readers from duty. Here is all I can gather about him,—
Sam and the Doctor moved heaven, earth, and the Colonial Secretary, to get his sentence commuted, and with success. So when his companions were led out to execution, he was held back; reserved for penal servitude for life.
He proved himself quiet and docile; so much so that when our greatest, boldest explorer was starting for his last hopeless journey to the interior, this man was selected as one of the twelve convicts who were to accompany him. What follows is an extract which I have been favoured with from his private journal. You will not find it in the published history of the expedition:—
"Date—lat.—long.—Morning. It is getting hopeless now, and to-morrow I turn. Sand, and nothing but sand. The salsolaceous plants, so long the only vegetation we have seen, are gone; and the little sienite peak, the last symptom of a water-bearing country, has disappeared behind us. The sandhills still roll away towards the setting sun, but get less and less elevated. The wild fowl are still holding their mysterious flight to the north-west, but I have not wings to follow them. Oh, my God! if I only knew what those silly birds know. It is hopeless to go on, and, I begin to fear, hopeless to go back. Will it never rain again?
"Afternoon.—My servant Hawker, one of the convicts assigned to me by Government, died to-day at noon. I had got fond of this man, as the most patient and the bravest, where all have been so patient and so brave. He was a very silent and reserved man, and had never complained, so that I was deeply shocked on his sending for me at dinner-time, to find that he was dying.
"He asked me not to deceive him, but to tell him if there was any truth in what the gaol-chaplain had said, about there being another life after death. I told him earnestly that I knew it as surely as I knew that the earth was under my feet; and went on comforting him as one comforts a dying man. But he never spoke again; and we buried him in the hot sand at sundown. The first wind will obliterate the little mound we raised over him, and none will ever cross this hideous desert again. So that he will have as quiet a grave as he could wish.
"Eleven o'clock at night.—God be praised. Heavy clouds and thunder to the north.—"
So this poor workhouse-bred lad lies out among the sands of the middle desert.
ACROSS THE SNOW.
Hawker the elder, as I said, casting one glance at the body of his son, whom he knew not, and another at Captain Desborough, who was just rising from the ground after his fall, set spurs to his noble chestnut horse, and, pushing through the contracted barriers of slate which closed up the southern end of the amphitheatre where they had been surprised, made for the broader and rapidly rising valley which stretched beyond.
He soon reached the rocky gate, where the vast ridge of schist, alternating with the limestone, and running north and south in high serrated ridges, was cut through by a deep fissure, formed by the never idle waters of a little creek, that in the course of ages had mined away the softer portions of the slate, and made a practicable pass toward the mountains.
He picked his way with difficulty through the tumbled boulders that lay in the chasm; and then there was a cool brisk wind on his forehead, and a glare in his eyes. The chill breath of the west wind from the mountain—the glare of the snow that filled up the upper end of the valley, rising in level ridges towards the sky-line.
He had been this path before; and if he had gone it a hundred times again, he would only have cursed it for a rough, desperate road, the only hope of a desperate man. Not for him to notice the thousand lessons that the Lord had spread before him in the wilderness! Not for him to notice how the vegetation changed when the limestone was passed, and the white quartz reefs began to seam the slaty sides of the valley like rivers of silver! Not for him to see how, as he went up and on, the hardy Dicksoniae, still nestled in stunted tufts among the more sheltered side gullies, long after her tenderer sister, the queenly Alsophylla had been left behind. He only knew that he was a hunted wild beast, and that his lair was beyond the snow.
The creek flashed pleasantly among the broken slate, full and turbid under the mid-day sun. After midnight, when its fountains are sealed again by the frosty breath of night, that creek will be reduced to a trickling rill. His horse's feet brushed through the delicate asplenium, the Venus'-hair of Australia; the sarsaparilla still hung in scant purple tufts on the golden wattle, and the scarlet correa lurked among the broken quartz.
Upwards and onwards. In front, endless cycles agone, a lava stream from some crater we know not had burst over the slate, with fearful clang and fierce explosion, forming a broad roadway of broken basalt up to a plateau twelve hundred feet or more above us, and not so steep but that a horse might be led up it. Let us go up with him, not cursing heaven and earth, as he did, but noticing how, as we ascend, the scarlet wreaths of the Kennedia and the crimson Grevillea give place to the golden Grevillea and the red Epacris; then comes the white Epacris, and then the grass trees, getting smaller and scantier as we go, till the little blue Gentian, blossoming boldly among the slippery crags, tells us that we have nearly reached the limits of vegetation.
He turned when he reached this spot, and looked around him. To the west a broad rolling down of snow, rising gradually; to the east, a noble prospect of forest and plain, hill and gully, with old Snowy winding on in broad bright curves towards the sea. He looked over all the beauty and undeveloped wealth of Gipp's Land, which shall yet, please God, in fulness of time, be one of the brightest jewels in the King of England's crown, but with eyes that saw not. He turned towards the snow, and mounting his horse, which he had led up the cliff, held steadily westward.
His plans were well laid. Across the mountain, north of Lake Omeo, not far from the mighty cleft in which the infant Murray spends his youth, were two huts, erected years before by some settler, and abandoned. They had been used by a gang of bushrangers, who had been attacked by the police, and dispersed. Nevertheless, they had been since inhabited by the men we know of, who landed in the boat from Van Diemen's Land, in consequence of Hawker himself having found a pass through the ranges, open for nine months in the year. So that, when the police were searching Gipp's Land for these men, they, with the exception of two or three, were snugly ensconced on the other water-shed, waiting till the storm should blow over. In these huts Hawker intended to lie by for a short time, living on such provisions as were left, until he could make his way northward, on the outskirts of the settlements, and escape.
There was no pursuit, he thought: how could there be? Who knew of this route but himself and his mates? hardly likely any of them would betray him. No creature was moving in the valley he had just ascended; but the sun was beginning to slope towards the west, and he must onwards.
Onwards, across the slippery snow. At first a few tree-stems, blighted and withered, were visible right and left, proving that at some time during their existence, these bald downs had either a less elevation or a warmer climate than now. Then these even disappeared, and all around was one white blinding glare. To the right, the snow-fields rolled up into the shapeless lofty mass called Mount Tambo, behind which the hill they now call Kosciusko,—as some say, the highest ground in the country,—began to take a crimson tint from the declining sun. Far to the south, black and gaunt among the whitened hills, towered the rounded hump of Buffaloe, while the peaks of Buller and Aberdeen showed like dim blue clouds on the furthest horizon.
Snow, and nothing but snow. Sometimes plunging shoulder deep into some treacherous hollow, sometimes guiding the tired horse across the surface frozen over unknown depths. He had been drinking hard for some days, and, now the excitement of action had gone off, was fearfully nervous. The snow-glint had dizzied his head, too, and he began to see strange shapes forming themselves in the shade of each hollow, and start at each stumble of his horse.
A swift-flying shadow upon the snow, and a rush of wings overhead. An eagle. The lordly scavenger is following him, impatient for him to drop and become a prey. Soar up, old bird, and bide thy time; on yonder precipice thou shalt have good chance of a meal.
Twilight, and then night, and yet the snow but half past. There is a rock in a hollow, where grow a few scanty tufts of grass which the poor horse may eat. Here he will camp, fireless, foodless, and walk up and down the livelong night, for sleep might be death. Though he is not in thoroughly Alpine regions, yet still, at this time of the year, the snow is deep and the frost is keen. It were as well to keep awake.
As he paced up and down beneath the sheltering rock, when night had closed in, and the frosty stars were twinkling in the cold blue firmament, strange ghosts and fancies came crowding on him thick and fast. Down the long vista of a misspent, ruined life, he saw people long since forgotten trooping up towards him. His father tottered sternly on, as with a fixed purpose before him; his gipsy-mother, Madge, strode forward pitiless; and poor ruined Ellen, holding her child to her heart, joined the others, and held up her withered hand as if in mockery. But then there came a face between him and all the other figures which his distempered brain had summoned, and blotted them out; the face of a young man, bearing a strange likeness to himself; the face of the last human creature he had seen; the face of the boy that he had shot down among the fern.
Why should this face grow before him wherever he turned, so that he could not look on rock or sky without seeing it? Why should it glare at him through a blood-red haze when he shut his eyes to keep it out, not in sorrow, not in anger, but even as he had seen it last, expressing only terror and pain, as the lad rolled off his horse, and lay a black heap among the flowers? Up and away! anything is better than this. Let us stumble away across the snow, through the mirk night once more, rather than be driven mad by this pale boy's face.
Morning, and the pale ghosts have departed. Long shadows of horse and man are thrown before him now, as the slope dips away to the westward, and he knows that his journey is well-nigh over.
It was late, afternoon, before, having left the snow some hours, he began to lead his horse down a wooded precipice, through vegetation which grew more luxuriant every yard he descended. The glen, whose bottom he was trying to reach, was a black profound gulf, with perpendicular, or rather over-hanging walls, on every side, save where he was scrambling down. Here indeed it was possible for a horse to keep his footing among the belts of trees, that, alternating with precipitous granite cliff, formed the upper end of one of the most tremendous glens in the world—the Gates of the Murray.
He was barely one-third of the way down this mountain wall, when the poor tired horse lost his footing and fell over the edge, touching neither tree nor stone for five hundred feet, while George Hawker was left terrified, hardly daring to peer into the dim abyss, where the poor beast was gone.
But it was little matter. The hut he was making for was barely four miles off now, and there was meat, drink, and safety. Perhaps there might be company, he hoped there might,—some of the gang might have escaped. A dog would be some sort of friend, anything sooner than such another night as last night.
His pistols were gone with the saddle, and he was unarmed. He reached the base of the cliff in safety, and forced his way through the tangled scrub that fringed the infant river, towards the lower end of the pass. Here the granite walls, overhanging, bend forward above to meet one another, almost forming an arch, the height of which, from the river-bed, is computed to be nearly, if not quite, three thousand feet. Through this awful gate he forced his way, overawed and utterly dispirited, and reached the gully where his refuge lay, just as the sun was setting.
There was a slight track, partly formed by stray cattle which led up it, and casting his eyes upon this, he saw the marks of a horse's feet. "Some one of the gang got home before me," he said. "I'm right glad of that, anything better than such another night."
He turned a sharp angle in the path, just where it ran round an abrupt cliff. He saw a horseman within ten yards of him with his face towards him. Captain Desborough, holding a pistol at his head.
"Surrender, George Hawker!" said Desborough. "Or, by the living Lord! you are a dead man."
Hungry, cold, desperate, unarmed; he saw that he was undone, and that hope was dead. The Captain had an easier prey than he had anticipated. Hawker threw up his arms, and ere he could fully appreciate his situation, he was chained fast to Desborough's saddle, only to be loosed, he knew, by the gallows.
Without a word on either side they began their terrible journey. Desborough riding, and Hawker manacled by his right wrist to the saddle. Fully a mile was passed before the latter asked, sullenly,—
"Where are you going to take me to-night?"
"To Dickenson's," replied Desborough. "You must step out you know. It will be for your own good, for I must get there to-night."
Two or three miles further were got over, when Hawker said abruptly,—
"Look here, Captain, I want to talk to you."
"You had better not," said Desborough. "I don't want to have any communication with you, and every word you say will go against you."
"Bah!" said Hawker. "I must swing. I know that. I shan't make any defence. Why, the devils out of hell would come into court against me if I did. But I want to ask you a question or two. You haven't got the character of being a brutal fellow, like O——. It can't hurt you to answer me one or two things, and ease my mind a bit."
"God help you, unhappy man;" said Desborough. "I will answer any questions you ask."
"Well, then, see here," said Hawker, hesitating. "I want to know—I want to know first, how you got round before me?"
"Is that all?" said Desborough. "Well, I came round over Broad-saddle, and got a fresh horse at the Parson's."
"Ah!" said Hawker. "That young fellow I shot down when you were after me, is he dead?"
"By this time," said Desborough. "He was just dying when I came away."
"Would you mind stopping for a moment, Captain? Now tell me, who was he?"
"Mr. Charles Hawker, son of Mrs. Hawker, of Toonarbin."
He gave such a yell that Desborough shrunk from him appalled,—a cry as of a wounded tiger,—and struggled so wildly with his handcuffs that the blood poured from his wrists. Let us close this scene. Desborough told me afterwards that that wild, fierce, despairing cry, rang in his ears for many years afterwards, and would never be forgotten till those ears were closed with the dust of the grave.
HOW MARY HAWKER HEARD THE NEWS.
Troubridge's Station, Toonarbin, lay so far back from the river, and so entirely on the road to nowhere, that Tom used to remark, that he would back it for being the worst station for news in the country. So it happened that while these terrible scenes were enacting within ten miles of them, down, in fact, to about one o'clock in the day when the bushrangers were overtaken and punished, Mary and her cousin sat totally unconscious of what was going on.
But about eleven o'clock that day, Burnside, the cattle dealer, mentioned once before in these pages, arrived at Major Buckley's, from somewhere up country, and found the house apparently deserted.
But having coee'd for some time, a door opened in one of the huts, and a sleepy groom came forth, yawning.
"Where are they all?" asked Burnside.
"Mrs. Buckley and the women were down at Mrs. Mayford's, streaking the bodies out," he believed. "The rest were gone away after the gang."
This was the first that Burnside had heard about the matter. And now, bit by bit, he extracted everything from the sleepy groom.
I got him afterwards to confess to me, that when he heard of this terrible affair, his natural feeling of horror was considerably alloyed with pleasure. He saw here at one glance a fund of small talk for six months. He saw himself a welcome visitor at every station, even up to furthest lonely Condamine, retailing the news of these occurrences with all the authenticity of an eye witness, improving his narrative by each repetition. Here was the basis of a new tale, Ode, Epic, Saga, or what you may please to call it, which he Burnside, the bard, should sing at each fireside throughout the land.
"And how are Mrs. and Miss Mayford, poor souls!" he asked.
"They're as well," answered the groom, "as you'd expect folks to be after such a mishap. They ran out at the back way and down the garden towards the river before the chaps could burst the door down. I am sorry for that little chap Cecil; I am, by Jove! A straightforward, manly little chap as ever crossed a horse. Last week he says to me, says he, 'Benjy, my boy,' says he, 'come and be groom to me. I'll give you thirty pound a-year.' And I says, 'If Mr. Sam——' Hallo, there they are at it, hammer and tongs! Sharp work, that!"
They both listened intensely. They could hear, borne on the west wind, a distant dropping fire and a shouting. The groom's eye began to kindle a bit, but Burnside, sitting yet upon his horse, grasped the lad's shoulder and cried, "God save us, suppose our men should be beaten!"
"Suppose," said the groom, contemptuously shaking him off; "why, then you and I should get our throats cut."
At this moment the noise of the distant fight breezed up louder than ever.
"They're beat back," said Burnside. "I shall be off to Toonarbin, and give them warning. I advise you to save yourself."
"I was set to mind these here things," said Benjy, "and I'm a-going to mind 'em. And they as meddles with 'em had better look out."
Burnside started off for Toonarbin, and when halfway there he paused and listened. The firing had ceased. When he came to reflect, now that his panic was over, he had very little doubt that Desborough's party had gained the day. It was impossible, he thought, that it could be otherwise.
Nevertheless, being half-way to Toonarbin, he determined to ride on, and, having called in a moment, to follow a road which took a way past Lee's old hut towards the scene of action. He very soon pulled up at the door, and Tom Troubridge came slowly out to meet him.
"Hallo, Burnside!" said Tom. "Get off, and come in."
"Not I, indeed. I am going off to see the fight."
"What fight?" said Mary Hawker, looking over Tom's shoulder.
"Do you mean to say you have not heard the news?"
"Not a word of any news for a fortnight."
For once in his life, Burnside was laconic, and told them all that had happened. Tom spoke not a word, but ran up to the stable and had a horse out, saddled in a minute, he was dashing into the house again for his hat and pistols when he came against Mary in the passage, leaning against the wall.
"Tom," she whispered hoarsely. "Bring that boy back to me safe, or never look me in the face again!"
He never answered her, he was thinking of some one beside the boy. He pushed past her, and the next moment she saw him gallop away with Burnside, followed by two men, and now she was left alone indeed, and helpless.
There was not a soul about the place but herself; not a soul within ten miles. She stood looking out of the door fixedly, at nothing, for a time; but then, as hour by hour went on, and the afternoon stillness fell upon the forest, and the shadows began to slant, a terror began to grow upon her which at length became unbearable, and well-nigh drove her mad.
At the first she understood that all these years of anxiety had come to a point at last, and a strange feeling of excitement, almost joy, came over her. She was one of those impetuous characters who stand suspense worse than anything, and now, although terror was in her, she felt as though relief was nigh. Then she began to think again of her son, but only for an instant. He was under Major Buckley's care, and must be safe; so she dismissed that fear from her mind for a time, but only for a time. It came back to her again. Why did he not come to her? Why had not the Major sent him off to her at once? Could the Major have been killed? even if so, there was Doctor Mulhaus. Her terrors were absurd.
But not the less terrors that grew in strength hour by hour, as she waited there, looking at the pleasant spring forest, and no one came. Terrors that grew at last so strong, that they took the place of certainties. Some hitch must have taken place, and her boy must be gone out with the rest.
Having got as far as this, to go further was no difficulty. He was killed, she felt sure of it, and none had courage to come and tell her of it. She suddenly determined to verify her thoughts at once, and went in doors to get her hat.
She had fully made up her mind that he must be killed at this time. The hope of his having escaped was gone. We, who know the real state of the case, should tremble for her reason, when she finds her fears so terribly true. We shall see.
She determined to start away to the Brentwoods', and end her present state of terror one way or another. Tom had taken the only horse in the stable, but her own brown pony was running in the paddock with some others; and she sallied forth, worn out, feverish, halfmad, to try to catch him.
The obstinate brute wouldn't be caught. Then she spent a weary hour trying to drive them all into the stockyard, but in vain. Three times she, with infinite labour, drove them up to the slip-rack, and each time the same mare and foal broke away, leading off the others. The third time, when she saw them all run whinnying down to the further end of the paddock, after half an hour or so of weary work driving them up, when she had run herself off her poor tottering legs, and saw that all her toil was in vain, then she sank down on the cold hard gravel in the yard, with her long black hair streaming loose along the ground, and prayed that she might die. Down at full length, in front of her own door, like a dead woman, moaning and crying, from time to time, "Oh, my boy, my boy."
How long she lay there she knew not. She heard a horse's feet, but only stopped her ears from the news she thought was coming. Then she heard a steady heavy footstep close to her, and some one touched her, and tried to raise her.
She sat up, shook the hair from her eyes, and looked at the man who stood beside her. At first she thought it was a phantom of her own brain, but then looking wildly at the calm, solemn features, and the kindly grey eyes which were gazing at her so inquiringly, she pronounced his name—"Frank Maberly."
"God save you, madam," he said. "What is the matter?"
"Misery, wrath, madness, despair!" she cried wildly, raising her hand. "The retribution of a lifetime fallen on my luckless head in one unhappy moment."
Frank Maberly looked at her in real pity, but a thought went through his head. "What a magnificent actress this woman would make." It merely past through his brain and was gone, and then he felt ashamed of himself for entertaining it a moment; and yet it was not altogether an unnatural one for him who knew her character so well. She was lying on the ground in an attitude which would have driven Siddons to despair; one white arm, down which her sleeve had fallen, pressed against her forehead, while the other clutched the ground; and her splendid black hair fallen down across her shoulders. Yet how could he say how much of all this wild despair was real, and how much hysterical?
"But what is the matter, Mary Hawker," he asked. "Tell me, or how can I help you?"
"Matter?" she said. "Listen. The bushrangers are come down from the mountains, spreading ruin, murder, and destruction far and wide. My husband is captain of the gang: and my son, my only son, whom I have loved better than my God, is gone with the rest to hunt them down—to seek, unknowing, his own father's life. There is mischief beyond your mending, priest!"
Beyond his mending, indeed. He saw it. "Rise up," he said, "and act. Tell me all the circumstances. Is it too late?"
She told him how it had come to pass, and then he showed her that all her terrors were but anticipations, and might be false. He got her pony for her, and, as night was falling, rode away with her along the mountain road that led to Captain Brentwood's.
The sun was down, and ere they had gone far, the moon was bright overhead. Frank, having fully persuaded himself that all her terrors were the effect of an overwrought imagination, grew cheerful, and tried to laugh her out of them. She, too, with the exercise of riding through the night-air, and the company of a handsome, agreeable, well-bred man, began to have a lurking idea that she had been making a fool of herself; when they came suddenly on a hut, dark, cheerless, deserted, standing above a black, stagnant, reed-grown waterhole.
The hut where Frank had gone to preach to the stockmen. The hut where Lee had been murdered—an ill-omened place; and as they came opposite to it, they saw two others approaching them in the moonlight—Major Buckley and Alice Brentwood.
Then Alice, pushing forward, bravely met her, and told her all—all, from beginning to end; and when she had finished, having borne up nobly, fell to weeping as though her heart would break. But Mary did not weep, or cry, or fall down. She only said, "Let me see him," and went on with them, silent and steady.
They got to Garoopna late at night, none having spoken all the way. Then they showed her into the room where poor Charles lay, cold and stiff, and there she stayed hour after hour through the weary night. Alice looked in once or twice, and saw her sitting on the bed which bore the corpse of her son, with her face buried in her hands; and at last, summoning courage, took her by the arm and led her gently to bed.
Then she went into the drawing-room, where, besides her father, were Major Buckley, Doctor Mulhaus, Frank Maberly, and the drunken doctor before spoken of, who had had the sublime pleasure of cutting a bullet from his old adversary's arm, and was now in a fair way to justify the SOBRIQUET I have so often applied to him. I myself also was sitting next the fire, alongside of Frank Maberly.
"My brave girl," said the Major, "how is she?"
"I hardly can tell you, sir," said Alice; "she is so very quiet. If she would cry now, I should be very glad. It would not frighten me so much as seeing her like that. I fear she will die!"
"If her reason holds," said the Doctor, "she will get over it. She had, from all accounts, gone through every phase of passion, down to utter despair, before she knew the blow had fallen. Poor Mary!"
* * * * *
There, we have done. All this misery has come on her from one act of folly and selfishness years ago. How many lives are ruined, how many families broken up, by one false step! If ever a poor soul has expiated her own offence, she has. Let us hope that brighter times are in store for her. Let us have done with moral reflections; I am no hand at that work. One more dark scene, reader, and then.—
* * * * *
It was one wild dreary day in the spring; a day of furious wind and cutting rain; a day when few passengers were abroad, and when the boatmen were gathered in knots among the sheltered spots upon the quays, waiting to hear of disasters at sea; when the ships creaked and groaned at the wharfs, and the harbour was a sheet of wind-driven foam, and the domain was strewed with broken boughs. On such a day as this, Major Buckley and myself, after a sharp walk, found ourselves in front of the principal gaol in Sydney.
We were admitted, for we had orders; and a small, wiry, clever-looking man about fifty bowed to us as we entered the white-washed corridor, which led from the entrance hall. We had a few words with him, and then followed him.
To the darkest passage in the darkest end, of that dreary place; to the condemned cells. And my heart sank as the heavy bolt shot back, and we went into the first one on the right.
Before us was a kind of bed-place. And on that bedplace lay the figure of a man. Though it is twenty years ago since I saw it, I can remember that scene as though it were yesterday.
He lay upon a heap of tumbled blankets, with his face buried in a pillow. One leg touched the ground, and round it was a ring, connecting the limb to a long iron bar, which ran along beneath the bed. One arm also hung listlessly on the cold stone floor, and the other was thrown around his head, a head covered with short black curls, worthy of an Antinous, above a bare muscular neck, worthy of a Farnese Hercules. I advanced towards him.
The governor held me back. "My God, sir," he said, "take care. Don't, as you value your life, go within length of his chain." But at that moment the handsome head was raised from the pillow, and my eyes met George Hawker's. Oh, Lord! such a piteous wild look. I could not see the fierce desperate villain who had kept our country-side in terror so long. No, thank God, I could only see the handsome curly-headed boy who used to play with James Stockbridge and myself among the gravestones in Drumston churchyard. I saw again the merry lad who used to bathe with us in Hatherleigh water, and whom, with all his faults, I had once loved well. And seeing him, and him only, before me, in spite of a terrified gesture from the governor, I walked up to the bed, and, sitting down beside him, put my arm round his neck.
"George! George! Dear old friend!" I said. "O George, my boy, has it come to this?"
I don't want to be instructed in my duty. I know what my duty was on that occasion as well as any man. My duty as a citizen and a magistrate was to stand at the further end of the cell, and give this hardened criminal a moral lecture, showing how honesty and virtue, as in my case, had led to wealth and honour, and how yielding to one's passions led to disgrace and infamy, as in his. That was my duty, I allow. But then, you see, I didn't do my duty. I had a certain tender feeling about my stomach which prevented me from doing it. So I only hung there, with my arm round his neck, and said, from time to time, "O George, George!" like a fool.
He put his two hands upon my shoulders, so that his fetters hung across my breast; and he looked me in the face. Then he said, after a time, "What! Hamlyn? Old Jeff Hamlyn! The only man I ever knew that I didn't quarrel with! Come to see me now, eh? Jeff, old boy, I'm to be hung to-morrow."
"I know it," I said. "And I came to ask you if I could do anything for you. For the sake of dear old Devon, George."
"Anything you like, old Jeff," he said, with a laugh, "so long as you don't get me reprieved. If I get loose again, lad, I'd do worse than I ever did yet, believe me. I've piled up a tolerable heap of wickedness as it is, though. I've murdered my own son, Jeff. Do you know that?"
I answered—"Yes; I know that, George; but that was an accident. You did not know who he was."
"He came at me to take my life," said Hawker. "And I tell you, as a man who goes out to be hung to-morrow, that, if I had guessed who he was, I'd have blown my own brains out to save him from the crime of killing me. Who is that man?"
"Don't you remember him?" I said. "Major Buckley."
The Major came forward, and held out his hand to George Hawker. "You are now," he said, "like a dead man to me. You die to-morrow; and you know it; and face it like a man. I come to ask you to forgive me anything you may have to forgive. I have been your enemy since I first saw you: but I have been an honest and open enemy; and now I am your enemy no longer. I ask you to shake hands with me. I have been warned not to come within arm's length of you, chained as you are. But I am not afraid of you."
The Major came and sat on the bed-place beside him.
"As for that little animal," said George Hawker, pointing to the governor as he stood at the further end of the cell, "if he comes within reach of me, I'll beat his useless little brains out against the wall, and he knows it. He was right to caution you not to come too near me. I nearly killed a man yesterday: and to-morrow, when they come to lead me out——But, with regard to you, Major Buckley, the case is different. Do you know I should be rather sorry to tackle you; I'm afraid you would be too heavy for me. As to my having anything to forgive, Major, I don't know that there is anything. If there is, let me tell you that I feel more kind and hearty towards you and Hamlyn for coming to me like this to-day, than I've felt towards any man this twenty year. By-the-bye; let no man go to the gallows without clearing himself as far as he may. Do you know that I set on that red-haired villain, Moody, to throttle Bill Lee, because I hadn't pluck to do it myself."
"Poor Lee," said the Major.
"Poor devil," said Hawker. "Why that man had gone through every sort of villany, from" (so and so up to so and so, he said; I shall not particularize) "before my beard was grown. Why that man laid such plots and snares for me when I was a lad, that a bishop could not have escaped. He egged me on to forge my own father's name. He drove me on to ruin. And now, because it suited his purpose to turn honest, and act faithful domestic to my wife for twenty years, he is mourned for as an exemplary character, and I go to the gallows. He was a meaner villain than ever I was."
"George," I asked, "have you any message for your wife?"
"Only this," he said; "tell her I always liked her pretty face, and I'm sorry I brought disgrace upon her. Through all my rascalities, old Jeff, I swear to you that I respected and liked her to the last. I tried to see her last year, only to tell her that she needn't be afraid of me, and should treat me as a dead man; but she and her blessed pig-headed lover, Tom Troubridge, made such knife and pistol work of it, that I never got the chance of saying the word I wanted. She'd have saved herself much trouble if she hadn't acted so much like a frightened fool. I never meant her any harm. You may tell her all this if you judge right, but I leave it to you. Time's up, I see. I ain't so much of a coward, am I, Jeff? Good-bye, old lad, good-bye."
That was the last we saw of him; the next morning he was executed with four of his comrades. But now the Major and I, leaving him, went out again into the street, into the rain and the furious wind, to beat up against it for our hotel. Neither spoke a word till we came to a corner in George Street, nearest the wharf: and there the Major turned back upon me suddenly and I thought he had been unable to face the terrible gust which came sweeping up from the harbour: but it was not so. He had turned on purpose, and putting his hands upon my shoulders, he said,—
"Hamlyn, Hamlyn, you have taught me a lesson."
"I suppose so," I said. "I have shown you what a fool a tender-hearted soft-headed fellow may make of himself by yielding to his impulses. But I have a defence to offer, my dear sir, the best of excuses, the only real excuse existing in this world. I couldn't help it."
"I don't mean that, Hamlyn," he answered. "The lesson you have taught me is a very different one. You have taught me that there are bright points in the worst man's character, a train of good feeling which no tact can bring out, but yet which some human spark of feeling may light. Here is this man Hawker, of whom we heard that he was dangerous to approach, and whom the good chaplain was forced to pray for and exhort from a safe distance. The man for whose death, till ten minutes ago, I was rejoicing. The man I thought lost, and beyond hope. Yet you, by one burst of unpremeditated folly, by one piece of silly sentimentality; by ignoring the man's later life, and carrying him back in imagination to his old schoolboy days, have done more than our good old friend the Chaplain could have done without your assistance. There is a spark of the Divine in the worst of men, if you can only find it."
In spite of the Major's parliamentary and didactic way of speaking, I saw there was truth at the bottom of what he said, and that he meant kindly to me, and to the poor fellow who was even now among the dead; so instead of arguing with him, I took his arm, and we fought homewards together through the driving rain.
Imagine three months to have passed. That stormy spring had changed into a placid, burning summer. The busy shearing-time was past; the noisy shearers were dispersed, heaven knows where (most of them probably suffering from a shortness of cash, complicated with delirium tremens). The grass in the plains had changed from green to dull grey; the river had changed his hoarse roar for a sleepy murmur, as though too lazy to quarrel with his boulders in such weather. A hot dull haze was over forest and mountain. The snow had perspired till it showed long black streaks on the highest eminences. In short, summer had come with a vengeance; every one felt hot, idle, and thirsty, and "there was nothing doing."
Now that broad cool verandah of Captain Brentwood's, with its deep recesses of shadow, was a place not to be lightly spoken of. Any man once getting footing there, and leaving it, except on compulsion, would show himself of weak mind. Any man once comfortably settled there in an easy chair, who fetched anything for himself when he could get any one else to fetch it for him, would show himself, in my opinion, a man of weak mind. One thing only was wanted to make it perfect, and that was niggers. To the winds with "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and "Dred" after it, in a hot wind! What can an active-minded, self-helpful lady like Mrs. Stowe, freezing up there in Connecticut, obliged to do something to keep herself warm,—what can she, I ask, know about the requirements of a southern gentleman when the thermometer stands at 125 degrees in the shade? Pish! Does she know the exertion required for cutting up a pipe of tobacco in a hot north wind? No! Does she know the amount of perspiration and anger superinduced by knocking the head off a bottle of Bass in January? Does she know the physical prostration which is caused by breaking up two lumps of hard white sugar in a pawnee before a thunderstorm? No, she doesn't, or she would cry out for niggers with the best of us! When the thermometer gets over 100 degrees in the shade, all men would have slaves if they were allowed. An Anglo-Saxon conscience will not, save in rare instances, bear a higher average heat than 95 degrees.
But about this verandah. It was the model and type of all verandahs. It was made originally by the Irish family, the Donovans, before spoken of; and, like all Irish-made things, was nobly conceived, beautifully carried out, and then left to take care of itself, so that when Alice came into possession, she found it a neglected mine of rare creepers run wild. Here, for the first time, I saw the exquisite crimson passion-flower, then a great rarity. Here, too, the native passion-flower, scarlet and orange, was tangled up with the common purple sarsaparilla and the English honeysuckle and jessamine.
In this verandah, one blazing morning, sat Mrs. Buckley and Alice making believe to work. Mrs. Buckley really was doing something. Alice sat with her hands fallen on her lap, so still and so beautiful, that she might then and there have been photographed off by some enterprising artist, and exhibited in the printshops as "Argia, Goddess of Laziness."
They were not alone, however. Across the very coolest, darkest corner was swung a hammock, looking at which you might perceive two hands elevating a green paper-covered book, as though the owner were reading—the aforesaid owner, however, being entirely invisible, only proving his existence by certain bulges and angles in the canvas of the hammock.
Now, having made a nice little mystery as to who it was lying there, I will proceed to solve it. A burst of laughter came from the hidden man, so uproarious and violent, that the hammock-strings strained and shook, and the magpie, waking up from a sound sleep, cursed and swore in a manner fearful to hear.
"My dearest Jim!" said Alice, rousing herself, "What is the matter with you?"
Jim read aloud the immortal battle of the two editors, with their carpet bags, in "Pickwick," and, ere he had half done, Alice and Mrs. Buckley had mingled their laughter with his, quite as heartily, if not so loudly.
"Hallo!" said Jim; "here's a nuisance! There's no more of it. Alice, have you got any more?"
"That is all, Jim. The other numbers will come by the next mail."
"How tiresome! I suppose the governor is pretty sure to be home to-night. He can't be away much longer."
"Don't be impatient, my dear," said Alice. "How is your leg?"
Please to remember that Jim's leg was broken in the late wars, and, as yet, hardly well.
"Oh, it's a good deal better. Heigho! This is very dull."
"Thank you, James!" said Mrs. Buckley. "Dear me! the heat gets greater every day. If they are on the road, I hope they won't hurry themselves."
Our old friends were just now disposed in the following manner:—
The Major was at home. Mary Hawker was staying with him. Doctor Mulhaus and Halbert staying at Major Brentwood's, while Captain Brentwood was away with Sam and Tom Troubridge to Sydney; and, having been absent some weeks, had been expected home now for a day or two. This was the day they came home, riding slowly up to the porch about five o'clock.
When all greetings were done, and they were sat down beside the others, Jim opened the ball by asking, "What news, father?"
"What a particularly foolish question!" said the Captain. "Why, you'll get it all in time—none the quicker for being impatient. May be, also, when you hear some of the news, you won't like it!"
"Oh, indeed!" said Jim.
"I have a letter for you here, from the Commander-in-Chief. You are appointed to the 3-th Regiment, at present quartered in India."
Alice looked at him quickly as she heard this, and, as a natural consequence, Sam looked too. They had expected that he would have hurra'd aloud, or thrown up his hat, or danced about, when he heard of it. But no; he only sat bolt upright in his hammock, though his face flushed scarlet, and his eyes glistened strangely.
His father looked at him an instant, and then continued,—
"Six months' leave of absence procured at the same time, which will give you about three months more at home. So you see you now possess the inestimable privilege of wearing a red coat; and what is still better, of getting a hole made in it; for there is great trouble threatening with the Affghans and Beloochs, and the chances are that you will smell powder before you are up in your regimental duties. Under which circumstances I shall take the liberty of requesting that you inform yourself on these points under my direction, for I don't want you to join your regiment in the position of any other booby. Have the goodness to lie down again and not excite yourself. You have anticipated this some time. Surely it is not necessary for you to cry about it like a great girl."
But that night, after dark, when Sam and Alice were taking one of those agreeable nocturnal walks, which all young lovers are prone to, they came smoothly gliding over the lawn close up to the house, and then, unseen and unheard, they saw Captain Brentwood with his arm round Jim's neck, and heard him say,—
"O James! James! why did you want to leave me?"
And Jim answered. "Father, I didn't know. I didn't know my own mind. But I can't call back now."
Sam and Alice slipt back again, and continued their walk. Let us hear what conversation they had been holding together before this little interruption.
"Alice, my darling, my love, you are more beautiful than ever!"
"Thanks to your absence, my dear Sam. You see how well I thrive without you."
"Then when we are——"
"Well?" said Alice. For this was eight o'clock in the evening, you know, and the moon being four days past the full, it was pitch dark. "Well?" says she.
"When we are married," says Sam, audaciously, "I suppose you will pine away to nothing."
"Good gracious me!" she answered. "Married? Why surely we are well enough as we are."
"Most excellently well, my darling," said Sam. "I wish it could last for ever."
"Oh, indeed!" said Alice, almost inaudibly though.
"Alice, my love," said Sam, "have you thought of one thing? Have you thought that I must make a start in life for myself?"
No, she hadn't thought of that. Didn't see why Baroona wasn't good enough for him.
"My dear!" he said. "Baroona is a fine property, but it is not mine. I want money for a set purpose. For a glorious purpose, my love! I will not tell you yet, not for years perhaps, what that purpose is. But I want fifty thousand pounds of my own. And fifty thousand pounds I will have."
Good gracious! What an avaricious creature. Such a quantity of money. And so she wasn't to hear what he was going to do with it, for ever so many years. Wouldn't he tell her now? She would so like to know. Would nothing induce him?
Yes, there was something. Nay, what harm! Only an honest lover's kiss, among the ripening grapes. In the dark, you say. My dear madam, you would not have them kiss one another in broad day, with the cook watching them out of the kitchen window?
"Alice," he said, "I have had one object before me from my boyhood, and since you told me that I was to be your husband, that object has grown from a vague intention to a fixed purpose. Alice, I want to buy back the acres of my forefathers; I wish, I intend, that another Buckley shall be the master of Clere, and that you shall be his wife."
"Sam, my love!" she said, turning on him suddenly. "What a magnificent idea. Is it possible?"
"Easy," said Sam. "My father could do it, but will not. He and my mother have severed every tie with the old country, and it would be at their time of life only painful to go back to the old scenes and interests. But with me it is different. Think of you and I taking the place we are entitled to by birth and education, in the splendid society of that noble island. Don't let me hear all that balderdash about the founding of new empires. Empires take too long in growing for me. What honours, what society, has this little colony to give, compared to those open to a fourth-rate gentleman in England? I want to be a real Englishman, not half a one. I want to throw in my lot heart and hand with the greatest nation in the world. I don't want to be young Sam Buckley of Baroona. I want to be the Buckley of Clere. Is not that a noble ambition?"
"My whole soul goes with you, Sam," said Alice. "My whole heart and soul. Let us consult, and see how this is to be done."
"This is the way the thing stands," said Sam. "The house and park at Clere, were sold by my father for 12,000L. to a brewer. Since then, this brewer, a most excellent fellow by all accounts, has bought back, acre by acre, nearly half the old original property as it existed in my great grandfather's time, so that now Clere must be worth fifty thousand pounds at least. This man's children are all dead; and as far as Captain Brentwood has been able to find out for me, no one knows exactly how the property is going. The present owner is the same age as my father; and at his death, should an advantageous offer be made, there would be a good chance of getting the heirs to sell the property. We should have to pay very highly for it, but consider what a position we should buy with it. The county would receive us with open arms. That is all I know at present."
"A noble idea," said Alice, "and well considered. Now what are you going to do?"
"Have you heard tell yet," said Sam, "of the new country to the north, they call the Darling Downs?"
"I have heard of it, from Burnside the cattle dealer. He describes it as a paradise of wealth."
"He is right. When you get through the Cypress, the plains are endless. It is undoubtedly the finest piece of country found yet. Now do you know Tom Troubridge?"
"Slightly enough," said Alice, laughing.
"Well," said Sam. "You know he went to Sydney with us, and before he had been three days there he came to me full of this Darling Down country. Quite mad about it in fact. And in the end he said: 'Sam, what money have you got?' I said that my father had promised me seven thousand pounds for a certain purpose, and that I had come to town partly to look for an investment. He said, 'Be my partner;' and I said, 'What for?' 'Darling Downs,' he said. And I said I was only too highly honoured by such a mark of confidence from such a man, and that I closed with his offer at once. To make a long matter short, he is off to the new country to take up ground under the name of Troubridge and Buckley. There!"
"But oughtn't you to have gone up with him, Sam?"
"I proposed to do so, as a matter of course," said Sam. "But what do you think he said?"
"I don't know."
"He gave me a great slap on the back," said Sam; "and, said he, 'Go home, my old lad, marry your wife, and fetch her up to keep house.' That's what he said. And now, my own love, my darling, will you tell me, am I to go up alone, and wait for you; or will you come up, and make a happy home for me in that dreary desert? Will you leave your home, and come away with me into the grey hot plains of the west?"
"I have no home in future, Sam," she said, "but where you are, and I will gladly go with you to the world's end."
And so that matter was settled.
And now Sam disclosed to her that a visitor was expected at the station in about a fortnight or three weeks; and he was no less a person than our old friend the dean, Frank Maberly. And then he went to ask, did she think that she could manage by that time to—, eh? Such an excellent opportunity, you know; seemed almost as if his visit had been arranged, which, between you and I, it had.
She thought it wildly possible, if there was any real necessity for it. And after this they went in; and Alice went into her bedroom.
"And what have you been doing out there with Alice all this time, eh?" asked the Captain.
"I've been asking a question, sir."
"You must have put it in a pretty long form. What sort of an answer did you get?"
"I got 'yes' for an answer, sir."
"Ah, well! Mrs. Buckley, can you lend Baroona to a new married couple for a few weeks, do you think? There is plenty of room for you here."
And then into Mrs. Buckley's astonished ear all the new plans were poured. She heard that Sam and Alice were to be married in a fortnight, and that Sam had gone into partnership with Tom Troubridge.
"Stop there," she said; "not too much at once. What becomes of Mary Hawker?"
"She is left at Toonarbin, with an overseer, for the present."
"And when," she asked, "shall you leave us, Sam?"
"Oh, in a couple of months, I suppose. I must give Tom time to get a house up before I go and join him. What a convenient thing a partner like that is, eh?"
"Oh, by-the-bye, Mrs. Buckley," said Captain Brentwood, "what do you make of this letter?"
He produced a broad thick letter, directed in a bold running hand,
"Major Buckley, "Baroonah, Combermere County, "Gipps-land.
"If absent, to be left with the nearest magistrate, and a receipt taken for it."
"How very strange," said Mrs. Buckley, turning it over. "Where did you get it?"
"Sergeant Jackson asked me, as nearest magistrate, to take charge of it; and so I did. It has been forwarded by orderly from Sydney."
"And the Governor's private seal, too," said Mrs. Buckley. "I don't know when my curiosity has been so painfully excited. Put it on the chimney-piece, Sam; let us gaze on the outside, even if we are denied to see the inside. I wonder if your father will come tonight?"
"No; getting too late," said Sam. "Evidently Halbert and the Doctor have found themselves there during their ride, and are keeping him and Mrs. Hawker company. They will all three be over to-morrow morning, depend on it."
"What a really good fellow that Halbert is," said Captain Brentwood. "One of the best companions I ever met. I wish his spirits would improve with his health. A sensitive fellow like him is apt not to recover from a blow like his."
"What blow?" said Mrs. Buckley.
"Did you never hear?" said the Captain. "The girl he was going to be married to got drowned coming out to him in the Assam."
IN WHICH THERE ARE SOME ASTONISHING REVELATIONS WITH REGARD TO DR. MULHAUS AND CAPTAIN DESBOROUGH.
At ten o'clock the next morning arrived the Major, the Doctor, and Halbert; and the first notice they had of it was the Doctor's voice in the passage, evidently in a great state of excitement.
"No more the common bower-bird than you, sir; a new species. His eyes are red instead of blue, and the whole plumage is lighter. I will call it after you, my dear Major."
"You have got to shoot him first," said the Major.
"I'll soon do that," said the Doctor, bursting into the room-door. "How do you do, all of you? Sam, glad to see you back again. Brentwood, you are welcome to your own house. Get me your gun—where is it?"
"In my bedroom," said the Captain.
The Doctor went off after it. He reappeared again to complain that the caps would not fit; but, being satisfied on that score, he disappeared down the garden, on murderous thoughts intent.
Sam got his father away into the verandah, and told him all his plans. I need hardly say that they met with the Major's entire approval. All his plans I said; no, not all. Sam never hinted at the end and object of all his endeavours; he never said a word about his repurchase of Clere. The Major had no more idea that Sam had ever thought of such a thing, or had been making inquiries, than had the owner of Clere himself.
"Sam, my dear boy," said he, "I am very sorry to lose you, and we shall have but a dull time of it henceforth; but I am sure it is good for a man to go out into the world by himself" (and all that sort of thing). "When you are gone, Brentwood and I mean to live together, to console one another."
"My dear, are you coming in?" said Mrs. Buckley. "Here is a letter for you, which I ought to have given you before."
The Major went in and received the mysterious epistle which the captain had brought the night before. When he saw it he whistled.
They sat waiting to know the contents. He was provokingly long in opening it, and when he did, he said nothing, but read it over twice with a lengthening visage. Now also it became apparent that there was another letter inside, at the superscription of which the Major having looked, put it in his pocket, and turning round to the mantel-piece, with his back to the others, began drumming against the fender with his foot, musingly.
A more aggravating course of proceeding he could not have resorted to. Here they were all dying of curiosity, and not a word did he seem inclined to answer. At last, Mrs. Buckley, not able to hold out any longer, said,—
"From the Governor, was it not, my love?"
"Yes," he said, "from the Governor. And very important too," and then relapsed into silence.
Matters were worse than ever. But after a few minutes he turned round to them suddenly, and said,—
"You have heard of Baron Landstein."
"What," said Sam, "the man that the Doctor's always abusing so? Yes, I know all about him, of course."
"The noble Landstein," said Alice. "In spite of the Doctor's abuse he is a great favourite of mine. How well he seems to have behaved at Jena with those two Landwehr regiments."
"Landsturm, my love," said the Major.
"Yes, Landsturm I mean. I wonder if he is still alive, or whether he died of his wounds."
"The Doctor," said Sam, "always speaks of him as dead."
"He is not only alive," said the Major, "but he is coming here. He will be here to-day. He may come any minute."
"What! the great Landstein," said Sam.
"The same man," said the Major.
"The Doctor will have a quarrel with him, father. He is always abusing him. He says he lost the battle of Jena, or something."
"Be quiet, Sam, and don't talk. Watch what follows."
The Doctor was seen hurrying up the garden-walk. He put down his gun outside, and bursting open the glass door, stepped into the room, holding aloft a black bird, freshly killed, and looking around him for applause.
"There!" he said; "I told you so."
The Major walked across the room, and put a letter in his hand, the one which was enclosed in the mysterious epistle before mentioned. "Baron," he said, "here is a letter for you."
The Doctor looked round as one would who had received a blow, and knew not who smote him. He took the letter, and went into the window to read it.
No one spoke a word. "This, then, my good old tutor," thought Sam, "turns out to be the great Landstein. Save us, what a piece of romance." But though he thought this, he never said anything, and catching Alice's eye, followed it to the window. There, leaning against the glass, his face buried in his hands, and his broad back shaking with emotion, stood Doctor Mulhaus. Alas! no. Our kindly, good, hearty, learned, irritable, but dearly-beloved old friend, is no more. There never was such a man in reality: but in his place stands Baron von Landstein of the Niederwald.
What the contents of the Doctor's (I must still call him so) letter, I cannot tell you. But I have seen the letter which Major Buckley received enclosing it, and I can give it you word for word. It is from the Governor himself, and runs thus:—
"MY DEAR MAJOR,
"I am informed that the famous Baron von Landstein has been living in your house for some years, under the name of Dr. Mulhaus. In fact, I believe he is a partner of yours. I therefore send the enclosed under cover to you, and when I tell you that it has been forwarded to me through the Foreign Office, and the Colonial Office, and is, in point of fact, an autograph letter from the King of P—— to the Baron, I am sure that you will ensure its safe delivery.
"The Secretary is completely 'fixed' with his estimates. The salaries for the Supreme Court Office are thrown out. He must resign. Do next election send us a couple of moderates.
"Yours, &c., G.G."
This was the Major's letter. But the Doctor stood still there, moved more deeply than any had seen him before, while Alice and Sam looked at one another in blank astonishment.
At length he turned and spoke, but not to them, to the empty air. Spoke as one aroused from a trance. Things hard to understand, yet having some thread of sense in them too.
"So he has sent for me," he said, "when it seems that he may have some use for me. So the old man is likely to go at last, and we are to have the golden age again. If talking could do it, assuredly we should. He has noble instincts, this young fellow, and some sense. He has sent for me. If H——, and B——, and Von U——, and myself can but get his ear!
"Oh, Rhineland! my own beloved Rhineland, shall I see you again? Shall I sit once more in my own grey castle, among the vineyards, above the broad gleaming river, and hear the noises from the town come floating softly up the hillside! I wonder are there any left who will remember—"
He took two short turns through the room, and then he turned and spoke to them again, looking all the time at Sam.
"I am the Baron von Landstein. The very man we have so often talked of, and whose character we have so freely discussed. When the French attacked us, I threw myself into the foremost ranks of my countrymen, and followed the Queen with two regiments which I had raised almost entirely myself.
"I fled away from the blood-red sun of Jena, wounded and desperate. That sun," I thought, "has set on the ruins of Great Frederick's kingdom. Prussia is a province of France: what can happen worse than this? I will crawl home to my castle and die.
"I had no castle to crawl to. My brother, he who hung upon the same breast with me, he who learnt his first prayer beside me, he who I loved and trusted above all other men, had turned traitor, had sold himself to the French, had deceived my bride that was to be, and seized my castle.
"I fled to England, to Drumston, Major. I had some knowledge of physic, and called myself a doctor. I threw myself into the happy English domestic life which I found there, and soon got around me men and women whom I loved full well.
"Old John Thornton and his sister knew my secret, as did Lord Crediton: but they kept it well, and by degrees I began to hope that I would begin a new life as a useful village apothecary, and forget for ever the turmoils of politics.
"Then you know what happened. There was an Exodus. All those I had got to love, arose, in the manner of their nation, and went to the other end of the earth, so that one night I was left alone on the cliff at Plymouth, watching a ship which was bearing away all that was left me to love in the world.
"I went to Prussia. I found my brother had made good use of his prosperity, and slandered me to the King. His old treachery seemed forgotten, and he was high in power. The King, for whom I had suffered so much, received me coldly, and leaving the palace, I spoke to my brother, and said,—'Send me so much yearly, and keep the rest for a time.' And then I followed you, Major, out here."
"Shall I tell you any more, Sam?"
"No!" said Sam, smiting his fist upon the table. "I can tell the rest, Baron, to those who want to know it. I can tell of ten years' patient kindness towards myself. I can tell—I can tell—"
Sam was the worst orator in the world. He broke down, sir. He knew what he meant very well; and so I hope do you, reader, but he couldn't say it. He had done what many of us do, tried to make a fine speech when his heart was full, and so he failed.
But Alice didn't fail,—not she, though she never spoke a word. She folded up her work; and going up to the good old man, took both his hands in hers and kissed him on both his cheeks. A fine piece of rhetorical action, wasn't it? And then they all crowded round him, and shook hands with him, and kissed him, and God-blessed him, for their kind, true, old friend; and prayed that every blessing might light upon his noble head, till he passed through them speechless and wandered away to his old friend, the river.
* * * * *
About the middle of this week, there arrived two of our former friends, Frank Maberly and Captain Desborough, riding side by side. The Elders, with the Doctor, were outside, and detained the Dean, talking to him and bidding him welcome. But Captain Desborough, passing in, came into the room where were assembled Alice, Sam, and Jim, who gave him a most vociferous greeting.
They saw in a moment that there was some fun in the wind. They knew, by experience, that when Desborough's eyes twinkled like that, some absurdity was preparing, though they were quite unprepared for the mixture of reality and nonsense which followed.
"Pace!" said Desborough, in his affected Irish accent; "be on this house, and all in it. The top of the morning to ye all."
"Now," said Alice, "we are going to have some fun; Captain Desborough has got his brogue on."
"Ye'll have some fun directly, Miss Brentwood," he said. "But there's some serious, sober earnest to come first. My cousin, Slievedonad, is dead."
"The same. That small Viscount is at this moment in pur——. God forgive me, and him too."
"That's just half. My uncle Lord Covetown was taken with a fit when he heard of it, and is gone after him, and the Lord forgive him too. He turned me, his own brother's son, out into the world with half an education, to sink or swim; and never a kind word did he or his son ever give me in their lives. It must have broken the old man's heart to think how the estate would go. But as I said before, God forgive him."
"You must feel his loss, Captain Desborough," said Alice. "I am very sorry for you."
"Ahem! my dear young lady, you don't seem to know how this ends."
"Why, no," said Alice, looking up wonderingly; "I do not."
"Why, it ends in this," said Desborough; "that I myself am Earl of Covetown, Viscount Slievedonad, and Baron Avoca, with twenty thousand a year, me darlin, the laste penny; see to there now."
"Brogue again," said Alice. "Are you joking?"
"True enough," said Desborough. "I had a letter from my grandmother, the Dowager (she that lost the dog), only this very day. And there's a thousand pounds paid into the Bank of New South Wales to my account. Pretty good proof that last, eh?"
"My dear Lord," said Alice, "I congratulate you most heartily. All the world are turning out to be noblemen. I should not be surprised to find that I am a duchess myself."
"It rests with you, Miss Brentwood," said Desborough, with a wicked glance at Sam, "to be a countess. I now formally make you an offer of me hand and heart. Oh! tell me, Miss Brentwood, will ye be Mrs. Mars—I beg pardon, Countess of Covetown?"
"No, I thank you, my lord," said Alice, laughing and blushing. "I am afraid I must decline."
"I was afraid ye would," said Lord Covetown. "I had heard that a great six-foot villain had been trifling with your affections, so I came prepared for a refusal. Came prepared with this, Miss Brentwood, which I pray you to accept; shall I be too bold if I say, as a wedding present, from one of your most sincere admirers."
He produced a jewel case, and took from it a bracelet, at the sight of which Alice gave an honest womanly cry of delight. And well she might, for the bauble cost 150L. It was a bracelet of gold, representing a snake. Half-way up the reptile's back began a row of sapphires, getting larger towards the neck, each of which was surrounded by small emeralds. The back of the head contained a noble brilliant, and the eyes were two rubies. Altogether, a thorough specimen of Irish extravagance and good taste.
"Can you clasp it on for her, Sam?" said Lord Covetown.
"Oh, my Lord, I ought not to accept such a princely present!" said Alice.
"Look here, Miss Brentwood," said Covetown, laying his hand on Sam's shoulder. "I find that the noblest and best fellow I know is going to marry the handsomest woman, saving your presence, that I ever saw. I myself have just come into an earldom, and twenty thousand a-year; and if, under these circumstances, I mayn't make that woman a handsome present, why then the deuce is in it, you know. Sam, my boy, your hand. Jim, your hand, my lad. May you be as good a soldier as your father."
"Ah!" said Jim. "So you're an earl are you? What does it feel like, eh? Do you feel the blue blood of a hundred sires coursing in your veins? Do you feel the hereditary class prejudices of the Norman aristocracy cutting you off from the sympathies of the inferior classes, and raising you above the hopes and fears of the masses? How very comical it must be! So you are going to sit among the big-wigs in the House of Lords. I hope you won't forget yourself, and cry 'Faug a Ballagh,' when one of the bishops rises to speak. And whatever you do, don't sing 'Gama crem'ah cruiskeen' in the lobby."
"My dear fellow," said he, "I am not in the House of Lords at all. Only an Irish peer. I intend to get into the Commons though, and produce a sensation by introducing the Australian 'Co'ee' into the seat of British legislature."
How long these four would have gone on talking unutterable nonsense, no man can say. But Frank Maberly coming in, greeted them courteously, and changed the conversation.
Poor Frank! Hard and incessant work was beginning to tell on that noble frame, and the hard marked features were getting more hard and marked year by year. Yet, in spite of the deep lines that now furrowed that kindly face, those who knew it best, said that it grew more beautiful than it had ever been before. As that magnificent PHYSIQUE began to fail, the noble soul within began to show clearer through its earthly tenement. That noble soul, which was getting purified and ready for what happened but a few years after this in Patagonia. When we heard that that man had earned the crown of glory, and had been thought worthy to sit beside Stephen and Paul in the Kingdom, none of us wept for him, or mourned. It seemed such a fitting reward for such a pure and noble life. But even now, when I wake in the night, I see him before me as he was described in the last scene by the only survivor. Felled down upon the sand, with his arms before his eyes, crying out, as the spears struck him, one after another, "Lord, forgive them, they know not what they do!"
IN WHICH SAM MEETS WITH A SERIOUS ACCIDENT, AND GETS CRIPPLED FOR LIFE.
What morning is this, when Sam, waking from silver dreams to a golden reality, turns over in his bed and looks out of the open glass door; at dog Rover, propped up against the lintel, chopping at the early flies; at the flower-garden, dark and dewy; at the black wall of forest beyond, in which the magpies were beginning to pipe cheerily; at the blessed dawn which was behind and above it, shooting long rays of primrose and crimson half-way up the zenith; hearing the sleepy ceaseless crawling of the river over the shingle bars; hearing the booming of the cattle-herds far over the plain; hearing the chirrup of the grasshopper among the raspberries, the chirr of the cicada among the wattles—what happy morning is this? Is it the Sabbath?
Ah, no! the Sabbath was yesterday. This is his wedding morn.
My dear brother bachelor, do you remember those old first-love sensations, or have you got too old, and too fat? Do you remember the night when you parted from her on the bridge by the lock, the night before her father wrote to you and forbade you the house? Have you got the rose she gave you there? Is it in your Bible, brother? Do you remember the months that followed—months of mad grief and wild yearning, till the yearning grew less—less wild—and the grief less desperate; and then, worst of all, the degrading consciousness that you were, in spite of yourself, getting rid of your love, and that she was not to you as she had been? Do you remember all this? When you come across the rose in your Bible, do you feel that you would give all the honour and wealth of the world to feel again those happy, wretched, old sensations? Do you not say that this world has nothing to give in comparison to that?
Not this world, I believe. You and I can never feel that again. So let us make up our minds to it—it is dead. In God's name don't let us try to galvanize an old corpse, which may rise upon us hideous, and scare us to the lower pit. Let us be content as we are. Let us read that Book we spoke of just now with the rose in it, and imitate the Perfect Man there spoken of, who was crucified 1800 years ago, believing, like Him, that all men are our brothers, and acting up to it. And then, Lord knows what may be in store for us.
Here's a digression. If I had had a good wife to keep me in order, I never should have gone so far out of the road. Here is Sam in bed, sitting up, with his happy head upon his hands, trying to believe that this dream of love is going to be realized—trying to believe that it is really his wedding morn.